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Fighters of the Fifties

Fighters of the Fifties Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review May 2014 Title Fighters of the Fifties
Author Bill Gunston Publisher Specialty Press
Published 1981 ISBN 9780933424326
Format 248 pages, hardbound MSRP (USD) Check used book listings!


Aviation lost a legend last year.

Bill Gunston died 1 June 2013.  The prolific British writer and historian, we're told, penned over 300 books and numerous articles.1,2,3  And in our first occasional "Tribute Review", we honor Gunston with an assessment of his tremendously enjoyable Fighters of the Fifties – published by Specialty Press in 1981.

And what great fun it is!

With a personal penchant for prototypes, I found many chapters both intriguing and entertaining.  Ruefully famous "what ifs" – like Avro's CF-105 Arrow, Convair's XF2Y Sea Dart and Vought's XF8U-3 Crusader III – provided plenty of counterfactual fun.  And Gunston's coverage of the Douglas F5D-1 Skylancer, Grumman XF10F Jaguar, Lockheed XF-90, McDonnell XF-88 Voodoo, and Saunders-Rowe SR.53 and SR.177 vividly confirmed the endless interplay of politics, technologies, aspirations and hopes in warplane development and procurement.

Only a comparatively few designs, however, actually achieve production.  And historically conspicuous classics like the CF-100, F-84, F-86, F-100, F-102, F-104, Hunter, MiG-15, MiG-17, Mysterè, Mirage and other familiar jets understandably command contents.  Nevertheless, Gunston still shoehorns one lone prop job – de Havilland's handsome DH.103 Hornet – among his 67 subjects.

Some sections also proved incredibly entertaining.  Just peruse Gunston's panegyrics to SAAB's J29 Tunnan and J35 Draken.  And like me, you'll probably find the author's evident enthusiasm inescapably infectious.

Hiccups?  A few.  The book omits Argentina's fascinating IAe 33 Pulqui II – designed by Germany's legendary Kurt Tank and derived from his wartime Ta 183 jet fighter.  Compounding the oversight, Gunston calls SAAB's J29 "the only non-Russian aircraft to follow the original German configuration with a nose inlet, engine under the mid- or high wing, short jet pipe and fuselage-mounted landing gears" – exactly Tank's Pulqui II arrangement.

Sections on Soviet designs also sport some understandably questionable and dated details.  Communism's collapse certainly changed the whole complexion of Russian aviation scholarship since Gunston penned his piece.  And, by the way, Iran – not Iraq – operated F-86s.

I've probably read Fighters of the Fifties 30 times in 30 years – but never, I think, sequentially, cover-to-cover.  Gunston's compact chapters and easy, ambling prose utterly encourage sampling and savoring.  And I regularly roam this enormously entertaining effort.

Is it still available?  Yep.  A recent check on listed several used copies for sale.  Prices ranged from US$16.00 up.

So have some fun.  Slip into your "Wayback Machine" – and grab this ever-entertaining effort.

Somewhere, Bill Gunston is smiling!