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Fairey Rotodyne

by David Gibbings

The History Press


S u m m a r y

Title and Author Fairey Rotodyne by David Gibbings
The History Press
ISBN: 978 0 7524 4916 6

Soft, glossy, laminated card, colour covers; 17cm x 25cm portrait format on 160 matt pages.  Includes over 80 black and white photographs and numerous drawings and diagrams

Price: GBP£16.99 net
Review Type: First Read

Many interesting photographs and a good number of technical illustrations - in reality, probably the only title available on the subject at the moment.

Disadvantages: Perhaps semi-gloss pages might have rendered the photographs a little better?
Recommendation: With modelling interest in the Rotodyne on the rise, or if rotary wings are your thing, then this book will certainly fit the bill.


Reviewed by Steve Naylor

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Worryingly (for me!), the Rotodyne first flew on 6 November 1957, just 6 months almost to the day, after I was born.  This sobering fact and realisation, is tempered by the nostalgic feelings I have for this and other aircraft, which went on to grace the pages of my childhood books.  The books may be gone, but the legacy of their vision and inspiration remain in the memory, so, 52 years later, will the facts spoil the memories, will nostalgia really turn out to be 'not what it used to be'?  Hopefully, this new book by David Gibbings will be able to tell us.


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Like the TSR.2, the Rotodyne promised much, but was cut down in its prime by the vagaries of both the UK aviation industry and in UK government policy in the the 1960's.  Author David Gibbings, a retired RAF engineer/navigator (awarded the Kelly Johnson Award for outstanding achievement in his field by the Society of Flight Test Engineers), is well placed to describe this aircraft's story.  He worked on the Rotodyne whilst with Fairey Aviation, going on to be a flight test engineer with Westlands, the company who eventually took Faireys and the project over.  Although printed in a sub-A4 format, there is a lot crammed into this new book's 160 pages.  Black and white throughout (barring the outside covers), whilst the text dominates, there are many interesting photographs of the prototype in flight, of the component parts, on the test rig or of the mock-up fuselage and cockpits.  There are also a good number of technical illustrations, not only of the prototype, but also of the proposed (and bigger) production machine.

After the Foreword, Definitions and Introduction pages, the book is laid out in 5 broad chapters plus 2 appendices, a list of references and an index.  'Before The Rotodyne' looks at the Rotodyne's antecedents, including the Brennan helicopter (1924), Victor Isacco's 'Helicogyre No.3' (Italy, 1926) and inevitably, Juan de la Cierva's 'Autogiros' (1920's and 1930's).  German influence came via Anton Flettner and Friedrich von Doblhoff, all of which led to Fairey's early work, evidenced in their Gyrodyne, Jet Gyrodyne aircraft and in their Ultralight Helicopter.

The two largest chapter are chapters 2 and 3, respectively on; 'The Rotodyne That Was Built And Flown' and 'The Rotodyne That Might Have Been'.  Both chapters provide a fascinating insight into the trials and tribulations of development work on a new and challenging technology.  The fact the Rotodyne we all know from photographs and newsreel footage, was but a precursor of an intended larger machine, is a complete revelation to me and to others I'm sure.  The reader is inevitably left wondering what might have been, had the design been allowed to continue -  maybe such machines would be a common sight even today?

Chapter 4 ('The Rotodyne Fifty Years On') looks at how modern technology, materials and thinking, would now be applied to such a concept.  This leads neatly into chapter 5 ('Renaissance'), which looks at present day proposals for use of the Rotodyne concept, from personal aircraft, right up to machines equivalent in size to the ubiquitous C-130 Hercules.

Finally, Appendix 1 ('The Pilot's Viewpoint'), is a reproduction of a very interesting article by test pilot W.R. (Ron) Gellatly, which appeared in the August 1962 issue of 'Flight' magazine, whilst Appendix 2 ('A Picture of Rotodyne') contains a series of photographs of the prototype in action.





One thing this book does do, is highlight the wasted opportunity the Rotodyne represented.  The prototype was scrapped and although a few parts are preserved, the drawings, reports and technical data have been allowed to disappear -  remind anyone of any other British endeavours of the period?

By contrast, in the world of aircraft modelling, Fairey's Rotodyne has coincidentally witnessed a bit of a renaissance recently.  Revell have reissued their c.50-year old, 1:78 scale Rotodyne kit and S&M Decals have a new 1:78 sheet out, to go with it.   Here on Hyperscale, Vic Scheuerman's recent build of the 40-year old 1:72 Airfix kit (a 'What-If' RAF machine, on the Airfix Kits Group Build Forum) attracted a lot of interest and comment, and it has since gone on to be written up in the pages of 'Military In Scale' magazine (June 2009).  Which proves that there is still life in the old girl yet (that's the Rotodyne, NOT  Vic Scheuerman, although he's obviously in fine fettle!).

Although probably the only book on the subject (recently at least), given the subject matter, this title is probably not going to 'float everyone's boat'.  On the other hand, if rotary wings are your thing, or if you have a passion or nostalgia for aviation from the past, then this book will certainly fit the bill.

Book purchased by reviewer

Copies should be available to order from most good book outlets, but can also be ordered direct from;

The History Press
The Mill
Brimscombe Port
Gloucestershire GL5 2QG

Tel: 01453 883300 Email: sales@thehistorypress.co.uk



Review Copyright 2009 by Steve Naylor
This Page Created on 24 November, 2009
Last updated 24 November, 2009

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