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.)