Thin Air

Yes, I do think that a book on old planes can be right in a bicycle blog.

Historically, cycle and plane construction were connected, if only by the fact that both bicycle and aeroplane are made as light and as strong as possible at the same time. Also the people who cycled early on often became pilots when they found that planes were faster than cycles.

So my visit to the London RAF Museum this summer was not completely out of keeping, even if this might not have been clear from the outset.


Former gate guardians made from glass fiber reinforced plastic swooping down on the trusty Volvo

After an extended visit, I chanced onto the museum shop book stall, where donated second hand books on planes are sold. I bought a book with a battered dustjacket because it seemed right even after cursorily leafing through it.

ShapefullIt´s called The Shape of the Aeroplane, was published in 1953 and is not only written by James Hay Stevens (1913-73), an aircraft journalist, but also very ably illustrated by him. I am even tempted to call him the aeroplane Rebour, because the tome abounds with line drawings like these:

HayPistengfightShapejetdet ShapepioneersAlso Hay Stevens had a knack of explaining complicated things in a few words, which together with the drawings makes the book very readable for the non-aircraft engineer. Why can a landing plane suddenly lose its tail, for example, or what was so special about the Junkers Ju 52/3m wing?

ShapebuffetingBack to cycling. Or rather, the common denominator of bikes and planes, like strong, but lightweight structures. Take the Spitfire wing as an example. After reading Hay Stevens, you´ll know.Shapestressedskin

As I write, at least three copies of the book are available on the internet, all in the US, and all of them more expensive than mine. Get one nevertheless.


Two more things, once we´re at it. If you want to know still more about how old planes work, you could do worse than getting a set of these:


They are available on the net off and on, but as prices vary wildly, it pays shopping around or waiting. the books mostly explain about aircraft engines, but these are considered parts of the plane as a whole, and so one learns a lot in general. too. Don´t be put off by the books being in Dutch, it´s easily learned tech language. Some snippets:

VliegtmotorblEngines, of course, are explained in detail, but if you are planning to set up an aeroplane workshop, here´s a layout:

VliegtwerkplOr should you want to learn DC3 instrumentation, this is for you:

Vliegtdc3cockpYou may want to obtain a version printed during WWII under Fascist occupation because there´s loads of info on old German aero engines in those, hard to come by elsewhere, whilst pre-WWII versions will have very old engines explained. Later editions deal with American engines mostly.

Vliegt44And lastly, a superbe example of British excentricity and weird humour. did you know that there´s actually Haynes manuals on old planes? I got the Spitfire one for a quid in a charity shop some years ago, and the Lancaster one off the internet, also cheaply. They are available new, but the new ones are naughtily expensive.

HaynesfullThe similarity to the usual Haynes car or motorbike manuals is what intrigues me and has made me laugh more than once. It´s not only the exterior, but, for example, you are told quite without much ado how you can change the brakes on a Lancaster.

HaynesbrakereplI´m not really quite sure if these manuals are just products of British humour, but perhaps the idea that everyone should have a Spitfire in his or her back yard is not that far fetched in many Brits´ minds. After all, it was their Finest Hour when these planes still flew.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.