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Vintage Flyers II

by Eric Presten, Prewar Publications,Vineburg, Calif., 2005, $84.95.

Every once in a while, a picture book comes along that is an unexpected treat. Eric Presten’s beautifully produced 478-page Vintage Flyers II is a mesmerizing photographic celebration of antique aircraft that will be embraced by enthusiasts of aviation’s early years.

Presten, the author/photographer, has spent the last quarter century capturing many of the surviving grand old aircraft in spectacular poses both aloft and on the ground. The result is a collection of more than 800 stunning color images, mainly taildraggers and biplanes.

An orange and white open-cockpit Waco on floats almost leaps off the page. There is also a perfectly framed Beech Staggerwing, candy-apple red and gleaming in full sun, cruising the hills of Northern California. A standard yellow Piper J-3 Cub is shown in the fittingly majestic setting of a verdant wildflower field with a limitless blue sky as backdrop.

The beautiful photos are accompanied by substantive captions conveying a wealth of information about plane types depicted— especially valuable when it comes to the lesser-known airplanes. Where else would we learn that the Lincoln-Page LP-3 was built with a wooden engine mount? Or that the Curtiss Robin sometimes was outfitted with the Curtiss company’s own propellers?

Coverage includes a whopping 550 aircraft models, everything from pre-World War I contraptions to the efficient general aviation designs of the mid-1950s. For simplicity’s sake they are arranged in chronological order, based on the date of each type’s first flight. An index organized by manufacturer helps readers to quickly locate favorites.

Presten learned to fly as a teenager in a 1946 Aeronca Champ based at a grass airstrip. Now an accomplished pilot who has flown an amazing 750 different types of aircraft, he personally has owned a dozen, ranging from the Erco Ercoupe to the Piper Clipper. His fondness for old-time flying comes across loud and clear in this self-published labor of love, a mammoth sequel to a 1996 volume.

The book contains a few imperfections. For example, the author’s foreword appears under a heading labeled “Forward.” But minor oversights are more than outweighed by Presten’s impressive gallery of sparklingly restored airplanes from bygone eras. He succeeds in providing an admirable assortment of precious ships from olden skies for those who, in his words, “treasure the adventure of flight.”


Originally published in the May 2006 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.