by Ross Ewing
Published by Old Sausage Publishers. Price $49.95.
Reviewed by Bill Hopper
For someone who has spent many hours in the back seat of a T-Bird, this book is pure unadulterated nostalgia. I could close my eyes and sense the exhilaration of acceleration on take off and the straining pull of G in a tight turn.
Written by a man, many years after his last A4 sortie, who is obviously still in love with this fast lady of the skies, Topped Gun chronicles the life of the Skyhawk in New Zealand from its gestation to its death. A requiem, yes, but also an enthralling biography of a flying machine that served New Zealand loyally for 31 years.
The book opens with a vivid description the Kin Nan incident of 26 March 1976, the only occasion that a New Zealand Skyhawk bared its teeth in anger and showed that this country was ready and willing - at that time - to protect its fishing grounds from foreign poachers.
There follows, a history of the RNZAF's heritage in the air combat role, the evaluation of a replacement for the ageing Canberra bomber, the decision to purchase, training, the Nowra Agreement, aerobatics and 'Kiwi Red', accidents, the eventual disbandment of 75 and 2 Squadrons in 2001- and the politics of Defence.
Yes, there is considerable political content in this attractive volume. The author is one of that 'intrepid' band of aviation and defence lobbyists who vainly carried the battle for the preservation of New Zealand's air combat capability right to the Court of Appeal.
But defence, the RNZAF and, in particular, the Skyhawk appears to have been dogged by politicians' uninformed utterances from day one. Ross Ewing recounts the story that at a Cabinet meeting, which was to discuss the purchase of the Skyhawks, Prime Minister Keith Holyoake rifled through the file with his thumb and said, "They've asked for 18. Why don't we give them 14?" And that was agreed without further discussion!
Lavishly illustrated, this is an important book for those who argue the case for a balanced Air Force for this country's defence. Those with opposite views could find it enlightening.