Tales from the North - updated!
05/12/15 - A Lonely Furrow
The tractor grumbled and groaned, a blue-black haze steaming out of the funnel above the engine, and the wind whistled around the cabin sheltering the driver. Gulls, rooks and robins flustered around the tractor and its attendant plough as the grass was turned over and over ready for its new crop the following Spring, and exposing lots of tasty worms.
This is the stuff of Christmas cards, of amateur painting competitions, of sleigh bells if you go to the right part of the World, but hardly has it much to do with flying model aircraft. Except, it was OUR airstrip we were looking at, OUR pastime, OUR Boys - with - Toys relaxation! On more than one occasion I have landed my model the far side of the fence round our field, where the ground was pretty rough, and I know from sad experience that it is unwise in the extreme, and lengthy repairs are always needed. Ploughed fields and models aircraft do NOT mix.
That era is over. All that is left of our tenancy of that lovely place are memories, mostly good, of happy flights, good friendships, good chats and banter, and a metal-framed plywood box quietly rotting into the ground with a clapped-out ride-on mower with flat tyres and battery. And a field entry which is three inches deep in mud in high summer and impassable in winter, even if you can traverse the first field between the road and our strip.
And the Club? Well, the Farmer had already pocketed the rent for this year so he offered us another field half a mile away which is in some ways better. It is a similar size, it also faces towards the sun so models may momentarily disappear as they pass across the eclipse route, it slopes gently downhill away from the strip, all visible, and it has no bizarre quirks and wind-shears from hidden trees and gullies. It is also much drier and we are unlikely to get bogged down getting in or out. The nearest house is about a mile away. So far things have gone well and we hope to enjoy our stay there for years to come. The snag is that we are nearer a lonely back road and we see the occasional passer-by who stops to enquire what we are up to. Grown Men?? Toys like that?? Can I join?? So, there might be an up-side to a ploughed field. And another spin-off is that we have looked again at safety and flying conditions at our new site, which is always a good thing.
One plane which will NOT be landing there is our last flying Vulcan XH558 as this alas has flown her last flight. We saw her, heard her, trembled at the roar of her jets on full power, as she weaved a fond farewell to us all and her sister on the ground at Sunderland Air Museum before flying off to Newcastle and Carlisle on her round-Britain trip. That was in September, and the other night Guy Martin presented a last look at this amazing plane from his unique perspective as an HGV truck engineer, Spitfire restorer and mechanic, Manx TT racer extra-ordinaire, Narrow-Boat Builder, and proper tea drinker. I don’t usually get carried away with patriotic fervour, but the Vulcan has always made me feel very British, along with its stable-mate the Lancaster and its close allies the Hurricane, Spitfire and the Mosquito. As a Doctor I should also add Penicillin, but that just doesn’t do it for me. 45 tons of pure blue-sky thinking, unknown technologies and untested capabilities turned into 100 tons of lethal weapon and fuel. I watched Vulcans take off from RAF Finningley as a kid, and have seen them at RAF Cosford Museum on film do a foursome scramble. I have stared up in to the open bomb bay as she flew over us at frequent Sunderland Air Shows.
I think the next Air Show will be a bit empty for me. But that is still some time away, and we will have some time to play with our smaller toys till then. Meanwhile, there is Christmas and a Winter to survive.
A Happy Christmas to you all!
My Grandson is called BO for short, and he is five years old and a bundle of dynamos. He sits still for a few seconds, and wriggles around on his chair, and loves his lego. As part of his expanding lego kit he has a few Airfix model aircraft which are very lifelike and can survive crashes which would have destroyed the models I grew up with, and they don’t need a single drop of glue. They can be dismantled and spread all over the house and can then be retrieved and re-assembled before bed-time, just as simple as that! Last time I did take him a proper model of a Vulcan as I knew this was his favourite plane, and he could learn to glue it and even paint it in the correct way for real models. I found his concentration was wavering when I tried to assemble the wheels. So was mine as they are difficult to assemble properly. Finally he dropped the bombshell. “I don’t want it with wheels, Grandad, I want it FLYING!” So half an hour’s concentration went in the bin, and it is still flying, with other planes to keep it company.
Bo lives near RAF Cosford Air Museum, so one of my days was spent chasing Bo round this incredible place. He can run a lot faster than me, and is small enough to disappear behind most of the exhibits, so I knew that this trip would be fun. He is also sensible enough not to cross guard ropes and (usually) does what he is told. All in all, an exceptional kid. But, as the only son of my favourite and only Daughter, what else would I expect?
RAF Cosford Museum is an incredible place. It is enormous, part of an operational RAF Base, with several huge hangars themed to specific eras, and with hundreds of outstanding exhibits. IT is FREE!! But there is a charge for car parking. It is centrally placed in Britain and is handy from several motorways. So go and see what they have to offer, and look at their website.
Their Research and Development hangar was full of planes I had never heard of, probably because most development is carried out in secret and before the days of computer simulation the results were trial and error. Sadly, sometimes the errors were fatal, Unfortunately, most of the trials never made it beyond the prototypes, for example the TSR-2. For political reasons, Britain got itself in to an enormous financial mess and cancelled this incredibly versatile and expensive multi-purpose supersonic plane before it could out-sell its American rivals (who were then effectively our Bankers). So, what is new in the World? Some say that the TSR-2 was so versatile it couldn’t do anything well, perhaps a bit like the hoped-for Eurofighter if it ever survives design by Eurocrat Committee and tensions from its various and competing Nations. But I think it was a fabulous plane, beautiful to look at, and a tribute to British ingenuity.
Titanium was once just an element in the Periodic Table before the Space Race. Stainless steel was the metal of choice for supersonic aircraft skins, as alloy would melt and buckle at high temperatures. There were planes in this hangar you could use to put your Brylcreem hairdo straight they were shining so brightly. Look at the Bristol type 108 with a pencil-thin nose and jets close to the fuselage. Strange air-brakes stuck out from the fuselage behind the jets looking as if a foot were sticking out.
The hangar which ticked all the boxes for me was the Cold War Exhibition. I could stand closer to a Vulcan than I had ever been before. I was next to a Victor, and under a Valiant, all three filling the air above me with real VEE for Venom. Oddly, the Vulcan’s nose was suspended from the ceiling and poked out over another part of the show. The Victor was my Father’s favourite. He thought it the most gracious of the V-Bombers. Pity the wings dropped off them after a few years. And if missiles were your thing, there were plenty to choose from. Or even a Lightning pointing, as their motto states, “Per Ardua Ad Astra”. But the star attraction was a film of The Scramble of four Vulcans in quick succession all disappearing in a haze of heat and burning kerosene and a very loud noise within a couple of minutes of getting the order to SCRAMBLE. I went weak at the knees, and Bo was lost for a minute or two till I came back to earth.
The “Re-fuel Café” doesn’t just serve kerosene coke and grease butties. There is all you need to keep you going for as long as your parking ticket lasts. So, after refuelling, Bo and I went all round the Museum again. It was wonderful. And if I am ever called up for babysitting duties again, I will go back for another look.
Last night was a real tear-jerker for me. The very last of “The Few” pilots from The Battle of Britain were flying the very last of The Few airworthy planes that flew in That Battle. Flights of four planes flew all over the area around and over which that battle was fought, and people could see and hear these magnificent planes doing what they do so well, and once did in such dangerous conditions. I saw a Spitfire loop, and do a barrel roll, often the finale to a successful sortie. This time they all came home. In those days so many didn’t, and lots of wreckage lies at the bottom of the Channel off The Needles which featured so poignantly in this programme.
If I had been a Spitfire Boy then, I wonder if my Grandson would be writing this today, or if my great-great Grandson would sit wriggling on my knee.
Shiver Me Timbers!! - 30/06/15
T.E. Lawrence was a remarkable and complex man. Very bright, he was thought to be insolent by his peers, probably because they were not as capable as he was and he probably told them so. His contribution to the First World War and the Arab Cause may never be fully or accurately assessed, but his portrayal in the film “Lawrence of Arabia” filled me with excitement. There was one scene when a lone arab on his camel rides towards Lawrence out of a heat haze and a mirage for one of the most unforgettable two minutes of cinema history.
I think it was last summer when I wrote of another dread killer coming out of the mist. We were at the Sunderland Air Show and The Vulcan was on its way. We knew something was about to happen as the skies had become silent and empty. Then, somewhere out in the haze over the North Sea, something was moving. Was this the Kraken waking? Something was emerging from the sea fret and mirage far out in the bay, silent as death, and it was coming our way. Slowly this apparition grew wings and a tall tail and I knew it was Avro Vulcan XH 558. Its approach was silent till very close, but it made the hair on my neck stand up, and then its presence was absolutely unmistakable, particularly on full throttle when half of the North East of England knew that particular Kraken had woken.
I had heard that XH 558 was about to pay us another visit. This is, I think, its last year as a flying Vulcan, and this mission was to fly round those bases where other static Vulcans sat on stately tarmac aprons and bid them a fond farewell. XH 558 lives at Doncaster Robin Hood International Airport. When I was a kid, this was RAF Finningley and was a top secret nuclear VEE Bomber base, and it was a few miles from our home. We would sometimes stand at the perimeter fence and watch these enormous planes fly off to do their Masters’ bidding. The chest-crushing roar of those four jets has never left me. And so far as I remember from school visits, Robin Hood never went near Finningley. He harassed the Sherrif of Nottingham some leagues further south, around Sherwood forest. Well, what’s a little marketing hype between friends?
The Big Bird was leaving Doncaster after an early lunch, flying up the coast to Durham and Sunderland, and then on to Carlisle. Our schedule was 1343hr overhead above our lovely Vulcan in the Sunderland Air and Transport museum. Once again, she appeared like a wraith out of grey skies flying over the Nissan car factory and banking north east for a pass over her sister. Then a full-throttle left bank and full circle and repass over sis, and she did it all over again before flying north over Newcastle and on to Carlisle. Being downstream of those four jets still amazes me. It is something like jumping into a cold lake, the breath just gets taken away from me, but I like it!! And there were several hundred others watching as well. If that was the last time I ever see a Vulcan fly, I shall be happy. But I hope she may turn up to the Sunderland Air Display later this summer. Keep an eye on the “Vulcan To The Skies” website for more information.
An interesting thing once happened to Sunderland’s Vulcan. During a heavy snowstorm so much snow fell on the huge wings that it overbalanced and its nose began to lift skywards! That caused some problems when the thaw started.
Vulcans were only used once in anger, when they went on an incredible run down to the Falkland Islands. So perhaps “Robin Hood” is a suitable name for the home of XH 558. And Sunderland is no stranger to strife and controversy, from pre-historic times through Roman and Viking raids to more recent times, often with its neighbour Newcastle. And Carlisle has a castle and controversy and was renowned for the Border Reivers.
But perhaps all these places which house Vulcans are also known for their connections with our Roman invaders. Vulcan was the Roman God of Fire, Volcanos, Metalwork and Forges. The Emperor Hadrian certainly had forges and metalworkers in the settlements along his Wall, and there would have been temples to Vulcan somewhere along the line. How fitting that XH 558 flew along the line of The Wall from Newcastle to Carlisle. Vulcan is also the Patron of the Sheffield Steel industry.
Big Brother - 23/04/15
Rain, wind, snow and hail! So I stayed indoors not venturing anywhere near the shed, as has been my practice for most of the last five months. Somewhere on the box was a re-run of The hunt for Red October. This is a good film, and worth the occasional re-watch. I saw something new. The KGB minder who had been sent to keep an eye on the highly respected and venerated Admiral Vilnius was a chap called Putin. How prophetic can the original book have been, written when our present Mr Vladimir was a mere lad. It set me thinking --- what sort of Big Brother do we have watching over us at our flying sites when we go off to do our Boys With Toys thing? Our Field Safety Officer has changed recently, from a wizard with investments to a chap half his size who is a wizard with physics. But I doubt the end result will be any different. We will still get benign but authoritative supervision without being too claustrophobic. And he will know that he has the BMFA and the CAA watching him, in a benign and authoritative way. I wonder if Mr Vladimir is watching them?
So, we are all sorting out our new models and checking that they are suitably airworthy – at least for their first flight, and waiting for a break in the weather so we can go off and have some fun. I guess most of us have already done some flying this year, but here the daffodils are still struggling against cold winds, and snow showers have scurried past from the Northumberland uplands to the North Sea and on to turn Bergen into a skiers paradise. I read recently that it only rains twice a year in Bergen, from April to September, and from October to March. We lived near there for 18 months, and that is close to the truth. The Bergen Emblem is an umbrella, and it is also a very pretty area to visit, if you take a lot of cash. I mentioned the first flight. One thing I have grown better at is to check the plane thoroughly after each flight, and before taking it out to fly the next time. First, it is a requirement for our insurance, and second, it keeps our friends safe. And we do like our friends, don’t we? Even our Flight Safety Officer, Vladimir? But what if we were told we had to stop flying because our plane had been condemned as unsafe? I wonder what sort of unfortunate accident might then befall our unfortunate Safety Officer? No, of course not!
We have an election soon, and lots of people are on the box making all sorts of seriously credible promises about how trustable they are, and how they would either guard prudently the nation’s assets till we could once again pay our way in the world; or spend and borrow all we can get our hands on, maximise on all our credit cards, create prosperity and dig ourselves even deeper out of the hole we are in. For us flyaholics we can position ourselves anywhere on the spectrum; sell up and worry ourselves silly; or spendspendspend. Someone else can pick up the pieces either way. How can it be our problem to worry about the economy national or personal when there is a summer of flying to enjoy? Well, I heard one brave politician earnestly NOT talking about the defence budget, and then a few hours later I heard some chilling facts from a journalist noting that we now have at our disposal a fraction of the number of aircraft we once had in the Iraq war. Apparently Germany can put up approximately half its complement of fighters as the other half are seemingly unserviceable. This same journalist finds that America’s B-52s are a little past their sell-by date, the youngest being 50 years old. Their F-16s average some 30 years of active service. Their maximum service life is probably on a need-to-know basis, as are most political jiggery-pokeries. And the replacement F-35, on which we hope to depend, is still a paper tiger. So, what is wrong with parading a few vintage aircraft to impress the public? Don’t we do this all the time at our shows? Aren’t there dedicated columns in our magazines highlighting models that are as frail and aged as their owners? But maybe the safety of the realm, or even of the free world isn’t so dependent on these models.
Well, maybe not. If we can be nice to each other maybe the world will still be there when we wake up tomorrow, maybe the weather will be fine, the wind blissful, and the Safety Officer might just be tied up with more important things to do. What was that about a new Higgs Boson?
Another day, and the swallows are flitting and chirruping around the house, so summer must be almost here. At last!
Thunder Tiger - 15/1/15
I watched a programme the other night about Tigers, the real sort, not our Taiwanese model types, and it raised a few questions in my mind. The basis of the programme was the use of very low frequency sound waves by animals (and many other agencies) to achieve their ends. Why is it that when a tiger jumps out of the jungle and roars at you, the end result, if you survive the first few minutes, is that you need clean pants. The answer, according to the researchers, is that low frequency sound engenders fear in people, and that usually makes their legs quake, and that usually stops them running away. A win for the tiger. Good research, perhaps, but I have never seen a deer jump so quickly as when a tiger roars at it from ten yards away. Maybe the researchers have a bit more homework to do.
Apparently elephants can communicate with other elephants miles away with low-frequency burblings transmitted through their feet. Sound travels through solids and liquids at different speeds and a lot further than through air. Whales can hear each other singing hundreds of miles away through the oceans. We humans don’t listen through our feet, or skin. Imagine how the noise pollution in our wonderful world feels to these creatures. Perhaps ships propellors thrashing round at subsonic speeds are the real reason whales get disorientated and beach themselves. Maybe that was what was behind “The Ipcress File”. It is possible that animals and birds react to earthquakes and volcano eruptions because they sense subsonic noises we can’t hear and aren’t yet aware of.
When did you last see a Vulcan at an airshow? Feel the chest-shuddering power as it flies past and stands on its tail on full power and leaving four plumes of kerosene smoke? Or any other powerful jet? They all generate a lot of noise, and that is why we go and watch and listen. And we don’t get turned to jelly or any other public health hazards. We absolutely love it! I must confess I don’t know what the spectrum of frequencies from a Vulcan looks like, but I am sure that a lot of the energy is low frequency and high energy. I grew up near a V-Bomber base and loved to hear them take off.
Another sound that thrills me is the sound of really deep organ pipes. The third movement of Saint Saens Organ Symphony starts with deep pedal organ notes which you feel rather than hear. In that instance I can imagine the organist caressing the pedal notes with tiptoes and setting the whole cathedral gently resonating before the music ratchets up towards Vulcan fever in the fourth movement and he stamps on the pedals and bashes the keys and manuals with full force which is what my music teacher said “ff” in music actually meant.
The researchers mentioned sound guns which could create low frequency sound waves which could disintegrate entire buildings at the press of a button. The patents ran out on that idea. And now we have interstellar lasers which really do work. They also mentioned testing animals in subsonic chambers to see if they disintegrated before checking out a few humans. They passed, which also appeared to limit the effectiveness of a sound gun. But I bet if they had done MRI or CT scans on these subjects they would have found quite a bit of unsuspected damage on small blood vessels or lung tissue. Fortunately for those researchers MRIs and CTs weren’t yet invented.
Another subsonic sound which really did turn peoples legs to jelly was the drone of a Doodlebug or buzzbomb, particularly when the sound stopped. The motor on these contraptions was a pulsejet which in basic terms is the simplest form of internal combustion engine there is. You can even make one out of a jam jar. If you ignite a fuel/air mixture it goes BANG! And its volume rapidly expands. Inside our Thunder Tiger engine the piston goes down and the propeller turns, and we go flying. If we have a tuned exhaust pipe on it the burning gas expands along the pipe to the atmosphere so fast that it creates a vacuum behind it which will suck the next bang along and improve the power of the engine. The simplest (valveless) form of pulsejet is a bit like a tuned exhaust pipe with a gismo to inject fuel and air to repeat the bangs and provide some jet propulsion, if not much throttle control. And they are not called bangs, they are called Deflagrations. It is all carefully explained in Wikipedia. Reed or daisy petal valves are used in more sophisticated designs to improve power and reduce reliability. I saw a couple of pulsejet models in action last summer at an airshow, once they had stopped working as flame-throwers and started pulsing correctly. They were whizzing round at high speed with a very distinctive loud and low throb till they ran out of fuel and landed silently.
The first pulsejet patent was issued in the 1860s with designs improving from there. The first jet engines were around when the Three Kings went to Bethlehem, using steam power. The jet engines, I mean, not steam-powered camels. Then the Chinese invented rockets, and various designs came and went, till Frank Whittle set us all on the right road from 1928. And the government? They told him to get lost. How did we guess that one? So he persisted and eventually we arrived at today, and for us flyaholics we can now play with lots of jet-powered models as well as pulsejets, if that is what turns us on.
Flying Tonight? - 7/11/14
I think we are good at complaining about anything we don’t like, and the weather just about tops the bill. The last summer has hit some records for sunniest, driest, wettest, coldest, and, yes, this is still good old United Britain. And we are still a nation of weather-watchers, still one nation although in some areas deeply divided. Here we have Hadrian’s Wall right across our country to remind us of times long ago when things were a trifle less peaceful. Edward Longshanks, the Hammer of the Scots. Brave Heart William Wallace. Robert the Bruce. They all fought and died over these pastures And not so far back as that were the Border Reivers, the Corsairs of these northern hills, who rode in on their sturdy horses and rounded up what they wanted and disappeared back into the valleys whence they came. Don’t get in their way if you wanted to stay the same shape as you were before they arrived, you might find an arm or a head missing. If you found yourself bereaved, the Reivers did it. It is the same word, just a different spelling. It is said that monks in a local Abbey heard the Reivers were in the area looking for them so they ran off and hid. Then they heard the Reivers had got lost in the fog and were headed way off north to Hadrian’s Wall, so they rushed back to the abbey and rang the bells and celebrated, only to find out that the noise attracted the Reivers back out of the fog just up the road where they were searching for the road home. An exchange of goods was arranged and the remaining Monks were somewhat impoverished for a few centuries. Strange how the principles of government have changed so little over centuries. There are still bonuses for us in such stories. There are several excellent sites and museums along the Wall where we can see what incredible achievements our ancestors got up to, and the Wall was built along a scarp slope with steep northerly cliffs which create updraughts for gliding.
I just can’t recall a decent summer. I can remember being rained off, blown off, fairly often on the days when I wanted to fly. I can remember being able to drive into our field without getting bogged down up to the axles in soft mud, and I hear we still can drive in. but the weather these last few days will surely change that. I can remember trying to cut grass ankle-deep after a couple of weeks growth. I can remember having some very frustrating times with planes. I can remember not achieving what I wanted. We all watched a new member struggle valiantly and vainly with a plane he wanted to use for aerial photography. The bungee launch, the crash, the cyano, the relaunch, the frustrated scowls. Finally he found another plane and was successful. Sound familiar? I think he has now mastered the black art of quadcopters and flying round lots of GPS waypoints taking lots of photos. Another member is at the cutting edge of commercial photography and live television and high-speed quadcopters. Things look promising, and you may be looking at his achievements soon. These things all filter down the club and into the hobby and benefit us all in the fullness of time.
Well, this year is almost dead and gone, and another is about to wake up and offer more hopes and dreams. I look up at the skies and see, sometimes, below the glowering clouds, birds wheeling freely through the air untrammelled by rain, wind, dead batteries, and soggy flying sites. We took a break recently to Ardwell Bay, a holiday haunt of my childhood. My first trip back in many years, we took a scenic route through the Reiver strongholds to Gretna (though I doubt they paid much attention to such rituals) and on to Sweetheart Abbey. So called because the Laird was killed in the crusades and his wife kept his heart to be buried with her in the abbey she built with his remaining fortune. It is an imposing ruin somewhat similar to but smaller than St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney. Those masters of aerial high jinks the rooks and jackdaws wheeled round and through window arches. At the southernmost tip of Scotland we saw a peregrine slicing through the air over cliffs on scimitar wings, as distinctive a silhouette as a spitfire. A flock of swans, 20 or so, flying low over the sea towards England, probably whoopers down from Iceland or Russia. One of the heaviest flying birds, how do they ever take off and keep flying for hours at a time. And all they eat is grass. And when will Li-Pos ever match their rechargability? A jay, north of Stranraer, resplendent in red, white, and azure wings and an awful cackle like a piston ring grinding itself to smithereens, and a squirrel running across the ground. Was it red? Was it grey? Gone too soon! Red Kites on the way home. I never tire of seeing these magnificent birds exulting over air currents we can never see, their tails shifting oh so slightly as they move left and right, long slim wings changing shape and incidence at their slightest whim. Such beautiful colours when seen in sunlight, and a great conservation story to pull them back from extinction. I have watched them do perfect touch-and-goes picking up offal at a feeding station, and then eating it on the wing. Hobby falcons catch insects in full flight and also eat them while flying. And we can achieve the odd mid-air collision!
And we left wing-warping behind a hundred years ago! Do any birds or insects do swing-wing technology? I know dragonflies can warp two sets of wings independently with a brain the size of a pinhead.
There were no whales to see off the coast, and no eagles. Not the right time or place for either, really, which leaves a nice excuse for a return visit another year.
Use this forum thread link or the one below if you have any feedback or messages for Martyn.
|The Flying Doctor|
feedback and commentary By Tim Mackey
by Tim Mackey
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