The Future of Aviation

British journalist Harry Harper (1880-1960) claimed to be the “World’s First Air Correspondent.” He was in France to see Blériot take off for that historic crossing of the English Channel and lived long enough to write about the Viking rocket and satellites. His enthusiasm made him an evangelist for the aviation industry at times. Almost ninety years ago, he wrote this about his vision of the future.

Flying will grow cheaper and cheaper. Already we have our air excursions to Paris and to the sea-coast, and to big race-meetings and football matches. And what I see dawning, now, is an even more wonderful era than that.

HP42I can see the day coming when, thanks to this magic carpet of the airway, we shall live a wider, fuller life than we do to-day. ….. Picture to yourself the day when great oceans as well as continents are spanned regularly and safely by huge air machines. And then imagine the wonderful scope which you will have when the time comes for you to take a well-earned holiday. With business pressure what it is to-day, none of us can spend much time on our vacations. But all of us like to go to new places and see new scenes. And here it is that the all-embracing airway will unfold such fresh vistas before us.

ScyllaNo longer shall we be pinned, say, to a trip down to the seaside, or a rush across to the Continent. Embarking in some great air express, and paying a fare well within our means, we shall sweep high above land and sea, flying thousands of miles where formerly we only travelled hundreds, and being able to reach distant beauty spots which, were it not for the speed of the air machine, it would be impossible for us to visit in the time at our disposal.

HP.42colour

But the world at large needs to be reminded again and again that there is this new facility of aerial transport. …. We want to tell the public, and particularly the business world, to fly when they are in a hurry, to send their letters by air when the time factor is important, and to transmit by airway any parcels or merchandise which are required urgently by those to whom they are despatched. And we want to tell them this, time after time, until an air habit has been acquired, and the use of the airway has become a matter of ordinary routine.

Our aerial future, in fact, lies before us as a future of immense and widespread progress. …. We must now go forward without hesitation into our great universal era of the air.
‘The Romance of a Modern Airway’, Harry Harper, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., Ltd. 1930.

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Lieutenant Grider’s New Machine

John McGavock Grider was an American pilot attached to the Royal Air Force in World War One. After months of training, and impatient for action, he was finally given orders to fly to France. He collected his brand-new S.E.5a fighter from the Brooklands depot and wrote in his diary “it certainly is a beauty.”

SE5_ground

May 14 1918. I gave my new plane a work-out in the air to-day. It flies hands off; I put it level just off the ground and it did 130 [m.p.h.]. Then I went up high and did a spinning tail slide. Nothing broke so I have perfect confidence in it. I’ve been cleaning and oiling the machine-guns, tuning up the motor and testing the rigging. The best part of it is that it’s mine – no one else has flown it and no one else ever will. It’s painted green and I have named it the Julep and am having one painted on the side of the fusilage.

SE5_flight

To-morrow, I’ve got to synchronize my gun-gear, set my sights, swing my compass and then I’m ready. Death bring on your sting, oh, grave hoist your gold star!
The bus certainly is plentifully supplied with gadgets. The cockpit looks like the inside of a locomotive cab.

SE5_cockpit

It has two guns: one Vickers and one Lewis. The Vickers is mounted on the fuselage in front of your face and fires through the propeller with a C.C. gear to keep from hitting it. The Lewis is mounted on the top wing and fires over the top of the propeller. It has two sights: a ring sight and an Aldis telescopic sight. I set both sights and both guns so that they will all converge at a spot two hundred yards in front of the line of flight. When you aim, what you really do is to aim the plane and the guns take care of themselves. The Vickers has a belt of four hundred rounds and the Lewis has a drum of one hundred and we carry three spare drums.

SE5_Lewis gunTo change drums you have to pull the gun down on the track with your hand and then take off the empty drum and put on the full one. It’s not hard to do unless you let the wind get against the flat side of the drum, then it will nearly break your wrist. We’ve practised changing until we can do it in our sleep. The Vickers is the best gun by far.
‘War Birds’, Cornstalk Publishing Company, Sydney, Australia, 1928.

Grider was well aware that the life of a fighter pilot at the Front could be short. He mentions the possibilty of death several times. Training could be almost as dangerous. His diary is a catalogue of dead and injured pilots who never made it to the fight. He arrived in France on 25th May – “Here’s where we sober up and get down to real serious work.” John Grider was reported missing in action on 18th June.

The photographs show S.E.5a aircraft built by the Vintage Aviator in New Zealand. These are “reproductions”, made to original specifications, not “replicas” which may have modern components under the skin.

Out of Action

Today’s image comes from a WWI postcard.

Image from WWI postcard of captured German Pfalz DIII aircraft.

The original is a very dark sepia with almost no detail in the shadows so although this isn’t perfect, it’s an improvement, believe me. It shows a group of British military personnel gathered round what is left of a German aircraft. I think we can see a mixture of army and Royal Flying Corps uniforms there.

The wreck on the trailer used to be a Pfalz DIII, probably a DIIIa which dates the photograph to sometime between November 1917 – when the type was introduced – and the end of the war twelve months later. The shape of the cross on the fuselage suggests it might have been prior to April 1918. Two R.F.C. men are standing in front of the aircraft’s number which makes it difficult to be any more specific.

Although over a thousand of both variants were made, no originals have survived. There are only two replicas to show what the DIII would have looked like in one piece. This is one of them.

A replica Pfalz D.III German WWI fighter aircraft.

ca_flight2

It was made in 1965 for the movie ‘The Blue Max’ so, at 53 years old, it’s edging towards veteran status.

The Navy gets its wings

During the late war [World War One], the Navy acquired its wings with the formation of the Royal Naval Air Service, which corresponded to the the Royal Flying Corps ashore. But these two separate forces were merged into the Royal Air Force, and for many years a dual control of the aircraft attached to the Royal Navy caused a great deal of muddle and misunderstanding. The aircraft were supplied by the Air Ministry. While they were embarked in H.M. Ships they were under the control of the Navy, but when disembarked they were commanded and administered by the R.A.F. The pilot personnel was 70 per cent Naval, while all the observers were Naval officers and men. In 1939 the Admiralty assumed control of the Fleet Air Arm.

Image from cigarette card of H.M.S. Eagle, with Fairey Flycatcher biplane.The first of our ships built to carry aircraft was H.M.S. Eagle, which was under construction as a battleship for the Chilean Navy when war was declared in 1914, and was bought by the British Government as she lay on the stocks in 1917. She is of 22,600 tons, but carries only 21 aircraft. The aircraft in this picture is a Fairey Flycatcher.

World War Two Royal Nay aircarft carrier Furious. Image from a cigarette card.Three heavy ships, of 22,500 tons each, were converted later into aircraft carriers – Furious, carrying 33 aeroplanes and completed in 1925; Courageous, carrying 48, completed in 1928, and Glorious, carrying 48, completed in 1930.

H.M.S. Hermes was the first ship to be designed and built as an aircraft carrier. She is of 10,850 tons, and carries only 15 aeroplanes. But design has advanced rapidly, and the more recent ships – Ark Royal and her successors – have accommodation for 70 aeroplanes.

HMS_sharkIn this picture a Blackburn Shark torpedo-bomber aircraft is seen taking off from the flight deck of H.M.S. Courageous. The wire stretching across the deck in the foreground is an “arrester” which catches on to a hook under the aircraft as it lands. The Courageous carries aircraft of various types adapted for torpedo-bombing, fighting and spotter-reconnaissance work.

HMS_RecPlaneThis shows a Fairey III F reconnaissance ‘plane taking off from H.M.S. Courageous. An aeroplane takes off and lands into the wind, the direction of the steam jet seen coming from the bows of the ship indicating to the navigator when the ship is steaming dead into the wind. The aircraft carrier Courageous belongs to what is admitted to be the Navy’s ugliest class of vessels.

Image from a cigarette card of a WWII Walrus aircraft in flight.The most popular machine in the Fleet Air Arm is the Walrus, an amphibian biplane with the propeller behind the cockpit – a “pusher.” This is essentially a reconnaissance plane, and as it is a very sturdy type of flying-boat it is very seaworthy. It is used chiefly on patrol duty on trade routes, for intercepting ships, spotting submarines and floating mines, and carrying out bombing attacks if necessary.

The Skua is a larger aircraft, a low-winged monoplane, and fighters are usually Gloucester [sic] Gladiators, small biplanes with a very high climbing speed and the utmost manoeuvrability.

Gloster Gladiator

Edited from ‘The Royal Navy’, Wm. Collins Sons and Co. Ltd., June 1941, and cigarette cards from 1936 and 1938. Aircraft design advanced so quickly during this period that the Fairey IIIF and Blackburn Shark had been withdrawn from frontline carrier service by the outbreak of war. Curiously, the 1941 book doesn’t admit that Courageous was sunk back in 1939, although it does mention the loss of H.M.S. Hood in May.

Virginia plane

U S S West VirginiaI bought these two old snapshots from the same online trader although, oddly, they were offered for sale several months apart. They could have been taken on the same day by the same person but were not printed on the same photographic paper. They feature a seaplane, which I didn’t recognise, and the name ‘U.S.S. West Virginia’, which of course I did.

VirginiaPlane2sIn the period between World Wars, American battleships, and those of other navies, carried observation aircraft – ‘spotter planes’ – fitted with floats. Launched by catapult from the deck, they landed beside the ship when their mission was over and were retrieved by crane. This was skilled, dangerous work and easier said than done.

The original images were obviously personal snaps taken by one or more of the West Virginia’s crew, not the work of a Navy photographer, but after a quick rinse through software they scrubbed up looking like this

VirginiaPlane4

VirginiaPlane3

I’ll admit that U.S. Navy aircraft of the 1920s are not my strong point. In my defence, I can’t possibly know everything and that’s why we have search engines. I discovered two things
(1) there are more to sort through than you might imagine
(2) as all you aviation experts already know, this is a Vought OU-1 – standard equipment in the U.S. Navy for ten years from 1923 and an aircraft with a couple of notable firsts to its credit.

In 1924 it was the first plane to be catapulted off a battleship at night and, five years later, the first plane to dock with a dirigible (airship) in flight! “Why?”, I hear you ask. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The San Diego Air and Space Museum have several better quality images on their Flickr site and you can find a good photograph of USS Pennsylvania with two planes mounted aft on this well researched page about the short history of catapult aviation.

Two mysteries remain – the location of the photographs (if you can help with that, please leave a comment) and how did these personal souvenirs from an American battleship end up in New Zealand?

The West Virginia found fame later in life when she was sunk at Pearl Harbour, salvaged, rebuilt, and put back into the fight. She was in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender in 1945.

Attack_on_Pearl_Harbor_1941_Virginia

A small boat rescues a USS West Virginia crew member from the water after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Two men can be seen on the superstructure, upper center. The mast of the USS Tennessee is beyond the burning West Virginia.
USN/AP via rarehistoricalphotos

Fighter Ace

Closeup of red poppies on a war memorial wreath.Tomorrow will be the 11th day of the 11th month and, at the 11th hour, Armistice Day will be commemorated in many countries around the world. Begun as a way to mark the end of the Great War and remember all those who didn’t come home, it now includes all who have died in subsequent wars. It is sometimes referred to as Remembrance Day, possibly because of the lines repeated at every war memorial service “…at the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.” So here is one story to remember on Armistice Day.

In June 1940, with the advancing German army just days away from Paris, R.A.F. pilot Paul Richey decided to take a last look at the city.

“Paris as a whole retained its irresponsible gaiety – though one felt it was even rather too irresponsible. The couples still sipped their champagne and sang the choruses of romantic songs in the boulevard cafes. Albert still bowed one in with a portly gesture and a welcoming smile at Maxim’s. The Ritz Bar was still in full swing before lunch and again before dinner. The only thing changed was the almost total abscence of soldiers.

It was as I walked down the Champs Elysees towards the Concorde one afternoon that I came upon Cobber, of 73 Squadron, sitting at a pavement table with the 73 Squadron Doctor and a well-known journalist. Over a drink Cobber told me that the rest of the original 73 had gone back to England, and that they had been re-formed, like us. He had stayed behind to help get things going, but was off in a couple of days’ time. He was on a few hours’ leave now. He said they’d had some losses – about five killed, I think – and in answer to my question told me his own personal score of Huns was 17. I noticed, but without surprise in the circumstances, that he seemed nervous and pre-occupied, and kept breaking matches savagely in one hand while he glowered into the middle distance. Like the rest of us, he’d had enough for a bit.

HurricaneThe following day [7th] a Hurricane roared down and beat up 73’s aerodrome south-west of Paris. To finish up with it did a couple of flick-rolls in succession at 200 feet, and foolishly attempted a third with insufficient speed. Naturally it spun off. It straightened out promptly enough, but of course had no height and went in. The rescue squad was shocked to find an identity disc marked with Cobber’s name on the body. So died Cobber.”
‘Fighter Pilot’, 1941.

Cobber KainB

© IWM (C 1148)

Flying Officer Edgar “Cobber” Kain, DFC, from Hastings, New Zealand, was recognised as the R.A.F.’s first fighter ace of World War Two. He was 21 years old when he died on 7th June. He had become engaged to the English actress Joyce Phillips in April. The wedding was planned for July.

Parachute training

parachuteParachutes are to the airman what lifeboats are to the sailor; the service pilot of to-day has one for use in emergency. More than 100 lives have been saved since they were introduced into the R.A.F. ten years ago. Training in their use is given to all pilots in the Service, and a mass descent demonstration has been a feature of the annual display at Hendon for several years past. We show a cheerful parachutist on the wing of an aeroplane, waiting to pull the ripcord which will release his parachute and draw him backwards into space.
Cigarette card, Ardath Tobacco Co., 1936.

If this caption is accurate, parachutes were first issued to R.A.F. pilots in 1926, so they took their own sweet time in handing out the “lifeboats”. You can read more about the Service’s shameful attitude to parachutes here.

Pulling the ripcord before jumping sounds like a good way to get the canopy wrapped around the aircraft’s tail, but we have to assume they knew what they were doing. Don’t we?

You can see a British Pathé newsreel of the 1937 Hendon air display on Youtube.