Fuel, Fire and Fear...

...RAF Flight Engineers at War, from Fonthill Media

Title: Fuel, Fire and Fear
Author: Colin Pateman

Publisher: Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978-1-78155-675-7


This new hardback book from Fonthill Media makes for some fascinating reading, the latest among a number of books by author Colin Pateman for Fonthill Media.  One of the aspects of the British 4-engined heavy bombers was the need for a dedicated role for the Flight Engineer.  The operation of these larger aircraft designs started to indicate the need for someone to manage the operation of the four engines had emerged during the interwar years, and particularly with aircraft such as the huge Short Stirling as well as the likes of the Halifax and of course, the Lancaster.  It also has a Forward written by one of the few remaining Flight Engineers in the RAF, as the only remaining aircraft which need the role are the Sentry aircraft plus the one remaining Lancaster in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

The early chapters of the book give us the background of the need for a flight engineer within a bomber crew and how they came be recruited into the role.  The complexities of managing the operation of four engines is well explained, with the necessary monitoring of them on take-off, let alone on their long missions over Europe.  At the outset, most volunteers came from the trained ground fitters, who understood the engines and associated systems, electrics and hydraulics, those who could not just manage the systems, but often fault find and thereby know the best solution to coping with the problems.  It did not require much flight training, and later on they accepted applicants for direct entry from civilian volunteers.  Trained in their role, apparently it often involved only a bare minimum of actual flight time.  I found the explanation of the complexities of what they had to do was fascinating.  One chapter also gives an excellent insight into the risks imposed by fire and the work to develop self-sealing fuel tanks and the dangers of petrol vapour accumulating in the internal wing spaces.  There were risks not only during operations over Europe, but even training accidents took a heavy toll of crews.

About half of the book involves chapters considering individual flight engineers and their careers, often based on their log books.  The aircraft they worked with include the Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster, while in the final sections, those who flew with Coastal Command in aircraft such as the Sunderland, Liberator and Catalina.  With the large Sunderland, there was even room for the engineer to get into the inside of the wings, where they could reach some parts of the engines if necessary.  It sound like it was a very confined and uncomfortable place though.

It makes a change to see a focus on a role within the crews of Bomber Command other than the pilots, and makes for some interesting reading.

Thanks to Fonthill Media for our review copy.