Michael Napier began his carrier at the RAF in 1978 and left 13 years later as Flight Commander. The greatest part of his flying carrier he spent, after his training, as pilot off a Tornado, the tactical bomber in the ‘80ies from the British, Italian and German air force. He describes his experiences in the air during the training in the Jet Provost and the conversion trainings to the Hawk and the Tornado.
Memoirs of pilots have always been my favourite reading and this book has certainly not disappointed me. Napier takes you along in the cockpit on his missions and describes in an honest and intriguing way how he experiences everything. He speaks openly about his doubts and failures in some situations and tells, with British humour, about his developments from puppy pilot to experienced flight controller of large attack formations. He has gone through a lot. First being stationed in Germany during the Cold War with Russia and later during exercises in America- Red Flag-. Goose Bay in Canada, Deci in Sardinia and of course his period as instructor on the Hawk in Great Britain.
The 2-person all weather Tornado jet had a TFR (Terrain Following Radar) and his power lay in flying fast and low above smooth and uneven terrain in bad weather or in the dark. Flying with 480 knots on 100 feet with bad or no sight and navigating above Germany and Great Britain with all its controlled areas and still finding and hitting your attack goal! Incredible precision flying and steel nerves were necessary for this. Through the way Napier tells you have got the feeling that you are with him in the cockpit and experience it from close by. Also the encounters with the ‘counterpart’ and the tankers for refuelling of the Tornado’s are so greatly described that you feel like you are part of it.
His descriptions of the landscape that passes below him during his operational flights are well documented in the book. In the last part of the book his post to Dharaan at the Persian Gulf (Saudi Arabia) during the Gulf War is set out and the war flights he makes above Iraq. The preparations of the training mission or an operational (war-) mission are unbelievably complicated and precise and need to be flown on the second with the help of flight director, autopilot and the TFR. Also these flight preparations are well set out in his book. The average mission takes around 1,5 till 2 hrs. and is mainly flown in the dark above relatively unknown terrain, alternated by an encounter with a tanker (also in the dark)
Not in the last place is also the function of the navigator extensively discussed and Napier emphasises that without a good navigator a successful mission is almost impossible. The human side of the pilot and navigator with all its limitations is also set out and is included by Napier in his stories.
A few narrow escapes in his flying career are also mentioned with for example: a disturbance in the hydraulics of the adjustable wings followed by a problematic landing and – this seemed already so familiar to me- the problems that occurred with a large formation above London in bad weather. Anecdotes, flight descriptions, confrontations with superiors, loss of colleagues, difficult situations and war experiences; everything has its place in this great book.
It is a beautiful bound book, has 288 pages with small letters (so a lot of text) alternated with a considerable amount of black and white pictures of mainly Tornados and Hawk’s. The book has given me quite some good reading hours. The last flight he makes before his leave as pilot with the RAF he describes so smashingly that I thought, come on Michael, sign up for another few years, because it can’t get any better!