Product Reviews

Published on November 30th, 2019 | by Guy Warner


Book Review – Petticoat Pilots  – Biographies and Achievements of Irish Female Aviators 1909–1939

It is unusual to start a book review with some statistics but as these are so impressive it is difficult to resist the urge. These two sumptuously produced, large format (the US equivalent of A4 size), hardback volumes weigh in at a hefty 7 lbs 4 oz (3.3 kg). With a gestation period of seven years, they may be described, with a degree of accuracy, as the author’s baby. They encompass a total of 621 pages and include no less than 773 magnificent, diligently researched and well-chosen illustrations – photos, maps and contemporary adverts.

Yet all of this would be much less valuable were it not for the highly detailed and readable text, the product of much deep and indefatigable research by Michael, together with superb editing, design and layout  by Alicia McAulay. The final result is a publication that is far more than simply the biographies of 15 intrepid young women – highly interesting though they are. The difference is that Michael sets these in the context of their times, their family backgrounds and ancestry, so producing a scholarly work of Irish Social History. I can only but echo the endorsement of Michael D Higgins, the President of the Republic of Ireland, ‘a unique collector’s treasure trove, not just for historians of Irish aviation but for all those Irishwomen and Irish men at home and around the world, who wish to learn and celebrate the undeniably world-class, but too-often unsung, achievements of the women whose stories are told here. He adds, ‘It is undoubtedly the ultimate reference source on the topic of women’s aviation history in Ireland and will surely become recognised as a foremost title on the subject.’ Moreover, at the recent book launch in the Northern Ireland War Memorial in Belfast, the guest of honour, the distinguished journalist and broadcaster, Dr Wendy Austin MBE, was full of praise for the many terrific anecdotes collected by Michael and the word picture he created of a bygone era. I would add that the illustrations really enhance the text as do the family trees at the start of each chapter, which contribute to the books’ historical substance. My only quibble would be – the books stop in 1939 and I would hope that Michael might possibly consider extending his research onwards towards the Irish women who followed in the footsteps of these pioneers into commercial, SAR and military flying.

Highly recommended and available from the author Michael Traynor at

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