10/10/2017 – Summertime
I could probably cut and paste the opening part of this piece from various previous submissions — the weather has been good, the weather has been awful, the weather and most events have gone on just about exactly as they have been for years. I choose the last. Today the wind is whistling round the house, the trees are waving their fronds in a wild semaphore and waving goodbye to hundreds of thousands of leaves – the source of all their last year’s growth and the source of all our frustration in the garden where we now see tons of leaf litter rammed up against all our garden walls. Three years ago we simply tossed them over those walls into the next field where a couple of derelict barns stood rotting. Now we have neighbours who might just have something to say if we pulled that prank again. But fortunately the prevailing wind blows from us to them, and leaves don’t make that migration back again. But they will keep coming in from the village green where several conker trees are busy adding to the leaf litter coming our way.
I don’t keep a log of how many flights I make, unlike one of our Club members who had a Pilot’s licence and was also a different sort of Pilot on the Tyne River. He kept logs for a living and the habit obviously dies hard. But there seem to be fewer decent days for flying these last couple of years. Maybe the Policemen are getting younger. Maybe the grass is getting greener in other pastures. Maybe there are other pressures on time. Maybe—
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One pressure easily born came in a book a pal gave me to read. This was entitled “Fate is the Hunter” by Ernest K Gann, with the accolade “The finest book on aviation ever written”. It is, in fact, very well written with a droll sense of humour I like. You can get it on Amazon for pence. Gann starts his flying career some time before WW11 on crop-dusters and aerobatics, and anything else he can get permission to fly, and loves it. He then progresses through Flight School to a budding airline flying DC2s. His is a love-hate relationship with this beast which he finds is the most cantankerous and most forgiving plane he ever flies. How he ever gets to write this book after reciting how many times he (only just) didn’t crash gives some flavour to the Title. Someone up there is looking down on this guy. Witness to that is the first five pages of names, in small print in double columns, “To those old comrades with wings forever folded”, and he concludes “Their fortune was not so good as mine”.
Pilots in those days were all-important and a co-pilot was ok to make coffee and say “Yessir!!” and rarely took the helm, and even less frequently was given a landing. Their job was to absorb information by experience and “Yessir!!”. However, Gann progressed, and it was during one flight when he learnt quite a lot about how clouds can spoil a party. Their route took them through an area known for thunder clouds, and Gann had noticed some cumulus tops ahead and thought little more about them. The dour and incommunicative Pilot suddenly became more tense, looking carefully at the looming tops, and without saying anything to Gann slammed the throttles to full power and started climbing. Suddenly their world changed utterly and completely. They were falling at an incredible rate even on maximum climb, and how close were those mountain peaks? They never found out, as just as suddenly they were being thrown upwards – literally – just as fast. Then torrential rain lashed their cabin and forced its way round the windows and through the seams between the aluminium body sheets. Then that stopped suddenly, and after a suitable pause the hail began. In America they do everything big, and Gann watched these hailstones rip the paint off the nose cone and almost craze the windows. And then the sun came out.
I remember watching in horror as some covering detetached itself from the wing of one of my planes as I flew it over The Bog. I can’t recall whether I landed ok or took a black bag with me for suitable burial in That Bog, but Gann can remember vividly what happened when his wings became a bit deformed. Again, he was co-pilot, and on a night flight they flew in to a cloud formation where they might encounter ice. And so they did. The DC2 had a primitive de-icing system which included a rubber bag along the leading edge, where ice was more likely, which could be pumped up and deflated to dislodge the ice, which would then slide back and knock off any other ice. Sounds good? Let’s just hope the ailerons and elevators don’t jam or freeze solid! This rubber duck thing didn’t work, and there were bigger and bigger deposits of ice on the wings. This did two things. First, there was the additional weight of lots of ice, and they watched the air speed slowly creep closer and closer to stall. Secondly, the ice on the wings and tailplane altered the shape of the surfaces and lift generated in a way no-one could ever predict. Was this giving them more lift or less lift. And what would the effect be on their stalling speed? Or C of G? They didn’t want to find out. Periodically one or other engine would run rough and start to backfire. The carburettors were icing, the carb heaters were ineffective, the engines ran too rich, and one cure was to run the engine so lean it would backfire and blow the ice away. The other cure was to crash. Simple choice. Also, the prop blades were icing and causing imbalance to the props. Periodically great chunks of ice would be thrown off the blades and hit the fuselage. These lumps would be travelling pretty fast. Now you know why we spend so much time balancing our little props. He was still able to finish his book.
His Airline rostered him to deliver a DC2 to Brazil, around the outbreak of WW2. The Americans were at that time not at all liked in most of South America where the Germans had established some dominance. They had to stop off for a service and refuel in a fairly remote station. The maps were a bit vague about the interiors of most large countries – “When you see the river turn right” – sort of thing. “Ignore All Clouds obscuring the river.” Having taken off and reached cruising height he went back in to the cabin to fetch the next set of unhelpful maps. Just as he was about to return, out of the corner of his eye he noticed the right engine suddenly start spraying steam and oil over the wing. Obviously a terminal event, the like of which we see now less frequently during Formula One races than in earlier years. He dived back in to the cockpit and slammed the throttle shut, closed that engine, and told the Co-Pilot to return to base. Had the engine seized it would probably have torn itself off the wing with the propeller taking a whirlygig jungle trip all its own. After a full inspection the engine was pronounced safe and they flew on. The only conclusion they eventually came up with was that someone who really didn’t like them had sabotaged the engine by adding water to the oil. A cup of tea would do the trick. At operating temperature this would have boiled and blown the filler cap off and with it the oil. He saw it at just the right time. A second before or after, and he would not have written this book. Yes, someone was looking kindly at E. K. Gann. Enjoy the read!
24/05/2017 – It fell on his Head!
I grew up in Yorkshire, a long time ago, in fact in an earlier Millenium. We had some apple trees in the garden, and one of the tasks we kids had was to gather all the apples growing on the trees, and all the fallen apples the birds and wasps had not yet destroyed. These were stored for later consumption and turned up during Autumn and winter months as stewed apples or apple snow or apple dumplings, and I still loathe apples. So far as I recall I was never under an apple when it fell. Another task I remember was to pull up dandelions. We were paid, I think, a threepenny bit for every 25 full roots we produced. In those days there were a good 240 pennies in a pound, and a threepenny bit would buy the cheapest of ice creams.
There are times in our life when something happens to us which changes our lives, or the lives we touch, in some way or other. Archimedes it was, so they say, who shouted out “Eureka!!” when he stepped in to his bath and noticed that the water level rose, and he worked out that the displacement of his body exactly equalled the rise in the water level. Isaak Newton apocryphally did have an apple fall on his head. After he recovered from his surprise, and upon reflection, he realised that there was a Force propelling the apple downwards, which he called “Gravity”. He was a remarkable Mathematician, and used his wit and judgment to work out something I never ever understood in Maths lessons, called Calculus. Newton called this Fluxions, and Inverse Fluxions. As a Medical man this means something other than Maths (but we won’t go there!). He didn’t publish his work for years, and in those years someone else called Gottfried Leibnitz claimed all the glory with his Calculus theories. We shall see how Fluxions come in to this story later.
One of my Club mates lent me “Secrets of the Spitfire” by Lance Cole. This details the life of a rather shy and extremely bright Canadian who was involved in the creation of the Spitfire from its beginning. His earlier life and experience uniquely equipped him to design a plane which was unique, a world-beater, set precedents which most other following planes copied, and had one of the longest production runs of any military plane, and towards the end of its life could even hold its own against the Lightning which was more than twice as fast and the herald of totally different thinking and planning in aircraft design. Shenstone was brought up around Toronto and studied at that University. On his way there he became interested in boats and sailing and experimented with different hull designs to find the ideal slippery shape for both hull and sail. He also learnt to fly.
After gaining his Degree he worked his passage to Germany and found a job with Junckers building their planes, panel-bashing and generally getting dirt under his finger nails and all over his overalls. And because he was very bright he also found his way in to the Design Offices here and in other German Aero works, particularly gliders where German ideas and planes were world-beaters. The Germans had been banned from any Military activity after the Great War but they did build good transport planes and gliders. After a few years he scrubbed some dirt out of his finger nails and came to Britain and went to meet Sidney Camm, the Chief Engineer at Hawker. The meeting did not go at all well, and Shenstone looked elsewhere.
Later he met R. J. Mitchell at Supermarine, when Mitchell was engrossed in building a big Flying Boat. Shenstone told him the wing would not work, which was a very brave move for an unemployed young engineer looking for a job. Equally brave was Mitchell’s offer of a 2 month trial if he could redesign the wing. Shenstone succeeded brilliantly, and the plane was ditched because that plane’s contract hit the buffers. But the two had hit it off, and Shenstone stayed. Interestingly, Supermarine and Hawker were under the same umbrella of Vickers Armstrong and were direct competitors for Aviation contracts. Mitchell had by this time designed and built several Schneider Trophy racing float planes and finally won it outright for Britain in 1931 with the Supermarine S 6B, shortly before he began design work on the Type 224 which was an Air Ministry contract for a new fighter. This was a thoroughly ugly and slow aircraft with cranked gull wings and wheels on weird legs sticking down under the plane to enhance its already high drag co-efficient. Mitchell had just set two World speed records with the S 6B and I can’t think why he built such an ugly duckling, even if it didn’t have floats. Shenstone hadn’t quite graduated to Mitchell’s top design team at this stage. Lance Cole’s suggestion in his book seems to be that only by making an ugly duckling could he later hatch out a swan.
But this is what the Team did, and Cole stresses that the Spitfire was very much a team effort, with regular exchange of ideas rather like brainstorming exercises. Sidney Camm was leading Hawker on to new contracts for fighter planes as part of the same Company and Cole gives the very clear impression than the Boffins in the Air Ministry who decided who got what contract mostly had concrete for brains, a bit like Captain Mainwaring. Maybe that is why Mitchell designed such a unique plane. Biplanes were the proper type of plane, predictable and agile, with nice robust wings in which you could hide a gun or three. Ah Yes! The wings had to be robust for strength or they would fold up under G-stress. And we were going to need quite a few planes if we ever did find ourselves in a war and biplanes were easy and simple to build. Canvas covering could be darned if it got ripped. Just take a look at the Hawker Hurricane. None of this aluminium sheeting nonsense which was so hard to shape.
So the Team got to work and rejected all the accepted wisdoms of the Air Ministry boffins and built a Swan. Rolls-Royce had just built their V12 Merlin engine which fitted the plane beautifully and Mitchell had been working on ellipsoidal wing shapes for some time. So had Shenstone, in Germany, and knew about as much as anyone anywhere about their advantages. This shape, Cole points out many times, was well tried out with examples going back years, and had been noted in Nature from seed pods floating in breezes and insect wings fluttering very efficiently. Look up in the sky and see how many birds have some sort of ellipsoidal wing shape. This Shenstone shape was to be subtly very different with not one but many ellipses creating the wing and tailplane and rudder. The prime criterion was to reduce drag; and the thickness of the wing, and its shape and length, were vital features in drag. With reduced drag came reduced wing loading. With reduced wing loading came a thinner wing. With a thinner wing came reduced drag. You get the message? Shenstone used new wing profiles to create his wing and built in the vital wash-out which shifted the stall to safer levels particularly in tight dog-fight manoeuvres which enabled the Spitfire to turn tighter than its competitors and still keep flying safely when they were stalling and falling out of the sky. He built the wing from alloy sheet which made it very strong, which enabled it to be thinner still. He insisted that all rivets should be flat with the skin surface which gave the Spitfire a good 30 mph extra speed. He subsequently proved this by sticking split peas on all his rivet heads and showing those pesky boffins how much slower it really was. He took out all lumps and bumps from every surface which reduced drag even further. He calculated every single profile using log rules and slide tables to work out the most efficient co-efficient for drag and laminar flow and a new concept of boundary flow. He knew about that from his sailing experiments. And he didn’t stop at the wing. Because the drag was low, the flow of air around the fuselage was not distorted, so the tailplane and rudder could be smaller, and with less drag. He also realised that there was a lot of turbulence generated at the wing root/fuselage junction, and went back to his panel-bashing and gliding experience in Germany to create a large fillet joining rear wing to fuselage and greatly smoothing out turbulence flowing over the tailplane (which could be smaller). These days we hear about such turbulence every time we watch a Formula One race and look at their rear wings. This fillet had complex curves requiring nights of hard calculus. There was a Mathematics whizzkid living in Southampton at the time and Shenstone spent many hours going over his calculus theory with him and expanding it much further so he could solve the problems he came up against. I think I got a “D” in Maths. He also applied the same dogged determination to improve the slipstream around the air intake and radiators till he – or the Team – got it right. I understand Sir Henry Royce was also a perfectionist. How fortunate such men were in their right places at the right times, or this ugly duckling may not have transformed in to such a beautiful swan.
This Beautiful Lady was NOT in Drag!
There is a swan in the Bowes Museum not too far from where I write this. It is made of silver, in 1773. It is life size, and performs its dance every day at 2.00pm. It is exquisite, probably the most beautiful of all the wonderful exhibits in The Bowes Museum. If you are ever near Barnard Castle make sure you drop in. The café serves excellent food. Next time I see it I shall think of Shenstone and his wing.
27/02/16 – Install Windows 10!
Our desktop computer is getting a bit tired. We bought it when we lived in Orkney so it must be a good ten years old now. It has helped in the writing of all these blog items, it stores all our photos, it has helped us book tickets to all sorts of destinations, it has enormously expanded our horizons by enabling us to surf the net, to read Wikipedia, to check up on our various Members of Parliament, and, of course, to read RCM&E online.
But recently we think our dear friend has shown some signs of ageing. We don’t see this as silvering of its locks of hair hanging around the DVD slot, more as glitches on its conversations with us when we ask it (very nicely, of course) to do things for us, like find out what’s on at the Theatre Royal. This can lead to some misleading information causing us to think again about trusting our loyal friend. And recently we have been plagued with some weird things happening as if some miscreant has crept around our firewall and started a plague of some sort. And this necessitates a visit to our favourite computer shop which occupies a space in our favourite supermarket. Rather too frequently.
And then they said they wouldn’t support Windows XP so we had to buy Windows 7, and guess what? Five minutes later there is FREE windows 10! So we waited for a few months till all the bugs seemed to have been sorted out by the earlier guinea pigs and when our faithful friend hiccupped yet again we took the plunge and had Windows 10 installed with a real Chrome search engine so it looked smart. Not plain sailing. Patricia TOLD me she had never heard anyone say a good word about Windows 10 and NOW where have I got us? Well, it is ok, just, and she has found some lovely wallpaper of wolves who change every time we switch on. And she has also found some solitaire games we can play when it is too cold or windy to get out into the garage or off to the flying field, or even out to weed the garden. It seems it is always too wet to weed the garden, but right now there is no snow there.
I confess to being a bit of a geek when it comes to clever things like computers, and I have problems working out how to program an electric toothbrush, never mind a video or a computer or even my trannie. Maybe that was why I was usually near the bottom of the class in most things, and why during my medical training I skulked at the back of the group of students. But there was one day when I was cornered by the Consultant and asked to tell the group all about Rhesus grouping in mothers and infants. I stunned the entire group by giving a clear and lucid review of the problems these people get which even had the Consultant purring in admiration. So, when I do understand something I can teach it pretty well.
The greatest danger in going online is that you can start looking at lots of websites, and this can lead to problems with content, particularly if things are for sale. Like the BMFA Classifieds for example. I pulled a kit down from the rafters the other day which was the end result of one of these forays. It had been gathering dust for some time, and a break in the weather from Arctic to Cold combined with increasing levels of boredom pushed me to make a start. This kit was American, so it had been written in my language, not translated from Chinglish or Vietninglish. There were lovely ply and balsa sheets with lots of ribs and formers cut out, and pretty blocks of balsa cut to attractive shapes, and sheets of balsa to cover wings and fuselages, and there were two of each. This plane is a Lockheed P-38. The plans were clear, with various notes written near appropriate bits of the plan, and a lengthy instruction manual with advice on where to put the supplied decals. The wings were easy. But it helps if there is a datum piece to ensure the trailing edge has the correct wash-out. With so much balsa going to waste they should have added this. And maybe I should have suspected something when they suggested building the left wing by reversing the plan and using tracing paper. It was when I got round to the fuselages that I found the major problems. It helps to build wings and fuselages exactly true, with no warp or banana twists, and most plans have formers pinned down to a plan so you can get and maintain correct datum lines. Not this one! I think the idea was to glue stringers to formers and pin them together over a side view of the plan, and hope that things turned out well in the end. So much easier to have designed the formers to be pinned to a plan so the result would be accurate. And it would have helped if the distructions had noted that some of the formers were handed and could only be built in one way. Sorry, that sentence was missing as well. So were the instructions for three of the units to retain the wing. Imagination required, and I do have an abundance of that.
So, now I have several components which are pretty close to getting finished, and a big question mark over whether this contraption will fly. And since the weather is still a long way from congenial, I think it will be some time before I shall find out.
Instructions which leave so much to the imagination infuriate me. It is so easy for someone who knows all the answers to assume that everything he says is understood by all he talks to. Not So!!! When I explain something I try hard to be as clear as possible so the recipient has the best chance to understand what is going on. This was a good quality kit by Royal with atrociously written instructions and a flawed design method which will probably have an impact on its flying, with a secondary impact on our flying strip. So when somebody simply says “Install Windows 10” I might get understandably upset.
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!
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