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The CAT and the Hamsters

The history of the College of Air Training

 

Stuart Logan

 

Legend Media, 2016

Stuart Logan has taken upon himself what was clearly a labour of love – to record the history of the College of Air Training at Hamble (of which he was a graduate). The CAT looms very large in post-war British Civil Aviation, since it produced the majority of civil entrants to our two major airlines (now one). I must have missed it if he spelled out quite what proportion.

 

In telling the tale of the CAT, Logan understandably also relates the evolution of civil aviation in the period, including the influence of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, and Balpa – the industry’s trade union. If there is one underlying thread through the narrative, it is that of continuous political meddling, usually to the detriment of those involved. The episodes when the College management was looking  to replace the aircraft fleet with British types (from Beagle at nearby Shoreham) are illuminating.

 

During the war Hamble had been a major hub for the ATA, and in the Fifties this rural grass airfield must have seemed a suitable nursery at which to grow a cadre of future airline pilots.  But the expansion of metropolitan Southampton led to a proliferation of NIMBYs. The main marked strip was only 940m, so when multi-engine training shifted to heavier types such as the Baron, that activity, and night flying, had to be moved to the likes of Bournemouth.

 

The author makes frequent reference to the military edge to the authoritarianism with which the pace was managed – perhaps inevitable in post-war Britain when the bulk of instructors were retired RAF pilots. However the all stick and no carrot approach shows well how flying training has evolved since.

 

Logan takes plenty of time to iterate each training accident – of which there were many. This is probably because Logan himself was the survivor of a particularly horrific incident in which his instructor was killed.

 

The book is clearly thoroughly researched, and written in a welcome sardonic style. Graduates will no doubt enjoy leafing through the appendices which list the members of every intake.