Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Good red, bad red. Firefighting

It was great to see Stephen Death over the weekend. Here he is at one of his 'day jobs' with Hazair P/L, pic credit Mike Irvine.

Steve said: " taken by the air attack officer in the helicopter of me dropping a load of retardant in the tip planed mountains north east of Orbost several weeks ago, only a iPhone shot, but it shows what we do in the Airtractor 802 aircraft."

The more you look, the more interesting it is, I think.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Boxkite back at Point Cook!

I've been away for a while, but, at last, I'm back at the blog.  One of the main things I've been concentrating on is supporting help for the completion of the RAAF Museum's Bristol Military Biplane (Boxkite to most!) by Project 2014 for the Museum. The replica has taken a huge amount of work by various generous and remarkable people, led by the redoubtable Group Captain Ron Gretton RAAF (Retired) and Wing Commander Geoff Matthews RAAF (Retired) project manager and designer respectively.

Exciting times lie ahead; the replica was built to fly on the 1 March 2014 at RAAF Point Cook, Victoria, Australia on the 100th anniversary of the first flight of an Australian military aircraft, at Point Cook. The RAAF also noticed this anniversary, so they're going to be the annual main RAAF Airshow at RAAF Point Cook - the Centenary of Military Aviation, or 'CMA14' on the 1 & 2 March 2014. It's going to be a big show for Australasia, with, promised, a full array of the current RAAF grey pointy things(TM) and a magnificent array of vintage machinery, much of it in action.

The Boxkite on the grass at Point Cook with an RAAF Hornet overhead [J Kightly]

For the first time since about 1917, there will be replica examples of all three of Australia's first military aircraft on show; the Boxkite, a Deperdussen and a B.E.2a. The BE and Dep are static exact replicas built by remarkably dedicated chaps, while the Boxkite is a flyer, and, fingers crossed, weather dependent etc, etc, we hope it will be flown on the day.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Departing Eagle

The RAAF Museum's CAC Winjeel heading back to Point Cook from the Temora Warbirds Downunder airshow last November.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The RAAF Museum Boxkite - Airborne

Military Bristol ‘Boxkite’ Biplane replica VH-XKT successfully flew for the first time at RAAF Point Cook in the hands of qualified test pilot Air Vice Marshall Mark Skidmore AM, RAAF (retired) on Wednesday 11 September 2013.

 The Boxkite undergoes a tail-up taxi test, on the morning of 11 September 2013. [James Kightly]

It is intended that the aircraft will be the star of the official RAAF two-day anniversary airshow at RAAF Point Cook on 1st and 2nd March 2014, commemorating the centenary of the first ever flight of an Australian military aircraft, the original Bristol Boxkite CFS-3 by Lieutenant Eric Harrison on 1st March in 1914.

This replica of Australia’s first flying military aircraft was designed and built by the team of Group Captain Ron Gretton AM and Wing Commander Geoff Matthews (both RAAF retired) as ‘Project 2014’, for the RAAF Museum, over a period of six years, and powered by an Australian-made 110hp (82kw) Rotec R2800, seven cylinder engine. The aircraft has been donated to the Museum.

Many people and organisations supported the project, and we will be listing them shortly. We are updating the Project 2014 website; and there will be further information available soon. Ron, Geoff and I (assisting with publicity) can be contacted by e-mail at: 

The official ADF video can be found here, and ADF official images here, search for 'Boxkite'. For media please contact Defence Media Operations (02) 6127 1999 (International: 00 61 2 6127 1999) .  Further media material on Project 2014, the history of the Boxkite and photographs is available, please contact

Job done. Ron Gretton (left) and Geoff Matthews take a look at the result of their labours. [James Kightly]

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Aircrew: Space Shuttle Pilot

In the September issue of Aeroplane magazine, just out now, artist Ian Bott and I profile the unique role of the Space Shuttle orbiter module pilot in this Aircrew.

This was originally suggested by Ian (and also, not incidentally by a couple of others some time ago, including Phil Vabre who also features in this issue with The War Plans of BOAC).  Like many of the Aircrew features, proved to be a fascinating research project, and gave me a new appreciation of their task.

Here's a few extras that I came across that add to the feature.

Astronauts Fred W. Haise Jr., commander, left, and C. Gordon Fullerton in the cockpit of the Space shuttle Orbiter 101 "Enterprise" prior to the fifth and final free flight in the Approach and Landing Test (ALT) series, from Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC). [NASA Image]

As an aircraft, the Space Shuttle orbiter module had a unique start to its flight (which you'll find in the article) and flew in the atmosphere as a completely powerless glider. The initial tests were 'glide to land' tests of the unpowered Shuttle 'Enterprise', and known as 'Approach & Landing Tests' (ALT).

The Gulfstream II Shuttle Training Aircraft positioned in a downward trajectory like the Space Shuttle. Note the lowered landing gear, which adds Shuttle style drag. [NASA Image]

 To train for the atmospheric flight, NASA used a modified Grumman Gulfstream Simulator Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA). The cockpit of this intriguing aircraft is seen below:

The photo shows the Shuttle commander's side of the cockpit, with a heads-up display (HUD), a rotational hand controller (RHC) for flying the vehicle, and multi-function displays, as in the Shuttle. The instructor pilot sits on the right-hand side of the STA cockpit, and has conventional aircraft controls and instruments. [NASA Image] 

Details of flying the STA here.

Like many of my generation, I remember being sat in the school hall to watch a Space Shuttle launch.  We were, I think, lucky that it was one of the many successful ones, but reading the details of the tragic losses of the two orbiters emphasises that while it was highly successful as a 'routine' space delivery system, it came at a human cost and showed that it was, still, at the limit of human capability. Here's a news report of the loss of Challenger.

Here's a few great references for further reading on flying the Space Shuttle.  First 'What's it like to fly the Space Shuttle?' on the simulator. The definitive guide of the Shuttle Orbiter's re-entry phase from NASA, is here. What did the well-dressed Shuttle crewmember wear?  here's a 1999, photograph by Annie Leibovitz of Eileen Collins at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, during training. (Collins was the first female pilot (Discovery in 1995) and first female commander (Columbia, 1999) of a space shuttle mission.) Lastly, reflections on the last Shuttle orbiter powerdown.

 On a lighter note, here's a photo that could only come from the 1970s!

Original caption: "The Shuttle Enterprise rolls out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities with Star Trek television cast members. From left to right they are: Dr. James C. Fletcher (NASA Administrator), DeForest Kelley (Dr. "Bones" McCoy), George Takei (Mr. Sulu), James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), Leonard Nimoy (the indefatigable Mr. Spock), Gene Roddenberry (The Great Bird of the Galaxy), an unnamed official (probably from the NASA), and Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov)." [NASA Image]

Thursday, August 1, 2013

V-2 Safety, Version 2

Looking at the photographs here of the newly delivered V-2 (A-4) missile being erected at the Flying Heritage Collection in Seattle, WA, USA*, I was struck at the (almost literal) belt and braces safety we are all used to. Frustrating it may be at times, but it does save lives and reduce injuries.

Image from GeekWire.

But I was also led to think about the safety those that built the V-2 rockets did not have.  For a weapon of war, a terrible thing, it was a notable low even in such terms.  V-2 missiles were built with slave labour under appealing conditions and with huge numbers who died as a result, or through murder by the instruments of the Nazi regime. Quite the contrast.

"The Waltz" by Felicie Mertens from: here.

In some ways we have certainly come a long way since the mid 1940s.  Both in the scope of war and the risks occurring in so-called civilised nations.

How much discussion should there be of human costs and barbarities in the display of such a machine?  It is easy to focus too far either on the shiny technology, or the barbaric methodology without recognising both are significant, as it seems (and I would suggest rightly) it is impossible to separate the dreadful costs of this rocket's creation from the eventual result of a man on the moon.

Some further reading. An excellent resource on the V-2: (with thanks to Karl Hemphill). Material on the slave labour camp and here: Contrasts in war-work from W.W.II, including the slave labour:

* Incidentally, it would be good to hear back from FHC, if anyone's listening, with some details of the V-2 beyond the press release. My contact details are, as ever, listed above right, JKightly AT Thanks!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A British Airman's Remarkable Journey

This website (here) shows a wonderful selection of images of an RAF airman, Wing Commander Joseph Reginald Cyril Lane, who had a remarkable career, from initially maintaining aircraft, as a Cranwell-trained Fitter then remustering to fly, including for the (then) RAF's Fleet Air Arm on the Royal Navy's carriers, and after service in W.W.II even more interesting times.  The downloadable PDF story written up by his son, here, is well worth a read.

Here (reproduced with acknowledgement to the originator, his son, and website Maritime Quest) are a couple of the photographs that particularly caught my eye, and a couple I'll comment on.  But it's highly recommended that you go to the site and have a look through the lot.

 1927: A Sopwith Snipe (E6524) seen at RAF Cranwell. (All photos from the collection of Wing Commander Joseph R. C. Lane, R.A.F., via Chris Lane, on Maritime Quest.)

 Blackburn Blackburns of 449 (Fleet Spotter) Flight, HMS Furious.

A Blackburn Shark striking the superstructure of HMS Courageous.

June 6, 1947: W/Cdr Joe Lane (hands on hips) seen at Drigh Road airfield, Karachi, Pakistan.

1951: A Gloster Meteor (pilot S/Ldr George Devine) with a malfunctioning parachute during a test from RAE Farnborough.

I believe this is a test aircraft (note the 'P' prototype and camera possibly Martin Baker, with a dummy, early post-war ejection seat, possibly with a snagged parachute. More detail from a reader welcome!

Balbo Memorial at Castle Benito, Tripoli, Libya.

Fascinating item, from the location where the great Italian aviator Italo Balbo was shot down by friendly fire.

A great collection.