Ten o’clock: Scramble!

April this year marked the centenary of the Royal Air Force and, commemorating the 100th anniversary, the RAF Museum in Hendon has been transformed with the addition of three new galleries and redeveloped grounds. 27 members of our club celebrated by visiting on a beautifully sunny October day; perfect flying (all right, driving) weather.

After morning coffee and pastries in 601 Squadron room, we divided into two groups for a conducted tour led by our two volunteer guides, Howard Clark and Steve Sierra, who were amazingly knowledgeable and interesting.

We started in Hangar 2, dating from about 1910 and apparently moved 500 yards, brick by brick, from near Colindale to its current location. Hendon was originally a private airfield and factory, building Bleriot aircraft for about five years before the war started. The owner would proudly show off the factory’s brand new electricity distribution system (equivalent to the consumer unit under your stairs) in glass-fronted cabinets as the latest technology.

Louis Bleriot was, of course, the first person to fly across the English Channel (from France to England). A competition had been organised, but he realised that the real prize was not to win the race but to be the first person across. So, he got up early, in darkness, and took off at dawn’s first light while the other competitors were still in bed! Halfway across, his engine was overheating. He was lucky to spot a rain cloud and flew into it and around a couple of times, the rain cooling his engine a little, and then made it to England. However, he was lost and didn’t know where to find the airfield in Dover. He followed a railway line, then a road until he spotted some crowds obviously making their way to the airfield. Some kind souls in a car saw him gesticulating above and pointed the way; he found the airfield where he crash-landed safely (crash landings were not uncommon then).

When World War I began, planes – and their armaments – developed very rapidly. At first, pilots were unarmed, just doing reconnaissance. But they soon started taking pot shots at each other with pistols. Louis Strange was one of the first aviators and had the idea of mounting a machine gun to the plane. He’d just done so when a German pilot overflew the airfield, so he ran to his plane – the first ever ‘scramble’ – and took off. Unfortunately, he couldn’t ‘get it up’, so to speak; the weight of the gun combined with the low power of his early aircraft meant that he just could not climb high enough to reach the German above.

As engines became more powerful and aircraft grew faster, the next problem was how to fire a machine gun forwards without destroying the propeller. One early French pilot, Roland Garros (after whom the French tennis stadium is named, although he never played himself), had the idea of fixing metal plates to the propeller blades. This worked up to a point, but it could deflect bullets into the engine. Apparently Garros successfully shot down four Germans before then shooting himself down! The Dutch engineer Anthony Fokker (employed by the Germans) then invented synchronisation gear in which the propeller itself, by means of a cam, fires the gun at the appropriate time and enables the bullets to travel through the propellor’s arc.

Planes developed at a rapid pace and those of 1917-18 bear little resemblance to those of 1914. The Sopwith Camel was arguably Britain’s deadliest fighter, but it killed more allied pilots than Germans; it was highly manoeuvrable but, in consequence, quite unstable and difficult to fly. The rotary engine’s rotational force also made it difficult and slow to roll left; apparently it was often faster to roll right three times (270 degrees).

Moving on to the second world war and early jets in hangars 3, 4 and 5, we saw Spitfires, a Hurricane, Lancaster and others from the Allied Forces, plus a Messerschmitt, Heinkel and Stuka from the German side. This Stuka was the only one left of 13 captured after the war and had a starring role in the film ‘Battle of Britain’. For the film, it was in fact altered from its actual configuration as a ‘tank buster’ on the Russian front – the fixings for two large cannons on the wings are still there – and given a fake bomb underneath the fuselage to replicate the Stukas that bombed our radar stations.

The Heinkel was also one of only two survivors, and studio copies of its cockpit were made for the film. This example survived apparently thanks to red tape and bureaucracy. It had been captured, repainted and left at the far end of a runway. At the end of the war, most old planes in German (or British) colours were simply scrapped but, being in American colours, they felt obliged to ask the USAAF whether they still wanted it. The reply took months, even years, to arrive, by which time the scrappers had moved on.

We ended our tour in Hangar 6, with the latest Eurofighter Typhoon and drone aircraft. We were somewhat surprised to be told the Typhoon is already obsolete, being a 4th generation fighter (1st = WW1, 2nd = WW2, 3rd = early jets, 4th = modern jets). The 5th generation fighters – such as the Lockheed F35 – are stealthy and use an entirely new form of radar which just ‘listens’ to the enemy and homes in without emitting any radar signals itself, except for an occasional millisecond burst. So they are effectively invisible to other aircraft. At a cost of £85 million each, apparently the UK intends to buy about 30.

It was a great day. Despite the 2½-hour guided tour, we just scratched the surface and there was so much more to see. After lunch most of us went off to explore further, but I’m sure it would be worth visiting again in a year or two.

Richard Gibby

Hyde Hall, August 2018

The Jaguar Drivers Club (Area 33) held their annual get together at Hyde Hall on Sunday 19th August. Other local clubs in attendance were Aston Martin, Bentley, Morgan, Austin 7, Essex TR Register, Triumph Eastern, Porsche, Singer, South Essex MG, JEC Essex & Suffolk Borders and of course, JEC Essex Thameside.

35 Jaguars turned up from Essex Thameside Region and we presented a great display with the Jaguar sports cars at the front and saloons at the rear.
The weather was dry and warm, although during the morning it was very windy. This culminated in the club having to dismantle the gazebo just after lunch. The wind caused the frame to drop on various corners and it became too much of a risk to keep it up.

The show was a complete success and I believe all attendees were impressed with the displays of cars from each club. The indication from Hyde Hall staff was that 3,800 visitors attended that day, up from 2,970 last year. It was good to see some new clubs join us at the show including Aston Martin and Bentley who provided a variety of cars from various eras. Although in attendance last year, the local Mercedes club were unable to display this year due to a conflicting event. Like all these shows, you can guarantee there is something else going on elsewhere during the summer season on the same day. Just up the road was the Battlesbridge Custom Culture Show which featured classic and custom cars, bikes & scooters.

On display, on the Aston Martin stand, was a lovely DB6.Steve Rider’s 2017/8 Vanquish shows how Aston Martins have evolved.

Other attendees from the TR Registry included a Triumph TR2, TR4A and TR6. The TR2 had a straight four-cylinder 1991cc engine and 2 x SU carburettors which gave it a top speed of 107mph. This compares with the TR4A which had a straight four-cylinder 2138cc engine with 2 x ST carburettors giving it a top speed of 109mph. Not a lot for a difference of 10 years between these models. However, the TR6 came along with a 2.5 litre straight 6 engine with a Lucas Indirect Fuel Injection system for UK markets giving it a top speed of around 119mph (Autocar test). In the US and other export markets a Twin Stromberg 175CD carburettors were fitted.

It was good to see Les Cowling’s early E-Type on display too. It was built in 1961 but wasn’t registered until 1962. It apparently spent some months at the Jaguar factory before being sent to a dealership in Harrogate – unusual because, at the time, there was a high demand for E-Types even if convertibles were the preferred choice.

For the car to have sat around in the factory for a few months does raise the question whether it had a special purpose. Les has established that the car had a different number plate to the registration it has now but is at a loss to find out what it was. Sadly, without the original number plate he may never know. Various enquiries of Jaguar Heritage and Jaguar themselves have failed to uncover much about this car. It has been established that it was first registered in February 1962, but in July 1962, a new engine was fitted. Oddly, a new identification plate with the current engine and Moss gearbox number was also fitted – by whom, he is not sure. Whether it was Jaguar or the dealership that sold it is not known.

This may remain one of life’s little mysteries.

Doug Warren

Moths, mosquitos and other flying things

If you couldn’t make it to our museum trip on 5th August, you missed one of the most interesting events so far this year. I’m talking of the De Havilland Aircraft Museum, a gem hidden near London Colney, just off the St Albans junction of the M25 where six cars – and a motorbike – from the club arrived to be given one of the most informative and entertaining guided tours that your scribe has had the pleasure of receiving in any museum.

Ably organised by our Vice Chairman, Graham Cook, we arrived at Salisbury Hall, a sixteenth century moated manor house set in the Hertfordshire countryside, on a bright Sunday morning. The site is old, dating back to the first century and used during the Roman occupation, now taking its name from a previous inhabitant, the Earl of Salisbury. Famous occupants of the current house have included Nell Gwynne, Lady Randolph Churchill and Sir Nigel Gresley, chief engineer of the LNER. It later came into the hands of Sir Geoffrey de Havilland who established the aircraft company after first cutting his engineering teeth with the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company in Birmingham and, later, the Motor Omnibus Construction Company Ltd of Walthamstow, where he designed his first aero engine.

He was one of Britain’s first aviation pioneers (UK pilots certificate number 12) who flew his first aircraft, with no prior experience, in 1910. Well, they didn’t go as fast then. The plane he flew became the first aircraft to be bought by the British Government. He was both the designer and test pilot – no pressure there, then! His planes played a major role with the Royal Flying Corps in WW1 being used as fighters, reconnaissance aircraft and bombers.

In 1920, the de Havilland Aircraft Company was formed at Stag Lane Aerodrome in Edgware Road, designing and building Tiger Moths. Later, moving to Hatfield in 1930, he completed his new factory there in 1934. During WW2, it was this factory which produced the famous Mosquito and later entered the jet age with a series of twin boom fighters named Vampire, Venom and Sea Vixen. The world’s first jet powered passenger airliner, the Comet, was produced here, followed by the Trident and the UK’s most successful passenger jet, the BAe 146.

Did you know Sir Geoffrey was a bit of an insect lover? This goes to explain why he gave his planes names like Moths, Queen Bees, Hornets, Wasps and, of course, Mosquitos. Incidentally, Nigel Gresley was a bird watcher, or something similar, and he named his locomotives after some of our feathered friends; Mallard springs immediately to mind. Not a lot of people know that.

With the Jags – and the Triumph – parked in the museum grounds with a DH 121 Trident 2E as a photogenic back drop, we met our guide, the museum curator, and commenced our tour. The list of exhibits is too long to describe here, so I will select a few that caught my eye…

The DH 53 Humming Bird (not an insect) was de Havilland’s first light aeroplane. Built in 1923-24. Used by the RAF for experimental work including being launched from and retrieved by an airship (the R-33).

For Bond fans, they have an Autogiro (C.24) on display in unrestored condition. It is the only rotorcraft de Havilland ever built and this one was the first and the last – pretty rare then. Designed by its inventor, Juan de la Autogiro – no, only kidding, de la Cierva – it had a cabin of the DH Puss Moth making it the first enclosed Autogiro.

Probably one of the most familiar names for an early plane is the Tiger Moth (there, an insect at last). These were built over a relatively long period and quite a few are still flying. This one was built at Hatfield in 1939 and used for pilot training in the War, as many were. In 1956 it was converted for crop dusting and retired in 1961. Note the centre section top wing support struts are forward of the cockpit to make bailing out when wearing a parachute easier. Around 9,000 were built.

The DH 82B – Queen Bee – was a low cost target aircraft. It could be flown manned, but this did place the pilot at some risk of being shot. To the relief of many a pilot, in 1935 at Farnborough, it was flown by remote control. It was operated from the ground receiving simple instructions via radio, which were selected using a standard telephone dial of the type seen in old phone boxes. The plane towed streamers behind as the targets. These radio controlled planes were called worker bees or drones since the aircraft they were adapted from was the Queen Bee. The name ‘drone’ still applies to this day (and not many people know that either) The one on display is a 1943 example restored by the museum in 1986.

In the next hanger we found the DH 98 Mosquito…and two more variants. This was the plane we had really come to see. It is THE prototype and the only surviving first prototype of a twin engine piston powered WW2 combat aircraft. De Havilland proposed it to the ministry as a fast unarmed bomber and, after many rejections a prototype was ordered in December 1939.

Designed and constructed at Salisbury Hall, the Mosquito had an estimated top speed of 397 mph at 23,700 feet with a range of 1,480 miles. Following its maiden flight, during which it out-performed their expectations, the Ministry ordered 150.

To save on strategic materials such as aluminium, de Havilland constructed the Mosquito in wood, as it had done with many planes previously. This was basically balsa wood sandwiched between two thin layers of ply and shaped around concrete moulds (also on display). Unfortunately,  standard aircraft factories were not geared to this type of construction in wood. The answer… subcontract it out to Britain’s furniture makers!

Total production amounted to 7781 aircraft. This prototype was ordered to be destroyed – ‘take it into a field and burn it’ – but, thankfully, the chap in charge  of destroying it disobeyed his orders and kept the plane hidden, moving it from one storage facility to another over the years until, eventually, the museum acquired it.

This prototype became the fastest mosquito ever flown attaining a maximum speed of 439mph. There are around four variants manufactured and the museum has two of them. One was the B.MK.35 bomber, adapted to take a 4000lb high capacity blast bomb. The museum’s example was built in Hatfield in 1945, retired from service in 1959, flew in the film 633 Squadron (1964) and finally ended its flying days in 1968.

The third Mosquito is made up from an original fuselage, with wings of a Sea Mosquito, recovered in Israel in 1980. This model is an FB Mk VI, the most widely produced variant and was basically a fighter–bomber equipped with four Browning machine guns in the nose and 20 mm Hispano cannons in the belly. Oh, it also carried two 500lb bombs internally and another two under the wings. Not a holiday charter then! But we will come back to this in a little while.

In 1943, De-Havilland produced its first jet-powered aircraft, the DH100 Vampire FB6. A great advance, but still using the balsa/plywood sandwich semi-monocoque for the pod structure. They made 4376 of these. The one at the museum was built at Hatfield in 1949 and supplied to the Swiss Airforce who donated it to the museum in 1974. Other ‘V’ jets on show included a Sea Vixen and a Sea Venom.

There are far too many exhibits to talk about here, however we cannot finish without a mention of that plane made famous by Dan Air on many an early package holiday to Spain and beyond, the DH106 Comet 1A. The world’s first turbo jet-powered airliner, and what a beaut! With swept-back wings mounted below a pressurised cabin and with the engines buried in the wings, it was a real looker. It could carry up to 44 passengers at an altitude of 40,000 feet. Ground-breaking stuff.

It entered service with BOAC in 1952 and was an instant hit with the passengers who enjoyed superb views from its large square windows…and therein lay the problem, for in 1954 all Comets were grounded after a series of crashes. The thin metal skin became fatigued with the force of repeated cabin pressurisation and depressurisation, and fatigue concentrated around the weak points at the corners of the square windows; cracking resulted in catastrophic failure.

Some success was later enjoyed with the Comet 4 with a redesigned fuselage and oval windows. The exhibit we entered was the fuselage of the first Comet 1A airliner built at Hatfield in 1953 for Air France and is the only remaining fuselage with the square windows.

If you need more, then do visit this gem in the fields of Hertfordshire, you won’t be disappointed.

And finally, in keeping with the aeronautical theme, we met for breakfast at North Weald Aerodrome where coincidentally an American Classic Car meet was taking place – check out the ’62 Thunderbird!

Neil Shanley