December 17th – News Items

It isn’t news as such, but I couldn’t allow December 17th to pass unrecorded on an aviation related blog. 111 years ago today the Wright Brothers made their historic flight at the Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The Wright Flyer at the National Air and Space Museum, 2008 – Photo by RadioFan
CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) via Wikimedia Commons

I noticed that History Today published an older article on Facebook today re-stating the bizarre rival claim of Alberto Santos Dumont that he made the first powered flight 3 years later, since his 14Bis was the first aircraft to take off under its own power in 1906, the Wright Flyer having being launched.  Since the Wrights’ engine must have helped sustain the earlier flight I think this is a nice but irrelevant argument.  I’m happy to stay with the American claim.

Meanwhile in Kansas

However, this is news.  Kansas.com published an article and a picture today of the continuing restoration of the old China Lake B-29 Doc (44-69972). The article says the volunteers hope to have Doc back in the air in Spring 2015. A link to the article is in the photo caption.

Renovation continues on “Doc,” a Boeing B-29 bomber. December marks the plane’s 70th birthday. It was delivered to the USAAF in Dec., 1944. The plane was going to fly before the end of this year, but it now will be spring before it will make its first flight. Mike Hutmacher Photo – The Wichita Eagle
Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/news/business/aviation/article4546947.html#storylink=cpy

RAF Bomber Command Stories

There are several excellent personal recollections of what individuals went through in RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War. I have read many, and would like to get hold of a few which have passed through my hands over the years.  I would also be interested to hear from anyone who may have recommendations.

Three books which remain on my shelves and which get hauled out every so often are:

  • Charlwood, Donald. No Moon Tonight. London: Angus & Robertson, 1956.
  • Tripp, Miles. The Eighth Passenger. London: Heinemann, 1969.
  • Yates, Harry. Luck and a Lancaster. Shrewsbury: Airlife, 1999.

Don Charlwood’s and Miles Tripp’s books caused sensations when they were first published, giving a personal and very direct view of what life was like in Bomber Command at different times in the war.  Yates’ book came out somewhat later, but was, and is, remarkable for a first book written at the age of 77.  All of them give a personal sample of opinions and attitudes among the aircrews; the lives they lived on the squadrons, the  stress of operational flying, the constant threat of death, and the simple urge to survive.

Aircraft ‘Q’

With the increasing use of the Internet as a research tool many websites and blogs have arisen. One in particular that grabbed my attention was the simple but well researched and eloquent “Aircraft Q failed to return.” (http://rafww2butler.wordpress.com/)  This site is dedicated to the memory of Sgt. Cecil Arthur “Butch” Butler (1913-1945), Flight Engineer on Lancaster ME334 “TL-Q” of 35 Squadron. Butler and the rest of the Johnson crew were killed on their 31st operation on 4th February, 1945 when their Lancaster was shot down on the outskirts of Bonn.  The normal Bomber Command tour of duty was 30 operations (see below for a different perspective), but since 35 Squadron was part of 8 Group PFF (Pathfinder force) they would have been required to complete a tour of 45 operations.

35 Squadron Lancaster

35 Squadron Lancaster,  similar to ME334 ‘Aircraft Q’ in which “Butch” Butler and his crew were killed in February 1945. (mod.gov.uk)

The Eighth Passenger Revisited.

I was re-reading The Eighth Passenger  recently and wondered if any more information could be found on the Web about the crew. I’d known about Miles Tripp’s career as a thriller writer from the time I started working in a Library, but I’d never seen or read  his first novel (Faith is a Windsock, 1952)  or had any idea of his wartime service in 218 Squadron.  The Eighth Passenger had the same effect on me as it must have on so many people when it was first published in 1969, it was a fascinating, amusing, and occasionally shocking revelation.   Tripp and his crew (led by Flight Lieutenant George Frederick “Dig” Klenner, DFC, RAAF)  were probably the only members of 3 Group Bomber Command to complete a tour of 40 operations when the operational tour limit was briefly increased in 1944/5.
Most readers of The Eighth Passenger will be familiar with this picture of the Klenner crew on completion of their last operational flight on March 11th, 1945.

Klenner Crew, 218 Squadron,March 1945

Klenner crew, 218 Squadron, on completing their operational tour, 11 March 1945.
From L-R Miles “Mike” Tripp (Bomb Aimer), Ray Parke (Flight Engineer), George Bell, (Navigator),
George “Dig” Klenner (Pilot, RAAF), Paul Songest (M/U Gunner),
Les Walker (Wireless Op), Harry McCalla (Rear Gunner)

I assumed that other pictures of the crew might have been taken at the time but I hadn’t seen any of them until a couple of days ago when I saw this on a 218 Squadron website:

George

George “Dig” Klenner and crew, 218 Squadron, 11 March, 1945.
http://218squadron.wordpress.com/

I had wondered why  “Mike” Tripp’s fellow crew members commented in The Eighth Passenger about his non-military hairstyle and how far ahead of its time it was. From this angle one can almost see how his hairstyle would be adopted with some enthusiasm by the mods, nearly 20 years later!

“The First World War in the Air” at the RAF Museum

Given the chance I would very much like to see this exhibition.  It sounds and looks really great and it hasn’t even opened yet.  I saw some footage of the Duke of Edinburgh having an early tour, (Daily Telegraph image below).

The Duke of Edinburgh visited the RAF museum to see the First World War In The Air exhibition (Eddie Mulholland)

and I saw another news item about the descendents of Manfred von Richthofen and Albert Ball having met for the first time. (another Daily Telegraph image)


Vanda Day meets Baron Donat von Richthofen at the RAF Museum Photo: Eddie Mulholland

The other thing that I love is that the RAF Museum used some of the lottery funding they received for the exhibition to digitize most or all of the service records of the men who served in the RFC and RAF from 1914 to 1918. Check out the story – http://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/london/whats-going-on/news/museum-opens-up-royal-air-forces-archives/ and the site itself at http://www.rafmuseumstoryvault.org.uk/

Do me a favour. If you’re in the UK and you get the chance, go and see this exhibition and make me incredibly envious.

N83FA / VH-INY – A Brush With Fame.

Dedicated readers (of which I’m sure there is one) will have noticed a lot of posts about C-54s and Carvairs. One example in particular caught my attention. It was first known by Douglas as construction number 10365 when it was built in 1944. This aircraft had a variety of military and civilian identities before its demise in a crash in Georgia (USA) 1997.  A good potted history of the aircraft can be found at http://www.aussieairliners.org/dc-4/vh-iny/vhiny.html  A much more detailed history (with the exception of its service in Australia) can be found in William Patrick Dean’s nearly exhaustive book on the Carvair – see the bibliography for more details.

The Aussie Airliners website notes that VH-INY (as 10365 was at that time) was one of two C-54s which Australian National Airways set aside for the Royal Tour of Australia in 1954 (the other being VH-ANB). I wondered if any pictures existed of the Queen with either of the Skymasters and ‘INY in particular.  Standard image searching turned up nothing. After a while I had a look on Trove, the catalogue of the National Library of Australia, and I hit the jackpot.  

HM Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip board an ANA C-54 (probably VH-INY) at Western Junction, Tasmania. Feb 20, 1954 http://catalogue.statelibrary.tas.gov.au/item/?id=AB713-1-2859

HM Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
board an ANA C-54 (probably VH-INY) at Western Junction, Tasmania. Feb 20, 1954
http://catalogue.statelibrary.tas.gov.au/item/?id=AB713-1-2859

Her Majesty visited Tasmania on February 20th, 1954, and a couple of pictures in the State Archives of Tasmania show two Skymasters which flew her and the Royal Household back to Melbourne. One of the photos shows her waving to the crowd from a very highly polished C-54 as she was leaving Western Junction in Tasmania. The aircraft registration letters VH-IN are clearly visible. – so if the other aircraft was ‘ANB then this must be ‘INY.

These are the catalogue records and URLs for the other images I found.

In addition to the royal connection,   It is also possible that when 10365 was serving with Matson Airlines in the late 40s as N58003, she may have been flown by the American author Ernest K. Gann, who was a pilot with Matson at that time.  Patrick Dean makes the point that Gann had an interesting scrape in another of their C-54s and wrote about it his autobiographical work Fate is the Hunter.

So that’s interesting. I don’t suppose that anyone at Aviation Traders or indeed any of its subsequent owners or pilots had much idea that 10365 had carried British Royalty or may have been flown by a famous author. These little details make research just a little bit more personal.