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Tom Cleaver
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R.I.P. Bill Gunston (1927-2013)

July 14, 2013 · in Uncategorized · 10 · 1.2K

I just became aware that aviation author Bill Gunston died on June 1, 2013. A former RAF pilot, he was the technical editor of Flight International beginning in the 1950s and later an editor of Jane's All the World's Aircraft. He was the author of over 350 books and articles on the topic of military aviation, and used his world-wide knowledge of the aviation industry and the people in it to great effect in detailing the development of aircraft. If he'd only ever written "Early Supersonic Fighters of the West" he would have made a singular contribution to understanding the development of aviation - to me, his detailing of what those airplanes meant in terms of the development of cutting edge technology, the effect those programs had on the industrial development of their respective nations, and on the politics involved goes so far beyond being an "aviation author" as to put the book on any list of 100 most important books for understanding the 20th Century.

I must have about 2-3 feet of shelf space devoted to his works, and after I read the first one, all I ever needed to see to purchase any of the others was his name on the cover, no need to look through it and think about the decision. There's only about 10 other authors I can think of I accord that respect to, and only one other in the field of aviation writing.

I never met him, but Bill Gunston's work was as influential on my aviation writing as my old friend the late Bill Green - whose writing first introduced me to the topic and whose editorial work and encouragement first got me to "dive in" 20 years later.

Reader reactions:

10 responses

  1. We've lost a true luminary, Tom. I surely hope the historians and authors he's inspired over the decades will carry the torch; they've got very big boots to fill. Blue skies, Mr. Gunston.

    • Well, interestingly enough, a number of "the usual suspects" in the minnow pond of aviation history and journalism happen to be friends of mine (it's like my father said of '30s aviation: it was a small enough community that if you survived 5 years, you knew everybody) and we have been discussing Bill. Every last one of them was influenced by his desire to speak truth to power regardless (which made him less than popular with those who ran aviation companies and the government bureaucrats who made the decisions, and a drinking partner of those who made things work). The man had influence. I would only wish when someone reports my crossing of the Rainbow Bridge that I might get 1/100 of what he's gotten; it would make it all worthwhile.

  2. I think that my first book on aviation, bought as a kid almost thirty years ago, was by him! A household name in the world of aviation if there ever was one!



  3. Rally sad to hear that. His books, especially all the illustrated encyclopaedia titles were of a kind that could inspire a life-long interest in aviation.

  4. said on July 15, 2013

    All of us who are fascinated by aviation owe a great deal to Bill Gunston. For many of us, Bill's books were the only thing that we had to refer to, because, as we all know, there was precious little reference material back in the day. Of course now that we have the Internet, we can find things not possible years ago; it seems that we have everything at our fingertips now. How different it was back in the 1950's and '60's...Bill Gunston was our Internet back then, and we are all the better for it.

    Thank you, Bill, and may you Rest in Peace.

  5. Bill and his wonderful writings will truly be missed RIP Bill enjoy the heavens with the other legends

  6. tom,
    All I can add to all of these comments is that I am very happy that I have a number of his books on my shelf. Rest in peace Bill.

  7. I also have several of Mr. Gunston's book in my "library". Another legend gone from our midst. Thanks for letting us know Tom.

  8. I was in elementary school when I first got a Bill Gunston book, can't recall which one it was, but it was through the Military Book Club. Over the years I have accumulated quite a few for reference, research and really just for the sake of reading which I love to do about aviation in general. This like losing an uncle. God Bless Him and Thank you Bill for teaching me and now my family about Aviation.

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