Sunday, December 19, 2010

Five Years

A special pre-Christmas present was this unexpected badge for the volunteer work.

Just proves that time flies when you are having fun.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Shirley's gone - Leslie Nielsen (1926 - 2010)

Comedy often gets a dismissive wave off, but good bad comedy is a treasure, and often nails the icons and absurdities of the time.

This week we lost one of the great deadpan bumblers of film, immortal as Frank Drebbin, but also as the doc Rumack on one of aviation's scariest flights - Airplane!

I'm sure everyone's got the Shirley reference, not to mention starting to list their other favourites, but the following just seemed appropriate, including the cultural references and, of course, the bad puns and bad taste.
Rumack: 'Well, I don't have anything to say, you've done the best you could. You really have, the best you could. You can't expect to win em all. But, I want to tell you something I've kept to myself through these years. I was in the war myself, medical corps. I was on late duty one night when they brought in a badly wounded pilot from one of the raids. He could barely talk. He looked at me and said, "The odds were against us up there, but we went in anyway, I'm glad the Captain made the right decision." The pilot's name was George Zip.'
Ted Striker: 'George Zip said that?'
Rumack: 'The last thing he said to me, "Doc," he said, "some time when the crew is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to get out there and give it all they got and win just one for the Zipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Doc," he said, "but I won't smell too good, that's for sure." '
Ted Striker: 'Excuse me doc, I got a plane to land.'
What's not so well known is that Nielsen trained as a gunner during W.W.II in the Royal Canadian Air Force, but the war was over before he was to be posted.

And I'm sure he's up there, and he won't mind one final warning:
"...this guy has no flying experience at all. He's a menace to himself and everything else in the air... yes, birds too."
Leslie William Nielsen, OC (February 11, 1926 – November 28, 2010). Thanks for the laughs.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Forgotten Aircraft - The 1957 Lascurain Aura

Sometimes one discovers a type and story that one had never previously encountered. Although a sad story, the brief career of the Lascurain Aura was a fascinating - and to me - new tale.

Angel Lascurain y Osio (March 26, 1882, December 24, 1957) was a prominent Mexican aeronautical engineer. After an interesting pre-war career (outlined here, and in translation here) he designed one more machine post-war.

This was the 1957 Lascurain Aura. The Aura was at the time the most advanced design from the tiny Mexican aircraft industry, but only one was built. It was lost in a fatal accident that killed the test pilot and also the designer Lascurain - undoubtedly a key reason the machine is not more widely known.

Lascurain's aircraft was an ambitious project: to provide Mexico with a twin-engine aircraft with capacity for 14 passengers able to operate on short routes at high altitude and off rudimentary runways. He called it 'Aura' (Dawn) and it was equipped with two 245 hp Jacobs engines enabling a cruising speed of 200 km/h (125mph).

Tragically, during a test flight on 24 December 1957, Lascurain decided to accompany the test pilot, one Carlos Castillo Segura. On take off the Aura's engines stopped and the pilot tried to turn back to the runway, but the landing gear hit a ditch, causing the aircraft to crash and the death of their two occupants Lascurain and Castillo.

A remarkable insight into this unique aircraft is this five minute film, which shows rare detail of the machine, and gives, I think, a flavour of the excitement and optimism of the designer and pilot - featured as two subjects in this movie.

What would have happened if there had not been this tragic crash? The Aura has the look of a Lockheed 10 or Beech 18 but with a fixed tricycle undercarriage, and a thick wing (incorporating baggage containers, seen in the film, just like the Lockheed 10). The fuselage interior seems narrow (for two rows of seats) but may have been viable.

It would have been difficult to have been competitive with the war-surplus light transports available, and bigger aircraft like the DC-3. One thinks of another fixed-gear specialised postwar feederliner (the DHA Drover) that found it difficult to expand its niche into a profitable space.

Aesthetically, the design has some lovely cues, with a delicate tail 'signature' and a curvaceous structure, although the nose seems a little stumpy, and I'm nonplussed as to the purpose of the wingtip blocks. It would have been a complex aircraft to build, although perhaps with simple systems.

But who knows? The crash brought a remarkable designer's life to a premature end, and also ended the dream of a successful specialised Mexican airliner.


[With thanks to 'aguilanegra4' on YouTube, and 'Kwinopal' on the Key Forum, the latter bringing the aircraft to my attention, and posting the attached images in this thread.]

Thursday, November 25, 2010

W4050 clocks 70

The first of many Mosquitos takes flight. Via the Mosquito Aircraft Association of Australia.

The prototype de Havilland Mosquito, W4050, celebrates 70 years since its first flight. This, the original day bomber prototype, was rolled out on 19 November 1940, and first flew on 25 November, only 10 months after the go-ahead from the British Air Ministry. The original estimates were that as the Mosquito prototype had twice the surface area and over twice the weight of the 1940 Spitfire Mk II, but also with twice its power, the Mosquito would end up being 20 mph faster. Over the next few months, W4050 surpassed this estimate, easily beating the Spitfire Mk II in testing at RAF Boscombe Down in February 1941 at a top speed of 392 mph at 22,000 ft altitude, compared to a top speed of 360 mph at 19,500 ft for the Spitfire.

Unlike almost all other prototype aircraft from the era, this one survives, and in good hands. As Bruce Gordon of the de Havilland Heritage Centre (the aircraft's long-term home) reports:
"70 years on, she is one of very few surviving wartime prototype aircraft and is currently undergoing an exhaustive restoration at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum. In the next few weeks, she will be dismantled into her component parts for the first time since 1959, to enable detailed work to continue."
Some years ago, in the 1980s. James Kightly.

It is a very historic prototype; a very historic preserved aircraft, and in a very historic museum.

A grand milestone in preservation and history.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bomber Command Poem

Refound in this thread on the Key forum, and brought back to my memory by this discussion on Brett's Airminded blog, here's a Bomber Command poem I particularly like.

The nose section from Ex-RAAF Lancaster 'Old Fred' being discussed by modern suits at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth. James Kightly.

For me, the poem sums up some of the diversity of the contribution from within the UK and outside. Although titled 'Lancasters' it stands well, I think, for all of the Command and the crews of the less well remembered types. Found in Martin Bowman's excellent 'The Royal Air Force at War'.


Where are the bombers, the Lancs on the runways,
Snub-nosed and roaring and black-faced and dour,
Full up with aircrew and window and ammo
And dirty great cookies to drop on the Ruhr?

Where are the pilots, the navs and air-gunners,
WOP's and bomb-aimers and flight engineers,
Lads who were bank clerks and milkmen and teachers,
Carpenters, lawyers, and grocers and peers?

Geordies and Cockneys and Wiltshire moon-rakers,
Little dark men from the valleys of Wales,
Manxmen, Devonians, Midlanders, Scouses,
Jocks from the Highlands and Tykes from the Dales?

Where are the Aussies, the sports and the cobbers,
Talking of cricket and sheilas and grog,
Flying their Lanes over Hamburg and Stettin
And back to the Lincolnshire wintertime bog?

Where are the flyers from Canada's prairies,
From cities and forests, determined to win,
Thumbing their noses at Goering's Luftwaffe
And busily dropping their bombs on Berlin?

A reenactor in the RAF's airworthy Lancaster PA474 seen in 2003 at the Royal International Air Tattoo. James Kightly.

Where are the Poles with their gaiety and sadness,
All with the most unpronounceable names,
Silently, ruthlessly flying in vengeance,
Remembering their homes and their country in flames?

Where arc the Kiwis who left all the sunshine
For bleak windy airfields and fenland and dyke,
Playing wild Mess clinics like high cockalorum,
And knocking the Hell out of Hitler's Third Reich?

Where are the Poles with their gaiety and sadness,
All with the most unpronounceable names,
Silently, ruthlessly flying in vengeance,
Remembering their homes and their country in flames?

Where arc the Kiwis who left all the sunshine
For bleak windy airfields and fenland and dyke,
Playing wild Mess clinics like high cockalorum,
And knocking the Hell out of Hitler's Third Reich?

Where are they now, those young men of all nations,
Who flew though they knew not what might lie ahead,
And those who returned with their mission accomplished
And next night would beat up the Saracen's Head?

The Lancs are no more, they are part of legend,
But memory stays bright in the hearts of the men
Who loved them and flew them through flak and through hellfire
And, managed to land them in England, again.

The men who were lucky to live to see victory,
The men who went home to their jobs and their wives,
The men who can tell their grandchildren with pride
Of the bomber which helped to save millions of lives.

Audrey Grealy

Lancaster G for George at the Australian War Memorial. James Kightly.

Audrey is the widow of an RAF pilot, and while the poem may not achieve greatness as a poem for some, the reason for its creation is more than good enough for me. In this August 2010 BBC report on her, it mentions:
As the Battle of Britain began, Audrey was just 18-years-old and working for the BBC's variety department - helping to keep the population entertained during some of this country's darkest days.
Brett reviews a book discussing Bomber Command poetry here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gosling or Walrus?

Looks like the Airfix brief didn't quite check the list of aircraft in the image against the aircraft advertised.

Much as I like the Grumman designs, it's nicer to see a Supermarine Walrus image.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hawker Hurricane K5083

Seventy-five years ago on this date, George P.W.S. Bullman took the prototype Hawker Hurricane, K5083, designed by Sir Sidney Camm, into the air from the airfield at Brooklands, Surrey.

It was (despite the focus on the more famous sister aircraft) the decisive aircraft in the Battle of Britain, five short years after that first flight. Hurricane pilots accounted for more enemy aircraft shot down during the battle than all the other defences combined. As Francis K Mason put it in his book on the type, "The RAF ... had to have the Hurricane". One key reason why the Hurricane was critical was that Hawker's were able to carry forward their well tried biplane technology and factories using the systems into an effective - albeit limited development potential - eight-gun monoplane fighter. Even with all the short cuts Hawker's used, production of sufficient Hurricanes was, in the words on another battle 'a damn close run thing'.

These two photographs of the prototype show both how it differed from production Hurricanes, and also a number of changes K5083 underwent in its own early career.

Notable changes are the re-arrangement and extra bars on the canopy after excessive flexing; the removal of the tailplane struts; the extension of the radiator bath as well as many other small items - as expected in a prototype's development.

Differences to production aircraft are also numerous, but one that always intrigued me is the change in the shape of the undercarriage door.

[Images originally Hawker Aircraft / RAF Official, I believe.]

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sabre Pilot Antics

For those that may have had reservations over the sanity of Sabre drivers, this great little comedy film will confirm your expectations. Draw up a chair (maybe turn the sound off - the original was silent) grab a cup of tea - or better, a cocktail, and watch the story of Checkout Day with the (then) new F-86 Sabres.

It was made by the 526th Fighter Squadron of the USAF based at Ramstein Air Base, West Germany, and must be from about 1953 when the Sabres arrived. The film is from the U Tube website of TJDosier, to whom many thanks!

They really don't make them like that any more.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Stringbag Returns

What a great thing to happen on my birthday!

From the RNHF Website, with acknowledgement: Finally back where she belongs - Swordfish II LS326 airborne on her second test flight on 4 October in the hands of Lt Cdr Mike Abbey. [©Lee Howard]

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Going Once!

Sometimes it's good to know you aren't registered for sales at the auction.

The Avro Cadet airscrew went for around $600. But not to me. Today's Steve Graham Auction.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fifi's Back

With this long-awaited take off, on Thursday, August 5, 2010, ...

Video via the CAF.

...the world's only airworthy Boeing B-29A Superfortress 44-62070, N529B, 'Fifi' of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) returned to the air after a four-year grounding, and after the development of a new engine system setup.

“I am deeply pleased to see FIFI fly again after such a long wait,” said CAF General Staff member, Neils Agather. “Today’s flight is a product of the dedication of many people, Gary Austin, Dave Miller and many more volunteers. We must also thank Jim Cavanaugh for his support. My parents, Vic and Fifi, would be proud.”
More from the CAF here.

For most of the post-Superfortress era, 'Fifi' has been the sole flyer, with only a couple of other airframes ever likely to be in a position to fly again at best. As the sole airworthy example of the worlds' first nuclear bomber, it is an important and historic type to have in the air.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Was 1940 like this?

Image via 'Their Finest Hour' See the post's endnote for details.

As one might expect the commemorative juggernaut of the Battle of Britain 70th anniversary rolls on in an entirely predictable and unsurprising manner. Good, perhaps to introduce those who know little or nothing of the history and events (such as Britain's Prime Minister) but otherwise lacking in news to anyone knowledgeable in their aviation or British history.

So far only a few items have seemed worth commentary. Firstly I've noticed a tendency for the medium to overwhelm the message. In a somewhat desperate attempt to engage children and people who can only think like children, numerous organisations have gone overboard with Twitter feeds, blogs (yes, like this) YouTube and other new media methods to engage what they'd call 'a wider audience' and my cynical devil calls 'the illiterate with short attention sp..' What, I've lost you?

There's a great merit in original material (either from the period or modern, thoughtful new stuff) being made available through these methods, and a a few examples will appear here. However the downside seems to be a need to chop about the historical reality for the demands of the modern media; something that Marshall McLuhan would probably feel was OK.

One bizarre example is the Twitter feed (spotted by 'Bob') from which has a fictitious pilot 'Tweet':
Exhausted this morning after night with @1940Jane. Glad I'm not on dawn patrol today!
Image via 'Their Finest Hour'.

Image via 'Their Finest Hour'.

And a post-script, explaining the illustrations to this post. Another oddity is the 'Spitfire' and 'Messerschmitt' Smart Cars, from 'Their Finest Hour' and the photos, by photographer Dave Hammond. Obviously both the name Spitfire has already been used for a sports car, and Messerschmitt went on to produce bubble cars under their own name, but these are certainly something you'll either love or hate.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Not the British PM's finest hour

Spoof poster from here.

After a lengthy discussion on the Key forum regarding the necessity (or otherwise) that the Battle of Britain should be part of Britain's history curriculum in school, it appears that Britain's new Prime Minister may need to attend remedial history lessons himself, to correct his poor understanding of his predecessor's 'finest hour' - given a gaffe made when in the USA.

When discussing the US-British relationship, it appears David Cameron, while acknowledging the junior role of the UK in relation to the US today said: “we were the junior partner in 1940 when we were fighting the Nazis”.

Oh dear.

I trust this blog's readers won't need to be told (as Cameron soon was informed, and acknowledged) that America was very much neutral throughout 1940, and profiting from Britain's isolation by making military sales (the Battle pre-dating Lend-Lease) and the US only entering the war after the attack by Japan a year and a half later.

So much for 'Standing alone'* then and a 'finest hour'.

It's too easy to go on, but apart from getting one of Britain's most important global historical moments wrong, does it show the reality of the British Prime Minister's grasp of history?

What makes the gaffe doubly surprising is that Winston Churchill is one of Cameron's heroes.

But after Cameron's original remark on Sky News, it was shown that wasn't just a slip of the tongue. In a prior recorded interview on America's ABC, Cameron said: "We were the junior partner in 1940 when we were fighting against Hitler; we are the junior partner now. I think you shouldn't pretend to be something you're not."

What was also interesting was the British press' (somewhat predictable) reaction. The Daily Mail fulminated, the Financial Times was measured and ponderous, and the Guardian simply didn't regard it as important at all, while lumping anyone who thought it worth getting right with 'incandescent of Daily-Mail-land'.

The Daily Mail:
David Cameron faced a furious backlash yesterday for the astonishing claim that the UK was a 'junior partner' to America in 1940 - a year before the U.S. even entered the war.

The Prime Minister was accused of forgetting the sacrifices made in 1940 by those who fought in the Battle of Britain, the heroes of Dunkirk and the Londoners bombed out of their homes in the Blitz.

Downing Street hastily claimed that Mr Cameron had meant to refer to the 1940s in general. But by then the damage was done.

General Sir Patrick Cordingley, former commander of the Desert Rats, said: 'I am quite sure if Winston Churchill were alive today he would be dismayed.'

The FT:
In Washington the previous week Mr Cameron did what he could to defuse American anger over BP and the Lockerbie bomber, and to strike a note of humility. But he over-egged it when he said that the UK was the junior partner in the Anglo-American relationship, just as “we were the junior partner in 1940 when we were fighting the Nazis”. As conservative commentators have reminded him to his cost, while the Battle of Britain raged the US was conspicuously and profitably neutral.
The Guardian:
The Cameron bluntness was given a high-profile outing the week before in the US, though the victims that time were patriotic readers of the Daily Mail. In an attempt to recalibrate Anglo-American relations to a more realistic level, the prime minister said Britain should accept it is the "junior partner".

To illustrate his point, Cameron said that this was even the case at the height of the "special relationship" in 1940 when Britain and the US stood shoulder to shoulder to meet the Nazi threat. He later admitted his remarks showed a shaky grasp of history because in 1940 Winston Churchill was embarking on his year-long campaign to persuade Washington to join the allied war effort.
History? It's just one misremembered thing after another. Or was that before another?


* Britain famously 'stood alone' but no-one would overlook the help given by the Empire and many other nations, as well a handful of volunteer American airmen.

[Note: The post is not a party political comment or particularly to do with current British affairs, politics or personalties, but simply a comment on a remarkable misunderstanding of a significant moment in history by the same nation's current leader. This post therefore does not reflect the author's political views, or the views of any associated publications.]

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

It's the 4th July, lots of happy Americans.

Only in America!

North American P-51D Mustang 'Quicksilver' N51HY at Oshkosh 2009. If you are going for a non-original scheme, go for it. This machine is not just eye-catching but blindingly shiny, with specular reflective paint in the red of the bar of the star & bar. Owners Bill Yoak and son and pilot Scott Yoak take a great deal of trouble to share their aircraft, letting people up close, touch - and from eight to eighty - have a sit in the cockpit.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Re-viewing Mosquitoes in film

February 18, 1944, at 12 noon, two Mosquitoes after dropping their bombs on the prison walls at low altitude. Image: RAF.

I'd occasionally speculated as to why a film about the Amiens prison raid hasn't been made (details here, here and here) and particularly triggered recently by Sir Peter Jackson's decision to remake the Dam Busters movie, another unnecessary fly-over of well bombed dams in my opinion. Even more ironic is that as Jackson is a New Zealander, one might think he'd be interested in Operation Jericho as it featured several New Zealand airmen in an RNZAF Squadron, deserving of at least one feature film.

But there were films of the raid. A treasure is the film of the actual raid shot at the time, a not inconsiderable achievement, and unlike any commercial film a primary if partial source of the event. An extract of the film is on the Pathe newsreel website here and the image above is I think a still from that film.

Secondly there was a post-war French film (details here and here) but one that focuses more on the details of the prisoners than on the technical achievement of the operation. It also looks rather like what you'd get with a modern Hollywood director got hold of it, starting with the overwrought poster from here seen above, or as the French site says: "Au moment de l'exécution, la Royal Air Force bombarde la prison." Zut Alors.

Dave Homewood, a fellow writer and researcher, but from New Zealand found (on a now defunct website) the following description:
Lang.: FRENCH; Length: 95 Minutes

Once the French film industry was able to make WWII epics, it did so with a vengeance. Jericho is the true story of the bombing of the Nazi-held prison at Amiens. It is argued that, while the RAF took an enormous public-relations risk in the bombing, the end result was largely salutary, resulting in freedom for 50 French hostages. The dramatic portions of the film share space with newsreel footage of the actual attack. One of the better films of its kind, Jericho failed to make a dent in the U.S. market, which at the time was inundated with war pictures.

The sole reader review on IMDb contains the following:
1944: A train full of petrol has stopped in the station of Amiens. The German army, still occupying France, fears sabotage. So they decide to take 50 hostages: if the resistant fighters attack the train,they will be shot.

Brilliant scenes: The sleepy town where people hide,afraid of the boots marching in the streets.

The city council,who has got to choose the hostages. "We've got to put our names at the top of the list" says the mayor. But two members are frightened and they resign their mandate.

The scenes in the jail, where a man (Pierre Brasseur) is so afraid of dying he'd do anything to save his life, even boot-licking: "I know where the commies and the Jews are" he shouts at the soldiers.

But it's the long sequence in the church were the hostages are imprisoned which climaxes the film. Calef avoids the usual cliché that all French people were brave resistance fighters; among these 50 people, some of them rebel, they are afraid to die,they cannot stand that dawn which is inexorably approaching. In the priest' s pulpit, Morin (Brasseur) has gone completely mad, his terror knowing no bounds. His attitude is in direct contrast to that of Simone who bravely enters the jail between two soldiers. She too is to be shot with the fifty men.
(Minor edits for grammar & punctuation.)

Back in 1945 the RAF could provide a Squadron's worth of Mosquitoes. As Colin Ford recalls:
Mosquitoes of No.487 (RNZAF) Squadron during September 1945 were flying during filming of a documentary movie titled "Jericho", a recreation of the Amiens Prison raid. After being renumbered No.268 Squadron in October 1945 they continued that flying activity sporadically until mid November 1945 when the big flying scenes were filmed which included a full Squadron formation and flights making dummy attacks over the Amiens Prison accompanied by a photographic Mosquito from No.69 Squadron. A number of the pilots and navigators who had to fly their Mosquitoes up to Paris for certain parts of the filming took advantage of the visits for some R&R. One of the scenes the Squadron filmed using the aircrew at the time was the full Squadron raid briefing.

The film might be of interest for the flying, but the somewhat over-dramatic description doesn't really appeal otherwise.

We should have an airworthy Mosquito in 2011, while there have been none flying since the tragic demise of the British aerospace T.3 RR299. In the meantime, lacking the real thing, for a rather well put together film of completely CGI Mosquitoes, see the famous short demonstration by Tochy called Merlins, here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Canada Day, Lysander, Eh!

July 1, 2010. Canada Day. Recently, another Lysander returned to the skies, taking the world's population back up to three fliers, two in Canada.

Image: Peter Handley, VWoC.

This is Vintage Wings of Canada's (VWoC) aircraft, which is now painted as '416' the first ever 'Can Car' built Lysander. The story of the VWoC Lizzie is on their website, here.

And here's a picture after the original first flight of the original 416.

National Archives of Canada, PA-124189

From my Lysander book:
"In April of 1938, a contract for 28 (later raised to 75) Lysander Mk.I was placed with the National Steel Car Corporation of Hamilton, Ontario, with Mercury and Perseus engines to be supplied from Britain. ... The machines were essentially the same as the Westland-built machines, although the National Steel Car Corporation were able to make larger panels with their presses (including the wing leading edge sections) and the undercarriage ‘U’ beam was of a composite construction, as Canada did not have the facility to heat treat such a large item at that time

"The first Canadian example was No.416 and it joined the RCAF on September 7th 1939. Its first flight, to the great and justifiable pride of the workforce, as it was the first aircraft that they had produced, was on 16th August, in the hands of E L Capreol."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Hungarian-American in a French aeroplane in Australia

His name was Harry Houdini. The French aeroplane was a Voisin biplane, and the flight was the first in Australia, in a remote spot in rural Victoria called Digger's Rest, exactly 100 years ago today, the 18th March 1910 - Well, it was the first officially recognised, powered, controlled, heavier than air flight, which is what most people mean when they say 'first'. Of course it wouldn't be Australian if there wasn't some dispute about the claim. And we must recognise the pioneers who had gone before, such as Hargrave.

In typical Aussie fashion, having been beaten to the post by a Hungarian-American, flying a French aircraft, John Duigan got the finger out and flew his Australian designed and built aircraft from a place called Mia Mia, ironically not far from Houdini's spot. Thankfully these were both in Victoria.

A replica of Duigan's aircraft is suspended in the entrance to the Melbourne museum, and they have the real thing in store. I hope to see it someday. This photo shows the skeletal framework of the aircraft against the skeletal framework of the museum. My fellow-blogger Brett Holman has provide a much more detailed post on the story here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

617 Squadron back in the news

RAF Museum

On this day in 1945 – 617 Squadron, RAF first used the Grand Slam: a 22,000 lb (9.98 t) earth quake bomb, on a strategic railroad viaduct in Bielefeld, Germany. The aircraft was commanded by by Squadron Leader C.C. Calder. More details here.

Film of the bomb in action:

Meanwhile over in the 'mad ideas filed' dept, Britain's Daily Telegraph reports;

Air Marshal Arthur 'Bomber' Harris proposed using the Lancasters of 617 Squadron to fly over Rome at "roof-top level" and drop bombs on Il Duce's headquarters and residence in an attempt to kill or maim him, documents in the National Archives at Kew disclose.

The operation, conceived in early July 1943, had the approval of Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary.

In a memorandum to the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, dated 13 July 1943, Eden wrote: "Harris has asked permission to try to bomb Mussolini in his office in Rome and to bomb his residence simultaneously in case the Duce is late that morning.

Eden reported that Mussolini's headquarters, the magnificent Palazzo Venezia in central Rome, and his private residence, Villa Torlonia, were both "unmistakeable" and could easily be identified by British bombers.

Importantly, neither was within 1,500 yards of the Vatican, which the Allies had promised not to damage.

"I suggest that if Mussolini were killed or even badly shaken, at the present time this might greatly increase our chance of knocking Italy out (of the war) at an early date. And I therefore ask your permission to lay the operation on," Eden wrote.

But within two weeks, Mussolini was ousted by the Grand Council of Fascism and replaced by a caretaker government led by King Vittorio Emmanuele III, who negotiated a surrender to the Allies.

Mussolini fled to northern Italy to lead a fascist republic. In April 1945, with total defeat looming, he tried to escape to Switzerland but was captured and summarily executed by Italian partisans near Lake Como.

Christopher Duggan, a historian at the University of Reading and Mussolini biographer, said there were probably other good reasons for not authorising the bombing raid. He said: "It may have been logistically difficult for the bombers to come in low enough to carry out a really good strike. The RAF may have decided that the air defences around Rome were too good.

"And if they had just wounded Mussolini it may have rallied the Italian population around him. There was still a lot of sympathy for Mussolini at this time, so there was the danger that the plan could backfire."

Nick Squires in Rome, Published: 7:00AM GMT 12 Mar 2010

All that and dams too.

PS: Note that the Daily Telegraph uses a still from the Dam Busters film - credited as just 'The Dam Busters'.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Blast from the Past - E.E. Lightning

There's nothing quite like it. In collecting stories for Aeroplane's April issue Aircrew feature (on the news stands now) I discovered the many pilot anecdotes were known as WIWOLs (for 'when I was on Lightnings').

As well as revisiting the incredible famous photo of George Aird's accident (an accident photo with thankfully a happy outcome, and featured in Aircrew) there were a range of great bits of video and a sound recording, which I can present here.

On Chris Taylor's blog, is this excellent remix of film set to contemporary (ish) sound:

Scramble over Europe '68 (action series).

It's actually at least in part using some of the same film from a real RAF recruitment film, which had a soundtrack I still can't quite believe is genuine. Streaked Lightning: 'Join the RAF, it's cool and beatnick, with neato gear, chaps.' The film is on the National Archives site in the UK, so pop over for a look here.

This photo is of the Imperial War Museum, Duxford's Lightning. This is an aircraft with an incredible story attached to it, that of engineering officer Wing Commander 'Taffy' Holden's inadvertent flight. You can hear his story in his own words here, thanks to YouTube.

The heading photo is of the dramatically displayed RAF Museum Cosford's example, in the new Cold War gallery there. It's a display that's not to everyone's taste, and definitely there are major flaws with aspects of the curatorial and architectural decisions taken, but it's an impressive and appropriate way to display an aircraft famed for 'Going up!'... The two advertisements are from the ever useful and endlessly fascinating Flight Global archive.

There's more (of course) in the Aircrew feature, excellently illustrated as ever by Ian Bott.

Nothing quite like it, or the men who flew them.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Morning Mustang

A shot from the RAAF Museum's Pageant at about 8.15 am of the RAAF Museum's CAC Mustang VH-SVU. We were lucky with the weather, and had a great show.

This is the kind of photo I like, but won't get published, given the preferences of most aviation magazines. So here we are!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pre-Pageant Day

There was a sneak peek inside the new Strike Hangar display...

A variety of aircraft flew in, althought the weather kept others out.

Some were rare in Australia...

Others returning to their 'home'...

Some were a long way from home and very modern...

Others very new versions of very old aeroplanes...

Someone let the dogs out...

But the Mosquito didn't look threatening...

Although it's got one leg all back together...

And as you asked nicely, here's one of the aircraft in the Strike Hangar.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

RAAF Museum Pageant 2010 Incoming

The RAAF Museum's Pageant is nearly here - on Sunday 28 February 2010. As well as the museum itself, on the historic RAAF base of Point Cook, there's a lot to see:

The RAAF Museum says- 'Gates open at 9:00am, flying display starts at 1:00pm' and 'Aircraft will include: Mustangs, Kittyhawk, ...

... Sabre, Winjeel, Tiger Moths, DC3s, Vampire, Sea Fury, Wirraway, Boomerang, Spitfire, and many more.....'

And the RAAF Routlettes will be back. The Temora Aviation Museum are sending the Spitfire and Sabre mentioned above as well as the Lockheed Hudson:

Other extras will be the chance to catch up on how the Project 2014 Bristol Military Biplane (or Boxkite) replica is progressing. This is the seat:

The rest of the aircraft is being assembled as we write...

And the forthcoming new display - the Strike Hangar - will be opened temporarily for a special preview opportunity, including this - the 'Boneyard Wrangler'.

See you there!