Wednesday, June 24, 2015

That Spitfire Low Pass - Again

I'd be amazed if you haven't seen the famous film of Ray Hanna flying Spitfire Mk.IX MH434 G-ASJV low over reporter Alain de Cadenet and the film crew's heads.

If you've not seen it yet, just wait a moment. Because the old version has been pulled.

Recently, the film makers put the higher quality version of the film online, and share a few other remarkable details.

The video here. [Note - some understandably ripe language, NSFW.]

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dominion Forces defending Britain, 1940

'The Battle for Britain'. A good article in the History Today magazine and website on the often overlooked Dominions' armies role in defending Britain in 1940.

He discusses in fascinating detail what the land forces did or nearly had to do. But, despite touching on the air and naval elements in the introduction, the author (Andrew Stewart Reader in Conflict and Diplomacy, Defence Studies Department, King’s College London) fails to return to them and their roles.

 Squadron Leader E.A. McNab, Commanding Officer, with a Hawker Hurricane I aircraft of No.1 (F) Squadron, RCAF. Northolt, England. September 12th, 1940. [Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / e005176200) Via Taylor Empire Airways.]

Taking our specialty, the air element alone, overlooking (among other notable contributions) the involvement of 1 (Fighter) Squadron RCAF in the Battle of Britain, or, missing that 10 Squadron RAAF was in Britain on the declaration of war and was immediately loaned (by the Australian Prime Minister Menzies no less) to Britain's RAF Coastal Command for the duration, shows the author's excellence in land forces isn't carried over to the air and marine elements.

 Four original Sunderland flying boat captains of 10 Squadron RAAF at Pembroke Dock, Wales, in December 1939. [AWM 128163 - From The Australian Government site 'Australia's War 1939-45' here.]
To add New Zealand, 75(NZ) Squadron was operational in May 1940, adding weight to Bomber Command. (Detail here.)

Aircrews of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF walking past a Vickers Wellington Mark I at RAF Feltwell, Norfolk, UK, before a night raid to Hamburg, Germany. [IWM via Wikipedia]

Further, the presence of three Canadian army co-operation Lysander Squadrons, awaiting action in the event of invasion in 1940, is directly applicable to his thesis of the ground forces' plans.

A focus on just the four Dominions – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa is clearly stated, and reasonable, but the contributions of many others in the British Empire of the time, notably India (among many other smaller places) should get at least a line in the 'ideal' long article.

In an exercise of army cooperation at RAF Odiham, Lysander pilots of No. 400 Squadron RCAF rush to climb into the cockpits of their Lysanders, having just received their operational orders from an Army Liaison Officer standing at the desk at left. In the combat arena, the Lysander proved to be capable, but also vulnerable, resulting in a quick withdrawal from front line service. [Imperial War Museum via Vintage Wings of Canada, Here.]

In the original article, using illustrations sources from 1943 - 1945 for a focus on 1939 - 1940 is also poor. (Here, being an online blog, I've been able to link to other feature article online with illustrations and details on the subject aircraft and units mentioned.)

Generally History Today hits a high standard, and the land forces story seems, to me, to be well laid out here, and well worth reading, with many thought provoking nugget of what a horror invasion would have been.

Likewise the internal political elements that each Dominion faced, and a notable lack of consistent planning or even treatment from Britain in the care and recognition of the sovereignty of these forces is well covered, though, again, air elements (and I presume naval) would add more layers of understanding. Then there is avoiding hindsight.

He says, on a British report: " observer in the Foreign Office remarked: 'The Australians remain terrified of the Japanese.'" That disdain was the tone of the time. Hindsight, however tells us that Britain (and everyone else not actually fighting the Japanese in 1939) badly underestimated them. Australia ended up desperately needing its own armed forces back from British use to defend their homeland in early 1942, of course. In these areas the article does well to present the tone and expectations of the time, with an historian's accuracy.
one observer in the Foreign Office remarked: ‘The Australians remain terrified of the Japanese.’ - See more at:

A better introduction may have been all that was needed, otherwise a proper focus on the air element is missing. I suspect a naval historian would take a similar view.


Friday, June 12, 2015

Friday Fly

It's rare, but it does happen that one phone call, and you're out of the door and down to the airfield on a lovely winter afternoon. Because I'm slow, the Ryan was running, all warmed up and ready to go, and after a quick strap in by 'Hostie' Matt Henderson, we were off.

BIG thanks to Scotty Taberner for the much-anticipated Ryan flight, and it was a privilege to grab some shots on Bev's camera of our escort in beautiful lighting conditions and silky smooth air. And it wasn't even cold. Above is us backtracking on the runway with Cessna 170 'SLY' following us down.

Passengers ride in the front cockpit, so there's even more in the way of the pilot. The dials are, I'm reliably informed, useful and important. It's all dials to me.

Here's us in the Ryan with Matt in the Cessna O-1 Birddog (behind the strut) taken by Estelle Patterson from SLY, being flown by Mick Poole...

 ...and here's the view in reverse.

We stopped in at another airfield for fuel, and after that, I was invited to step back in to the Ryan. Always good to get the return trip too.

 'How do you mess up a selfie?' Like this. It's arty, right?

 We were chased up by Matt in the Birddog on the circuit out as we formed up for some photos that Scotty had suggested - as the light and conditions were excellent. I looked about for the photographer, but there wasn't one, so it was down to me with Bev's box-camera-ette I'd grabbed leaving the house, and a battery that died longer than an amateur-dramatic Hamlet. No pressure.

Luckily squinting at the screen at the back of the camera worked better than using a proper SLR viewfinder, and being shown every shot after I took it kept the action at a reasonable pace. 'What does this button do?'

 If the pilots go in circles, and know what they're doing (don't try this without, kids) then you get down sun and up sun shots without having to work. Magic.

 The observant will note we had been joined by another, Cessna 195 'Scatterbolts' being flown by Michael Dalton, who was hijacked on returning to his home airfield.

 Top to bottom, 195, 170 and O-1.

 ... Round and around...

 ... 'Scatterbolts' with the wheels on Hanging Rock...

 ... and time to go home.

 Approach to the home airfield (there's a runway behind the cylinder).

And a last shot (by Scotty) of your intrepid reporter to prove it all happened before putting the aircraft away.

A well spent afternoon.

Duplicitous Lightning

One of the oddest stories of W.W.II is this captured Lockheed P-38 Lightning. It is not odd that it was captured, or that it was got airworthy again. What is unique (as far as we know) is that this Lightning was used to attack American bombers, and in once case, successfully shot down a B-17 Flying Fortress.

From a forum posting (here) by 'Misyd': "On June 12, 1943, a USAAF P-38G, while on a flight from Gibraltar to Malta, got lost and landed by mistake at Capoterra, Sardinia. The Lightning was painted in Italian markings, and transferred to the Italian Test Centre at Guidonia. On August 11, 1943, chief test pilot Colonel Angelo Tondi used the P-38 to intercept USAAF bombers on their way to attack targets in central Italy. Tondi shot down a B-17F, "Bonnie Sue", of the 419th BS, 301st BG. This was the only successful interception achieved by the P-38G, which was soon grounded due to the poor quality of Italian gasoline, which corroded the fuel tanks. I believe that this is the only documented example of a captured US fighter being used to shoot down a US aircraft during WW2."

There are many more detailed 'accounts' of this event, several based on or originating from one of Martin Cadin's (fictional) flights of fancy in 'The Fork Tailed Devil'. The reality, above, is remarkable enough.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Sunderland on Grass

W.W.II is full of remarkable and unique events. As a counterpart of the earlier post about a large flying boat taking off from an airfield (here) this is a film of a large flying boat landing on a grass airfield.

The Short Sunderland of 461 Squadron RAAF had managed to take off in a heavy sea, after a remarkable multiple open-sea rescue effort, but smashed a huge hole* in the forward planing hull, meaning there was no way it could land back on the water.

Despite being a pure flying boat, not an amphibian, the crew decided to land on the local airfield of Angle Aerodrome, near their base. This film footage was shot by the squadron commanding officer from a car chasing the landing Sunderland.

Having read about the story recounted with remarkable presence and emotion by Ian Southall (a decorated 461 Sunderland commander himself, and later writer of the official squadron history) in 'Fly West', it was a great privilege a number of years ago to be able to view the footage on a VHS tape in the research library's video booth at the Australian War Memorial (AWM).  The film brough something I'd read about to life in a dramatic and different way.

The smiles of the relieved crew were an unforgettable memory.

Now, the film is uploaded by the AWM on their website (here) and, as we see above, is also shared on YouTube for any interested viewer, such is the accelerating pace of internet access.

Here is the film's description, including the crew details and the story of how they got to be in such an awkward situation:
"This is an eyewitness film which shows Sunderland 'E' of 461 Squadron RAAF landing on Angle aerodrome near Pembroke Dock, Wales on 29 May 1943. It was shot from a moving car by Wing Commander D L G Douglas, DFC, squadron Commanding Officer.
Aircraft 'E' for Emu sustained a large hole in the hull plates in the region of the toilet when taking off in a lumpy sea 150 nautical miles beyond Bishop Rock, after rescuing crews of two other Coastal Command aircraft. One of these was a Whitley and the other was Sunderland 'O' of 461 Squadron RAAF which had crashed while attempting to land to rescue the Whitley crew. Sunderland 'E' landed in the open sea at 7.00 hours (Double British Summer Time) at a spot 175 nautical miles southwest of Bishop Rock and picked up the two crews from dinghies.
As the sea was too rough for a take off the Sunderland began taxying towards England and at about 10.00 hours was met by the Free French destroyer La Combattanter. The destroyer took 21 persons including five of the Sunderland 'E' crew on board and sent an armourer to disarm the aircraft's depth charges which were then jettisoned. At 13.00 hours the destroyer took the Sunderland in tow but many difficulties were met. Finally at 15.00 hours the towline broke and at 18.00 hours preparations were completed for take off. This had to be commenced across wind because of the state of the sea and took three or four times as long as usual. It was finally achieved after turning head-on to the wind and striking large waves, the last one of which hurled the Sunderland into the air but also ripped a large hole in the hull. This ruled out any possibility of a sea landing.
At 20.00 hours Sunderland 'E' was near the entrance to Milford Haven and its skeleton crew spent the next half hour throwing overboard flares and loose heavy items in preparation for a crash landing. These preparations proved unnecessary when a gentle landing was made at 20.40 hours on the grassy Angle airfield. Half of 461 Squadron was at Angle airfield to see the landing and the unorthodox disembarkation of the crew. The motley uniforms worn by the crew were what was left after wet survivors of the two rescued crews had been given an open go at the clothing originally worn and carried by the crew of 'E'. The destroyers delivered all of its passengers safely including a pilot of Sunderland 'O' of 461 Squadron RAAF who had been very badly injured. Apart from him all the others were able to continue with their duties as soon as aircraft could be found for them. Sunderland 'E' for Emu never flew or floated again."
(Commentary written by Harry Winstanley, DFC)
 Crew members: Captain 400841 Pilot Officer (PO) Gordon O. Singleton of St Kilda, Vic; Co-Pilot 415195 Flight Sergeant (Flt/Sgt) Pearce E. Taplin of Midland Junction, WA; Navigator 401356 PO Harry Winstanley DFC of Geelong, Vic; Engineer 9429 Sergeant (Sgt) H. Hall of Moonee Ponds, Vic; Wireless operator-mechanic Flt/Sgt Hughie Church, RAF; Wireless operator-gunner 405228 Sgt Johnny Lewis of Brisbane, Qld; Airgunner 407210 Flight Officer George Viner of Adelaide, SA. 
* The hole in the Sunderland's hull (seen at 3:30 in the film) seems to have been about 2 metres by 1 metre (6 ft by 3 ft) and in the forward starboard area, where, if they had attempted to land, as the aircraft settled deeper, the water would have been forced into the hull by the aircraft's forward motion. Not only would it almost certainly have filled quickly and sank, there was a very real chance the sudden inrush of incompressible water would have blown the hull apart.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Westland History

It is always a pleasure to help out someone with their aviation book. A recent arrival was David Gibbings' 'A Quiet Country Town' published by The History Press.

It is, of course a history of Westland Aircraft, or as the subtitle says 'A celebration of 100 years of Westland at Yeovil'.

It's a very personal history, with a selection of chapters by numerous authors on aspects of the company's history, aircraft and people. David has added his own delightful pencil sketches as heading to each chapter, a great enhancement. Authors include authorities such as historian Derek James, Harald Penrose - the great Westland test pilot, Jim Schofield and Graham Mottram, as well as a modest contribution on the Wapiti by myself.

So although I'm slightly partisan, it's still highly recommended. Well worth bothering your local good bookshop or direct from the publisher as an e-book of hardback here.

CGI Pacific B-24s in 'Unbroken'

The recent film 'Unbroken' on the life of Louis Zamperini featured a significant section on his experiences as a Consolidated B-24 Liberator crewman in the Pacific, with several major incidents including a crash landing and being downed in the Pacific.

While there are currently two airworthy B-24s, understandably the film company chose to use majority of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) for recreating the aircraft scenes, around a gimbal mounted B-24 replica fuselage to film the actors in the studio.

Much of the 'aerial' work was advised by my colleague Bob Livingstone, well-recognised B-24 authority, and he wrote up his experiences in a recent issue of Flightpath (Vol.26 No.3).


Here, the company Rodeo FX have put together a very interesting  showreel on the use of the CGI in the film, and I think it shows well the strengths of this often over-used and abused technology special effect, and, not incidentally, some of the weaknesses, not least unrealistic physics and motion. (Think about how an aircraft would pivot around a broken wheel, not against it, for one. And secondly, how a Zero's beam attack path really would work at the 200+mph speeds of a B-24.)  But these are, perhaps, nit pics. On the computer screen alone, many of these scenes are impressive and as presented here, fascinating to see how they're put together.

View on.