Tag Archives: Fighter Pilot

14 December 1931

Sir Douglas Robert Stewart Bader, 12 May 1970,by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)
Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL,  photographed by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

“On 14 December 1931, Douglas Bader flew to Woodley airfield near Reading. After lunch someone said, ‘I bet you won’t roll at nought feet.’ Bader did, and the graceful little Bulldog ended up in a shapeless ball of twisted metal. After hovering at death’s door Bader lost both legs. At Cranwell he remembered the Commandant had admonished him, ‘The RAF needs men, not schoolboys.’ Now he was neither, and the RAF would not need him anymore.”

Duel of Eagles by Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF, Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey, 2003. Chapter 6 at Page 82.

Left to right, Pilot Officer Douglas R.S. Bader, Flight Lieutenant Harry Day and Flying Officer Geoffrey Stephenson during training for the 1932 Hendon Airshow, with a Bristol Bulldog. (RAF Museum)
Left to right, Pilot Officer Douglas R.S. Bader, Flight Lieutenant Harry Day and Flying Officer Geoffrey Stephenson during training for the 1932 Hendon Airshow, with a Bristol Bulldog. (RAF Museum)

Pilot Officer Douglas R.S. Bader, Royal Air Force, caught the wingtip of his Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA, K-1676, and crashed at Woodley Aerodrome, approximately four miles east of Reading, Berkshire, England. The airplane was damaged beyond repair. Bader suffered major injuries requiring amputation of his right leg, followed by amputation of his left leg several days later. He was fitted with prosthetic legs with which he was soon able to walk without assistance. Pilot Officer Bader was medically retired and received a 100% disability pension.

Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA K-1676. This is the airplane that Douglas Bader was flying when he crashed at Woodley, 14 December 1931. (Royal Air Force)
Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA K-1675. This is a sister ship of the airplane that Douglas Bader was flying when he crashed at Woodley Aerodrome, 14 December 1931. (Royal Air Force)

In 1939, feeling that war with Germany was imminent, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement. He was turned down, but was told that if there was a war his request might be reconsidered.

The Air Ministry did reconsider Douglas Bader’s request for reinstatement and after a medical evaluation and other tests, he was sent to refresher flight training where he was evaluated as “Exceptional,” a very rare qualification.

A page from Douglas bader's pilot log book, showing his "exceptional' evaluation. (Royal Air Force Museum)
A page from Douglas Bader’s pilot log book, showing his “Exceptional” evaluation. (Royal Air Force Museum)

Group Captain Sir Douglas R. S. Bader, Royal Air Force, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL, a legendary fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force in World War II, was born at St. John’s Wood, London, England. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1928 as a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1930.

Credited with more than 20 aerial victories while flying Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters, Bader was himself shot down while flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk Va, serial W3185, marked “D B”. His prosthetic legs caught in the cockpit and made it difficult for him to escape, but he finally broke free and parachuted to safety.

Bader was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was initially held at a hospital in occupied France and it was there that he met and became a life long friend of Adolf Galland, also a legendary fighter pilot—but for the other side! After arrangements were made for replacement legs, Bader escaped. He was recaptured and taken to the notorious Offizierslager IV-C at Colditz Castle where he was held for three years.

Douglas Bader is the subject of Reach For The Sky, a biography by Paul Brickhill, and a movie based on that book which starred Kenneth More.

Sir Douglas was invested Knight Bachelor, 12 June 1976, for his service to the disabled. He died suddenly of a heart attack, 5 September 1982.

Douglas Bader with a Hawker Hurricane of No. 242 Squadron.
Douglas Bader with a Hawker Hurricane of No. 242 Squadron, September 1940. Photograph by F/O S. A. Devon, Royal Air Force. © IWM (CH 1406)

The Bristol Type 105 Bulldog was a single-place, single-engine biplane fighter which served with the Royal Air Force from 1928 to 1938. It was constructed of a riveted framework of rolled steel strips. The forward fuselage was covered with light weight sheet metal, while the wings and aft fuselage were covered with doped fabric. The Bulldog Mk.IIA was 25 feet, 2 inches (7.671 meters) long with a wingspan of 33 feet, 10 inches (10.312 meters) and height of 8 feet, 9 inches (2.667 meters). It had and empty weight of 2,222 pounds (1,008 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 3,660 pounds (1,660 kilograms).

The Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA was powered by a 1,752.79-cubic-inch-displacement (28.72 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Bristol Jupiter VIIF nine-cylinder radial engine which was rated at 440 horsepower up to 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). This was a left-hand tractor engine which drove a wooden two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction.

The airplane had a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and a service ceiling of 29,300 feet (8,931 meters).

The Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA was armed with two synchronized Vickers .303-caliber machine guns with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun.

Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA K-2227, the same type airplane flown by Pilot Officer Bader when he crashed 14 December 1931. K-2227 is in the collection of the Royal Air Force Museum. (Unattributed)
Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA K-2227, the same type airplane flown by Pilot Officer Bader when he crashed 14 December 1931. K-2227 is in the collection of the Royal Air Force Museum. (Royal Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 December 1951

Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., United states Air Force, 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, Korea, 1951. (U.S. Air Force)
Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., United States Air Force, Commanding Officer, 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, Korea, 1951. (U.S. Air Force)

13 December 1951: Major George Andrew Davis, Jr., United States Air Force, commanding officer of the 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, flying a North American F-86E-10-NA Sabre, serial number 51-2752, led his unit on two “MiG Sweeps.”

Film from the gun camera of Major Davis’ F-86E Sabre 51-2752 shows a MiG 15 smoking after being hit, 13 December 1951. (U.S. Air Force)
Film from the gun camera of Major Davis’ F-86E Sabre 51-2752 shows a MiG 15 smoking after being hit, 13 December 1951. (U.S. Air Force)

During the mid-day fighter sweep, the 334th encountered Mikoyan Gurevich MiG 15 fighters of the 18th GIAP, 303rd IAD,  Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily (the Soviet Air Force), and an air battle ensued. Major Davis was credited with shooting down two of the Russian fighters. The pilot of one of the MiGs, I.A. Gorsky, was killed. The identity and fate of the second Soviet pilot is not known.

During a second sweep in mid-afternoon, George Davis and the 334th again encountered enemy MiG 15s of the 40th Regiment, 14th Division, of the Peoples Liberation Army Air Force (Chinese Air Force). At 3:52 p.m. (1352) Davis shot down one of the Chinese MiG 15s. One minute later, he shot down another, his fourth aerial victory for the day.

These frames of film from the gun camera of Davis’ F-86 Sabre show a MiG 15 trailing smoke after being hit by the Sabre’s six .50-caliber machine guns. Chinese sources confirmed the loss of two MiG 15s, but again, the identities of the pilots and whether or not they survived is not known.

This North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre, 51-2849, seen here in flight over Edwards Air Force base, california, is the same type fighter that was flown by Major George Davis, 13 December 1951. (U.S. Air Force)
This North American Aviation F-86E-10-NA Sabre, 51-2849, seen here in flight near Edwards Air Force Base, California, is the same type fighter that was flown by Major George A. Davis, Jr., 13 December 1951. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 December 1957

Major Adrian E. Drew, U.S. Air Force, 1920–1985. (Photograph courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test & Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

12 December 1957: Major Adrian Eason Drew, U.S. Air Force, commanding officer, 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron, 27th Fighter Bomber Wing, Tactical Air Command, set a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) absolute speed record over the 15/25 kilometer course at Edwards Air Force Base, California.¹ Major Drew flew a modified McDonnell F-101A-5-MC Voodoo, serial number 53-2426.

The Voodoo, the ninth production F-101A, had been bailed to Pratt & Whitney by the Air Force to test a new J57-P-55 afterburning turbojet engine intended for the F-101B Voodoo, and it was redesignated JF-101A. The new engine produced 16,000 pounds of thrust with afterburner. The modified aircraft had longer jet exhaust tubes, and air scoops were installed in the belly to provide additional cooling air for the afterburners.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base on Operation Fire Wall, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, takes off at Edwards Air Force Base on Operation Fire Wall, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
Thompson Trophy. (NASM)

At 39,000 feet (11,887 meters), Major Drew accelerated for 65 miles (105 kilometers) before entering the 10.1 statute mile (16.25 kilometers) course. He made one pass in each direction. Actual time on course, each way, was 29.8 seconds. The official average speed for the two passes is 1,943.5 kilometers per hour (1,207.64 miles per hour). Although the air temperature was -79 °F. (-62 °C.), frictional heating brought the Voodoo’s skin temperature to 190 °F. (88 °C.), high enough to blister the airplane’s paint.

Major Drew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Thompson Trophy for 1957.

Major Adrian E. Drew, 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron, 27th Fighter Bomber Wing, U.S. Air Force, at Edwards AFB, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Major Adrian E. Drew, 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron, 27th Fighter Bomber Wing, U.S. Air Force, at Edwards AFB, 12 December 1957. [TDiA speculates that the man on the right is Major Drew’s younger brother, Bobby R. Drew.] (U.S. Air Force via Jet Pilot Overseas)
Adrian Eason Drew was born 8 October 1920 in Georgia, the first of six children of John Robert Drew, a farmer, and Ada Elma Eason Drew.

After one year of college, Adrian Drew enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 31 March 1942, at Fort McClellan, Alabama. He was 5 feet, 8 inches (1.73 meters) tall and weighed 143 pounds (64.9 kilograms).

On 14 November 1942, Drew married Miss Sarah B. Kaylor in Pinellas County, Florida. They would have three daughters, Nancy, Bonnie and Jo Anne.

Colonel Drew was a combat pilot during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He commanded the 309th Strategic Fighter Squadron from January to October 1955, flying the Republic F-84 Thunderjet. In August 1957, he became the first commanding officer of the 481st Fighter Bomber Squadron at Bergstom Air Force Base,  Austin, Texas. Lieutenant Colonel Drew commanded the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron at George Air Force Base, California, from 1962 to 1964, flying the Republic F-105D Thunderchief, and briefly commanded the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing.

Two weeks before a scheduled promotion to Brigadier General, Colonel Drew suffered a major heart attack and was forced to retire from the Air Force. He died 27 July 1985 at the age of 64 years. He was buried at Shawnee View Gardens Cemetery, Cumming, Georgia.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, holder of the World Absolute Speed Record, 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

The McDonnell F-101 Voodoo was originally designed as a single-seat, twin-engine long range bomber escort, or “penetration fighter” for the Strategic Air Command, but was developed as a fighter bomber and reconnaissance airplane. The Voodoo first flew 29 September 1954, and the first F-101A was delivered to the Air Force 2 May 1957.

The F-101A was 67 feet, 5 inches (20.549 meters) long with a wingspan of 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters). It was 18 feet (5.486 meters) high. The Voodoo weighed 24,970 pounds (11,245 kilograms) empty and had a maximum takeoff weight of 50,000 pounds (22,680 kilograms).

The standard F-101A was equipped with two Pratt and Whitney J57-P-13 afterburning turbojet engines. The J57 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet which had a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). The J57-P-13 was rated at 10,200 pounds of thrust (45.37, and 15,800 pounds (70.28 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

The J57-P-55 engines installed in the JF-101A were rated at 10,700 pounds of thrust (49.60 kilonewtons), and 16,900 pounds (75.18 kilonewtons) with afterburner. They were 20 feet,  11.93 inches (6.399 meters) long, 3 feet, 4.5 inches (1.029 meters) in diameter, and weighed 5,215 pounds (2,365 kilograms).

The maximum speed of the F-101A was 1,009 miles per hour (1,624 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters). Its service ceiling was 55,800 feet (17,008 meters). It carried 2,341 gallons (8,862 liters) of fuel internally. With external tanks, the fighter bomber had a maximum range of 2,925 miles (4,707.3 kilometers).

The F-101A was armed with four 20mm Pontiac M39 single-barreled revolver cannon, with 200 rounds per gun. It could carry a Mark 28 bomb on a centerline mount.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426 is on static display at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.

McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, FAI World Speed Record Holder and Thompson Trophy winner, Operation Fire Wall, landing at Edwards Air Force Base, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell JF-101A Voodoo 53-2426, FAI World Speed Record Holder and Thompson Trophy winner, Operation Fire Wall, landing at Edwards Air Force Base, 12 December 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

A McDonnell Aircraft Corporation film about Operations Sun Run and Fire Wall is available of YouTube:

¹ FAI Record File Number 9064

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 December 1959

Lieutenant General Joseph H. Moore (1914–2007)
Lieutenant General Joseph H. Moore, United States Air Force

11 December 1959: Brigadier General Joseph H. Moore, U.S. Air Force, Wing Commander, 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed Record when he flew a Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchief, serial number 57-5812, over a closed 100-kilometer (62.137 miles) closed course at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The Thunderchief averaged 1,878.67 kilometers per hour (1,167.35 miles per hour).¹ General Moore’s fighter bomber was a standard production aircraft and it was armed with a full load of ammunition for the M61 cannon.

FAI Record File Num #8873 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 100 km without payload
Performance: 1 878.67 km/h
Date: 1959-12-11
Course/Location: Edwards AFB, CA (USA)
Claimant Joseph H. Moore (USA)
Aeroplane: Republic F-105B
Engine: 1 Pratt & Whitney J-75

Republic F-105B-1-RE Thunderchief 54-102. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic F-105B-1-RE Thunderchief 54-102. (U.S. Air Force)

The F-105 was the largest single-seat, single-engine combat aircraft in history. It was designed as a tactical nuclear strike aircraft and fighter-bomber. The leading edges of the wings and tail surfaces were swept to 45° and the fuselage of the F-105B incorporated the “area rule” which gave the Thunderchief its characteristic “wasp waist” shape. The Thunderchief was 63 feet, 1 inch (19.228 meters) long with a wingspan of 34 feet, 11 inches (10.643 meters). It was 19 feet, 8 inches high (5.994 meters). The F-105 had an empty weight of 27,500 pounds (12,474 kilograms) and a maximum weight of 46,998 pounds (21,318 kilograms).

Brigadier General Joseph H. Moore with a Republic F-105 Thunderchief.
Brigadier General Joseph H. Moore with a Republic F-105 Thunderchief.

Early production F-105Bs had the Pratt & Whitney J75-P-5 axial-flow turbojet engine. Beginning with the Block 20 aircraft, the more powerful J75-P-19 was installed. The -19 engine was retrofitted to the earlier aircraft. The J75-P-19 was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with afterburner. It used a 15-stage compressor section (8 high- and 7 low-pressure stages) and a 2-stage turbine section. The J75-P-19 was rated at 16,200 pounds of thrust (72.06 kilonewtons), and 25,000 pounds (111.21 kilonewtons) with afterburner.

Armament consisted of one 20 mm General Electric M61 Vulcan six-barreled Gatling gun with 1,028 rounds of ammunition. The F-105 could carry up to 8,000 pounds (3,628.7 kilograms) of bombs in an internal bomb bay, or a total of 14,000 pounds (6,350.3 kilograms) of bombs, rockets or guided missiles on centerline or underwing pylons.

The F-105B had a maximum speed of 1,375 miles per hour (2,213 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 48,100 feet (14,661 meters). Maximum range was 2,200 miles (3,541 kilometers).

Republic Aircraft Corporation built 833 Thunderchiefs for the U.S. Air Force. 75 of those were F-105Bs. 372 F-105s were lost to enemy action in South East Asia.

Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchief 57-5812 served with the 119th Tactical Fighter Squadron, New Jersey Air National Guard and was later assigned to the 466th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 508th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. One source indicates that the the record-setting F-105B was used as a battle damage repair trainer at McClellan Air Force Base, Sacramento, California, from October 1980.

Six F-105B-10-REs (6 of 9 block 10 aircraft built) of General Moore's 4th Tactical Fighter Wing parked on the ramp. The stripes on the nose and vertical fin are green. Aircraft are (nearest to farthest) S/N 57-5779, -5780, -5782, -5784, -5781, -5778. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Six F-105B-10-REs (6 of 9 block 10 aircraft built) of General Moore’s 4th Tactical Fighter Wing parked on the ramp. The stripes on the nose and vertical fin are green. Aircraft are (nearest to farthest) 57-5779, -5780, -5782, -5784, -5781, -5778. (U.S. Air Force)
Three Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchiefs, serial numbers 57-5815, 57-5807 and 57-5822, begin their takeoff roll. This is the same block number as the F-105B flown by General Moore for the FAI World Speed Record. (U.S. Air Force)
Three Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchiefs, serial numbers 57-5815, 57-5807 and 57-5822, begin their takeoff roll. These are from the same production block as the F-105B flown by General Moore for the FAI World Speed Record. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchief 57-5812, assigned to the 466th Tactical Fighter Squadron. (Million Monkey Theater)
The World Speed Record holder, Republic F-105B-20-RE Thunderchief 57-5812, assigned to the 466th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 508th Tactical Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (Million Monkey Theater)

¹ Many sources cite General Moore’s World Record Speed for the 100-kilometer closed course at 1,216.48 miles per hour (1,957.745 kilometers per hour). The FAI’s official web site gives General Moore’s speed as 1,878.67 kilometers per hour (1,167.35 miles per hour). (See above.) Also, many sources (including General Moore’s official Air Force biography) state that General Moore won the Bendix Trophy for this flight. The Bendix Trophy was awarded to the winner of an annual West-to-East transcontinental air race. The Smithsonian Institution indicates that the Bendix Trophy was not awarded for the years 1958, 1959 or 1960.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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11 December 1941

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Royal Canadian Air Force.

11 December 1941: Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Royal Canadian Air Force, an American serving in England before the United States entered World War II, was killed when his Supermarine Spitfire collided with another airplane in clouds over the village of Roxholm, Lincolnshire, England. He was only 19 years old.

Magee was born in China, the son of Anglican missionaries. His father was an American, giving him American citizenship, and his mother was from England. He was educated in the missionary schools until 1931 when his mother took him to England to continue his education at the Rugby School in Wawickshire.

In 1939, Magee traveled to the United States to visit his father’s family in Pittsburgh, but because of the outbreak of World War II, he was unable to return to England. While in America, he continued his schooling at the Old Avon Farms School in Connecticut and won a scholarship to Yale University.

Group Captain Wilfred A. Curtiss presents pilot’s wings to Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., at Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 14 April 1941. (Royal Canadian Air Force)

Instead of studying at Yale, in 1941, John Magee enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. After completing flight training, he was sent to England. Once there he went through operational training in the Supermarine Spitfire and was assigned to No. 412 (Fighter) Squadron at RAF Digby, Scopwick Heath, and then at RAF Wellingore, Navenby, both in Lincolnshire.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire, No. 412 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force.
Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., in the cockpit of a Supermarine Spitfire, No. 412 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force.

At approximately 11:30 a.m., 11 December 1941, Pilot Officer Magee was flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vb, AD291, squadron markings VZ-H. He and three other pilots from No. 412 Squadron descended through a hole in the clouds. At 1,400 feet (427 meters), Magee’s Spitfire collided with an Airspeed A.S. 10 Oxford twin-engine trainer, T1052.

A witness said that he saw the Spitfire pilot struggle to open the airplane’s canopy, then stand up in the cockpit and jump from the doomed fighter. The pilot was too close to the ground for his parachute to open.

Both airplanes crashed. Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was killed, as was the pilot of the other airplane, Leading Aircraftman Ernest Aubrey Griffin.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., No. 412 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force

Pilot Officer Magee is best known for his poem, High Flight:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth 
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; 
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth 
of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things 
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung 
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, 
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung 
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . . 

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue 
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace 
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew— 
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod 
The high untrespassed sanctity of space, 
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God

"On Laughter-Silvered Wings", by Keith Ferris, 1995. © by the artist. The original of this painting, depicting John Gillespie Magee’s Supermarine Spitfire, is on loan to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station, Texas.
“On Laughter-Silvered Wings”, by Keith Ferris, 1995. © by the artist. The original of this painting, depicting John Gillespie Magee’s Supermarine Spitfire, is on loan to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station, Texas.

A less well-know poem by Magee is Per Ardua, written after his first combat mission, 8 November 1941.

(To those who gave their lives to England during the Battle of Britain and
left such a shining example for us to follow, these lines are dedicated.)

They must have climbed the white mists of the morning;
They that have soared, before the world’s awake,
To herald up their foemen to them, scorning
The thin dawn’s rest their weary folk might take;

Some that left other mouths to tell the story
Of high blue battle,—quite young limbs that bled;
How they had thundered up the clouds to glory
Or fallen to an English field stained red;

Because my faltering feet would fail I find them
Laughing beside me, steadying the hand
That seeks their deadly courage—yet behind them
The cold light dies in that once brilliant land …

Do these, who help the quickened pulse run slowly,
Whose stern remembered image cools the brow—
To the far dawn of Victory know only
Night’s darkness, and Valhalla’s silence now?

Supermarine Spitfire F. Mk.Vb R6923 (QJ-S) of No. 92 Squadron, 19 May 1941. © IWM (CH 2929)

John Magee’s fighter was a Supermarine Spitfire F. Mk Vb, built at the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory, at Warwickshire, West Midlands, and delivered to the 45th Maintenance Unit at RAF Kinloss, Scotland, on 27 September 1941. The new airplane was assigned to No. 412 Squadron on 14 October.

The Supermarine Spitfire was a single-place, single-engine low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction with retractable landing gear. The fighter had been designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell CBE. The prototype first flew 5 March 1936.

The Spitfire F. Mk Vb was 29 feet, 11 inches (9.119 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 10 inches (11.227 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 5 inches (3.480 meters). It had an empty weight of 4,963 pounds (2,129 kilograms) and gross weight of 6,525 pounds (2,960 kilograms).

The Spitfire Vb was powered a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.959-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022 liters) Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a single-speed, single-stage supercharger. It was rated at 1,185 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., at 11,500 feet (3,505 meters). The Merlin 45 drove a three-bladed Rotol constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 9 inches (3.277 meters).

The Spitfire Vb had a maximum speed of 371 miles per hour (597 kilometers per hour) at  20,100 feet (6,126 meters). It could reach 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6 minutes, 24 seconds, and 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) in 12 minutes, 12 seconds. The Vb’s service ceiling 37,500 feet (11,430 meters), and its range was 470 miles (756 kilometers).

The Spitfire F. Mk Vb was armed with two 20-milimeter Hispano Mk.II autocannon, with 60 rounds of ammunition per gun, and four Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns, with 350 rounds per gun.

Supermarine Spitfire F.Mk Vb,, similar to Magee’s fighter, photographed 19 October 1941. (Royal Canadian Air Force

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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