Book Review: “Ol’ Shakey”

Ol’ Shakey: Memories of a Flight Engineer
By: Byron Gene Fish
Outskirts Press (2013)

Through the 1950s and 1960s, the distinctive looking Douglas C-124 Globemaster II was the primary heavy lift aircraft of the U.S. Air Force. It was a bulky, hulking aircraft that was difficult to mistake for anything else on a flightline of the period.

It was also a very distinctive aircraft from a standpoint of operating it and had a habit of keeping crew members, particularly flight engineers, alert and busy with a myriad of mechanical idiosynchrasies.

This book gives one a very good overview of the training involved to become a flight engineer on “Ol’ Shakey” as the C-124 was nicknamed in service. It also examines how crews had to have complete trust in each other to operate the aircraft effectively and what could happen if that trust was compromised.

The book also details a range of scenarios that were typical  when working with the aircraft, such as crawling through a maintenance tunnel that ran through the wings in order to examine and service the engines in flight.

Beyond the aircraft itself, the book also gives the reader an idea of what the crews experienced at the various spots around the world they flew the aircraft into. It also gives one a feel for what the inter-service and inter-unit politics and rivalries of the time could be like.

Most of what is in this book are solid flying stories, though there are a few stories of off duty clowning about to add comic relief to the mix.

As it deals with the transport mission, it’s not the most exciting book you’ll find. Nonetheless, it is an accessible and informative read from a very qualified voice on the subject.

The author, Byron Gene Fish, spent the bulk of his professional life in aviation with many of those years spent at the flight engineer station of the C-124 aircraft.

This link will take you to the book’s profile on the publisher’s website:

https://outskirtspress.com/webpage?isbn=9781478716907#details

Catching up on Book Reviews

I haven’t put up any new book reviews lately, so it’s time to correct that. Here’s an overview of a few books I’ve read in the not so distant past:

“Ten Years Flying the F-105”
By: Randolph S. Reynolds
Independently published (2015)

This is a very readable and accessible book written by a retired F-105 Thunderchief pilot. It’s written in a straightforward and informative way that is free of bravado and has a minimum of unexplained jargon.

While the majority of books on the F-105 Thunderchief focus on the type’s use over Vietnam, the author himself flew them in that conflict, this book is a refreshing departure from that pattern as Reynolds has opted to put the focus of this work on his post Vietnam flying career in the U.S. Air Force Reserve Command (AFRES) and the twilight years of the F-105’s service career. As such, the reader is given an insight into life and operations in a lesser covered branch of the U.S. Air Force and what F-105 operations were like on a daily basis outside of combat.

I can easily recommend this book to anyone with a general interest in the F-105 and what it was like to work around. The straightforward, no-nonsense style of writing is informative and not at all esoteric or alienating in feel.

If you’re looking for thrills and edge-of-your-seat reading, this isn’t your book. If you want to know what living and working around the mighty F-105 Thunderchief in peacetime was like, you should enjoy it.

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“Out of the Blue”
Edited by: Ian Cowie, Dim Jones and Chris Long
Halldale Media Group (2011)

This is the first of a two book set of flying stories and memoirs of Royal Air Force members from their service careers. The compilation covers a wide time period from just after the Second World War to the end of the Cold War.

This is a very well edited compilation of stories that keeps the focus on living and working around the various aircraft. All the tales take place in the squad rooms, hangars,flightlines or cockpits. There are, thankfully, no stories of off duty alcohol induced misadventures or skirt chasing to be found in this book.

These are all proper flying stories in the truest sense. The historical width and breadth this book covers ensures that the reader gets a good taste of how life in the RAF changed over the years and how the demands on pilots increased as the technology in aircraft increased as well.

As you might be able to tell, I very much recommend this book!

The book was published with the intent that the proceeds from sales would go to benefit the RAF Benevolent Fund and other British military veteran charities.

You can find it for purchase on the RAF Benevolent Fund website:
Out Of The Blue

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“Out of the Blue Too”
Edited by: Ian Cowie, Dim Jones and Chris Long
Halldale Media Group (2014)

This is the follow up volume to “Out of the Blue”. As with the first book, it covers the post World War Two and Cold War years of the RAF quite well and gives a decent cross section of the different aircraft types and changes in life in the RAF through that period.

However, this book lacks a certain focus that the first one had. While the first one had solidly aircraft and active duty stories at the heart of it, several of the stories in this second volume seem only tenuously connected with either. Additionally, some of the stories in the second book go on a bit longer than necessary and could have benefited from a bit tighter editing.

Despite the shortcomings, I still recommend this one. As with the first volume, it was published with the intent that the proceeds from sales go to the RAF Benevolent Fund and other British military veteran charities.

It can be purchased through the RAF Benevolent Fund website:
Out of the Blue Too

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“The Red Knight of Germany: The Story of Baron von Ricthofen”
By: Floyd Gibbons
Garden City Publishing (1927)

While certainly not a new book, this one will give you an insight into Manfred von Ricthofen that very few other books on the man could. It’s precisely because it was written and published less than a decade after the First World War ended that it can give such insights.

The author, Floyd Gibbons (1887-1939), worked as a war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. Gibbons was known for a dramatic and detailed writing style, and it shows in this book. Having witnessed the conflict first hand and lived in a time when access to veterans of the conflict with still fresh memories could be found, Gibbons could write this book with an immediacy that later books on the subject lack.

Additionally, Gibbons had access to Ricthofen’s mother and the museum she had constructed in the family home in memory of her son after the conflict. The Ricthofen family home in Poland still stands today, but the museum was dismantled just prior to the Second World War and many parts of it’s collection went to other museums around the world or are still unaccounted for.

The book contains recollections of men who fought the Red Baron and lived to tell their tales as well as those of men who served alongside the man and remember him as a commander or squadron mate. Excerpts of his own letters home to his mother are also frequent in the book.

The book does get a little dry in places, but overall it gives anyone with an interest in the man or First World War air combat a rather unique perspective on both.