Many of you were first alerted to the possibility of a new aviation series about six months ago, when we posted up an appeal for help with the series. We already had a pretty good idea of what the books would contain and how the series would pan out, but we decided to open the forum up to our customers to check that we were heading in the right direction. And you responded in your thousands, confirming a lot of our ideas, but more importantly planting the seeds of new ideas and new concepts that came as a bit of a surprise.
Armed with all this information, I sat down with Phil, the editor behind the series, and went to work on tweaking the series proposal in line with some of the information that you had all provided. What emerged is a much more rounded concept - which we hope will appeal to all of the aviation enthusiasts out there.
But what changes and advice did we take on? What exactly did your feedback achieve? Well, actually quite a lot. Some of it was clarification or confirmation on ideas we already had. And some of the feedback made us take a step back and make significant changes to the Air Vanguard proposal.
How finely to slice our subject matter?
The one issue with technical histories of aircraft is that most aircraft are on a permanent cycle of improvements, tweaks and variations. New engines, new technology, new weaponry all come in at various points throughout an aircraft's lifespan. We had a feeling that a standalone title for each variant would be redundant in many cases (though with some aircraft the changes were significant enough to justify it). So we checked what you all thought, and the vast majority came back with a similar answer - multiple variants should be handled in one book, except where the design changes etc were significant enough to make a single volume treatment too general. So - for example we are doing a USAF Phantom II book, with plans to follow this up with a book on US Navy operated Phantoms later in the series. Similarly we are doing a single book on the Allison-engined P-51, with more variants to follow in later titles. In contrast our Hawker Hurricane book will cover all five variant marques in one volume.
How long should the books be?
We are best-known for our series style and fixed page counts, so whenever we launch a new series we have to weigh up the length needed for the book. Our first preference for the AVG series was for a book 64 pages long (longer than our New Vanguard titles, the same length as our Elite titles and slightly shorter than our other aviation titles), but with the ongoing success of the New Vanguard series at 48 pages, we did wonder whether a more concise treatment could be the way forward. Overwhelmingly you voted for a 64-page treatment - and we are not going to argue!
What should the balance of artwork content be?
I don't want to reveal too much yet about what artwork we are going to include in the books - but suffice to say that the balance of this was influenced by your input!
What types of aircraft should the series cover?
We have always envisioned Air Vanguard as a series which will allow us to cover a more diverse range of aircraft than we have been able to in the Aircraft of the Aces and the Combat Aircraft series, but we were interested in how varied you would like to see our coverage become, and what types of aircraft you would like to see us cover. Perhaps unsurprisingly the vast majority of you asked for us to do books on fighters, but what did please us was how many of you asked us to do books on bombers, which came a very close second. So we have already commissioned the Marauder, with another potential bomber title already on the table. What did catch us a little by surprise was how many of you asked us for Recon aircraft to be covered in the series. Maybe a Lockheed U-2 book in the offing?
How much attention should we pay to the 'human' factor?
Without a pilot / crew any plane is just a barrel of bolts, so any discussion about the technical aspects of an aircraft has to keep in mind the limits / talents of the men operating it. One of the more interesting aspects of the Duel series has been the analysis of how training and morale affected how aircraft performed in battle - how much of this should seep through to a more technical history? As it turned out, although you were interested in how the pilots fit into the overall story, you were more intrigued by the kit that the pilots needed whilst operating the aircraft, from the dapper scarves worn to keep pilots warm in the open cockpits of the First World War, right up to the breathing apparatus and helmets worn by modern fighter pilots. A few even suggested we have dedicated artwork plates to depict this kit. Now, although we are probably not going to go all out and have artwork plates depicting this (unless there is a very strong case made by the author / editors) we are planning to have a short section in each book that will describe this kit - with a couple of photos included. It is obviously not going to be a huge part of the book, but adds a bit of extra information, which it seems you would like us to do!
What is the most exciting change made following customer feedback?
That is right, I have saved the best for last (or at least I think so). In the New Vanguard series we include a cutaway artwork depicting the internal workings of the machine in question. This is spread out across two pages, so inevitably some of the details from the artwork can be obscured by the gutter of the book (essentially the split between the two pages). So we asked you whether you would prefer the cutaway nice and big, spread across the two pages, but running the risk of losing some of the detail, or whether you would prefer it smaller and on one page (again with the risk of losing some of the detail because of the smaller size of the artwork). The answer that came back was split pretty much 50/50. Half of you were crying out for artwork across one page, the other half wanted to keep it split over two pages. And then, as we were sorting through some of the other answers in the survey, the same suggestion started to crop up. More and more often.
"Do an artwork fold-out page!"
Which struck us as a very good idea. And so, Air Vanguard will be the first ever Osprey series to feature a fold-out artwork spread. The cut-away will fold out of the back cover, meaning that you won't lose any of those great details down the gutter of the page. So a massive thank you to all of the customers who suggested this, and to all of the customers who took part in the survey. We think that with your help we have been able to create a series that will become an Osprey classic in next to no time
P.S. You also gave us about 3000 suggestions for different aircraft to cover in the series.