Sunday, December 27, 2009


Airliners may be faster, safer cheaper than they were in the golden age, but the posters then leave today's advertising for dust, artistically.

The graphical language, bold colour and form is unbeatable.

From the Smithsonian: 'Fly Now: The National Air and Space Museum Poster Collection'. Puppo gets extra point for the Venitian gondola prow on the initial letter. The Smithsonian's blog about this collection is here, and the posters are here.

Sponsor: Transadriatica (S.A.I. di Navigazione Aerea)
Artist: Mario Puppo1905-1977
Date: circa 1935-1940
Dimensions: Unframed: 50.8 x 30.48cm (1ft 8in. x 1ft)
Materials: Screen print
Physical Description: Trimotor airplane flies into the distance, destinations including Rome, Venice and Vienna.
Inventory Number: A19900702000

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Aircraft Vs Bear

Today's advice from the agony aunt is to ensure your aircraft doesn't smell of fish if you decide to leave it out in Alaska.

"Apparently a bear attacked this plane while parked in a remote field in Alaska The owner had not cleaned out the inside after a long fishing trip and the bear smelled it."

You know, I reckon a few bad words were said about here.

"So he had two new tires, three cases of Duct Tape and several rolls of cellophane flown in and then went about repairing the plane so he could fly it home."

"Gutsy to say the least. Truly an incredible use of Duct Tape."

Almost done - just add in the registration with a non-warterproof marker.

The unbeatable punchline to this - wait for it - is that the aircraft in question is a (Piper) Cub. Actually a Super Cub. Really.

(Passed on via e-mail by Lynne F.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

World Speed Records to 1937

I recently came across this Flight magazine table of world speed records [here] and thought it interesting as it contained both the land and air speed records on the same chart, and with the air speed record divided into seaplanes and landplanes.

As is well known, the Schneider Trophy (properly the Coupe d'Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider) accelerated the development of pure speed marine aircraft - although in directions Schneider didn't anticipate or intend, perhaps. Secondly there has always been a close relationship between the land speed record and aviation, with aero engines being a staple for those wishing to go faster on the ground - not to mention the careful application of aerodynamics for those that don't want to take short, fatal flights while going for the land speed record.

(Note also the short line for maritime speed, a fascinating story in itself.)

However what I found most interesting is where those record 'lines' crossed; with the air speed record lagging behind the land speed one until towards the end of the Great War - cars faster than 'planes. And then the way that seaplanes lagged behind landplanes until the mid twenties, after which the marine aircraft raced ahead in speed - another flip to modern perceptions of the relative potential performances of the types.

Surprises at both ends of the period.

PS: More 'who-what-when-where' here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Big Sheds Need Friends

According to the BBC:

A historic landmark in Bedfordshire has been put on the market with a price tag of close to £10m.
Cardington Hangars were built in the 1920s to house giant airships such as the R101 which crashed and caught fire in France in 1930.

Now shed number one, the older of the two hangars, and 170 acres of surrounding land has been put up for sale by owners, Frontier Estates. The Grade II-listed building is on Britain's buildings at risk register.

Planning permission has been secured for 550 houses to be built on the land, with the condition the 157ft (48m) tall and 812ft (247m) long hangar would be refurbished.

An earlier BBC report (October 2006) relates the plan:
The hangars need refurbishment at an estimated cost of £6m. The required money could come from the sale of land to a housing developer.

This scheme has won the backing of local people who opposed a proposal to build an industrial warehouse. Residents in nearby Shortstown objected to the warehouse project because of the possibility of hundreds of lorries passing through their village every day.

Frontier Estates which owns the land and one of the hangars has applied for planning permission to develop it into housing.

The plan was outlined here in Building April 2007:
Architect submits plans for Cardington Airfield which includes 425 dwellings and a park honouring 48 who died airship crash.

The scheme will include up to 425 dwellings as well as an area of open space called Airship Park. When built, this will replicate the size and shape of the R101 airship, which measured 777ft from nose to tail, and tragically crashed in 1930 killing 48 people.

The project is due to commence in 2008 with completion in 2012.

And links to a drawing:

Looks nice in projection, but I'm not sure that from the ground the 'airship' shape would be noticeable. However it would at least be a step forward from the perennial Bath crescent.

Looks like the UK's financial woes may have stopped a worthwhile project, maybe temporarily, hopefully not permanently.

I was lucky enough to go (as a passenger) for a flight in Peter Holloway's 1930s Miles Magister over these marvellous buildings. From the air or the ground they are a magnificent - and in the rolling Bedfordshire countryside - startling sight.

While there's an idea that a chap's shed can never be too big, these behemoths may be a step beyond. Their sheer size (and thus historical importance in aviation) count against them.

There are all-too-few items of listed aviation architecture, and these are outstanding in any measure.

Let's hope there's a future for them.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wandering Wellington

It is interesting to explore the story behind some of the evasive, censored wartime publications. This 1940 Vickers-Armstrongs advertisement from Flight magazine is an interesting case in point. The original text in the middle reads:

"A Vickers 'WELLINGTON' has made the longest non-stop reconnaissance trip of the war, a journey of well over 2,000 miles to Narvik and back. The machine was piloted through wind, rain and snow by a New Zealander, and his colleagues were all members of the R.A.F. New Zealand Bomber Squadron."
(The Daily Telegraph and Morning Post, 8-5-40).

Thanks to the knowledge of my friend Dave Homewood in New Zealand, he was instantly able to fill out the background to the story. Dave:
'The reconnaissance trip referred to will be the one carried out by Aubrey Breckon and his crew to Narvik, Norway and back. This took place on the 12th of April 1940, and though they were a No. 75 Squadron crew they flew to Wick and then got into a No. 215 Squadron Wellington specially modified for the trip. It was L4387. and was coded simply LG. It was actually a training machine rather than an operational Wimpey that they used. Also aboard with Aubrey were LAC E.P. Williams, Lt Comm F.O. Howie RN, P/O D.J. Harkness, Sgt R.H. Hughes and AC T.L. Mumby. It was a cold trip. Breckon wrote in his report later that "for a long tme we had 27 degrees of frost." The trip lasted 14 1/2 hours and covered well over 2,000 miles!'

The photos are of interest as well, for although they are excellent shots, by doyen of the aviation photographers Charles E Brown, they have nothing to do with the subject, being pre-war examples fitted with the original, inadequate Vickers Armstrong turrets. According to the book on Brown's photography, Camera Above the Clouds Vol 1, by Anthony Harold, they are 9 Squadron machines photographed en route to (or from) the 1939 Brussels Aero Exhibition. Soon after, in September 1939, this squadron and probably several of these aircraft took part in the RAF's second bombing raid of the war.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Remember the 8th that came before the 7th.

The Japanese attack on the US Naval base and airfield at Pearl Harbor, 'The day that will live in infamy' is unlikely to be forgotten as an event that changed the course of world history. It is often given as the start of the war in the Pacific.

It was a key strike in the Japanese war plan, but it was not the only one, and not the first. Hours earlier, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) had been in action against the Japanese landings at Kota Bharu, in Malaysia.

The world's only airworthy Lockheed Hudson bomber, appropriately flying in Australia. Author.
No. 1 Squadron, RAAF, based at Kota Bharu airfield launched Hudson bombers to attack the Japanese transports sinking the IJN Awazisan Maru, although in the seventeen sorties flown they lost two Hudsons shot down and three badly damaged. One crippled Hudson is reported to have crashed into a fully laden landing craft. All the transports were damaged in these attacks.
Despite the shock effect of the attack, and the fact that these airmen, and the British forces on the ground had little or no actual combat experience, they gave the Japanese forces a tough time. The British Indian Army Dogra regiment were effective:
"The enemy pillboxes, which were well prepared, reacted violently with such heavy force that our men lying on the beach, half in and half out of the water could not raise their heads."
Colonel Masanobu Tsuji
Inevitably overwhelmed in time, as were all the Allied forces in the initial months of the Pacific War, their efforts and story has always been overshadowed by the events thousands of miles away in Hawaii. To some degree that's understandable, given the unarguable effect and importance of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The Japanese were attacking a beach that was no distance from the RAAF's airfield.

I think Don Dowey said he lit a cigarette when he took off and he was still smoking it when he came back. That's how close it was.

Oscar Diamond, DFC, RAAF was one of the pilots flying the Hudsons that day, and he gave this (edited) account on ABC:

Well that was a lot rain and it was very bad conditions. The aerodrome was water-logged but we managed to get off all right, and the first thing I saw actually was the ship, unloading troops and I think they had small tanks - small Japanese tanks. That was the first ship I saw that came into my view and straight away we attacked it and we did two runs on it. I dropped a couple of bombs on the first run which I think straddled it but on the second run we we seemed to have hit it right in the middle with two bombs and there was terrific explosion so we knew that we'd done the job on it. And at the same time, my aircraft got badly damaged from the the flak - I suppose that came off the bombs, because all the flying we did was masthead attack, we weren't high level, it was masthead, straight into the air, into the shipping. So I when I got back the fellow said, 'This aircraft won't fly again, it's too badly damaged'. So that was my original aircraft A16-52 and that was after I had two flights.
Flight Lieutenant Charles 'Spud' Spurgeon [of 8 Sqn RAAF] broke away to conduct yet another attack on the derelict Awagisan Maru. He gained on hit on the doomed ship, but the resultant explosions riddled his low-flying Hudson with shrapnel from its own bombs. None of the crew were injured, but Spurgeon was obliged to execute an emergency wheels-up landing in the grassy apron of the Kota Bharu airfield.
Flt Lt Emerton of 1 Sqn RAAF:
...was also pursued by a fighter his crew described as a 'Navy Zero'. Like Hitchcock, Emerton quickly received some bullets from this attacker before his gunners could respond. He was able to avoid more damage by abruptly turning his bomber into the path of his opponent, forcing the Japanese pilot to overshoot ... Emerton seized the initiative and turned to chase the enemy fighter. Firing with his two nose guns, the aggressive bomber pilot startled his former pursuer into breaking off the attack on the other Hudson.

(From Fortnight of infamy: the collapse of Allied airpower west of Pearl Harbor by John Burton).

And that was just the beginning. Blenheims of 60 Squadron RAF joined the battle, and scored hits and suffered in return as their Australian colleagues had.

The engine from RAAF Hudson A16-19 on show at the Australian War Memorial. Author.

Another reason this battle isn't recognised as a starting point of this war is that while the attacks in Malaya occurred before the attacks on Pearl Harbour, because of the international date line, they occurred on the 8th of December 1941, while Pearl Harbor was attacked scant hours later, but on the 7th of December. History is full of tricks, but this is certainly an unusual case where a moment is almost forgotten; in part due to the tick of a clock on the turn of the earth.

Not quite forgotten of course. In 1995, the RAAF Memorial at Kota Bharu was established by the Australian Government and the Government of the State of Kelantan to "commemorate the first commitment of Australian combat units against the forces of Imperial Japan at Kota Bharu in the early hours of Monday 8th December, 1941". The memorial also honours the aircrew from No 1 Squadron RAAF who were killed in this action. (AWM Reference.)

In just over three and a half years from that 1941 December day when the undeclared war was unleashed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor and Kota Bharu, the world was changed utterly. The full stop at the other end was the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The nascent militarist Japanese empire was crushed; Britain, victorious in the East and Europe was effectively bankrupt; America had gone from a semi-agricultural nation to becoming the biggest military industrial complex the world has ever seen; and Australia went from a nation that had sent the cream of its young men and forces to fight in Europe and the Mediterranean for Britain, to (as Prime Minister John Curtin said nineteen days after Kota Bharu) having a completely different orientation:
"Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.''
Some of the horrors, shock, confusion and shame of those early days of this war are easily overlooked in favour of more successful, later martial endeavours. But those who hold the enemy in the early days, despite the shortfalls of training and equipment, the strength and experience of enemy forces buy time for the necessary response, and later victory.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Making Walruses, Sea Otters (and a Seagull) go bang

No cold-water animal cruelty here, just some interesting film material featuring some of R. J. Mitchell's finest designs - the Supermarine Seagull V, it's more popular sibling the Supermarine Walrus and finally the Supermarine Sea Otter.

This film compiled by 'Bomber Guy' on YouTube from newsreels gives a great overview of the story of the Seagull V and Walrus. It starts off with a brief slow-motion shot of the prototype Seagull V being fired of Farnborough's catapult. This is the sort of material you'd like to be able to incorporate in books.

Thanks to Dave Homewood, I was introduced to this more comprehensive bit of instruction film for the RN chaps responsible for firing the ship-borne catapults. (Incidentally, there are a couple of other items later in this clip.) In this case, this is on a smaller training ship in calm waters - I can't believe the routine was as deliberate as shown here when they entered battle!

Note that the aircraft fired off is a Supermarine Walrus and what lands back allongside is a Supermarine Sea Otter - if memory serves, the prototype in pre-war colours, while the film is dated 1940. While the aircraft are very similar at a glance, they are completely different designs, and the easy difference is that the Walrus has a pusher engine, while the Sea Otter's a tractor set up. Once you notice...

Dave wondered "Do you agree that the catapult officer overseeing the Walrus launch who is glimpsed very quickly in the first film is perhaps Sir Michael Hordern? I'm sure it's him, and I know he was in the RN in WWII and was already an actor by then, so maybe he was roped in."

Anyone know?

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Tuskegee Airmen - Case study of diversity in history

Kermit Weeks' P-51C in the colours of the Tuskegee Airmen. Author.

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is now well documented. A brief overview for background here:
The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African Americans to be trained as WWII Military pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps. This was a time when being black was more of a crime than being the enemy. Never in our nations' history had the idea of enemy lines been so blurred or had patriotism been so clearly defined. The Tuskegee Airmen challenged America's racist attitudes with the willingness to give their lives to a country not willing to serve them.

There were 992 pilots trained at Tuskegee, Alabama while over 10,000 Black maintenance personnel trained at Chanute Field in Illinois. Five hundred and fifty bomber pilots and their crews were trained but the war ended before they were deployed overseas. The remaining 445 fighter pilots and their crews entered combat in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa. The Tuskegee Airmen were forced to operate as segregated units and not allowed to train or fight alongside their white fellow countrymen. To identify themselves they painted the tails of their aircraft red, thus becoming the "Red Tails". The Tuskegee Airmen "Red Tails" carried the hopes and dreams of equality for themselves and their thirteen million African American countrymen into battle.
As is often the case, the men who supported the fliers can be overlooked. The Tuskegee airmen were supported by their own black ground crew, as a segregated African-American unit. (Mechanics of 99th FS "Tuskegee Airmen" (332nd Fighter Group-15th USAAF) repairing P-40 engine.) USAF Official.

Shunned initially, the Red Tail pilots and their crews overcame the dire circumstances of discrimination and their performance became legendary. They soon became the “requested” fighter escorts by the white bomber pilots. Flying over 15,000 sorties in more than 1,500 missions, they compiled an outstanding combat record. As bomber escorts, the Tuskegee Airmen lost very few bombers to enemy fighters, which earned them the nickname "Red Tail Angels". Sixty-six gave their lives in combat and 32 were captured as prisoners of war.

More details here and here.

A recreator with the Minnesota Wing 'Red Tail' P-51C Mustang 'By Request' at Oshkosh 2009. Author.

Beyond the incredible achievement of these young black men is the way their story has become an exemplar for a focus on a disadvantaged minority in aviation. Today there is extensive coverage of the red tails in numerous places and media. Some are quite surprising, like the Commemorative Air Force's (CAF) 'Red Tail' P-51C Mustang. While this aircraft is actually operated by the Minnesota Wing of the CAF, it shows how far the CAF (who were, of course, famously the Confederate Air Force - a witty riff on their Texan origins but not a joke to some, resulting in an enforced name change in 2002.)

As the Minnesota Wing website states:
The decision was made to paint this rare aircraft in the distinctive colors of the Tuskegee Airmen~ the 332nd Fighter Group ~ and, in so doing, honor these long neglected heroes who, during World War II, accomplished a "double victory"; one over nazism and the other over racism. The importance and justification of this decision was ratified by the Minnesota Legislature with a substantial monetary grant towards its ultimate completion.
The Minnesota Wing have set up a website called 'www.Red' on the story and the wide variety of related projects.

Kermit Weeks tells part of the Red Tail's story before flying his P-51C at Fantasy of Flight, January 2007. James Kightly.
Meanwhile in an ex-Confederate state, Florida, Kermit Weeks' Fantasy of Flight near Orlando has a display relating to the Tuskegee Airmen, and is centred around his P-51C in the colours of Lieutenant Colonel Lee 'Buddy' Archer. Lt Col Archer became the only Tuskegee pilot to shoot down five enemy aircraft. (Regular events are also held, with a 'They Dared to Fly' symposium in February 2010 coming up.)

There are, it seems, numerous other commemorations of this once sidelined story of achievement (including a 1995 HBO TV Movie, and another George Lucas led film project under way entitled 'Red Tails') to the extent that it can seem to be over-promotion of what was of course only a small part of the huge war effort and air forces of the United States - but the merit of the case should outweigh and such criticism.

A T-1A Jayhawk of the 99th Flying Training Squadron at Oshkosh painted in honour of the Tuskegee Airmen, including a red tail. Erik Schwerman.

Meanwhile this raised profile has unexpected effects. While only a few years ago few would have heard of these airmen, today many aviation history enthusiasts are au fait with the story, thanks to the work of those highlighting it. one fascinating story was posted on the WIX forum by Craig Thorson ('Craig59'):
I was standing at the departure gate in Detroit last Saturday - Oh'dark early - looking at the weather radar online when I noticed a slightly built, older gentleman preparing to board. He was wearing a leather flight jacket and a Tuskegee Airman ballcap. I couldn't hold myself back.

I walked over and introduced myself. Lt. Colonel Alexander Jefferson introduced himself as he shook my hand with a grip that belied his years. Though I knew he had to be in his mid-eighties (actually 88), he looked and spoke like a man twenty years his junior. I thanked him for his service and told him what an honor it was to have him on board. True to the form of men of his character, he brushed aside any notion of being special - but I knew otherwise - and I would learn much more when I returned home and Googled his name.
Tuskeegee Airmen Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson (left) and Captain Edward Woodward. NASA.
As he boarded, the agent asked me what was so special about the gentleman. I gave the briefest of explanation about the Tuskegee Airmen and she kindly asked, "Would you like me to upgrade him to first class?" When I walked down the jetbridge and handed the Colonel his new boarding pass, he let out with, "Holy Toledo!" He was genuinely touched.

As I mentioned, I already knew he was a hero - fighting an enemy on two fronts - but I had no idea until I returned home. On his eighteenth mission, he was shot down and spent the last 9 months of the war as a POW of the Nazis.

Sometimes getting people from A to B has its special perks.
Craig added a link (shown below) to an excellent film segment of the Colonel's story, in Jefferson's own words, and it's worth noting that from his biography here, the sketches are his own from his prisoner of war experience. Many thanks to Craig to his quick reactions and action and relaying that neat meeting.

As is shown in the video, the achievements and story of the Red Tails has effects to today, with the Congressional Gold Medal being awarded to the Tuskegee Airmen in 2007 by President George W Bush, who notedEven the Nazis asked why African American men would fight for a country that treated them so unfairly.” Shortly after, some very proud airmen in the audience for the inauguration of the first black president of America in December 2008.

And elsewhere:
I am a training cadet pilot with South African Airways (SAA). SAA, for the past 40-50 yrs has never had any black pilots. With our recently found democracy, it was decided that the airline has to start to represent the demography of the country and, of course, start to behave like an African airline. We (12) have been selected as front runners to be amongst the first black airline pilots in South Africa. We are busy training in Australia and we have found that flying is seen very much as a 'white profession' today. We have had considerable difficulty coping with the course due to racial matters. Our favourite movie of all time is the Tuskegee Airman. I am in shock that I am in contact with a descendant of one of the airman. Your dad, is an inspiration to all of us. He was a great man to fight the odds and win in those days. I just want to email you and just tell you that.

Arthur Phaswana
History has moved from 'kings, battles and dates' to a more diverse and inclusive multi-stranded set of stories. The history of the Tuskegee Airmen shows what new directions such breadth can achieve in the study and understanding of history. In the words of the Men in Black 'imagine what you'll know tomorrow...'.

Postscripts - One might wonder what other black airmen there were in W.W.II. Australia famously had one Aboriginal pilot (Warrant Officer Len Waters who flew a P-40 Kittyhawk named 'Black Magic') while among many other races serving the British were a number of men from Jamaica. Stories, perhaps, for a post another time.

Another comparable area this can be used as a benchmark for is the history of women in military aviation. I may look at these in a later post.

Response to Guy's comment:
Thanks Guy,
The intent is to go into the British and Commonwealth story in detail another time - not least because of the similarities and differences of the racism faced by other colours in the Commonwealth forces is a more complex story, given the nature of the Empire. It's probably fair to say that institutionalised racism wasn't generally prevalent (however one must at least except India, where it was) but the issues faced by the airmen were as disgraceful as those faced by the African Americans - and with issues running to today as shown by the Ghurkha supporters action in the English parliament.
Appreciate the input!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eric's Canadian Year

My good contact in Canada, Eric Dumigan, has released his personal photographic roundup of Canada's centennial year of aviation.

'AIRICs' Airshow Review 2009 book can be ordered, or previewed here, and Eric's work can be seen on his website


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Details, details: P-47 Thunderbolt

American P-47 Thunderbolt getting some maintenence in the dispersal area of a makeshift airfield in the French countryside following the Allied invasion of Normandy. August 1944, photographer: Frank Scherschel.

After being brought up by Shay on the WIX forum, some very interesting details spotted by the expertise and eye of several posters. It may be a cliche, but it's also true that different people see - and pull out - different things from the same image. (The full size photograph, part of the Life archive on Google, and useful for the points made, is to be found here.)

Taigh Ramey;
"I like the Cletrac M2 High Speed Tractor too! We are slowly restoring one here. In fact the engine just came back from the overhaul shop today.

The Cletrac has a high pressure (adjustable up to 2000 psi) engine driven air compressor on the back for tires, air tools and servicing the struts, which looks exactly like what he is doing. The line he is holding leads to the receiver cylinder and controls that are mounted on the left front fender.

The large bottle on the right front fender is a modification. I have seen other Cletracs with oxygen bottles mounted on the right side for servicing the O2 systems so I would wager that's probably an oxygen cylinder.

The Cletrac also had an engine driven generator on the right front fender which put out 115 volts DC for running lights and certain power tools. This tractor was quite the service vehicle for the AAF and went on into Korea.

Sorry if I hijacked a thread about the P-47. I think the Cletrac and the jug were probably designed by the same folks since they were both built like a tank!

I really like the nose art on the 500 pound GP's on the wing racks. I wonder if they did this for the Life photographer or was it just the normal routine?"
Meanwhile, Ryan Harris said; "Notice the over sized stars and bars under BOTH wings." and Brandon Kunicki responded to a question on the gun barrel alignment (a unique configuration on the P-47 anyway); "Looks like they are servicing the guns so they may have the barrels out or are in the process of removing/reinstalling the entire gun."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vietnam Veterans Armistice Day Flypast

11am, November 11, 2009, over the National Vietnam Veterans Museum, Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Timelapse Aeroshell Square

If you've been, if you were there, if you want to go, or are just interested, this is worth a look.

It is a neat time-lapse film of the AeroShell Square at AirVenture, Oshkosh 2009. It was filmed from the new control tower at Wittman Regional Airport, courtesy of EAA's Photo Dept.

It all takes place (thunderstorms and world's biggest aircraft and all) in 3 minutes 33 seconds and definitely includes me, somewhere, as I spent quite a bit of time back and forth through the this heart of the EAA's AirVenture.

It is fun to try and work out when I passed through (some points were easy because of remembering the aircraft arrangements as I was there) and, with the movements of several of the world's largest aircraft (dwarfing at least one W.W.II bomber at the time - see if you spot it) this film also highlights in a nutshell the organisation that the Oshkosh show requires.

This is not a piece of instant-web-gratification. It's worth getting it to load properly and having a tea, coffee, or G&T or champagne to hand as preferred.


Thanks to Zack on WIX for the lead.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Slow Rocket from Woomera

Space is not normally an area I propose to cover, but this item in today's Age newspaper is worth a note.

At the height of the Cold War when paranoia about Russia's space program was ramping up, a 12-year-old Denis Cox fired off an "urgent" letter to "a top scientist" at the Woomera Rocket Range containing his designs for a world-beating rocket. Now, 52 years later, Cox will finally get a response.

A fellow space aficionado and blogger, Bob Meade, tracked him down after the letter was dredged up by the National Archives of Australia and published on its website as the "Find of the Month" in May.

The publicity caught the eye of David Kilmartin, editor of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation's Connections magazine. Kilmartin has helped arrange a ceremony in Melbourne next month at which Cox will be presented with a framed response from a scientist in the DSTO's hypersonics section.
If only I'd sent off my skool sketches, maybe I'd be getting a response in ~uh~ about twenty more years.

More interesting is the way the connections were made, through blog, newspaper and archive.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Comet Racer G-ACSS

This is my late eighties photo of the restored Comet Racer G-ACSS, 'Grosvenor House'.

It is on a flight from Boscombe Down, home of the last airworthy de Havilland DH-106 Comet jet airliner (appropriately named Canopus) to Hatfield, the home of de Havilland. This flight was the only occasion the Comet airliner and Comet racer flew together - and, given that Canopus is now grounded, it is unlikely that it could happen again. Incidentally G-ACSS, in the hands of the Shuttleworth Trust at Old Warden, is also currently grounded but should fly again in the future.

The Comet Racer was, of course, the winner of the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race from Mildenhall, Suffolk to Flemington Race Course, Melbourne, Australia. It was, arguably, the greatest air race (it's often known as The Great Air Race) and in historical terms there has never been another race that has occurred at such an important time of radical technical change.

Much has been and will be written about the Comet racer. Suffice it to say here was that in late 1934 it was the fastest thing to travel halfway around the world. It was a privilege to have seen such an historic aircraft on such a unique occasion as this.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mildenhall to Melbourne 75 years ago

What is often held to be the greatest air race in history started now, at the other side of the world, 75 years ago.

It was an incredible achievement. Thanks to the Flight archive and Time magazine's 1934 report, here are some photographs and extracts showcasing the key aircraft and some of the frantic activity before the start.

The team of Roscoe Turner, Clyde Edward Pangborn (right and left in the light colour coats) and Reeder Nichols in their 'Warner Brothers Comet' Boeing 247 arrive and dismount.

Take off date was set at dawn (6:30), October 20, 1934.

Month on long month of intensive preparations by the aviation industry throughout the world had preceded the race's start last week. Represented by each entry were countless technicalities, endless research, details, delays, many a heartbreak.
'Battling' Ray Parer, who had flown the 1919 race from the UK to Australia, but was the last finisher then.

The aircraft had to be weighed. Here is one of the dedicated racing Comets built for national pride and at a bargain price by patriotic de Havilland.
The great doors of the Royal Air Force hangars opened wide at 3 a.m. One sleek machine after another was wheeled out. The deep-throated roar of their engines being tuned up fairly shook the field.

One of the less well known contestants was the Airspeed AS.5 Courier G-ACJL of Squadron Leader D. Stodart, and Sergeant Pilot K. Stodart.

Of the 64 original entries, more than two-thirds had withdrawn. Night before the start Colonel James C. Fitzmaurice, Irish transatlantic flyer, had been disqualified when his U.S.-built Bellanca special, Irish Swoop, proved overweight.

The Dutch entered the Pander Panderjager and a brand new Douglas DC-2, both seen here under guard at night before the race.

Two other less well remembered racers are 36, the Lockheed Vega Puck G-ABGK of J. Woods and D.C. Bennett, and 47, B.A. Eagle The Spirit of Wm. Shaw & Co Ltd G-ACVU of Flight Lieutenant G. Shaw.

Some men to watch. Above - C.W.A. Scott and Tom Campbell Black, and below, Captain K.D. Parmentier, First Officer J.J. Moll of KLM.

Chattering in little groups were flyers, mechanics, officials, men in dungarees, women in evening dress from London. At 6:30 a. m. Sir Alfred Bower, Acting Lord Mayor of London, gave the starting signal.
First away were Jim and Amy (Johnson) Mollison, 12-to-1 favorites in their De Havilland Comet. Two minutes later Roscoe Turner and Clyde Pangborn took off in their big Boeing, just as an orange-red sun edged over the horizon. One by one the rest took the air and headed south. Last off, 16 minutes after the Mollisons, was Capt. T. Neville Stack, carrying a complete motion picture of the start.
What happened next was not only a great and thrilling race, but a cornerstone of the development of inter-continental flight.

More soon.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hawking a Hawk - or not quite what it seems

A fine pre-war advertisement. But not is all quite as it seems. The first oddity is that Miles were famous for their wooden aircraft. While we are looking at the metal engine cowls, propeller and fittings, it seems a bit odd that British Aluminium would choose a wood aeroplane to advertise their wares!

Then we note it's a Flight magazine advert for the Miles Master which, given the radiator position, is actually the Miles Kestrel, an early design that was developed into the Master, and with a number of detail differences, the critical one being the fact that the Kestrel's radiator block was under the engine in the nose, while the Master's was under the wing centre section. If you know that, you aren't going to mistake one for the other from this angle.

There was only one Kestrel built, in 1936 as the Miles M.9 Kestrel, c/n 330, and registered G-AEOC, flying in 1937 and scrapped in 1943. Here's the Kestrel from a different more revealing angle.

Source unknown.

And, for comparison, the Miles Master trainer.

Source unknown.

Both elegant designs, and efficient for the job. They were also the RAF's own preferred type that they couldn't get enough of, so the US designed and built North American Harvard (T-6) filled the shortfall. Had history been different, we'd be tripping over Miles Masters on every airfield, rather than those ubiquitous T-6s.

Here's a good Flight cutaway of the cockpit area. I like the instructor's visor and seat could be raised for a better view on landing. I'm not sure how practical that was on circuits and bumps.

Reproduced, with acknowledgement from Flight Global. A bigger version here.

Again, it's not what it seems. Flight have it listed under 'Miles Master' here yet the lack of a step in the canopy top and the small, upright and un-armoured windscreen don't match the Master but do match the Kestrel.

One last confusion. The Miles Kestrel was powered by - wait for it - the Rolls Royce Kestrel V-12 engine. Both companies named their products after birds of prey, Miles sticking mostly to hawks, Rolls Royce casting wider. One could presume that Miles chose to call this one the Kestrel as they'd not used the name before, and it fitted the engine it had. Intriguingly, I can't think of another aircraft where the engine and aircraft name is the same but the builders were different. I'm sure there must be - suggestions on the comments button please!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

From Australia and Canada to Oshkosh

Sometimes it's worth travelling a long way to see something.

Sometimes that something's travelling quite a way to be there.

Canadian Warplane Heritage Lysander at EAA AirVenture, Oshkosh.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The multi-talented Cyril Peckham

Due to the inevitable focus on pilots in aviation, the huge range of other talented people involved rarely get a look in. In the middle of the twentieth century, there were numerous great photographers working, including the peerless Charles E Brown and others. One often overlooked is Cyril Peckham, who was multi-skilled as well as talented.

While looking at this rather nice illustration of a Folland racer, I noticed a very small signature at the lower right in the white area: 'Peckham'. Not a usual name, only encountered for the London suburb and the photographer I'd heard of. So a bit more looking produced a camera - the Peckham Wray as well:
Here's the story, from a Christie's auction page.
Peckham Wray camera no. 186
Peckham Wray, England; 5 x 4 inches, black-metal body, the top stamped ADMIRALTY PATTERN NO. 8901, focal-plane shutter and a Wray Lustrar 135mm. f/4.8 lens no. 42294; a Wray Plustrar f/6.3 9 inch lens no. 158117

Lot Notes: Cyril Peckham was a successful and well-known commercial artist and poster designer specialising in aviation subjects during the 1920s and 1930s. He had an active interest in photography and achieved the Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society. During the second world war he moved from illustrator to photographer and joined the General Aircraft Company and later the Hawker company. He was active in aerial photography and drew up a list of ten faults with current cameras which led him to design his own.

'When the man who does the job designs the tool for doing it, the result should be something approaching the attainable ideal - from the functional aspect at least'. With this statement the BJPA reviewed the Peckham-Wray camera designed by Cyril Peckham who at the time was Chief Photographer to the Hawker Siddeley group of aircraft companies. The camera was originally designed for air-to-air photography and and was later developed as a press and general purpose camera.

British patent number 728741 was applied for in 1951 and the full specification was filed in November 1952. The specification for the camera addressed those faults that Peckham had identified including light traps, comfortable grip and fingertip controls. After some twelve months use Peckham showed the camera to the Chief of the Admiralty photographic section, Mr F. Wright, who initiated the first production run of fifty cameras from the Wray Optical Works in Bromley. The prototype camera at the RAF Museum in Hendon follows the patent specification closely but the transition from prototype to production negated some of the improvements Peckham had intended.

The prototype achieved most of Peckham's goals, bulk apart it was convenient to hold, the rear shutter release was in an ideal position and the focusing scale and aperture markings easy to use. A gloved operator would have no difficulty and it would seem to have been a first class air-to-air camera. If offered exclusively for this purpose fitted with a 5 x 4 Graphic-pattern back, as some of the production models were, it would have achieved greater success outside of Government circles, in fact the number sold to private users were negligible and it certainly stood no chance of being accepted in the Speed Graphic dominated Fleet Street as a press camera.

Jim Barron, 'Cyril Peckham and the Peckham/Wray Camera' in Photographica World, no. 60, March 1992, pp. 24-25.
Jim Barron, 'Reaching for the Skies' in British Journal of Photography, 19 March 1992, pp. 16-17.
British Journal Photographic Almanac 1956, pp. 232-233.

For those interested in the camera specifically, more here:
... A camera was made for Peckham to his own design, by a local engineering company, and was so successful that he soon found friends and colleagues pressing him to get the camera into some sort of commercial production. Wray got the job, under the promise of a Government contract. Wray’s version of Peckham’s camera did not exactly match the prototype. The 9 x 12cm German shutter mechanism used by Peckham was changed to a 5 x 4-inch English version. The casting was in a denser alloy than the original, the smooth lines of the first camera were not followed and the whole thing was heavier and more cumbersome. ...
How many of our current photographers are experienced graphic artists and have designed a specialised camera that was put into production? Flight, as ever, came up with a pic - here's the man with (presumably) the prototype camera from 19 December 1952.

Another excellent shot is on this interesting blog, presumably again using his own camera.

All very interesting, I think. There also seems to be another
Cyril G Peckham who published "A summary of atmospheric turbulence recorded by NATO aircraft." and was involved with "The Analysis of Sudden-Short-Circuit Oscillograms of Steam-Turbine Generators" - I hope it's not the same man, otherwise he'd clearly be the Leonardo of aeronautics.

Tim Badham adds:
I greatly admire the aviation photographers from that era. Indeed I was fortunate enough in the 1970s to be one of the winners in a competition concerning airshow photography. The photographs were judged by Arthur Gibson (well known for early Red Arrows pics) and that doyen of air-to-air work Charles E. Brown himself. I had the great honour to meet Charles at the award ceremony when winning photographs were exhibited at the RAF Museum. It was a wonderful day. Charles was of diminutive stature and quite frail by then but I was quite over-awed to be introduced to him. Thousands of his early photos were lost in a fire at his premises in the early days of his career. His earliest aviation pics were of balloons.

I never met Cyril Peckham but he too did some great work in the days when film was expensive, autodrive was not an option and you had to get it right first time!
Not to be forgotten, and we'll return to the great Charles E Brown another time, I'm sure.