While attending the World Aerobatic Championships in France earlier this year, I came across a newly released book that has, as it turns out, an important South African aviation connection. Written by acclaimed aviation author Annette Carson, Camel Pilot Supreme tells the story of a South African born pilot who achieved fame during the Great War.
Captain DV Armstrong, who hailed from Durban, left South Africa in 1915 to join the RFC and went on to become a legend for his feats in the little Sopwith Camel fighter plane. His superb piloting skills and mastery of the aircraft saw him earn key successes against the enemy in the aerial war and was also to put him in great demand as a flying instructor. He was considered to be the ‘finest pilot the Royal Flying Corps ever produced’. My interest was really piqued when I read of his dazzling aerobatic performances; his low-level loops from take-off and flick rolls after bouncing the little Camel on the runway before landing, were legendary and the young pilot quickly earned the reputation of being the ‘best aerobatic pilot of his day, bar none’.
Along with a pilot’s-eye-view of flying WW1 aircraft, Carson gives a wealth of detail about Armstrong’s South African roots and time in the RFC, with many asides of his friendships, his life off the airfield, too and eyewitness accounts of his extraordinary skill. It is particularly well illustrated featuring over 170 images including original photographs sourced from Armstrong’s own collection, enlivened with colour paintings by well-known artist Lynn Williams.
While some of his contemporaries, like Pierre Van Ryneveld and Quintin Brand were lauded for their later achievements, very little was known of this South African flying hero until Annette Carson published this well researched biography that now allows Captain Armstrong to take his rightful place among the heroes of pioneering flight. A ‘must-read’ for any aviation enthusiast, it looks set to appear on many a Christmas list. Published by Pen and Sword, it is available locally in hardcover from www.Loot.co.za An eBook version is available at www.pen-and-sword.co.uk.