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.