14th June, 1919

Alcock and Brown Take Off, 14th June, 1919.

Alcock and Brown depart St. John’s, Newfoundland in their Vickers Vimy.  14th June, 1919 (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I remember going to the Science Museum in London when I was small and seeing the Vickers Vimy  that Alcock and Brown used to make the first non-stop Atlantic crossing.  Until today it had never actually struck me on which day the crossing had taken place. Admittedly it was on the 14th/15th June.   You can read about some of the trials and tribulations of the flight  on their Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transatlantic_flight_of_Alcock_and_Brown

A couple of things I didn’t know about the flight:

  1. John Alcock had been a POW in Turkey in the First World War while flying with the Royal Naval Air Service – while a POW he dreamed of making the Atlantic crossing.
  2. There was a very real competition between Vickers and Handley-Page (among others) to win a 10,000 GBP prized offered by the Daily Mail. The Handley-Page team were still testing their aircraft when the Vickers team arrived, assembled their aircraft and took off.
  3. Alcock approached Vickers suggesting they use a modified Vimy bomber for the attempt. Vickers were impressed and made him their pilot.
  4. Arthur Whitten-Brown was apparently unemployed and approached Vickers looking for a job.

It’s amazing how a series of chances came together. One would say it was a very British undertaking.

Developments in Japan

Many of my blog articles are borne from reading articles on the BBC News website, and this is the latest. On May 26th, Alexander Neill, (described as the Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow at the IISS Asia) wrote an article entitled “Japan’s growing concern over China’s naval might” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39918647). He described a couple of interesting developments in Japan’s Self-Defense forces, especially in the light of Japan’s relationship with China.

1. The JMSDF has an aircraft carrier? Well, not really. Well, maybe. JS Izumo is  officially classified by Japan as a helicopter destroyer. The Wikipedia article notes that the ship is as large as any aircraft carrier of the Second World War, but it’s called a destroyer because the Japanese constitution forbids the acquisition of offensive weapons.  It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to see the Izumo embarking some kind of STO/VL aircraft even though the Japanese Self Defense Forces don’t have any just yet.

Helicopter Destroyer JS Izumo

JS Izumo (DDH-183) in December 2016
Kaijō Jieitai (海上自衛隊 / Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) – http://www.mod.go.jp/msdf/formal/jmp/201612.html (CC BY 4.0)

2. Indigenous Maritime Patrol Aircraft?  The news of the Izumo was interesting,  but what also caught my attention was the reference to the Kawasaki P-1 Maritime patrol Aircraft – two of which were apparently demonstrated in the UK at the RIAT (Royal International Air Tattoo) in 2015.  it seems that Kawasaki thought it was worth putting in a bid to the UK Ministry of Defence  to supply the P-1 as a replacement for the Nimrod.  The Japanese bid was unsuccessful, however.  The UK is going to buy the Boeing P-8 Poseidon  instead.  The Poseidon is a patrol variant of the Boeing 737-800ER and has been in service for about 5 years in the US Navy. International customers so far consist of the Indian Navy,  Royal Australian Air Force,  Royal Air Force, and the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Several other countries have expressed an interest. Poseidon deliveries to the UK are supposed to commence in 2019.

Boeing P-8A Poseidon and Kawwasaki P-1

A U.S. Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon next to a Kawasaki P-1 of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
(US Navy – Public Domain)

The P-1 is a pretty interesting aircraft which Japanese officials have claimed is more capable, (but more expensive) than the P-8, having been purpose-built for the maritime patrol mission.  It is noteworthy for its pioneering use of a fly-by-light flight control system using fiber optic cables, which decrease electro-magnetic disturbances to its sensors  in comparison with fly-by-wire control systems, which are more electrically “noisy”.   Speaking as a dinosaur who thinks fly-by-wire was a huge advance over control cables, servos, and rods,  fly by light is a pretty amazing (albeit logical) application of fiber-optic technology.

All this technology needs to be seen against the increasing military posturing from Japan and China over territorial claims in the East and South China Sea, which are in themselves related to access to natural resources.  All progress comes at a cost,  and sadly some of the advances in flight and defense technology may be driven by a degree of rising tension between two nations.   We have certainly been in this situation before.

C919 Flies

So, further to my December 2016 post Stars in the East I saw in the news that the COMAC C919 finally made its maiden flight from Shanghai today. See this report from China’s Xinhua News Agency.

Also worth a look, if you want to riffle selectively through two hours of previously live-streamed footage, is this long YouTube segment from New China TV. There are several interesting views of the C919 taxying and the maiden flight itself.

Dragon Lady

1 May 1960 is the anniversary of Francis Gary Powers being shot down somewhere over the Soviet Union in his U-2A  by what I call a SAM-2  and everyone else calls an S-75. I assumed the event took place earlier in the year and have to thank my regular engagements with Bryan Swopes’ blog for reminding me.   Funnily enough I mentioned the U-2 incident to my American History class last week.  Every so often I get close to an anniversary like this, but mostly it’s coincidence.   In March 2014 I happened to hit the 70th Anniversary of the “Great Escape” and subjected my class to a few minutes of Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough.

The engine of the downed American Lockheed U-2

The engine of the downed American Lockheed U-2 plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers on view in Gorky Park. (RIA Novosti archive, image #35173 / Chernov / CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

I had a quick riffle through the pages of Wikipedia to find a Public Domain picture of an original U-2 and read briefly that another U-2 was shot down during the Cuban Missile Crisis.   I didn’t managed to teach that part and will have to look it up.   I will also have refresh myself on the clandestine overflights that were carried out by Canberras and RB-45s flown by RAF aircrews (and the RB-45s had RAF markings) a few years previously.

Lockheed U-2A

Lockheed U-2A at the National Museum of the US Air Force

Many years ago I saw a TR-2 (I think it was)  derivative of the U-2 climbing out of RAF Alconbury  and watched as best I could while I was driving down the M11 Motorway at the time. I believe I did see the NMUSAF example (basking in the sun in the picture above)  at Dayton some years ago.   I’m looking forward to going again sometime soon.

The Other Blog is Back

aged newspaper formation

B-24s of the 44th Bomb Group – the new title image for the revised “Joplin’s Bomber” Blog

After a lot of noises being made offstage about my long-term history project,  which I haven’t touched for some considerable time,   it’s become apparent that now is the time to do something.

Well, it’s back.

Despite having burned a couple of good domain names with the deletion of the Blogspot blog and my complete ineptness with an early version of the WordPress  platform, the  “Joplin’s Bomber” blog is back again.  This time it’s https://joplinjalopyblog.wordpress.com/

I’m hoping that what I’ve learned about blogging, WordPress and historical research may prove beneficial in the time ahead.

There isn’t much there right now (you wouldn’t believe the machinations I’ve been through in terms of styles, templates, layouts – or if you know WordPress, maybe you do – and I’m cheap so I’m using all the free stuff)  but I hope I’ll be getting some more of my eleven-year old research back into some useful form in the pages of the site.

Hazardous Drones

Reading the BBC news as I do for news of the Old Country I happened to see this article http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-39747042 “Plane in UK’s first double-drone near-miss case” In which an A320 approaching London Heathrow last November reported having been in close proximity with not one but two drones. This is the first reported occasion that two drones have compromised the safety of an aircraft in UK airspace. The fact that the Airbus was at approximately 5,000 (five thousand) feet on its approach makes the actions of the drone operators even less explicable, since under UK law done operators are expected to restrict their flights to an altitude of 400 feet.

Drone

Generic drone picture. We don’t know exactly what types of drones are being flown into the paths of aircraft, deliberately or accidentally, but the fact that an increasing number of airprox reports are being filed indicates the problem is increasing.
(Public Domain image via Pixabay)

The article mentions the UK Airprox Board  so I thought I would have a look at their website.  https://www.airproxboard.org.uk/home/  As the website says” “Airprox occurrences are near accidents, and the mission of the UKAB is: “To enhance Air Safety through prevention of airborne conflict and mid-air collision”.  As part of this mission, a key role is to champion, contribute and communicate an understanding of Airprox causes and mid-air collision risks amongst the wider aviation community.”

Reading the report summaries for March 2017 https://www.airproxboard.org.uk/Reports-and-analysis/Monthly-summaries/2017/Monthly-Meeting-March-2017/ I am amazed at the number of reported incidents overall, and I am very concerned that the last five or so incidents involve both commercial and military aircraft coming into conflict with drones or models.   Some of the other reports are disturbingly interesting, such as the unidentified model aircraft that narrowly missed an RAF Chinook when it flew above  the low-flying helicopter (both pilots missed it, only a crewman observed the 1-meter white model passing above them). Also noteworthy is the interaction between an RAF Hawk and two “Foreign Military” (less than three guesses required)  F-15s over the Vale of York in November 2016.

When I feel inclined, I may look to see what similar mechanism exists in the USA.

 

Shooting Script

Having mentioned Shooting Script the other day, I naturally picked up my slightly tattered paperback once I’d finished Gray Eagles.

Shooting Script is a different proposition from Gray Eagles. Gavin Lyall wrote it in 1966 following a stint flying Meteors in the RAF while doing his National Service,  and following a career as a journalist which he gave up to write full-time.

Lyall always seemed to choose heroes with monosyllabic masculine names and the main protagonist in Shooting Script  is no exception. Keith Carr is a former RAF pilot and veteran of the Korean War.  He affects an amusingly world-weary wise-cracking style reminiscent of Raymond Chandler’s private eyes. We meet him flying from Jamaica to Puerto Rico in his slightly tatty De Havilland Dove,  and watch him being “bounced” by two Vampire fighters. It transpires that the military Junta running a small Spanish-speaking island nation, the Republica Libra has just purchased twelve Vampires.  “I hadn’t known the Republica owned any jet fighters, not even seventeen-year-old ones.” Carr says on the first page.

De Havilland Vampire

Two Swedish Air Force de Havilland Vampires
By Flygvapenmuseum/Nygren, (fotograf F 3) (digitaltmuseum.se) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

After a series of adventures in which he meets a fellow Korean War veteran, an Australian fighter pilot now flying those very same Vampires for the Republica as a mercenary, Carr returns to Jamaica and is hired to fly a camera plane for a semi-legendary Hollywood actor making a South American revolution movie (provisionally titled Bolivar Smith) on location in and around Jamaica.  The camera plane the company purchases turns out to be a seriously dilapidated B-25 which has served in several South American air forces since its retirement from the United States.   Carr is amused to see the faint outlines of  some American nose-art which suggests the B-25 saw squadron service in the USAAF somewhere as “Beautiful Dreamer”

North American B-25 Mitchell

North American B-25 Mitchell –  Góraszka,  2007
By Lukas Skywalker (Own work) GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It is of course all much more complicated.  The film star has assets frozen in the Republica and wants to recover them. Carr’s flying pupil (also hired by the company)  turns out to be the wastrel son of the revolutionary leader who intended to “borrow” the B-25 and use it to drop a few bombs on the Vampires to aid the revolutionary cause.   You can see where this is going.   Our hero ends up flying the bombing raid, has a showdown with the Australian mercenary (both in the air and on the ground)  and after several tense scenes, everything turns out happily.

As I said about Gray Eagles, don’t get me wrong.  It’s a nicely written thriller that is amusing and credible,  and the book led to many happy hours flying my simulated B-25 around the Caribbean in the Days of Microsoft Flight Simulator 98.  I also think that even now Shooting Script  would make a decent film, especially given the plethora of L-29s and L-39s which could sub nicely for the Vampires.  The B-25 would be fine as is.

Don’t just take my word for it. Go and have a look.  If you’re in the mood, also have a look at a couple of his other novels featuring Major Harry Maxim, once of the SAS,  and now attached for various reasons to 10 Downing Street in the closing days of the Cold War. These are:  The Secret Servant (1980),  The Conduct of Major Maxim  (1982),  The Crocus List (1985),  and Uncle Target (1988).

Gavin Lyall died in 2003 having written fifteen novels and two non-fiction works.