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.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Kermit's Snipe thoughts

This great account and photo from Kermit Weeks' Facebook timeline.

"Ran the Sopwith Snipe again today and got to taxi it around quite a bit. The Bentley engine is a bit more sensitive to the fuel/air mixture than what I've been used to flying with the Gnomes and LeRhone's. Of course, it's a hundred and fifty horsepower more than an engine in a Sopwith Pup!

While taxiing on the ground . . . it seems to turn reasonably tight to the right with a bit of throttle and forward stick but not as well to the left. A pilot must think ahead when turning around on a narrow runway (125' wide!) with a crosswind to make sure he doesn't go off the side and into a fence or swamp! Remember, there are NO BRAKES!

The Bentley actually has better throttle-ability than other rotaries I've flown and can throttle back to about 500 rpm without having to use the blip switch, which is actually slow enough to stop on the grass. You can't do that with a Sopwith Pup with an 80 hp engine and a minimum idle rpm of 800. You HAVE to use the blip switch to slow down.

At higher power settings and powering up, the Bentley is a lot less forgiving than a LeRhone and is very sensitive to getting the air/fuel mixture just right. It's easy to be either too lean or too rich and let's you know by either banging, backfiring, or just quitting!

On LeRhone Rotaries and this Bentley, the pilot has two levers to control the power - one for air and one for fuel.

Think about that and understand . . . With this set up . . . the PILOT IS THE CARBURETOR!

There were a few things I told the guys to tweak as I ran offsite for an all day appointment.

With any luck . . . I'll fly it tomorrow morning!"

Thanks for the insights, Kermit.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The importance of KLM DC-2 'Uiver' in Albury, 1934

The following article was originally written for and published on the ABC Goulbourn-Murray website, on 2 November 2007, relating to a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the events of 1934. The ABC Goulbourn-Murray website carries a good deal of material relating to Uiver, listed here, and other material here.

I was asked the question 'What was the significance of KLM's DC-2 in history?' This was the answer.

It's difficult today to appreciate the effect the DC-2 PH-AJU had at the time. Although brand-new, and top-of-the-line it was also just a standard airliner. In the 1934 air race, despite flying an extended stopping KLM route it came second only to a dedicated, newly-designed and built racing aircraft. It's like a new bus coming second at Bathurst, while dropping off passengers at the bus stops.

 The Uiver at Mildenhall in 1934. (James Kightly collection via Flightpath magazine) 

With its tailwheel setup the DC-2 looks old fashioned today, but in 1934, in gleaming polished silver with patriotic Dutch orange letters on the upper wing, it personified the machine age and art-deco modernism - and flew. The men aboard this wonder became heroes beyond levels we see today.

The world wide interest in the race was all Sir Macpherson Robertson could have hoped for and more. Even over seventy years later it remains the most important air-race ever. Only an event like the moon landing had a greater public awareness; bearing in mind that in 1934 it was all dependent on telegrams, newspapers and, critically, radio. It was through the radio broadcasts that the race was followed in real time, in the UK, Australia, Holland, the USA and the rest of the world, and it was radio that caught and saved Uiver over Albury.

Radio and the race put Albury on the map for a world wide audience and the townspeople can be proud of their remarkable efforts to save the DC-2 and to help it place so high in the race.

Prior to commercial aviation's development, Australia had only been connected to the world by shipping and undersea cables. Today most of us would find it inconceivable how critical radio and the undersea cable was in moving information. No internet, fax or e-mail in 1934 of course, and newspapers couldn't physically move faster than an aeroplane carrying them. In 1934 technology became good enough for airliners to work on one of the world's longest and most challenging routes. Times for goods and people being moved to and from the Australian continent were slashed from weeks or months to just days.

The airworthy Dutch DC2 in Uiver colours at the Coventry Airshow. (James Kightly)

The Douglas DC-2 was the best airliner in the world at the time. Interestingly, many of its innovative features are still critical in modern airliners. It was a low-wing, multi-engine, stressed-skin (that means the skin carries the structural loads - like an egg) machine with an enclosed cockpit and retractable undercarriage. All these features still appear in the 747 Jumbo Jet and the brand new Airbus A-340. The slightly enlarged DC-3 (developed from the DC-2) was the first airliner in history able to earn a profit flying passengers.

We complain about packed cabins and 'jetlag'; the weather is an inconvenience, but without the efforts of all those people who made the great air race of 1934 such as a remarkable proof of the capability of this new airliner, we might not have the service we take for granted.
Hindsight clearly shows that the British Empire had no airliner that could compete; de Havilland, makers of the special winning Comet Racer, had their best airliner in the race. The mis-named de Havilland Dragon Rapide turned up days later in Melbourne. At that point, some realised that we needed to consider American aircraft because British types just weren't good enough.

The Uiver at Tanken Karachi during the 1934 London to Melbourne Air Race. (James Kightly collection via Flightpath magazine)

When Lawrence Wackett in 1936 chose a type of the newly formed Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation to build, he chose the North American NA-16, which became the Wirraway. That aircraft had the same wing design as the DC-2. When Holymans Airways lost several wooden de Havilland airliners for unexplained reasons in the 30s, Holyman's damned the Empire First demands and at extra tax cost bought DC-2s in 1936. QANTAS couldn't have bought DC-2s; they weren't allowed to as they weren't a British type, so it was KLM, one of the greatest airlines, to show how airline flying should happen.

An array of the gifts and commemorative items made in Holland to celebrate the success of Uiver on display at the Aviodome Museum. (James Kightly)

KLM were delighted to show their mettle in this race, but one of their key selling points also saved Uiver. Taking a professional airline approach, flying fast, safely and sticking to the route and plan, was the future and a lifesaver. Parmentier and Moll were specially picked, but they were also 'just' airline pilots. Having a trustworthy, trained, aircrew, not a 'hot shot' remains a critical part of airline flying right through to today.

When it all went bad for the KLM team in that October storm in 1934, that professionalism was one of the things that saved them, and while those Dutch-Albury connections were being forged on the ground, observers around the world were noting that KLM had set the standard, both in predictable airline flying and when the pressure and near disaster came in. Without the people of Albury that achievement could have all come to naught.

There were precious lives at stake in 1934, and they were saved. In the early twenty-first century, there are few precious DC-2s left. There are less than nine complete examples. Only two have been returned to flight in the world, as I write. Albury is lucky to have an example, but it desperately needs funding to restore it to showroom condition after decades outside at the airport. Another is in the hands of the aircraft museum at Moorrabbin, awaiting rebuild. In Holland, the Aviodrome operate one DC-2, as do the Museum of Flight in the USA. We need more people prepared not to forget them, particularly Albury's own.

A Dutch blue plate to celebrate the success of Uiver on display at the Aviodome Museum. (James Kightly)

As an aviation writer, I'm all too used to finding that the legend has grown and real story turns out to be a shadow of the myth. The story of 2CO radio, Albury's remarkable people and the Uiver's crew are one of the few occasions where the legend is less amazing than the true facts.

It's ironic that one effect of the race driven by Melbourne-booster Sir MacPherson Robertson was that the switch from sea to air transport moved the usual Australia terminus of the routes from Melbourne, a good terminus for ships, to Sydney. Sydney is a closer arrival point for aircraft from Europe or the Americas.

However, the people of Albury's inspired and selfless efforts on that real 'dark and stormy night' wrote a true story that no fiction author would dare to propose, and is a moment in history never to forget.

James Kightly is an aviation writer and publisher, and a Contributing Editor to Australia's Flightpath magazine.

This article by James Kightly was written for the ABC website.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Standing at the runway's end

Standing at the end of the runway is generally a bad idea, where it's not actually prohibited.   It can be bad for your health in a chronic sense, and if you're really unlucky, bad for your health in a very, very, acute sense.

The internet is filled with examples of people standing at the end of runways and / or facing low flying aircraft.  But these two are not like that.  In both cases the person standing there was authorised to do so, and for the films we are about to see.  They are similar, in a way, yet very different, too.  But they're both history.

Oh, WARNING. Adult themes (technically) and language.  If you haven't already jumped ahead.

First we have a circa 1972 Southwest Airlines advert about how someone (in hotpants) up there "loves you".  Nice to know.

Look at that - smoke!

Secondly is a very, very famous piece of film of Alain de Cadenet doing his piece to camera at the end of Duxford's grass runway while the late, great Ray Hanna brings Spitfire MH434 to finish off the intro, as he does, somewhat more impressively than Alain was ready for.

The film has been withdrawn by the copyright holder, but they have, instead, shared a better version of it, here.

Ray 'the master' was probably the most safely comfortable warbird pilot at 'dot feet', and a great display pilot.  I know one of my life's privileges was to watch someone that good at work doing what he did, though I wasn't there on Alain's immortal day.

PS - Please don't send me other examples of such activities on the interweb.  I'm mildly interested in authorised comparisons, not at all in risk-taking ones.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Lanc & Company

Was it really a year ago?


A 19 second (poor quality by me iPhone) video from the turret of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Lancaster of the Cavanaugh Flight Museum Mustang and the Commemorative Air Force B-29 Superfortress 'Fifi', just before the Hamilton Air Show 2012.  Unlike me, be there this weekend! Wall-to-wall RR Merlins are on offer.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Concorde, 10 Years After

In October 2003 I wrote an article on the retirement phase of the recently grounded Concorde airliners for (the then) 24 Hour Museum website in the UK (now Culture 24).  The article is still available on their website here but on this blog I've interleaved current 2013 details to update the story.

British Museums Must Join Queue For Concorde Say British Airways
By James Kightly. Published: 17 October 2003 on the 24 Hour Museum Website

Photo: the sun is setting on an incredible aviation adventure. © James Kightly.

UK museums hoping to acquire and display Concorde supersonic airliners when British Airways (BA) finally retires them could end up being disappointed.

BA declared in spring 2003 that it would retire the aircraft to museums and all the major British aviation museums entered a race to be chosen to host an aircraft. So far, most appear to have heard nothing from BA.

Now aviation industry insiders have traced flight plans filed by BA for the last week of operations by the supersonic airliner. The plans reveal a bizarre picture of which museums are likely to end up hosting the machines.

The most controversial rumoured destination is Barbados, an island with no substantial aviation history and (some might say) a tenuous Concorde connection. The island is said to have been gifted a machine on the basis that a museum will be built to house it.

Photo: BA is still in the pilot's seat when it comes to decisions about housing Concorde. © James Kightly.

"Concorde is an icon for the world," said a BA spokesperson to the 24 Hour Museum on October 17. Rumours continue to emerge about the likely final destinations of the plane, but BA are adamant they won't comment about what they regard as speculation.

"We are a British airline, so we are looking at museums in Britain, but we are also an international airline, and we are also looking at museums across the world."

The spokesperson refused to comment about the speculation that venues in Barbados and New York have been pencilled in as last resting places for the supersonic transport.

No date has yet been set for any official comment or announcement about the aircraft's retirement homes. BA say there is still a lot of detailed discussion and consultation to be carried out before anything can be announced publically.

"We want to be sure that the arrangements are in place for Concorde to be seen by as many people as possible, in an appropriate setting, for many years to come."

Photo: Air France have donated a fully operational Concorde to France's premier aviation Museum; Le Musee de L'Air et L'Espace near Paris. British Airways are asking the British equivalent museums to join the queue. © James Kightly.

Aviation experts and museum curators are nonplussed at the rumoured choice of Grantly Adams Airport, Barbados. The local environment is not likely to be kind to Concorde – the salty sea air would incredibly effective at reducing an aircraft made from extremely exotic alloys to a corroded hulk.

A local (but un-named) businessman has apparently offered to finance the building of a facility to house the aircraft. Will G-BOAG, the aircraft said to be headed to the West Indies, become an off-white elephant before being scrapped as a safety risk? [G-BOAE went to Grantley Adams Airport Barbados, and is now preserved inside in the Barbados Concorde Experience, an excellent result.]

New York has been Concorde’s most important destination. British Airways have apparently decided this merits a donated example. The Intrepid Air and Space Museum, a moored aircraft carrier, might seem a sensible choice at first.

However, Concorde G-BOAD is apparently intended to be placed on a barge next to the carrier. Exposure to a saline marine environment could damage this aircraft quickly unless it is covered.
Given that there are already a significant number of aircraft on Intrepid’s deck which are decaying and there are worries about the funding of this museum, the omens are not good. [And to some degree those issues have come to pass, with damage when stored ashore and several moves to and from the waterfront for G-BOAD.  The aircraft's long-term future in this environment is simply not good.]

Photo: at the Farnborough airshow in the 1970s Concorde was just starting out on a controversial career. © Ross Kightly.

Exemplary museums which could be considered by BA include:

The Science Museum (tasked with holding an example of each ‘significant’ airliner)

The Imperial War Museum at Duxford (another holder of a pre-production Concorde, and a world-class aviation museum with a diverse airliner collection)

The Aerospace Museum Cosford, the UK’s most comprehensive airliner collection

The Museum of Flight, East Fortune, Scotland’s most important aviation museum

The Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington.

A BA spokesman early this year claimed that that museums with “…the strongest local connections and ones that that will be able to afford the best public access” would be favoured.

Actually, runway length seems to be more important. Too-short runways seem to be BA’s reason for dropping the museums above. However, a Concorde did fly into Duxford. And East Fortune landed an Avro Vulcan and de Havilland Comet, after a mini-roundabout and some fences were temporarily removed from the now-disused runway!

[East Fortune got Concorde G-BOAA after an epic sea and land journey to the museum.  Though Scotland having a well-presented Concorde is a good thing, the development and infrastructure put on ice and derailed much of the museum's other restoration and preservation work for some years.]

Photo: climb-out or end of the road? BA's retirement plans seem incomprehensible to some. © James Kightly.

Julian Temple, Curator of the Brooklands Aviation Museum in Surrey, is still hopeful that they will get a Concorde. [Brooklands got development aircraft G-BBDG.] There remain three grounded aircraft to be offered new homes. [G-BOAB remains today on external display at Heathrow.]

One of these three, robbed to keep the others flying, is hardly recognisable - having lost its wheels, nose and tail. Spare parts for Concorde are not plentiful, and though it could be recreated using Air France spare parts, the Christie’s auction guide holds little hope for a cash-strapped museum. With essentials like pilot’s seats priced at £3,000 each, the total cost could be too steep.

A strange UK choice from BA which seems to be emerging is Manchester Airport’s viewing park.
Ambitious plans are being built around the last ever airliner made in Britain, the BAE Systems RJX100, which is already on site. BA have apparently decided that Concorde G-BOAC should join it.

However, airports are not good places to preserve aircraft, being space-hungry high security environments. Manchester’s excellent aviation collection is actually several miles away in the centre of the city. [G-BOAC is now preserved at Manchester in a special glass hangar.]

Photo: the IWM, Duxford, has a pre-production Concorde, not an airliner version. It does not seem likely to get a British Airways example. © James Kightly.

The Museum of Flight in Seattle is rumoured to be recipient for Concorde G-BOAE. A first-class museum, it can be argued that it is good to show Anglo-French innovation in a Boeing-dominated collection. [They actually got G-BOAG.]

However, with the current supposed plan allocating no less than three of the small fleet to the USA it seems a very odd choice. It should be remembered that it was US opposition, led by Senator MacNamara, that massively curtailed Concorde operations.

The one bright spot in this strange saga is the possible allocation to Filton, Bristol, of G-BOAF, the last Concorde built. G-BOAF was built in Bristol. [Filton got G-BOAF.]

Currently the Bristol Aviation Collection is based at Kemble, but the arrival of this machine may well kick-start the renaissance of a museum on a particularly historic site in 2004.

Copyright © Culture24 & James Kightly

Modern, current Concorde news on the excellent Concorde SST website here.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Russian woman Pe-2 Gunner - Aircrew

The latest Aircrew feature in Aeroplane magazine showcases the remarkable female crews of the Russian 125th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment's Petlyakov Pe-2 medium (dive) bombers, particularly the gunners.

Pe-2 crewmembers Ekaterina Batukhina, Mariia Dolina, Praskov'ia Zueva, Alekslandra Votintseva, Olga Sholokhova and Mariia Kirillova. [From Kazarinova, Kratsova & Poliantseva.]

I am currently gathering some supporting material for the article, but in the meantime here's a photograph of some of these exceptional women in front of one of their Pe-2s at a 1945 victory parade.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Alone I Did It!"

"... The pupil adds one more to the daily total."  A wry caption to an image in the book 'Joysticks & Fiddlesticks' by F S Briggs & H Harris recently reviewed in the State Library of Victoria.  One wonders what the airmen waiting to clean up the mess thought of the intrepid birdman posing so insouciantly in the middle?

Friday, May 3, 2013

1928 - Ethyl is Safe! - Actually...

Few today would be unaware that tetraethyl lead used to be widely used in petrol as an anti-knock agent.  Most are probably aware that in most aspects of such use it is now banned, due to the health issues.

However it is not widely known how much, so many people were mislead, for so long.  It is no exaggeration to say that the evidence sadly, clearly, shows that leaded petrol was responsible for poisoning the whole planet, increasing crime and making most humans stupider than they otherwise would be.  [Further reading is listed at the foot of this essay.]

Aided by the human inability to face and understand chronic issues, Thomas Midgley Junior and the Ethyl Corporation undertook one of the most egregious big lies in history (making the tobacco lobby's systematic lying look like a kindergarten effort) successfully, for decades, with the result that a simplistic mechanism to make internal combustion engines run without pre-detonation had the worst side effect in history.

From a 1928 Pratt's advertisement in Aeroplane magazine.
"There had been three inquiries into the question of this spirit in the United States. Those committees had not found any actual evidence that harm had resulted from the ordinary use of Ethyl petrol. They did recommend that certain precautions should be adopted in regard to its manufacture and distribution in the garages. Before condemning the Ministry of Health the experience of the United States should be taken into consideration. During the whole of the five years in which the spirit had been in use there, no one had been able to discover a single case of lead poisoning resulting from the use of this substance, although its consumption ran into several hundred million gallons a year."
VISCOUNT GAGE in the HOUSE OF LORDS March 29, 1928. [Extract from The Times” 30/3/28]
Sadly, Viscount Gage's report was of a fool's paradise everyone was corraled into, with research manipulated and closed down by the Ethyl Corporation, and even at the end of the lie, delayed by a decade.  

Thomas Midgley went on to develop CFCs, and collected a bunch of medals and awards thanks to his pioneering work as the most poisonous human ever. (If you think about it, a fictionalised account of his achievements would be regarded as impossible to believe, including the manner of his death.)  He might be excused blame for the impact of CFCs on the grounds of ignorance, but there is do doubt he knew that leaded petrol was highly toxic and lied about it.  

Thankfully there is a hero in this story as well, scientist Clair Cameron Patterson who was surprised to find the presence of lead across the environment while researching something else, and then became convinced that we had to stop using lead as widely as we were, despite being sidelined, attacked, slighted and belittled by the establishment manipulated by the Ethyl Corporation.

I mangled the famous Churchill speech about 'the few' above.  In fact it was leaded fuel that was one of the factors that enabled the RAF's fighters to perform well enough to hold the line.  It was just one of many aspects of the use of tetraethyl lead, which continues today in moderated, controlled form in piston aero-engine use as well.  

But remember kids, whatever the nice Viscount says, lead is bad for you.

Further references:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Aircrew: S.E.5a Skywriting Pilot

In the June 2013 issue of Aeroplane magazine Ian Bott illustrated the article I wrote on the 'Jack' Savage Skywriting S.E.5a aircraft and their pilots.  It was a very interesting article to research, and had all sorts of bonuses (it's rare you get a Groucho Marx quote for a start!).

A Savage S.E.5a drawing smoke. [Author's Collection]

Sadly we weren't able to find any contemporary film of the Savage Skywriters in action in the usual places, but we did find an eight-minute 1935 US film: Chevrolet’s "Sky Billboards"

It's American, and a few years later, but explains the task pretty well.  (Although the snap rolls are for the camera, not the job.)

The Savage S.E.5a featured a split rudder and joined exhaust-pipes, originally (but not now) wrapped in asbestos, as seen here on the Science Museum, Kensignton's G-EBIB. [J Kightly]

Some other interesting links; Popular Mechanics February 1923, Popular Mechanics April 1925, Popular Science March 1929, LIFE 19 Aug 1940, and also a link to a Corbis image of Cyril Turner, regarded as the doyen of skywriters, here. There is also a August 28, 1937 feature in the New Yorker (available to subscribers only).

A modern Skywriter's account of how the job works can be read online here, and shows, while still a skilled, demanding task, how little it has changed since Jack Savage developed the technique in the 1920s, nearly a century ago.

Ward Wyveryn Mk.I - Not your usual cutaway key

This illustration - which can (and needs to be) viewed full size on the artist Edward Ward's own website, here, is a kind of aeronautical equivalent of Simon Patterson's 'The Great Bear'.

 After all few aircraft cutaways have '93 - A shaft of English oak: strong and true' and most aircraft cutaways don't have '21 - Human Leg'; '57 - Device to avoid calamity'; and none I've found have '79 - A sense of loss'.

But what makes it for me is that the aircraft depicted is really credible (rather than as is often the case, artistic but technically inept) and seems like a good-looking aircraft too.

Have a browse on Ted's blog for more, here.  Say I sent you.

(Reproduced acknowledging copyright belongs to Edward Ward, of course.)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Dolls via Dornier

A certain mythic 'era' for an Italian beer, opened with the Dornier Do 24ATT.  Some 'plane, some girls!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Professional Moment - Now on LinkedIn

Just a quick note to say I'm now on LinkedIn if anyone wishes to compare notes, or needs a freelance aviation writer.

Roy Fox's rare BA Eagle at The Antique Aeroplane Association of Australia's Fly In at Echuca, Victoria, 13 April 2013.

Here's a gratuitous aircraft picture, and a link [HERE] to my LinkedIn profile.

There will be more normal blogcasting on this blog shortly...