Aeroplane Monthly 2017-05

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May 2017 Issue No 529, Vol 45, No 5


DOGFIGHT DUO IwitN W day h The


A on Fighter Collecti ds & Flying Legen Tickgedatte:s Closin 26 May 2017


BURMA BRIDGE BUSTERS Interview with Steven Spielberg’s father


MAY 2017 £4.50


BOEING C-97 VC10’s Jubilee salute 40 years on


Contents May 2017


See pages 26-27 for a g reat subscription offer




19 21


NEWS • Hurricane flies at Turweston • Another two-seat Spitfire airborne • Trislander for Solent Sky …and the month’s other top aircraft preservation news HANGAR TALK Steve Slater’s comment on the historic aircraft world FLIGHT LINE Reflections on aviation history with Denis J. Calvert



! IN W



Q&A Your questions asked and answered


BRIEFING FILE The first in a new series, looking under the skin of aviation technology and tactics. This month we examine the Me 163’s rocket motor






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FW 190 VERSUS SPITFIRE Comparing the new-build Flug Werk re-creation of the German fighter with the genuine Supermarine classic


FOKKER F32 The world’s first ‘jumbo’ landplane airliner, Dutch-designed but American-built


AEROPLANE MEETS… TONY BIANCHI The boss of Personal Plane Services looks back at more than 55 years around historic aeroplanes


DATABASE: BOEING C-97 Bob Archer recounts the history of the versatile four-engined ‘heavy’ that served as transport, tanker, spyplane IN-DEPTH PAGES and more

Closing dates 26 May 2017


B-25s IN BURMA Arnold Spielberg, father of Steven, recalls the bridge-busting exploits of the USAAF’s 490th Bomb Squadron


SILVER JUBILEE AIR PAGEANT Looking back 40 years to a very special one-off air event — and by far the most spectacular VC10 display ever seen


FINNISH AIR FORCE GNATS The Ilmavoimat service of the little British jet fighter that could bite


SALUTE TO MALTA GC: HOLDING THE LINE In tribute to the 75th anniversary of the Mediterranean island being awarded the George Cross, we look at how the Gladiator gave way to the Hurricane as efforts to defend Malta stepped up





103 AEROPLANE ARCHIVE: WEIR W3 The Scottish-designed autogyro that demonstrated ‘helicopterous’ performance COVER IMAGE UK: Brendon Deere’s Spitfire LFIX PV270 and the Chariots of Fire Fighter Collection’s Flug Werk FW 190A-8/N 990001. GAVIN CONROY COVER IMAGE US: The Flying Heritage Collection’s B-25J Mitchell. JIM LARSEN/FHC 3

03/04/2017 14:45

Editor From the


he release of the full Air Accidents Investigation Branch report into the 2015 Hunter crash at Shoreham in no way brings a sense of conclusion to this sorrowful event. With a police investigation continuing and the coroner’s proceedings still to begin, there is a long way to go. And, as much as one might wish it were not so — above all for the loved ones of the 11 people who lost their lives — many questions relating to the cause will probably remain unanswered. Even then, the air display industry has a good deal to take on board. Issues relating to pilot training and currency, aircraft operation and maintenance, and Civil Aviation Authority oversight of the entire process — to name but a few — will not be quick to work through. Potential liability in the event of an accident is a major concern for both regulator and regulated, and there is clearly a need to resolve the unsustainable situation revealed in the report in which the CAA claims its issuing of permissions for individual events does not constitute even partial ownership of the related risk. That debate will now play out. For reasons of public confidence, I believe fundamentally in the value of wholly independent regulation, no matter what the field of activity. Within its oversight of flying displays, I have long felt that the CAA has handled well the demands of maintaining a balance between affording a reasonable degree of spectacle and keeping participants and spectators safe. But an accident of Shoreham’s magnitude should cause us all to reassess. Elements of the CAA’s response have been questionable, to say the least. In safety terms, some could prove counterproductive. Concerns on the part of experienced display pilots about the potential impact of ill-considered regulation are wellfounded. Take the views of Brian Smith, as expressed in our pages last month. “If you’re not careful”, he said, “you get so caught up in the process and how to deal with it that it takes your focus away from what’s really

important”. The ‘really important’ part, of course, is flying the aeroplane safely. Shoreham naturally highlights the imperative to protect not just crowds inside display venues but also, as far as possible, individuals outside display sites. This is something perceptive members of the display community — pilots, organisers, flying display directors and others — have been concerned about for many years. That it can take a tragedy to highlight the need for action is always deeply to be regretted. In this respect, aviation is far from unique. But hopefully something better can result from Shoreham — a situation in which such an event never occurs again. The industry will be best placed to achieve that in a climate of co-operation and mutual respect. While some felt the British Air Display Association (BADA) should have spoken out more strongly, it has put forward a positive influence during the post-Shoreham turmoil. Its approach of diligent behindthe-scenes work has been the right one, rather than seeking public confrontation with the CAA or AAIB. That would have achieved nothing. And very different recommendations might have resulted from the AAIB report without BADA’s input. If the Department for Transport does hold a review into UK air display governance, in line with a recommendation in the report, it must be hoped that a similarly reasoned industry input gets given due weight, not least in terms of possible involvement in the future regulatory environment.

Elements of the CAA’s response to Shoreham have been questionable. Some could prove counterproductive



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As you will have noticed, we’ve taken the opportunity this month to refresh Aeroplane’s look. We hope you like the result, including Denis Calvert’s new column, Ian Bott and James Kightly’s Briefing File, and a monthly delve — with the benefit of hindsight — into our archive. Thanks as ever for your support, and spread the word!

Aeroplane traces its lineage back to the weekly The Aeroplane, founded by C. G. Grey in 1911 and published until 1968. It was relaunched as a monthly in 1973 by Richard T. Riding, editor for 25 years until 1998.

Ben Dunnell


CONTRIBUTORS THIS MONTH IAN BOTT Artist Ian Bott, whose authoritative, lively work is showcased in this month’s new Briefing File feature, has been a valued Aeroplane contributor since 2003. A lifelong aviation enthusiast who gained a PPL while resident in San Diego in the 1990s, he has used the knowledge gained in flight training to inform his creative work ever since. He can often be found poring at length over exhibits in aviation museums worldwide, much to the annoyance of his long-suffering family.

NORM DeWITT Norm is an architect, photographer and bestselling author. Born in San Diego, California, he has spent his life immersed in motorsport, aviation, space exploration and sailboat racing. Decades developing racing cars and sailboats eventually led to a writing career about his passions. His articles have been published across the globe, with input from such luminaries as Bob Hoover, ‘Chuck’ Yeager, Joe Kittinger, Mario Andretti and Bernie Ecclestone. His author page is on Amazon; also see his website at

FRANK PARKER Frank’s 16-year career with the Royal New Zealand Air Force included basic training on the Harvard and culminated in formation aerobatics with the Red Checkers team. From that he joined the warbird fraternity, flying in the Roaring Forties team of Harvards. A lucky break into ‘heavy metal’ came with an opportunity to pilot Garth Hogan’s P-40. Current regular mounts are the Kittyhawk, Spitfire and P-51, and he also flies the Flug Werk FW 190 for Murray Miers’ Chariots of Fire Fighter Collection.

ARI SAARINEN An aviator for 50 years this summer with 12,000 hours to his name, Ari started Finnish Air Force flight training in 1973 on the Saab Safir, converting to jets with the Fouga Magister. From then until 1991 he flew the Saab Draken, BAe Hawk, the Fouga and various utility aircraft. During his airline career Ari piloted the Jetstream 31, Saab 340/2000 and Avro RJ85/ RJ100 for SAS subsidiary Blue1. He retired in 2011, but remains current on the Magister as a civilian display pilot, and flies gliders.


31/03/2017 11:59



E-MAIL TO: [email protected] TELEPHONE: +44 (0)7791 808044 WRITE TO: Aeroplane, Key Publishing Ltd, PO Box 100, Stamford, Lincolnshire PE9 1XQ, UK

Vastly experienced Hurricane pilot Stu Goldspink brings MkI P3717/G-HITT in to land at Turweston on 21 March. ROGER SYRATT

Battle of Britain Hurricane airborne at Turweston H

AWKER Hurricane I P3717/G-HITT made its maiden post-restoration flight from Turweston airfield, Buckinghamshire, on 21 March, with hugely experienced Hurricane pilot Stu Goldspink at the controls. The 20-minute flight went well and marked the end of a complete rebuild of the Battle of Britain veteran fighter. Built in 1940 and allocated to No 19 Maintenance Unit at St Athan, in May of that year the fighter joined No 253 Squadron at Kenley. On 30 August, Plt Off Włodzimierz Samolinski in P3717 became


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embroiled in a dogfight with a group of Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 110s, during which the Polish pilot was credited with the destruction of one of the twin-engined fighters. The Hurricane had also suffered significant damage during the engagement, and was sent to RAF Henlow for repairs.

P3717 was dispatched to Rolls-Royce at Hucknall on 28 June 1941. There it was converted to MkIIA standard, being destined for a new life in Russia. It arrived there around late 1941/early 1942. The crashed remains were recovered by Jim Pearce in 1991 and sold to Steve Milnthorpe, who began a

The 20-minute maiden post-restoration flight, in the hands of Stu Goldspink, went well and marked the end of a complete rebuild of the Battle of Britain veteran fighter

static rebuild. The project moved to Hawker Restorations in Suffolk and was then acquired by Hugh Taylor during 2008, being registered G-HITT. In February 2015 the Hurricane moved by road to Turweston, where Oxfordshirebased Bygone Aviation completed the return to flight for Hugh. Following restoration, the fighter wears the markings of its first operational RAF unit, No 253 Squadron. It is in this guise that P3717 is expected to make its UK airshow debut in the early part of the 2017 season.


03/04/2017 14:52

May 2017 News

Another two-seat Spitfire flies


OLLOWING a three-year reconstruction into two-seat configuration by Historic Flying at Duxford, Aero Legends’ Spitfire IX NH341/G-CICK made its maiden flight from the Cambridgeshire airfield with John Romain at the controls on 11 March. He reported that the aeroplane had flown well, but the initial test flight had to be curtailed due to a problem with the carburettor on its Packard Merlin 266 engine. Once test-flying is completed, the aircraft will become Aero Legends’ principal two-seat Spitfire for pleasure flights during 2017, operating from Headcorn, Kent and Sywell, Northamptonshire. The aircraft has been fitted with a forward-facing camera where the gun camera would originally have been, linked to a small monitor in the rear cockpit at gunsight height. This monitor has ‘graticule’ radial lines as were seen on World War Two gunsights, so

when the back-seater depresses the gun button on the control column they will get sound effects through their headset and an accurate impression of what they would have ‘hit’ had the fighter been armed. There is also a fixed wide-angle, rear-facing camera in the rear cockpit to record the passenger’s flight experience.

John Romain gets airborne in Spitfire NH341 in the early morning murk at Duxford on 11 March. COL POPE

successfully, and after avoiding capture returned to the UK late the following month. Built at Castle Bromwich, NH341 was allocated to No 411 ‘Grizzly Bear’ Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force on 22 June 1944. Although it was only used by one unit and its combat was brief, NH341 was flown by several pilots, the most successful being Flt Lt

The aircraft has a forward-facing camera where the gun camera would have been, linked to a small monitor in the rear cockpit with ‘graticule’ radial lines as on a WW2 gunsight The restored machine originated with parts from the wreck of Spitfire LFIX NH341, which were recovered from a field south-east of Caen into which it crashed following combat with two Focke-Wulf Fw 190s from JG 26 on 2 July 1944. The pilot, WO James ‘Jimmy’ Jeffrey, baled out

Hugh Charles Trainor. He downed two enemy fighters in NH341: on 29 June 1944, operating from the advanced landing ground at Bény-surMer, Trainor gained his third kill in 48 hours, dispatching a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109G five miles west of Caen. On the evening of 30

NH341 being run up at Duxford on 11 March, after the first flight had been completed. PETER R. ARNOLD


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June, he downed another 109 over Thury-Harcourt in the Orme valley 15 miles south of Caen. Trainor went on to achieve ace status in another Spitfire, destroying two Bf 109s in the course of one sortie on 4 July. After being recovered from the field in 1996, the remains of NH341 were incorporated into a crash diorama at the Musée Mémorial de la Bataille de Normandie at Bayeux. The exhibit contained recovered wreckage from at least two Spitfires, topped off with an original and non-crashed windscreen assembly and engine cowlings, with the airframe structure and an engine all mounted to a wooden armature. Following a period in storage, on 6 June 2003 it went on show at the Juno Beach Museum at Courseulles-sur-Mer, where it was described as being Spitfire IX ML295, another No 411 Squadron machine. In 2010 the diorama components went into storage at the home of its owner, Jean-Pierre Bénamou, and were acquired by Biggin Hill-based Peter Monk. Close inspection identified the parts that originated from NH341, and in 2011 these were acquired by Aero Legends founder Keith Perkins as a rebuild project. Aircraft Restoration Company engineer Col Pope carried out meticulous colour scheme research for the project. NH341 is finished in the original scheme it wore when flown by its regular pilot Flt Lt ‘Bruce’ Whiteford. It once again carries the name of his wife Elizabeth on the port-side engine cowling and her nickname ‘Eo’ on the starboard side of the fuel tank cover, just as it did in 1944. 7

03/04/2017 14:06

News May 2017

Final report published on Shoreham Hunter tragedy T

HE Air Accidents Investigation Branch has published its final report into the crash of Hawker Hunter T7 WV372/G-BXFI at the Shoreham Airshow in West Sussex on 22 August 2015, in which 11 road users and bystanders were killed, and a further 13 people, including the pilot Andy Hill, sustained other injuries. The report’s summary states: “The aircraft was carrying out a manoeuvre involving both a pitching and rolling component, which commenced from a height lower than the pilot’s authorised minimum for aerobatics, at an airspeed below his stated minimum, and proceeded with less than maximum thrust. This resulted in the aircraft achieving a height at the top of the manoeuvre less than the minimum required to complete it safely, at a speed that was slower than normal. “Although it was possible to abort the manoeuvre safely at this point, it appeared the pilot did not recognise that the aircraft was too low to complete the downward half of the manoeuvre. An analysis of human performance identified several credible explanations for this, including: not reading the altimeter due to workload, distraction or visual limitations such as contrast or glare; misreading the altimeter due to its presentation of height information; or incorrectly recalling the minimum height required at the apex. “The investigation found that the guidance concerning the minimum height at which aerobatic manoeuvres may be commenced is not applied consistently and may be unclear. “There was evidence that other pilots do not always check or perceive correctly


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Hunter WV372, the aircraft involved in the Shoreham accident, during a previous display. BEN DUNNELL

that the required height has been achieved at the apex of manoeuvres. “Training and assessment procedures in place at the time of the accident did not prepare the pilot fully for the conduct of relevant escape manoeuvres in the Hunter. “The manoeuvre was continued and the aircraft struck the ground on the northern side of the

westbound carriageway of the A27... “The investigation found that the aircraft appeared to be operating normally and responding to pilot control inputs until it impacted the ground. Defects in the altimeter system would have resulted in the height indicated to the pilot being lower than the actual aircraft height at the apex of the manoeuvre.

The aircraft achieved a height at the top of the manoeuvre less than the minimum required to complete it safely, at a speed that was slower than normal

“Information included in a previous AAIB report indicated that there had been several cases involving the type of engine fitted to this aircraft where an un-commanded reduction in engine speed had occurred and subsequent engineering investigation did not establish a clear cause. This investigation was unable to determine whether a reduction in engine speed recorded during the accident manoeuvre was commanded by the pilot. “The aircraft’s engine was subject to a Mandatory Permit Directive (MPD) which imposed a calendar life on the engine type, and provided an option to extend that life using an Alternative Means of Compliance (AMOC). Proposals for an engine life extension using an AMOC inspection programme had to be approved by the regulator. Related tasks were being conducted by the maintenance organisation, but the regulator had not approved the operator or its maintenance organisation to use an AMOC to this MPD. “The investigation found that defects and exceedences of the aircraft’s operational limits had not been reported to the maintenance organisation, and mandatory requirements of its Airworthiness Approval Note had not been met. During prolonged periods of inactivity the aircraft’s engine had not been preserved in accordance with the approved maintenance schedule. The investigation identified a degraded diaphragm in the engine fuel control system, which could no longer be considered airworthy. However, the engine manufacturer concluded it would not have affected the normal operation of the engine.


03/04/2017 14:07

May 2017 News “The aircraft had been issued with a Permit to Fly and its Certificate of Validity was in date, but the issues identified in this investigation indicated that the aircraft was no longer in compliance with the requirements of its Permit to Fly. “The investigation found that the parties involved in the planning, conduct and regulatory oversight of the flying display did not have formal safety management systems in place to identify and manage the hazards and risks. There was a lack of clarity about who owned which risk and who was responsible for the safety of the flying display, the aircraft, and the public outside the display site who were not under the control of the show organisers. “The regulator believed the organisers of flying displays owned the risk. Conversely, the organiser believed that the regulator would not have issued a Permission for the display if it had not been satisfied with the safety of the event. The aircraft operator’s pilots believed the organiser had gained approval for overflight of congested areas, which was otherwise prohibited for that aircraft, and the display organiser believed that it was the responsibility of the operator or the pilot to fly the aircraft’s display in a manner appropriate to the constraints of the display site. “No organisation or individual considered all the hazards associated with the aircraft’s display, what could go wrong, who might be affected and what could be done to mitigate the risks to a level that was both tolerable and as low as reasonably practicable. “Controls intended to protect the public from the hazards of displaying aircraft were ineffective.” The above summary has been shortened for space reasons. To read the full report, visit


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Russ Snadden 1942-2017


IRCRAFT preservation pioneer Russ Snadden died at his home near Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire, on 3 March. Russ’s son Graeme says, “Dad was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife but brought up in Glasgow. He will always be associated with the restoration of Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2 (Trop) Werknummer 10639, ‘Black 6’, the genuine and very complete Luftwaffe fighter which was restored to flying condition over a period of 19 years and operated by the Imperial War Museum at Duxford from 1991-97. The originality of the airframe post-restoration made it a feat unlikely to be repeated on that type. “His association with aviation started early in life, with a father who worked assembling Rolls-Royce Griffon engines at Hillington, Glasgow. Russ also developed a keen interest in happenings at the nearby RNAS Abbotsinch. He became a key member of the Historic Aircraft Preservation Society (HAPS), and while part of the group tracked down and facilitated the recovery of derelict Supermarine Walrus L2301, which resided in a field just outside Thame in Oxfordshire and is now on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton. During 1964, HAPS was able to secure French Navy Avro Lancaster VII NX611 from Nouméa, New Caledonia, and the following spring it returned to the UK. The Austin Motors-built bomber is now being restored to fly under the ownership of the Panton family at East Kirkby (see Aeroplane March 2017). “In 1964, Russ joined the RAF, going on to fly the Vickers Varsity, Blackburn Beverley, de Havilland Comet 4C and Hawker Siddeley HS125, before leaving the service in 1980

The late Russ Snadden with his Bü 181C Bestmann project. GRAEME SNADDEN

and making the logical transition to a career in the commercial airline business with Britannia Airways. During the second rebuild of ‘Black 6’, following the 1997 accident at Duxford, Russ managed to secure a project he had always dreamed of, a genuine wartime Bücker Bü 181C Bestmann. Retirement from the airlines in 2002 allowed him to dedicate many hours to the restoration of ‘Bessie’, the attention to detail and new skills developed during the labour of love a true testament to his drive for originality. The family intends to complete the restoration to flight of the Bestmann, which, along with ‘Black 6’, will serve as a fitting legacy to someone with a 50-plus-year association with historic aviation.”

Dismantling of Ardmore Freighter begins In late March at Ardmore Airport, Auckland, Bristol 170 Freighter NZ5911 was being dismantled in readiness for its hoped-for repatriation to the UK for the new Aerospace Bristol museum at Filton. The outer wings were due to be removed on 28 March, with the assistance of a hydraulic press tool to push out the wing connection bolts. This has been made by Royal New Zealand Air Force technicians who are assisting with the project as a training exercise. The Freighter’s owner Mark Dwen says that, contrary to information received and printed in the February 2017 Aeroplane news section, he had not planned to scrap the Freighter before Aerospace Bristol stepped in. Funds are still

Freighter NZ5911 being dismantled at Ardmore in mid-March. MARK DWEN

required to transport the aircraft to Bristol, where it will become the only surviving example of the type in the UK. To help, go to or telephone 0117 931 5315. 9

03/04/2017 14:07

News May 2017


Trislander for Solent Sky

NEWLY restored B-29 Superfortress Doc will appear with the Commemorative Air Force’s Fifi at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh from 24-30 July, the first time two examples of the Boeing bomber will have flown together in many years. The event in Wisconsin will mark the last stop in Doc’s debut tour, which will also involve a special open house day at Yingling Aviation in Wichita, Kansas, on 22 April and US Air Force shows at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana and Whiteman AFB, Missouri on 6-7 May and 10-11 June respectively. BEN DUNNELL

‘SHAR’ MOVED AT FILTON Now approaching its 42nd birthday, ex-Aurigny BN-2A MkIII Trislander G-RLON has been saved to join the Solent Sky collection in Southampton. IAN HASKELL



AT Filton on 8 March, the Bristol Aero Collection Trust (BACT)’s Sea Harrier FA2 ZD610 was transported from storage on the apron behind the Brabazon hangar across the airfield to the Aerospace Bristol hangars under an RAF Chinook HC4 from No 27 Squadron at Odiham. The Sea Harrier and its Bristoldesigned and built Pegasus engine will go on display in a 100-year-old Grade II-listed hangar that forms part of Aerospace Bristol, due to open later this year. The problem faced by BACT was that ZD610 was located south of the railway line that crosses the airfield, and it needed to be moved to the new site on the north side. With no road bridge wide enough for the aircraft to be towed across, the assistance of the RAF was sought. This came by way of a training exercise, which Wg Cdr Steve Bell from RAF Odiham described as a “complex and challenging operation for which the unique qualities of the Chinook are ideally suited.” PETER R. MARCH


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HE first Britten-Norman BN-2A MkIII Trislander to be allocated for preservation in mainland Britain was due to arrive at Lee-on-Solent in early April after being donated by Aurigny Air Services to the Solent Sky museum in Southampton. The machine, G-RLON (c/n 1008), first flew as G-BCXW in June 1975, and was delivered to Aurigny in June 1991. It had previously been operated by Air Pacific in Fiji as DQ-FCF, and Cayman Airways as VR-CAA. Guernsey-based Aurigny was the first commercial operator of the Trislander, G-AYWI flying the airline’s inaugural BN-2A MkIII service on 1 October 1971. It was the world’s largest operator of the

type, taking delivery of 16 examples between 1971-96. Solent Sky director Alan Jones says, “The trustees of Solent Sky are delighted to receive the gift of the last-butone Trislander in service with Aurigny. The Britten-Norman story is very much a local one. The aircraft was built on the Isle of Wight and served as part of the fleet of Trislanders that, for 40 years, plied their route from Southampton to Guernsey, a familiar sight and distinctive engine sound which became almost a part of the life of the city. “Solent Sky has for more than 30 years told the story of Britten-Norman… The museum has had on display for many years the BN-1, which was the first aircraft built

by the company on the Isle of Wight. The Trislander will remain at Lee-on-Solent airfield until space can be found for it in the museum in Southampton. The opportunity will then be taken to tell in full the story of Britten-Norman and Aurigny.” As of late March, Aurigny had just one Trislander, G-BEVT, in service. G-BDTO, which was retired at the end of December 2016, is said to be going to the Guernsey Airport Fire Service Training Unit. There are two Trislanders operating in the Caribbean, one with Vieques Air Link and the other with Air Flamenco, while a former Botswana Defence Force Air Wing Trislander is flown by Unity Airlines in Vanuatu.


LATEST UPDATES FROM DEALERS AND AUCTIONS THE John Fisher Collection of Aviation History is due to be sold at Maryborough Airport in Victoria, Australia, on Sunday 30 April. During 1996 John Fisher made an epic solo flight from London to Sydney in a de Havilland Tiger Moth. Tragically, Fisher and a passenger were killed in 2012 when his Tiger Moth suffered engine failure during take-off

from Maryborough. Highlights among the lots in the auction include examples of the Vampire FB5 and FB9, a Portuguese DHC-1 Chipmunk, and Tiger Moth and Thruxton Jackaroo restoration projects. The event is being staged by Mossgreen Auctions — for more details, contact Mossgreen at [email protected].


03/04/2017 14:07

News May 2017

Mirage on the move to Yorkshire

The shrink-wrapped Mirage IV just about to leave Châteaudun on 27 March. YAM


N 27 March, Dassault Mirage IVA 45/BR began its long-awaited road trip from Base Aérienne 279 Châteaudun, south-west of Paris, to the Yorkshire Air Museum (YAM) at Elvington near York. The nuclear-capable strike aircraft — previously displayed at the Cité des Sciences in Paris — was gifted to the museum by the French

government, the move being the culmination of nearly a decade of negotiation and work to secure the machine. It is the first time that the French government has donated a nuclear bomber to a private museum in another country. From June 1944 to the end of October 1945, RAF Elvington was home to the only French Air Force heavy

bomber units to be based in the UK, Nos 346 ‘Guyenne’ and 347 ‘Tunisie’ Squadrons, flying the Handley Page Halifax. Transferred back to Armée de l’Air control after WW2 and redesignated, both of these units went on to operate the Mirage IV as part of the French nuclear deterrent force between the mid-1960s and the 1980s.

YAM director Ian Reed said, “I would like to thank the French government, the diplomatic staff from the French embassy and the French Air Force, based both in Britain and Paris, and aviation associates as far away as Dubai for their efforts in helping us over the last nine years to make this unique and historic project happen.”

Another Stinson ‘Gullwing’ airborne in UK FOLLOWING assembly, in-depth inspection and repair where necessary by the Classic Aeroplane Company at Oaksey Park, Wiltshire, Thomas Struthers’ Stinson V-77 Reliant NC33543 made its first 30-minute test flight on 2 March. Pilot Phil Hall said after landing that it handled as beautifully as it looks with its smooth, powerful Lycoming R-680E and well-balanced flying controls. This is the fourth ‘Gullwing’ in the UK, joining White Waltham-based G-BUCH, NC50238 at Compton Abbas and NC69745 at Birmingham Airport. The three N-registered Reliants have been brought over from the USA by Steven Moth’s Spirit in the Sky company over the past three years. NC33543 has now moved to Bicester, and is up for sale.


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Stinson V-77 Reliant NC33543 taking off at Oaksey Park on 2 March, with Phil Hall at the controls. PETER R. MARCH

On 16 March, Steven Moth’s latest two classic American imports arrived at Kemble, in the shape of Cessna 195 N1581D and Cessna 170 N4063V. The 1952-built 195, c/n 7864, is unusual in having

a powerful 350hp Jacobs R-755S radial engine and a castoring/swivelling crosswind landing gear. The Cessna 170, c/n 18395, was built in 1948 as a standard model with a 145hp Continental 145-2, and

has 2,550 hours’ total time. Both these aircraft are also for sale. Contact Steven Moth by e-mail to steven@ for further information. Peter R. March


03/04/2017 14:08

May 2017 News

April start for World Cruiser re-enactment


FTER more than 16 years of work, the Seattle World Cruiser Project’s plans to recreate the first aerial circumnavigation of the world in a replica Douglas World Cruiser (DWC) is due to get under way from Sand Point at Seattle’s Lake Washington on 28 April, the same place where the original, epic, 73-leg pioneering flight began on 4 April 1924. The replica DWC has been built by retired Boeing avionics engineer Robert Dempster and his wife Diane, with support from a small group of volunteer engineers. Four aircraft set out on the original flight, the number one DWC being named Seattle, number two Chicago, and three and four Boston and New Orleans. On 30 April 1924, Seattle crashed in dense fog into a mountainside near Port Moller, Alaska. The aircraft was destroyed but the crew survived and was rescued 10 days later. On 3 August, while flying across the Atlantic, Boston made a forced landing in the ocean and sank, the crew being picked up alive. The original prototype DWC, now named Boston II, was then transported to Pictou, Nova Scotia, from where all three aircraft flew on to Washington DC to a hero's welcome. They then headed across the USA on a multi-city tour, landing back in Seattle on 28 September 1924 after a 175-day, 27,553-mile trip. The reproduction (N511WC) has been named Seattle II, and made its maiden flight on 29 June 2016. Among the few concessions to modern technology are the avionics fit, use of a tailwheel rather than a tailskid, aluminium Edo 7170 floats with water rudders, and more up-to-date fasteners and fittings. Originally, Dempster planned to use a modern powerplant in place of the original Liberty V12, but a meticulously overhauled,


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NEWS IN BRIEF VULCAN APPEAL SUCCESS FOLLOWING many substantial donations from more than 2,500 supporters, and the commitment of match-funding from like-minded philanthropists, the Vulcan to the Sky Trust’s recent appeal to raise £200,000 to protect Vulcan B2 XH558 during 2017 reached its target two weeks ahead of the deadline on 31 March. VTST can now move on with confidence to plan a new visitor and heritage jets centre at Doncaster Sheffield Airport. It is hoped to have a new hangar ready during 2017. BEN DUNNELL

Test pilot Carter Teeters and Diane Dempster aboard the DWC replica, N551WC Seattle II, during a test flight. VIA BOB DEMPSTER

420hp Liberty Model A has been fitted. This is a courageous move when one considers that the original DWCs underwent complete engine changes in Japan and India. Of the construction process, Bob says, “Some reference drawings were available from several sources. There was also reverseengineering, using some modern methods: laserscanning, water jet cutting, CNC machining, etc. “The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC has the DWC Chicago on display and I have photographed and used that extensively. Also, the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica at one time had the New Orleans on display. As well as making many trips to the Smithsonian, I visited the [National Museum of the US Air Force] and was given access to their archives. I’ve been to Maxwell Field, the National Archives, the Boeing and Douglas archives, and the Air Force Academy, as well as using private collections. “Our 1918 Liberty V12 was manufactured by the Lincoln Motor Company. We

embarked on a few timeconsuming upgrades, which will double, if not triple, the life over the original Liberty. Of course, making brand-new valves, pistons, bearings, etc, involves a number of very specialised people and machine shops.” The support aircraft will be a single-turboprop Pilatus PC-12, flown by the DWC’s reserve pilot Diane Dempster. In the back will be two film-makers and a mechanic, with a multitude of tools and spares. Of the route, Bob explains, “The first stop is Prince Rupert Island, British Columbia. Then it will be north to Alaska: Sitka, Seward, Chignik, Dutch Harbor, Adak, Attu; then we will be flying non-stop to Hokkaido, Japan.” On Bastille Day, 14 July 1924, the original DWC flight arrived in Paris before flying to London and on to the north of England in order to prepare for the Atlantic Ocean crossing. The hoped-for appearance of Bob and Seattle II in the UK will be an undoubted highlight of the coming summer.

We embarked on a few time-consuming upgrades to the Liberty V12 engine, which will double, if not triple, its life over the original


THE RAF Museum’s ex-Sultan of Oman’s Air Force Hunter FR10, serial 853, has been moved from Hendon — where it was plinth-mounted near the museum entrance — to Cosford, where it will receive some refurbishment prior to probable storage. The aircraft, built as an F6 (XF426) for the RAF, has been part of the RAFM’s collection since 2003, when it was presented by the Royal Air Force of Oman. BEN DUNNELL

TOM FRIEDKIN 1935-2017 HOUSTON, Texas-based warbird collector Tom Friedkin died on 14 March at the age of 81. Friedkin’s Comanche Fighters organisation operates a wide range of WW2 types including a rare North American A-36 Apache, the ground attack version of the Mustang, which came to the UK for the Flying Legends show in 2002. Friedkin was a very successful Toyota distributor in Houston, a business now run by his son Dan, who is also a warbird display pilot.


THE Norwegian Armed Forces Aircraft Collection at Gardermoen, which closed to the public during the early summer of 2014, is scheduled to re-open on Saturdays and Sundays from 29 April. Highlights on show include a Heinkel He 111 and a Northrop N3PB floatplane. 13

03/04/2017 14:08

News May 2017

Meteor T7 bound for USA

Harvard IIb FE511 was ferried back to Old Warden by John Dodd. He commented that the aircraft handled beautifully, with only a few minor adjustments required. DARREN HARBAR

New look for Harvard FOLLOWING an 18-month restoration with Bygone Aviation at Turweston and RGV Aviation at Gloucester Airport, Noorduyn Harvard IIb FE511/G-CIUW returned to Old Warden on 14 March. It is owned by Hurricane Heritage, the operator that also owns Battle of Britain veteran Hawker Hurricane I R4118/ G‑HUPW, another resident of the Bedfordshire aerodrome. Hurricane Heritage boss James Brown said, “We’re delighted to see it back at Old Warden. For the first time in over 70 years, she’ll be used to train Hurricane pilots as we prepare for the 2017 airshow season”. Over the coming weeks, FE511 will complete its flight test schedule before commencing training duties and making a

number of show appearances throughout the summer. The Harvard has been painted in a late-1940s/early-1950s training scheme. Delivered new to the Royal Canadian Air Force on 13 October 1942, FE511 served with No 6 Service Flying Training School at Dunnville, Ontario, for the duration of the war. In 1947, it was sold to the Swedish Air Force. The Harvard remained in that country, latterly in civilian hands as SE-BII, until 2015, when it was acquired by Hurricane Heritage. Bygone Aviation undertook the airframe and engine work, applying new fabric to the control surfaces, and replacing the port horizontal tailplane. RGV Aviation resprayed the aircraft.

‘TRIPEHOUND’ RETURNS TO THE AIR The day before the Harvard’s return, Old Warden once more reverberated to the sound of a 130hp Clergetpowered Sopwith Triplane, as Shuttleworth Collection chief pilot Roger ‘Dodge’ ‘Dodge’ Bailey gets Bailey took Triplane airborne in Sopwith Triplane reproduction G-BOCK aloft reproduction ‘N6290’/G-BOCK on 13 March. DARREN HARBAR for the first time since its landing accident on 11 June 2014. The collection’s Sopwith Camel reproduction, G-BZSC, had its Clerget run up that afternoon, but no first flight has been scheduled as yet.


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Meteor T7 WA591 will be going to the World Heritage Air Museum in Michigan following its sale. BEN DUNNELL


LOSTER Meteor T7 WA591/G-BWMF has been sold by Coventry Airport-based Aviation Heritage Ltd to jet warbird operator Marty Tibbits of Detroit, Michigan, along with Meteor NF11 WM167/ G-LOSM and two ex-Swiss Air Force DH112 Venoms, ‘WR470’/G-DHVM and ‘WK436’/G-VENM. Tibbits explained to Aeroplane, “While I haven’t yet solidified plans for the NF11 and the Venoms, I am bringing the T7 to the US. I will put it on loan to the World Heritage Air Museum, where we will demonstrate it with our de Havilland Vampire T55, N115DH”. The World Heritage Air Museum’s headquarters are at Oakland County International Airport, 38 miles north of Detroit. Marty continues, “I am still studying the logistics on getting the T7 here. While it would be possible to ferry it across, there are several variables that make this a risky proposal, and the fuel cost alone would likely make this more expensive than putting it on a ship. “Shipping her also has its challenges. The Meteor doesn’t come apart very easily, and even if you take the wings off outside of the nacelles, it is still 20ft wide. This makes

over-ground truck transport difficult, and of course it means the Meteor cannot be containerised. The likeliest path is that we fly it to Southampton, truck her to the airport, take the outer wings off, ship it to Galveston or Baltimore, reassemble, and then fly it to Detroit. “I am humbled to own the T7. Along with the museum’s Vampire and Venom, I want to show American audiences the transformative role that British aviation had in the development of early jet aircraft.”



Another aircraft that flew as part of the Classic Air Force fleet from Coventry, Avro Anson T21 WD413/ G-VROE, has been sold. It was registered in March to Glenn James, whose father flew Ansons in the RCAF, and who also owns Yak C-11 G-BTUB. WD413 has now flown to his base at Sleap, Shropshire.


03/04/2017 15:21


Aviation Tours

11 – 23 May USA: VIRGINIA BEACH AIRSHOW & MUSEUM OF THE EAST COAST: to Delaware, New York, Washington D.C., Virginia Beach, MCAS Quantico, NAS Patuxent River, Dover AFB etc, etc 1 – 10 Jun

FRANCE: LA FERTE ALAIS AIRSHOW & NORMANDY BATTLEFIELDS: Arras, Paris, Mt St Michel, Caen, Arromanches, Pegasus Bridge, Ouistreham etc. Also Sainte-Mere Eglise & Dieppe

5 – 10 Jun

FRANCE: NATO TIGER MEET, LANDIVISIAU: Spotter Day and 2 days on perimeter. Hotel in Morlaix. From London by coach & ferry Portsmouth-Cherbourg/St Malo

14 – 27 Jun

CANADA: CANADIAN WARPLANE HERITAGE & CFB BAGOTVILLE AIRSHOW: largest Canadian civil and military airshows plus aviation museums and collections

8 – 25 Jul

CANADA: YELLOWKNIFE AND FLOATPLANE BASES OF VANCOUVER: Yellowknife, Hay River, Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Vancouver, Victoria, Port Alberni, Sproat Lake, Campbell River, Gold River, Port McNeil, Port Hardy, Comox and Nanaimo. Lots of optional floatplane flts!

20 – 24 Jul

RUSSIA: MAKS AIRSHOW: 1 day at the airshow & 1 day on private ship moored under ‘air display centre’. Visits to various aviation museums plus Mil and Antonov Repair Plant Chernoe

22 – 30 Jul

USA: OSHKOSH 2017 + OPTIONAL 7-DAY EXTN TO DAYTON & WASHINGTON D.C.: 6 days at the world’s largest aviation event. Extn to biggest aviation museum: USAF in Dayton; National Air & Space Museum, D.C. ;& Steven Udvar-Hazy collection at Dulles. Also, Grissom AFB Museum. Repeat of our hugely popular tour in 2016.

19 – 31 Aug FRANCE, BELGIUM, LUXEMBOURG, GERMANY & SWITZERLAND: Hunterfest Airshow & aviation museums and collections including Speyer, Sinsheim, Lucerne and Hermeskell 22 – 27 Aug RUSSIA: ARMY 2017: 3 full days on Kubinka AB. Visits to Aircraft Repair Plant and various museums. 19 – 25 Sep ITALY & MALTA: 25th Anniversary of the Maltese Int’l Airshow (with special participants, TBC) & the National Aviation Museum of Italy. Hotels in Rome and Sliema 2 – 19 Oct

JAPAN: ASHIYA AB OPEN DAY/AIRSHOW & BASES: 1 or more days at Tsuiki, Iwakuni, Komatsu, Hamamatsu, Iruma & Hyakuri. Includes RF/F-4 Phantoms & US-1A & US-2s!!

17 – 31 Oct KAZAKHSTAN & CHINESE AIRPORTS: Astana, Almaty, Urumqi (& ag airfield), Xi’an, Haikou, Shanghai Pudong & Hongqiao, & Beijing. Ramp tours in Kazakhstan. Flying Air Astana, China Southern, Tianjin and Air China. Plus airliner aviation museums in Beijing and Tianjin 7 – 13 Nov

USA: RAINBOW CANYON & 70th ANNIVERSARY OF US AIR FORCE: 2 full days on the famous “Jedi Transition” low-level route through Death Valley, California. Arrivals and rehearsals day plus 2 full days at Nellis AFB Airshow, Nevada Most itineraries now on our website. Or call 01487 832922 to discuss Terminal House, Shepperton, Middlesex TW17 8AS Telephone: +44 (0)1932 255627 Facsimile: +44 (0)1932 231942 E-mail: [email protected]

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HS748 G-BEJD part-way into its repaint back into Dan-Air markings. One of Speke’s historic art deco-era hangars is in the background. GERRY MANNING

UK’s sole 748 gets TLC at Speke


HE Speke Aerodrome Heritage Group is making great progress with the restoration of Hawker Siddeley HS748 Srs1 G-BEJD at the historic Liverpool site. Both wings have now been refitted, using a frame that was designed and fabricated by a team led by group chairman Guy Gainey. Repainting into the livery of Dan-Air — the airline with which ’EJD flew from 1977-92 — is now well under way in the hands of Peter Rotherham and Ken Foster. The machine, c/n 1543, first flew on 19 May 1962 and was delivered to Aerolíneas Argentinas the following month as LV-HHE. It was christened Ciudad de Resistencia, and entered service on 14 July 1962. The 748 arrived back in the UK on 17 December 1976, going into service with Dan-Air on 8 March

1977. The carrier’s 748s saw extensive use on oil charter operations to Scotland, and during early 1987 ’EJD was converted into all-cargo configuration. In July 1992, following the airline’s end of operations upon its sale to British Airways, the entire surviving Dan-Air fleet of six 748s was sold off. The following year ’EJD began operations with Blackpool-based Emerald Airways. It was retired during the early summer of 2005, lapsing into dereliction in a corner of Blackpool Airport before evading the scrappers who accounted for so many other 748s. It arrived at Speke by road in the summer of 2013. Amazingly, it is now the only one of the 380 examples of the 748 built to survive in preservation in the UK.

Combat vet P-51D arrives at Sywell COMBAT veteran P-51D Mustang 44-64005/N51CK Mary Mine arrived at the Air Leasing hangar at Sywell, Northamptonshire in early March for restoration to flying condition. The ex-376th Fighter Squadron, 361st Fighter Group mount was flown by Lt George R. Vanden Heuvel, who was credited with five-and-a-half aerial victories between 2 November and 26 December 1944 — including two Focke-Wulf Fw 190s on 26 November — while operating from Little Walden, Essex. Vanden Heuvel also destroyed three aircraft on the ground. During 1947, 44-64005 went to the Royal Canadian Air Force, gaining the serial 9561 and serving with 417 (Fighter Reconnaissance) Squadron at


6-10,12-14,16-17_AM_May17_Craig C.indd 16

George R. Vanden Heuvel waves from the back seat of his old Mustang Mary Mine at Harlingen, Texas during the Confederate Air Force Airsho in October 1983. RICHARD PAVER

Rivers, Manitoba on army ground support training. It went on to fly with RCAF Training Command before being retired in December

1958 and going into external storage at RCAF Carberry, Manitoba. The fighter soon became one of about 70 surplus RCAF

Mustangs sold to James H. DeFuria and was registered N6339T. DeFuria planned to establish a small mercenary air arm, which he was going to base on surplus US Navy aircraft carriers, for deployment off the coastlines of central/ south America, but the US State Department quashed this wild scheme and DeFuria began to sell the aircraft off. It then passed through the hands of several private owners. In October 1983, while owned by Charles Kemp from Jackson, Mississippi, George Vanden Heuvel was reunited with his old mount at Harlingen, Texas, and given a flight in the back seat of the Mustang. For the past few years the machine had been in storage prior to its move to Sywell.


03/04/2017 15:04

May 2017 News Addison Pemberton’s Grumman Goose, FP511/BuNo 66331, parked by the tower at Felts Field, Spokane on 18 March. PEMBERTON AND SONS AVIATION

Engine runs for ex-RN Goose


T Spokane, Washington, Addison Pemberton’s Grumman JRF-6B Goose was taxied on 18 March following the firing-up of its freshly installed Pratt & Whitney R-985 engines. The former Royal Navy and US Navy amphibian is scheduled to make its first postrestoration flight in mid-April. The 1942-built Goose was owned by the Palm Springs Air Museum before being sold on as a project in 2011. Restoration work has been done in-house by Pemberton and Sons Aviation, and the engines were overhauled by R-985 and R-1340 specialists Covington Aircraft at Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

On 19 March, Addison — well known for his amazing Boeing 40 and Stearman rebuilds — said, “Covington builds a great engine, both very smooth and no leaks. The R-985s already had seven hours on them in the test cell so we feel very good about them. All the instrumentation and avionics are working. Yesterday, as part of the taxi tests, I was able to load all of my five grandkids and their parents in the airplane and taxi to the Felts Field Café for an ice cream victory party.” The machine, c/n 1161, is one of 44 Goose Ias taken on charge by the RAF under Lend-Lease, but it was delivered to 749 Squadron of

the Fleet Air Arm at Piarco, northern Trinidad, on 3 December 1942, with the serial FP511 and codes W2-R. The aircraft were used for navigational training, fitted with a larger blister transparency on the starboard side of the fuselage, and also saw service on air-sea rescue work. Following the end of hostilities, the 38 surviving aircraft went back to the USA, c/n 1161 going to the US Navy as BuNo 66331 in 1945. Sold off as surplus the following September, the machine was registered NC95467 to Amphibian Air Transport at Long Beach, California. It went through the hands of several further

owners before being acquired by Antilles Air Boats (AAB) at St Croix in the Virgin Islands during June 1964. AAB had been set up by former Grumman test pilot and aviation record-setter Capt Charles Blair, who saw the potential for passenger flying around the Caribbean islands and went on to operate 22 examples of the Grumman amphibian. Blair and three passengers were killed in the crash of Goose N7777 following engine failure on a flight from St Croix to St Thomas on 2 September 1978. The airline was subsequently run by his widow, the Hollywood actress Maureen O’Hara, but much of the surviving fleet was wrecked by Hurricane Hugo in September 1989, and AAB passed into history. A Short Sandringham operated by AAB — which made two memorable trips to the UK in 1976-77 with Blair at the helm — takes pride of place at Solent Sky in Southampton.

FHC Mosquito gets intruder scheme ON 15 March the Flying Heritage Collection’s de Havilland Mosquito TIII, TV959, emerged from the paint shop at Paine Field, Seattle, in a No 605 Squadron intruder scheme. This replaces the overall silver finish it wore for its post-rebuild maiden flight at Ardmore, New Zealand on 26 September last year (see News, Aeroplane November 2016). The former RAF trainer, which was never fitted with armament, has been given a full complement of Mosquito FBVI guns: four Hispano 20mm cannon in the belly and four Browning 0.303in machine guns in the nose. The aircraft now represents RAF Bradwell


6-10,12-14,16-17_AM_May17_Craig C.indd 17

ABOVE LEFT TO RIGHT: Looking sinister in its new intruder scheme, Mosquito TIII TV959 now masquerades as FBVI NS838. The Mosquito’s nose art records two Japanese aircraft that Flt Lt Alan Wagner had shot down over Ceylon during April 1942 while flying a No 30 Squadron Hurricane. The four newly installed Hispano 20mm cannon are visible in the belly. FHC

Bay, Essex-based Mosquito FBVI NS838 Wag’s WarWagon. This was the machine in which Flt Lt Alan Wagner became an ace on the night of 5-6 March 1944 when he shot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and two Messerschmitt Me 410s near

the Luftwaffe base at Gardelegen, close to the main Berlin-Hanover railway line in northern Germany. Wagner went on to score nine confirmed aerial victories. He also shot down two V1s, and was killed while chasing a ‘doodlebug’ in fog when his

Hawker Tempest fighter struck the ground on 16 July 1944. The Mosquito is due to make its maiden flight in the USA in the second week of April, and is scheduled for its display debut at the FHC’s SkyFair event at Paine Field on 22 July. 17

03/04/2017 15:17



Our monthly comment column on the historic aviation scene by the chief executive of the UK’s Light Aircraft Association


he publication of the final Air Accidents Investigation Branch report into the crash of Hunter T7 G-BXFI at the Shoreham Airshow in August 2015 was anticipated by many as a potentially critical point in the future of UK air displays. There was concern that undue criticism of the airworthiness standards, pilot oversight or airshow management could lead to still more onerous restrictions being implemented. As it turned out, it really only added greater detail to what had been covered in its previous bulletins in September and December 2015 and March 2016. These already contained a total of 21 safety recommendations, on topics ranging from the airworthiness and maintenance of ex-military aircraft to greater control of areas surrounding air display locations. The final tally of AAIB recommendations is now at 32. The full report identified the causal factors as the aircraft not achieving sufficient height at the apex of its looping manoeuvre to complete it before hitting the ground, because of a combination of factors including low entry speed and insufficient engine thrust in the upward half of the manoeuvre. Yet, even after more than 18 months of diligent investigation including flight tests on another Hunter, there remain many unanswered ‘whys’. A key to this is the inability of pilot Andy Hill to recollect, as a result of his injuries, any details of the accident flight or even several days around it. It is noted in the report that the entry speeds and heights flown at Shoreham in the Hunter were very similar to those of another of his air display steeds, a Jet Provost. It has led to speculation that there might have been a fatal


19_AM_May17_Craig C.indd 19

The UK’s smaller events provide a valuable training ground for many new display pilots, but for how much longer will they be able to perform this role? BEN DUNNELL

confusion between the two types in the high-intensity, low-level display environment, but the simple fact is that we probably will never truly know. So, where to now? Well, it will be interesting to follow the repercussions of the AAIB’s recommendation that the Department for Transport commissions an independent review of the governance of flying display activity in the UK. The Civil Aviation Authority is already working on

display organisers are bracing themselves for a further increase in CAA administrative fees, which inevitably must be passed on to spectators through admission charges. The worst affected are small airshows, which now face ever-tighter constraints and significantly higher costs. These events, often run to generate funds for worthy charities, could disappear altogether. There is a precedent here: many of us, I

Small displays are the mainstays of income for the single-aircraft owner and display pilot, often starting out in the industry and building experience away from the big stages new risk management guidance, on researching human factors in the air display environment, and on revised pilot declaration and flying display director accreditation procedures. In addition, new recruits have enlarged the department within the CAA General Aviation Unit that oversees air display oversight. These changes unfortunately come with a price. All UK air

am sure, remember local airshows once organised by flying clubs. They’ve already faded away, some of them long ago, for similar reasons. I would also argue that not only are these shows at risk, but, as a consequence, the long-term future of our passion for flying. While the big military shows and seaside events will no doubt continue, they can — especially, for obvious reasons, the seafront

shows — provide less of an opportunity to get near an aircraft, let alone to sit in one. Small airshows traditionally offer greater accessibility, and from personal experience I know that the enthusiasm of young people, once ignited by getting up close to aircraft, is not easily extinguished. There is another important need for small displays, right down to one- or two-item affairs held as part of garden fetes. As veteran display pilot and former CAA staffer Barry Tempest pointed out, they’re the mainstays of income for the single-aircraft owner and display pilot, often starting out in the airshow industry and seeking to build experience away from the big stages. “That is where I came from, as did so many of our current ‘star’ performers on the circuit”, said Barry. “They’re the ‘seedcorn’ of the airshow industry for the future, but they’re disappearing as they get bombarded by costs and bureaucracy. “They say it’s a British tradition to go down with all guns blazing and the colours nailed to the mast… or should that be the windsock pole?” ■ 19

31/03/2017 11:45

House - Cosford F_P.indd 1

16/03/2017 15:15



Flight Line

Recollections and reflections — a seasoned reporter’s view of aviation history

On the Paris catwalk in the ‘summer of love’ was the full-size Concorde mock-up. Even in this form, it definitely symbolised the modernist technological spirit of the age. DENIS J. CALVERT


f there’s one thing that’s certain in aviation, it’s change. Those who know me will be aware that, despite my youthful looks, I’ve been observing the scene for a good 50 years, having been born just eight days after ‘Chuck’ Yeager made his first supersonic flight and when the original (weekly) Aeroplane magazine was still in its thirties. Well, now the editor has been kind enough to offer me this regular page in Aeroplane, to reflect on the aviation world as I remember it, as it is now and how it might develop. I’ll try not to harp on about things being better ‘back then’ — even if they were — or to criticise the current stranglehold that concerns around legal liability have on so many aspects of aviation. At least, if I do, I’ll attempt to balance it by underlining some of the more positive recent developments. After all, you can now, if your pockets are deep enough, fly as a passenger in a two-seat Spitfire here in the UK thanks to the CAA’s enlightened ‘informed consent’ rule change a couple of years ago. Not all the changes have been for the worse. Better than that, there’s quite a lot to look forward to. A number of squadrons are


21_AM_May17_Craig C.indd 21

marking notable birthdays, while the Royal Air Force itself will have a memorable anniversary to celebrate in April next year. I refer, of course, to Alan Pollock’s epic flight in Hunter FGA9 XF442 from Tangmere to West Raynham on 5 April 1968, routing via the River Thames and under Tower Bridge. His actions would have farreaching consequences, including the abrupt curtailment of his RAF career, but opinions remain divided nearly 50 years on over his

the 1967 Salon, which brought together a wide variety of new types. Concorde was present only as a walk-through mock-up, but proved a huge crowd-puller, one notable visitor being General de Gaulle with his entourage of security personnel. Other new aircraft included two preproduction F-111As, the first production B-N Islander, a full-scale wooden SEPECAT Jaguar replica and a fuselage mock-up of the Handley Page Jetstream. Today, we know which of these types went on

Even when you peel away the PR-speak and the hype that characterise trade shows such as Paris, it’s very difficult to predict outcomes motivation and justification. What is certain is that this low-level, flag-waving exploit was intended as a patriotic gesture of protest, and that it thankfully had a safe outcome. Am I alone in marvelling, each time I cross Tower Bridge, ‘He flew through here? In a Hunter?’ June this year sees the 52nd Salon International Aéronautique de l’Aviation et de l’Espace at le Bourget, which remains the aerospace industry’s largest European shop window. I well remember

to have a good future (F-111, Islander, Jaguar), which would be a spectacular technical achievement but an economic basket-case (Concorde), and which would end up bankrupting the company (Jetstream). My point is that, even when you peel away the PR-speak and the hype that characterise trade shows such as Paris, it’s still very difficult to predict such outcomes at the time. What else were people talking about in May 1967? Arguments about Mr Healey’s

cancellation of the TSR2 programme two years earlier rumbled on. The F-111K looked to be a reasonable ‘slot-in’ TSR2 replacement at the strategic end of the RAF requirement, although it was already suffering its own development problems. More worrying was a complete lack of detail about the AngloFrench Variable Geometry (AFVG) jet, which was planned with shorter range and a lower payload capability to complement the F-111K. The collaborative AFVG was still very much a ‘paper’ aeroplane, yet Dassault was developing and was close to flying the seemingly competitive — and all-French — variablegeometry Mirage G, to barely suppressed British cries of ‘perfidy’. A heated debate in Parliament on 1 May 1967 centred around the comparative cost of 158 TSR2s (the RAF’s original plan) against that for 50 F-111Ks and 100 AFVGs (the replacement plan). In the event, they need hardly have bothered. We now know that the RAF would not take delivery of a single example of any of these types, and that even the Mirage G would fail to progress beyond the prototype stage. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. ■ 21

31/03/2017 11:49


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Chased by a Vulcan


n leaving school, in 1962, I was apprenticed to Bristol Siddeley Engines at Filton, Bristol. In those days, security was minimal to say the least, and my green overalls gave me easy access to most parts of the works, including the airfield and its environs. I was just another apprentice, exciting no interest. One evening after work, I had ridden over on my old motorcycle, a 1938 250cc Triumph T70, to see a fellow apprentice at the company’s lodgings in buildings known as Barnwell Hall. Named after Frank Barnwell, the designer of the Bristol Fighter, Bulldog and Blenheim, they were a group of buildings among some trees well inside the confines of the airfield. To get to them you had to negotiate the smaller north/south runway, along which aircraft regularly taxied to access the main runway. Obviously, on an active airfield you needed to be aware that there were likely to be aircraft about, and it was imperative that you obeyed the airfield runway traffic signals when negotiating runways. I had seen my friend and was now on my way back, and, although dusk was setting in, I was riding on sidelights only. Approaching the side runway, several aircraft were plainly to be seen to my left, illuminated by the flight sheds. However, in my defence, I did not notice any red lights warning that aircraft were active, or prohibiting me from entering the runway system. Confidently, I rode onto the runway, cruising along at the statutory 20mph. What made me look behind I don’t know, but I sensed or heard that something was not right. There behind me — and catching up at an alarming rate — was an Avro


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Vulcan XA889 in its pre-Filton days. AEROPLANE

Vulcan, its white fuselage and bulbous nose appearing to tower over me. For a second I was dumbfounded; then self-preservation took over. Fearful of the efflux from the Olympus 301 engines if I pulled to the side of the runway, I therefore opted to accelerate my little Triumph as hard as it would go, praying that I would reach the exit road before the Vulcan reached me. Thankfully I did and sped off to safety. With beating heart I approached the main exit gates, expecting to be stopped and arrested for endangering one of Her Majesty’s aircraft. But surprisingly — and thankfully — the security police at the gate paid me little attention, airily waving me through. I was never accosted about it, and I am not even sure if the crew in the Vulcan had seen me, as from their lofty cockpit position I was possibly in their blind spot. Certainly, there was never mention of any such incident in local news programmes or in the company bulletins, so from both a safety and disciplinary point of view I got away with it. It was a long time before I dared to ride across the runway again! I wonder if any of the flight crew are still with us and remember the incident. The Vulcan concerned was probably XA889 as it was white and one of three regularly seen on the airfield. The other alternative is XA903. Of the other Vulcans based at Filton, XA894 famously burned out on 3 December 1962. I was able to get to within 50 yards of it before airfield security and common sense drove me back. David Rich

Referring to the March 2017 Aeroplane, and page 69 in particular, the sight of the A&AEE’s two Harvards brought a huge lump to my throat. I graduated from what originally was No 6 Radio School at Cranwell, where I was one of many RAF apprentices. Following the passing-out parade, the single inverted stripe of a junior technician weighed heavily on my arm, but I need not have worried. It was replaced first by a corporal’s stripes, then almost as quickly by the three stripes of a sergeant. So it was that, by age 21, my flight sergeant said he was putting me in charge of all first-line radio servicing and modifications on A, B and D Squadrons plus the Repair and Installation (Heavy Aircraft) element of the A&AEE. On reflection, the education and training provided by the RAF were priceless, and stood me in good stead in civilian life. As a result, when asked to carry out intense modifications to Harvards FT375 and KF183, I was fully capable of doing what was asked of me by the OC of D Squadron, Sqn Ldr Chandler. Those two Harvards were an essential part of D Squadron, which carried out, among other things, heavy loaddropping. These pallet loads fell to earth beneath two or more 66ft-diameter parachutes, accompanied by a Harvard carrying a movie cameraman in the rear seat. His task was to film the proper development of those parachutes, with the Harvard circling tightly around the load. However, the 12-volt electrical system severely limited the type’s utility. It meant that they were restricted to the installation of the American TR 5043 four-channel VHF radio. Had it been possible


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Skywriters to carry the British 10-channel TR 1984, TR 1985 or TR 1986, they would have been so much more useful, especially since the A&AEE required the mandatory installation of five frequencies. While visiting my technicians at D Squadron one afternoon, Sqn Ldr Chandler accosted me. He was one of those men who could truly be termed ‘an officer and a gentleman’, and I had enormous respect for him. He quietly asked me if I thought it would be possible to convert those Harvards to mount the British 10-channel radios, explaining to me how limiting the American VHFs were. He was fully aware that I was Cranwell-trained, a qualified glider pilot and that I flew powered aircraft whenever the opportunity arose, so he took it for granted that I would understand. I asked for a little time to do some research and he readily agreed. A quick trip up to Radio Servicing Flight and I was able to speak to my flight sergeant, one Hugh Sneddon, who wore all the wartime ribbons. Here was an NCO with a huge amount of experience and he quickly told me that a rotary converter was available — 12 volts in and 24 volts out! It only required the necessary power lead and appropriate plug to fit the British VHF radio. However, the mounting tray and antivibration mounts for the American radio had to be

scrapped, since it was incapable of mounting the British VHF ones. Since the Harvards now required new mounting trays and so on, I approached the station workshops with the requirement, quite unprepared for the dead end with which I was faced. None of that ‘can-do’ attitude at all. The supervisor at the A&AEE workshops told me that he required detailed drawings of the replacement tray. Those drawings had to specify the metal and gauge to be used, in addition to detailing the specifications of all the fasteners, rivets, springs and so forth. I have always been an artist, a draughtsman and a reasonable technical illustrator, so I was comfortable producing a working drawing. Most of the time these drawings existed in my mind, but in this case all I needed was a scrap of paper to record my ideas and tell ‘Taff’, the ever-helpful B Squadron storeman, what I required. In no time at all, I was cutting, drilling and filing in B Squadron’s workshop. In short order I had a tray that would spring-mount and fit any of the British 10-channel VHFs. And, yes, I also painted it the required matt black… I must give praise to my crews, most of whom were national servicemen. I always asked for a volunteer or two if a returning aircraft had to be

met, so that my men could receive a first-hand report of any VHF or radar problems before they went into that aircraft’s Form 700 as a cryptic note. Invariably it was a national serviceman’s hand that shot up first. The squadron leader told me that he could ground a Harvard for one week only, so valuable was the service they performed. Not so the D Squadron flight sergeant. I imagined that this wartimeberibboned, surly and unfriendly NCO could not understand those of us who earned our daily crust by sending volts, amps and watts along wires. From the first day we began to toil on one of the Harvards, he pestered us constantly, making life miserable by repeatedly and pointedly asking when we would be finished. On informing him that the squadron leader had told us we could have a Harvard for one week only, his reply was, “I’ll see about that!” So it was that by burning much midnight oil we had one Harvard ready for flight test within the week, the new rotary converter and the British 10-channel VHF radio working perfectly, along with the proper 10-channel, rotary channel change controller on the port wall of the front cockpit. Jim Newman, Lafayette, Indiana, USA

A true pioneer

Wg Cdr Bill Simpson (right) with Air Cdre Charles Winn — and a T-39 — during a US Military Air Transport Service C-141 conversion course.


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The March issue contained a fascinating article by David Nicholas covering No 230 Squadron’s time flying the Scottish Aviation Pioneer in Cyprus. Its CO, Sqn Ldr W. J. (Bill) Simpson, is mentioned throughout. After retiring from the RAF in April 1974, Bill returned to New Zealand and shortly afterwards founded the NZ Pathfinders Association. This developed into the NZ Bomber Command Association and grew into a 1,000-strong membership. The drive and organising skills (the word ‘no’ was never accepted by Bill) he showed in Cyprus saw the presentation Lancaster WU-13, which had been

ABOVE: The Finnish Air Force’s Envoy, gifted by the Luftwaffe.

Gift from the Germans

Here is another Airspeed Envoy story for you. On 8 November 1941 the Luftwaffe’s newly appointed Jagdfliegerführer Norwegen, Col Schumacher, along with two other Bf 109 pilots, reported that they had shot down a Soviet SB-2 bomber in the Kuusamo area. In fact their victim was DH Dragon Rapide OH-BLB Lappi, an ambulance aircraft operated by Finnish company Aero O/Y (later Finnair). It force-landed on a frozen lake, and miraculously the crew survived. Schumacher was quickly removed from Finland. In return the Luftwaffe presented the Finnish Air Force with an ex-Czech Airspeed Envoy, OK-BAL, which became EV-1 with the Ilmavoimat. Tapio Huttunen The editor reserves the right to edit all letters. Please include your full name and address in correspondence.

outside for 15 years, housed and fully restored. It now is exhibited with pride at MOTAT in Auckland. His efforts were recognised with the award of a QSO. Bill and I became good friends, and he surprised me one day by saying that his time as CO of No 230 Squadron and the tour in Cyprus was the best he had in the RAF. “The Pioneer was a funny old thing to fly, but I loved it…” Bill must have, as his record of service notes 1,476 sorties by the time he left the squadron in June 1960. Sadly Bill passed away in 2010, leaving the aviation community here much poorer. P. J. Wheeler QSM 23

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Are you seeking the answer to a thorny aviation question, or trying to trace an old aviation friend? Our ‘questions and answers’ page might help

THIS MONTH’S ANSWERS Mosquito exhausts


Prompted by the article on the New Zealand Mosquito restoration in the January Aeroplane, Peter Broomfield is curious as to why some Mosquitos have five exhaust stubs for the Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and others have six. Gavin Conroy, the author of that piece, says that the five-stub unit incorporates a combined double exhaust closest to the leading edge, designed to keep the hot gases away from the wing. The two different exhaust designs can be seen in the accompanying photographs, and to ‘muddy’ the subject further we include a view of a post-war Mosquito NF36 powered by Merlin 113/114s operating with No 25 Squadron in September 1948. Shrouds to reduce exhaust glow at night were widely fitted through the war and the example shown here was designed to further reduce the signature for night operations. Further information on Mosquito exhausts would be welcome.


A ‘long-nose’ Mosquito Mk39 target tug conversion for the Royal Navy (PF576, bottom left) shows a six-stub exhaust for the Merlin 72/73 engines, while a five-stub unit is seen on the shorter-nacelle Merlins on the Mk33 prototype, LR387 (top). The close-up (bottom right) shows the Merlin 113/114 on an NF36 with a part-shrouded exhaust with five outlets.

‘V-bombers’ in Southern Rhodesia


David Russell grew up in what was Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the period from 1958-63 and regularly visited the airport at Salisbury. He recalls, “I was intrigued by the sight of either a white-painted Vulcan or Valiant parked on the hardstand close to the civilian

aircraft in front of the terminal. Since then, I have often wondered why these long-range nuclear-capable bombers were sitting there in the middle of Central Africa and whether they were part of the UK’s final MAD (mutually assured destruction) strike force in

the event of World War Three. If this was the case, were they armed with nuclear weapons for retaliatory strikes into the USSR?” Salisbury was one of the overseas locations used by the RAF for its ‘Lone Ranger’ single-aircraft deployment missions designed


Tanker and reconnaissance Valiants from Nos 214 and 543 Squadrons cast sharp shadows at Salisbury Airport, Rhodesia, during a long-range deployment.


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to test mobility and selfsufficiency away from home bases. As well as Valiants, Vulcans made such flights, which sometimes included occasional ‘goodwill’ visits by No 44 Squadron in recognition of No 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron’s wartime connection in Bomber Command. A declassified document states that 48 Red Beard tactical nuclear weapons were secretly stored at RAF Tengah, Singapore, between 1962 and 1970 for possible use by the ‘V-bomber’ force detachment. This was part of Britain’s military commitment to the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO). Maybe former Vulcan or Valiant crew members can add more substance to these details, and whether the deployments to Salisbury included the carriage of weapons?


03/04/2017 08:32

Q&A Indochina transports


We published a query from David Miller in the March edition regarding commercial operations in Indochina in the 1950s. Further to last month’s responses, Keith Heywood adds the following: “It appears that seven Bristol Freighters operated in Vietnam, mainly by SITA (Société Indochinoise de Transport Aériens), of which five eventually went to Air Vietnam. Two were written off in accidents, F-BECR of SITA en route from Hue to Tourane on 10 March 1950 and F-VNAI of Air Vietnam on an evacuation flight from the Red River delta to Saigon on 15 October 1954.” Keith also says that 13 SO30P Bretagne transports served in Vietnam. Seven were used by the STAEO (Société des Transports Aériens d’Extrême-Orient), plus six by Aigle Azur, some of the latter operating in Air Laos colours. A few of the Aigle Azur machines were fitted with podded Turbomeca Pallas auxiliary jets underwing. Brian Dunlop from Helena, Montana, directs David to the informative Air-Britain book on the Bristol 170, which provides further details on the type’s Vietnam operations.


Mysterious ‘Cats’


Peter Jinks asked in the March issue about some Dutch-operated Consolidated Catalinas flying from Socotra, Indian Ocean, in November 1943. According to Keith Heywood and supported by details in Coastal and Support Aircraft of the RAF by John Rawlings, the aircraft were Catalina IIIs of No 321 (Dutch) Squadron, which deployed to the Indian Ocean in 1942 and flew on similar convoy protection duties as Peter Jinks’ Swordfish of 834 Squadron on HMS Battler. As to why the Swordfish crews were not notified of this similar operation mounted by the Dutch, this remains unknown, but it could have something to do with the different operational ranges of the two types.



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THIS MONTH’S QUESTIONS Saved from the dump


Roger Birtles in the Isle of Man discovered on visiting a local rubbish tip a scattering of glass plate negatives, one of which showed a pre-First World War floatplane. He would like to know its type, location and, if possible, a date. The inscription “Our New ‘Arm’” might give a clue, perhaps indicating that it dates from some time between 1910-12 when the Royal Flying Corps was formed. We believe it to be an Henri Farman seaplane, possibly operated by Frank

Hucks from Eastbourne, but can readers correct or enlarge on this?

ABOVE: Is this an Henri Farman seaplane operated by Frank Hucks?

That Javelin sound!


ABOVE: Fairey Gordon K1729, the serial appearing on the rear fuselage and rudder as well as under the wings. At the time of this picture, it was with No 4 FTS at Abu Sueir, Egypt.

Rudder numbers


Harold Stillwell was completing a model of a Fairey Gordon and, having applied the serial number to the fuselage, was about to do likewise to the rudder when he thought, why? He says, “I am guessing that, in the early days of flying, heavy yaw

loads put a strain on rudders, which then had to be removed for repair. The aircraft number was necessary to ensure that it went back on the same airframe. If this was the reason, why did the practice persist well into the late 1930s?” Was this so, or is there a more basic reason?

The article on Javelin engine testbeds in the March 2017 edition reignited James MacFarlane’s distant memory regarding the sound of the standard Armstrong Siddeley Sapphirepowered aircraft. As a boy in the 1950s, he lived in Southwold, Suffolk and recalls a quite distinct engine sound, “a sort of two-tone whistle, rather like vocalising a hum whilst blowing through one’s teeth. Can anyone confirm that this might be a correct memory, or could I have confused it with another of the wealth of types from those bountiful days?”


The RAF Museum’s Proctor in store at Stafford. BEN DUNNELL

• Two amendments to the RAF Museum London entry in the UK Aviation Museums 2017 guide, given away with the April issue. Percival Proctor III Z7197 is no longer there, being stored at Stafford, while Bristol Sycamore HR12 WV783 is present at Hendon and should be added to the listing. • The captions to three of the images on page 38 of the April issue were transposed. Picture 3

is the RE8, picture 4 the Short 184, and picture 5 the BE2c. • The P-40 pictured on page 52 of the December issue belongs not to the Texas Flying Legends Museum as stated in the caption, but to Jerry Yagen’s Military Aviation Museum. • The sub-head on page 34 of the February issue is wrong to call Auckland the capital of New Zealand; it is, of course, Wellington. 25

03/04/2017 08:32






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28/03/2017 15:11



SPIELBERG THE BURMA BRIDGE BUSTERS For Arnold Spielberg, father of Steven, a childhood interest in radios proved a good grounding. During World War Two he served with the B-25 Mitchell-equipped 490th Bomb Squadron in the Burma theatre, and notched up operational experience of his own WORDS: NORM DeWITT


ne imagines the Americans of the late 1930s huddling around the radio in the living room, listening to the ominous buildup towards war in Asia and Europe. Those who had ham radios were, you might think, at the forefront of an age of increasing information and instant communication. Ham radio enthusiast Arnold Spielberg, then a teenager in Kentucky, says, “Yes and no. I was working in code, and most of the time we could get contact we’d exchange greetings… Later on I got an extended licence, which is an advanced licence allowing phone operation, so I built a larger transmitter, and could buy a microphone and speak. Then my conversations with other hams became more personal and detailed. That was in 1934, when I was 15 years old.”


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The Spielbergs had emigrated to the USA from the Ukraine. “My father came in 1906”, says Arnold, who is now 100 years old, “and my mother came a few years later”. Arnold was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on 6 February 1917. Later he moved to work in Kentucky. “One night”, he recalls, “when Orson Welles did that Mars show” — the Mercury Players’ version of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds — “I was on the air talking to a guy in Cleveland. He told me that his aunt had just called from St Louis to ask if the Martians had gotten to Cleveland yet. I said, ‘What Martians?’ “About that time, somebody called our house telling me to get off the air as I was interfering with their reception. I told him to give me his name, and I’d come by his house and put a filter in so that this didn’t happen again. He said for me to get

off the air right away. So, I turned my transmitter off, went into the family room, and the family was listening to War of the Worlds. Orson Welles certainly did a good job of scaring people. That was when I realised why that guy had called me. He later turned out to be the barber in our town, and the next time I got a haircut he apologised for yelling at me.” It wasn’t long before terrifying radio reports emerged that were anything but fiction. Philip Morrison, PhD in theoretical physics and a team leader of the Los Alamos group that developed the atomic bomb, used to tune in to the BBC news every night. Knowing the potential destructive capability of the weapons he was working on, and the lead the Germans had in that field, he would listen to reassure himself that London was still there.


03/04/2017 08:46


MAIN IMAGE: The Flying Heritage Collection’s superbly restored B-25J Mitchell wears the markings of the 490th Bomb Squadron, the unit on which Arnold Spielberg served in the Burma theatre. JIM LARSEN/FHC

FAR LEFT: Steven Spielberg, his father Arnold and Flying Heritage Collection founder Paul Allen with the B-25. LEFT: The 490th BS communications section. Arnold Spielberg is in the third row, fourth from the right, wearing his A-2 flying jacket with the 490th’s patch. NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION


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ABOVE: The 490th’s radio room at an airfield ‘somewhere in India’, possibly Ondal. Cpl Arnold Spielberg, as he was then, is standing at the rear.


Arnold Spielberg says, “My radio would not reach to England because I didn’t have a good antenna, but I could reach around the United States. When the Ohio River reached flood stage in 1937, going over its banks, I relayed a lot of messages for people that were in trouble. There were message handlers and net control people who would ask me to relay messages here and there, to relay where trouble was occurring. This was the best system available in those days before there was an emergency broadcast system.”

RIGHT: Personnel from the 490th BS with one of the unit’s B-25Hs at Hangchung.



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Arnold signed up for the military soon after the Pearl Harbor attacks. “It was in early January [1942]. I was a high school graduate working as a department store manager down in Kentucky. The ham radio and electronics got me into the service, and was what got me where I ended up. I enlisted in the signal corps, being a ham radio operator, although I was tempted to enlist into the [Army Air Force]… I should have, but that’s where I ended up anyway. “I enlisted at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, being as I was from

Cincinnati right across the river. I ended up in New Orleans, stationed with the 422nd Signal Company at Lake Pontchartrain, where we trained and I taught code to the recruits. Three months later I was sent to Jefferson Barracks [at Lemay, Missouri] to be hardened up for deployment overseas and set sail on the [SS] Santa Paula in a great big convoy with two troop ships, six destroyers, two battleships, and I don’t know how many cargo vessels. We sailed around the Cape of Good Hope, stopped in Durban for a day, and then went up through the Straits of Madagascar to Karachi. It was during the worst time of the war, May-June 1942. [There] was more of a German threat because we were in the Atlantic Ocean, but once we reached the Indian Ocean it was reasonably safe. The Japanese submarines were mostly on the eastern seaboard of India. “When I first got to Karachi they assigned me to the Karachi Classification Depot, where I was supposed to open a box of aircraft parts, figure out what parts they were, and package them up accordingly and send them to China or eastern


03/04/2017 08:46

India as repair for P-40s, P-39s, or for some P-38s. I didn’t know one aircraft part from another and felt I was absolutely wasted there. “After about six months at that classification depot, I heard there was a bombardment squadron forming at a base on the outskirts of Karachi. I asked my CO if I could volunteer for that, and he said, ‘Well, if you want to leave this cushy job, go ahead’. That was the early formation of the 490th [Bomb Squadron]. When I arrived there were only three radio men there and they were just glad to have me. They tuned up the paperwork and transferred me. I wanted to fly combat. But when they found out I could fix radios and copy code they said I was more valuable on the ground. I ended up the head of communications and rose up rather rapidly to master sergeant. “We were involved in setting up communications with New Delhi to receive our orders and send the results of our missions. We operated a cryptographic group with the latest cryptographic machines, and had a telephone group. For a while, we were the base squadron at Karachi until the AACS [Army Airways Communication System] came along.”

Spielberg says, “It is a forgotten theatre. Our squadron used B-25s to destroy bridges. After the squadron was formed in Karachi, India — before it became [part of] Pakistan — we moved to a little town called Ondal. It is about 100 miles west of Calcutta, and we bombed from there. But it was too long a range for our squadron, so we would bomb some bridges in Burma [and] land in Chittagong on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. We’d refuel and re-bomb, and then take another mission to bomb Burma again, before returning to Ondal. “Mandalay was a staging area for the Japanese Army to move north, and we did bomb Mandalay, but that was a long-range mission for us. Typically we would carry 1,000 to 1,500lb of bombs, although we could carry 2,000… often, taking 500lb bombs, we would drop all the bombs on one run.” The results were typically abysmal. “Our first shot was to try to hit the bridges from 10,000ft with the Norden bomb sight. When the bridge is only 20ft wide, it is pretty hard to hit from 10,000ft. One pilot

Our squadron’s results were terrible, everyone’s were terrible, until we discovered ‘hop-bombing’ that drove the bomb into the bridge

killed himself and his crew diving down a narrow gorge trying to hit the bridge lengthwise. When he pulled up, he smashed into the hill on the other side. We had some crazy pilots who did some crazy things — some made it, and some lost their lives, but we had a wonderful squadron. Everybody was co-operative, with good pilots and good radio men.” Despite their best efforts, the Army Air Force’s bombing results remained universally poor in the early days. “Our squadron was terrible, everyone was terrible, until [we] discovered ‘hop-bombing’ that drove the bomb into the bridge instead of skipping by it. It was discovered by accident. As one airplane settled in for a bombing run, a tree was in the way. The pilot pulled above the tree and then pointed his nose back down and then had to release the bomb. Lo and behold, it smacked into the bridge and blew it up. So, he reported that, and then they started practising that. “We at communications set a little radio truck out by the bombing range and reported on the results as they got better and better. Pretty soon they taught that to other squadrons that wanted to learn, but there was only one other B-25 squadron [in the theatre], the 491st.” As for the radio communications, that critical link between the bombers and base was part of

BELOW: B-25D-1 41-29899 wears the ‘skull and wings’ insignia of the 490th, though the machine may have been assigned to the India-China Wing search and rescue unit at the time. FHC

It wasn’t long before the 490th BS was sent into action in Burma. The squadron took the white-onblack emblem of a winged skull, and North American B-25 Mitchells with those markings were to become synonymous with the campaign. On the eastern side of India, the battle for Burma had not gone well for the Allied forces. The Japanese had invaded soon after Pearl Harbor, and the British were routed at the critical port of Rangoon in March 1942. Two months later the road and railway hub of Mandalay fell. The Japanese moved their forces up the roads and rail lines to Myitkyina, their supply base for further assaults on northern Burma. As a result, some of the major targets for the 490th were either Mandalay or the road and railways headed north to Myitkyina. The squadron first saw action in February 1943.


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ABOVE: A staged briefing for flight crew members from the 341st Bomb Group in typically difficult conditions at Kurmitola, India.


RIGHT: An Army Air Force recruiting advert in 1944 featured the exploits of the B-25s in Burma. VIA NORM DeWITT

the improvement programme implemented under Spielberg. “I was in charge of trying to help the radio gunners to learn code, as they had learned simplified code at Scott Field, but I pressed them to learn code. The weather was often so bad there that voice wouldn’t carry. It was easier to receive and understand transmissions in Morse code.” Spielberg upgraded to a better antenna system for keeping in touch with the bombers on their missions. “The ordinary radio truck came with a 10ft pole sticking up in the air, and that doesn’t have any directivity, it is omnidirectional. What I did was to design a rhombic antenna from my ham radio experience, which was pointed at New Delhi, with the back end pointed out over Burma. So we had wonderful communication between our squadron and New Delhi, and over ‘our’ area of Burma where we were targeting. “I also found faults with the computer equipment, and damn near killed myself because the relay was stuck shut and the light went off. When I reached to grab the coil to transmit I got 3,000 volts up my arm and around the other arm until the transmitting coil pulled out of its socket. I was burned deep around my fingers. Luckily it was a plug-in coil, but if the coil hadn’t pulled out…” What kind of radio equipment did they have in the B-25s of 1944? “Well, there are two basic types of transmitters and receivers. The radio operator had a regular 24-volt DC batteryoperated radio receiver… a BC-348 was the number of


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it. His transmitter was overhead, right above the receiver. It was an SCR-287A, which had two large vacuum tubes. “I remember one time during a test flight I was trying to change one of the tubes, trying to find out why the transmitter wasn’t working. The airplane hit an air pocket and I flew up until my head hit the ceiling while holding on to that tube. The tubes seldom went out, but they didn’t have any spare tubes on the airplane. I didn’t drop it — I rescued it! The receiver was a very good receiver and it had a good low-frequency band, so that when you were up in the air you could reel out the trailing wire antenna, which was mounted on a rail underneath the airplane. It would send a strong low-frequency signal back to a beacon-like receiver so that they could get a fix on you in case you got lost.

“We also had in the front of the airplane a Bendix radio compass. Its job was to locate a beam transmitter that allowed the airplane to home in and find its way back to the base. It was a way to help get yourself back, as a lot of airplanes got lost due to bad weather in monsoon season.” Of course, the disadvantage of the base using the beam transmitter was that it also acted as a beacon for every enemy aircraft in the area. “Exactly”, says Spielberg. “The beacon was never on all the time, but they often had it on anyway as we had good fighter protection. We had yellow alerts, but never a red alert at our base. As a result, the Japanese never bombed our airfields in India. There was always a fighter squadron based nearby that would shoot the [Nakajima Ki-43] ‘Oscars’ down.” Although the AAF fighters performed superbly in protecting the base, they weren’t always there to escort the bombers. “After they got rid of the P-40s, the fighters that accompanied us were the P-38s, P-47s, and P-51s… Sometimes we had fighter escorts for our missions, sometimes none. But our losses were moderate. “Every mission some airplanes got hit, but most of them made it back. But some of the time when they were hit and lost power, they had to bail out, and then they were in the jungle with the ‘head-hunters’ there and everything else. The guys who were pretty camping or junglesavvy managed to get themselves to some natives. All the leather jackets that we wore had some words in Hindi and Burmese and a few other languages,


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saying, ‘We are American soldiers; take us to the British encampment and you will be rewarded’.” The B-25G was the first true dedicated ground attack variant of the Mitchell, with two .50-calibre machine guns installed in the nose along with a 75mm cannon that had to be manually loaded, the design taken directly from tanks. The squadron soon started to receive the new B-25H, which made for a more lethal machine. The B-25H again had a large 75mm cannon in the nose, but it was a lighter variant known as the M5, designed specifically for this application. It was further upgraded to have four .50 nosemounted machine guns above the cannon. However, the knock-on effect was the limited number of times the cannon could fire on a strafing run, typically said to be about three or four. Spielberg confirms, “That’s about right. It didn’t last long. The ‘J’ was a much more popular airplane and the ‘H’ was eliminated.” The B-25J lost the M5 cannon, but now had eight nose-mounted .50 machine guns, along with two at each side blister below the pilot and copilot. Adding in the firepower of the newly relocated top turret, the B-25J could bring 14 .50 machine guns to bear on a target at once during a strafing run. No other aircraft of its time had this kind of forward-facing firepower. “It also had two waist guns where the radio operator was”, says Spielberg. “I only flew two missions, emergency missions, where I manned the gun position as radio-gunner, but we never had any encounters with Zeros or ‘Oscars’.” Because of the logistical problems involved in trying to fly between Burma and Ondal, the 490th was moved closer to the action. “There were four bombing squadrons in our group: the 341st Bombardment Group, made up of the 11th, 12th, 490th and 491st. The 11th and 12th went right to China; the 491st went to a town called Chakulia, and the 490th went to Kurmitola… about 15 miles from Dhaka in what is now Bangladesh.” Only the 490th was thus left in the Burma theatre. As a result of what it had learned and its success,

the squadron became known as the ‘Burma Bridge Busters’. Of its time at Kurmitola, Arnold says, “This lasted a little over a year before we moved to a little town called Durgon, from where I eventually ended up going back home.” However, in early 1944 the Imperial Japanese Army was again on the march, thrusting towards an important Allied base in eastern India. Imphal was the capital of the state of Manipur, on the border of Burma. The British 14th Army was struggling to hang on despite a huge numerical advantage favouring the enemy. Keeping the road between Imphal, Kohima and Ledo open was critical for Allied operations, and as such it made an irresistible target for Japan. The Japanese attacks against Imphal and Kohima, both near the Burmese border, were their last major offensive in the Burma campaign. Meanwhile, in the Japanese rear, ‘Merrill’s Marauders’ were hard at work. This small group of American special operations fighters was active in the jungle behind Japanese front lines, wreaking havoc upon anything and everything they could, including communications and supply lines.

Sometimes we had fighter escorts for our missions, sometimes none. But our losses were moderate. Some airplanes got hit, but most made it back


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Figures show that 99 to 100 per cent of these troops suffered serious injury from either combat or disease in the jungles of Burma. Yet ‘Merrill’s Marauders’ continued fighting their way south, eventually reaching Myitkyina in May. Disease provided perhaps the most difficult obstacle of the Burma campaign. “We had reasonable medics”, Spielberg recalls, “but I got malaria like about 90 per cent of the soldiers did. I was in a British hospital in Dhaka, as there were no American hospitals there. The British were fighting in Burma along with some of the loyal Burmese who took up arms against the Japanese, and the Indian troops… mostly the Gurkhas, who were tough fighters.” The battle for the Imphal Plain in early 1944 could have provided a turning point for either the Japanese or the Allied forces in Burma. There was also a real threat of disruption to equipment deliveries into China, flying over the Himalayas — ‘over the hump’. The beleaguered Allied army retreated into Imphal. At Kohima the situation was dire as British troops were forced onto a small area known as Summerhouse Hill. For weeks the vastly outnumbered British hung on to this scrap of land through murderous bombardments and continuous attacks by the Japanese. Meanwhile, at the siege of Imphal, fighting was concentrated upon the heights

BELOW: A lowlevel ‘bridgebusting’ mission by a Mitchell of the 341st BG. FHC 33

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TOP: Registered N41123, the Flying Heritage Collection’s B-25J is one of the finest Mitchells flying today. It made its maiden flight after restoration by Chino, Californiabased Aero Trader in 2011. JIM LARSEN/FHC

INSET: The original 490th BS aircraft, coded 810, that the FHC’s Mitchell now depicts.

above the main airfield. During May and June 1944 the 490th Bomb Squadron was pressed into service flying supplies into Imphal. Spielberg says, “They were surrounded, so our squadron was taken off of bombing, and was pressed into service to send airplanes up there to bring provisions and take out the wounded. So, the combat crews were flying around the clock, and they were exhausted. Contrary to orders, the commanding officer decided to use ground personnel on a volunteer basis to substitute for the air personnel. “I was the head of communications, so I volunteered as a radio-gunner on two missions flying from Kurmitola to Imphal, bringing a load of supplies in, and taking out three wounded Gurkhas. We flew at night and I was scared stiff, but we saw no Japanese and we landed very quickly, discharged our cargo, grabbed the wounded and took off. I don’t think we were on the ground more than about five or six minutes. “Then they got a message from headquarters saying, ‘You can’t use ground people for air purposes’, so they had to go back to [using] the


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combat crews. So, that was my two missions. It was interesting and I was glad to be able to do it. I was there in India for two-and-a-half years total, and in November 1944 I started back to the United States, getting home in December. You were sent home after two-and-a-half years unless you were a combat crew, and then after 50 missions you went home. “The European missions were far more deadly; our main losses were often to weather. The monsoons were terrible, and the Japanese didn’t hurt us that badly. A lot of crew members made it to 50 missions, but a lot didn’t.” The years spent in the Burma theatre served Arnold well, and helped secure his career. “When I came back from India, I was sent down to Florida, close to Miami Beach, for R&R [rest and recreation] and they posted me to go to the South Pacific because they needed a communication chief. “Before I went down to Miami I went up to Wright Field, where my brother was an aeronautical engineer. He had been flying in a B-29, flying

out of the Marianas at that time. I stopped by Wright Field and asked if they could use me. Capt Cusey said, ‘If you are as bright as your brother, we want you’, so I was transferred to Wright Field. “They gave me an assignment to design a little radio receiver to go into the tail of a bomb to help pick up signals from a transmitter and guide the bomb in to its target… it was the early experimental work on guided bombs. I realised that my ham radio experience was not enough as there was a lot of technical stuff I didn’t know. A PhD named Andy, who was a really nice guy, helped me out and I designed that receiver in about seven or eight months. When the war ended, they put the thing on the shelf, and that was the end of that.” Wright Field, of course, was where many of the great pilots of the late 1940s such as Bob Hoover and ‘Chuck’ Yeager were based. Spielberg was off in his own world, separate from them. “I was in the advanced development lab, and my whole focus was on communication equipment. They offered me a job as a technician but I wanted to be an engineer, and I realised that I had to get an


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When Steven made a series on the war in the Pacific, Jeff Thomas said, ‘I’ll do the airplane in your dad’s squadron’s colours’ education. That set me off to the University of Cincinnati to get my degree in electrical engineering. “All the World War Two airplanes came through Wright Field for flutter vibration testing and evaluation. My brother specialised in flutter vibration, performing tests to verify that the airplanes were properly safe under stress conditions. The horizontal stabiliser on the P-38 would vibrate like mad under tests in the wind tunnel, so my brother designed two balance weights that went up and down on the tail to disturb the vibration and keep it from going into a flutter by moving the frequency into one that wasn’t the frequency of the tail. My brother went from airplanes to the Minuteman [intercontinental ballistic missile] programme. He worked on exit problems — how you fire the Minuteman out of that tube without the compression of all the gases busting it up. “I did my freshman and sophomore work in one year. As I was married and Steven was about to be born, I figured I’d better get through school. Education and college for me was a wonderful thing, and everything helped out — it all came together.


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“At RCA in 1955 I was in management and I led the team that designed the Bizmac sales recording system. It was a unique system, and I put every feature in that early sales recording system that exists today, except reliability was about one failure every seven or eight hours. It checked credit, bad credit, read punch-tags for the garments, calculated sales tax, checked for discounts offered. All tubes, diodes and relays, but the transistors weren’t yet reliable enough to incorporate into the design. Stuff was always failing; it took another 15 years before the electronic cash register came out.” One might have expected the Spielberg kids to become the next generation of electronic gurus. It wasn’t the case, but obviously things worked out for them. “Steven hated gadgets at first, but now he’s a gadgeteer himself. He wanted to do something to distinguish himself, and he was the first Eagle Scout in his troop, and one of his merit badges was for making a movie. There was no such thing as a movie merit badge, but his troop leader accepted making

a movie for a merit badge”. Steven Spielberg was on his way. More recently, his father was reacquainted with the B-25 thanks to his friendship with American Airlines captain and warbird pilot and restorer Jeff Thomas, who has been heavily involved with Paul Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection. One of the aircraft acquired by FHC was B-25J Mitchell 44-30254. Arnold says, “Jeff brought me up to Washington to see the B-25 in pieces. When I first wrote to him, I said, ‘Would you please do the airplane in our squadron’s colours?’ He didn’t answer me. But he was an investor in DreamWorks, my son’s movie production company… and when Steven made a series on the war in the Pacific” — The Pacific for HBO in 2010 — “he said, ‘I’ll do the airplane in your dad’s squadron’s colours’.” Today the Mitchell has been superbly restored in the accurate markings of the ‘Burma Bridge Busters’ and, since 2011, has been airworthy again. It is on display with the Flying Heritage Collection at its Paine Field base in Everett, Washington — a fitting tribute to a forgotten theatre of war. n 35

03/04/2017 08:47


By Royal Appointment Forty years ago, White Waltham’s celebration of the Queen’s silver jubilee brought together an outstanding range of aircraft old and new – but a memorable airliner display stole the show WORDS: BEN DUNNELL

The lowest of Capt Tony Smith’s low passes in British Airways VC10 Srs1101 G-ARVM. The forward fuselage of this aircraft is today preserved at Brooklands Museum. PAUL ROBINSON


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he greatest collection of aircraft ever assembled”. A grand publicity claim indeed, but the Queen’s Silver Jubilee White Waltham Air Pageant was a true one-off. The sole airshow afforded official silver jubilee event status, it brought to the historic grass airfield in Berkshire a line-up of aeroplanes spanning some 65 years of evolution — and created its own air display legend. It was also, for some, a formative occasion. As Paul Bonhomme, leading display pilot and multiple Red Bull Air Race champion, told this magazine last year, “I went to the Queen’s silver jubilee airshow in 1977, on both days, as a 13-yearold. That was it, that was the ‘tick in the box’. The Rothmans team was there, Prince Charles turned up in an Andover, there was the Leisure Sport collection — and as for watching that British Airways VC10 go past at 15ft… I remember they’d cut the


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LEFT: Prince Charles steps out of Queen’s Flight Andover CC2 XS790 onto the White Waltham turf. ADRIAN M. BALCH

grass the day before, and the vortices from the VC10 chucked all this grass over the crowd. I thought I’d better go there more often!” No wonder Paul was hooked. That display would stay in anyone’s

memory. G-ARVM was the last of the 12 ‘Standard’ VC10s built, and by 1977 was the only one of them left in British Airways service. It acted as a crew trainer for the Super VC10 fleet, in which role it spent most of its time based at Prestwick. This rendered it more easily available for a public appearance than the revenueearning Supers. At the helm for the White Waltham displays on 14-15 May 1977 was Capt Tony Smith, the flight training manager for BA’s VC10 fleet, accompanied by first officer Alan Harkness. 37

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ABOVE: Euroworld’s B-17G Sally B couldn’t quite outdo the VC10 with its low flybys.


BELOW: The superb Supermarine S5 replica ‘N220’/ G‑BDFF of Leisure Sport, flying in from Thorpe Park in the hands of Keith Sissons. ADRIAN M. BALCH

“At that time I was a training copilot”, says Alan, now retired from a long and distinguished BA career that took him as far as Concorde and latterly the Boeing 777. “There was command training going on, and other training. During the training on the aeroplane you needed to have a safety pilot, so I was basically doing that. As a little bonus for being up there I used to get a couple of circuits myself, sometimes in the left-hand seat just ahead of my command training. So, I was there and the aeroplane was there.” It was, of course, no impromptu demonstration. The VC10’s flight crew even did a recce. “About a week before the display, I took Tony up in a Cherokee from the British Airways Flying Club at Wycombe Air Park”, Alan Harkness recalls. “He’d never been to White Waltham before, so we went there down the route we’d have to take. We had to use the ‘free lane’ into White Waltham, like all the little


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aeroplanes — below 1,250ft, along the railway line from Reading.” Come the Pageant’s first day, the VC10 was due on first, after the Prince of Wales (who had arrived aboard a Queen’s Flight Andover) had declared the show open. Says Alan, “I think we actually arrived a bit early, or else Prince Charles started a bit late. We blotted him out soon after he began speaking…” Sunday’s even lower, gear-up pass was the one that created the really memorable images. “I wasn’t expecting it to be quite that low. I believe we had a radio altimeter on the aeroplane then, and it was reading very low. You’d never be able to do that now. It was just before GPWS [ground proximity warning system], and if we’d had GPWS we wouldn’t have been able to do it because it would have been going off with all sorts of warnings — the airfield,

because it was only a grass airfield, not having the gear down, and being too low. One of the things I was worried about was that if he banked at all, we might have scraped a wing. I sat on my hands and hoped [Tony] wouldn’t. But he knew what he was doing, he really did.” As Alan remembers, “We all commented that if we’d had the wheels down, they’d have been on the ground”. When Flight’s Max Kingsley-Jones put that very idea to Tony Smith during a VC10 50th anniversary event held at Brooklands Museum in 2012, he didn’t disagree. “Well”, he said, “I was close to the ground…” All this happened with BA trainees on board, plus a few Prestwick Airport staff along for the ride. “We did a training detail, then came via normal airways down to London”, Alan continues. “On the way back we carried on with some more training, but a couple of the passengers felt a bit sick so we stopped [at Prestwick] to let them off. We did Dutch rolls, which was a high-level exercise, going down and going back — that was quite exciting on the VC10. You had a periscope which you could stick out and look at the tailplane, and the tailplane would wobble about quite alarmingly, so you didn’t really want to look at it during the Dutch rolls.” With the low pass followed by a vigorous wing-rocking run, the VC10 headed off in a roar of Rolls-Royce Conways. It had made its mark, to the pleasure of everyone. Well, almost. “Because I was involved with British Airways Flying Club”, says Alan, “we had contacts with people around White Waltham, and one of the instructors there rang up to say


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someone had complained about tiles being blown off their roof.” Of course, the show was about much more than just the VC10. It was organised under the auspices of the Windsor and Maidenhead Jubilee Committee, with heavy involvement from locally-based Leisure Sport. There was even live BBC1 coverage on the Sunday afternoon, commentated by — who else? — Raymond Baxter. Quite a coup, that, especially since the Pageant clashed with the other big airshow in the London area, the Biggin Hill Air Fair, and the Beeb would ordinarily have broadcast from there. It meant a busy couple of days for the 1970s’ display scene’s most prolific pilot. Neil Williams was originally scheduled to perform at the Pageant in the Shuttleworth Collection’s Blackburn Type D, and the number four Pitts S-2A in the Rothmans Aerobatic Team. “I began to look forward to a quiet weekend at a pleasant grass airfield in the country”, he wrote

in Shell Aviation News. “Certainly it would be a holiday compared to a normal summertime weekend. I might actually be able to watch most of the display, something I am rarely able to do.” Not so. When Ray Hanna became unavailable, Williams took on his commitment to fly Adrian Swire’s Spitfire IX MH434 at Biggin. He

— this time in The Hon Patrick Lindsay’s Spitfire Ia AR213, which had just been flown in the Pageant by Tony Bianchi. Even then he returned in time for the Rothmans routine, and a show-closing perambulation aboard the Blackburn. While the 1912 monoplane proved unwilling to repeat the performance on Sunday, Williams had already flown four displays that day. Rothmans aside, he again took AR213 to Biggin and piloted both the Spitfire and Lindsay’s Fiat G46 in the Waltham show, Tony Bianchi having motor racing commitments. It wasn’t just Neil Williams who found himself criss-crossing south-east England. The Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire IIa of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight did likewise, along with the Meteor T7 and Vampire T11 of the Vintage Pair, and the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Swordfish, Firefly and Sea Fury FB11. Don Bullock captained Euroworld’s B-17G Flying Fortress Sally B at both events, his low

I wasn’t expecting the flypast to be quite that low. We all commented that if we’d had the wheels down, they’d have been on the ground


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decided to operate from White Waltham, programmed such that he could make it back for his other two slots. En route on Saturday morning to the Air Fair, the plan went awry. A drop in MH434’s oil pressure led to a diversion into Wycombe Air Park, a dash by CAP 10 to Waltham, and another go at the Biggin display

TOP: Fairey Surveys’ DC-3 G-ALWC lands with port prop — intentionally — feathered. ADRIAN M. BALCH

ABOVE LEFT: Neil Williams gets airborne in Spitfire IX MH434, bound for Biggin Hill. Thanks to an oil pressure problem, the aircraft didn’t return, but he did… ADRIAN M. BALCH

ABOVE RIGHT: Brian Lecomber displayed Leisure Sport’s replica Sopwith Camel ‘C1701’/G-AWYY. ADRIAN M. BALCH 39

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ABOVE: A classic RN Historic Flight formation: Swordfish LS326, Firefly WB271 and Sea Fury FB11 TF956. Of course, the Swordfish is the only one of this trio still with us.


BELOW: Part of Shuttleworth’s contribution was DH51 G-EBIR Miss Kenya, rarely seen away from Old Warden. ADRIAN M. BALCH

passes — and those of Ron Clear in Hawker Siddeley-owned Mosquito RR299 — for once outdone by the VC10. On Sunday it was a memorable experience for the seven parachutists on board the B-17, ready to jump from its bomb bay at Biggin! Another heavy historic aircraft, but one then still in service, put on distinctive Pageant performances. DC-3 G-ALWC of Fairey Surveys was a rare participant, the White Waltham-based firm’s fleet generally being busy on tasks worldwide. It was flown by Chris Morton-Clarke, the company newsletter saying he made the Douglas twin “perform like a twin-engined, but mostly with one feathered, Spitfire.” Of course, some of the late1970s scene’s entertainers were on hand. TriStar captain John Kitchin demonstrated his British Airwaysbacked Campbell Cricket autogyro, while the Rothmans team’s displays were billed as its last in the UK. In the event, the Pitts-equipped squad

carried on for a few more years. There was a modern military element, too. The sight of RAF Harrier GR3s operating from the White Waltham turf caught the attention, and a Hawk T1 — at the start of its first service display season — impressed with a precise sequence that went on to win Flt Lt Derek Fitzsimmons the Embassy Trophy for best solo jet display at that summer’s International Air Tattoo. But it was in the vintage element that the Pageant lived up to its billing. For a single show, such fulsome representation from three of the era’s foremost civilian operators was unique. Shuttleworth brought not just the Blackburn but also the SE5a, DH51 and Gladiator for rare appearances away from Old Warden. Personal Plane Services provided its Fokker E.III versus Morane N replica dogfight, plus Adrian Swire’s Dragon Rapide G-AKIF, alongside

the Fiat, Spitfire and Argus-engined MS500 Criquet G-AZMH it operated on behalf of Patrick Lindsay. And, naturally, Leisure Sport pulled out all the stops. Its Fokker Dr.I and Sopwith Camel facsimiles staged their own World War One combat, the latter in the hands of Brian Lecomber; with Keith Sissons at the controls, the magnificent Supermarine S5 replica made just its second airshow appearance, following Farnborough the previous year; and the ex-Fleet Air Arm Tiger Moth trio and freshly restored Fairchild Argus G-AJPI recalled White Waltham’s past. On the ground were two non-flying Leisure Sport charges, DH2 and Fokker D.VII. Rich pickings, without doubt. It can be all too easy to recall air displays of the past through rose-tinted spectacles. Perhaps “the greatest collection of aircraft ever assembled” might have been pushing things a bit, but for its day the Silver Jubilee Air Pageant was a show of uncommon breadth and quality. No wonder it continues to be recalled with such fondness, four decades on. Tony Smith, who retired from BA upon the VC10’s phase-out a few years later and passed away in 2015, remembered it to the end of his days. “His son Martyn is a friend of mine”, says Alan Harkness. “He was a pilot with British Airways… He told me that when Tony died, he had a picture of the flypast beside his bed.” n ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thanks to Jelle Hieminga of, Julian Temple of Brooklands Museum, and Max Kingsley-Jones of FlightGlobal.


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27/03/2017 10:20


LITTLE GNAT... BIG BITE The Finnish Air Force’s operation of the Folland Gnat fighter was not without its problems. Yes, it was an exciting machine, but one that could easily catch out the unwary WORDS: ARI SAARINEN


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inland’s armed forces faced hard times after the Second World War, thanks to the peace treaty dictated by the Soviet Union. The once gallant Finnish Air Force, the Ilmavoimat, became a shadow of its former self. The operation of bombers was prohibited, and the fighter force was shrunk to a maximum of 60 aeroplanes. The remaining Messerschmitt Bf 109Gs were somewhat worn out, and the lack of spare parts meant flying was at a premium. The Ilmavoimat’s last Messerschmitt sortie took place on 13 March 1954. Gradually, though, the economic situation improved and the need for new fighter aircraft became urgent. These would obviously be jets, and in 1953 six de Havilland Vampire FB52s became the air force’s first jet equipment. Nine further Vampire T55 trainers were purchased during 1955, and the type served the Ilmavoimat until 1965. The start of the jet age in Finland was a modest affair, due to a lack of funding and, to some extent, because public opinion was still recovering from the trauma of war. The Vampire was a good platform on which to convert pilots and technical personnel to the business of jet operations, but by now it was not especially capable as an air defender. A search for a better fighter aircraft started. The types considered were the Dassault Mystère IVB and the Hawker Hunter F4. They were, however, too expensive for the available budget, and the Ilmavoimat headquarters recommended the purchase of the diminutive Folland Gnat F1 instead. The price per aircraft was estimated as half that of the other alternatives. The simplicity of the Gnat’s structure was one factor considered


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and it was felt that the design’s good looks should mean favourable flying characteristics, even though it was still in prototype form. The phrase ‘never buy a Mark One anything’ did not concern the first potential customer too much, though other senior figures in the air force initially opposed the acquisition. After all, the type was not used elsewhere, and they were worried that the Gnat deal could compromise the later acquisition of heavier fighters. The chief of staff, Col Olavi Seeve, and wartime ace Maj Lauri Pekuri travelled abroad to study potential fighter types during the summer of 1956. The small team made two or three flights in each machine: Gnat, Hunter and Mystère. As a result, the air force commander and the inspector of air defence changed their minds and recommended the purchase of the Gnat. The option for licence assembly in Finland was one major reason behind the choice.

MAIN PICTURE: Finnish Air Force Gnat F1 serial GN-103 on a predelivery test flight. AEROPLANE

ABOVE LEFT: The first Gnat for the Ilmavoimat, GN‑101, on the Folland production line at Hamble. AEROPLANE

ABOVE RIGHT: A row of Gnat fighters at Chilbolton, the Hampshire airfield used by Folland for test flying, is headed by Finnish example GN-107. Between the aircraft destined for the Ilmavoimat are two silver Gnats for the Indian Air Force. FINNISH AIR FORCE MUSEUM

The defence ministry agreed to buy 12 Gnats in October 1956. According to the agreement, the aircraft would be delivered from November 1957 to December 1958. The government decided during February 1957 to procure a further batch of 20 aircraft to be assembled by the domestic Valmet aircraft factory. This never happened, as deliveries of the first series were delayed and the air force concentrated on the purchase of a heavier type. Folland’s simultaneous supply of 40-plus aircraft to India played its part in the hold-up. Furthermore, the purchase agreement was so weak that maintenance of the Gnats that were delivered to Finland proved difficult for years to come. The Gnat (coded GN in Ilmavoimat service) was to be used 43

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The Gnat was found to be troublesome in service, demanding repairs and modifications. Line maintenance personnel were unable to manage the situation

ABOVE: GN-111 taxies out at its snow-covered Tikkakoski base. While the Gnat had its problems in Finnish service, coping with the winter conditions was not among them. AEROPLANE RIGHT: Major servicing of the Gnats took place in a hangar at Tikkakoski. Note the retired Vampires in the background.


as a light day interceptor. To break the sound barrier, the aircraft had to be climbed to 39,000ft-plus and put into a 45° dive. Supersonic flight was normally achieved when passing through 26,000 to 32,000ft. The main task for the Gnat was short-range air defence. In this respect it had a few indisputable advantages over other types. The fighter was a fast starter. From a state of readiness with the pilot already in the cockpit, it could be airborne in one minute at best. The Folland jet was armed with two 30mm Aden guns and 12-18 Hispano HSS-R 80 rockets in underwing cassettes. A simple distance-measuring radar provided data for the gunsight’s automatic adjustment and was not capable of target tracking. In the cockpit there were green and orange lights to guide the pilot to shoot from the correct distance.


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Due to manufacturing delays, the first two Gnats were taken into Ilmavoimat service unfinished, six months later than planned. They were ferry-flown to Finland on 30 July 1958 by Maj Pekuri (GN-101) and 1st Lt V. Hietamies (GN-102). The last batch was delivered during 1960. The 12-strong fleet was allocated serials GN-101 to 110 for the fighters, and GN-112 and 113 for the photoreconnaissance versions. The radar and related equipment from the latter two aircraft were replaced with a Vinten G95 camera system. The Gnat force was allocated to Hävittäjälentolaivue (HävLLv, or Fighter Squadron) 11 and stationed at Tikkakoski near Jyväskylä, a former World War Two bomber base. It was under the command of Hämeen Lennosto (HämLsto), the Air

Command of Central Finland. This command moved to Rovaniemi in the Arctic Circle during 1972 and was renamed as LapLsto — Lapland Air Command — operating first the J 35 Draken and at present the F/A‑18 Hornet. Unfortunately, the Gnat was found to be troublesome in service, demanding repairs and modifications. It suffered from many technical issues that required constant attention. Line maintenance personnel were unable to manage the situation, and a special ‘task force’ was established. This had too few mechanics, and thus just one or two aircraft were available for daily operations in the first year. The number of maintenance hours per flight hour was much higher than for previous types. Despite the Gnat’s positive features, it was a new and untried aircraft with deficiencies and design flaws. The


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FINNISH GNAT LOSSES 26 August 1958: GN-102 While landing, the pilot encountered undercarriage problems. The hydraulic pressure fault affected the flight controls and the fighter hit the runway hard. The pilot survived but was paralysed.

8 May 1962: GN-109 Lost control on take-off due to a pilot-induced oscillation caused by the sensitivity of the Gnat’s elevators. The aircraft was destroyed and the pilot killed.

4 April 1964: GN-108 The feed from the external fuel tank on one side malfunctioned, and as speed had been reduced for landing the aircraft went into a spin. The pilot ejected to safety but the Gnat was destroyed.

6 September 1968: GN-111 The use of trim and the change from mechanical to combined control initiated a sequence even the most experienced pilots were unaware of. In this case, the effort to recover saw the aircraft entering an outside loop. The pilot ejected safely.


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TOP: The first — and last — Gnat to fly with the Ilmavoimat was GN-101, sporting the name Kreivi von Rosen on its nose. FINNISH AIR FORCE MUSEUM

ABOVE LEFT: One of the Ilmavoimat’s two reconnaissanceconfigured Gnats was GN-113, showing the nosemounted camera port. FINNISH AIR FORCE MUSEUM

ABOVE RIGHT: A Gnat four-ship up on a training flight over some typically forested Finnish terrain. Just visible on each aircraft is the HävLLv 11 badge (see inset). FINNISH AIR FORCE MUSEUM

fuel system was especially complicated (one Gnat was lost because of this) and the flight control system needed enhancement. The control system had some interesting features, such as the interconnected ailerons and flaps, and the partial extension of the landing gear to act as an airbrake. The elevator control could be operated both mechanically and hydraulically. Control column inputs commanded a hydraulic valve controlling the hydraulic motor to rotate a worm gear, adjusting in turn the push-pull tubes connected to the elevators. Called the Hobson device, it was one of the aircraft’s most worrying aspects for pilots and engineers alike. This system easily induced an intensifying, oscillating manoeuvre with high positive and negative g loadings. It was especially frightening on take-off as the fighter accelerated very fast. The trim change was considerable if not coped with in time. Unfortunately, this phenomenon claimed the life of a pilot during his first Gnat take-off, which ended in a hill at the end of the runway. Soon it became apparent that the Hobson units were rapidly becoming worn. They were all sent back to the UK at the end of 1960 for repairs,


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causing a four-to-five-week break in flying. Small alterations were made at squadron level because of the lack of spares, and some parts were even manufactured in-house. A reasonable number of flying hours was amassed in 1960-61, but the onset of a fleet-wide major overhaul period reduced the figure again. There were times when most of the Gnat fleet was standing still at the Valmet factory, waiting for spares. As a result the squadron had just five or six aircraft operational between September 1962 and September 1963. Total flight hours for that year went down to 246; divided between the 12 aircraft, the figure looks even worse. It serves to show the difficulties the groundcrew were facing. From 1964 onwards, most of the modifications were complete and flying intensified significantly. A formation aerobatic team of three Gnats performed at many airshows during the 1960s. The small number of aircraft manufactured later became a problem. The RAF, of course, never took the Gnat fighter into service, and Folland was merged into Hawker Siddeley. This stopped the series

production of spare parts. To order individual parts was expensive and time-consuming, further delaying maintenance and flying. A typical issue was the life-span of the ejection seat cartridges, which had to be changed regularly. The difficulties started when the manufacturer terminated production. Finnish domestic manufacturing of the cartridges was not practical as there were so few Gnats in service. Later the items were obtained with a lifetime extended to one year. Gunnery practice was also restricted by the limited supply of 30mm ammunition. The lack of spare parts was inevitably a major reason for the Gnats ending up on the disposal list after the fleet had flown an annual average of just 435 hours. As the first airframes were taken out of service, the engineers were quick to strip them down for usable spare parts to keep the remainder serviceable. A further obstacle for the maintenance personnel was the fact that the process of laying down procedures and writing manuals had been left unfinished back in the UK. Gaps in the manuals gave the engineers a lot of extra work. Those


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Pilots of Hävittäjälentolaivue (HävLLv, or Fighter Squadron) 11 walk to their mounts. AEROPLANE

Groundcrews tend to a trio of Gnats between training sorties. AEROPLANE


GN-101 and 104: Air Force Museum, Tikkakoski GN-103 and 106: Karjala Air Museum, Lappeenranta GN-107: Air Museum of Karhula, Kymi/Kotka GN-110: Air Defence Memorial, Someronharju, Rovaniemi GN-112: Päijät-Häme Air Museum, Vesivehmaa GN-113: Privately owned, Malmi, Helsinki



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Length: 29.8ft (9.1m) Span: 22.1ft (6.75m) Height: 7.5ft (2.3m)

One Bristol Siddeley (Rolls-Royce) Orpheus 701 BOr2, 4,609lb thrust



Empty: 5,139lb (2,331kg) Max take-off: 8,708lb (3,950kg)

Maximum speed: 646mph (1,040km/h, Mach 0.98) at 40,000ft (12,192m) Range: 998nm (1,850km) Endurance with external tanks: Two hours 10 minutes Service ceiling: 47,900ft (14,600m) 47

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FINNISH GNATS Taking off in the Gnat — this is GN-104 at Tikkakoski — could be a tricky experience, especially on first acquaintance. FINNISH AIR FORCE MUSEUM



ne of the key figures in the selection of the Gnat for the Finnish Air Force, Maj Lauri Pekuri was a World War Two ace with 18.5 victories scored while flying the Brewster B-239 and the Messerschmitt Bf 109G. He later became a prominent test pilot for future fighter programmes in Finland. An interesting detail of Pekuri’s career is the story of the Brewster serialled BW-372. In June 1942, he ditched this aircraft into the Big Kolejärvi Lake in Karelia, 60 miles east of the present Finnish border. He walked away through enemy lines. The airframe was at the centre of an international debate regarding its ownership after being recovered in August 1998. It is the sole remaining example of the type and is now preserved in the Finnish Air Force Museum at Tikkakoski, central Finland, on a long-term loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum in the USA. Pekuri passed away on 3 August 1999. Pekuri with Gnat GN-102, one of the initial pair to arrive in Finland. FINNISH AIR FORCE MUSEUM


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relating to the aircraft’s electronics were especially incomplete. Gradually, the Finnish engineers were able to rectify matters themselves. Yet, despite its problems, the Gnat was a usable aircraft. Many pilots liked it a lot. With the second highest number of Gnat flight hours under his belt, Capt Veli Taka (who also flew the Vampire, MiG-21 and Draken) has fond memories of the fighter’s thrust-to-weight ratio: it had, he says, “So much power you were able to initiate a loop straight from take-off ”. Since MiG-21s and Drakens were available for practice dogfight sessions, the Gnat had a chance to demonstrate its tight turning capability. The heavier fighters found it to be an unequal match-up. The first Gnat take-off could be a concerning affair. Following on from the Vampire, and with no two-seater available, one had to learn solo. There was usually quite a crowd — even including staff from the HQ — present to witness the initial trip. A degree of black humour was sometimes on hand: the engineers would wish the pilot ‘good luck’ with a Finnish phrase referring to the nailing-down of a coffin lid after the relatives have witnessed the fact that the deceased really is in there… The reason the take-off was so demanding was because acceleration was swift and there was a delay in the elevator control. This led to a

mechanical restrictor (a safety wire in the throttle) being installed to reduce the amount of thrust available. This could be overridden with some force. Lt Col Jorma Mustakallio said: “My best memory of my first Gnat flight was actually taxiing to the end of the runway. I wasn’t too tense, really. I pushed the throttle as far as it would go. At that moment, the feeling of really speeding up was astonishing. All you heard was a light hum and then you were in a rocket. After leaving the ground you had to push the stick firmly while constantly trimming nose-down. Even then the Gnat climbed like a scalded cat. Another surprise was the sensitivity of the aileron control. One constantly over-controlled the fighter. The flight lasted 25 minutes. A great experience.” The first Gnat to be withdrawn from Finnish service in the early 1970s was GN-105, which became a spare parts source. The Ilmavoimat’s final flight on type was made by Capt Jouko Gullsten in GN-101 on 24 October 1972. Appropriately, that example was the first to have been delivered. On the nose it bore the name Kreivi von Rosen — Count Eric von Rosen, the Swedish aristocrat who donated to Finland the first aircraft bearing the blue swastika that became the air force’s official insignia. The count’s name has since been worn by an example of every Ilmavoimat fighter type. n

After leaving the ground you had to push the stick firmly while trimming nose-down


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th f o s e ersari v d a Su med e a f h t : f X ple o tfire I i m a p x S e and ginal 0 i r 9 o 1 n Fw st a again


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Flug Werk FW 190A-8/N ZK-RFR of the Chariots of Fire Fighter Collection at Omaka was the German company’s initial example of the new-build Focke-Wulf Fw 190. It is accompanied by Spitfire LFIX PV270, owned by wartime ace Al Deere’s nephew Brendon and based at Ohakea.



ck up a t s 0 19 W F k r view g We s u i l h F s d offer -buil t w o OY l e i n p a CO N R d r s N i I e V b A r o Y: G d wa ow d n h RAPH a l G t a O u T e PHO ar. B ew Z W KER N R d A d l P r e NK d Wo S: FRA erienc n D p o R x c O e e W ? An the S c i s s a l ine c r a m r Supe


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In the words of Focke-Wulf chief designer Kurt Tank, while the Spitfire was a racehorse, he designed the Fw 190 to be a ‘Dienstpferd’, a cavalry horse, which could stand the rigours of field service ABOVE: Brendon Deere’s beautiful Spitfire IX being flown by ex-Red Arrows, and current RNZAF Black Falcons, pilot Sean Perrett.


o compare these two aircraft requires a review of their design eras, for this explains a lot about them. Detailed work on the Spitfire began in 1934, with the first flight of the prototype during March 1936. It is an aircraft with a mixture of systems: pneumatics for the flaps and brakes, hydraulics for the undercarriage, and little thought as to cockpit ergonomics. The initial prototype of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 took to the air in June 1939, and the first production aircraft in November 1940. All its systems are electric, and the controls for those systems are placed logically; the cockpit works well, which is different to the norm for the era. In the words of FockeWulf chief designer Kurt Tank, while the Spitfire and the Messerschmitt Bf 109 were racehorses, he designed a ‘Dienstpferd’, a cavalry horse, which could stand the rigours of field service. Let’s begin with a walk-through. The pre-flight inspections are typical


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for such aircraft — Spitfire: fuel, oil, coolant, pneumatics, airframe inspection; FW 190: fuel, oil, drain the engine induction tubes (to prevent hydraulic lock on start-up) and airframe. Their cockpits are snug for a 185cm-tall, 82kg pilot, but whereas in the Spitfire you are seated, in the FW 190 you are almost supine, to mitigate the g factor. The Spitfire’s cockpit layout is a little mixed, so the checklist flow is disjointed but easy to deal with. For example, fuel is on/off, and the electrics are on/off with no separate battery or generator switches as on most American aircraft, all of which makes systems operation simple. The FW 190’s cockpit is busier than the Spitfire’s but has a better flow. Electrical controls are either push-button for the undercarriage or toggle switches for the flaps, trims, shutters and so forth, all nicely

grouped by the throttle. There is a fuel tank selector, again well-placed on the lower instrument panel. I would suggest that there was some pilot input to this cockpit. The starting processes are different but similar. Priming in the Spitfire is done via a cockpit hand pump, and in the FW 190 with an electric solenoid valve. The Spitfire has a direct-drive starter — a two-finger push (start and booster coil) and the Merlin will fire and settle into a silky-smooth V12 idle. The FW 190 has an inertial starter, and after a few blades the ASh-82 engine of this Flug Werk reproduction — accompanied by copious amounts of oil smoke — will spring into a lumpy radial idle. When it comes to taxiing, both aircraft have a castoring tailwheel so heading control requires the use of brakes. The Spitfire has pneumatic brakes applied by a control column lever (think bicycle brake handle) and controlled by the rudder


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Flug Werk FW 190A-8/N Werknummer 990001, Chariots of Fire Fighter Collection Supermarine Spitfire IX PV270, Brendon Deere GAVIN CONROY

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pedals, which takes a few ‘exposures’ to master. The FW 190 has hydraulic pedal brakes, so is comparatively easy. Standard engine checks are propeller function, magnetos, system temps and pressures, and idle. At this point in the Flug Werk aeroplane you realise you are a metre or so behind the ASh-82’s straight exhaust stacks, and the noise is impressive. For all aircraft of this class it is essential to feed in the power gradually during take-off to ensure sufficient rudder control to counter the torque effects. In this regard the Spitfire has plenty of control whereas the FW 190 will bite if you’re too aggressive with the power. You quickly discover the stops when applying right rudder! Post-take-off the Spitfire is busy. You need to change hands on the spade grip, whereupon the power will fall off if the throttle friction is not tight, to free up the right hand to work the undercarriage selector, which is a bit on the clunky side. In the FW 190 you drop your hand off the throttle to the undercarriage button selector. One push — job done. These aircraft are thoroughbreds, but their general characteristics diverge. As alluded to, the Spitfire’s V12 in general just purrs. Engine handling is simple: automatic boost and mixture control, power is ‘set and forget’. The flight controls are conventional although they lack the classic harmony between aileron, elevator and rudder forces of the P-40 or Mustang. The ailerons are slightly heavy and clunky with chains, cables and so forth in the control runs, while the elevators are finger-light. By comparison the FW 190’s controls have a neutral feel. They don’t ‘talk’ to you, but they feel the same at 200km/h as at 500km/h, almost as if there was a computer in there somewhere. The ASh-82’s engine handling is straightforward. As power is increased, it throbs, and it is loud. The Spitfire is renowned for its handling. The stall is benign and when manoeuvring there is plenty of buffet to warn you that you’re approaching that limit. Classical aerobatics are easy, although the roll rate is pedestrian. You need to take care in pitch with those light elevators, as it would be easy to ‘snatch’ out of a loop. Overall, playing in the Spitfire is a pleasant experience. By comparison, the FW 190’s stall is sudden with little buffet. It is masked by engine vibration, and this aircraft has a noticeable right wing


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drop. It will stall in manoeuvres with no warning, turning a loop into a roll off the top. I am mindful of this. Again, standard aerobatics are no problem, although the aircraft does have yaw cross-coupled with pitch, making a straight loop a challenge. The aircraft develops quite a vibration under g, which may be from the widechord propeller blades, and while the roll rate is probably double that of the Spitfire the pilot has to ‘drive’ the aircraft through manoeuvres. It’s equally capable but less pleasant. Anyone who has flown tailwheel aircraft will know the challenges of landing them. The Spitfire lands nicely, 100kt around base with full flap (it’s either up or down) reducing to 75-80kt across the fence. Bring the power off and that big wing floats you in — three-pointers or wheelers are both fine. Despite a narrow undercarriage, with a long wheelbase the aircraft tracks well. The only slightly tricky part is getting even

braking with the spade grip brake handle and rudder control. In general, it’s no harder than a Chipmunk. The FW 190 is quite different. Around base at 120kt (220km/h), variable flap, across the fence at 85kt (160km/h), round out, power off and you stop flying. The rather harsh undercarriage oleos will exaggerate any skip into a bounce. It does not like three-pointers, so the best solution is a tail-down wheeler — with mediocre success. On the ground, the aircraft is lively despite the wide track. It keeps you on your toes. These are two very disparate aircraft. The Spitfire is the quintessential British sports car: refined, predictable, comfortable, with the occasional quirk. The FW 190 is more of a rally car: noisy, rattly, efficiently functional. Above all, though, I have the upmost admiration for the men who flew the Supermarine and Focke-Wulf fighters in anger. n

TOP: Frank Parker piloting the FW 190, which now wears the markings of wartime Luftwaffe Fw 190 unit JG 54 ‘Grünherz’. Incidentally, the varying use of the FW and Fw designations throughout this piece is deliberate, and correct in denoting either Flug Werk or Focke-Wulf. ABOVE: Contrasting cockpits: unergonomic but characterful Spitfire (left), busier but better-organised FW 190 (right) with the unusual yet functional split of the instruments into two layers. 57

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DUTCH JUMBO It is often forgotten that, in the 1920s and ’30s, Dutch manufacturer Fokker designed and produced aircraft for the American market at Teterboro, New Jersey. There it created the first true ‘jumbo’ landplane, the Fokker F32 WORDS: JOOP WENSTEDT ABOVE: Western Air Express F32 NC333N, the third example built, being readied for flight at Alhambra Airport, California. It has two-bladed propellers on its front and rear engines. ALL PHOTOS JOOP WENSTEDT COLLECTION


he F32 came about thanks to two of the major US airline companies, Universal Airlines and Western Air Express. They required larger aircraft, but none were available, so Fokker was asked to design and build one. This turned out to not be a good plan. Fokker at that time was in stormy waters. Since the introduction of the F.II during 1920, Anthony Fokker had cut development costs by enlarging his existing designs. But from 1926 Fokker began to lose market share in the US to the new Ford Tri-Motor. To rival this all-metal, three-engined airliner


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would have been too expensive for the Dutch firm, while Fokker himself and his personnel lacked knowledge in the field. Anthony came up with the idea of leapfrogging Ford by bringing out a bigger aircraft than the Tri-Motor. Thus, the F32 was born. The basic idea was that the number of passengers carried would compensate for the design’s lack of engineering ingenuity, thereby helping lower fares. In itself, this seemed a good argument, but was the market really waiting for such a product — and could it afford an aircraft costing some US$110,000 apiece?

Fokker himself was convinced it would work, looking back at the success of the F10 series — the American version of the F.VII/b3m. Such was his belief that all other projects were halted in favour of the F32. When this proved wrong, it left the company highly vulnerable. Design studies began in Amsterdam, but in 1927 work was transferred to the Fokker Aircraft Corporation’s small design studio in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. There Bob Noorduyn and Albert Gassner co-ordinated developments. Gassner was a German engineer who worked during the First World War


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for Fokker’s competitor Albatros. He was taken on by Fokker in 1927 as deputy chief engineer especially for the F32 project. So small was the team working on the F32 that construction of the prototype only began at the end of 1928. Meanwhile, there were huge changes within the Fokker Aircraft Corporation. That April the Universal Aviation Corporation got hold of 50,000 Fokker shares, worth $1.25 million. Fokker was ready to be taken over, and the financially strong Aviation Corporation of Delaware joined the fight. Fokker was partially owned by General Motors, whose directors James Talbot and Harris Hanshue viewed this with great concern. In May, Talbot spoke to Alfred Sloan Jr, GM’s president and director. They discussed GM acquiring a larger share in Fokker by buying the remaining 400,000 shares for $7.7 million (now worth $105 million). In this way the automotive company gained a total holding of 40 per cent. Fokker was now protected against hostile Wall Street takeovers, but GM’s influence was increasing. With Bob Noorduyn leaving for

Bellanca, Sloan decided to import some knowledge of metal aircraft construction. He travelled to Europe and talked to Claude Dornier, with a view to him strengthening Fokker’s US design team. But it was too little, too late. On top of that, Fokker and Dornier were competitors, and Fokker was not over-enthusiastic about working with his German counterpart. The F32 was meant to put its rivals in the shadow, which it did for a short time. The type made its first flight from Teterboro on 13 September 1929. Barely two months later, Junkers set a new benchmark for large landplanes with the maiden flight of its G38.

Construction of the F32 was in accordance with Fokker policy of the time: wooden wings and a metal tube fuselage covered with linen. It was powered by four 450hp Pratt & Whitney Wasps, paired in underwing gondolas on each side of the fuselage with one engine pulling and the other pushing. This did not work out so well. Initially the aircraft had two tail fins, but this was soon increased to three as a means of improving stability. It enhanced passenger comfort too, an important aspect in the F32. The future of the new luxury airliner looked promising. Before the first flight, Universal Air Lines and Western Air Express each ordered five. KLM was interested and pondered using the aircraft on the Amsterdam-Batavia (now Jakarta) route, but this was not to be. On 27 September 1929, Fokker invited the press to see the F32. It was an impressive show, with 18 dancing girls atop the wing to illustrate how strong it was. But not everybody was convinced. Fokker test pilot Marshall Boggs lacked confidence. He flatly refused to take the aircraft on a test flight loaded

LEFT: September 1929’s famed press launch of the new Fokker, with dancing girls on hand to demonstrate how strong the wings were…

BELOW: X124M, the F32 prototype, in flight. It was tested by Universal Air Lines for a time.

Fokker invited the press to see the F32. It was an impressive show, with 18 dancing girls atop the wing to illustrate how strong it was


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ABOVE: ‘California Sunshine Girls’ from the Fanchon and Marco theatre group aboard WAE’s inaugural F32 service from New York to Los Angeles during April 1930. ABOVE RIGHT: A close-up of the engine arrangement, with two-bladed prop forward and a threebladed one aft.

BELOW: NC342N, the last F32 built, became Anthony Fokker’s personal mount.

with sand bags to prove its maximum take-off weight. Universal Air Lines had demanded this, and Boggs’ reaction cost Fokker its order. In November 1929 Western Air Express used the prototype for demonstration purposes. WAE was very enthusiastic about the aircraft and its luxurious outfitting. The cabin heating, ventilation and lighting — with separate reading lights for each passenger — were felt to be especially impressive. The unusual engine configuration proved less so. The prototype was lost on 27 November 1929 when a unit failed during take-off for a test flight from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York. One of the powerplants on the port side was intentionally running at idle to demonstrate a three-engine take-off, but then the other port engine also failed, resulting in a crash into a house. The

aircraft was completely wrecked by fire, but there were no casualties. Pilot Marshall Boggs and another occupant escaped with injuries. To improve take-off handling, the F32’s engines were changed to Pratt & Whitney R-1860 Hornet Bs, each producing 575hp. However, the rearward — pushing — engine was not able to deliver its full potential. The forward engine in each gondola drove an adjustable two-bladed propeller, and the rear one a threebladed prop. Flight tests showed that if one engine failed on take-off, the fully loaded aircraft could barely get off the ground, even with the Hornets’ extra horsepower. WAE took only two of its planned five production examples. Perhaps fortunately, WAE went the extra mile when it came to safety. The F32 was the first aircraft to have Protectoseal Patented Gas pumped

into its fuel tanks when their contents began getting low, reducing the risk of explosion. The absence of vibration in the cabin was most welcome, there being no engines attached to the fuselage. By any standards the F32 was opulently equipped. Two kitchens made provision for the preparation of haute cuisine food. The adjustable seat armrests and individual folding tables were both aviation firsts. The cushions had small rubber balls in them, so passengers felt like they were sitting on air. Always up for a marketing opportunity, WAE offered to fill them with more balls for three cents each! For night flights, the seats could be changed to beds, and three additional stewards were carried to take care of the passengers. The aircraft had a dedicated cloakroom, and two fully ventilated chemical toilets. Having discovered that the cabin entrance soon became dirty, WAE did some research into material that could more easily be kept clean. The entrance would now be lined half-way up with snake skin, which was simple to maintain. The four cabins were panelled with a still more unusual material, made from palm and cactus trees. This was so rare that there was only just enough for WAE’s two Fokkers. Company representatives travelled around the world to find the most exclusive finishings. The aircraft was competing with the grand steamers of the day, and the service had to be comparable. But all the luxury in the world couldn’t mask the terrible engine noise. WAE inspector Jim King was

Anthony Fokker took the seventh example as his personal ‘flying yacht’, with a smoking cabin, a saloon, and a master bedroom with two bunk beds


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very positive about the F32 but wrote: “Our biggest problem is to cut the noise, as when you increase the power the noise increases considerably”. The placing of the engines close to the fuselage was to blame. It was proposed to line the fuselage with a sound-deadening wool; whether this was done went unrecorded. But the issue was never solved, WAE going so far as to carry two fewer passengers so that no-one was seated next to the propellers. The F32 was quite a handful for its pilots. The cockpit was, as usual with Fokker, a basic affair despite having the same luxurious seats as the cabin. Otherwise the aircrew had a hard time, being subjected to the wind and the weather. The controls were very heavy and the machine proved difficult to fly with one or two engines out. In June 1930, WAE chief pilot Fred Kelly lost both engines on one side and was still able to land safely at Oakland. This was considered a great feat. The powerplants posed many problems, particularly with the cooling of the rear units. The spark plugs often failed and had to be replaced. Rumour had it that, if the rear engines overheated, the cylinder heads would come off with the risk of flying into the cabin. Even so, WAE had the F32s flying an average of five hours a day on the Los Angeles-San Francisco route, far in excess of the two hours notched up by other types. After the fusion of WAE and Transcontinental Air Transport into Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA) on 16 July 1930, the F32s continued to fly that service, albeit


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with capacity reduced from 32 to 28 passengers due to the engine problems. TWA also planned to operate them on the Los AngelesAlbuquerque-Kansas City route. Fokker had in the meantime finished the fifth and sixth F32 airframes, but they went unsold. Anthony Fokker remained optimistic and took the seventh example as his personal ‘flying yacht’. It too was very luxurious, with the rear compartment fitted out as a smoking cabin, a saloon, and a master bedroom with two bunk beds. Fokker tried to sell it to industrialist Lawrence Fisher, but the deal fell through after details appeared in the press, though Fisher made some use of the aeroplane. The story started to come to an end on 15 June 1931, when TWA was forced to retire its F32s from commercial service. This followed the crash on 31 March of a TWA Fokker F10, which killed American football star Knute Rockne. All woodenwinged Fokkers in the US were grounded. Anthony Fokker’s own F32 was operated until December 1931, when the type’s licence was finally withdrawn by the US authorities. It made one more flight in June 1932 to the Wheeling, West Virginia factory of the General Aircraft Manufacturing Company, which had taken over Fokker’s US interests. After removal of the engines, propellers and other useful parts, the airframe was used as a caravan, but it was destroyed when the Ohio River flooded in 1937. One of the two retired TWA examples soldiered on a little longer, until 1938, in a yet different role — as part of a filling station in Los Angeles. n



1201 124M, Fokker X124M

Crashed 27 November 1929

1202 130M, Fokker; tested by NC130M US Army Air Corps at Wright Field, Ohio, as YC-20

Dismantled autumn 1931

1203 333N, NC333N

WAE, 1 March 1930 (TWA from 1 October 1930); out of service 15 June 1931

Salvaged by 19 July 1933

1204 NC334N

WAE, 1 March 1930 (TWA from 1 October 1930); out of service 15 June 1931

Salvaged by 19 July 1933

NC335N Fokker, June 1930; 1205 GAM, November 1931

Dismantled 1932

1206 NC336N Fokker, June 1930; GAM, November 1931

Dismantled 1932

1207 NC342N Fokker, March 1930; Dismantled used by Anthony March 1934 Fokker; GAM, November 1931; last flight June 1932


99ft (30.2m)


70ft 2in (22.27m)


16ft 2in (5.08m)

Weight empty

14,206lb (6,846kg)

Gross weight

24,250lb (11,010kg)

Cruise speed

108mph (196km/h)

Maximum speed

157mph (282km/h)


850 miles (1,370km)


32; later 28


Two; later three 61

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SALUTE TO MALTA GC Faith, Hope and Charity — three Sea Gladiators of the Fighter Flight at Hal Far shortly after the start of hostilities. These aircraft created a legend among the local population. J. PICKERING VIA R. C. B. ASHWORTH



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03/04/2017 13:13

15 April this year marks the 75th anniversary of the award of the George Cross to the island of Malta, in honour – as King George VI wrote – “to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history”. Such attributes were on display during the early months of the Axis air assault in 1940 as the RAF did its best to hold the line, first with Gladiators and then Hurricanes WORDS: DAVID NICHOLAS Hurricane Is V7418 and V7485/S of No 261 Squadron sit on standby at Hal Far during the autumn of 1940. J. PICKERING VIA R. C. B. ASHWORTH


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alta, with its airfields and naval base, was key to control of the central Mediterranean. However, situated just 60 miles off Sicily, it was hugely exposed to air attack in the event of a war against Italy. With fighters in short supply, none could be spared for Malta. Thus, in April 1940, some of the 18 crated Royal Navy Gloster Sea Gladiators offloaded to Hal Far from HMS Glorious were made available to the RAF. Volunteers from the pilots of No 3 Anti-Aircraft Cooperation Unit and the Air Officer Commanding’s personal staff officer, Flt Lt George Burges, began training and formed the Hal Far Fighter Flight under Sqn Ldr ‘Jock’ Martin. When Italy declared war on 10 June there was the semblance of a fighter defence. The first Italian raids came the following day when several formations of Savoia-Marchetti SM79 trimotor bombers approached. They were intercepted by the CO, Fg Off Bill ‘Timber’ Woods, and George Burges, but the bombers easily outpaced the biplanes, as Burges recalled: “As soon as I opened up, the Italians poured on the coal and the Gladiator just couldn’t catch up with them”. He did, however, slightly damage one, while Woods had a tussle with an escorting Macchi MC200 fighter. Later that day, two Gladiators scrambled and Fg Off John Waters in N5520 believed he shot an SM79 down. He attacked another on the 13th, though in fact neither was damaged. Nonetheless, in the eyes of the local population the legend of three Gladiators named Faith, Hope and Charity began to take root. Further raids came, but the speed of the bombers prevented interception. The flight lost two Gladiators in crashes on the 21st, replacements

being issued from those in store. Success rewarded the unit’s efforts the following afternoon when Burges and Woods intercepted a lone SM79, for once with a height advantage. Burges, who was flying N5519, took up the story: “‘Timber’ Woods and I were on the 16.00hrs-to-dusk watch when the alarm went off. We took off and climbed as hard as we could go, as was the custom. We did not attempt to maintain close formation because if one aircraft could climb faster than the other then the additional height gained might be an advantage. Ground control [the solitary AMES, Air Ministry Experimental Station, radar site] as usual gave us the position and course of the enemy.

The next day Burges and Woods again scrambled against an incoming raid. Burges in N5519 engaged the bombers without effect as the escort — MC200s of the 88ª Squadriglia — intervened off Sliema. Although faster, the Macchi was less nimble than the Gladiator, enabling Burges to “belt him up the backside as he went past”. Eventually, Sergente Maggiore Molinelli’s MC200 caught fire and he baled out into the sea, becoming a PoW. Woods’ aircraft was hit, but he redressed the balance on 28 June when he was credited with an SM79, though it actually returned to Sicily severely damaged. The first Hurricanes arrived in Malta on 13 June, but these were only being ferried via France to Egypt, several more arriving before the French surrender. It was ordered that a number, along with their pilots, should remain stationed on Malta. They were incorporated into the Fighter Flight. On 30 June, Fg Off Jock Barber flew P2614 on Malta’s first operational Hurricane patrol. Action was not long in coming. On 3 July, John Waters in P2614 shot down Tenente Sguario’s SM79 of the 259ª Squadriglia, which was on a reconnaissance. As he returned to land, Waters’ Hurricane was attacked by the escorting 9° Gruppo Fiat CR42s and shot up by the legendary one-legged Maggiore Ernesto Botto. P2614 made a crash-landing. France’s capitulation allowed the Regia Aeronautica to concentrate on subduing Malta, and raids increased in size and frequency. The Fighter Flight scrambled against every reported attack but often failed to make contact. Better luck came on the 7th when, just after 09.00hrs, ‘Timber’ Woods led a section against two formations each of five SM79s with CR42 escorts, which were

It was ordered that a number of Hurricanes, with their pilots, should remain stationed on Malta

BELOW: Pictured aboard HMS Argus on 11 August 1940, Hurricane I P3733 was among the aircraft of No 418 Flight that flew to Malta on the first operation.



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The enemy turned out to be a single SM79, presumably on a photographic sortie. It came right down the centre of the island from Gozo, and on this occasion we were 2,000-3,000ft above it. ‘Timber’ went in first but I did not see any results. I managed to get right behind it and shot off the port engine. I was told this happened right over Sliema and Valletta and caused quite a stir in the population. The aircraft caught fire and crashed into the sea off Kalafrana.” SM79 MM22068 from the 216ª Squadriglia was flown by Tenente Francesco Solimena. He and observer Sottotenente Alfredo Balsamo escaped from the burning aircraft. They were picked up from the sea.


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targeting the dockyard. He closed on one bomber and shot down Tenente Zagnoli’s aircraft from the 233ª Squadriglia. SM79s arrived without escort on 10 July and a trio of Hurricanes flown by Fg Off Eric Taylor (P2645), Bill Woods (P2653) and Peter Hartley (P2623) engaged them. The first two each shot down a bomber, while the Savoia from the 194ª Squadriglia that Hartley fired on crash-landed in Sicily with a dead gunner. A day later, when a Gladiator and a Hurricane flown by Plt Off Sugden intercepted a raid, the latter became embroiled with the escorting CR42s and forcelanded with a dead engine. He was taken off fighters soon afterwards. The Fighter Flight was next engaged on the 16th when a dozen 23° Gruppo CR42s were intercepted by a single Gladiator and a Hurricane. In the latter, Flt Lt Peter Keeble attacked one of the Italian biplanes before being attacked himself by two more. His mount


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dived into the ground and blew up. Keeble was the first RAF fighter pilot lost over Malta but was credited with Sottotenente Mario Benedetti’s CR42 destroyed before he fell. This loss led to detailed discussion on the best way to counter the agile Italian fighters. However, with few Hurricanes serviceable it was the anti-aircraft defences and the remaining Gladiators that met the sporadic Italian raids for now. On 31 July, ‘Timber’ Woods made the first Gladiator claim for a month. Flying N5520, he engaged CR42s of the 23° Gruppo off Grand Harbour and shot down that of the leader, Capitano Antonio Chiodi. However, off Marsaxlokk Bay Sergente Manilo Tarantino hit N5519 flown by Fg Off Peter Hartley, as Barber witnessed: “Peter must have been hit in his centre tank because his Gladiator burnt like a magnesium flare — a very brilliant light in the sky. He

actually baled out after his aircraft caught fire and he fell into the sea. He was very badly burnt, particularly about the knees, arms and face.” The loss coincided with the award of a DFC to Burges, the first decoration to Malta’s defenders. However, the end of the initial full month of action saw the Fighter Flight reduced to a single serviceable Hurricane and a pair of Gladiators with six pilots. Reinforcement of Malta and Egypt after the collapse of France had been exercising minds in London, and on 23 July the old carrier HMS Argus set off carrying the dozen Hurricanes of No 418 Flight. They were to be flown off the deck by RAF pilots who had served in the Fleet Air Arm pre-war and thus were carrier-experienced. Argus sailed into the Mediterranean under heavy escort. At dawn on 2 August, about 380 miles west of Malta, the fighters

ABOVE: The nearest 9° Gruppo Fiat CR42 in this formation is the aircraft of Maj Botto. The others all carry the ‘iron leg’ marking referring to his nickname, ‘Gamba di ferro’ (iron leg). VIA GIOVANNI MASSIMELLO 65

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ABOVE: 1940’s last victory to be achieved over Malta fell to No 261 Squadron Hurricane pilot Sgt Fred Robertson, standing at left.


launched in two waves of six, each led by a Blackburn Skua. The Hurricanes arrived at the limit of their range. Sgt Fred Robertson’s engine cut as he was landing and N2700 crashed, though fortunately he survived. To their surprise, the pilots were informed that they were to remain in Malta and not be flown back to Britain. Spares and some groundcrew came by submarine. The Italians soon spotted the arrivals and mounted a heavy raid on the 5th that damaged two of them, though Plt Off Tommy Balmforth was flying one of the Hurricanes when he probably destroyed an SM79. A Gladiator, meanwhile, had a torrid time against eight CR42s. The Fighter Flight was almost immediately incorporated into No 418 Flight under Sqn Ldr Martin. It had its first success late on the 13th when Fg Off Barber scrambled after a night intruder. He claimed an SM79 of the 259ª Squadriglia as damaged, though it actually ditched off Sicily. On the afternoon of the 15th, 10 SM79s from the same unit with 72ª Squadriglia CR42 escorts were detected heading for Hal Far. Four Hurricanes took off after them. Tenente Sartirana’s Fiat hit N2716, and although Sgt Roy O’Donnell was seen to bail out he was never found. Re-formed on 16 August into No 261 Squadron under the newly promoted Sqn Ldr Balden, operations continued with a mix of Hurricanes and Sea Gladiators based between Ta Kali and Luqa. Pilots regularly flew both types, though success usually eluded the biplanes. 261 scrambled aircraft most days, claiming its first victory shortly after midday on the 24th when intercepting a bomber raid. The Hurricane quartet was

soon engaged with the escorting 23° Gruppo CR42s and Burges’ aircraft was damaged. Fg Off Eric Taylor shot down a 75ª Squadriglia fighter; Sgt Reg Hyde went for another, “and saw my bullets entering fuselage and cockpit. I could observe nothing further as I was attacked by remaining fighters.” Scrambles continued, such as on 2 September when John Waters led three others against an inbound raid. Sgt Harry Ayre opened his account by probably destroying a Fiat, while during his three sorties that day

intercepted — on the 17th, Barber and Ayre each claimed a Ju 87 and ‘Timber’ Woods a CR42. Barber described the fight: “We did head-on attacks. I was firing, he was firing. I whipped round in a turn as we passed and to my amazement, I saw him losing height… and he landed with a very big splash in the sea.” The next day the Italians sent over a fighter sweep of seven CR42s. The RAF countered with a pair of Gladiators and three Hurricanes. In one of the latter, Plt Off Tommy Balmforth was hit and injured by burning oil, but claimed his first victory. The next significant combat occurred a week later during a recce and sweep by MC200s of the 79ª Squadriglia. Maresciallo Gino Lagi was shot down by Fg Off Eric Taylor, while Jock Robertson hit another of the enemy fighters in the wing. Targets on Malta continued to be subjected to bombing attacks but without significant intervention by 261’s few fighters. There was a relative lull until 4 October when Tenente Nasoni’s MC200 (MM4585), with escort, appeared on a recce. All available Hurricanes scrambled, together with a Gladiator flown by Sgt Pickering. Sgt Hyde shot down Nasoni’s Macchi, which, in the combat report’s words, he “attacked from astern and followed down in a spiral dive. Seen to strike water off [Ghajn Tuffieha].” When Italian bombers began appearing at night, Hurricane N2484 was modified for night flying. On 8 October, five 36° Stormo SM79s attacked Kalafrana. Eric Taylor chased one that was caught in searchlights, brought down Tenente Ferrari’s aircraft from the 257ª Squadriglia, and hit a second. Air Headquarters (AHQ) Malta issued a statement noting that, since the outbreak of war with Italy, 72 raids had been intercepted and 22 aircraft destroyed by the defending fighters, for the loss of two Hurricanes and one Gladiator with others damaged or wrecked on the ground. Despite the arrival of a convoy, October proved fairly quiet, though aircraft availability was an increasing concern. This led to greater use of the Gladiators, and the need for another reinforcement flight from Argus: Operation ‘White’. On 2 November, 34° Gruppo SM79s attacked Valletta. Six Hurricanes, led by ‘Timber’ Woods, and a pair of Gladiators were scrambled and engaged the fighter

We did head-on attacks. I was firing, he was firing. I whipped round in a turn as we passed and, to my amazement, I saw him losing height


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Sgt Fred Robertson hit an MC200 from the 6° Gruppo flown by Capt Giuliano Giacomelli. Italian-flown Junkers Ju 87s appeared over the island on 4 September, a sight that would become achingly familiar. Another raid arrived mid-morning on the 5th, when eight SM79s with accompanying CR42s attacked Grand Harbour and the airfields at Hal Far and Luqa. The six intercepting Hurricanes did not make contact. Later, during another Stuka attack Flt Lt John Greenhalgh brought down one of the escorts. He was involved with Barber and Flt Lt Lambert two days later when a raid was intercepted and they combined to bring down an SM79. Despite these losses the intensity of the raids mounted, causing increasing damage to military installations and civilian infrastructure. Many were


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LEFT: The last RAF Sea Gladiator claims over Malta were made on 2 November 1940 by Flt Lt Burges. He was in N5520, which had earlier been fitted with a Mercury VIII engine and Hamilton propeller from a crashed Blenheim. NWMA VIA B. CULL

escort. The Hurricanes fought the MC200s of the 72ª Squadriglia, and Plt Off McAdam was shot down by Sgt Lanzarini’s Macchi at Zejtun. Burges in Sea Gladiator N5520 joined a dogfight with the CR42s, claiming one shot down and another damaged. These were the RAF’s final Gladiator claims over Malta. A relative lull occurred as the Regia Aeronautica concentrated on inbound convoys. However, given the increasing air threat the Royal Navy insisted on launching the dozen Hurricanes off Argus 400 miles to the west, at the very edge of their practical range. It resulted in tragedy. The first six took off at dawn on the 17th, again led by a Skua providing navigation assistance. Just four made it — Flt Lt MacLachlan landed with six gallons left while the rest of his section, Plt Offs Eliot and Hamilton, were equally short. Of the other section, only Sgt Norwell reached land. Leading the second formation, Plt Off Stockwell crash-landed his Skua in Sicily, but all six Hurricanes and their pilots were lost. It was a bitter blow, though the new arrivals brought a wealth of experience gained during the Battle of Britain. There was little time to draw breath, as the next raid came early on the 22nd, and another daylight attack on the 23rd when 10 SM79s bombed Ta Kali. Eight Hurricanes scrambled and engaged the raid over Filfla but made no claims. The Italians returned in mid-afternoon, and Burges thought he hit one bomber “pretty hard”. It was credited as a probable. Firing on a second he saw pieces flying off and claimed it damaged. The escort engaged Sgt Robertson, whose fire struck one of the CR42s, as did that of Sgt Hyde. Both were assessed as probables. A precious Hurricane, flown by Fg Off Bradbury, was badly damaged.


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Strafing attacks by CR42s came the next day, damaging several aircraft on the ground. Three biplanes from the 74ª Squadriglia appeared on the 26th, conducting a recce; they were intercepted by a pair of Hurricanes. Flying N2701, Sgt Dennis Ashton shot one down but was immediately downed himself by Capitano Bobba. Both pilots were killed. Further convoys arrived and intermittent enemy activity continued into December, mainly in the form of small fighter sweeps or night raids. It was during one of the latter when, shortly before midnight on the 18th, Sgt Fred Robertson took off in Hurricane P3731. Just south-east of Grand Harbour at 15,000ft he spotted an aircraft in the searchlights: “I dived over Filfla towards the interception of the beam. I then closed to 200 yards and put three bursts of fire into it from dead astern. The enemy aircraft burst into flames, first in the fuselage and then the wing roots and dived straight into the sea”. Robertson’s fourth victory was Tenente Guilo Molteni’s SM79bis of the 193ª Squadriglia, and was the last Italian aircraft to fall to Malta’s fighters in 1940. By the turn of the year, 261 still had four Gladiators on strength. These old soldiers never died but just faded away. Large elements of the Luftwaffe’s Fliegerkorps X had by now deployed to Sicily so as to neutralise the British fleet and the Maltese bases, securing the Afrika Korps’ maritime

flank as it moved into Libya. On 10 January a convoy approaching Malta came under deadly air attack, the Stukas concentrating on HMS Illustrious, which took six direct hits. That night the battered carrier limped into Grand Harbour for emergency repairs. There she acted as a magnet to a series of savage air attacks. The game had changed irrevocably, and Malta’s long torment entered a deadly new phase. n

NEXT MONTH... Our tribute to Malta in its George Cross 75th anniversary year continues with a look at the Allied use of radar in this crucial theatre. 67

03/04/2017 10:15


TONY BIANCHI Personal Plane Services is one of historic aviation’s great family affairs. For the son of its legendary founder, the combination of restoration, engineering, training, display flying, competition aerobatics and much more besides has made for a stimulating – and full – career WORDS: BEN DUNNELL


ven in historic aviation, with its many established operators, little can stay the same forever. Just like any other area of business, this one changes fast. Trends come and go, generations pass the baton from one to another. That was how Tony Bianchi came to be involved in the first place, initially working for his father Doug in the family firm, and then taking it on himself. It was also how that company, Personal Plane Services, thrived for so long. Now, though, times are different. Arriving to interview Tony at PPS’s home of more than 55 years at Wycombe Air Park — still better known to many as Booker — in Buckinghamshire, he and his wife Pia were packing up. They are moving their operation to Turweston, Northamptonshire, a thriving centre of general aviation, and PPS as we know it will not be offering the same complete service for which it is renowned worldwide. Amidst those preparations, Tony took a couple of hours to reflect not only on his own career around historic aeroplanes, but also that of Doug, the man who


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started it, and who is one of British aviation’s most memorable figures. “Ours was an Italian family that came over here before the turn of the century”, says Tony. “Dad was the odd one out in that he went down the route of aviation. His father was killed in World War One by a German sniper on the second Somme offensive, so he was brought up partly by his mother and partly by his uncle, who was in the boat business. They had the biggest boatyard on the Thames, at Teddington. “I think his interest in aviation came from his uncle Gordon, who was a bit of a scrap merchant. He bought some World War One Norman Thompson flying boats to break up in the boatyard, and somebody made an aero enginepowered device with two of their hulls and roared up and down the river with it. Dad got interested. He started building model aeroplanes, and model aeroplanes turned into larger gliders. In his book, which has never been published, he has some interesting escapades of making a man-powered glider, hurling


03/04/2017 11:44

Tony Bianchi with Blériot XI replica G-BPVE at its new home: the restored First World War airfield at Stow Maries, Essex. VIA STOW MARIES GREAT WAR AERODROME


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ABOVE: The 10-year-old Tony with his father Doug at White Waltham in 1955 or ’56. At the time, Personal Plane Services looked after some of the Nash Collection’s aircraft; the SE5a behind them is G-EBIC, now displayed in the Science Museum.


TOP LEFT: For many years the Fokker E.III and MoraneSaulnier N replicas made for a popular dogfight duo.


ABOVE RIGHT: Over Phoenix, Arizona in Woodson Woods’ Spitfire XVI SL721, en route to the 1979 Desert Sport Pilots’ Association (DSPA) Airshow at Mesa’s Falcon Field.


himself off Richmond Hill with it and going crashing into the park gates. “My father was quite welleducated, and decided that he would make the break and do something different with his life. He went off to the London Air Park at Hanworth and got himself a job with Robert Kronfeld. I don’t think he got on that well with Kronfeld, and he got sacked from there, from what I remember. Doug went to work for various other people at Hanworth, gathering an immensely valuable knowledge of aircraft engineering, and finally learned to fly, starting his own joyriding operation”. That was Aerial Enterprises, which flew out of Luton and Hanworth with a Desoutter and a Spartan Three-seater. “He’d always been interested in all sorts of aeroplanes, and at Hanworth they had a massive amount of types going through, being the Mecca of light aircraft in England. That triggered the interest in oddities. He was fascinated by the aircraft, and the famous pilots that he met — visiting Bf 108s with famous Luftwaffe pilots, for instance… He even had a trip with Lindbergh after assisting on some engine work on one of his rare visits to England. “Then the war came along, and Doug was all manner of things, including running the engineering training facility for the Air Transport


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Auxiliary at White Waltham. He became well-known as a very talented, practical engineer. In the post-war period, that turned into, ‘What the hell do I do?’ He was involved in the Berlin Airlift, operating a number of aircraft, and was a flight engineer with Don ‘Pathfinder’ Bennett’s British South American Airways, opening up the air routes to Brazil flying Avro Lancastrians. In the late 1940s he was signing aeroplanes out for BEA; then he went to work for Silver City, occasionally Eagle, and finally he started his own operation at Blackbushe”. The real birth of PPS occurred during 1947. It moved three years later to White Waltham, where the company ran the airfield’s sole maintenance facility. Tony was inducted into this environment at an early age. “I wasn’t that keen to come into aviation. I liked aeroplanes because of the family connection, but Doug was very interested in cars and motorsport. That was a family tradition that I liked. Dad’s uncle — my grandfather’s brother — Cecilio Bianchi was a very well-known racing driver in the pre-World War One period and became a Bugatti works test driver in the 1920s. So, I’d picked up that disease. The accessibility to interesting cars when I was in my

teens was huge. You could buy an Austin Seven for £5 and make it into a racing special, which I did. Then I had other pre-war racing specials — MGs, Alvises and so on.” Having, as he puts it, “never got any decent qualifications because I mucked around too much, always being sidetracked by cars and aeroplanes”, Tony started full-time at PPS when he was 16 in 1961. “I had been working there in my school holidays for two years. I could pretty much hack together a 50-hour check on a Chipmunk, Auster or Fairchild on day one of employment… I rather drifted into PPS. Then, of course, there was the construction of aeroplanes for the movie industry. I liked the creative side, and that’s what ultimately kept me in it.” Apart from moving to Booker, the business was shifting its emphasis. “Most of the clients had workintensive aeroplanes like Proctors, Miles aircraft and so on — things you were always doing woodwork repairs on. These private owners all started going over to buying American aeroplanes such as TriPacers, Ercoupes and Apaches, and the specialist work wasn’t there”. At this stage, though, PPS was still much involved in the boat business, and the teenaged Tony even took part in some waterborne endurance record attempts.


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“Then I learned to fly. I was mainly taught by Archie Cole, who had been a fighter pilot during the Second World War, and was an excellent instructor. Archie was the CFI of Airways Aero Club at White Waltham. It was all subsidised then, of course — I think I learned at £1 an hour. I did a full course on Beagle Terriers, and then a bit on Chipmunks. Once we moved to Booker I flew quite a lot with [exATA pilot] Joan Hughes, and with Viv Bellamy, who took over the reins as CFI of Airways. Viv passed on a lot of skills that I wouldn’t have got elsewhere. I got my licence in ’65, but I’d been interrupted in completing it because I was working here on Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. “I wasn’t interested in having a job as a flier or being a professional pilot. Equally I’ve never been interested in just jumping in an aeroplane and just going and having a fly. I did have a period when ‘the more you do, the more you want’, and I did about 100 hours in a month in one of our Piper Vagabonds, because it cost nothing. Having got over that, I really wanted to do something productive with flying: flight testing, aerobatics, film flying, something where it was more engaging and practice was needed.

“It wasn’t until we had aircraft like Stampes and Tiger Moths coming through here that I began to get my teeth into flying. I was then fully hooked into the business. I started taking over complete rebuilds on aircraft like Jungmeisters and Stampes, and film jobs were coming through at quite a rapid rate, so I was on a treadmill and I couldn’t get off it. It was a boom period.” Doug had earlier in 1957 teamed up with Patrick Garland to build a

I wanted to do something productive with flying, something where it was more engaging and needed practice


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development of the Piel Emeraude, the Garland-Bianchi Linnet. “That finished when Don Bennett’s Fairtravel company took it over, but my father still had the essence of the factory producing wooden aeroplanes. Although those guys had been aviation people, they moved straight on to the building of the boats. That fizzled as hand-built wooden speedboats as we were building were not as much in favour as the easyto-maintain fibreglass equivalents that were appearing on the market at half the price. However, when the

film business started getting going, all of the other projects stopped and the experts all flipped onto building aircraft again. “Dad had done some consultancy work on one or two productions back in the ’50s. He’d been a bit involved at Blackbushe on a film there — No Highway in the Sky, the Nevil Shute book — and some television productions that happened at Waltham. Then, because of his interest in old aeroplanes and building things, his friend Air Cdre Allen Wheeler, who was the technical adviser on Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, turned up in 1963 and said, ‘This is what I want, Bianchi; are you interested?’ That, really, was the starter to it.” Of Magnificent Men, Tony says: “I was involved from day one in building the first flying Demoiselle at Waltham. When we moved up to Booker, where the main unit base and film set of the Brooklands circuit was [and which had a 520ft-higher elevation], it wouldn’t fly. With other engineers, I spent my days in the winter of ’64 making modifications to make it fly. I’d dash backwards and forwards to Rollasons getting ever-increasing sizes of VW engines, starting with a 1,200cc and ending up with a fifth version at 1,600cc

ABOVE: The three Stampes converted into SE5as to film Aces High. Tony was chief pilot, joined variously by James Gilbert, Iain Weston and Neil Williams. VIA TONY BIANCHI

TOP MIDDLE: A display at the 1976 Duxford Vintage Day in Patrick Lindsay’s magnificent Morane-Saulnier MS230 G-AVEB. ADRIAN M. BALCH

ABOVE LEFT: Tony in suitable garb for the making of Aces High. VIA TONY BIANCHI 71

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that it’s got a lot more drag and a less friendly wing section. I bust the undercarriage a few times because the rate of descent was so high and rounding out to land needed care. You’ve got to keep power on. These early World War One aircraft are generally very easy on take-off and landing, because they stay straight, they’ve got long rear fuselages and quite powerful rudders, and more modern engines but very high drag.”

TOP: Stampe G-AZGC in modified form for the making of High Road to China. VIA PETER R. MARCH ABOVE LEFT: With Spitfire IX MH434, then being operated by PPS for its owner Adrian Swire, during 1981. REX SHUTTERSTOCK

ABOVE RIGHT: Tony’s mother Edna was also heavily involved in the family business. KEY COLLECTION

— then it flew at 500ft, whereas at Waltham it would only do 150ft. Then we built the second and third ones, which were really ‘bitsas’ to assemble if needed. We bought back the Vickers 22, on which I’d had some involvement when my father built it in 1956-57, from a museum in Germany and made that fly properly for the film. In the process of learning to fly, one learned a huge amount throughout the film about how early aircraft were operated and flown. It was a complete rethink of aviation, going back to the basics, a great experience which I’ve found has been eternally useful.” From that, PPS was straight into building aeroplanes for The Blue Max, on which Allen Wheeler was again technical adviser. This 1966 film was to have involved a Fokker E.III ‘Eindecker’, which Doug Bianchi already had in mind to build. “There were no replica German aeroplanes


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in the UK at all”, says Tony. “We’d been to the Science Museum and measured the world’s only original E.III that’s in the roof there”. Then the movie’s storyline changed, and PPS switched to building a Pfalz D.III. However, the ‘Eindecker’ was completed as an internal project, followed by a Morane-Saulnier Type N to go with it. Tony rapidly got to grips with these World War One replicas. “I’d done quite a lot of flying in odd things, so they weren’t so much a surprise. One got the feel for flying aeroplanes in which the stall, climb, cruise and approach speeds are all within a very narrow parameter, which are very high-drag, and for being on your toes all the time if it goes amiss. The ‘Eindecker’ was the first one I flew, and then afterwards the Morane, which was somewhat trickier in

The Blue Max brought PPS into contact with a genuine Morane type, too. “They wanted a 1930s MS230 parasol monoplane for the final shots of the ‘new German fighter’. We acquired the one that did most of the shots for the film company, which came from Morane specialist André Baudet at Meaux-Esbly. It was a very nice, standard Salmson radial-engined MS230. André overhauled it for us, Viv Bellamy flew it to Waltham, we prepared it for the film and flew it out to Ireland. That aeroplane stayed in Ireland and flew on various other productions. It eventually became the property of the Blue Max lead actor George Peppard. “My father always wanted to bring one to the UK but didn’t have a customer, until The Hon Patrick Lindsay came along. I’d met him through my racing exploits in pre-war cars, at a Silverstone meeting. He said he knew my father was well-known in the aviation world, and that he ought to come and talk to him because he wanted an old aeroplane. Patrick had already been flying in his earlier days with the University Air Squadron. “Dad convinced him that an MS230 was an outstanding aeroplane to buy, and in fact it was. This country’s full of people who can only think ‘Tiger Moth, Spitfire, Hurricane’ and so on, and they don’t understand that some of these continental aeroplanes are outstanding. At PPS we like to pride ourselves that we do”. That MS230 was imported in 1966, and registered G-AVEB. “Patrick loved it for years, and I flew it a hell of a lot, including in a few films. To me, that’s the great trainer for sending people solo in a World War Two aeroplane. It has all the vices and all the thrills.” It later proved its worth when more potent machinery arrived. “My dad had always been involved with Spitfires, and he had good knowledge of them from his wartime and postwar days. I can remember as a seven or eight-year-old going with him


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numerous times in the school holidays when he supplied spares for the twoseat Spitfires that Schreiner operated for the Dutch air force”. There was a gap of a few years when PPS was primarily involved with lighter types, but, as Tony says, “At that time nobody was interested in the World War Two aeroplanes… Anyway, time moved on, and Allen Wheeler turned up here with [MkIa] AR213 in ’69. He’d had it at Abingdon, but he’d been asked to move out of there, and there wasn’t room for it at Old Warden [where Wheeler was a Shuttleworth trustee]. He parked it with us, and we started operating it. “In ’74 my dad mentioned to Patrick Lindsay, ‘Would you like to own a Spitfire?’ AR213 could be bought… Of course Patrick jumped at the chance, and Wheeler sold it to him for the princely sum of £35,000, which in those far-off days was a fortune, especially as Wheeler had paid £125 for it in the early ’50s. Of course, we did a lot of work to get it serviceable for Patrick to fly, including installing a radio! We acquired a Harvard for him to do the training, between that and the Morane — they were ideal stepping-stones to fly the Spitfire. Having got one Spitfire here, Adrian Swire turned up and asked us to look after [MkIX] MH434, which we had the privilege to do for 15 years.”

airshows in it, going around Europe quite a bit. I enjoyed those days. I’d worked a lot on Spitfires, so I’d take my toolkit with me and look after the aircraft. In the early ’80s, very few Spitfires were available for airshows and practically none to go overseas to Europe, so we pretty much had it to ourselves. I had the odd nice two weeks away in Europe with AR213 where I’d do a show in Holland, a show in Belgium, a show in France, leave it in France, go back later, do two or more shows and come home. That was good fun”. He even had the odd adventure flying Arizona-based Spitfire XVI SL721, doing shows for its owner Woodson Woods. Adding to Tony’s interests was competition aerobatics. “A very nice Tiger Moth came here in the mid’60s, and we rebuilt it as a lightweight Super Tiger. I started lurching around in this thing, teaching myself. We were importing a lot of Stampes — 77 in total — and I said to my dad, ‘This Tiger’s a great aircraft, but why don’t we have a Stampe?’ They

‘baby’ competitions and did quite well at that level. “Roy Legg had swapped to a Jungmeister. Being a huge fan I personally took over all of the maintenance and overhaul work on it. Roy said to me one day, ‘You need to fly it’. We all thought the Jungmeister was the great aerobatic aeroplane. Bear in mind no Pitts Specials existed in the UK at that time and we were all using a compromise of aircraft to compete with, mostly pre-war aircraft. Roy said it was a lot harder and a lot more work than you think because it’s got more drag, but that I should fly it and see for myself. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever flown, until I started to practise with it. I realised then that the technique and the care in flying it to retain speed and retain altitude was a real challenge. It taught me a huge amount. I’m still flying one today and still mastering the required technique, although I won and was highly placed in a lot of competitions with the Jungmeister. The Rothmans team also moved in here, so Neil Williams was around a lot and passing on more of his great knowledge and enthusiasm for aerobatics. By then I was fully hooked on it and the way of life. “By 1973-74 I was invited to join Aerobatics International, which was effectively the British team. I started flying their excellent Zlin 526 and Pitts S-1s. But the problem was that I motor-raced all these years, and I was torn between a bit of racing at weekends and the minimum amount of training with the aeroplanes. I used to train here three times a day, three 10-minute trips above the circuit, then enter a competition and do moderately well. But when it came to the complex stuff with the more complex aeroplanes I never really put the time in. I was just doing enough to get by. And airshows took a lot of productive training time away.”

In the early 1980s, very few Spitfires were available for airshows and practically none to go overseas, so we pretty much had it to ourselves

Tony himself began to gain Spitfire experience. In 1968 he flew back-seat with John Fairey in MkVIII Trainer G-AIDN, much later to be restored by PPS. “I sat there thinking I didn’t know whether I could fly this thing or not, but that I was probably never going to get the chance. Then, when the Spitfires turned up at Booker, amazingly we were short of people to fly them with the ever-increasing airshow and film production demands… In 1976 there was the odd two-aircraft display required, and Neil Williams kept nudging me and saying I ought to go solo in AR213. Eventually I jumped in and went, and the following weekend I did a duo with Neil in MH434 at a Pink Floyd concert at Knebworth”. So started more than 40 years of Spitfire flying and continued company involvement with the type. “I didn’t fly MH434 until after Neil had died [in December 1977]”, Tony continues. “Ray Hanna was working out of the country, so I started doing


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were cheap enough. He could see the need, and a Stampe turned up from a French flying club for not very much money… we re-covered it and I started teaching myself a bit more advanced aerobatics and looked at doing the odd competition. “There were various people coming on the scene… we’d sold a Stampe to Roy Legg, who became a very good friend and a client. I started to practise with Roy, but my dad sold the aircraft and I sat there kicking my heels until a really cheap — £500 fly-away — and low-time but ratty Stampe SV-4C came along from the aeroclub at Lognes, west of Paris. The old man said, ‘If you want another Stampe, then rebuild it’. In between work here, myself and another guy rebuilt it completely. That’s the one we’ve still got today [G-AWXZ]. While we were doing it I thought, ‘Right, let’s do some mods on this thing’. I lightened it, got a decent propeller made, streamlined the aeroplane off as much as I could, and started to practise in earnest. That was in ’68-’69. I entered the national

After a wisdom tooth problem prevented him from flying in the 1976 World Aerobatic Championships in Kiev, for which he had qualified, Tony let his contest flying slip for a bit. He wasn’t too keen on the Pitts, anyway. But then, he says, “I was in France and I flew a CAP 10, and I thought, ‘God, this thing goes really well’. Everyone over here said, ‘Oh, it’s a load of French crap, it’s got no power’, but the French were flying 73

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TOP: Stephen Grey’s first FM-2 Wildcat, N47201, was a regular mount for Tony in 1984. PETER R. MARCH

TOP RIGHT: Some of the crew involved in The Mummy, including Tony (second from left) and regular PPS pilot Jonathon Whaley (second from right), on location in Morocco during 1998. The Stampe is G-AWXZ.


ABOVE LEFT: CAP 21 G-BPPS was one of the Mudry aerobatic aircraft that Tony so enjoyed. PETER R. MARCH ABOVE RIGHT: The Flying Aces Museum at Compton Abbas was a brave attempt to make something out of Bianchi Aviation Film Services’ unique collection, but ultimately closed its doors. PETER R. MARCH

them in international competitions and doing quite well although it was a side-by-side two-seater. I flew a few national contests in the UK with one and really liked the modern approach and trouble-free philosophy. “I also competed a bit with strange aeroplanes — I once entered the Spitfire I in the Air Squadron Trophy at Old Warden, but I didn’t fly it in the end. I was doing things like starting the sequence with a one-turn spin at 3,800ft, which technically you shouldn’t be doing, but it was fine. I did have the engine stop once in a spin at 10,000ft, but it got going again, and I thought, ‘Hmmm, I’m a bit worried about this’. You had to start relatively low in the contest, but the Spitfire used a lot of sky. Instead I entered the Fiat G46 [Patrick Lindsay’s G-BBII], and provisionally I won it, but the next day when they totalled up the points I was one point below another competitor. “I had a very good relationship with Mudry and acquired the CAP agency for northern Europe. I was looking at a Stampe for a customer, and I went through Bernay [where Mudry was based]. Mudry said I should fly one of his single-seaters… A guy from Deauville flew a CAP 20 over and told me, ‘Mr Mudry says you’ve got to fly this aeroplane’. I did and got out of it thinking it was the best thing I’d


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ever flown. I had a Spanish Jungmann at the time, the first one that was on the UK register, and it kept breaking on me. I flogged it and for the same money I bought a damaged CAP 20, but rebuilt beautifully by Avions Mudry with a zero-timed engine. He was obviously pushing me to promote the aeroplane and get my arse out of a Pitts S-1. I did well with it straight away — in 1979 it was the best thing to fly, totally trouble-free. Four years later I got a CAP 21, another underrated, great aircraft, and in 1990 a CAP 231, simply the best aircraft of the era. I had decent results, always being part of the British team, without much practice. This place consumed all my time and energies.” That, in large part, meant film work. The Stampe proved a highly adaptable mount, and so it was in 1976’s Aces High, when PPS used them to play SE5as. “My father was pretty good at hashing things together and getting them through the CAA, and he just came up with a simple mod to alter the front end, alter the fin, make a new rudder for it, put some wood fairings on the struts and bulk the whole thing out. “On Aces High I was running the show as chief pilot with Neil Williams. It was good fun. Nobody

had made a World War One film for many years, and there were a few new techniques you could use, especially flying with smaller cameras and ideas of how you could do explosions airborne. We were often towing a bomb behind us, filming behind the aeroplane with the bomb exploding so it looked like the aeroplane all came apart. There was a lot of interesting flying: low-level flying with bullet hits on the ground, that sort of thing.” It was the last film PPS worked on before Doug Bianchi’s death in 1977, at the age of 61. The loss of Neil Williams at the same time created a big hole in the PPS organisation, and Tony, contrary to his own plans, took over. Into the 1980s there was no respite, especially when the making of 1983’s High Road to China began. “That, by far, is the most difficult film I’ve ever been on. They started off quoting something like seven hours per aircraft and a month away. We were seven months away, after the recces I’d done to find locations, and I think we did 70 hours per aircraft. We had three Stampes out there with another derived mod that we had on Aces High — Hispano cylinder blocks, a radiator on the front, a funnyshaped rudder, pull-down Foster mounts with the guns on. “Some of it was down in the south of Yugoslavia, in Bosnia, Croatia and


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I entered the Spitfire I in the Air Squadron Trophy, but I didn’t fly it in the end. I did have the engine stop once in a spin at 10,000ft, but it got going again and I thought, ‘Hmmm, I’m a bit worried about this’ in mountainous areas in Slovenia. They wanted locations that were remote, because the story literally went from Egypt to China. We found an area that was a bit like a desert, we found another area that was like the mountains in Persia. They wanted the Himalayas, so we went north into Slovenia to find the highest mountains we could and fly around them in crap weather. “The snag was that the cold air from the Eastern Bloc and the warm air from the Adriatic and the Mediterranean mix and they explode. You get surface winds of 200km/h. We arrived in February and got ourselves organised at a place in the mountains not far from Rijeka, in lovely spring weather. We flew for a week and did a minimal amount of shots of part of the script. Then it blew up. We fortunately had a nice reinforced hangar to put the aeroplanes in, and we sat it out for seven days. It blew itself out, and we had decent weather again. We did two or three weeks of shooting, mostly with two Stampes in formation with helicopters. Then it hit again. Because of the weather the film company took it upon themselves to build a set in the only hangar, with Afghan tents. There was nowhere left for the aeroplanes, so we had to dismantle them and put them in containers on


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the airfield, which was a real pain. I came back to Britain for a week to do some promotional work with an aerobatic aircraft. On it went for seven months like that. “Finally, towards the end, the weather got better. We were shifting up and down the country, flying out of strange strips, never going above 300ft. There was a huge panic to get the production together, and then everything turned to disaster. We were operating three of Jean Salis’ Stampes on the ground, all of which were destroyed in accidents. One was wrecked in bad weather, another shouldn’t have been flying and crashed into some trees — the French hero pilot got away with it — and then the same hero destroyed another one in a deliberate flying crash, where it flies between some trees and the wings come off it. It ended tragically when my co-pilot and great aerobatic competitor David Perrin and two others were killed in a helicopter accident, when it [an Alouette II] flew down a ravine and picked up a wire. Basically, we then had to get out of the country.” The High Road to China story brings home much of the unpredictability associated with filming. As far as the flying goes, Tony

says, “the biplane stuff is the difficult stuff. You are often extremely low, very close, and the aeroplanes are manoeuvrable but you can still lose them. You put yourself in really tight spots where you wouldn't normally fly any type of aircraft.” Less frenetic was 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. “That was an ‘in’ from people I’d worked with before on Young Sherlock Holmes, which was produced by Steven Spielberg; we built an ornithopter for that. The art department guys who were on that made an initial contact here, and asked what we could supply in the way of a German biplane. That started the whole trail of using, again, a modified Stampe to hang underneath a Zeppelin, and converting Pilatus P2s into fighters. They were good people to work with. Budget-wise it wasn’t like anyone was going to say, ‘We can’t really afford this’.” For Tony and PPS, the 1980s had been hectic. There had been work for Stephen Grey, restoring Spitfire IX ML417 (and converting it from two-seat configuration), and flying some of his great collection. There was the preparation of Mosquito B35 RS712 for delivery across the Atlantic to Kermit Weeks, a throwback to the days when PPS had looked after the fleet assembled for Mosquito

ABOVE: A low pass at the 1988 Badminton Air Day in Spitfire Ia AR213, by far the ‘Spit’ most associated with PPS. By this time it was owned by Victor Gauntlett and Peter Livanos. PETER R. MARCH 75

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Squadron. And while the death in 1986 of Patrick Lindsay robbed the company of one of its most loyal clients, several of his aeroplanes stayed with PPS under new ownership. Most notable was Spitfire AR213, acquired by Victor Gauntlett and Peter Livanos. But with the 1990s came new challenges.

BELOW: Sopwith Camel replica G-BPOB — a Tallmantz replica used in The Great Waldo Pepper, which joined the Bianchi fleet in 1989 — and the Morane N in their new surroundings at Stow Maries. DAVID WHITWORTH

“I couldn’t see that the engineering side was producing enough”, says Tony, “and the recession had come along. I thought I’d got to do something”. With movie work dropping off due to the increasing use of CGI (computer-generated imagery), during 1992 the Blue Max Movie Aircraft Museum was set up at Wycombe. “That did well. I’d say it paid the overheads for five or six years. But because we were lacking room here, I always thought there would be a better place to do it. I knew Clive Hughes at Compton Abbas very well, and he and I thought that would be a good place because he was getting so much passing trade in the restaurant. We shifted the whole thing down there, and to my dismay it wasn’t any better there than anywhere else”. The Flying Aces Museum duly shut up shop in 2010, an imaginative effort but one

Seven years ago we made the solid decision that we were happy to pull the plug. I think we eked the most out of it in every area. We’ve turned down some pretty significant work


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that didn’t bring the desired success, although it gave the company space at Booker to expand. PPS still had a lot on the go, but there was less new work around. Tony recalls, “Seven years ago we made the solid decision that we were happy to pull the plug. I think we eked the most out of it in every area. We’ve been offered some pretty significant work in the past couple of years and we’ve turned it down, in order that we don’t remain hanging on by our fingernails”. The shipping of Kermit Weeks’ Tempest V EJ693 to its owner in Florida, and then the maiden post-restoration flight of Spitfire MT818/G-AIDN, happily brought two major projects to a close. Like many, Tony is concerned about the lack of new blood coming into the historic aircraft scene, and potentially diminishing levels of enthusiasm for owning old aeroplanes. “We did hope we would sell PPS as a going concern here at Wycombe”, he says, “but I’m not sure people are interested in these companies. Nobody really wants to buy work or ‘lifestyle’ businesses. So, what do we do with it? The net result is that the company will continue alongside Bianchi Aviation Film Services, in its role as an aviation consultancy operation with the widest-ranging portfolio.”

As regards Bianchi Aviation Film Services, Tony feels the time is right to reignite the filming elements, operating the company’s own aeroplanes. “Film companies want to use less CGI now”, he says. “I’ll start promoting it a lot more”. This he will do in parallel with the Racing Repertoire historic motorsport business, which operates a considerable number of cars from the pre-war era through to sports prototypes, with a small sales element in an off-airfield location. The six WW1 replicas have now joined the growing collection at Stow Maries in Essex, albeit still in Bianchi Aviation ownership. Following rebuilds, the ‘Eindecker’ and Sopwith Camel are airworthy with current permits to fly; the Blériot XI is effectively flyable but needs a different propeller, while the Morane N requires an engine overhaul. Tony’s intention is to operate them from Stow Maries, so long as the costs of doing so can be met. Time may now be found for some long-term projects. One is a Fokker Dr.I replica he bought in the States, built to Ron Sands’ drawings, with a Warner Scarab engine. Then there is the ex-Tallmantz ‘Wichita Fokker’ D.VII, which needs quite a bit of work. Both are potentially for sale. The rest of the operational aeroplanes have gone to Turweston. Alongside a Gipsy Moth, a Jungmeister and another undisclosed airframe owned by a client, Tony has two Stampes and a Super Cub, which he operates under the banner of the Classic Aviators Club. In the 1970s and ’80s PPS ran something called the Aerobatic and Artistic Flying Club with CAP 10s to teach tailwheel and aerobatic techniques — certain alumni reached World Championship level. The Classic Aviators Club was an attempt to revive something of that, its aim to pass on ‘traditional flying skills’ to a new generation. Tony hopes Turweston will be a better place than Wycombe at which to make this business work. So opens the next chapter in this remarkable piece of British aviation history. PPS has handled more than 300 different aircraft types and been involved in somewhere around 120 to 130 film productions — a unique record, yet just one example of its exceptional contribution to historic aviation. As Tony says, “It’s a moment in time. And we made it work at the right time.” n


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SUSAN SCOTT 01780 755131 [email protected] AEROPLANE MAY 2017 77

Our new bi-monthly series, examining in depth an Walter HWK 109-509A rocket motor, as used in t

BRIEFING FILE The Walter HWK 109-509A rocket motor’s components

Main control valve

Steam generator


Turbo-pump assembly

C-Stoff pump

Combustion chamber

Starter motor

Main control valve

Steam control valve

3 Turbo-pump assembly

The fuel tanks

The plan at left shows just how uncomfortable the Komet pilot’s position was, sandwiched between tanks of two highly volatile fuels, one of which was lethally corrosive

4 Turbine

C-Stoff T-Stoff


A period view of the HWK 109 engine’s Brennkammer, or combustion chamber, in the foreground, with the tube holding the fuel pipes. AEROPLANE


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he infamous Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket fighter was unique as World War Two’s only operational aircraft of its type, but it proved to be far more dangerous to its pilots than it was to the enemy. With remarkable flight handling characteristics, the majority of the risks were related to the engine, as well as the difficult high-speed dead-stick landings. The Komet’s Hellmuth Walter Kiel Kommanditgesellschaft HWK 109-509A motor is classified as a bipropellant liquidfuelled reaction rocket. The developed service version was known as the ‘hot’ engine, and, as test pilot Rudy Opitz stated, it “had a 10ft-long flame and an exhaust temperature of 1,800°C”. Production versions were the HWK 109-509A-1 and A-2, used in the Me 163B and the Bachem Ba 349 prototypes, and intended for the DFS 228. On the Me 163, the power lever ‘throttle’ had four settings from 20 per cent ‘idle’ of 200kp (kiloponds, equivalent to 2kN or 450lbf, meaning pounds force) to full power of 1,700kp (16.7kN, 3,800lbf ) as used in the climb, but the A version’s throttling did not help fuel efficiency. The engine could be turned off in flight, but


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pth an aspect of aviation technology or tactics. For the first subject we detail the sed in the Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet fighter How the motor worked


Starting 1 Starter motor turned the turbo-pump shaft, drawing T-Stoff through

Cooling jacket

the T-Stoff pump and feeding it to the steam generator via the steam control valve

2 T-Stoff passed through the catalyst in the steam generator, turning it to steam


3 The steam turned the turbine and exhausted to the rear


ain ntrol lve

Steam generator

steam created in the generator

Combustion chamber


Starter motor

T-Stoff pump

Idling 4 Starter motor was disengaged and the motor ran using only the 5 C-Stoff was circulated to the combustion chamber cooling jacket, Valve control linkage

Steam control valve


then returned to the main tank

Throttle up 6 The main control valve was opened via a link from the cockpit 7 Both C-Stoff and T-Stoff were channelled to the combustion


Main fuel lines At idling and At full full throttle throttle C-Stoff T-Stoff Steam


chamber and reacted together to create immense thrust*

8 At the same time, the mechanical linkage to the steam control valve increased the flow of T-Stoff to the steam generator

* Three fuel lines for each fuel led to the combustion chamber so thrust could be crudely regulated. For clarity only one is shown on the diagram


to be held in stainless steel or glass, was highly corrosive to any organic material such as cotton, wool or human flesh. In heavy landings or under shock, the T-Stoff tanks alongside the cockpit could leak their contents onto the pilot, causing serious chemical burns. The pilots were equipped with a fire-retardant asbestos-Mipolamfibre flight suit, but the suits proved porous to liquids.

Fuelling the Me 163 was obviously a hazardous process. AEROPLANE

a delay of two minutes was required before it could be restarted. The colourless fuels were C-Stoff and T-Stoff. C-Stoff was a mix of 30 per cent hydrazine hydrate, plus 57 per cent methanol and 13 per cent water with a small amount of potassium-copper-cyanide. The T-Stoff oxidizer was 80 per cent hydrogen peroxide, a small amount of stabiliser and a wire mesh potassium mix catalyst. C-Stoff was highly reactive and had to be kept in glass or enamelled containers. T-Stoff, which needed


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The engine’s required mix was 3.6 parts of C-Stoff to 10 parts of T-Stoff, but although the engine was adjusted to shut down in the event of an imbalance in fuel flow, any mix variation could result in an explosion. There were 1,160 litres of T-Stoff and 500 litres of C-Stoff in the Me 163, giving five to sevenand-a-half minutes of power. Capt Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown was present at a demonstration in Kiel, and recalled: “Dr Walter took two glass rods, placed a droplet of T-Stoff on one and an equally minute quantity of C-Stoff on the other. He then inclined the rods until the droplet of T-Stoff fell to the floor, the C-Stoff following it. There was immediately a violent explosion, despite the

tiny quantities of fuel and catalyst involved, both rods being shattered in Dr Walter’s hands”. Other rocket motors and combustion engines usually require an additional ignition source, effectively a useful safety measure. Although rocket motors remain exceptional as a primary powerplant in production aircraft, the work started in the 1920s by Walter, and massively accelerated by World War Two, fed into many modern applications of similarly configured — but much safer — technology. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: We would like to thank the RAF Museum for their assistance with the research for the graphics in this feature.

FIND OUT MORE… A comprehensive website on the engine can be found at, which also lists surviving motors that can be found on display. 79

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Technical Details In Service


Tanker, transport, spyplane and more


On alert with SAC’s trusty KC-97 tankers

ABOVE: 7405th Support Squadron C-97G 52-2688 climbs out of Tempelhof Central Airport in West Berlin on 28 February 1965. RALF MANTEUFEL



Building on Boeing’s bomber experience

YC-97A 45-59588 1st Strategic Support Squadron, US Air Force CHRIS SANDHAM-BAILEY


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Building on Boeing’s bomber experience


he United States’ entry into World War Two brought into production an unprecedented number of innovations across the entire range of military hardware. Aircraft concepts that had hitherto been nothing more than drawing-board ideas were soon the subject of serious consideration. The pre-war proliferation of twin-engine, medium-range airlifters was to be complemented by more capable transports, able to deliver men, equipment, supplies and all manner of wartime materiel with intercontinental range. There was a requirement to span the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with the minimum of refuelling stops. Lockheed designed arguably the most beautiful airliner of this golden era, with its Model 049 Constellation. Never to be outdone, Boeing produced the C-97

First prototype XC-97 43-27470 shows clearly the type’s B-29 lineage, with the fin and rudder from the standard Superfortress. USAF


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Stratofreighter. Whereas the ‘Connie’ was intended primarily for the commercial market, the ‘Strat’ was definitely aimed at military service. Ironically, the first Constellations were diverted to the military, while the C-97, in the shape of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, enjoyed a subsequent post-war career with several major airlines. The accomplishments of the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-29 Superfortress during World War Two convinced Boeing that a transport aircraft based upon these basic patterns was ideal. To accommodate a respectable payload, the manufacturer re-engineered the fuselage to have a double lobe, accessed through a large forward door that hinged upwards, as well as rear-opening clamshell doors. The first nine C-97s enjoyed much commonality with the B-29, having similar length and wingspan, along with Wright R-3350 radial engines. Subsequent Stratofreighters were comparable to the B-29’s larger brother, the B-50, with the latter’s wings, landing gear, taller tail and Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major powerplants. Three prototype XC-97s were purchased from Fiscal Year 1943 funding. The first Model 367, as it was known in the Boeing type number series, emerged from the Renton plant in Seattle and took to the air for a maiden flight on 9 November 1944.

Its serial was 43-27470. Evaluation by Boeing and the US Army Air Force followed, although the war had ended before the C-97 was cleared for production. The XC-97 trio preceded 10 slightly enhanced pre-production versions ordered in 1945, the first six being designated as YC-97s, followed by three YC-97As, and finally a YC-97B. The XC-97s and YC-97s lacked the chin-mounted weather radar. Fifty production C-97As were acquired from 1948 and 1949 funding. Deliveries to the US Military Air Transport Service (MATS), a joint Air Force/Navy organisation, began in April 1950, all four of its major airlift units receiving examples that year. These were MATS’ first longrange, pressurised airlifters. The war in Korea highlighted the need to repatriate wounded personnel from hospitals in the Far East back home to the USA. Fourteen C-97C models were ordered in 1950 for this aeromedical evacuation task, these having the range to island-hop to Guam and Hawaii, before disembarking patients at Travis AFB, California, for onward transportation to their home stations by other means. Internally they were outfitted to convey patients on stretchers, medical staff, and first aid and medicines, with limited treatment areas.


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However, when Boeing produced the 367-80 and the resulting KC-135 Stratotanker, the need for a turboprop KC-97 was negated. The two YC-97Js continued their development work, stationed at Norton AFB, California, and assigned to the 2848th Air Base


Version Number Fiscal ordered Year(s) XC-97 3 1943 YC-97 6 1945 YC-97A 3 1945 YC-97B 1 1945 C-97A 50 1948-49 C-97C 14 1950 KC-97E 60 1951 KC-97F 159 1951 KC-97G 592 1952-53 Total: 888


The US Air Force asked Boeing to investigate the new Pratt & Whitney YT34-P-5 turboprops, rated at 5,700hp, for installation on a C-97. KC-97G 52-2762 was diverted from the production line and modified by Boeing to become the YC-97J, with the aerial refuelling mechanism deleted. It flew on 19 April 1955. The San Antonio Air Materiel Area at Kelly AFB was the primary operator, with evaluation carried out by the 1700th Test Squadron. Tests attained a top speed of 417mph (671km/h) at 20,000ft (6,096m), against the G model’s 375mph (603km/h). The rate of climb to cruise altitude was more than three times faster. A second aircraft was obtained when KC-97G 52-2693 was transferred from the 99th Bomb Wing at Biggs AFB, Texas, modified and joined the 1700th TS. Evaluation was centred upon Kelly AFB and Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

compatibility tests. These began in October 1950, primarily with the Air Proving Ground Center at Eglin AFB, Florida. Initial results were satisfactory, enabling the Air Force to proceed with production contracts. The three KC-97As completed their test programme before reverting to C-97A status in the spring of 1953 following removal of the refuelling equipment. The first production tanker version was the KC-97E, 60 being ordered in 1951. These had Pratt & Whitney R-4360-35A engines rated at 3,500hp. Deliveries began in July 1951 when 51-0183 joined the 306th Air Refueling Squadron, 306th Bomb Wing at MacDill AFB, Florida. The second unit to form was the 305th ARS, part of the 305th BW, also at MacDill. It briefly operated YC-97s for aircrew cockpit familiarisation pending arrival of its first KC-97E in December 1951. Other KC-97E units included the 68th BW at Lake Charles AFB, Louisiana, and the 308th BW at Hunter AFB, Georgia. Training for refuelling operations with the KC-97 began in April 1952, enabling

In Service


KC-97Gs in the final assembly area at the Boeing plant in Renton, Washington. During most of 1954 the aircraft were rolling out at a rate of one per working day. In the foreground is 52-2718, the aircraft soon to fly again with the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation. AEROPLANE

Technical Details

Post-World War Two, an improved hose-and-‘shuttlecock’ drogue method was introduced for air-to-air refuelling, and 92 KB-29M tankers joined US Air Force Strategic Air Command from 1948. Refinements by Boeing produced the ‘flying boom’ arrangement commonplace today. This was more efficient, requiring the skill of a boom operator to position the end of the telescopic connector above the receiver aircraft, and physically make the union into a receptacle just forward or aft of the latter’s cockpit. Some 116 Superfortresses were modified with this capability, becoming KB-29P models. However, the B-29 was relatively slow, and ill-suited to refuel jet receivers. Invariably the tanker was flown in a gentle dive to gain more airspeed. The receiver mirrored this manoeuvre, which became more difficult to balance as additional fuel was taken on board. The C-97, by contrast, was faster and could attain a marginally better altitude than the modified B-29s. This rendered the whole refuelling process much easier, safer and more practical for regular operational employment. The type’s configuration afforded the potential for dual-role use on a single mission, making it the first practical tanker/transport type. C-97As 49-2591, -2592 and -2596 were modified on the production line by Boeing for air refuelling evaluation, designated as the KC-97A. The flying boom was installed, and an assortment of receivers, including early versions of the B-47 Stratojet, was assessed during

planners to commence preparations for long-range sorties with B-47s. The KC-97E was a difficult aircraft to master, instructors stating that if students could convert to this version they would be fine with subsequent models. The slightly improved KC-97F began to enter service when 51-0244 was delivered to the 26th ARS, 26th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Lockbourne AFB, Ohio on 12 May 1952. A total of 159 were produced. Both the KC-97E and F models had four 1,800-gallon fuel tanks secured to the cargo floor. These could be removed for extra cargo capacity if necessary. They were powered by R-4360-59Bs producing 3,800hp. The later KC-97G had seven tanks permanently installed along the port side of the fuselage, along with a further eight in lower compartments. The KC-97G was the final new-build tanker version, featuring the addition of two 700-gallon underwing fuel tanks. Virtually all joined SAC, the first, 51-7263, being delivered to the 303rd ARS, 303rd BW at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona on 3 June 1953. Most of the command’s Air Refueling Squadrons had a nominal strength of 20 aircraft. Every Bombardment Wing included a single ARS, while two dedicated Air Refueling Wings had a pair of squadrons. The 4050th and 4060th ARWs were established in 1955 at Westover AFB, Massachusetts and Dow AFB, Maine respectively. A number of other similar wings were subsequently formed. During a production run lasting 41 months, 592 KC-97Gs were delivered.




Wing. They were retired in 1964, with 22762 ending its days at Norton the following year. 22693 was placed in storage at Davis-Monthan in mid-1964, but after a brief period was acquired by Aero Spacelines as a donor of parts to the first Super Guppy outside airlifter.

Subsequent versions

C-97B, C-97D, VC-97D JC-97A, KC-97A, NC-97A C-97E, GKC-97E C-97D, C-97F, GKC-97F, JC-97F C-97G, C-97K, GKC-97G, HC-97G, KC-97H, KC-97L, NC-97K, YC-97J 83

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The very adaptable ‘double-lobe’ transport


he distinctive shape of the C-97 resulted from what Boeing describes as “a double-lobe fuselage consisting of two intersecting circular sections”. The design of the lower part of the fuselage was the same as that of the B-29, onto which the wider upper fuselage section was built. The wings and the fin and rudder initially followed the basic Superfortress pattern too, but — as described in the previous section — were changed after the XC-97 prototypes and the first few pre-production YC-97s to the taller arrangement used on the B-29’s immediate successor, the B-50. The C-97 in all its

forms was well-liked by aircrews as the fuselage configuration placed the cockpit as far forward as possible, surrounded by windows, and enabling an excellent view of the ground. When it came to the air-to-air refuelling role, the C-97 appeared to be an ideal tanker aircraft. Fuel for the receivers could be contained within tanks located in a limited area of the cargo floor, enabling much of the remaining space to be available for passengers and freight. As time went on, different KC-97 variants adopted a variety of fuel tank configurations. The refuelling boom was 27ft 7in (8.40m)

ABOVE: An excellent view of the C-97’s double-deck, ‘double-bubble’ fuselage arrangement. AEROPLANE

long when stowed, but extended to 47ft 4in (14.42m). Stability was achieved through a pair of 4ft 6in (1.37m) ‘ruddervators’ mounted on the boom end in a ‘V’ shape. The boom could travel through 17° side-to-side, and 25° up and

down. Its telescopic effect counteracted some oscillations. Automatic disconnects ensured a clean break and a fuel shut-off in the event of the receiver getting too close or too far away from the tanker.

SPECIFICATIONS: KC-97G POWERPLANTS: Four Pratt & Whitney R-4360-59 Wasp Majors, 3,500hp each; plus two General Electric J47-GE-23 turbojets, 5,790lb thrust each, on KC-97L model

ABOVE: An engine nacelle and intake being loaded into a C-97 via the clamshell rear doors, which could not be opened in flight. AEROPLANE


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Length: 110ft 4in (33.63m) Height: 38ft 3in (11.66m) Wingspan: 141ft 3in (43.05m)


Empty: 82,500lb (37,421kg) Loaded: 153,000lb (69,400kg) Maximum take-off: 175,000lb (79,379kg)


9,000 gallons (40,914 litres)


Maximum speed: 375mph (603km/h) Cruise speed: 300mph (483km/h) Range: 4,300 miles (6,920km) Service ceiling: 30,000ft (9,144m)

CREW: Six (aircraft commander, co-pilot, navigator, flight engineer, radio operator, boom operator)


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DATABASE BOEING C-97 Development


Technical Details


In Service




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Tanker, transport, spyplane, rescue platform and more XC-97 The first XC-97, 43-27470, was initially stationed at Kirtland Army Air Field, New Mexico and assigned to the 428th Army Air Force Base Unit. This was a Strategic Air Command unit, but it was transferred to Air Materiel Command (AMC) on 1 December 1946. The assignment to Kirtland was related to the nearby Sandia Laboratories, where the Manhattan Project had been established in the utmost secrecy to develop the first atomic bomb. Sister XC-97s 43-27471 and 27472 were delivered to Wright-Patterson, BELOW: 1st Strategic Support Squadron YC-97A 45-59595 approaches Berlin-Tempelhof on 4 May 1949. GRANGER, NYC/TOPFOTO

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joining AMC’s 4000th Army Air Forces Base Unit. 43-27470 was involved in 1947’s Project ‘Chickenpox’, an evaluation to ferry nuclear weapon components and assemble them before arrival at their destination. Internal modifications included workbenches, cradles to secure bomb sections, and seating for weapons engineers. At the time these ‘special weapons’ were stored disassembled at Atomic Energy Commission nuclear facilities in New Mexico, and moved to their destinations as components. Later this was changed to having five AMC nuclear facilities (known as Operational Storage Sites) in the northern and western USA. Both methods were inconvenient, and SAC switched some years afterwards to the ‘bombs on base’ arrangement.

A further seven YC-97s were to have been modified. However, after much delay due primarily to wrangling over funding being provided jointly by AMC and the AEC, the project was abandoned. The third XC-97, 43-27472, was dedicated to experimentation, and was carrying out development work when it was destroyed in a crash near Dayton, Ohio on 22 May 1947, killing the five crew. The two remaining aircraft were retired by 1955.

YC-97 Initially the YC-97s served with US Air Transport Command (ATC), divided between four major operating bases at Fairfield-Suisun, California (later renamed Travis AFB), Hickam Field in Hawaii, Kelly Field in Texas and Westover Field in Massachusetts. ATC was merged into MATS on 1 June 1948, its major flying units being given four-digit numerical identities. The YC-97s’ tenure with MATS was quite brief, as by 1950 they

had been replaced by the C-97A. Five YC-97s were reassigned to the 1st Strategic Support Squadron at Biggs AFB, along with 12 C-97As. Their role was to pioneer the movement of armaments — in particular nuclear munitions — and personnel during large-scale exercises and deployments. Unlike most early C-97 models, those of the 1st SSS were decorated with a large, highly distinctive, stylised green wing and cheatline extending from the nose. Arctic high-visibility red was liberally applied to the tail and wingtips. 1st SSS YC-97A 45-59595 participated in the later stages of the Berlin Airlift during May 1949, delivering 444 tons of cargo in 23 missions. On the 23rd sortie, the aircraft damaged its undercarriage in a heavy landing at RAF Gatow and was not repaired until the operation had ceased. The service lives of most of the squadron’s Stratofreighters were relatively short; they were reassigned within MATS by

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DATABASE BOEING C-97 Industries (IAI) in 1961-62 through an ‘office of convenience’ in New York City. These did not join the military, and little is known of their Middle Eastern careers other than that they went on to be scrapped. YC-97A 45-59593 was returned to Boeing and occasionally flown on test and support missions before retirement in January 1965.

KC-97E Beginning in mid-August 1956, 44 of the 60 KC-97Es

In Service

While MATS C-97As and Cs plied the route from Hickam Field, Hawaii to Haneda, Japan, the underpowered YC-97s flew the easier leg from Hickam to Travis AFB, California

were reassigned to crew training with the 3510th Combat Crew Training Wing at Randolph AFB, Texas, under Air Training Command. This task was transferred to SAC on 1 July 1958 with the formation of the 4397th Combat Crew Training Squadron, part of the 4397th ARW, also at Randolph. Three Randolph-based aircraft subsequently joined the co-located technical training school for ground instruction, becoming GKC-97Es (later replaced by two F and then seven G-models). As the improved F-model arrived, the KC-97E was withdrawn from active-duty service during 1959 and 1960, only one joining the Air National Guard. The majority were cannibalised and

Technical Details

Center at Griffiss AFB, New York until being sold by August 1960. Of the six YC-97s, one was reclaimed for spares at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma in December 1958. The other five were sold to the civilian market for duties including freight deliveries, crop-spraying and alleged weapons smuggling into central Africa, although their time in private ownership was fairly brief. All were cancelled from the US register between 1961 and 1964. Three were acquired by Israeli Aircraft


June 1951, when deliveries of the Douglas C-124 to Biggs AFB began. The 1266th Air Transport Squadron at Hickam had five YC-97s by mid-1949. While MATS C-97As and Cs plied the route from the Hawaiian base to Haneda AB, Japan, the underpowered YC-97s flew the easier Hickam to Travis leg. YC-97s, 45-59587, -59589, -59591 and -59592 were transferred to the 55th SRW at Forbes AFB, Kansas by 1953 in a support role, but were retired to the 3040th Aircraft Storage Squadron — the forerunner of the Military Aircraft Storage and Disposition Center (MASDC) — at Davis-Monthan between June and October 1954. 45-59588 and -59590 served the Rome Air Development


C-97C 50-0693 of the 1600th Air Transport Wing from Westover AFB, Massachusetts during a stop-over at Lajes, Azores during the mid-1950s. It sports the legend of the MATS Atlantic Division within the tail band. BOB ARCHER COLLECTION

ABOVE: A long way from its Van Nuys base, C-97A 48-0416 of the California ANG’s 115th Air Transport Squadron was visiting Paris-Orly in June 1963, possibly in connection with the Paris Air Show at nearby Le Bourget. ADRIAN M. BALCH COLLECTION

C-97A/C MATS had 19 squadrons flying C-97A/C models, split between the Atlantic, Continental and Pacific Divisions. These demarcations were clearly displayed within the familiar MATS dark blue and yellow tail band. The organisation’s examples of these two derivatives were also involved in aircrew training conducted by the 1707th Air Transport Wing at Palm Beach AFB, Florida, formed on 1 September 1951 as the ‘University of MATS’. As the requirement for aircrew increased, SAC KC-97s were flown from Palm Beach for cockpit training of that command’s crews. Having graduated from the MATS ‘schoolhouse’, SAC crews completed air refuelling training at their home stations. C-97A/Cs served MATS faithfully until the first months of 1960. Instead of retirement, 36 C-97As and 12 C-97Cs were transferred to the Air National Guard (ANG) from January 1960, serving numerous states including California,


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Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York and Oklahoma. The first ANG aircraft was 48-0410, delivered to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on 14 January 1960. All were phased out during 1963-64, replaced by the more capable C-97F and G models. After a period of conventional airlift tasks, 48-0400 was allocated to test duties at Wright-Patterson before becoming an NC-97A with the Missile Development Center at Holloman AFB, New Mexico during the second half of 1963 on a NASA-related task with equipment supplied by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Another specialist aircraft was JC-97A 48-0397, which tested electronic intelligence equipment at Wright-Patterson with the Wright Air Development Center. In November 1959, the aircraft staged to Wiesbaden AB, Germany, almost certainly to evaluate sensors operationally with the resident 7405th Support Squadron. 87

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ABOVE: During its service with the Oklahoma ANG’s 137th Military Airlift Wing, ‘Talking Bird’ C-97E 51‑0224 prepares to taxi on a wet day at RAF Upper Heyford during May 1968. ADRIAN M. BALCH

scrapped at Davis-Monthan soon after retirement. KC-97E 51-0224 was reprieved and transferred on 1 March 1960 to Tinker AFB for modification to C-97E standard with a secure communications suite installed, known as ‘Talking Bird’. It was delivered to the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina in November 1960, and was used as a command post to maintain contact between the US President and Washington during visits away from the capital. The system was ground-based, with the aircraft situated at a suitable nearby location throughout each presidential excursion. The arrival of the first Boeing EC-135K ‘Head Dancer’ airborne command posts (ACPs) to the 4th TFW in January 1961 enabled the C-97E to be reassigned to the Oklahoma ANG the following month. It carried the name Miss Oklahoma City. Despite the reservist assignment, active-duty communications personnel were on stand-by to fly aboard the ‘Talking Bird’ when required. During September 1961, the aircraft was flown to Incirlik AB, Turkey to establish a secure radio link with the government in Ankara as well as Washington. Reports suggested that the Soviets wished to extend their sphere of communist influence into


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western Turkey from Bulgaria. A contingent of Turkish Army troops was sent to the border between the two countries, but the problem failed to materialise. The ‘Talking Bird’s’ worldwide communications system was a vital tool, rapidly informing the US and Turkish authorities of developments. It later supported operations during the Vietnam War. The C-97E remained in this communications role with the ANG until retirement at the end of 1972.

fighter movements, which are routine today. Retirement of the KC-97E, combined with the vast number of KC-97F and G models in SAC service, enabled the 4397th ARW to acquire 40 KC-97Fs for training from early January 1960. These were operated until the requirement for additional KC-97 aircrew diminished, and the unit was inactivated on 15 June 1962. Of the surplus KC-97Fs, 85 were transferred to the ANG,

The ‘Talking Bird’ C-97E was used as a command post to maintain contact between the US President and Washington during his visits away from the capital... it was a vital tool KC-97F Although KC-97s, including the F-model, primarily air-refuelled SAC’s bombers, the command also operated nuclear-capable Republic F-84 Thunderjets within Strategic Fighter Wings. These fighterbombers were periodically deployed non-stop to Europe and North Africa with in-flight refuelling from pre-positioned KC-97s at Thule AB in Greenland, Kindley Field in Bermuda and Lajes AB in the Azores. These ‘show of strength’ deployments developed the rapid exploitation of intercontinental

starting in the spring of 1961. Some continued in the aerial refuelling role, while others performed airlift with the removal of the exterior flying boom and its housing, although most did not change designation. Thirteen reserve squadrons operated the F-model from May 1961, all but three flying airlift missions. The last left the Guard in April 1964, replaced by surplus G-models. A small number performed specialist tasks. Three were flown as support/staff transports, including 51-0243 with the 3970th Strategic Wing at Torrejón AB, Spain,

and later the 2nd BW at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. 51-0281 was allocated to General Dynamics some time after 1960, and was flown in support of the F-111 programme. This aircraft accompanied the first two F-111s that toured Europe in May 1967, visiting the 20th TFW at RAF Wethersfield and the Paris Air Show. The third aircraft, 51-0395, joined the 4392nd Aerospace Support Group at Vandenberg AFB, California in 1960, and was redesignated as a C-97D in 1962. All three were painted with white upper surfaces, and were equipped with conventional seats for passengers as well as a galley to prepare food during lengthy missions. They were retired between 1968 and 1971. KC-97F 51-0332 was not delivered to SAC, but was diverted to test duties, being modified with a pair of hose-and-drogue refuelling units beneath the wings outboard of the engines. It went to Convair at Fort Worth in December 1952. Evaluation took place at Eglin AFB with the Air Proving Ground Center in March 1953, and the Wright Air Development Center at Wright-Patterson the following year. The aircraft was designated as a JKC-97F. Production examples would have been called the KC-97H. Despite being capable of refuelling two aircraft simultaneously, and supporting Tactical Air Command (TAC) fighters with a compatible probe, the development did not proceed. TAC instead adopted the system on KB-50s. 51-0332 was bailed to Sperry Flight Systems at St Augustine, Florida by April 1959, and modified as a testbed for the B-58 Hustler’s radar, with the pointed nose profile of the supersonic bomber fitted beneath the cockpit. The designation JC-97F was applied, as the refuelling apparatus was removed. Upon service introduction of the B-58, the JC-97F was retired to storage in March 1960.


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1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 21







KC-97G 52-2638 — with SAC’s star-spangled ‘Milky Way’ sash around the central fuselage — refuels B-52B 53-0373. The Stratofortress had to be in landing configuration to stay with the slower tanker. USAF


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The wholesale replacement of the KC-97G by the KC-135A involved hundreds of the former being retired, some for long-term storage with MASDC. However, the air force realised that a great many others could be reworked at marginal cost into a capable airlifter. The aerial refuelling boom housing and boom operator’s position were replaced with a clamshell door arrangement, and the extra tankage in the cargo hold was deleted. Such was the scale of the programme that several aerospace contractors were involved including Hayes Aircraft at Birmingham, Alabama and Garrett AiResearch of Los Angeles, California. Some conversions were accomplished in just over a month, while others would appear to have been more complicated, taking up to three times as long. This would suggest that further work was required on some of the airframes. The first of 183 C-97Gs, 52-0934, joined the Oklahoma ANG at Will Rogers Airport on 9 July 1962. Eighteen ANG squadrons received 153 of the aircraft, which formed the backbone of the reserve component’s intercontinental airlift capability, augmenting the active-duty USAF throughout much of the Vietnam War period. The remainder were operated in staff transport roles, some later being redesignated as the C-97K. Almost all came direct from SAC units for modification and were not retired for storage in the interim. The aircraft were frequent visitors to US aerial ports worldwide. After sterling service, the Guard withdrew the C-97G, with 53-0365 being the final example retired by the Minnesota ANG on 8 October 1971 (it also had the later distinction of being the last one delivered to Israel). The variant was supplanted in ANG service by the

In Service

were included, normally with just one maintained on ‘strip alert’ at each base to respond to any situation. To aid the rapid movement of strategic bombers overseas, it was commonplace for tankers to be forward-deployed at bases such as Lajes, Hickam, and Andersen AFB, Guam. Furthermore, a number were prepositioned at other overseas locations at any given time to support the dispersed bomber fleet. SAC operated the KC-97 for just over 15 years, until it was replaced in service by the KC-135 almost on a one-for-one basis. Thirty-eight Air Refueling Squadrons flew one or more of the three versions of tankers within the command. The KC-97 was removed from ground alert on 10 November 1965, when the 9th ARS, 9th BW at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho ceased the duty. The final SAC KC-97Gs in service were 53-0224 of the 384th ARS, 499th ARW at Westover AFB and 53-0240 of the 307th ARS, 500th ARW at Selfridge AFB, which were retired on 7 June 1966. The KC-97 enabled SAC’s bomber crews to plan and train for retaliation with a degree of survivability against perceived enemies, including Russia and China. Aerial refuelling combined with forward-basing was the true deterrent factor that countered any Soviet ambitions to start an all-out war with NATO. Surplus KC-97s had considerable airframe hours remaining when retired from activeduty service. More than half were assigned to a second career, mostly with the Air National Guard. Of the 592 KC-97Gs produced, 338 continued with another duty after retirement from SAC. These became the C-97G basic airlifter, C-97K staff transport, HC-97G air/sea rescue platform and the ANG’s enhanced KC-97L tanker variants, each of which is detailed separately.

Technical Details

At the peak of production, a KC-97G was being delivered to SAC every three days — this alongside B-47s and B-52s, meaning that the parking areas at Boeing’s Seattle plant resembled a giant SAC base. The last KC-97G delivery was 53-3816, which joined the 98th ARS, 98th BW at Lincoln AFB, Nebraska on 16 November 1956. It is worth noting that aircraft were routinely reassigned to other squadrons, often after major overhaul, to ensure that each unit maintained the nominal strength necessary to be declared combat-configured. At the height of SAC’s numerical heyday, several bases had two full wings of bombers and tankers in residence. Close to 200 aircraft were thus assigned, although in reality the deployment situation — along with the number of aircraft undergoing major overhaul at the Air Materiel Area (AMA) depots, and those receiving routine maintenance at their home stations — ensured that half this number were available for routine operations. A major review by SAC reorganised this; now there would be no more than one flying wing per location. In the early 1950s, SAC adopted a policy to deploy entire squadrons of bombers and tankers to overseas locations for three months’ duration. This proved extremely disruptive to operations, as the support necessary was vast, involving hundreds of personnel and huge quantities of equipment and spare parts being shipped over considerable distances — frequently to intercontinental destinations. KC-97s were involved in the three-month squadron movements, often temporarily located at a separate base from the bombers. ‘Reflex Action’ was implemented in July 1957, whereby small numbers of aircraft rotated to overseas bases for three-week alert periods. Limited numbers of tankers


KC-97G 89

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ABOVE: C-97G 52-2633 bedecked in a VIP-style scheme. This was a support aircraft for the 134th Air Refueling Group at McGhee/Tyson Airport, Tennessee. BOB ARCHER COLLECTION

C-124 Globemaster II, Lockheed C-130A Hercules and Cessna U-3 ‘Blue Canoe’.

C-97K A number of surplus KC-97Gs were retained by the Air Force for staff transport. One, 52-0834, was designated as an NC-97K for test duties with the Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright-Patterson, while 30 more became C-97Ks. In all cases, the refuelling boom and boom operator’s position were removed, and the area faired over. White upper surfaces were applied to deflect the sun’s heat from permeating the passenger-configured area. Seating was installed, and some examples had a more opulent interior, appropriate to the particular status of the passengers carried. The 30 aircraft served SAC exclusively, being stationed at command headquarters, as well as the numbered air force and divisional headquarters. Within the USA, these included Barksdale, March, Offutt and Westover AFBs, while overseas locations were Andersen,

Torrejón and Goose Bay, Canada. The first C-97Ks were so designated in mid-1963. SAC’s last C-97s were four C-97Ks, three of which served until April 1973, while 53-0197 ended active-duty operations two months later. It was said that when one of these VIP aircraft (sometimes the C-97D, but more often the K-model) landed unannounced at a SAC base, it habitually carried a team of inspectors from the Strategic Evaluation Squadron to perform a no-notice assessment of combatreadiness — an annual event that could make or break a station commander’s career, depending on the outcome. A single C-97K was transferred to the US Navy in January 1970, joining the Naval Weapons Center at China Lake, California. A

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KC-97L Surplus KC-97Fs and KC-97Gs joined the Air National Guard, enabling the USAF to retain experienced aerial refuelling personnel after their retirement from active duty. However, the KC-97 had its shortcomings, principally during take-offs by a fully loaded aircraft during hot and humid weather, when an engine failure spelt potential disaster. To remain airborne in

The first Operation ‘Creek Party’ rotational detachment to Germany from May 1967 worked so well that the ANG sought additional capacity by funding a further 26 KC-97Ls

ABOVE: C-97K 51-0395 was the only F-model that changed to K configuration, effective September 1962. It served with the 4392nd Aerospace Support Group at Vandenberg AFB. BOB ARCHER COLLECTION


mini-aircraft carrier deck at the base was used for tasks including research and development of seaborne firefighting equipment and techniques. The C-97 was used to provide the wind over the deck from its four engines when powered up. A Lockheed P-3 Orion has since replaced it.

those circumstances, the crew could elect to jettison the externally mounted underwing fuel tanks. This was often impossible, as many ANG KC-97 bases were located close to populated areas. Engineering technician 1st Lt Philip Meyer of the Illinois ANG suggested the addition of supplementary General Electric J47 jet engines (with 2,554lb/1,158kg dry thrust) from retired KB-50s to offer additional power during the critical take-off stage. These replaced the underwing fuel tanks. KC-97G 52-2697 was modified by Hayes Aircraft at Birmingham, Alabama, from May 1964. Trials proved the tanker could now attain an altitude of 30,000ft (9,144m), that its speed was increased by 30kt, and that its take-off roll was significantly improved. Paradoxically, the conversion coincided with a time when SAC KC-135s were unable to fully meet Tactical Air Command’s wartime refuelling requirements. Starting in early 1965, 56 KC-97Gs were modified to KC-97L standard. Each conversion was fairly straightforward, and took just five or six weeks to complete. Seven squadrons received eight aircraft each, the final example being returned to service in August 1966. By this time there was an almost insatiable demand for SAC KC-135s to support escalating combat requirements in Southeast Asia, as well as the maintenance of an effective alert posture at Stateside bomber bases.

ABOVE: An 87th Fighter Interceptor Squadron F-106A and a 58th Tactical Fighter Training Wing F-15A being replenished by Arizona ANG KC-97L 53-0244 during September 1975. BOB ARCHER COLLECTION


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Whereas active-duty KC-97s were exclusively operated by SAC, it had no interest in those of the ANG, which were assigned to Tactical Air Command as their major gaining command in the event of mobilisation. ‘Creek Party’ involved Guardsmen volunteering their two-week commitment and did not entail personnel being activated to full-time status. What began as a one-year operation eventually lasted for 10 years, and set a new benchmark for overseas deployments by reservists. It ceased in April 1977. By this time most of the 10 KC-97L squadrons had converted to the KC-135 or other types, the Texas ANG being the last. 53-0282 left NAS Dallas on 23 June 1978 following the 136th ARW’s switch to the tactical airlift role with the C-130B. This effectively ended USAF flight operations with the magnificent Stratofreighter.


The routine air refuelling training needs of US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) fighter units were practically impossible for SAC to fulfil. The ANG therefore began an evaluation in Germany with the KC-97L during February 1967. It proved successful, and on 1 May 1967 RheinMain AB saw the first twoweek rotation of five aircraft under Operation ‘Creek Party’. This worked so well that the ANG sought extra capability by funding a further 26 KC-97Ls, which were withdrawn from storage at Davis-Monthan and flown to Birmingham for conversion beginning in March 1970. Due to their protracted desert sojourns, these airframes required longer to modify as each had to be renovated to operational standard. Most took several months to complete, the last being delivered to the New York ANG in September 1971.

In Service

ABOVE: Wisconsin ANG KC-97L 52-2698 refuelling a Woodbridgebased 78th TFS F-4D in September 1969. BOB ARCHER COLLECTION

Technical Details

TOP: KC-97Ls from the Illinois ANG on a ‘Creek Party’ detachment to Rhein-Main in October 1975. DENIS J. CALVERT

The Douglas HC-54 Rescuemaster was operated by the USAF Air Rescue Service, primarily on overwater missions, but was rapidly becoming unsuitable. Duties included supporting the recovery of space vehicles, such as the Gemini spacecraft, which the HC-54 struggled to accomplish. The HC-130 was lined up for the role, but the Hercules was in such demand that Lockheed was unable to meet orders quickly. There was an urgent need to fill the gap on a temporary basis, and the vast number of surplus KC-97s enabled the Air Rescue Service to select the type as an interim rescue aircraft. Fairchild Stratos Corporation (later Fairchild Hiller) was contracted to convert 28 KC-97Gs to HC-97G configuration. The selected machines were flown direct from their SAC squadrons to Fairchild’s plant at St Augustine, Florida, beginning in 1964. Completed aircraft joined the 55th, 58th and 76th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadrons at Kindley Field in Bermuda, Wheelus AB in Libya, and Hickam AFB between May and November 1964. Modification involved the replacement of the refuelling boom assembly with clamshell doors to enable pararescuemen and their equipment to egress the aircraft safely. A long-range search radar was mounted above the fuselage. Internal fuel tanks were retained, enabling the HC-97s to remain on station for up to 22 hours and still have a two-hour fuel reserve. High-frequency radios were installed, along with SARAH (Search and Rescue and Homing) beacons, the latter supplied by NASA to support the space recovery programme. Life rafts were also carried. By 1966 the HC-130H was entering service in sufficient numbers for the HC-97 to be replaced, although the expense of modifying the C-97 was such that the Air Force Reserve (AFRes) was selected to transition to the Boeing type. The 303rd and 305th ARRS at March AFB, California and Selfridge AFB, Michigan began conversion from the Grumman HU-16 Albatross, a total of 18 HC-97Gs being transferred. The SARAH system was returned to NASA, as support for spacecraft recovery was retained by the active-duty HC-130 units. The HC-97s continued operations until 1972 when enough HC-130s were available for AFRes to convert too. 52-2791 was the last HC-97G to be retired, leaving March AFB for storage on 7 July 1972. Throughout their career with the Air Rescue Service (which was part of MATS), and for a brief period with Military Airlift Command and AFRes, the HC-97Gs were painted in a light grey overall scheme, with a yellow ‘rescue’ stripe outlined in black around the rear fuselage and across the tail.



ABOVE: HC-97G 52-0916 was one of 28 former SAC KC-97Gs converted for the air rescue role. BOB ARCHER COLLECTION 91

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Clandestine missions and the ‘Berlin for Lunch Bunch’

ABOVE: The ‘Flint Stone’ (later ‘Rivet Stem’) C-97G 52-2687 from the 7405th SS, pictured in August 1964, was a combined photographic reconnaissance and ELINT machine. RALF MANTEUFEL


etirement from front-line duty enabled a few surplus C-97s to begin a second career modified for clandestine duties. The innocuous-looking aircraft was ideal as a reconnaissance platform, as the cargo hold could easily be altered for the installation of cameras and sensors. Furthermore, the type could fly close to nations potentially hostile to the USA and its allies without drawing undue attention. The ‘Big Safari’ office at Wright-Patterson AFB was responsible for overseeing modifications to small numbers of aircraft for special missions, under the supervision of Air Materiel Command — later Air Force Systems Command. C-97 duties were split between signals intelligence (SIGINT)


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and photographic reconnaissance (PHOTINT). Specialised equipment was tailored to the assigned task. Cameras were primarily concealed beneath the cargo floor, with flush-fitting moveable hatches, or behind clear glass windows. The SIGINT role was mostly the gathering of electronic intelligence (ELINT), with sensors located in the cargo area, while others were mounted in under-fuselage radomes. Film exposed after a mission was processed and analysed quickly. Tapes of intercepted electronic signals

were likewise evaluated swiftly, both forms of intelligence eventually being delivered to the relevant military department or government agency from which the request had originated. General Dynamics’ Convair Division at Fort Worth, Texas was chosen as the first joint USAF/contractor team to streamline the conversion of existing aircraft types for dedicated intelligence roles. A YC-97 (probably A-model 45-59593) had been modified by Boeing to house a huge camera system, known by the project names of ‘Big Bertha’

The ‘Big Safari’ programme office routinely arranged for upgrades to the C-97s to keep pace with Soviet weapons development, tactics, and any other aspects of operations

and ‘Daisy Mae’. A short evaluation of the system in Europe in 1952 was successful, despite altitude limitations due to the YC-97 being underpowered. However, security was found to be sadly lacking at Boeing’s Seattle, Washington factory, enabling the project to become pretty much common knowledge. The YC-97 was flown to Fort Worth along with development KC-97A 49‑2592, and between July 1952 and February 1953 the camera was installed in the latter, which reverted to C-97A standard. The project was known as ‘Pie Face’ and spearheaded the unique ‘Big Safari’ process that is still in place 64 years later. ‘Pie Face’ involved fitting the huge cameras aft of the cockpit. The prime one was a K-42 nicknamed ‘Big Bertha’, with a focal length of 240in (6.09m), augmented by a 100in (2.54m) K-30. A trio of trimetrogon K-17 cameras were located in a compartment beneath the cargo floor. These were all positioned behind sliding hatches. Following completion, the C-97A was flown to Europe in 1953 and allocated to Detachment 1, 7499th Support Squadron at Rhein-Main. The principal mission was to fly peripheral photographic sorties along the border between West Germany and the German Democratic Republic, and occasionally the three air corridors into West Berlin. Such was the quality of the photography that requests mushroomed, resulting in more aircraft being modified. The ‘Pie Face’ aircraft returned to Fort Worth by 1962, ostensibly for retirement, but in fact it was flown to MacDill AFB to perform high-altitude missions


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SAC was determined that every possible measure to survive a surprise nuclear attack by the Soviet Union should be in place. While the command’s retaliatory bomber force was being built up, the likelihood of ground command and control facilities being damaged or destroyed would undoubtedly have countered any successful reprisal. As a first step, initially three and eventually nine C-97s were chosen to be converted for a rudimentary communications role, with long-range transmission equipment installed. One YC-97A, the sole YC-97B, six C-97As and one KC-97F were modified, with radio equipment capable of linking the worldwide SAC bases. These aircraft were all designated as the C-97D. Three C-97As were delivered direct from Seattle to Hensley Field in Dallas, Texas for modification by Temco. The first was 49-2593, which was completed by 5 September 1950 and assigned to the 3902nd Air Base Wing at Offutt AFB. This aircraft, together with 49-2594 and 49-2595 — which also joined the 3902nd ABW — were originally given the VC-97D designation, although the VIP prefix was soon dropped. Airline-style seating, catering facilities and effective toilet amenities were added, along with a small, secure office on the lower deck for the commanding general who was responsible for organising the surviving assets. The capabilities of the equipment were extremely limited. The airborne command post programme had yet to be initiated, and the C-97D’s function was primarily ground-based at first. SAC’s worldwide commitment involved its bomber and tanker aircraft being dispersed to bases in Europe, North Africa, other places in the northern hemisphere such as




In Service

ABOVE: ‘Rivet Giant’ C-97G 52-2724 at Tempelhof on 1 May 1974. This photographic reconnaissance platform served both in the Pacific and with the 7405th SS. RALF MANTEUFEL

Intelligence-gathering C-97s saw most of their use in the European theatre. The agreement on Allied aerial access to West Berlin limited use of the three air corridors between the city and West Germany to transport-type aircraft, and imposed a maximum altitude of 10,000ft (3,048m). The Soviet Union deployed large quantities of new hardware to the GDR, and NATO forces wished to obtain as much information as possible about this equipment and its capabilities. Aircraft types including the C-97 were employed to gather this intelligence. The ‘Big Safari’ office routinely arranged for upgrades to keep pace with Soviet weapons development, routines, tactics, and any other aspects of operations. The 10 C-97s were used until early in 1976, and their replacement by C-130s. During the previous 24 years, C-97s had flown thousands of sorties adjacent to the Warsaw Pact. Three USAF squadrons were dedicated to this task. Each had a specific remit, with aircraft modifications tailored to the job (more detail on this can be found in ‘Skirting the Curtain’, Aeroplane March 2016). The C-97s of the 7405th SS often transited the corridors to West Berlin. Invariably their sortie was arranged to arrive at Tempelhof AB at around midday, which predictably gave the crews the nickname of the ‘Berlin for Lunch Bunch’. Despite significant steps to conceal the cameras by hiding them behind hatches, it has transpired that the Russians knew precisely what the true purpose of these aircraft was, and indeed it has been suggested that on occasions they openly displayed new equipment for the West to view. This might have helped prevent NATO from embarking on a ‘first strike’ policy.

Technical Details

and 1 January 1972, which ties in nicely with the period of C-97G operations. The Clark-based units were part of Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). One C-97G was flown under at least three projects, namely ‘Brave Bull’, ‘Purple Passion’ and ‘Rivet Pusher’. All these programmes were associated with PHOTINT and ELINT tasks. Modification began at Fort Worth in June 1962 and saw the installation of different camera systems. Duties included photographing parts of South Vietnam, while the ELINT role was probably to monitor Viet Cong transmissions and report the findings to higher authority. Conversion of another C-97G for the PHOTINT mission in February 1961 took place under project ‘Side Kick’. Evaluation of the systems was conducted in Germany with temporary assignment to the 7405th SS. Following the integration of new cameras, the name changed to ‘Slow Boat’, and the aircraft was reassigned to the Far East. Another project name change, to ‘Ginza Girl’, occurred in the second half of 1965. Yet more cameras were fitted in 1969, under the ‘Rivet Giant’ programme, after which it went to the 7405th SS at Wiesbaden AB, Germany. There it remained until retirement in April 1975.


off Cuba during the October 1962 missile crisis. The aircraft was eventually scrapped but not before the ‘Big Bertha’ camera was removed. It is now an exhibit in the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson. 59-2592 was the only A-model involved in intelligence-gathering, but 10 C-97Gs were modified under the ‘Big Safari’ umbrella at one time or another. Two were flown in support roles, but were nevertheless allocated programme names. Many bizarre titles were applied for budgetary purposes, and changed whenever a new system was installed. The two main areas of interest for these missions were central and eastern Europe, and the Far East. In the case of the latter region, the ‘Big Safari’ office maintains that the C-97Gs assigned were operated by the 91st SRW at Yokota AB, Japan, although the aircraft record cards state that they were part of the 6200th Air Base Wing at Clark AB, Philippines. It is quite possible that the latter assignment was a cover for their true operator, as assignment to the 91st would have made clear a direct link to their true role. Furthermore, the 6203rd Support Squadron was active at Clark between 1 July 1962 93

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IN SERVICE BOEING C-97 Greenland and Alaska, and across the Pacific to the Far East. Immediate communications were vital, but equally important was the need for effective security. By 1955 Collins had developed a single side-band communications capability, linking air to ground. Under Project ‘Birdcall’ the system was installed in a VC-97D operated by Headquarters SAC, and during the following two years extensive tests were undertaken during routine long-range sorties to the different continents and the polar regions. These trials proved successful, enabling more advances to be made

and eventually embodied in the Offutt-based ACP KC-135As. The modified KC-135s evolved into the ‘Looking Glass’ system, which mirrored the ground-based command facilities. From 1961, one such aircraft provided an airborne relay. The C-97Ds were largely assigned for convenience to the major flying wing at the same base as the numbered air force or division. These included the 2nd, 8th and 15th Air Forces at Barksdale, Westover and March AFBs respectively, the 3rd Air Division at Andersen AFB, and the 1st Missile Division at Vandenberg AFB. The

introduction of the ‘Looking Glass’ ACPs enabled the C-97Ds to be relegated to a secondary VIP function, most being phased out from 1962 onwards. However, despite being among the oldest C-97s in service, two D-models (48-0411 and 49-2593) remained with the active-duty force until retirement in June and November 1971. During the 1960s, senior commanders who had risen through the ranks flying the B-47, B-52 and KC-97 grew fond of the latter and were happy to have at least one allocated to their unit as a ‘base hack’ personal transport for official business. As stated

KC-97L TK.1-3 (ex-53-0189) 123 Escuadrón, Spanish Air Force

ISRAEL AND SPAIN Apart from those of the USA, just two other air arms operated the C-97: those of Israel and Spain. The Israeli Air Force flew an assortment of C-97s and KC-97s as well as civilian Model 377s, all locally named Anak (Hebrew for ‘giant’). Due to factors including a lack of funding and embargoes, an Israeli requirement for the C-130 Hercules was initially unfulfilled, the US instead supplying surplus C-97s. While far from ideal, their capabilities were welcomed. IAI took the initiative and modified some of them with swing tails, enabling easy access for outsized loads. Five former Pan Am 377s were acquired in the spring of 1962, followed by a KC-97F, five C-97Gs, two KC-97Gs and a C-97K. IAI latter added a hose-anddrogue assembly to some of the aircraft in order to refuel Israel’s contemporary fighters. Apart from air-to-air refuelling, their service careers largely involved the transport of military


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earlier, inspection teams from the numbered air forces or SAC HQ frequently flew to air bases to carry out readiness evaluations. These commanders, who had flown KC-97s operationally, could maintain proficiency without the need for refresher training. Many KC-97s had the refuelling boom removed, and the boom operator’s position replaced with a flush rear or clamshell doors for cargo.


passengers and cargo, as well as flights to overseas locations collecting spare parts and munitions from manufacturers. Two were fitted with sensors for electronic intelligencegathering. The acquisition of additional C-130s enabled the antiquated C-97s and 377s to be retired at the end of 1977. By then two losses had been sustained, one (a KC-97G) as a result of being hit by a TWA Boeing 707 on

the ground at Tel Aviv’s Lod airport, the other (an ELINT platform) shot down by Egyptian surface-to-air missiles near the Suez Canal. The Spanish Air Force acquired three KC-97Ls for the air-to-air refuelling role. Serials 53-0172, 53-0189 and 53-0225 were former ANG aircraft retired in the spring of 1972. They were overhauled prior to delivery to Spain under the Mutual Assistance Program (MAP) that May. Two C-97Gs were

ABOVE: A very rare image of boom-equipped KC-97G 4X-FPP from 120 Squadron, Israeli Air Force at Lod on 11 October 1973. LINDSAY PEACOCK COLLECTION

included as a source of spares. The tankers’ primary role was to provide F-4C Phantom crews with air refuelling practice, 36 such aircraft drawn from the 81st TFW at RAF Bentwaters having been supplied to Spain as part of MAP during the second half of 1971 and the first half of 1972. The KC-97Ls and the F-4Cs were stationed at Torrejón. Following retirement of the Phantoms, the KC-97Ls — which served with 123 Escuadrón — were also withdrawn, one being struck off charge in September 1975 and the other two in September 1977. What is now the sole survivor of the Spanish KC-97s is displayed in the Museo del Aire at Cuatro Vientos, while the other two languished at Albacete until they were moved to a site near Barcelona as a proposed disco attraction. After years of neglect, they were reported to have been scrapped by November 2015.


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DATABASE BOEING C-97 Development Technical Details In Service Insights

ABOVE: Balair-operated C-97Gs HB-ILY and HB-ILZ over the African coast in 1970, during the Biafra relief efforts. BOB ARCHER COLLECTION

CIVILIAN C-97s The Nigerian civil war at the end of the 1960s created a very serious famine in the Biafra region. Landlocked Biafra could not sustain its population, with Nigeria blockading supplies from the outside world. A number of church agencies responded by funding Joint Church Aid-USA. Several organisations obtained surplus cargo aircraft, including C-97Gs temporarily withdrawn from ANG units. These began leaving the USA in January 1969 and were flown to Switzerland to enable Balair to undertake maintenance. However, due to the Swiss firm’s lack of familiarity with the C-97’s intricacies, IAI ended up being contracted to maintain the aircraft in Tel Aviv. Some of the Stratofreighters were flown with US civilian identities applied and inscribed with Joint Church


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Aid titles, while others were operated by Balair with Swiss civil registrations. The Balair aircraft were painted white overall with a large red cross on the tail. Sorties into a hastily prepared airstrip at Uli, Biafra began in March 1969, flying at low level and by night to avoid identification by Nigerian forces. Two aircraft,

N52679 and N52676, were lost to accidents. The majority of crews were drawn from the mercenary community, with no US military involvement. The operation drew to a close during the first half of 1970, having flown hundreds of sorties, delivering thousands of tonnes of medicine, food and fuel.

ABOVE: Hawkins and Powers took delivery of several C-97s, but N1365N, pictured during September 2000, was the only one it flew operationally. BOB ARCHER COLLECTION

Eleven C-97s were involved, the surviving nine being flown to MASDC for storage between March and May 1970. Several surplus C-97s were acquired by civilian owners, principally for firefighting duties. More than 25 C-97Gs were civilian-registered, many by Hawkins and Powers at Greybull, Wyoming. However, it only ever operated one: N1365N, the former 52-2698, known first as ‘Tanker 84’ and then ‘Tanker 97’. It regularly went on deployment to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, during each fire season. Another, N97KC, made a one-off ferry flight from Greybull in November 2000 on delivery to the Minnesota Air National Guard Museum in St Paul. Others were allocated civilian identities by surplus aircraft dealers in Tucson, Arizona, in anticipation of a sale, although not all proceeded beyond the owners’ yard adjacent to Davis-Monthan. 95

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On alert with SAC’s KC-97 tankers

ABOVE: KC-97F 51-0246 with B-47B Stratojet 51-2263 on the boom. USAF


he majority of C-97 production involved the KC-97 tanker versions. Much of the aircrew duty time was spent on alert at their home base. Nuclear-armed strategic bombers were located on hardstandings close to the end of the runway. Adjacent were an equal number of KC-97s. Aircrew for the alert bombers and tankers, together with support personnel, were housed in purpose-built accommodation bordering the dedicated hardstandings. The seven days spent on alert were primarily periods of tedium, although higher authority frequently tested reaction times and procedures by activating the klaxon. While aircrew dashed to their aircraft, technicians scurried to their duties in a well-practised drill designed to ensure that aircraft were airborne within


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the prescribed 15 minutes. Everything that could conceivably be planned as a reality assessment was factored into daily life for alert bomber and tanker crews. Unsurprisingly, the length of

time maintained on alert ensured that flight hours were less than for other comparably sized aircraft. Nevertheless, the KC-97 was the backbone of SAC’s global capability for most of the 1950s.

ABOVE: A receiver’s-eye view of a KC-97’s ‘flying boom’. USAF

During the middle of that decade, very few operational RB-47 Stratojet reconnaissance sorties were completed without the aid of aerial refuelling from KC-97s. An RB-47 flight from RAF Brize Norton to the Arctic region off the coast of Russia, for example, involved the Stratojet flying due north past Norway to the international waters of the Barents Sea. A KC-97 would earlier have departed Brize and flown to a rendezvous area off the Norwegian coast. The KC-97 would always arrive ahead of the RB-47 and establish a racetrack pattern. The tanker was carrying sufficient fuel to permit loiter time, whereas the Stratojet had enough to complete the sortie but with at least one aerial refuelling. RB-47 missions had to be performed in radio silence, so the tanker rendezvous relied upon highly accurate heading and timing statistics plotted by the navigator. With visual sightings made by the crews of both aircraft, the KC-97 pilot turned onto a northerly heading as his RB-47 counterpart flew his jet into a position slightly behind the tanker. At approximately 195kt (224mph), and with the RB-47 slowly closing on the tanker, the boom operator — laying prone on his purposedesigned ‘couch’ in the centre of the extreme rear fuselage — activated the control pilot-stick to lower the flying boom. A speedy check that the boom was working as required preceded the RB-47 pilot inching his jet into position. With the Stratojet’s nose just aft and beneath the tanker, the boom was guided into the open receptacle on the nose of the receiver. At a height of some 20,000ft (6,096m), but dependent upon


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DATABASE BOEING C-97 Development Technical Details

ABOVE: The KC-97G, represented here by 53-0140, was a significant enabler of SAC’s global reach during the Cold War years. BOEING

mission, while the tanker returned to base. If the reconnaissance sortie was lengthy, a second KC-97 could be launched to enable the Stratojet to return safely with an adequate fuel reserve.

Considering the large number of aircraft produced, and the varied locations in which they were stationed — including some extremely harsh climates — all members of the C-97 series enjoyed an



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Brize he was refused. He announced that he was launching anyway. His KC-97 took off and flew straight towards the North Sea. Austin later wrote, “In all of my nine years of flying up to that time I was never more thrilled to see another airplane in the air than I was to see that beautiful KC-97 that day. I saw Rigley’s airplane and headed for it. “We had already decided to try to land if need be at Brize Norton, and were letting down to do just that. [Co-pilot Carl] Holt said, ‘We’re going to run out of gas’. Rigley had his crew looking for us and caught a glimpse of what they thought was our airplane and levelled off at 3,000ft heading south. I circled once letting down. “As we manoeuvred and pulled into contact position, Holt said, ‘We are taking on fuel’. He swears to this day, all tank gauges showed empty when we made contact. I told Holt to tell me when we had 12,000lb of fuel. When he said ‘Now’, I punched the boom loose, gave the boom operator a salute and headed for Fairford. “We buzzed the tower, and as we came around they gave us a green light to land. When we reached the ramp and parked, the crew chief was first up the ladder: ‘What the hell kind of seagull did you hit?’ “When Jim Rigley returned to base, the base commander threatened him with a court martial and British air traffic control gave him a violation, but both situations were later fixed by Gen [Curtis] LeMay, the commander of SAC.”


On 8 May 1954, three RB-47E Stratojets of SAC’s 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing departed RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire. Following a rendezvous with KC-97s off Norway, they proceeded to an area off Murmansk, Russia. Two of the Stratojets then reversed course for home, whilst the third, piloted by Capt Harold ‘Hal’ Austin, continued to head for Russia and crossed the coast to overfly and photograph airfields in the region. Opposition was expected to be in the form of MiG-15s, which were unable to reach the RB-47’s 40,000ft (12,192m) operating altitude. However, unbeknown to SAC intelligence, MiG-17s had been deployed, and soon Austin saw flights of these fighters alongside. Some opened fire, damaging a fuel tank and communications antenna. Taking evasive action caused a delay in the pre-arranged meeting near Stavanger, Norway, with the second KC-97G, which had left for home. Now low on fuel, Austin nursed the partially damaged Stratojet back towards the UK. The only radio frequency functioning was the command post, and within about 100 miles (160km) of the Wash, Austin started calling for the Brize Norton strip alert tanker to launch. Jim Rigley, the tanker pilot, said he heard a word or two, enough to recognise Austin’s voice — “these were our tanker guys”, recalled Austin, “so we all knew each other.” Rigley attempted to get permission to launch, but due to an RAF emergency at

astonishing safety record. Apart from the XC-97, only 20 USAF examples were classified as a total loss. This included four C-97As, three of which crashed in the space of just five months in 1951. A single C-97C was also lost, the remaining accidents involving examples of the KC-97E (one), KC-97F (four) and KC-97G (nine). A KC-97L was destroyed in a landing accident at its home station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in January 1969 — this was the last USAF C-97 crash. n

In Service

weather conditions, fuel flowed at a rate of 600lb per minute. With minimal disconnects, a normal refuelling would last about 15 minutes. The reconnaissance jet would then proceed on its

SURVIVORS Almost 50 C-97s — or cockpit sections — are displayed in museums or used as restaurants, most in the US. One of them, C-97G (and former KC-97G and L) 52-2718/ N117GA, will soon be flyable again in the hands of the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation. The ‘Strat’ is painted to represent YC-97 serial 45-59595, the only example to participate in the airlift. It has been undergoing protracted maintenance at Floyd Bennett Field, New York, in anticipation of a return to airworthiness. This may see a visit to Europe in 2018-19 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Berlin operations. 97

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Events EVENT PREVIEWS Radial, Trainer and Transport Fly-in

Venue: Halfpenny Green, West Midlands Date: Saturday 29-Sunday 30 April Previously held at Sywell, Northamptonshire, this event moves for 2017 to Halfpenny Green near Wolverhampton, where it forms part of the airfield’s revived Wings and Wheels events. The organisers have lined up a wide range of attendees including a rare appearance by the Vampire Preservation Group’s Vampire T11 WZ507, Mark Stott’s Pembroke WV740, Shipping and Airlines’ Dragonfly, Richard Seeley’s replica Travel Air Type R ‘Mystery Ship’, two Spitfires, Robert Tyrrell’s P-51D Mustang Miss Helen, a pair of Stinson Reliants, and the An-2 Club’s Popham-based Antonov An-2 (which will be offering pleasure flights). Many other classic machines will make this one of the biggest gatherings of its type since the days of the Great Vintage Flying Weekends.


Admission on the gate: Adults and children over eight £5; under-eights free Further information:

Shuttleworth Season Premiere Airshow

Venue: The Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden, Bedfordshire Date: Sunday 7 May The first major airshow on the UK’s 2017 calendar pays tribute to Alex Henshaw with a range of representative aircraft associated with the great racing and test pilot — Shuttleworth’s Mew Gull G-AEXF, of course, but also David Beale’s replica Mew Gull, the Real Aeroplane Company’s Arrow Active II, Peter Vacher’s beautiful Leopard Moth (a post-restoration debutant), the Shuttleworth Magister, DH60X Moth and Comper Swift, the IWM’s Spitfire Ia N3200 with Hurricane Heritage’s Hurricane I and the Shuttleworth Sea Hurricane, a Miles Gemini/Messenger pairing, and a de Havilland transport duo of David and

ABOVE: The two Mew Gulls will come together in Shuttleworth’s Alex Henshaw tribute in May — and at Duxford later in the month. BEN DUNNELL

Mark Miller’s Dragon Rapide with a Dove. That theme aside, Shuttleworth hopes to have its Sopwith Camel in the flying line-up for the first time. Other visitors include Plane Sailing’s Catalina and the BBMF’s Lancaster. Admission on the gate: Adults £30, children free Further information:

Spectacular anniversary salutes planned for 2017


s ever, numerous UK air displays are planning to celebrate notable anniversaries this season. 2017 is, however, expected to provide especially rich pickings in this regard, with many special showpieces in the planning stages that will provide memorable sights for the historic aircraft enthusiast. BBMF 60th The RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is 60 years old in 2017. It was, of course, established at RAF Biggin Hill during 1957 as the Historic Aircraft Flight. A selected number of shows this year will see a special BBMF display being mounted with Lancaster PA474 accompanied by four of the flight’s fighters. At the time of writing, this had been confirmed for the RAF Cosford Air Show on Sunday 11 June (the subject of a ‘behind-the-scenes’ report in the June Aeroplane), the Royal International Air Tattoo from Friday 14-Sunday 16 July, and the new Scampton Airshow on Saturday 9-Sunday 10 September.


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AAC 60th A theme going somewhat ignored in 2017, but definitely worthy of suitable commemoration, is the 60th anniversary of the establishment of today’s Army Air Corps. The Shuttleworth Collection’s Military Pageant at Old Warden on Sunday 2 July is scheduled to feature a number of historic AAC aircraft in its line-up — already confirmed are the Auster AOP9, Beaver, Scout and Sioux from the Historic Aircraft Flight Trust at Middle Wallop, together with an Auster AOP6 and T7. USAF 70th The main British celebration of the US Air Force’s 70th anniversary will naturally take place at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford from 14-16 July. The Air Tattoo has long enjoyed an extremely close relationship with the USAF, having largely been held on USAF bases — first Greenham Common, then Fairford — since 1973. So far, the Thunderbirds team of F-16C/D Fighting

Falcons is known to be appearing, for the first time in the UK since 2011. Returning to RIAT for the second year running is the spectacular F-22A Raptor solo demo. Other USAF assets remain to be confirmed, together with historical elements of the celebration. Biggin Hill 100th One of Britain’s most famous airfields this year notches up its centenary. What is now London Biggin Hill Airport was opened in February 1917 as a Royal Flying Corps station. To mark the occasion, the annual Biggin Hill Festival of Flight has been extended to a two-day format, on Saturday 19-Sunday 20 August, and will present a truly international flying display. The solo Belgian Air Component F-16 and the French Air Force Patrouille de France team are early confirmations. Good RAF support will be on hand, and involvement from the Great War Display Team and Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar helps tell the 100-year story.


03/04/2017 16:08


Event Planner May 2017 UK

Remko Sijben flying his Boomerang will be a star item at Abingdon. BEN DUNNELL

Abingdon Air and Country Show Venue: Dalton Barracks, Abingdon, Oxfordshire Date: Sunday 14 May

A new date for this popular charity show, and a new look, too — the event site has swapped sides of the former RAF airfield at Abingdon, and will now be staged on the same side as the hangars. Stand-out acts are the Fly Navy Heritage Trust’s Sea Vixen, Remko Sijben’s reproduction Commonwealth Boomerang (giving the type’s first British mainland display), a 10-aircraft Great War Display Team appearance including the public flying display debut of Eric Verdon-Roe’s Avro 504K replica, and Groupe Fennec’s repainted T-28S Fennec from Duxford, now in a very smart USAF scheme. Admission on the gate: Adults £17.50, senior citizens £12, children (five to 16) £6, under-fives free Further information:

Duxford Air Festival

Venue: IWM Duxford, Cambridgeshire Date: Saturday 27-Sunday 28 May The opening IWM Duxford show of 2017 takes on a new identity, with a higher proportion of visiting acts — the based warbirds will feature more strongly at events later in the year. It’s a high-quality line-up, including the first ever UK display by a Noorduyn Norseman courtesy the example operated by the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation, the Sea Vixen’s first Duxford display for 16 years, North Wales Military Aviation Services’ new Strikemaster duo, Shuttleworth’s DH88 Comet teamed with Mew Gull G-AEXF and David Beale’s replica Mew Gull in an air racing formation, Shipping and Airlines’ Dragonfly, and many more. The RAF Typhoon and Falcons parachute team, and the Army Air Corps’ solo Apache, provide modern military support. Single-day admission — advance tickets only: Until 14 May — adults £29.50, disabled adults £19; after 14 May — adults £33.95, disabled adults £21.85; children (15 and under) free; weekend tickets also available Further information: events/iwm-duxford/airshows/duxford-airfestival

07 14 21 21 27 27-28

Old Warden, Beds: Shuttleworth Season Premiere Airshow — Abingdon, Oxon: Abingdon Air and Country Show — Old Warden, Beds: Shuttleworth Classic Evening Airshow — Stow Maries, Essex: Wings and Wheels — Durham Tees Valley Airport, Darlington: Skylive Airshow — IWM Duxford, Cambs: Duxford Air Festival — duxford-air-festival 27-29 East Kirkby, Lincs: Lanc, Tank and Military Machines — 28 Bruntingthorpe, Leics: Cold War Jets Open Day —


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Cuatro Vientos, Spain: Fundación Infante de Orleans Flight Demonstration Day — Moscow, Russia: Great Patriotic War Victory Day Parade Hradec Králové, Czech Republic: Helicopter Show — BA106 Bordeaux-Mérignac, France: Meeting de l’Air — Friedrichshafen, Germany: Klassikwelt Bodensee — Čáslav AB, Czech Republic: Air Show — Muret-Lherm, France: Airexpo — Gera-Leumnitz, Germany: Grossflugtage — Kjeller, Norway: Kjeller Airshow — Palexpo, Geneva International Airport, Switzerland: EBACE — 2017 European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition — 25-27 Crocus Expo, Moscow, Russia: HeliRussia — 26-27 Bydgoszcz, Poland: Air Fair — 27 Dubová, Slovakia: Air Show — 27-28 Antwerp International Airport, Belgium: Antwerp Stampe Fly-in and Flying Display — NOTE: Airshow on 28 May only 28 Volkel village, The Netherlands: Volkel in de Wolken —


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Manassas Regional Airport, Virginia: Manassas Airshow — Barksdale AFB, Louisiana: Defenders of Liberty Air Show — Chino Airport, California: Planes of Fame Airshow — Fort Lauderdale Beach, Florida: Fort Lauderdale Air Show — McEntire JNGB, South Carolina: SC Guard Air and Ground Expo — FedEx Hangar, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Alaska: Great Alaska Aviation Gathering — Travis AFB, California: Travis AFB Air Show Pittsburgh IAP ARS, Pennsylvania: Wings over Pittsburgh — Valdez Airport, Alaska: Valdez Fly-in and Air Show — Corsicana Municipal Airport, Texas: Corsicana Airsho — Cox Field, Paris, Texas: Wings over Paris Memphis-Millington Airport, Tennessee: Memphis Air Show — Military Aviation Museum, Virginia Beach Airport, Virginia: Warbirds over the Beach — Evans Towne Center Park, Georgia: Thunder over Evans — Flabob Airport, Riverside, California: DC-3 Fly-in — Illinois Valley Regional Airport, Peru, Illinois: TBM Avenger Gathering — Redlands Municipal Airport, California: Hangar 24 AirFest — Quonset State Airport, Quonset Point, Rhode Island: Rhode Island National Guard Open House Air Show — Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina: Wings over Wayne Airshow — Tinker AFB, Oklahoma: Star Spangled Salute — Annapolis, Maryland: US Naval Academy Air Show Waukesha County Airport, Wisconsin: Gathering of Warbirds — Brian Ranch, Llano, California: ‘World’s Smallest’ Air Show — Jefferson City Memorial Airport, Missouri: Salute to Veterans — Jones Beach State Park, Wantagh, New York: Bethpage Air Show — Miami Beach, Florida: National Salute to America’s Heroes Air and Sea Show — Millville Airport, New Jersey: Millville Wheels and Wings Airshow — Stephens County Airport, Breckenridge, Texas: Breckenridge Airshow —


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03/04/2017 16:08


REVIEWS RATING ★★★★★ Outstanding ★★★★★ Excellent ★★★★★ Good

★★★★★ Flawed

★★★★★ Mediocre Enough said

The latest books and products for the discerning aviation enthusiast BOOK of the MONTH Fighters over the Fleet by Norman Friedman published by Seaforth Publishing

This is a large (2.25kg), comprehensive volume on an equally large subject, namely “fleet air defence by fighters flying from aircraft carriers”. It centres in the main on the activities of the US Navy and the Royal Navy, historically the chief proponents of this form of air power, and covers the period “from biplanes to the Cold War”. In his introduction, Friedman acknowledges many sources. This work is clearly the result of much trawling through archive material, but he notes, worryingly, that the archives of aircraft companies are “a resource now largely shut to researchers”. The text covers far more than just the ships, aircraft and weapons, and delves deeper into the requirements, the

Axis Aircraft in Latin America

by Amaru Tincopa and Santiago Rivas published by Crécy Publishing

My, this is a weighty one. It needs to be, given the breadth of the subject and the depth of research. Country by country from Argentina to Venezuela, Tincopa and Aeroplane contributor Rivas — assisted by some ‘guest’ authors — detail the German and Italian aircraft used by civil and military operators throughout the region, aided by a remarkable photo selection, excellent colour artworks, maps and more. Very little of the content will be familiar to most readers; for instance, while the fact of the Junkers Ju 52/3m’s wide employment in


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technologies, the politics and the development programmes behind them. Despite this level of detail, his account remains readable, and is peppered with fascinating insights. Photos, all in black and white save the dust jacket, are well reproduced and intelligently captioned; there is a good index and no fewer than 47 pages of endnotes. While Friedman is clearly a US national, there is no national bias in his content. As an example, Capt Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown rates 11 mentions in the index, while the Douglas F4D Skyray gets but four. In a volume this size there are inevitably a few errors. The fourth HMS Ark Royal was decommissioned in 1979 rather than 1973 (page 372), and the TSR2 was cancelled in 1965, not 1964 (page 336), while the VTOL fighter pictured on page 216 is the Convair XFY-1, not XFV-1. That said, such criticism counts as mere nitpicking when judged against the achievement of getting such a valuable reference into print. Denis J. Calvert ISBN 978-1-84832-404-6; 11.6 x 9.8in hardback; 460 pages, illustrated £45.00 ★★★★★

Latin America is well-known, how many of us knew they were flown on locust spraying missions in Argentina, or that Brazilian carrier VASP had an example acquired from Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano that had been modified with Douglas DC-3 engines, wheels and other equipment? Perhaps best of all are the sections on Italian aircraft, among them some very esoteric examples. If you’ve ever wondered about, for instance, the Paraguayan air arm’s use of the Breda Ba 44, the details are here. The last few chapters are fascinating in themselves: these take in Axis aircraft in Central America and Mexico, visiting Axis types (among them the sole Japanese machine featured, a Mitsubishi G3M), operations by Axis airlines in Latin America, the legacy of Axis aircraft on the local aviation industry, and surviving examples in the region. There follows a long appendix listing individual aircraft with brief histories. As with all products of Crécy’s Hikoki imprint, paper quality and design are

first-rate, though it’s a shame the two images on the cover couldn’t have been straightened. Photo reproduction is generally good. The end result is a hugely worthwhile tome, worth every penny of the price. Ben Dunnell ISBN 978-1-90210-949-7; 12 x 8.5in hardback; 368 pages, illustrated £34.95 ★★★★

Lysander Pilot by James Atterby McCairns published by Tangmere Military Aviation Museum

‘Mac’ McCairns had an uncommon air force career. A member of the RAF Volunteer Reserve, he flew Spitfires with No 616 Squadron until his aircraft was shot down over France in July 1941. Taken prisoner, he and a Belgian inmate effected a successful escape from Stalag IX-C in Germany, McCairns making it back to the UK via Belgium, France, Spain and Gibraltar. On his return he decided to do something for the resistance fighters in occupied Europe who had aided his flight from custody, and volunteered to join No 161 Squadron, with its special duties Westland Lysanders. Getting into this unit he describes as “almost as tough a job as getting out of Germany.” McCairns was killed in a flying accident during 1948, but he had already handwritten a memoir of his escape and his time on 161. Thanks to his son and the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, it has now been published for the first time. ‘Mac’ completed 25 successful Lysander missions, more than any of his colleagues, and these he recounts in a highly readable — indeed, to some extent, gripping — fashion. As with his fellow No 161 Squadron pilot Hugh Verity’s memoir We Landed By Moonlight, one is left with nothing but admiration for those involved in flying intelligence agents into and out of small French fields, by night and with no navigational aids. A fascinating little volume, all sales of which support an excellent museum. BD


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Reviews ISBN 978-0-9935407-0-7; 8.2 x 5.9in softback; 96 pages, illustrated £7.99 from Tangmere Military Aviation Museum (see lysander-pilot-book); add £1 for mail order HHHH

Super Mystère B2

by Michel Liébert, Eric Moreau and Cyril Defever published by EM 37 Editions

If you liked EM 37 Editions’ previous work on the F-100D/F Super Sabre in French service — and your reviewer certainly did — then this latest volume similarly co-authored by Eric Moreau will be right up your street. OK, it’s all in French, with not even French/ English captions (a common concession in recent French aviation works), but that really won’t stop the ardent reader armed only with schoolboy French getting a lot out of it. The SMB2 was the first level-flight supersonic fighter to go into production in Europe. It was built to 180 examples, and served with three Escadres de Chasse for close on 20 years. This title impresses by its approach, by its attention to detail and by its standard of production. There’s plenty of technical information on the aircraft and its development, along with recollections from those who flew it, a chapter on each of the three user Escadres, and details of the type’s foreign (Israel, Honduras) service. Forty-two pages are dedicated to listing each aircraft produced, giving the units it served with, codes carried and — where available — a photo. General photo coverage is excellent, with very good reproduction. The one regret is that too many images are reproduced small. Such is their quality that they would have had rather more impact had they been used larger. DJC ISBN 978-2-9537514-1-3; 12 x 8.5in hardback; 382 pages, illustrated €70.00 (available from The Aviation Bookshop — — at £64.99 plus £5.00 postage) HHHH

All Along the Control Tower: Volume Two by Theo and Frans Barten published by Narwal

We featured the initial volume of All Along the Control Tower in our December 2015 issue, and much the same comments apply now as then. The play on words in the title still doesn’t really work, but the contents are


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undeniably appealing — a selection of the UK’s historic control towers, 66 in all, showing them in their current state. Some are well-preserved relics, while others have gone to wrack and ruin, and a few have been put to entirely different uses such as offices, housing or, in the case of North Creake, a bed and breakfast. There’s not a huge amount of text, but that’s hardly the point. This is, after all, a photo book, and the well-reproduced images do their job. It’s a surprisingly good formula, and a nice one to dip into. Volume three of the series is in preparation. BD ISBN 978-90-817110-8-1; 10in x 8.5in hardback; 276 pages, illustrated €37.50 from HHH

We Were Eagles: Volume Two by Martin W. Bowman published by Amberley

We reviewed the first We Were Eagles volume in August 2016; here is the follow-on covering the Eighth Air Force for the period from December 1943 to May 1944. This was the time when US Army Air Force long-range escort fighters — P-38 Lightnings, P-47 Thunderbolts and P-51 Mustangs — became available in increasing numbers in the European theatre and were able to offer the heavy bombers fighter protection for much of their mission, ultimately all the way to Berlin. Everything said about volume one remains true; author Bowman once more demonstrates his skill in presenting firsthand accounts by the men who flew the missions, and the resulting text is as readable as ever. A 32-page sewn-in photo section features some interesting images, a few of which are in (surprisingly good) colour. One might ask, though, why the publishers have seen fit to increase the cover price by £3 — that’s 30 per cent — in less than a year, for a book with the same number of pages as its predecessor. DJC

DVDs Outposts of Empire: RAF Malta Producer Tod Nicol ambitiously aims to document the RAF’s presence on Malta over the 60-odd years to 1980. The introduction sets the scene. To the sound of Elgar’s Enigma Variations ‘Nimrod’, the camera pans across a vintage map of the world before zooming in on the Mediterranean and Malta. Dreamy footage follows of aircraft carriers, Southampton flying boats, Shackletons, PR Canberras and the unmistakeable features of Valletta harbour. The serious history of the RAF on the island is then related over 90 minutes, accompanied by archive film. The story is well told both by voiceover and the recollections of veterans who served on or flew from Malta. There is some good period Gladiator film, but beware interspersed material showing Shuttleworth’s aircraft. Other footage shows Hurricanes taking off from a carrier and RAF Kittyhawks flying in support of the Allied invasion of Sicily, but in one sequence a shark-mouthed P-40 seemingly carries the markings of the American Volunteer Group. Post-war, the story continues in much the same way, but colour sequences are introduced. Easy and entertaining viewing. DJC Running time 90 minutes £12.99 from HHH

MODELS Atlas Editions Vulcan The first in a new series of die-cast models called Jet Age Military Aircraft depicts Vulcan B2 XM607, as involved in the Falklands ‘Black Buck’ raids. The 1:144-scale model can be mounted on its wheels or a stand. Sign up on the website given below and you will receive one model per month, though you can stop collecting them at any time. £1.99 from

ISBN 978-1-4456-5908-4; 7.8 x 4.9in softback; 256 pages, illustrated £12.99 HHHH 101

31/03/2017 12:26


GOLD PASS PRIZES PLUS ADULT TICKETS TO FLYING LEGENDS also up for grabs! Our friends at The Fighter Collection are giving away to one lucky reader ‘A Day with The Fighter Collection’ – Get to spend a day with the Fighter Collection team at an IWM airshow, see behind the scenes and the Fighter Collection aircraft up close! For two lucky runners-up, The Fighter Collection are offering two pairs of Gold Pass prizes to this years’ Flying Legends Airshow, to be held on 8 and 9 July at Imperial War Museum, Duxford. The 24th Edition of this world famous aerial spectacular will feature world class, unrivalled, choreographed displays featuring unique aircraft types rarely seen together in the UK skies or anywhere else. Flying Legends culminates in the finale Balbo formation when all the WWII fighters take to the skies to salute you in a mass flypast. Step back in time and enjoy the musical entertainment, enjoy a glass of Pimms, view the large scale model aircraft exhibits and ladies, have your vintage makeup done in the Vintage Village. Flying Legends is the Airshow not to miss, it has something for everyone.

HOW TO ENTER Send your name, address, contact telephone number and email (if you have one) on a postcard or sealed-down envelope to:

Flying Legends Competition Aeroplane magazine, Key Publishing, PO Box 100, Stamford, Lincolnshire PE9 1XQ or email the same information to:

[email protected] with subject header ‘AM Flying Legends Competition’. Please state if you would prefer to attend on Saturday or Sunday. ADVANCE/EARLY BIRD TICKET PRICES

Adult (age 16+) Senior (60 yrs+) Child (5-15 yrs)

£31.50 £25.00 £17.00

Discounts available for group bookings

EACH GOLD PASS PRIZE INCLUDES: • Special Fighter Collection Merchandise (To collect from FOTFC enclosure at Flying Legends) • Your individual Gold Passes • Gold Car Pass to your VIP parking area (One car pass per pair) • Entrance to the Air Show and Museum • Viewing enclosure on the flight line • A copy of the souvenir programme • Free, direct access to the flight line walk

WANT TO KNOW MORE.... To book tickets, or for the latest flying programme, visit: Alternatively, you can book your tickets by calling: +44 (0)1223 499 353 All flying subject to weather, serviceability and operational commitments. Gold Pass Available for £85.00 per person per day or £111.95 with lunch.

f irs o ! a p ir 5 Close Date: 12.00 GMT 26 May 2017. win per pa Winners will be notified no later than o t 0 y 0 Friday 2 June 2017 unit 63. port over £ p o rth he lso t kets wo a 281/17 s ’ ic re The Adult T

On occasions Key Publishing Ltd and The Fighter Collection may make offers on products or services that we believe to be of interest to our customers. If you do not wish to receive this information, please write NO INFORMATION clearly on your entry. Transport and accommodation not included for any prize. No purchase necessary. Editor’s decision is final and there is no cash prize alternative.

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30/03/2017 15:19


Ben Dunnell explores The Aeroplane’s outstanding archives to cast new light on past stories


The Scottish-designed autogyro that demonstrated vertical take-off performance


he date: 17 July 1936. The venue: Hounslow Heath in Middlesex, a former Royal Flying Corps, RAF and civil aerodrome, but by now “quite unusable by the normal aeroplane”. That was how the next week’s issue of The Aeroplane described the scene of a most unusual demonstration. James and George Weir came from the Cathcart area of Glasgow. They started out in the engineering business in 1871, initially in the local steamship industry, but the family firm soon diversified. James’s youngest son, James George Weir, was a pioneer aviator of the early 1910s. Aeronautical enthusiasm was shared by his elder brother William Douglas Weir — later the first Lord Weir — who became G. and J. Weir’s managing director, and was a member and then president of the Air Council in World War One. Indeed, the company carried out component


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manufacture and construction of Royal Aircraft Factory FE2bs at the Cathcart works during hostilities. It was James junior who latched on to the autogyro as a concept of great potential. From 1926 he provided financial backing to Juan de la Cierva, being made chairman of the Spanish pioneer’s Britishbased Cierva Autogiro Company. Weir decided in July 1932 to get in on the act itself, purchasing a licence from Cierva and developing on that basis a new machine called the Weir W1. The little single-seater came together that winter, powered by a 40hp Douglas Dryad. Cierva conducted its maiden flight from his base at Hanworth, Middlesex, in May 1933. The W1’s flying career proved brief, turning turtle while landing at Abbotsinch, Glasgow, that December and being written off. Weir, though,

was undaunted. The W2 of 1934 improved on the concept, being larger, more powerful and more easily controllable. By now the Douglas engine company had gone under, and some members of its staff joined Weir, among them Cyril Pullin who became chief designer. The 45hp powerplant was thus of the manufacturer’s own construction. Production of the W2 was a possibility, but it never went ahead. Instead Weir moved on to the W3, a very different-looking machine with another new engine, this time delivering 50hp. Alan Marsh performed the initial flight from Abbotsinch on 9 July 1936, and just over a week later it was taken first to Hanworth and then Hounslow Heath for the take-off demonstration. This had its roots, The Aeroplane reported, in the fact that Lord Weir “told his associates some while ago, and no doubt shocked them a good

ABOVE: The Weir W3 ‘jumps’ into the air at Hounslow Heath on 17 July 1936, with Alan Marsh at the controls. ALL PHOTOS AEROPLANE 103

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ABOVE: Members of the Weir team at Hanworth with the earlier W2 model. Alan Marsh is second from left, with Cyril Pullin to the right of him, and J. G. Weir at far right.

RIGHT: The performance of the W3 looked impressive during the Hounslow demonstration, but vibration was a problem.

deal, that the type of machine they were building was of no commercial value. ‘What’, he asked in effect, ‘is the good of building a machine that will land on a pocket handkerchief if it cannot get off it again? We must have a machine that will safely climb out of the smallest space into which it can get down’.” The development of the ‘jump’ take-off resulted, inevitably, from research by Cierva. After much experimentation, including flight trials that began with modified C30 G-ACFI in August 1933, he delivered a seminal paper on the subject to the Royal Aeronautical Society during March 1935. “Each blade of an Autogiro is hinged about two axes so that it can flap up and down and swing sideways”, The Aeroplane described. “In his paper Señor de la Cierva disclosed that direct take-off could be achieved by inclining the hinge about which the blade swings sideways. Hitherto this hinge had been vertical but the new idea was to incline it outwards. “When a direct-lift rotor is being spun up in the usual way through shafting from the motor, the blades of the rotor tend to lag behind, at first because of their inertia and later because of their drag. As each blade swings backward on its inclined hinge, its angle of incidence is reduced to that of no lift. “As a result the drag of the rotor is then very much less than when it is lifting and it can be spun up very much faster. The rotor of the new Weir Autogiro is spun up to about 350rpm while the blades are at zero


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incidence. In the air the normal speed of rotation is about 210rpm. “When the rotor is turning at the former speed the pilot presses the quick-release which de-clutches the driving shaft from the rotor. The latter is then pulled round by the inertia forces stored in the blades. The hub tends to lag behind. The blades therefore swing forward about their inclined hinges, take up their normal angle of incidence, and promptly generate a lift which pulls the machine off the ground. “By the time that the rotor has slowed down to normal, the thrust of the airscrew, which has been running normally, takes charge and the machine flies off like an ordinary Autogiro. “As a result of the investigations into the whole problem of the jump

an entirely new form of rotor has been evolved. This is essentially two-bladed and is called the Autodynamic rotor. “This is so-called because it is completely self-stabilising and moreover adjusts its own pitch to meet varying conditions. In effect it works something like a constant-speed airscrew and continues to turn at the same speed whether the Autogiro is flying slowly or fast. Also friction dampers are no longer needed on the drag hinges. Hitherto these have been a constant source of trouble as their adjustment is extremely critical.” At the time of The Aeroplane’s report, it was not possible to publish details of the W3’s rotor hub owing to a patent claim by Cierva. The head was suspended in such a way that it could tilt around the centre of gravity, which led to the machine’s different configuration. As the rotor assembly was mounted atop an open framework of four pylons, the W3 was given a box-section fuselage, much in contrast to the earlier designs. At Hounslow Heath it was to be found “tucked in among the gorsebushes”, ready to demonstrate its qualities to the gathered throng. “Mr H. A. Marsh got into it and the motor was started. He soon had the two blades of the 28ft-diameter rotor whirling fast. After a warning wave to the photographers he opened the motor full out, the blades whirled faster and faster, out came the clutch between motor and rotor, and up for some five or six feet went Mr Marsh, quite vertically, with the whole 650lb of Weir Autogiro. Then the rotor inclined itself forward and the machine went trundling away in normal Autogiro fashion. “After a turn or two round our heads, Mr Marsh came down again behind the gorse-bush over which he had successfully jumped for our


03/04/2017 09:30

benefit. He made another similar jump, rather higher this time, and then repeated the performance in a converted C30 Autogiro”. The latter, C30A G-ACWF, had been modified with an experimental rotor head allowing it to conduct such a departure. It thus became the forerunner of the later production C40 model. Test pilot Marsh and Cierva told The Aeroplane’s reporter that “there is no sudden acceleration or shock. The jump, they say, produces no more feeling than going up in a lift and considerably less than do some high-speed elevators. Mr Marsh’s quizzical expression, as he looks down over the side, from twenty feet up, to make quite sure that he really is off the ground, vouches for this lack of sensation.” Flight test reports show that he experienced other sensations, though. “General vibration appears to be increasing steadily”, Marsh recorded after sorties from Hanworth just prior to the Hounslow Heath demo. “‘Building up’ quite bad in gusty conditions. Stick is free from once per rev movement, but has slight twice per rev movement, which, I think, is in sympathy with the vibration in the machine.” Kenneth Watson, a member of Weir’s engineering staff, later wrote of the W3: “The autodynamic rotor system […] didn’t quite meet expectations; sometimes it was rough and sometimes smooth. It was discovered [that] friction in the alpha-1 hinge played a big part in whether the system functioned in step or out of step. The hinge motion required a low and constant friction if [it] was to function properly”. When in January 1937 the aircraft was the subject of Royal Aircraft Establishment experiments to measure rotor pylon vibration, the “reasons [were] not immediately apparent.” By then, the founding father of the jump take-off autogyro was gone, Juan de la Cierva having died in the crash of a KLM Douglas DC-2 at Croydon on 9 December 1936. Weir’s last autogyro, the W4, was damaged during ground trials in late 1937 and never flew. With an eye on rotary-wing developments elsewhere, especially in Germany, the Scottish firm could see which way things were going. It switched its interest to the development of helicopters. In taking to the air from Dalrymple, Ayrshire, on 7 June 1938, the W5 made the first successful flight by a British-built


103-105_AM_May17_Craig C.indd 105

helicopter. At the controls of the little machine, with its twin side-by-side rotors, was Cyril Pullin’s son Ray. From then on, Weir type numbers would only be assigned to helicopters, built under the reconstituted Cierva moniker. These included the W11, better known as the Cierva Air Horse — in which Alan Marsh and two colleagues lost their lives in June 1950 — and the W14, development of which was continued by Saunders-Roe when Weir withdrew its support from

Mr Marsh’s quizzical expression, as he looks down over the side from 20ft up, to make quite sure that he really is off the ground, vouches for the lack of sensation the Cierva company in the wake of the Air Horse tragedy. As the Skeeter, the W14 was the only one of the Weir series to reach production. But still the family wasn’t quite done with rotarywing flight. J. G. Weir maintained his personal interest, and in the 1950s and ’60s he provided backing to the Rotorcraft Grasshopper ‘personal helicopter’ project, which resulted in a single flying prototype. As for the ‘jump-start’ autogyro, the technology and techniques

needed refinement. The British Aircraft Manufacturing Company at Hanworth produced a few Cierva C40s under an Air Ministry contract, albeit without the autodynamic rotor. They served with the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm. Development had been going on across the Atlantic, too, and Harold Pitcairn — who was in close contact with Cierva, Marsh and others — subsequently opined that Cierva’s autodynamic system “produced some roughness in forward flight operation after the jump was completed, owing to other rotor functions that he was attempting to achieve in the same mechanism”. Pitcairn’s eponymous company had begun tests of a jump take-off rotor on its PA-22 autogyro in 1936, and managed to remove much of the vibration. As he wrote to Weir, “you might eliminate the resonance in your flexible blades if you allow the blade complete freedom in flapping and in plane of rotation, but held their incidence very rigidly.” The Weir Group survives to this day, still headquartered in Glasgow but active internationally in a wide range of engineering fields. Aerospace is one of the sectors it services, though the days of Weir turning out its own aircraft are, of course, long gone. Only the W2, preserved in Scotland’s National Museum of Flight at East Fortune, survives to tell that tale. The fate of the W3 is unrecorded. It somehow seems appropriate for a product of a company that preferred to keep fairly quiet about its aeronautical achievements. That day on Hounslow Heath was a rare exception. n

ABOVE: Marsh looks down over the side of the W3’s single cockpit during an ascent. 105

03/04/2017 09:30

es ay go M UE 11 e. SS on ang E I UK to ch UN he ject e J t ub Th ale in ents s s nt on Co


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