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.

A Little Quiet Recently

My fault.   Mostly just getting caught up with the daily life of an adjunct professor and occasionally doing some teaching.   We’re into the 1960s next week, which means about three weeks of the semester remains and then into the long-ish summer break.  I do have a little prep work for the Fall Semester, in which I assume I’m still teaching.

In the meantime.   I want to pause and remember that we have just passed the 20th Anniversary of the crash of ATL-98 Carvair N83FA in Griffin, Georgia on April 4th. On that day I actually did sit back for a moment and took a moment for prayer and reflection.    I never for a moment imagined that a blog article which was born from reading a John Le Carre novel and thinking “huh?” would generate so much interest.  Looking at the WordPress statistics for the blog, it always seems to get a couple of hits most weeks. I was touched and honored to have received comments from Kris Whittington, son of pilot Larry Whittington who was killed in the crash of N83FA, and recently Vanessa Presley, who as a child in Griffin saw and heard the crash and who suffers from the after effects to this day.  My deepest thanks to everyone who contributed to expand a little piece of aviation history here.

HM Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip board an ANA C-54 (VH-INY) at Western Junction, Tasmania. Feb 20, 1954. This C-54 would seven years later be converted into a Carvair which, with the registration N83FA, would crash on take-off at Griffin, Georgia in April 1997
http://catalogue.statelibrary.tas.gov.au/item/?id=AB713-1-2859

 

My research project,  the history of B-24J-1-FO  42-50535  “Joplin Jalopy” got a boost this month.  For some reason an article appeared in the Joplin Globe a couple of weeks ago (which I have managed not to read) but which, I am told, listed the correct number of operations the Jalopy flew.  This would then indicate that someone read some of the research material I forked over to the globe in 2006.     Shortly afterwards I received an email from Ray Foreman from KODE12  TV in Joplin  (Hi Ray!)  who had seen my January 2016 post commemorating the anniversary of the start of the now defunct “Joplin’s Bomber”  blog.   Apart from being a military aviation history enthusiast Ray has some connection with the Joplin Civil Air Patrol so I hope to have a chat with him, and them in the near future.  This has been a timely prod not to let all that information  go to waste.

B-24 Joplin Jalopy

B24J-1-FO 42-50535 “Joplin Jalopy” – 506BS / 44BG

I was relating all of this to one of my colleagues at Pittsburg State who then said “you ought to write this up for a journal article”  (in one of the local academic journals) ,  so given a long enough period of rest  I may actually do that.

In the meantime I will continue to be fascinated by little snippets that float into my field of vision from the world of aviation.

Coming Soon to a Museum in Ohio

I happened to be perusing Facebook a couple of days ago (as you do these days, “ubiquity” being the watchword) when I saw this little item from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

I wondered about the date, but May 17, 2018 is the 75th anniversary of the Belle’s last mission.  It’s very fitting and I shall be on of the throng making their way up to Dayton to take a look. I missed it on the only occasion I was in Memphis, I was catching a connecting flight and there wasn’t enough time to go and take a look.  It was also some time in the evening and pelting with rain, which wouldn’t have helped.

There are a lot of familiar pictures of Memphis Belle on the Interwebs,  but thanks to a recent effort by Senior Airman Nathan Clark of the 97th Mobility Air Wing at Altus Air Force base, Oklahoma,  I am able to share a photo of Memphis Belle which a few people may not have seen.  I had never seen it before.  Thank you!!

Students from Altus schools pose with the Memphis Belle, in 1946

Students from Altus schools pose with the Memphis Belle, in 1946 at Altus Army Air Field. The famous World War II bomber was stored in Altus AAF briefly after the war. Altus Air Force Base began as a twin engine training base in World War II and since then has supported many air mobility, missile, and training missions as well as routinely deployed Airmen and aircraft overseas and to humanitarian missions. (U.S. Air Force Photo by 97th Air Mobility Wing Historian/ Released)

I think I said in my FB post at the time, that this does raise the question of what the NMUSAF are going to do with their other Combat veteran B-17,  the much-travelled B-17G 42-32076 Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby when the Belle is installed.  A page on Wikipedia speculates that Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby will be transferred to the Udvar V. Hazy site in Washington DC  “once restoration of the Memphis Belle is completed in 2015.”

B-17G 42-32076

B-17G 42-32076 “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, OH.

B-17G 42-32076 "Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby" 1944

B-17G 42-32076 “Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby” after her forced landing in Sweden, 1944

Speaking purely personally,  I would love to see her go back into the restoration hangar to try and correct or update some of the cosmetic aspects of the restoration done in the 1980s,  specifically the Olive Drab/Neutral gray paint scheme applied to cover the sheet metal work that was carried out to restore her to her original bomber configuration.   See the pictures above for an idea of how she looks now and how she looked after landing in Sweden in May 1944.

It is my belief that restoration techniques have advanced sufficiently – citing B-29 Doc as an example –  to allow her to be restored in her original unpainted state. I do acknowledge though, that Doc hasn’t undergone the same degree of modification that Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby experienced.   That’s just me. I have no desire to cause any offense to anyone who may have worked on the restoration.  Times were different then, and some techniques were simply not available.

On a positive note, the other delightful prospect is that yet another B-17 is in the works at Dayton,  this being B-17D 40-3097 The Swoose  (seen below in 1944)which was transferred from the Smithsonian Institution to the NMUSAF in 2007.  There are pictures of the two veteran B-17s side by side in the restoration facility at Dayton.  I may be an old romantic but it would be wonderful to see the three combat veterans sitting together somewhere before the illustrious group is dispersed, although I suspect that timing may not allow this to happen.

B-17D 40-3097 "The Swoose"

B-17D 40-3097 “The Swoose” in bare metal finish, 1944. (Smithsonian Institution, Public Domain)

 

 

 

Stars In The East

I was perusing a couple of news articles earlier in the week relating to the Word Trade Organization’s latest intervention in the Boeing / Airbus spat.

A sentence or two hiding at the very bottom of an article by Simon Jack in the BBC News website caught my eye.  The United States and Europe, he says, are not the only countries who are giving questionable subsidies to aircraft manufacturers.  Bombardier, he says,  receives governmental subsidies from the Canadian government. An even bigger threat to the A+B (Airbus and Boeing) duopoly is making itself known, not necessarily for the right reasons, in the east.  It’s a company I’d never heard of previously, but I’m not terribly familiar with the highly competitive world of commercial civil aviation.

Jack thinks the least regarded threat to A+B comes from COMAC, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd.  Established in 2008, COMAC is currently engaged in the production of a couple of aircraft, which are intended for China’s rapidly expanding internal airline market.

COMAC ARJ21

COMAC ARJ21 Xiangfeng “Flying Phoenix”
By Peng Chen (Flickr: China ARJ-21)
CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The first jet to be marketed is the ARJ21, originally developed by Aviation Industry Corporation of China, and which looks very much like a scaled down (some sites less charitably say “warmed over”) DC-9 / MD-90. This may be partly due to the fact that the factories producing the ARJ21 are the same factories that participated in the abortive attempt to build the MD-90 in China, which ceased after two examples (of the 40 proposed) were completed in 2000.  COMAC’s claims for the ARJ21 as a wholly indigenous product are further undermined by its wing, which is a product of the Antonov Design Bureau in the Ukraine, and the engines and avionics, which are are predominantly American.

The ARJ21 was a key project in the 10th Five-Year Plan of China which began March 2002. The fact that by December 2016 only six aircraft have been produced, and only two of these are in airline service in China, is perhaps indicative of the struggle that the project has encountered. COMAC has been trying for several years to gain American FAA type approval for the ARJ21, a necessary step for its products to operate globally, and that this has not been forthcoming.

COMAC’s other product, The 168-seat C919, is intended to be a direct competitor with A320 and venerable Boeing 737 families.  Although looking good at its roll-out  (see the YouTube video below) with a projected first flight in 2017, the development path may conceivably be as rocky as the ARJ21.

It’s certainly very tempting to think COMAC is waiting in the wings for some kind of coup, but one also needs to consider that the competition is in some cases very well established already. Embraer and Bombardier, while admittedly competing for third place behind A+B. demonstrate that COMAC has a longer march to market than our amorphous fear of Chinese business may suggest, however justified we may feel considering their near stranglehold on multiple sinews of world manufacturing.

A quick look through Wikipedia will produce the following figures of aircraft which its editors (reasonably) feel to be comparable with the ARJ-21 and C919.

Boeing 737 family (9,247 units produced) – 737 MAX forthcoming
Airbus A320 family (7,297 units produced) – A320neo forthcoming
Embraer E-Jets (1158 units produced)
Bombardier CRJ700 series (788 units produced)
Bombardier CSeries (10 units produced)
Sukhoi Superjet 100 (114 units produced)
Antonov An-148 (39 units produced)
Mitsubishi Regional Jet (4 units produced)
Irkut MC-21 (1 units produced)

Of particular interest are the recognizably Russian types produced under the umbrella of UAC, the United Aircraft Corporation.

Sukhoi Superjet 100

Sukhoi Superjet 100-95B EI-FWA of Irish regional airline CityJet crew training at Prestwick Airport, UK, June 2016. The Sukhois are intended to replace the airline’s Avro RJ85s
By Mark Harkin (EI-FWA Sukhoi Superjet 100-95B) CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Vladimir Putin created UAC in 2006 by merging governmental holdings of Ilyushin, Irkut, Sukhoi, Tupolev, and Yakovlev into a new company in which the Russian government holds a majority stake. UAC effectively consolidates Russian private and state-owned companies engaged in the production of commercial and military aircraft. While some western journalists may perceive a commercial threat from COMAC, it would seem to be that a star rising slightly nearer in the east might also bear scrutiny.

Articles mentioned in the text are listed below.

Simon Jack at http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38131611 Exclusive: WTO rules Boeing’s state subsidies illegal (28 November 2016). The article discussed the subsidies paid by the State of Washington to encourage Boeing to build the wings of the 777x aircraft there.

A later article (in the same day) http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38131617 Boeing tax break ruled unlawful by WTO said that the United States government has been given 90 days to drop the special tax exemption or subsidy.

The New York Times mentioned http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/28/business/international/world-trade-organization-rules-against-boeing-tax-break-for-new-jet.html? that this was the latest volley in a spat between Airbus and Boeing dating back 12 years in which each side has accused the other of raking in millions of dollars in special governmental aid.

Forbes’ article http://www.forbes.com/sites/scotthamilton5/2016/11/28/wto-boeing-ruling-gives-airbus-good-pr-but-its-meaningless/#1a1e8c0c4a3c was interesting in that it pointed out that
the WTO has no enforcement powers, the United States was likely to appeal the ruling and that this particular case will be echoing round the courts for at least two more years.

Farewell to Bobby

Just occasionally,  my casual browsing dredges up something unexpected, interesting, and aviation-related.

A couple of days ago, on Saturday (October 29th) it seems that Lufthansa flew their last commercial flights using the Boeing 737.  The 737 is known as ‘Bobby’ or ‘Bobby Boeing’ by Lufthansa, who were the launch customers of the type in the late 1960s. ‘Bobby’ is being replaced by what Lufthansa describes as “quieter and more fuel efficient” equipment produced by Bombardier and Embraer. Lufthansa press releases also mention the present and future line of Airbus products as replacements for ‘Bobby’ on some routes.

This Ken Fielding photo from 1972 shows a Lufthansa 737 in an early livery and, as Ken says,  it’s notable for the logo of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games  on the aft fuselage.

Lufthansa Boeing 737


Lufthansa Boeing 737-130 D-ABEA Seen at Manchester airport (UK) on July 31st 1972. 
It first flew on May 13th 1967 and was delivered to Lufthansa on April 24th 1968.
After later service in the USA and New Zealand it was scrapped in the USA in 1995.
(Photo by Ken Fielding http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenfielding CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Should you desire to brush up on your German,  here’s a YouTube video from a group of German plane-spotters commemorating the event.  Its is, as they say a slightly sad event as an original customer retires a machine that was once the backbone of its short-haul fleet This is not simply auf wiedersehen, it’s farewell, Bobby.

Another Anniversary – Crash of a “Killer”

Another Anniversary – Crash of a “Killer”

Whenever I get a spare moment,  I look through the pages of  This Day in Aviation in case there is something that catches my eye.  Today I saw an item about the crash of the second prototype DH.108 “Swallow” TG306,  which occurred 70 years ago today on 27 September 1946.   Test pilot Geoffrey de Havilland Jr. (son of Geoffrey senior,   the founder and owner of the  de Havilland Aircraft Company Ltd.) was killed.

DH. 108 Swallow TG283

The first DH. 108 Swallow, TG283, at Hatfield on 30 May 1946 (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The DH. 108  was the first British swept-winged jet aircraft and the first British tailless jet aircraft.  It was intended to test the low speed handling of swept wing jets and  in that respect was a design study for the future Comet airliner.   Its resemblance to the Messerschmit Me163 “Komet”  is striking but appears to be coincidental.   The Ministry of Supply gave the DH 108 the “Swallow” name,  which  was never officially adopted by the company.

Second Prototype DH.108 TG306

Second Prototype DH.108 TG306 (airwar.ru)

I hadn’t realized, until looking closely at pictures of TG283 and TG306,  that the forward fuselage is that of a Vampire, slightly extended, with swept wings attached.   (Train spotters will note the Air Ministry serial of the prototype Vampire F.1  was TG274 – the fuselages of the first two DH.108 prototypes were taken from the production line at English Electric).   Eric “Winkle”  Brown described the DH.108 as  “A killer. Nasty stall. Vicious undamped longitudinal oscillation at speed in bumps”.

TG306 suffered structural failure while flying over the Thames Estuary on September 27th 1946 in a dive from 10,000 ft at Mach 0.9 and crashed in Egypt Bay. The subsequent accident investigation “centered on a structural failure that occurred as a shock stall placed tremendous loads on the fuselage and wings. The main spar cracked at the roots,  causing the wings to fold backwards immediately.” (Wikipedia edited by me)

I found some interesting YouTube footage of the three Swallows including TG306 and Geoffrey de Havilland.

Egypt Bay has a personal significance for me,  since it’s located a few miles from where I grew up. The North Kent marshes have always been fairly atmospheric. They certainly inspired Charles Dickens, especially in Great Expectations, (the grave that provided Dickens with his inspiration for Pip’s dead siblings is located at Cooling church. Cooling village is visible on the map here),  but they also have their share of aviation lore too.  The last resting place of Amy Johnson is somewhere in the Thames Estuary – her Airspeed Oxford crashed in mysterious circumstances there on January 5th,  1941.

The little red Google location indicator on the map below shows roughly where I grew up, across the River Medway from Rochester, and Egypt Bay is also shown. Just to the east of Egypt Bay is  St. Mary’s Bay (not to be confused with many similarly named bays in Kent). Interestingly, searching for “Egypt Bay”  in Google Maps elicits no results at all.

The wreckage of TG306, according to Bryan R. Swopes, was found on September 28th.  Another ten days passed before Geoffrey de Havilland’s body was recovered. He had suffered a broken neck and fractured skull, probably as a result of being thrown around the cockpit as the aircraft entered its “vicious undamped longitudinal oscillation at speed”  as Brown described it.

egypt-bay

 

Joplin’s Bomber

B-24 Joplin Jalopy

B24J-1-FO Liberator 42-50535 “Joplin Jalopy.” 506BS 44BG.   July 1944 – April 1945

This January marks the 10th anniversary of my first serious foray into the blogosphere  when I launched the blog “Joplin’s Bomber”  on the Google Blogger/Blogspot platform.    I’d discovered that the town of  Joplin, Missouri,  30-odd miles from here, had exhibited a combat veteran B-24 as a war memorial in the immediate post war era.  Not only that, but this specific B-24 was named by the city, and was one of a number of items of equipment which had been purchased from War Bond drives.

B-24J-1-FO 42-50535  was built on either May 5th or 6th 1944 at the massive Ford plant at Willow Run, Michigan. It arrived at Shipdham,  Norfolk with the 506th Bomb Squardon, 44th Bomb Group in July 1944. The aircraft carried the Codes GJ-Bar C  –  (later GJ-Bar O)  and was named  “Joplin Jalopy.”  She flew 66 (not the 63 often quoted) combat missions with 29 different crews up to the end of April 1945.   She was flown home on May 31/June 1 1945. Her next public appearance was in August 1946, when a crew from the Joplin Civil Air Patrol flew the aircraft back to Joplin from Altus, OK where it was scheduled (like the B-17F Memphis Belle, another Altus resident) to be smelted.

Joplin Jalopy in Joplin

“Joplin Jalopy” Arrives in Joplin. 11 August 1946. Photograph by Mary Day, passed to me in 2006.
Note the feathered propellers, the lack of armament, and the small boys already clambering on top of the cockpit and top turret.

Joplin Jalopy and Memphis Belle shared a similar story for a few years. Both suffered the attention of vandals and souvenir hunters.  There was no money to build a covered memorial in Joplin. Memphis Belle stood on a plinth at the National Guard Armory in Memphis. The Jalopy sat forlorn on the east side the airport, and her condition deteriorated to the point where she became a dangerous eyesore. She was taken away to be scrapped sometime in the early 1950s.

In 2006 I interviewed some of the surviving crew members by email, and  journalist from the Joplin Globe called a couple of them up.   With the assistance of the 44th Bomb Group Veteran’s Association, I managed to compile a list of all the missions the Jalopy flew, and with which crews.   I think that list is complete.   At some time I should resuscitate that blog or put my research findings into a more comprehensive site.   I would like to acknowledge publicly the assistance I’ve received  over the years from Roger Fenton, one of the historians of the 44th BGVA. Roger is the son of a 44th BG Navigator  and his dad coincidentally flew one mission with his crew on board the Jalopy.  Thanks Roger.

There is much to wrote and much which I haven’t yet found, but I should record the fact that while the project may be dormant, it isn’t forgotten.