By F. Clifton Berry, Jr.
A BOOK REVIEW BY WALTER J. BOYNE
Having the name of F. Clifton Berry, Jr. on a book is a hallmark of quality. When you add to that the prestige of the Aerospace Industries Association of America, which presented the book, you have an indisputable stamp of authority and expertise. This book delivers on all counts.
It is the custom to announce any possible conflicts of interest, and I have two. One is that I was privileged to serve on the distinguished board which helped select the milestones that Clif so eloquently covers, and so I might be expected to like the book on that account. The other is that I have a book of similar nature appearing later in the year (Chronicle of Flight), and on that account I might be expected to be somewhat fainthearted in my praise.
No danger of that, this is a collector’s item, one that picks the famous events and people, and couples them with an outstanding selection of photographs. Clif Berry is an expert in the field, and is an accomplished writer, so that he paints luminous word pictures of the milestones. A book like this is rarely a page-turner, but this one is, even for those who know what the next milestone is probably going to be. As the great happenings unfold after Kitty Hawk, author Berry hurtles us along with his economic use of exactly the right words to convey the emotions and the times.
Milestones is laid out, decade by decade, Clif catches exactly the right tone with each ten year period. His photo research effort was extraordinary, for many of the photos are not only rare but exactly pertinent to the milestone being described. For example, in Milestone 16 The U.S. Navy Commissions its First Aircraft Carrier, Clif has selected a photo of Lieutenant Commander Virgil Collins, standing at attention in his white dress uniform, next to photo of his takeoff from the USS Langley in a Chance Vought VE-7. Both photos are rare-to combine them is proof of editorial excellence.
In a similar way, in Milestone 22, First Polar Flights, the author captures both Commander Richard E. Byrd in an absolutely typical pose, and also a very nice shot of the Floyd Bennett, the Ford Tri-Motor that Byrd used for his Antarctic flights. Berry deftly handles the controversy over whether or not Byrd actually reached the North Pole as he claimed for his 1926 flight, and cites a valuable source for his conclusions, C.V. Glines’s Bernt Balchen, Polar Aviator, for further reference. The book’s bibliography, by the way, is excellent.
Berry is a pilot, and it shows in the manner in which he discusses complex issues, such as Lindbergh’s flight planning for his New York to Paris flight. In less adept hands, this could be boring stuff, but as written, it illuminates the Lindbergh story.
Two-page spread photographs appear through the book to good effect, one of them being a “three-ship” formation of Pan American Sikorsky S-40 Clippers-a sight worth seeing. The photographs reproduce well on the high quality stock paper, and Berry made good choices in balancing out photographs of hardware and of people. One that will be a favorite of anyone who knew the principals is on page 85, and captures Sir Frank Whittle in an uncharacteristically smiling mode, Hans von Ohain in his customary friendly manner, and Paul Garber looking as he always did on camera, more solemn than he was in life.
Many author-pilots are at ease in writing about aviation, but get a bit out of their depth when it comes to space topics. Not so for Berry, who manages to confer the human touch on the well-proportioned mixture of space milestones, going so far as to include the now famous Viking I orbiter shot that created the illusion of a human face on a Martian rock formation. The most important milestones of space, from Goddard’s first rockets to the International Spacer Station, are all included and illustrated.
This is a well balanced, vitally interesting, very important book, for it is an excellent summary of the fantastic century of flight we’ve been privileged to experience. Clif Berry makes it clear to all that as magnificent as the machines have been, they owe everything to the human beings who conceive, build, fly and maintain them, a concept more important now, after Columbia, than perhaps ever before.