Friday, February 25, 2011


The RAAF Museum's new display, the 'Strike Hangar' is now open, in time for the local aeronautically interested influx for the forthcoming Avalon Airshow in the area. On show are the museum's General Dynamics F-111G A8-272, 'The Boneyard Wrangler', McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II 67-0237 and GAF Canberra A84-236 (above) and many other artefacts including two larger pieces of GAF Lincolns - the starboard tail of one see to the left above.

This tag won't be removed before flight ever again, and there won't be any F-111s at Avalon this year.

The tails of retarded bombs as not used in anger by RAAF F-111s.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I see a SE

I see an SE; S.E.5a on its way from the RAAF Museum to Avalon for the airshow.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Back to the 'Bushe

Sopwith Pup over Spitfire Mk.XVI - one of the many Spitfires Doug Arnold - the 'Big Man from Blackbushe' - traded over the years. [Peter Brown]

This great thread here (on the Farnborough Aviation Group forum) has a huge number of photos of the post-war era at Blackbushe airfield by one of the people - Peter Brown - who was clearly key to the airfield's operations. As well as a fascinating insight to general aviation of the era, there's a wonderful selection of (rarely seen) warbird ops.

A line of Sea Furies. [Peter Brown]

I'm presenting a selection of Peter's great images here, but for the full flavour grab a cup of tea (or a cocktail), sit back and run through the vast array of pictures (over nine pages at the time of writing) coupled with a wonderful insider's insight to the story of an often overlooked airfield.

Blackbushe was owned for a period by the remarkable Doug Arnold, and a selection of his aircraft - mainly warbirds - are seen in colour and black and white.

Neil Williams on the right with Peter Hoare. [Peter Brown]

There are also some featuring the late, great Neil Williams, one of the highest regarded aerobatic and display pilots of his (and I suspect) many other eras.

A beat up by B-17 'Sally B' [Peter Brown]

With thanks to Peter (no relation) Arnold for the 'heads up' on a forum for this, but most of all to Peter Brown for taking - and sharing - the pictures with his memories.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lost Short 'Boat

The ghostly bow of a Short flying boat. [Image from Michael McFadyen's website]

Under the normal methodology* I recently came across Michael McFadyen's excellent website covering various recreational dives and including a number of aircraft wreck dives, among which is that of the scuttled Short Sandringham VH-EBW, of Qantas.

A shot of the instrument panel in the cockpit [Image from Michael McFadyen's website]

Michael start by saying:
It ... came as a great surprise to discover on a trip to Vanuatu in 1991 that a Qantas plane had been wrecked there. Even more surprising was the fact that the plane was still there, sitting upright almost completely intact 41 metres below the surface of the Port Vila Harbour.
The story of this rare example of Short 'boat is an interesting one, and unlike many dive sites, Michael has troubled to explore the history of the aircraft and provides it on his website, here, as well as the references he used. As well as the Sandringham, he also list the other aircraft he dived, an interesting list (here) including a remarkable variety of Pacific machines, and well documented and illustrated.

There's something about an underwater aircraft wreck. Of course any W.W.II era machines which are in salt water at shallow depth are effectively 'ghosts' - their metal so far compromised that removing them now would cause them to crumble and vanish away like a scorched piece of paper. For that, they are best just appreciated for what they are, and prompt questions such as Michael's explored.


*WLFSE - While Looking For Something Else.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Shark Bites

Extra to the usual Sharkmouth. ['Diego' & 'Domingo' IPMS Uruguay]

Over on the IPMS Uruguay board is a magnificent 40+ page thread on shark mouth decorated aircraft. It's a well known, well-worn topic, but this picture selection is a magnificent achievement with a much wider range than the usual 'Flying Tiger' P-40s.

The RAAF Museum's Pageant in 2008 was (as far as I'm aware) the only time three different warbird fighters, bearing original shark-mouth adornment, flew together. L-R the RAAF Museum's Mustang, the Temora Aviation Museum 'Grey Nurse' Spitfire and Alan Arthur's P-40. [James Kightly]

As is well known now, the AVG P-40s copied 112 Squadron RAF (and other, including RAAF Desert Air Force Kittyhawks) who themselves had copied the German's Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters, as seen here:

One of the earliest W.W.II types adorned with teeth was the Bf 110, here seen later in the conflict. [Via IPMS Uruguay]

Better still is a selection of other related aircraft decorations such as a Medusa head (what an interesting idea) from this post ...

More terrifying than a shark? The Medusa's head.[Via IPMS Uruguay]

... and a few odd items like our amusing heading image. (it's from this post, and the translated note says: "And thanks to the collaboration with Domingo, I present the father of them all, the Me 262.")

This Hurricane was a new one to me. The other image in the post (here) shows a US star and bar on the fuselage. [Via IPMS Uruguay] [Edit: It appears to be BP654, a hack used by the 346th Fighter Squadron, 350th Fighter Group in Italy.]

For those interested in finding something a it more specific rather than a general browse, there's a listing by page in this post.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

RAF Museum Conservation Blog

[RAF Museum Image.]

The Royal Air Force Museum have an excellent blog developing on their website, here. The introduction, back in 2010, by Tim Wallis – Manager of Conservation, said:
On behalf of our dedicated conservation team, I should like to welcome you to the new website for the ‘Michael Beetham Conservation Centre’ (MBCC).
Our duties encompass conservation, restoration, preventative maintenance, repairs, salvage, collections and delivery of aircraft or specialist loads etc. Current aircraft under work within the MBCC include: Vickers Wellington Mk10 (MF628); Sopwith Dolphin; Handley Page Hampden TB1 P1344; Spitfire Mk XIX; Range Safety Launch 1667. To carry out this crucial work, we have a current staffing level of 22, which includes Airframe & Propulsion Technicians, Aircraft Welder/Fabrication Technicians, Aircraft Carpenter Technicians, 7 Apprentices, a Training Manager and our Administration Manager. Designated as a ‘Centre of Excellence’ the MBCC has won a number of awards for conservation and we were delighted to become this year’s winner in the Small Employer category, for both the Regional and National Apprenticeships Awards.
The posts on the blog go some way to giving a glimpse into the tasks and objectives of such collection conservation departments, and the skills - and with several apprentices posting - training of the people involved. This work, and its objectives are often not well understood by those interested in vintage aviation, and it is good to see for that reason.

Some equivalent collections are offering similar insights to their departments, though many do fall into the trap of not explaining the 'why' behind the pretty pictures of rare machines.

It would be good for more museums to take advantage of this route to fulfil their mandate of public communication.


Friday, February 11, 2011

From Zed to Air Ambulance

On Britain's National Archives Flickr Photostream is a set simply marked 'Somalia', which covers a fascinating expedition which proved to be the genesis of inter-war air control, a concept of great importance for the RAF, the Empire and, not least, the legacy of such activities down to today.

This was the 'Zed Expedition' or 'Z Force'. In the first two months of 1920, RAF units were involved in operations with the Camel Corps in British Somaliland (now Somalia) to overthrow Dervish leader Mohammed bin Abdullah Hassan, known to the British at the time as the "Mad Mullah". The airborne intervention was "the main instrument and decisive factor" in the success of the operation. A dozen DH-9s were dispatched to form 'Z Force', and were used for bombing, strafing and - after the radios failed, communications. In colonial terms, it was a remarkably successful, cheap, effective and operation with very few British casualties. The Dervish losses don't seem to have been of interest. Seen from a military point of view, the success was complete. After 17 years of defiance, crushing the opposition took 23 days, and the British lost two other ranks and four wounded and the Mullah fled without possessions or followers and never regained political power.

The DH-9 Air Ambulance. Note that a temporary red cross has been draped over the fuselage for the photograph, and was presumably not used in practice. The attendant's small window can be seen between the airman's head and the flag. [National Archives]

The story of the expedition is fascinating, but perhaps for another day, as here we take just one intriguing element. Part of the expeditionary force was a single Airco DH-9 (D.3117, according to J.M. Bruce in Flight and confirmed by the images) reconfigured as an aerial ambulance, which by this account may well be the first successful employment of such a machine. Although primitive and vulnerable to modern eyes, this machine was doing exactly the same job modern helicopters and Casevac aircraft do - taking an injured casualty quickly to where more advanced treatment can be given and where other transport will be inadequate. It appears from the Somalia campaign, as well as the inhospitable and barren landscape to be traversed, the only other forms of travel were foot (maybe mule) or camel. The images in the National Archives collection show no wheeled transport up country at all.

In the February 26, 1920 edition, Flight reported:
The Secretary of the Air Ministry is instructed by the Secretary of State for Air to issue the following statement:— "The Air Force unit ... included a considerable medical staff equipped with a very complete hospital outfit. The aeroplanes with which the unit operated were 12 De Havilland 9's[*] with B.H.P. engines. One of these aeroplanes was fitted up as an aerial ambulance to take a stretcher case with attendant.
The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine**, carried an article - "The Zed Expedition: the world's first air ambulance?" by American-based authors M D Scholi MD and C L Geshekter PhD. They wrote:
The RAF medical unit that supported the Zed Expedition was commanded by the army medical officer William Tyrrell. ... In November 1919, Tyrrell and an RAF officer had visited British Somaliland surreptitiously, in the guise of petroleum engineers, to evaluate the medical logistical needs of the forthcoming campaign. In early January 1920, Tyrrell returned to Somaliland as Medical Officer of the RAF medical detachment for the Z Unit.
They went on to describe the DH-9 modification candidly as "A coffin-like structure was constructed within the rear fuselage, enclosing the stretcher."

The text by the original image is quite clear: 'First cot case arriving from El Afweina'. [National Archives]

They go on to elucidate the work of this single aircraft, and its single stretcher position:
Tyrrell's medical unit was busy during and after the air attacks. From his notes:
'Three cases evacuated by aerial ambulance from Eil Dur Elan to Berbera:
(1) Captain James Godman, aged 45, w/necrosis of phalanges, middle toe left foot.
(2) Cpl. Edward Linnington, age 28, w/inguinal lymphadenitis secondary to Ulcus Molle***.
(3) AC/2W Sleath, age 19, petrol burns hand/arm.
Five others were evacuated by aerial ambulance b/t 15-24 February 1920, but not admitted to the hospital."
No doubt the patient was mighty relieved to have completed the journey, which then would have seemed a major technical achievement, despite looking extremely primitive now. He is also able to shield his eyes with his 'Bombay bowler' while the inevitable paperwork (in the hands of the man on the left) is checked. [National Archives]

The summary goes to Flight, in their January 19, 1922 issue, which included, on page 34, comments on the report of the 1920 'Health of the RAF':
It is stated in the report that, although of a primitive nature, the air ambulance has had an opportunity of proving its worth, and "the old blood wagon," as the air ambulance (a converted "D.H.9") was generally called, did such good work as to call forth the following statement, reprinted in the report : "Thus the aerial ambulance has shown that, especially in operations over country where other transport is so tedious and trying, the aeroplane is a veritable godsend for sick and wounded."

*The correct name is de Havilland DH-9 or Airco DH-9, depending on the date.

**Volume 82 November 1989, page 679. [Note the paper does not credit the origin of the images, which have been seen with various other attributions. It appears the authors have been confused by the engine exhaust collector box into thinking the DH-9 was "dual purpose" armed with a "machine gun mounted forward" in 'Fig.2' - the top image here. It appears unarmed, the normal fixed forward firing machine gun not being evident. However the aircraft is in full military camouflage and markings, and no red cross (or crescent) can be seen in the images.]

***It seems the corporal may have been misbehaving with local women as the diagnosis 'Ulcus Molle' relates to a sexually transmitted disease as described here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

French Merlin-Hawks in Colour

I hadn't realised the French Armée de l'Air had operated the Merlin-powered Curtiss P-40F until I came across these great colour shots of the handover of several examples by US pilots to the newly re-constituted French Air Force. I found them on this blog, and went and did a bit more digging afterwards.

An Armée de l'Air Catholic priest to bless the machines?

Thanks to Wikipedia Commons, the caption to the Library of Congress photograph (below) reveals:
12 Curtiss P-40F Warhawk fighters on 9 January 1943 in Casablanca during a ceremony which officially transferred these former USAAF 33rd Fighter Group P-40s to the French in North Africa. In reality, these aircraft had been handed over to the Armee de l'Air on 25 November 1942. The recceiving French unit was Groupe de Chasse GC II/5, better known as the Lafayette Escadrille. Note the Curtiss Hawk 75 and at least two Dewoitine D.520s inside the hangar, still wearing Vichy-French identification stripes. A Douglas C-47 Skytrain is visible in the background.
The somewhat less revealing period caption: "Line-up of 13 P-40 United States Warhawks which Americans recently presented to the Fighting French air forces at an airport somewhere in North Africa on behalf of the people of the United States."

You can almost hear the Marseillaise.

EDIT: - Thanks to BenG and CDF on WIX, there's more info here and here (in French) and a couple more stunning images uploaded by Mike Furline on the WIX thread here.


DH Mosquito RR299

From the 'gone but not forgotten' file, I decided to dig out a selection of shots of the world's last flying Mosquito, RR299, G-ASKH as it was operated by British Aerospace.

It's remarkable to look back and think how we assumed it'd always be there.

As a kid (many years ago now) I was trudging seawards in some massive dunes at Braunton Burrows, North Devon, when, looking out to sea, the Mosquito came howling in from the sea and whammed overhead inland. I’ve seen this Mozzie on countless occasions and the tragic loss of her crew is still difficult to accept, but for me that’s what flying, not static aviation is all about. It was about 10sec total, but it’s unforgettable.

I was suddenly like a small boy in Holland, 1944.

Thanks for the memories.

It was lost in an accident which also tragically killed the pilot and engineer, this machine had been flown on the UK display scene for decades, and was almost being taken for granted - but a Mosquito in the air is not something you can overlook.

There's film of a very typical display at North Weald's Fighter Meet (as seen immediately above) here.

And we should see one, maybe two Mosquitoes return to the air in the next couple of years. More on them anon.

Meanwhile, ave atque vale, RR299.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Finding the Ki 27 Nate survivor

I like the rare-to-unique survivors, but occasionally I find a reference to something I'd not even realised was out there.

Thanks to Joe May's blog Travel For Aircraft, we can see Joe's shots of the sole complete survivor of this machine, the Nakajima Ki 27 'Nate' here as it is on display today in Japan.

Photo by Joe May, from the blog Travel For Aircraft. Reproduced with acknowledgment.

Joe explains:
Toward the end of WW II Japan was preparing for the invasion of the home islands and pressed any and all equipment, as well as citizenry, into service. That is why there is one Nate left out of the more than 4000 that were built. It was transferred from Manchuria to Japan after Okinawa has been invaded and was to be used by its pilot in a kamikaze attack. While on its ferry flight, as it was approaching Fukuoka Japan the engine failed and the pilot made a forced landing into Fukuoka Bay. The pilot survived the ditching and the aircraft lay on the bay bottom for decades. A private effort launched a recovery effort and the airplane is now on display in the Tachiarai Peace Museum 大刀洗平和記念館 — Tachiarai Japan.
He adds:
It is one of my favorite exhibits I’ve seen out of all that I have seen. This rare aircraft is not restored to an original pristine condition, instead it has been restored to a usable looking condition.
It's on my list to see too, now.

There's a history of the Ki 27 on the Wiki page here. According to the invaluable Warbirds Directory, there are two survivors, the other being a 'derelict' wreck in the Royal Thai Air Force Museum, Bangkok, Thailand. (No i.d. is offered for either aircraft, interestingly.)

Aircraft from the late 1930s are particularly rare as they were developed in an era of rapid change (and obsolescence) and also most were consumed by the following world war. In military terms they are also the last generation of machines that seem comprehensible to the interested layperson, and have a broad similarity to modern sportsplanes or races from their own era.

A big thank you to Joe for sharing his travels, and his blog is therefore also highly recommended, of course!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The first ever colour 'Air Display' photograph

Certainly the first I'm aware of, being one of the first ever air 'shows' and a very early colour image. Although it's a trade show, rather than an outdoor event, it is no less historic, being taken on September 30, at the 1909 Paris Salon, and that's Blériot's monoplane, in which he flew the Channel, only months earlier, front and centre.

Taken by pioneer photographer Léon Gimpel, the process used was called Autochrome Lumière, and is occasionally mistaken for a 'colourising' process, but it is a genuine original colour image. Some of Gimpel's wartime photographs are seen in the AWM website here and some more on a French Great War photography website here (also yet more, including other pre-Great War shots here).

The Flight caption to their front page of the contemporary issue, although from a slightly different spot, identifies the machines in order. It said:
General view of the centre of the Grand Palais, showing the "Stands of Honour." In the middle, immediately under the spherical gas-bag, is the famous Bleriot cross-Channel machine. To its right is the "Rep" monoplane, in the extreme right foreground is the Farman biplane, to the left a French-made Wright flyer, and continuing round to the left the machines are respectively an Antoinette, a Voisin, and another Bleriot. The decorated spherical balloon in the distance is the Montgolfier.
Please send earlier colour photographs to the usual address. The shot above, although widely reproduced I originally found here.