Product Reviews

Published on June 4th, 2022 | by Guy Warner

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Book Review – Flying Light Helicopters with the Royal Marines

Flying Light Helicopters with the Royal Marines – Collective Tales from Marine Air 489 by Robert Wilsey, 282 pages HB, 36 B&W illustrations, 3 maps, Air World £25, ISBN 9781 39900 2509

You know that you are in for a treat when you are drawn into the narrative within the first few paragraphs; as is the case here, with initial references to Vikings, Ambassadors, Meteors, Austers, Chipmunks and T.38 Grasshoppers! In the words of Roger Bacon (Straight and Level, Flight Magazine diarist in days of yore) Colonel Wilsey is a ‘total aviation person.’

That said, I have read many enthusiastically written aircrew memoirs and by no means all of them have been up to scratch. Quite often an author may be a highly competent aviator but, unfortunately, also a very poor writer, who refuses to avail himself of the necessary services of an editor or proof-readers. This is certainly not the case here, happily, as this author tells his absorbing tale factually, anecdotally and technically with considerable aplomb.

A key part of my pleasure in reading this book has been the care and trouble taken over the endnotes, these really enhance and illuminate the main text. So while reading, I would suggest, keep a marker in this section for quick reference.

We follow the author through his training at Middle Wallop, flying Chipmunks, Bell 47s and Sioux, where the developing theme was, ‘How to use the aircraft and not just fly it.’ The attitude of the instructors was robust, summarized pithily as, ‘stop talking and get on with it.’ This produced, ‘sound, self-reliant pilots – if they survived training.’ Conversion to the brand new Gazelle followed immediately, which was a quantum leap from the Sioux, as, amongst other qualities, it cruised twice as fast. His first posting to 3 CBAS in 1975 included deck landings on the Commando Carrier, HMS Bulwark and smaller platforms, which, counterintuitively, were less challenging as there were likely to be fewer aircraft on deck.

Over the course of his long flying career the author flew Gazelles, Sioux and Lynx in such diverse locations as Malta, Brunei, Northern Ireland, Germany, France, Norway, Canada, Belize and Northern Iraq, as well as having considerable experience as a QHI and as an air display pilot with the Sparrowhawks and the Silver Eagles. A surprising fact is that this latter Lynx-based team sometimes added a Beaver to the mix. He also achieved command of 3 CBAS in 1989,  culminating in 1991 with the challenges of Operation HAVEN in Northern Iraq.

Reading this well-crafted account felt much the same to me as if I were sitting in the Mess Bar or Anteroom listening to this highly experienced airman’s ‘dits’, told with verve, along with detailed explanations of flying techniques, tasks and terrain in each of the theatres covered.

As may have been gathered, I really enjoyed reading this book – highly recommended!

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