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!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Don't try this at home

One of the most remarkable events in the history of the last surviving Supermarine Stranraer was a take off. That rare thing of a pure flying boat (not an amphibian, note) taking off from a land runway.

This occurred after a rebuild (as required for the Canadian Department of Transport) at Abbotsford Airport, BC, Canada, by Aerovive Ltd over a 7-month period in 1962, and costing C$40,000, including complete refrabricing of the wing and tail surfaces.

According to the RAF Museum's PDF record for the aircraft, it;
Flew from Abbotsford Airport runway No. 18 to the Fraser River at Sea Island - took off with the hull resting on a specially constructed detachable 4-wheel 'dolly' from which it lifted off when flying speed was reached. The dolly rolled to a stop at the end of the runway.
As it was not equipped with brakes, as can be seen above, it was retarded before the attempt by a rope attached to a (presumably full) Shell fuel bowser. This '40-minute test flight, flown by Slim Knights' was probably one of the most 'testing' take-offs in the type's career, notwithstanding the many open sea rescues by Stranraers in the war.

In this next photo we can clearly see that the dolly wasn't proof against the aircraft rolling to the starboard on the take-off run, but the potential disaster was averted.

Today this aircraft survives in the RAF Museum Hendon, last of its breed, and last complete example of the large, multi-engine pre-war biplane flying boats.

(And it has a secret. No one knows what unit codes it wore in service. If you can find evidence, the RAF Museum would be delighted to hear from you.)

Credits: Canadian Aviation Museum images. Thanks to Andy Simpson of the RAF Museum for his help and the various people who shared their memories of this hairy flight with me.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

More Landseaire

Thanks to Dan and Chris, I've been appraised of Maurice Allward's report on the Landseaire design in Flight of 1953. See here. (My original post is here.) This elaborates on the design, and implies that there will be a production run of these conversions. Sadly I've still not found the (presumed) LIFE article featuring the photos, so many questions still remain, but others answered by Maurice's article:
Sleeping accommodation is provided for eight persons in three double beds and two singles. Near each bed is an individual light, radio switch and speaker, curtains, vents for air conditioning system, and a telephone. Occupants may contact the shore by means of a marine ship-to-shore telephone. In addition to this item of electrickery, the converted aircraft are fitted with no fewer than seven communications receivers, two transmitters, a broadcast receiver, FM-AM radio and—a built-in television set! Passengers can thus communicate anywhere in the world—to ships at sea, to another aircraft in flight, or to a private telephone on land.

During the day the two single beds in the aft or "observation" cabin serve as seats. This cabin occupies the former mid-gun positions. On the starboard side, in place of the wartime blister, is a special one-piece blister typical of the luxuriousness of the other innovations: it is of specially free-blown Lucite to achieve good optical qualities without distortion and costs over £1,000. Measuring 7ft in length by 4&1/2 ft deep at its widest point it also has a permanent camera tripod in the centre, permitting panning of 180 deg up and down, fore and aft. A door to the rear of the observation cabin leads to a built-in stairway. This gives comfortable access when on land and can also be lowered afloat, when it makes an ideal diving board. Much of the 104ft-span wing can be used for sunbathing.
Noise is kept to a remarkably low level by a 4in-thick lining of Fiberglass. Over-all carpeting adds further to the comfort. A showerbath, in waterproof plastic, runs hot and cold water. The w.c. is electrically flushed when on water; in the air a chemical toilet is used. The galley, in white porcelain and stainless steel, rivals the equipment of the most modern kitchen. A three-plate cooking range, oven, large refrigerator and frozen-food unit are installed.
Externally, few alterations are made. The nose gun-turret and bomb-aimer's window are replaced by a sleek clipper-style bow. Slung under each wing, where bombs and torpedoes used to hang, are two 14-ft dinghies. Each boat fits snugly against the wing and is raised or lowered by a built-in electric hoist. Cruising speed with the boats in position is 175 m.p.h. The maximum range is, as might be expected, exceptional for a "private" aircraft, and is given as 3,000 miles.

A Landseaire costs a lot of money — $265,000, the basic price — means something not far short of £100,000. This, coupled with heavy operating costs, virtually lifts the craft beyond the reach even of most millionaires. King Farouk had one on order before his abdication, but mostly it is the executive class of wealthy corporations that are attracted by these fabulous toys.
Maurice mentions the driving force of these conversions is one "Glenn E. Odekirk, head of the Southern California Aircraft Corporation..."

David Legg, Catalina expert, and author of Consolidated PBY Catalina - The Peacetime Record said in this post on WIX:
In addition to the option of boats, these conversions usually included the removal of the bow turret, the addition of a horn-balanced rudder and an integral rear hull airstair. The rear blisters were retained but the port unit featured a hinged access panel whilst the starboard unit was replaced with a one-piece perspex unit without any framing. This latter feature has since been copied by other companies on a small number of non-Landseaire conversions.
Sadly it looks like the career of our subject aircraft was disappointingly short. So we should be even more grateful for the glimpse of this wondrous craft thanks again to the LIFE photos!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

More retro-action for Haiti

It's just over a month since the Haiti earthquake. The Haiti airlift story has been an interesting one, albeit the story being a small element of a massive, difficult effort addressing an appalling disaster. What is important is the people addressing Haiti's problems and this discussion is only a view highlighting some of the events and history behind them, and in no way intended as a political commentary or criticism of the situation.

Since my previous post on the story here, much more has come to my attention, so this is more of a selection of follow-up items than an essay on the story as before.

A USAF shows a low-level LAPES style drop, as discussed in the previous Haiti blog post, and seen here at the much missed Mildenhall Air Fete. Author.

My friend Eric Presten found the story of a Grumman Albatross being used to deliver relief medical supplies and medics to the coast of Haiti. The team's website is here, and the blog here. As Eric pointed out, this adds a parallel to the Lake Havel flights of the Short Sunderland flying boats of the Berlin Airlift. The Albatross was essentially a military-only amphibian, but they are all retired now, and with its 'go anywhere' capability it's a very popular warbird cum air-yacht. Nevertheless, this is the first time I can recall hearing of a pleasure-flying Albatross being used for humanitarian work. Good for them. Video of a Miami take off and a news item here.

Dusty airstrip, C-130 delivers. The Hercules doing the job from the 1950s to today.

It might seem odd at first glance to highlight the work of the Canadian Forces C-130 Hercules flying into the small strip at Jacmel, Haiti, again as mentioned on WIX. (Video here, news report from the Globe & Mail here.) But the historical angle is that this is exactly what Lockheed's Hercules was designed to do, and that was back in the early 1950s - over half a century ago, and over half the history of successful heavier-than-air flight ago. To compare it to marine transport it would be akin to using an ancient Greek trireme as a modern warship; yet the Hercules, essentially the same design updated, still continues to be one of the world's key airlifters.

Rarely seen in public, a Lockheed U-2 at the Mildenhall Air Fete. Author.

Another current military type with a long history is the Lockheed U-2. Older readers, or those interested in the history of the Cold War will recall the name Gary Powers hitting the front pages of the world's newspapers in 1960. The modernised version of his spyplane, the U-2S is being used as part of the United States Air Force effort, and is covered by Warbird Radio's report here.

The 'world's biggest operational aircraft' the Antonov An 225 arriving at Miami. Credit: Michael Jones.

Another angle of history is the 'smallest, fastest, lowest and biggest' statistics beloved of some. If you have a big problem, maybe the world's biggest operational aircraft is what you need. (The immediate thought of course is 'will it fit!'.) The Antonov An 225 Mriya ('Dream') has been called in on the Haiti op, and 'Silverplate' (Michael & Audrey Jones) at WIX saw it arrive at Miami International, Florida, and posted their pictures here.

The Antonov An 225 at Miami. Credit: Michael Jones.

They said:
The world’s largest aircraft, an Antonov An-225 landed at MIA on February 10, 2010 for an overnight stop prior to departing for Haiti. The flight originated at Narita, Japan with a stop in Fairbanks, Alaska and on to Miami. The flight was carrying aid relief for Haiti.
The fascinating story of the An 225 is covered on the Wikipedia page here. (And having found my own photos of the beast at Farnborough some years ago, it'll probably feature in a future blog post here.) As to whether or not it is the world's largest aircraft, see the excellent drawing on the same page, enlarged here.

The biggest of the 'Big Ants' on approach some years ago at Farnborough Airshow. Author.

There are some aspects that are also ambivalent in other ways. Chris Williams commented on the previous post about the use of a DC-3;
I can't help thinking that, cool as it is, a DC3 is taking up a landing slot that a C130, with in with a seriously larger payload, could use (let alone a C17). So count me unimpressed with that particular bit of an otherwise impressive story.
It's a fair comment, but the issue wasn't so much which aircraft were used but getting the system to work properly. A DC-3 remains viable to fly in and use. Again, while lots of well intentioned people crowding in to Port au Prince international was an issue in itself, it's perhaps unfair to castigate those who actually achieved something - who got their aircraft, with supplies, where it should be - but, on the other hand, were they 'in the way' of another, more useful delivery? In this, alone, we can see the reality of the difficulties and frustrations - not to mention chaotic challenge in such relief efforts.

And then there's the celebrity offer. A lesser known aspect of film star John Travolta's life is that he is one of the few people in the world who owns his own vintage jet airliner - and it's not some half size effort, but an intercontinental range ex-Qantas Boeing 707. He's officially an ambassador for Qantas, who are Australia's flag carrier, and thus entitled to wear a Qantas captain's uniform. (The Federal Aviation Authority of the USA more practically have endorsed his licence to fly his jet.) Travolta said "We have the ability to help make a difference in the situation in Haiti," according to the Guardian newspaper here. The difference included 'six tonnes of ready-to-eat military rations and medical supplies' and a number of Scientologist volunteer ministers who offer help with their 'touch' program. That will not be something discussed further here.

For those interested in more insight to the various factors of the Port au Prince lift, I've also been directed to Chris Taylor's blog, which has posts on the Haiti situation here and here, the latter link discussing the issues, also with firsthand input of the logistics there.

I hope you've found the historical context and sidelights as interesting as I have, while not forgetting the Haiatian's tragic situation and their efforts for the future. It is a reminder that history is really a matter of life, death and survival not just academic or technical interest.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

1950 'Landseaire' Air-Yacht

From the files of LIFE magazine's online material comes this magnificent glimpse into an aspirational travel opportunity from a different era.

According to J Baugher's website, this was Consolidated PBY (Catalina) 34045:
(c/n 1599) converted to luxury LANDSEAIRE flying yacht, registered as N69043. Later to Brazil as PP-AXX. Lost in landing crash near Ubatuba, State of Sao Paulo Jul 5, 1953. By that time, it was registered PT-APK.
The photos were taken around Feburary 1950 by LIFE photographer Loomis Dean. As we can see here, although there were no structural changes, apart from enabling a shallow dinghy to be carried under the starboard wing...

... the aircraft was very well fitted out, with bunks in the rear fuselage...

... a shower (demonstrated by a lovely young lady in the photos here)..., for the Tommy Dorsey broadcasts, cocktail cabinet...

...and galley ("How d'you want your eggs?", say the girls).

While one might expect them to be doing the cooking, you might not expect the men to be doing the sewing!

It wasn't all beer and skittles, and sometimes someone had to sew the aeroplane back together.

But then there were cocktails and sherries, and the chance to telephone the pilot to push on the stick to get your girlfriend's drink up her nose! Oh how we laughed.

Until she decided to chill our drinks with the fire extinguisher. Ah, the era of the brand new polka dot Bikini, invented in 1946. Very daring.

Hello Gidget! What's that? You don't want to die of cancer from passive smoking? Mommy's busy cheating at poker, dahling.

... Just have another cocktail! Of course we need a cocktail glass shelf in the viewarama window.

But seriously folks...

Not only is it a fascinating insight to a one-off aeroplane, it's a great little piece of social history, and with the carefully shot large format black and white photos, of great compositional interest as well.

The names and details of the various subjects and the story of their voyage hasn't come down to us via the LIFE photo website, but in a way it's more fun imagining the story to fit the pictures. There's twelve pages of them, starting here.

EDIT: Update here.

(Photos Credited & Copyright LIFE archive.)