Carrier Aviation in the 21st Century


Carrier Aviation in the 21st century – Aircraft Carriers and their Units in detail. Editor – Thomas Newdick. Paperback.  Harpia Publishing, Houston USA, 2017.

Reviewed by David Hobbs

This book was only recently brought to ANI’s attention and it is a pity it was not spotted when it was published in 2017.  It contains 9 chapters, each covering a different aircraft carrier operating nation and written by different, specialist authors.  

The first chapter covers the Brazilian Sao Paulo which was withdrawn from service shortly after the book’s publication when it was found that upgrading the machinery in such an old hull would be both expensive and time consuming even if it could be done.  The details of her former air group which now operates ashore are, however, of continuing use.  Subsequent chapters are arranged in alphabetical order and cover China, France, India, Italy, Russia, Spain, the UK and the USA.  Unsurprisingly the US section is by far the largest covering 66 out of a total of 252 pages and, because the Wasp and America LHDs and LHAs operate F-35 Lightnings and AV-8B Harriers they are included as light carriers, as is the Spanish Juan Carlos I.  The closely similar RAN Canberra class ships and the Japanese Izumo class are not included because at the time of publication they did not operate fixed-wing aircraft and this was the criterion taken to mark the subtle difference between light aircraft carriers and amphibious helicopter carriers.

Each chapter includes a brief history of the relevant nation’s naval air arm, some of which are longer and more detailed than others, and a description of its operational carriers with lists of the types of aircraft and squadrons that operate from them.  The text is supported by well-chosen coloured photographs and an appendix shows beautifully drawn colour plan views of the ships’ flight decks together with technical details.  The chapters conclude with a speculative schematic representation of how each type of carrier would fit within its battle group.  Surprisingly, considering that it starts by stating that ‘the Fleet Air Arm has given birth to naval aviation over the years’, the section on the UK has one of the shortest historical summaries.  It is also one of the most speculative chapters because the two new carriers were not yet operational when the book closed for press although some photographs of HMS Queen Elizabeth on her early sea trials have been included.

Overall this is an attractive book that still serves as a useful reference source for the operational aircraft carriers described and their air groups.  Naturally, the details it contains are already 3 years old and as time passes, they will become significantly dated so it is to be hoped that the publisher will consider producing a revised and up-dated edition in the near future.  In fact, the format would lend itself to planning future, revised editions at fixed intervals.  The number of books specialising in naval aviation is limited and this could be a valuable addition to them.  Some thought also needs to be given to the ‘cross-over’ potential of big-deck amphibious ships such as those in Australia, Japan and others which ought to merit their inclusion.  The information contained in any book is only ever accurate on the day of publication and so the passage of 3 years has not yet had too great an impact on this book; it retains relevance as a contemporary reference for a while longer and I am happy to recommend it on that basis.   


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