I’m doing a little bit of pictorial research for a forthcoming article, and riffling through Wikimedia Commons I found this. I think we have all seen the pictures of Stirlings towering over crews as they walk out to them, but this picture of a 149 Squadron Stirling brings home the sheer size of the RAF’s first four-engined bomber.  The serial is partially obscured,  but I think this is Austin-built W7462 being pushed out for service at (probably) RAF Lakenheath, The picture metadata gives the date as 31st December 1941. There is evidence of censorship on the image (under the belly of the aircraft,  in front of and above the crew members pushing on the port main wheel) so as to obscure any buildings in the background which might identify the base.

Short Stirling

Royal Air Force ground staff pushing a 149 Squadron Stirling Mk.I  W7462 “OJ-T” out for overhaul. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I searched the squadron codes and serial number, and found a little bit more information.  It would appear that W7462 met its end approximately a month after the picture was taken, probably in the early hours of 30th January 1942. The aircraft was returning to Lossiemouth, Scotland from an operational flight to Ofotfjord, Norway. On landing at Lossiemouth, the aircraft skidded on the icy runway and ran into a ditch, resulting the the collapse of the undercarriage. The aircraft was not repaired and is listed as a loss. There were, happily no fatalities.

The pilot of W7462 on this occasion was Flight Lieutenant R. W. .A Turtle, and the crew consisted of Pilot Officer D. L. Atkinson, Sergeant Collins, Sergeant Bowman, Sergeant J. D. Burnley, Sergeant Hanna, and Sergeant Smith.


Just Watch

Since I’ve been gathering a bit more information for the ‘Joplin Jalopy’ blog I was idly image searching this afternoon.  I just found out about the Convair Model 39/104/R2Y “Liberator Liner”  and was just looking at some PB4Y-2 Privateer things when I saw some footage of a Privateer performing at Chino  in 2017.   Then I found some footage of the same Privateer (It’s the world’s only airworthy PB4Y-2 in any case)  at Chino a couple of weeks ago on May 5.  I pressed the “play” button and let my jaw drop.   I saw things flying past I never dreamed I’d see. So I had to share the video with you – it’s at the bottom of this post.

I was looking for this, having seen some YouTube footage of it being displayed in 2017:

PB4Y-2 Privateer

PB4Y-2 Privateer BuNo66302 N2871G By FlugKerl2 (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t expect to see this, mostly because I didn’t know it even existed, much less was airworthy

Seversky AT-12 Guardsman

Seversky AT-12 Guardsman ‘NX55539’ (41-17529) c/n 483-38. Saw service with the El Salvadorian Air Force as ‘YS-114’. This is the sole surviving AT-12. It is maintained in airworthy condition and occasionally flown. Seen on display in the Maloney hangar at the Planes of Fame Museum, Chino, California, USA. Feb 2016 (Photo by Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK – CC-BY-SA-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

And neither did I expect to see it flying in formation with this:

Boeing P-26A Peashooter

Boeing P-26A Peashooter ’33-123 / 23’ (NX3378G) c/n 1899. Saw service with the Guatemalan Air Force as ‘FAG-43’. This is the only airworthy example of the type and is on display in the Maloney hangar at the Planes of Fame Museum, Chino, California, USA. Feb 2016. (Photo by Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Well, enough of this teasing. There is a lot more in the video.  I may have a few more things to say later.   Personally I wasn’t keen on the music for the slo-mo sequences which start about half way through, but that’s an issue of personal taste and my own hearing.

CFM-56 – Politics, Exports and More.

I was wondering whether to blog anything about the CFM-56 engine following its recent appearance in the news headlines.  The media coverage following the in-flight failure of an engine on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 on April 17, 2018 dredged up several stories going back through the years, one of which piqued my attention and made me want to fill in some of the gaps in the narrative.   I have no doubt my teaching inclination influences my thinking, but the back story of one of the more common jet engines is a lot more interesting than I had imagined.

The CFM-56 is also known by its military designation F108 (I had no idea about this – I need to look at the F101 and F110 too to clarify which is which) and is joint project of Safran (formerly Snecma) and GE Aviation under the name CFMI (CFM International).  According to its Wikipedia page, the CFM-56 one of the most common turbofan engines in the world, with 30,000 units built by July 2016.

The project might have met an early (one might say premature) demise which was not of its own making. The first example ran in June 1974,  but for the next five years there were no orders for the engine. Two things saved the CFM-56. Firstly,  a contract with several American operators of the DC-8 to re-engine their aircraft, and secondly the decision by the US Air Force to re-engine the KC-135 fleet.

The origins of the CFM-56 are truly mundane and can be traced to two men meeting in Paris.  Gerhard Neumann from General Electric (GE) and René Ravaud from Snecma introduced themselves to each other at the 1971 Paris Air Show. In the 1970s GE and Snecma saw some potential in collaboration to rival Pratt & Whitney, and a partnership was born. I didn’t know this, but Snecma (Société nationale d’études et de construction de moteurs d’aviation) is the result of the nationalization of the Gnome & Rhône aero engine company in 1945.  Snecma and Sagem SA merged in 2005 to create the Safran Group, but I’m getting ahead of the narrative

US President Nixon and French President George Pompidou

Lobbying at the highest level.  US President Richard Nixon and French President Georges Pompidou prior to the U.S – French summit conference in Reykjavik, Iceland on 31 May – 1 June  1973, at which the production and export of the CFM-56 was discussed.  (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The politics behind the partnership and the marketing of the engine may be one of the reasons why no-one ordered any of them in the first few years. GE’s application for an export license was denied on national security grounds by Henry Kissinger in 1972. Lobbying continued at the very highest level,  and the matter appeared on the agenda of the US-French summit between Richard Nixon and Georges Pompidou in Reykjavik on May 31 – June 1 1973.  Chronologically this is a rather fascinating time in the former US president’s career.  A month previously, on April 30, Nixon had announced the resignations of H.R Haldemann, John Ehrlichmann and Richard Kleindienst, and the firing of John Dean. By the end of June 1973 a Gallup Poll found that 98 percent of Americans had “heard about” Watergate.

It would appear that the diplomacy involved with “French-made” engines involved GE sending engine cores from its plant in Ohio to the Snecma plant in France, at which point American GE technicians would mount the French components to the cores, and would release the engine for finishing. I assume that nothing as convoluted as this happened with American engines assembled in Ohio. The strict controls were related to the fact that the engine core for the CFM-56 was also being used in the development of the B-1 and thus was a fairly sensitive national security issue for the United States.

Orders for the CFM-56 started to come when aggressive marketing resulted in the contract to re-engine the DC-8 for three US Airlines (Delta, United and Flying Tiger). Boeing was prepared to offer a CFM-56 powered 707 named the 707-700, but no civilian orders were forthcoming. The research on the 707-700 project (and the prototype itself)  did however convince the US Air Force of the viability of the CFM-56.  The USAF promptly ditched the allegedly dirty and inefficient Pratt and Whitney J57 from the KC-135 fleet and replaced it with the CFM-56, calling the new type the KC-135R.

Boeing later announced that a CFM-56 would power the 737-300 series airliner.  Some re-design work  was necessary to accommodate such a large engine on an aircraft with a low wing and minimal ground clearance.  The CFM-56-3 for the 737  has a characteristic flat-bottomed engine nacelle which many of us have noticed on our travels around the world.

CFM56-3 engine

CFM56-3 engine, with its recognizable non-circular “hamster pouch” inlet, installed on a Boeing 737-400 . (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In a gesture of European solidarity,  Airbus have also joined the CFM-56 user community for large and small Airbus products.

The full list of applications for the CFM-56 according to its Wikipedia article is as follows.

Airbus  – A320 family, A318, A340.
Boeing  – 707-700 (prototype only), KC-135R Stratotanker, E-3D Sentry, E-6 Mercury, RC-135,  737 Classic, 737 Next Generation, 737 AEW&C, C-40 Clipper, P-8 Poseidon, Business Jet.
Douglas – DC-8 Super 70.

CFM-56 installation on a NASA DC-8

Never seen this before. CFM-56 installation on a NASA DC-8 (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Sadly,  the CFM-56 has had its share of bad publicity.  The most notable failure (notable to me, anyway) occurred in the UK in January 1989. A fairly new British Midland 737-400 on a flight from London to Belfast crashed at Kegworth while trying to make an emergency landing at East Midlands Airport, following a fan blade failure in a CFM-56-3.   Two other fan blade failures occurred in British 737-400s shortly afterwards, resulting in the type being grounded world wide while modifications were carried out to the engines.  The recent failures on Southwest Airlines 737s (Flight 3472 from New Orleans to Orlando in August 2016, and Flight 1380 from New York LaGuardia to San Francisco in April, 2018) indicate that fan blade fatigue is an ongoing issue.

There have been incidents of CFM-56 engines flaming out in heavy rain or hail.  The most dramatic incident  involved  TACA Flight 110 from Belize to New Orleans in May 1988. Both engines on the 737-300 flamed out while passing through hail and heavy rain, and the crew was forced to carry out a deadstick landing on a grassy levee adjacent to NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in eastern New Orleans near the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.  Only one minor injury was sustained among the the 38 passengers and seven crew.

The story of TACA 110 is pretty amazing as this YouTube clip may show.  The hail damage on the nose cone of the 737 is visible in the thumbnail below and is indicative of the strength of the storm through which the aircraft inadvertently passed.

As a result of this and other flameout instances,  CFMI made modifications to improve the way in which the engine handles hail ingestion. The pilots of TACA 110 selected continuous ignition for the engines as their training advised in the weather they experienced. CFMI have added a sensor to the CFM-56 to start continuous combustion automatically in conditions of heavy hail or rain.

I was tempted to give some click-bait title to this blog entry and play up the Watergate connection, but that would be a little dishonest.   However it is interesting that a turbofan engine which we find so commonplace today has its roots in a meeting of two executives the early 1970s, and featured on the international summit agenda of a US President who was, to say the least, looking a little beleaguered politically by this time.

No, they’re not kidding

I received the May 2018 issue of FlyPast the other day, and saw several things which delighted me. One of these was Spitfire XIVe NH799, which I remember had crashed in New Zealand some years ago,  [1996]  injuring Sir Tim Wallis fairly seriously.  It apparently flew again in 2015, and the FlyPast  article  included a couple of lovely air-to-air shots of NH799 in its new (to me) SEAC paint scheme.

Being thus inspired,  I found that there are a several YouTube clips featuring NH799 which include some very nice Rolls-Royce Griffon sounds – here are a couple.

It amazes me to see how many heavily damaged warbirds have been painstakingly restored after serious post-restoration accidents. NH799 is one such example.  Another which springs to mind is Spitfire TR.9 PV202 which, many years ago, [2000] was involved in a fatal flip-over landing accident, sadly killing both occupants.  The aircraft remains were sold and slowly rebuilt.  PV202 is now very active on the scene in the UK, having  undergone a couple of very distinct scheme changes (at one stage reverting to its old Irish Air Corps identity) during its second or third life.

I don’t want to appear prurient or ghoulish but I wonder sometimes what has happened to the remains of Spitfire XIV RM689 / G-ALGT, formerly  owned by Rolls-Royce, which was involved in a fatal crash at an airshow in 1992. I remember watching a video clip of the accident at Woodford, and not unnaturally everything went very quiet. It seemed tasteless at the time to ask what happened to the wreckage.   A rapid google would tend to suggest RM689 is receiving attention somewhere, so I expect that in time it will emerge from someone’s restoration shop and fly once more.  To paraphrase a  commentator on a bulletin board , it seems that once the supply of ‘found’ restorable airframes dries up,  we will find that a few of the recent crash wrecks will become viable for rebuild once again.  Some of the wrecks that were pulled out of the former Soviet Union in the early 90s will no doubt find their way back into the air.

Of course what’s original and what’s a new about something as complex as a Spitfire is something that many people like to argue about on the bulletin boards.  At least one Spitfire restoration to my knowledge is based on nothing more than eight feet of nose, a solid engine block,  and a firewall, but since there was a manufacturer’s data plate, it became a restoration, not a reproduction.  However,  I’m carping.  The efforts that have been made are staggering and I for once will continue to be impressed, since I love to see these machines and remember the personal contributions of everyone who has been involved with them in their past.

But wait

What really grabbed my attention in FlyPast was the news that a group down in Uckfield, Sussex (I used to drive through there frequently on my way to and from Brighton) are trying to restore a Hawker Typhoon 1b to airworthy condition. What? Wow! This is RB396 formerly of “XP-W” of 174 Squadron. Major components survived a forced landing in Holland in April 1945. The group’s biggest boost was apparently the recent acquisition of a potentially restorable Napier Sabre engine. Looking at the photos of the Sabre, I am awestruck with the sheer size of the block and anything with 24 cylinders in an “H” configuration.   I think the block in the picture is a sectioned example which was used for educational purposes somewhere, not engine they are using for the restoration.  If you’re like me and had no idea what an H-24 configuration is, it’s apparently two horizontally-opposed 12-cylinder engines one on top of the other.   I was trying to imagine six Volkswagen “Beetle” engines, but that’s not helping much.

The Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group are most certainly not kidding, look at their website

Hawker Typhoon RB396

Hawker Typhoon RB396 will be restored and aims to fly in 2024 (Warbirds news)

Who knows? In a few years we may see a sight like this (below) again. According to the Flypast article, no Typhoon has flown since 1947. The restoration crew of RB 396 seem to be determined to alter that.

Hawker Typhoon Mk IB RB402

A production line neighbor of RB396,  Hawker Typhoon Mk IB RB402, “5V-P” of No. 439 Squadron RCAF, landing at Goch, Germany, 1945. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Farewell Then, Tornado

Not right now, but in about 11 months, at the end of March 2019, the Panavia Tornado will retire from service with the RAF. With a front line service record that spans 36 years and something like four decades of service in the RAF, it’s a pretty staggering thought. The Tornado pretty much symbolizes the RAF of the eighties, nineties, oughts and teens.

A while ago I was looking for images of the Tornado marked with the 40th anniversary livery and haven’t found anything suitable (i.e. something that I can post with a clear conscience) yet. But I did run across this YouTube video (“Tonka Tails take to the Skies”) published by the RAF which shows five Tornadoes in September 2015 – apparently four from Marham and one from Lossiemouth – wearing commemorative schemes of their operators. I think I can see IX, 12, XV, and 31 squadrons represented, with the addition of the type 40th anniversary commemorative machine.

It’s a very short video, but nice to see, if a little poignant. Enjoy

It’s beginning to look a lot like Amelia

Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020

Amelia Earhart and the Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020 in which she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared in July 1937.
(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

It started quietly,  but the mainstream media have picked it up now.  TIGHAR’s Nikumaroro thesis on the fate of Amelia Earhart received a significant boost with the publication of a 16-page paper in the March 2018 issue of the scholarly journal Forensic Anthropology (not Forensic Pathology as stated in some sites), published by the University of Florida Press. See the article itself at this link:

The author of the article is Richard L. Jantz, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, and Director Emeritus of the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  According to his Wikipedia entry, Jantz’ research focuses primarily on forensic anthropology, skeletal biology, dermatoglyphics, anthropometry, anthropological genetics, and human variation, as well as the development of databases to aid anthropological research. Jantz is a prolific author,  and his research has helped lead and shape the field of physical and forensic anthropology for many years.   In the paper in question, he concludes that the bone fragments found, analyzed and subsequently lost in the 1940s are most probably those of Amelia Earhart.

The paper is a significant work, drawing on Jantz’ own expertise and a re-evaluation of the data recorded in Fiji in 1941, the last (and probably only) time that the bones were subjected to scientific analysis. Jantz says that additionally, information concerning Amelia Earhart’s body dimensions came to light in 2017 through a new study of Earhart’s clothing,  held in the George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers at Purdue University.

The article challenges two assertions. Firstly that the bones were those of a stockily built male about 5’5″ in height.  Secondly,  notwithstanding speculation at the time, the skeletal remains were not considered to be those of Amelia Earhart because she was always thought to be tall, slender, and gracile (a word I have never used or read until now). The re-evaluation of the bone data, and measurements taken from her clothing, suggest that despite being 5’7″ tall and presenting a fairly elfin figure, Earhart was apparently a little more stocky in build, and around 20 pounds heavier,  than contemporary accounts and the evolving legend (courtesy no doubt of George Palmer Putnam)  would have us believe.

Jantz states in his conclusion: “Until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they are hers”

UTK (University of Tennessee at Knoxville) wrote a news release on the article here:

It’s comforting to this part-time academic that the article itself was received by the journal in August 2017, was revised in October, and accepted for publication in November 2017, finally appearing in Vol.1, No. 2 in March 2018. The academic publishing process is as tortuous as ever.

I await with some interest the response of the supporters of the other theories.

On The Trail

I should know better than to read some news articles.  At least I don’t read the public comments since my blood pressure wouldn’t stand it.  Today I read an article that said some of the Chemtrail believers are getting more vocal.   The bit that really got me was one of the prime movers who said “20 to 30 years ago we didn’t have these.”  What?

I’m a Brit so one of the first images that came to mind was this one:

British and German aircraft after a dogfight

THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN 1940. Pattern of condensation trails (contrails) left by British and German aircraft after a dogfight. (Public Domain – Imperial War Museum via Wikimedia Commons)

Last time I looked, 1940 was a bit more than 30 years ago.   Of course I can remember a time when 1940 *was* 30 years ago, but that was 1970.

A little later, aviation historians will remember pictures like this of B-17s and B-24s on bombing missions in the Second World War.

B-17s from the 340BS, 97BG

A formation of B-17Gs from the 340th Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group wing their way towards Linz, Austria, while their P-38 Lightning escorts contrail above them. (Public Domain – US Air Force via Wikimedia Commons)

Contrails do date to a time before The Second World War. The Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine quotes an observer who saw “the condensation of a cumulus stripe from the exhaust gases of an aircraft” over the Austrian Alps in 1915. (Full article at

Another early contrail was observed in France in 1918 , according to a 2007 article in Air Power History.  “Wakes of war: contrails and the rise of air power, 1918-1945 Part I – early sightings and preliminary explanations, 1918-1938”  (The URL has been hijacked and leads to some weird page about investments in French – this is why there’s no link). 

I shall have to do a little more image research to see if there are any more early pictures of contrails out on the web.  I remember seeing a picture of a very high flying JU86 observed over Sussex on 18th  August, 1940 leaving a high thin contrail which must have displeased the reconnaissance crew no end. There must be something earlier.

I learn something new today in my searches. Contrails have an opposite.  The dissipation trail, or distrail. Warm exhaust air causes particles of moisture to evaporate and produces the effect of a line being drawn through a cloud with an eraser.  These are much more fleeting than a contrail and have their own strange beauty. I think I may have seen these over the years, although my eyesight is not of the finest. I’d be interested to know if any of the readership have any personal experiences with distrails.

Distrail over Hong Kong, 2012

November 22, 2012. Wikipedia user ‘Earth100’ captured this rare shot of a dissipation trail (distrail), just 10 seconds old, formed by an airplane over Hong Kong. (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)