Book Review: From Tailhooker to Mudmover


From Tailhooker to Mudmover is another excellent title from the pen of retired South African Air Force (SAAF) Brigadier General Dick Lord.

I have long looked forward to this title, filling in as it does blanks in Lord’s previous works, Fire Flood and Ice (1998), a study of SAAF search-and-rescue (SAR) missions; Vlamgat, the story of the Dassault Mirage F1 in SAAF service (2000); and, From Fledgling to Eagle, the SAAF during the Border War (2008).

All have in common not only that they are entertaining and well written – no mean feat – but also that Lord himself makes an appearance: in Fire Flood and Ice Lord is a SAR coordinator, in Vlamgat a Mirage F1 pilot, and in From Fledgling to Eagle, commander of the main border air force command post.

From Tailhooker to Mudmover brings this all together, taking the reader from Johannesburg, where Lord grew up to the Britain of the 1950s, where Lord unsuccessfully tried to join the Royal Air Force, then, more successfully the Royal Navy’s (RN) Fleet Air Arm. There he qualified as a fighter pilot and became a “tailhooker” on several aircraft carrier.

In the mid 1960s he was seconded to the US Navy, becoming an instructor on the McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantom II and preparing pilots for combat over VietNam. After 12 years in the RN, Lord returned to SA and quicklime found himself flying the nimble Mirage F1 – and readying for the Border War.

Lord, by any account, had a distinguished career. Of particular interest is that his US commander credits him with contributing “significantly in the formation of the Top Gun Fighter Weapons programme.” Success has a thousand fathers, and no doubt many people had a role to play in establishing the Navy Fighter Weapons School. But equally, Americans are known to be frugal in sharing credit and Lord’s role must have been significant, especially in institutionalising dog-fighting using dissimilar aircraft – a Top Gun forte.

Major General Winston Thackwray, his Border War commander, in the introduction to that section of this eminent work, noes the same, avering that Lord played much the same role with the SAAF. There can be no higher praise as this is means he was in a very real way the father of the SAAF’s successes in that conflict.

Lord, himself, is understated through-out in the best of British tradition, but make no mistake he displays a keen sense of humour. Pilots are a high-spirited bunch and Lord certainly witnessed his fair share of high spirits and colleagues high on spirits.

One notable episode involved a urinary emergency in flight and a glove. Ejecting the full glove from De Haviland Sea Venom’s cockpit was fine in theory but high comedy in practice. Similar high jinx abound in this fine autobiography. Buy it, read it, enjoy it. I did, I’m sure you will too.

Brig Gen Dick Lord (Retd)

From Tailhooker to Mudmover

Corporal Publications