Friday, September 25, 2009

The multi-talented Cyril Peckham

Due to the inevitable focus on pilots in aviation, the huge range of other talented people involved rarely get a look in. In the middle of the twentieth century, there were numerous great photographers working, including the peerless Charles E Brown and others. One often overlooked is Cyril Peckham, who was multi-skilled as well as talented.

While looking at this rather nice illustration of a Folland racer, I noticed a very small signature at the lower right in the white area: 'Peckham'. Not a usual name, only encountered for the London suburb and the photographer I'd heard of. So a bit more looking produced a camera - the Peckham Wray as well:
Here's the story, from a Christie's auction page.
Peckham Wray camera no. 186
Peckham Wray, England; 5 x 4 inches, black-metal body, the top stamped ADMIRALTY PATTERN NO. 8901, focal-plane shutter and a Wray Lustrar 135mm. f/4.8 lens no. 42294; a Wray Plustrar f/6.3 9 inch lens no. 158117

Lot Notes: Cyril Peckham was a successful and well-known commercial artist and poster designer specialising in aviation subjects during the 1920s and 1930s. He had an active interest in photography and achieved the Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society. During the second world war he moved from illustrator to photographer and joined the General Aircraft Company and later the Hawker company. He was active in aerial photography and drew up a list of ten faults with current cameras which led him to design his own.

'When the man who does the job designs the tool for doing it, the result should be something approaching the attainable ideal - from the functional aspect at least'. With this statement the BJPA reviewed the Peckham-Wray camera designed by Cyril Peckham who at the time was Chief Photographer to the Hawker Siddeley group of aircraft companies. The camera was originally designed for air-to-air photography and and was later developed as a press and general purpose camera.

British patent number 728741 was applied for in 1951 and the full specification was filed in November 1952. The specification for the camera addressed those faults that Peckham had identified including light traps, comfortable grip and fingertip controls. After some twelve months use Peckham showed the camera to the Chief of the Admiralty photographic section, Mr F. Wright, who initiated the first production run of fifty cameras from the Wray Optical Works in Bromley. The prototype camera at the RAF Museum in Hendon follows the patent specification closely but the transition from prototype to production negated some of the improvements Peckham had intended.

The prototype achieved most of Peckham's goals, bulk apart it was convenient to hold, the rear shutter release was in an ideal position and the focusing scale and aperture markings easy to use. A gloved operator would have no difficulty and it would seem to have been a first class air-to-air camera. If offered exclusively for this purpose fitted with a 5 x 4 Graphic-pattern back, as some of the production models were, it would have achieved greater success outside of Government circles, in fact the number sold to private users were negligible and it certainly stood no chance of being accepted in the Speed Graphic dominated Fleet Street as a press camera.

Jim Barron, 'Cyril Peckham and the Peckham/Wray Camera' in Photographica World, no. 60, March 1992, pp. 24-25.
Jim Barron, 'Reaching for the Skies' in British Journal of Photography, 19 March 1992, pp. 16-17.
British Journal Photographic Almanac 1956, pp. 232-233.

For those interested in the camera specifically, more here:
... A camera was made for Peckham to his own design, by a local engineering company, and was so successful that he soon found friends and colleagues pressing him to get the camera into some sort of commercial production. Wray got the job, under the promise of a Government contract. Wray’s version of Peckham’s camera did not exactly match the prototype. The 9 x 12cm German shutter mechanism used by Peckham was changed to a 5 x 4-inch English version. The casting was in a denser alloy than the original, the smooth lines of the first camera were not followed and the whole thing was heavier and more cumbersome. ...
How many of our current photographers are experienced graphic artists and have designed a specialised camera that was put into production? Flight, as ever, came up with a pic - here's the man with (presumably) the prototype camera from 19 December 1952.

Another excellent shot is on this interesting blog, presumably again using his own camera.

All very interesting, I think. There also seems to be another
Cyril G Peckham who published "A summary of atmospheric turbulence recorded by NATO aircraft." and was involved with "The Analysis of Sudden-Short-Circuit Oscillograms of Steam-Turbine Generators" - I hope it's not the same man, otherwise he'd clearly be the Leonardo of aeronautics.

Tim Badham adds:
I greatly admire the aviation photographers from that era. Indeed I was fortunate enough in the 1970s to be one of the winners in a competition concerning airshow photography. The photographs were judged by Arthur Gibson (well known for early Red Arrows pics) and that doyen of air-to-air work Charles E. Brown himself. I had the great honour to meet Charles at the award ceremony when winning photographs were exhibited at the RAF Museum. It was a wonderful day. Charles was of diminutive stature and quite frail by then but I was quite over-awed to be introduced to him. Thousands of his early photos were lost in a fire at his premises in the early days of his career. His earliest aviation pics were of balloons.

I never met Cyril Peckham but he too did some great work in the days when film was expensive, autodrive was not an option and you had to get it right first time!
Not to be forgotten, and we'll return to the great Charles E Brown another time, I'm sure.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

AWM Trumpet brought to you by...

The AWM at night. James Kightly.

One has to wonder what they were thinking. The news release here.

Funding cuts in this year's Budget have seen the Australian War Memorial seek commercial sponsorship for its daily closing ceremony.

Every day at 4:50pm, the strains of The Last Post, or a piper's lament, fill the air around the national War Memorial as staff and visitors stop to remember those who have fought for Australia.

Memorial director Steve Gower will today announce that the ceremony will be sponsored by ACT telecommunications company TransACT.

The predictable backlash here.

The announcement drew an angry reaction from radio talkback callers and politicians outraged that the event should be commercialised.

Brigadier Gower pointed out that 87 corporate and individual sponsors already covered the costs of exhibitions in the memorial's museum area, but conceded that this was the first time the ceremony had been sponsored.

Paying musicians was too expensive and the alternative would have been to resort to a recording. A recording of the Last Post was played until 2001, when the memorial's council decided to engage musicians.

Yesterday TransACT offered to remove the logo to avoid public concern. Brigadier Gower said he would examine public comments about the move and consider that offer.

Nationals senator Ron Boswell said the sponsorship was an outrage and the Last Post should be free of any distractions. ''It is there to remember our fallen, not the name of a telephone company.''

'Eternal Flame' Seen at night. James Kightly.

It has been pointed out that the sponsorship is very small, very discreet - in which case the sponsors are hardly getting a good deal. The conclusion seems to be that similar costs should've been covered by sponsorship elsewhere. It's a too emotional item in their portfolio to be a smart move.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The End for Langley's Wind Tunnel

Looking like a set from a 1930s Sci-Fi film, even before you notice the two figures standing in front of the aircrews. Crop from the image below. NASA.

It appears that time has run out for Langley's wind tunnel. Formerly operated by NASA, it has been used by Old Dominion University recently, and while there appears to be plenty of work left for it, NASA isn't prepared to keep it in use. As ever costs (and I suspect particularly significant maintenance and repair costs) are cited as the reason for its planned destruction.

The full picture shows the prototype of what later became the Brewster F2B Buffalo. Careful tests cleaned up the airframe to add a claimed 50 mph top speed improvement. Meanwhile in the huge room with the tiny figures the viewer can almost hear the echoes! NASA.

However one of the aspects of this full size and historic wind tunnel is the way it (literally) put aircraft under the spotlight and on stage. There's something of an outsize jeweller's window in the way the aircraft appear and the giant maws of the two tunnels looked like a secret entrance to somewhere quite else - the wooden airscrews and carefully shaped wooden mouths add a mixed-technology touch to modern viewers.

As the diagram here prosaically shows, the air just goes around in a pair of giant square tubes, but it certainly doesn't look like that in the image above.

A Boeing P-26 Peashooter under testing, 1930s. NASA.
As you'd expect it is heritage listed, but it appears not to be protected by that. One could wonder what's the point?

In 1973 the USA was going to compete in the Supersonic Transport category. This is one of the American designs, more complex, larger and arguably advanced than either Concorde or the Tu-144. But unlike them, it was never built, and American played the 'not invented here' game by keeping Concorde out of the mainland USA. NASA.

It is a pity time is up for the tunnel, but some issues seem quite clear while others that I suspect exist are also tough:

- It's not core to NASA's needs - and they are under critical cost-justification at the moment.

- It's already had a stay of execution during Old Dominion University's use.

- It's not possible to make a tourism attraction out of it due to location and that location's security requirements.

- It's not the only or largest 'full size' wind tunnel.

I'm guessing that the crunch is not the upkeep costs but the major costs I suspect required to refurbish it to keep it sound. It's all very well working in worn out buildings, but there comes a time when the cost for repair skyrockets; and if you don't need it, it's impossible to justify spending so much on it. So it seems large triangular models will be the last things 'through' this particular piece of industrial heritage.

Probably what will be the last aircraft design tested, the X-48B transport. Now the fans have finally fallen silent. NASA.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bomber bull

One of the most unlikely adverts I've come across for a long time.

Another 'forgotten bomber'.

The Handley Page Hereford was an inline engine version of the Handley Page Hampden, which came into existence and required a different name, almost by accident. Details from here:
Interest in the HP.52 by the Swedish for placing a potential order led to the HP.53 prototype, which was subsequently used as a testbed for a pair of 1,000 hp Napier Dagger VIII 24-cylinder H-block water-cooled inline engines.

In 1936, the RAF ordered 150 Dagger-engined Hampdens as the Hereford. Problems with engine cooling resulted in most of those built (by Short & Harland) being re-engined as Hampdens. The surviving Herefords served in training units only.
It was stated that the engines were unreliable, over-heating on the ground and cooling too rapidly when airborne, while the very high pitched exhaust note proved uncomfortable for the crews.

The Hereford isn't quite extinct, technically. Rare, ex-Russian Hampden P1344 in the hands of the RAF Museum has a
Hereford rear fuselage, a swap from its service days. Of course the rear fuselages - well everything except the engines and associated parts - would be exactly the same.

Finally I should add that the aircraft is named after the county town '
Hereford' of Herefordshire, in line with the then RAF policy of city names for bombers - not the bull (itself named after the town as well) although clearly High Duty Alloys of Slough decided to stretch a point with their 'beefy' advert.

There never was a Short Slough, just an invitation for bombs by John Betjeman.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gloss finish

Generally speaking glossy finishes are inaccurate on W.W.II aircraft, although some owners do prefer them as it makes it 'easier to keep clean'. Remarkable, really, as 'ease of use' is otherwise quite a low item on the attraction-list for warbirds.

However they occasionally do have an unexpected benefit; the medley of sheens and reflections on this P-40 captured at Oshkosh do show what a great piece of sculpture the type is, and also help to hide the remarkably inaccurate colours. A picture I was quite pleased with as a result.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

CAC Sabre '983. Public-Private partnership

Sabre on the pan at Temora. (James Kightly)

The recent return to the air of the RAAF Museum's Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) Sabre A94-983 at Temora is an interesting example of a public-private partnership, but isn't generally noted as such in most of the publicity.

The story is interesting. Having served with the RAAF, ten Sabres were given to the Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia (Royal Malaysian Air Force) and '983 was re-serialed FM1983. Later replaced by F-5 fighters, FM1983 was noted on site at Butterworth by Wing Commander Leader Leach of 75 Squadron RAAF, while on deployment. After agreement (and donation from) the Malays, the squadron managed to get Sabre flying again, and it was then returned to Australia (into a period where, I suspect, no-one wanted to deal with this 'gift horse') and where 2 Aircraft Depot (AD) later further restored it. The aircraft flew as part of the RAAF Historic Flight, nominally headquartered at RAAF Point Cook between 1982. It was registered VH-PCM in 1988.

Taxiing in after the first public display, Saturday 5th September 2009. (James Kightly)

It was grounded for reasons that are not in the public domain, and remained so for many years.

Meanwhile the Temora Aviation Museum (TAM - a privately funded collection of airworthy aircraft of Australian historic interest, established by millionaire David Lowy, AM) had been restoring a CAC Sabre themselves. A couple more CAC Sabre airframes were also acquired, and progress continued, but a different tack was decided upon. An agreement was struck between the RAAF, owners of '983 and TAM, to restore the aircraft once more to flight. Although the aircraft had been airworthy when grounded, certain areas needed rebuilding, particularly in the wings, and obviously after a decade, pipework, engine and so forth all needed renewal.

The new Martin Baker seat which came from Germany. (James Kightly)

Another area of issue was the aircraft's ejection seat. This had never been a popular design, with limited effectiveness in the 1950s and 1960s, and was not, now regarded as of acceptable performance. Research by the RAAF Museum and TAM showed that the Luftwaffe had re-fitted their Canadair Sabres with Martin Baker (MB) seats, a particularly attractive option for Temora, as their chief engineer, Pete Pring-Shambler was Martin Baker trained, and many of the other TAM aircraft have MB seats. This was a significant change, and required new canopy rails to be fitted to the side of the cockpit to raise the front of the canopy as it slid aft to clear the seat top. Even obtaining a usable seat was tricky, and a couple, making one (plus MB support) was eventually sourced from Germany.

The new risers inside the cockpit sills to raise the canopy as it slides back. ( James Kightly)

The Temora Aviation Museum team. (TAM)

Much of the documentary research, many parts, including a significant RAAF spares holding of major airframe pieces was used by the TAM team, who undertook the engine and airframe overhaul, itself a major task.

The RAAF Museum team. (James Kightly)

Sabre '983, now registered VH-IPN, took to the air again in July 2009, and was centrepiece of the display in September, where many of these photos were taken.

Clean, in full flight. (James Kightly)

In the current climate it was highly unlikely that '983 would have been restored to fly by the RAAF, or the RAAF Museum. On a practical level, 2 AD and the engineering equivalence of them no longer exist in the RAAF, and RAAF Point Cook, the base of the RAAF Museum has runways too short for the Sabre's safe operation. On the other hand, TAM presumably had decided that it was not viable to restore their own Sabre project as per the original plan, and operating the RAAF's aircraft on their behalf, after TAM restored it was a better process. The additional demands of satisfying the RAAF's safety requirement as well as a limited civil one was another challenge of course.

Museum Engineers take time for a photo with ex-Sabre pilots and engineers. (Emily Bondaruk, TAM)

While many people know parts of the story relating to getting this rare aircraft back in the air, it appears that the full saga isn't going to be appearing anywhere soon. Which is a pity, because when credit is apportioned appropriately, there is much to be learned from the success of the project. I'm also sure there could also be a lot learned from avoiding some of the pitfalls encountered too.

(The opinion expressed in this piece is the author's own, and does not reflect an official view of any journal or organisation.)