Thursday, 19 February 2009

A Favorite Uncle in Aviation

Uncle Sid (Sidney Martin) was my aviation hero. An aircraft engineer who started on "Wood and String" aircraft and finished his career signing off on "VC10 and Boeing 707" aircraft. He was part of aviation history.

He qualified as an aircraft engineer in about 1932 and was then employed by Imperial Airways and posted to Africa. Getting there was quite and adventure as it took five days and included spending one night in an Egyptian jail!

The crashed aircraft "Hanno" was one of those in his care and the photos are those that he took while surveying it in preparation for its recovery and repair. I will add a few more including the aircraft successfully flying off once the job had been done.

In his file I found a few historically interesting photos that I thought you might like to see. I will comment on them later.

Here is a link to wikipedia giving details of this aircraft.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

A youngster in Weymouth - part 1.

Waking up in what I was later told was an "Anderson Shelter" is the earliest memory I think I really had. It must have been toward the end of the Second World War as I was born in 1942. Apparently we took it in turns to be in the shelter as there was only room for four of us and we were a family of five. Even my baby sister had to take her turn in another bedroom. But we all survived.

Dad was away somewhere and my mother and two sisters and I lived with my Grandfather in Derby Street just near to the railway station. I also have a memory of the street party and sitting on a table looking at all the activity. Whether this is a real memory or something I have constructed from the things we talked about, I am not really sure. But I claim it as real anyway.

Weymouth was a great place for a youngster like me. I would wander off on my own, and had some favorite places. The Harbor wall was always exciting. There was a ledge about two feet wide along the side nearest the town, and this was where I liked to walk. I could look down into the water, and with a net on a bamboo pole, catch shrimps that were hiding in the seaweed. I am sure I was usually with a friend, but do not really remember.

Further down the harbor toward the bridge that opened like the London Tower bridge, was the dock where the Paddle Steamers used to be tied up. And of course there were boats of all sorts moored in the harbor too. My father had a boat when the war ended and sometimes I recall sitting on it at anchor and fishing for plaice. We caught some too.

On the beach front of Weymouth near to what was referred to as the "new pier" there were a number of sets of rowing boats and canoes. My dad had one of these, so as I got a little older, a friend and I would take the lightest rowing boat with two sets of oars, and race (so we thought) across the bay. It was exhilarating and we though we were heroes.

But Weymouth Bay at that time had its hazards. As a port and with its proximity to Portland Harbor it was bombed quite a lot during the war. In the shallow waters of the bay where the bathers swam, you could see red flags floating on buoys. These marked places where there were deep holes in the sandy bottom of the bay. One of my cousins accidentally stepped into one and though she was going to drown. I rescued her and become, for a while, her hero!

One of the great attractions for holiday makers in those days was to take a boat trip from Weymouth to Portland Harbor to see the War ships. There were aircraft carriers, destroyers, submarines and all manner of smaller vessels to see. In the summer I often went with one of these boats (which seated about twenty passengers), and while the captain collected the fares, I took over the helm. As I was about eight or nine years old at the time, and had my captains hat, I was a bit of a novelty for the vistors.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Going solo!!!

Sunday 30 July was my fifth day at the Moonrakers Gliding club and I was looking forward to flying again. So far I had flown with four different instructors and they all seemed to have a magic touch. When I had to work hard all the time to keep the glider flying level or turning smoothly, they could take control and everything instantly become smooth and perfect.

Today I was back in the T31 and flying from the front seat with Dennis instructing from the rear.

One of the most exciting phases of flight when learning to fly a glider, is the take off. We were using a launching method whereby a cable is attached to the aircraft at a special hook point just under the front of the fuselage. Once this was attached and checked to ensure it would release correctly, a helper held one of the wings of the glider, and the cable (about 3 or 4 thousand feet of it) which was attached to a winch at the other end of the air field, was rapidly wound in, pulling the glider with it. This gave us the speed to fly and we climbed rapidly, rather like a Kite on a string to about 1000 feet where we released the cable and went on our way.

There are two main emergencies that as budding pilots we had to learn to cope with. One being the risk that the cable would break during the launch, and the other being the winch loosing power. Either of these events could lead to disaster if not properly handled. So part of my flying experience in the T31 included the instructor (JW) dropping the cable without warning at 300 feet into the launch. I do not remember this specific event, but must have handled it satisfactorily. For my next flight Dennis took the back seat, and so for my 24th flight I flew a normal circuit without any drama. I now had 3hours and 5 minutes total flying time in my log book.

We then prepared for our next launch with me in the front seat as usual. Dennis then went to the back seat and fiddled about with the seat harness, then said to me that he was not coming this time, and just to do a left hand circuit of the airfield and land in the normal way. So I did as I was told and completed my first solo flight!!!!
I remember being told when I landed that I should stop my side slip a little higher when coming in to land, and was sent off to to complete two more flights, so ending a most exciting day. Magical......

Friday, 6 February 2009

Learning to Fly?

RAF Yatesbury was just down the road from Calne in Wiltshire. It has long since been returned to the farmers but I was there on an Air Radar Fitters course. The week ends were spent going back to Portland and getting into trouble for being late returning.

So for a change I accepted an invitation to go to RAF Upavon to visit a Gliding Club. Moonrakers it was called, and the Chief Flying instructor was a certain John Willi (Williamson).

We arrived at about 09:30 on a reasonably sunny Sunday morning, put our names on the flying list and were immediately asked to help wash and polish the wings of this rather nice fiber glass winged, single seater aircraft (Olympia 419 as it turned out). Always a willing helper, so no problem.

Job done.
Gliders were going up and down for rather short flights and everyone seemed to know what was goings on and were very chatty. Then a rather slim, not very tall man stood by a blackboard and had his photo taken. He then got into the machine we had been polishing and was winch launched to about 700 feet, (so i was told) and circling steadily drifted slowly off across the corn fields to the east of the airfield.

I remember hearing someone say "he's too low to get back now". But eventually he drifted away and seemed to get higher before he vanished. Then there was a buzz of activity and a ford van with a trailer drove off the field. When I asked where are they going the answer came back "Berwick-on-Tweed". Looking at the map it seemed that this was about 520 km from Upavon!!! At that moment I decided that this gliding lark must be rather serious and not just a matter of short flights around the airfield. be continued...

This all happened on July 9th 1961...
When it was my turn to fly, the aircraft in which I had my first glider flight was a T31 trainer. Wooden construction with fabric covered wings. The instructor sat in the back seat with me in the front. I had two flights that day totaling eight minutes in all. A winch launch to about 1000 ft a couple of turns and a safe landing.

Later in the day we recieved news of John's flight. It covered some 500+ km but did not actually reach the precise location that he had declared. Impressed I was!

As for my own flying, well.
Two weeks later I was back for the whole of the weekend.
My first "official" training flight was really impressive. Still in a T31, we climbed up to 2600 feet just below the base of the summer cumulus clouds. It was rather exciting to be in this open cockpit thing, and trying to keep it going straight and then turning in the thermals. It felt very strange.
The landing was interesting as we had not air breaks or spoilers, so getting rid of height to land was achieved by "side slipping". I loved it. On the ground again after 20 minutes.

I was lucky that weekend as my next flight was 40 minutes. Lots of rough air and beginning to think that I might eventually get the hang of this flying lark.
The rest of my flights that weekend were short and focused on learning to handle the take off and landings.

Finally by flight number 11 I did the whole circuit from take off to landing. But my reactions were a bit slow coming into land. This was really fun, I actually felt that I was in control now and could not wait for the next weekend to arrive.

And arrive it did. The 29/30 July.
So far my log book shows that I had had 12 flights including the initial introduction "joy rides" as they are labeled.

Put my name down on the flying list as soon as I arrived at the airfield and was then busy helping to get the aircraft out of the hangar and lined up for light. They were checked to ensure that nothing was loose or damaged, and the controls all worked as they should. The days flying began.

My flying this weekend began with a flight in a new aircraft, for me. A T21. This is a wonderful high winged two seater, where the instructor and student sit side by side. The T21 can fly very slowly and is good for learning about stalls etc. My instructor for the day, as it turned out was John Willi the CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) I had five flights in all, mostly short but one of 21 minutes.

One thing that struck me about the Moonraker flying club was the discipline and the focus on safety. The aircraft had to be properly parked with the upwind wing always weighted down with a tyre. Any flying that was remotely dangerous was discussed and we all learned from that.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

A Short History of a Nearly Nobody

In No Particular Order!
Why, might you ask, would a young man like me be hanging on the wing of a "Gloster Javalin" all weather night fighter at 06:30 on a cold and frosty morning in the early nineteen sixties?
Well it is simple really.
The Cold War was at its height, and I was a young Radar mechanic based at RAF Duxford (now famous for the Aircraft Museum).
My normal job was working in the warm Radar Repair workshop on the side of the airfield. However, everyone who had a cushy job like mine, also had to have an emergency reserve job that they could be called upon to carry out in an emergency.
The Cold War was real!
My reserve duty was that of an Armorer and I had to assist with the loading of the twenty millimeter cannon shells when the aircraft returned from a sortie. And on this particular morning we were practicing this particular task. As it happens, the aircraft had been flying, but the guns had not been fired. So we unloaded and loaded the shells again just to make sure we could really do it. They (the shells) were very cold and white with frost, and heavy too. Never mind, perhaps this would be the first, and last time that I would be called upon to play Armorer. As it happened it was.