A Book Worth Reviewing and a Review Worth Reading

DHC Chipmunk: The Poor Man’s Spitfire

Periodically, a really fine Canadian book pops up, seemingly out of nowhere. Such is the case with DHC Chipmunk: The Poor Man’s Spitfire, produced primarily by Hugh Shields of St. Thomas, Ontario, an avid Chipmunk owner and history fan. Working with some overseas collaborators, Hugh attains “top of the heap” stature with this magnificently designed (Linda Moroz-Irvine) volume. If you have the slightest interest in Canada’s great aviation heritage, treat yourself to a copy. Do that and you’ll be a very happy reader. First, however, enjoy Bob Merrick’s review of Hugh’s book in “COPA Flight”:

The tour of the Canada Aviation Museum’s eclectic storage hangar was progressing well, but as the visitors neared the DHC-1 Chipmunk, one of them exclaimed, “Ah, the Chipmunk! The British really developed a good aircraft when they built that one.” It is in part to dispel such ignorance that this new book, DHC Chipmunk, was written, and it thoroughly puts to rest the notion that the Chipmunk was a British concoction. The book is subtitled “The Poor Man’s Spitfire,” but really, it had nothing to do with combat ops in WWII.

Although the DHC-1 may have faded from your memory, most of you will recall the DHC-2 Beaver, the DHC-3 Otter, the DHC-4 Caribou, the DHC-5 Buffalo, DHC-6 Twin Otter, and other examples of DHC designs. The DHC stands for De Havilland Canada, and the Chipmunk is as Canadian as they come.

Um, well, you may wish to quibble with that, as the lead designer was a Polish émigré, Wsiewolod (Jaki) Jakimiuk, who also contributed much to Canadian aviation, and Canada with DHC’s next unforgettable project, the Beaver.

The Chipmunk was a postwar venture of De Havilland Canada, a Canadian subsidiary of the British company that built a host of aeroplanes to help win WWII. Among them was the DH-82 Tiger Moth, a superb ab initio training aircraft that was a familiar sight around the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan airfields that were … sprinkled across Canada during the war. But, after the war … DHC had spare capacity that might be used for building a trainer that didn’t look as though it was preparing aspiring pilots for WWI. So, that’s what they hoped to do…

This remarkably thorough book takes us back to the latter days of WWII, when DHC was planning for a peacetime era …

DHC’s design staff was working on several ideas, some for the RCAF, some for the flying club market, and some for the bush-flying market. A possible design for a trainer sitting on Jakimiuk’s desk caught the eye of Francis St. Barbe, an exalted visiting fireman from the DH head office in the U.K., in 1945. He was so impressed with the model that he said, “If you build it, I will sell it.”

DHC Canada did build it, after many tribulations, St. Barbe did sell it, and a legend was born. It was not all smooth sailing, or soaring, however. There was much backing and filling as designers and engineers strived to achieve exactly the right combination for what was to become one of the most delightful ab initio training aircraft ever built. DHC Chipmunk describes in exquisite detail the machinations that were needed to build trainers that would be all things to all aspiring pilots and their instructors. It runs to 440 pages and who knows how many pictures, many in glorious colour … The book is worth buying for the pictures alone. They’re excellent, plentiful, and a joy to behold.

But don’t think the words are simply adjuncts to a photo gallery. The words are the heart and soul of what is really a wonderful addition to Canada’s written aviation history, accurately describing the many things that must come together when designing a new aircraft. It’s a book to be savoured; not one to be given the speed-reading treatment… Yeah, I know, books with multiple authors sometimes give the impression of being written by a committee of ill-programmed computers operating in Sanskrit and Esperanto, but not this one. Shields leads off, and doesn’t relinquish the computer until page 211. Thus, he tells us all about the initial design experience and much else, then finishes off with a complete Canadian production list and a bibliography. Rod Brown from the U.K. then takes over with the British experience. It’s a well-written piece which, with a disposition list and bibliography, lasts until page 381. It contains considerable Chipmunk lore, as you might expect, as the Brits kept the Chipmunk in military service for much longer than did the RCAF.

Rod Brown also helps out on the Chipmunks in Portugal section, which is credited to José Gonçalves. This is a much shorter piece, in part because anything that could be said about the Chipmunk has already been said, you’d think. But no, it adds value and new perspectives to what preceded it. Another Rod, Rod Blievers, provides a concise, readable account of Australia’s Chipmunk experience, and he adds yet more information … All of these accounts will cause your eyes to widen as you discover how universal and useful these aircraft really were, and, to an extent, still are… And, this may surprise you, but this cornucopia of aeronautical lore is available for the truly modest price of $69.95. You won’t often see a book of this quality for such a low price… I can think of no finer gift for the household aeronut … it will provide endless hours of reading and learning enjoyment, and earn your undying gratitude from the lucky recipient.

Order your copy of DHC Chipmunk: The Poor Man’s Spitfire. CANAV’s price (Canadian orders) is $65.00 + $10.00 shipping + GST $3.75. Total? $78.75. US and Overseas orders e-mail larry@canavbooks.com for the price to your destination. Pay by any cheque, or if ordering by PayPal, same e-mail address to get a PayPal invoice. CANAV Books, 51 Balsam Ave., Toronto, Ontario M4E 3B6.

If you are a DHC fan, you’ll also want your copy of Fred Hotson’s internationally-acclaimed hardcover, De Havilland in Canada. See canavbooks.com for all the details. Usually $45.00, CANAV’s price $37.50 + $10.00 postage + GST $2.37. Total? $49.87. These books make the perfect pair, so here’s a deal you can’t resist — Canadian orders … both titles $120.00 all in (US and Overseas $120.00 + postage … enquire).

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