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  • Jet Flying Boats by David Oliver

    The magic of water-borne flight

    Technicians checking the complex Bristol Proteus turboprop engines in preparation for the first flight of the Princess give scale to its immense size. (Richard Riding Collection, Jet Flying Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    It was fifty years ago that I landed on the calm blue waters of Catalina Island’s Avalon Bay, lying 50 miles off the coast of southern California, in a 30-year-old Grumman amphibian, the Goose. As the veteran flying boat settle in a flurry of green water that covered the windows for a few seconds, it seemed that I had experienced the last of a dying breed of aviation. I had flown from London to Los Angeles a few days earlier on one of Pan Am’s first ‘Jumbo Jets’ and the elderly six-seater Goose, which still flew hourly shuttles for tourists between Long Beach Harbor and Catalina, seemed to have little or no relevance to international air travel in the modern world.

    However, this flight would inspire a life-long interest in water-borne aircraft during which I have been fortunate enough to experience many aerial voyages that stay in the memory. These include flying a Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrol from Prince Rupert Island, British Columbia in another Grumman Goose, and scheduled flights from Miami’s Watson Island terminal to the Bahamas on Grumman Mallards and Turbo Mallard amphibians belonging to Chalks International, then the world’s oldest airline.

    An R3Y-1, the long-range troop transport variant of the Convair Tradewind, taxies into San Diego Bay during the early trials. (Convair, Jet Flying Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    It was a long way from a flooded gravel pit in Rye, Sussex, to the Nass and Kinsault Rivers in northern British Columbia, and Lake Coeur d’Alene, Spokane in Washington State, but they were all places where I flew from in floatplanes. From the Rye gravel pit I flew in the only UK-registered Tiger Moth on floats and a Super Cub floatplane, piloted by a former Pan Am Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat, the ‘Jumbo Jet’ of the 1940s, Roger Sherron, while it was Cessna C180s in Canada and a DH Beaver in the United States.

    Having obtained a Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL), I tried my hand at learning to pilot a flying boat in the 1980s. The American Lake LA-200 Buccaneer is a small single-engine amphibious flying boat which I flew from Headcorn Aerodrome in Kent to the River Medway where I attempted to master the challenging skill of landing and taking-off an aircraft from water. My instructor was one of the most experienced post-war flying boat pilots, Keith Sissons.

    In 2016, Be-12PS Yellow 20 was returned to Russian Navy service following a comprehensive rebuild at Beriev's Taganrog facility on the Sea of Azov. (Jet Flying Boats, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

    My all too short time spent at the controls of the Buccaneer gave me a lasting respect for the likes of Keith Sissons and Roger Sherron who had to combine the dexterity of sailing a ship and flying an aeroplane.

    Although the flying boat fell out of fashion after the Second World War as a commercial transport aircraft, after being the symbol of luxurious and sophisticated international travel in the 1930s, new and more practical roles would virtually save the large amphibious flying boat from extinction, one of which was aerial fire-fighting. I was lucky enough to make several flights in a French Canadair CL-215 which included scooping and dropping six-ton water bombs. The exhilaration of skimming across a lake in what is then essentially a 4,000hp speedboat at 82 miles per hour, as is scooped 1,200 gallons of water, can be imagined. When the water was dropped, the Canadair bucked in the air relieved of its load.

    With twenty-two in service, Italy's Protezione Civile operates the largest fleet of CL-415 water bombers outside of Canada. (Martin Visser, Jet Flying Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    The only company that has continued to design and built flying boats since 1945 is Russia’s Beriev. I was one of the first Western journalists to visit the previous closed Beriev factory at Taganrog on the Sea of Azov after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and get to fly in a Be-12 amphibian. Beriev had built more than 200 turboprop-powered anti-submarine warfare Be-12s for the Soviet Navy during the Cold War and developed its advanced jet-powered replacement, the A-40 Albatross, under wraps.

    Built like a tank with ladders between the two decks, the Be-12 had numerous astrodomes, portholes and an extensively glazed nose which provided an excellent camera platform from which to photograph the A-40 that was flying in formation.

    A Beriev Be-200 gives a patriotic demonstration of the amphibian's sequential drop capability using different coloured liquids. (Beriev, Jet Flying Boats, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

    During the same visit I saw the prototype of the Be-200, the world’s only jet-powered fire-fighting amphibian, and have kept in touch with Beriev and followed growing success in a niche market to this day.

    When Amberley asked me to write a book on Jet-Powered Flying Boats, I rediscovered the many failures due mainly to the fact that they were too far advanced for the technologies, especially engine development, of the time, and the cost of their development which was considerably higher than those of contemporary landplanes.

    However, it is reassuring to know that Russia and Japan is still producing technically advanced amphibious flying boasts albeit in small number, and that they are soon to be joined by Germany and China which are developing state-of-the-art water-borne aircraft for the future.

    David Oliver's new book Jet Flying Boats is available for purchase now.

  • Spitfire Deserter? The American Pilot Who Went Missing by Bill Simpson

    USS Wasp in British waters in 1942. It is likely that it is in the Firth of Clyde. (c. IWM Image A 9483, Reproduced with the permission of the Imperial War Museum, Spitfire Deserter? The American Pilot Who Went Missing, Amberley Publishing)

    Having written in the past about our local squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force here in Edinburgh, 603, I was both intrigued and uncomfortable about allegations made against the young American NCO pilot, ‘Bud’ Walcott, who was posted to the squadron in early 1942. At that time, Malta had been under siege by German and Italian forces based in Sicily since the summer of 1940 and things were grim. The island, in the middle of the Mediterranean was vital to the British campaign in North Africa and they were desperate to stop it falling into Axis hands.

    Axis aircraft based in Sicily 60 miles away were bombing Malta constantly and the British were struggling to keep them at bay with the limited fighter aircraft they could get through. In early 1942, it was decided that Spitfires were needed and 47 pilots (without the ground crews) of two auxiliary squadrons – 603 (City of Edinburgh) and 601 (County of London) Squadrons – with brand new Spitfires were discreetly taken into the western Mediterranean in the American carrier USS Wasp and in the early hours of 20 April 1942, they made a difficult take-off from the deck of the carrier to fly the 400 odd miles to Malta.

    An elevation of one of the Spitfire VCs flown by 603 Squadron to Malta. This one was flown by Bill Douglas. (c. Reproduced with the kind permisson of Richard Caruana, Spitfire Deserter? The American Pilot Who Went Missing, Amberley Publishing)

    But only 46 arrived. Bud Walcott did not and it was immediately assumed that he had chosen to ‘desert’ to the enemy because he was frightened of flying in the Malta battle – said by some to be more intense and dangerous than the Battle of Britain. A signal from the Air Officer Commanding Malta to the Air Ministry in London stated that Walcott had ‘intended to desert’, that he had no intention of going to Malta and had previously landed in the Irish republic in an attempt to be interned and returned to the USA. It was subsequently suggested that having crash landed in ‘neutral’ Vichy French North Africa, he had made his way to the office of an American consul and been repatriated to his home country. It was also suggested that he had been seen in an internment camp but essentially, after taking off from Wasp, he was never seen again.

    Having been made, the allegation has been repeated in several works about the air fighting in Malta including, sadly, one of my own – although I did soften it because of the circumstances that Walcott found himself in. He was an American in a foreign air force, in a squadron in which he was disliked, about to be sent to some of the most vicious air fighting of the Second World War with no operational experience and finding himself in the more comfortable and familiar environment of an American warship.

    603 Squadron pilots on the deck of the USS Wasp, Walcott is in the back row, bareheaded. (c. Official US Navy photo, Spitfire Deserter? The American Pilot Who Went Missing, Amberley Publishing)

    Could he be blamed for having second thoughts?

    I very quickly became concerned at the lack of evidence to justify the allegations made against him and together with a fellow writer and historian, Squadron Leader Bruce Blanche, tried to find out what evidence there was and if possible, establish just what did happen to Walcott. What we discovered was that Walcott’s life was buffeted by national factors out of his control – the Second World War and the Cold War and, intriguingly, that the decisions about what should happen to him when he landed in Dublin may have involved the head of the Irish government Éamonn De Valera and have been influenced by relations between neutral Eire and the United States. I suspect too, that some of the social attitudes within 603 and the auxiliaries who did not take kindly to the lively, almost brash young ‘Yank’ who arrived in the unit contributed.

    Walcott volunteered to fight for the British in the Second World War by joining the Royal Canadian Air Force – an act which could have cost him his US citizenship but he is given little credit for this. He was also involved in a frightening mid-air collision with another 603 Squadron Spitfire in which the other pilot was killed and this seems to have raised strong feelings of dislike for him in the unit. And these became to be expressed in the allegations against him all of which emanated from the squadron.

    603 Bill Douglas preparing his aircraft below deck for launching to Malta on 20 April 1942. Note the crude application of the blue paint particularly noticeable around the serial number. (c.Official US Navy photo, Spitfire Deserter? The American Pilot Who Went Missing, Amberley Publishing)

    From the research we have carried out, I have been able to draw conclusions as to the quality of the evidence to support the allegations made and have found out just what did happen to Walcott both with regards to Malta and the rest of his life which came to a premature and rather tragic end in the early 1960s.

    I have to give my profound thanks to Squadron Leader Blanche for all of his help and encouragement without which this book would not have been written.

    The auxiliary squadrons were different to the regular RAF units. They drew their members from local areas and before the war, many of them were seen as gentlemens’ flying clubs for the wealthy young officers who joined as pilots and who – it has to be said – fought and died with great courage when war broke out. But many came from a privileged background – the nobility and the landed and professional classes. 601 was known as ‘the millionaires’ squadron’. The ground crews were also drawn from the local areas but tended to remain intact whilst the war progressed and the aircrews were killed, injured or posted on elsewhere to be replaced by non-auxiliary airmen. The essential spirit of the auxiliary squadrons resided with the ground crews who in some cases did not even regard some of the British pilots posted to the squadrons as real members of the squadrons because they were not auxiliaries.

    As an American, Walcott ‘ticked’ the wrong boxes and in my view paid the price.

    Bill Simpson's new book Spitfire Deserter? The American Pilot Who Went Missing is available for purchase now.

  • The Merlin EH(AW) 101 by Rich Pittman

    A pre-production EH101 at an early stage of assembly. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    Yeovil’s Helicopter Town - If Westland sneezes, Yeovil catches a cold!

    If you live In Yeovil Today your lifestyle is never very far away from helicopters and aircraft, with Westland now part of the Leonardo Company, being the local largest employer. A close family bond with aviation in the town that now extends over 100 years with aircraft manufacturing starting in 1915.

    Where it all started

    The Westland aircraft works were built during the First World War due to the need for naval aircraft. The first aircraft to be built, a Short 184 seaplane, left in early January 1916 by horse and cart. The fourth production aircraft built at Westland, took part in the Battle of Jutland. It was piloted by Frederick Rutland from Weymouth ‘Rutland of Jutland’ and the aircraft successfully reported by radio the movements of the German Fleet.

    Over 6000 fixed wing aircraft were built at Yeovil between 1915 and 1955. With the end of the 2nd World war, the large aircraft industry would have to adapt to peacetime needs. The board of Westland aircraft decided that the future would be with a totally different form of flying machine, the helicopter.

    A busy flight shed, filled with pre-production and future EH101s for the Royal Navy. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    Several Westland aircraft including the Westland Wapiti in 1927, Westland Dragonfly in 1948, Westland Whirlwind in 1952, Westland Scout in 1960, Westland Sea King in 1969, Westland Lynx in 1971 and the EH (AW) 101 Merlin in 1987 have been built in Yeovil.

    The last few Decades

    During the mid-1980s Westland went through a decline in production. The company needed a partner to help sustain it, until new products could be brought online. At the same time the company was making considerable investment in composite blade technology and design of a replacement for the Sea King.

    Westland entered an agreement with the Italian firm Agusta, collaborating in the design, development and production of a new large helicopter. The two companies amalgamated forming EH Industries, specifically to produce the EH101, a multi-role helicopter designed to meet naval, military utility and civil requirements.

    A view from above. A Merlin HM.2 during an Air2Air photo flight. (Photo: Ian Harding, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    In recent years the Yeovil Westland site has expanded its involvement in commercial helicopter programmes, in particular with the AW Family of new generation helicopters, which comprise the AW139, AW169 and AW189. The AW189 is the first civil aircraft to be built in Yeovil since the mid-1980s, whilst rotor blades and transmission systems are also manufactured for all three members of the AW Family of helicopters in Yeovil.

    The EH (AW) 101 Merlin

    The threat of an attack by Soviet missile submarines was judged as a serious threat during the 1970s and 1980s. During 1977, the UK Ministry of Defence issued a requirement for a new type of helicopter to be developed to counter the issue. Initially the Westland WG-34 was proposed to be the replacement for the WS-61 Sea King. It was planned to be a three engine helicopter of similar proportions to the Sea King, but the WG-34 was to feature more space in the cabin and have a greater range than its predecessor.

    At the same time, the Italian Navy was also considering a successor for its fleet of SH-3D Sea Kings, which had been manufactured by the Italian company Agusta. Westland and Agusta entered into talks regarding a joint development of a future helicopter.

    G-17-510, in US101 markings, flies over Yeovil. (Photo: Leonardo Helicopters, The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    After the companies finalised the agreement to work on the project together, a jointly owned company, EH Industries Limited (EHI), was formed for the development and marketing of a new helicopter to potential customers. The EHI-01 emerged as the collaborated design, but a clerical error in retyping hand written notes during early draft stages, renamed the helicopter by accident to EH-101 and the name stood.

    On the 12th of June 1981, the UK government confirmed its participation in the project and initially allocated £20 million for the development of the program. In 1984 a key agreement followed, which was signed by the British and Italian governments. This secured funding the majority of the EH101's development.

    An international marketing survey highlighted a requirement for a 30 seat helicopter. Following the early concept as a naval replacement anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, EHI decided to develop the EH-101 into a multirole platform. As a medium-lift helicopter, the aircraft would be able to meet the demands of utility, government and civilian corporations of the 1990's. An initial 9 pre-production (PP) models were produced to demonstrate these potential configurations to the worldwide market.

    Originally part of a larger order for VVIP replacements in Indonesia, it is unclear what internal configuration was fitter to this AW101 at delivery. 17 January 2017. (The Merlin EH(AW) 101, Amberley Publishing)

    The AW101 today combines the most advanced technologies, safety by design, mission systems and leading-edge manufacturing to provide a proven platform for long-range Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in certain countries. With a typical range of 750 nm (over 1,300 km) in standard configuration, the AW101 is the most capable SAR helicopter in the world today. Other roles include transportation for Heads of State and VVIP operators; Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR); Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO); Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW); Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC); Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM); troop transport; utility support, CASEVAC/MEDEVAC; and Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR).

    My Father started working at Westland in 1980. This brought my family to Yeovil and why I have an interest in aviation and particularly the AW101. It has been fascinating to see the Merlin’s progression from pre production testing right through to today's exports to many foreign Nations.

    The Westland facility with all the sub departments along with the nearby RNAS Yeovilton keep the Town and surrounding area thriving.

    The Merlin EH (AW)101  From Design to Front Line book has been written to look back and celebrate some of the Merlin's history over the last 30 Years.

    Rich Pittman's new book The Merlin EH(AW) 101: From Design to Front Line is available for purchase now.

  • RAF Transport Command by Keith Wilson

    Ferio Ferendo – ‘I strike by carrying’

    RAF Transport Command 1 Aircraft assembled at RAF Tarrant Rushton on the afternoon of 6 June 1944 while being prepared for the reinforcement of the British airborne assault during Operation Mallard. On the runway are General Aircraft Hamilcar heavy-lift gliders, preceded by two Airspeed Horsa troop-carrying gliders. Parked on each side of them are Handley Page Halifax glider tugs of 298 and 644 Squadrons. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch CL-26 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    From a young age I was fascinated by aviation! Initially it was general aviation that caught my eye but eventually, after visiting a number of Royal Air Force and United States Air Force (USAF) open days, I was hooked on military aviation. Strangely, it wasn’t always the fast and loud fighter aircraft that caught my eye (and ear!) as I had an instant fascination for the older, lumbering but occasionally graceful, transport aircraft.

    Operating in service with the USAF were massive fleets of C-130s and KC-135s; some based in the UK, mainly at RAF Mildenhall. However, these were often supplemented by the piston-powered ‘Stars’ – the C-97 and KC-97 Stratocruisers; the C-124 Globemasters; the occasional C-54 and C-118; and by far my personal favourites – the C-121 Constellation and Super Constellation. What’s not to love about a Super Connie’!

    Around the same time and operating within the RAF were the Beverley, Hastings, Britannia, Belfast, Argosy and Comet; all along with the majestically graceful, fast and oh-so-noisy Vickers/BAC VC-10. Most of these aircraft were employed within RAF Transport Command and effectively they provided the backbone to a service that was often underfunded and overstretched; while occasionally – during periods of conflict – it was overstretched to its very limits!

    RAF Transport Command 2 No. 267 Squadron made remarkable contributions to the air war in both the Mediterranean and the Burma campaign. Here, Douglas Dakota III aircraft of No. 267 Squadron were photographed while unloading supplies for the Allied forces at Araxos, Greece, in October 1944. The activity drew considerable attention from the local population. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch CM-5915 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    Fast forward far too many years than I care to admit and I still find myself with an unhealthy fascination for old, lumbering, transport aircraft. So, when Kevin Paul at Amberley Publishing suggested I should research and write a book on RAF Transport Command, I could not resist the challenge!

    I find the research aspect of the book the most fascinating – especially the picture research. The vast majority of images for this book come from the archives at the Air Historical Branch at RAF Northolt where I am indebted to Lee Barton, the Branch’s Photographic Archivist. His knowledge of exactly which images are available and more importantly, just how to find them, is invaluable; as is his enthusiasm and attention to detail. Lee was also able to assist with additional research which enabled some ‘new’ information to be unearthed and included in this volume.

    RAF Transport Command was called into existence by Parliamentary proclamation on 25 March 1943. At the time, all of its component parts had already been on active service for three-and-a-half years. It was not a new role created for the RAF, as its main activities of transport and ferrying aircraft had already grown significantly under the demands of World War II; especially the reinforcement routes that crossed the Atlantic and Africa. UK-based transport squadrons had played a vital and active supporting role in the battles of France and Britain; had carried supplies to the beleaguered Malta; while the Middle East Air Force transport wing had operated in close co-operation with the Eighth Army – probably, the first use of integrated air power. Then there were the carriage of the airborne forces for both the Italian and European campaigns of 1943-45.

    RAF Transport Command 3 RAF Stirling aircraft were used to relieve some of the suffering of the war. As well as returning Czechoslovaks to their own country, the Stirling aircraft also returned to Britain with hundreds of Czechoslovak children; orphans who had been in concentration camps during the German occupation and who were being brought to Britain for rehabilitation. In this image, some of the children walk towards a line of 196 Squadron Stirling IV aircraft, including LK242/ZO-A, which had arrived in Prague earlier in the day to take them to the reception centre at Crosby-on-Eden, near Carlisle, on 13 August 1945. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch CH-15899 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    Transport Command went into battle on five occasions during the Second World War. Firstly, they supported the invasion of Sicily in 1943 (Operation Husky), then there was the aborted Dodecanese Islands operation later that year (Operation Accolade), they spearheaded the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944 (Operation Overlord), transported the airborne forces in the ill-fated attempt to capture the bridges at Arnhem in September 1944 (Operation Market), and carrying troops across the Rhine in March 1945 for the final push into Nazi Germany (Operation Varsity).

    Some readers may not be aware that a lesser-known but nevertheless essential wartime role of Transport Command was the moving of mail, particularly to the front line. Specially-modified Hawker Hurricane IIC of 1697 (Air Despatch Delivery Service) Flight based at RAF Northolt, were equipped with underwing tanks that carried the mail bags to the troops, providing them with a welcoming boost in morale.

    Later, when the war in Europe had been won, Transport Command were involved in a massive trooping operation to reinforce the Far East against the Japanese, before being involved in a significant logistical effort to repatriate British Serviceman after the Japanese surrender on 14 August 1945.

    At the end of the Second World War, Transport Command was spread far and wide across the globe. However, the thorny question arose of exactly what to do with such a large Command once the hostilities had ceased? Thankfully, there was no question of it being disbanded. An Air Staff paper of 28 May 1945 noted: ‘Experience has shown that Air Transport has a lasting place in the RAF which cannot be filled by other forms of transport of by the Merchant Air Fleet’.

    RAF Transport Command 4 After a wave of York aircraft had landed, they were marshalled in front of the hangars, allowing the German labourers to start the unloading process. In the front is York C.1 MW287/KY-N of 242 Squadron with similar York C.1 aircraft MW286 and MW303 parked nearby in this image taken at Gatow on 16 September 1948. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch R-1818 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    RAF Transport Command – a pictorial history is carefully divided into eight chapters, each representing a key period in the Command’s relatively short but impressive history – despite the various Governments’ Defence Reviews and the consequential swaging cuts they delivered. It includes the Berlin Airlift; activities in Korea, Malaya and the ‘Japan Shuttle’ (1950-54); Entering the jet age (1955-59); Air Mobility (1960-64); and the period of re-equipment with the Andover, Belfast and VC-10 (1965-67).

    As the title suggests, this is predominately a picture-led volume; each image being supported by a detailed and informative caption. In selecting the illustrations for this book I have often been obliged to choose between quality and originality and I have gone to great lengths to include as many ‘new’ images as possible.

    The change from Transport Command to Air Support Command on 11 August 1967 was not just a change of name but of operational concept. The searching review of Defence policy undertaken by the new Labour Government when they came to power in October 1964 had considered the former Imperial commitments and, in the words of the Defence Estimates1967, had aimed ‘to foster developments which will enable local peoples to live at peace without the presence of external forces’ – effectively allowing the withdrawal of British Forces from the Middle and Far East, as well as Aden.

    RAF Transport Command 5 The third Belfast C.1, XR364, photographed during a pre-delivery test flight in March 1965. Some 25 per cent larger than the Lockheed Hercules (which entered RAF service in 1967), the Belfast could carry a greater payload than the American design and was capable of accommodating three Whirlwind or two Wessex helicopters. It was the first military transport with a fully automatic landing system. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch T-5365 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    This policy was not without its implications. It was considered that ‘Britain should maintain obligations to friends and allies across the world and should retain a capacity for contributing to the maintenance of peace – a Rapid Reaction Force’. The Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy 1967 also stated: ‘In the next decade, new aircraft will enable us to move forces across the world faster and in larger numbers than was possible even a few years ago’.

    However, the role and title of ‘Transport Command’ did not accurately represent this new role and the title of ‘Air Support Command’ was considered more appropriate to moving the new ‘Air Mobility Force’ wherever it may be required.

    The change of name appears to have had little or no effect at squadron level as roles and tasks remained much the same, it was only the Command name on the side of the aircraft that had changed.

    Transport Command always was a formidable force and particularly demonstrated that in the final years of its distinguished existence; it had become a powerful and effective arm for the nation’s mobile ever-ready defence forces.

    9781445665986

    Keith Wilson's new book RAF Transport Command: A Pictorial History is available for purchase now.

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