Spitfire: A Test Pilot’s Story – Book Review

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Product summary Title Spitfire – A Test Pilot’s Story Author Jeffrey Quill Published by Specialty Press ISBN 9780947554729 Format Soft cover; 336 pages Price ...

Product summary

Title Spitfire – A Test Pilot’s Story
Author Jeffrey Quill
Published by Specialty Press
ISBN 9780947554729
Format Soft cover; 336 pages
Price Recommended Retail Price £10.95. Available to buy from Amazon.co.uk

This book is by no means new, but still stands out as one of the best wartime pilots’ accounts published to date. Jeffrey Quill was the Chief test Pilot at Supermarine, and thus in charge of the flight testing of the most important military aircraft of his time – the Spitfire. Because of his role, he arguably also gained the best practical knowledge of this aircraft, and was directly involved in many of its key improvements.

There is no doubt that Quill was an exceptional pilot and also was very serious about his role at Supermarine. So serious in fact that he actively sought to obtain first-hand combat experience with the Spitfire during the Battle of Britain, or took assignment onboard a Royal Navy carrier to help solving the Seafire landing problems.

“Unless aerobatics were practised assiduously to the point where one was familiar with every conceivable combination of speed and altitude of which the aircraft was capable, one was not master of the aeroplane. Therefore a day would come when the aeroplane decided that it was in charge instead of the pilot, and that would be the last day. I never had cause to modify that view, and I kept my aerobatics well honed to the day of my last flight as a pilot.”

His memoir is not limited to the Spitfire. The book covers Quill’s entire flying career from RAF service with No. 17 Squadron at Upavon on Bristol Bulldogs, through meteorological flight in Duxford and testing with Vickers and their aircraft types.

Because of his close association with the Spitfire development team, it would have been easy for Jeffrey Quill to stuff his book with technical data of the various Spitfire marks, effectively producing “yet another Spitfire book” – perhaps still very good, but similar to many. Luckily, he did no such thing. Instead, Quill takes care and patience of explaining to a technically unaware reader the essence of the various design problems faced by the Spitfire’s design team during the long development history of the aircraft – and he does it very well, in simple terms. This aspect of the book is nothing short of brilliant – indeed, anyone’s understanding of the complex and ever-present compromises facing aircraft designers of the time will gain from reading it. In my opinion, this book provides definitive, first-hand explanation to the intriguing question why extending the range of the Spitfire proved so difficult, the many modifications to ailerons and elevators, or what it took to make the aircraft suitable for deck landings at sea.

With a power of a good anecdote, Quill also describes several minor episodes which haven’t been previously revealed elsewhere, such as Harry Broadhurst’s unauthorized initiative to take the prototype Spitfire Mk. IX into combat over the continent, or a 1942 plan to capture the Luftwaffe’s new Focke-Wulf Fw 190 from France, a scheme in which Chief Supermarine Test Pilot (sic) was intended to play a central role.

A cheerful man with a sense of humour, Jeffrey Quill was admired, respected and liked by those who knew him. For a general history reader, his memoir is an excellent and absorbing book, and a great testimony of a foregone era in aviation. For a Spitfire nut, it is essential reading which will bring deeper understanding of the aircraft and the various meanders of its development history.

Highly recommended.

Review book provided by the reviewer

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