Sharks of the Air.. The Story of Willy Messerschmitt and the Development of History's First Operational Jet Fighter. By James Neal Harvey. Philadelphia: Casemate, 2011. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. v, 402. $32.95. ISBN: 978-1-935149-46-0
Willy Messerschmitt was the creative genius behind some of Nazi Germany's most successful aircraft, including the Bf 109 and the subject of this book, the Me 262, the world's first operational jet fighter. A lifelong aviator, Harvey has written several novels; this is his first foray into nonfiction history. On the whole, it is engaging and well written and provides a fascinating glimpse into Messerschmitt's life and work and the development of this impressive aircraft.
The book combines elements of biography and military and technical history and begins with Messerschmitt's life, showing how he became one of Germany's premier designers. Harvey frequently shifts the narrative between Messerschmitt's work and specifics of Me 262 development and a broader view of world events that impacted Germany and her military. This helps keep the aircraft's development in perspective with wartime events and keeps the story from becoming too technical. However, Harvey does provide abundant information on technical aspects of the aircraft's development; his research shows best here.
Bureaucracy, politics, design issues, and material shortages all affected development and eventual fielding of what could have been the most effective aircraft developed by either side. Harvey uses primary sources extensively, including interviews with Messerschmitt family members and employees as well as pilots and crew, to build a well-rounded picture of the troubled development program. These first-hand sources are the book's greatest strength, as the designer, builders and pilots assess in their own words their efforts and products. Thus, Harvey gives a very human...