A brilliant, nostalgic and provocative look at the golden age of British aircraft in the post-war jet age.
In 1945 Britain inherited the title of the world’s leading pioneer and builder of jet aircraft. And how extraordinary these aircraft were. The sleek Comet, the first jet airliner. The awesome delta-winged Vulcan, an intercontinental bomber that could be thrown about the sky like a fighter. The Hawker Hunter, the most beautiful fighter-jet ever built, and the Lightning, which could zoom ten miles above the clouds in a couple of minutes and whose pilots rated flying it as better than sex.
By the early 1960s, the designers, the extremely brave test pilots and the legendary companies they worked for – Avro, Hawker, Vickers, de Havilland – were gone or facing a bleak future. A heroic and distinguished industry was coming to an end, and now these magnificent planes are much-loved museum pieces.
What was it like to be alive in that marvellous post-war decade when innovative new British aircraft made their debut several times a year, and pilots were the rock stars of the age? And how did Britain lose the plot so completely?
James Hamilton-Paterson captures that season of glory in a compelling story that fuses his own memories of being a schoolboy plane-spotter with a rueful history of Britain’s loss of self-confidence and power. It is a glimpse of a vanished world: the exhilarating story of atomic-age aviation pioneers, their great and charismatic machines, and the men who flew them.
'An exhilarating book. Empire of the Clouds is by turns, thrilling, joyful, wistful and provocative. Bravery and beauty somehow escape the incompetence and capriciousness of officialdom in what is a very British version of The Right Stuff. I loved it.'
Rowland White, author of Vulcan 607
'From the moment on the first page when a Vulcan bomber surges with monstrous grace round the corner of a hill, this is elegy with all its afterburners on, expert about the engineering of the planes, worshipful of the men who flew them, and furious at the disappearance of the technological Britain that brought them forth.'
Francis Spufford, author of Red Plenty
'A book of aerial wonder, sonic booms, exquisite aircraft and British heroes, beautifully told.'
Jonathan Glancey, author of Spitfire
'This is a fascinating account of what is likely to be Britain's final foray into military aviation. Mr Hamilton-Paterson is a knowledgeable and accomplished writer and his enthusiasm and his anger are infectious.'
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
James Hamilton-Paterson is the author of Gerontius, winner of a Whitbread Prize; Seven-Tenths: The Sea and its Thresholds; Playing With Water; and most recently, of the wild comic trilogy Cooking With Fernet Branca, Amazing Disgrace and Rancid Pansies. He is also an unabashed fan of great aircraft.