Empire of the Clouds


By James Hamilton-Paterson, ‘Empire of the Clouds – When Britain’s Aircraft Ruled the World’ is a 280 page long, nostalgic look back at the post-war period in the United Kingdom up until the early 1960s.

One reviewer described it as “A very British version of The Right Stuff…”, and indeed that period was a golden era for British aviation, with an array of firms building ground-breaking and record-breaking aircraft.

Empire of the Clouds

This book sets out to immerse you back in those halcyon days by recreating the zeitgeist of post war Britain. From the Comet to the Lightning, Vulcan, Harrier and Hunter, new aircraft were appearing regularly, and many of them were as good as anything produced by the Americans.

How things went so bad

Ultimately Empire of the Clouds examines how things went from so good, to so terribly bad. From an industry that led the world to one that was decimated by government policy and inaction. It is a tale repeated to some extent in Canada, and the parallels between the scrapping of the Avro Arrow and the BAC TSR are perhaps more than a co-incidence.

I enjoyed the writing style, which was descriptive, amusing and colourful. But there is also plenty of detail and facts and figures, as well as behind-the-scenes stories and anecdotes.

The photos and illustrations are very good, but the book emphasises the written word. And because the author writes so fluidly, this was a very sound decision. The book is a wonderful read.

The Comet

One of the chapters of the book delves into the story of the Comet, the world’s first jet airliner – one that was years ahead of the Americans. It describes how after several losses with no apparent explanation, a major investigation was begun.

The cause was eventually discovered at RAE Farnborough, but by the time the Comet had been redesigned the Americans had taken the lead in civilian jet airliners – one they would not relinquish until the Airbus consortium appeared on the scene decades later.


There are ten chapters in the book. They are:

  1. Death at Farnborough
  2. Bill Waterton and the World Air-Speed Record
  3. The Sound Barrier
  4. A Risky Business
  5. Canberras, Hunters and Patriotism
  6. Crash Landings
  7. ‘Nothing like a 100% aeroplane’
  8. ‘A power of no good’
  9. Fighter Jock Heaven
  10. Not with a Bang

The Book

This book is shown below, along with by a number of similar books or products you might like. If you appreciate my efforts here at The Air Show, please consider using these links for your purchase. It won’t cost you a cent more than buying direct at Amazon. Thanks!

More Reading

You can get a taste of the aircraft that ruled the waves in Britain’s golden aviation era by visiting the International War Museum Duxford. I have written a review of the Museum that you can read here.

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