Dozens of coffee table books covering vintage aircraft have been published, and most of those dozens concentrate on vintage warbirds. Most offer high-quality photography of the most well-known or popular World War II and Korean War-era aircraft, laid out on the page with an encyclopedia-like description of the type pictured, and perhaps a little about the actual aircraft on the page.
Certainly, the aircraft are also the stars of Flying Warbirds: An Illustrated Profile of the Flying Heritage Collection’s Rare WWII-Era Aircraft, but this book has the great advantage of covering one of the most unique collections of aircraft extant. The Flying Heritage Collection (FHC) holds some of the rarest of rare birds, including a German Messerschmitt Me 163, Me 109E, and Me 262 as well as a flying Focke Wulf Fw-190A-5 and static FW 190 “Dora”, a Russian Polikarpov I-16 and Il-2 Shturmovik, a Japanese Kawasaki Ki-43 Hayate and Mitsubishi A6M-2 Zero, and a rare P-40C.
More than a cut above the typical offering, Cory Graff’s Flying Warbirds tells the stories not just of the type of aircraft the collection holds, but also, where possible, a complete history of the operational careers the aircraft as well as the often fascinating stories of their salvage or rescue from the smelters.
Fine photography of these aircraft and a simple narrative would be enough to justify the purchase price, but along with the aerial photography and overall views by some of the best aviation photographers working today, many shots and their accompanying captions enhance the text with detailed views and descriptions of unique and interesting features of the aircraft.
The bullet-shaped fairing over the Ki-43’s optical gunsight, the cannon barrels of the FW-190D passing through the maingear wells, a preserved bullet hole in a fuselage former of the P-40C, the intricacies of the F6F Hellcat’s wing fold mechanism, the wind-driven impeller at the tip of the Me 163 Komet’s nose, or the tightly-cowled Packard Merlin of a P-51 give the reader a taste of how unique and beautiful these aircraft truly are, provide a look into the minds of those who designed them, and help readers appreciate the men who flew them and flew against them.
I would disagree with the section heading labeling the I-16 and Hawker Hurricane “The Primitives,” as they are only “primitive” by comparison to the rest of the collection rather than in the context of their time. When they first flew they were as good as anything else in the air, and better than most. Even with the benefit of hindsight, the poor old Hawker Hurricane, the real victor of the Battle of Britain, is still damned with faint praise. Likewise, it always annoys me to see the little I-16 saddled with the unattractive Rata (Rat) name the Fascists gave it during the Spanish civil war, rather than the Mosca (Fly) appellation affectionately used by the pilots of the Spanish Republican government, or even the nicknames used by the Russians. But these are quibbles over a beautiful, well-written, enjoyable book that deserves pride of place on the coffee table or on the bookshelf.