Tag Archives: Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire

11 June–4 August 1971

Sheila Scott on the wing of her Piper PA-23-250 Aztec D, Mythre, G-AYTO, 1971. (NASA)
Sheila Scott on the wing of her Piper PA-23-250 Aztec D, Mythre, G-AYTO, 1971. (NASA)

11 June 1971: Sheila Scott O.B.E. (née Sheila Christine Hopkins) departed Nairobi, Kenya, on her third solo around-the-world flight. On this flight she used a new airplane, a twin-engine Piper PA-23-250 Aztec D which she named Mythre. It carried United Kingdom registration G-AYTO. Scott used a NASA navigation and locator communication system to constantly relay her position to a Nimbus weather satellite, and from there to a ground station.

Sheila Scott's Piper PA-23-250 Aztec D, G-ATYO. Mythre.
Sheila Scott’s Piper PA-23-250 Aztec D, G-ATYO, Mythre, at Kidlington Airport, Oxfordshire, England, 1971. (Tim R. Badham)

Sheila Scott planned to not only fly around the world, but to fly from the Equator, over the North Pole, and back to the Equator again. She flew her Aztec from London, England, to Nairobi, Kenya, where she began the Equator–North Pole–Equator portion of the flight.

Scott took off from Nairobi on 11 June 1971 and headed northward to Khartoum, Sudan; Bengazi, Libya; Malta; arriving back at London on 21 June. From there she continued to Bodø, Norway; Andøya, Norway; Station Nord, Greenland; across the North Pole on 28 June; then southward to Barrow, Alaska; arriving at Anchorage, Alaska, on 3 July; San Francisco, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii, on 11 July. She recrossed the Equator heading south to Canton Island. On 23 July, Mythre arrived at Nadi, Viti Levu, Fiji, and then flew on to Noumea, New Caledonia. After a stop at Townsville, Queensland, Scott arrived at Darwin, Northern Teritory, Australia, 1 August. From there she continued to Singapore; Madras, India; Karachi, Pakistan; Bahrain; Athens, Greece; and finally completed her journey at London on 4 August. The trip took 55 days.

During the circumnavigation, Sheila Scott set seven Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed Over a Recognized Course: Andøya, Norway, to Station Nord, Greenland, 213.61 kilometers per hour (132.73 miles per hour) ¹; Nord to Barrow, Alaska, 183.73 km/h (114.16 mph) ²; San Francisco, California, to Honolulu, Hawaii, 236.56 km/h (146.99 mph) ³; Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, to London, England, 160.19 km/h (99.54mph). ⁴ Three of these records remain current. ⁵

Ms. Scott’s airplane was a 1971 Piper 23-250 Aztec (“Aztec D”), serial number 27-4568. The airplane was assigned the United Kingdom registration G-AYTO on 3 March 1971. The Aztec D was a six-place twin-engine light airplane based on the earlier PA-23-235 Apache, with a larger cabin and more powerful engines. It was of all-metal construction and had retractable tricycle landing gear. The Aztec D is 31 feet, 2.625 inches (9.516 meters) long with a wingspan of 37 feet, 1.750 inches (11.322 meters) and overall height of 10 feet, 3.875 inches (3.146 meters). The wing has 5° dihedral. The Aztec D has an empty weight of 3,042 pounds (1,380 kilograms) and a gross weight of 5,200 pounds (2,359 kilograms).

The Aztec D is powered by two air-cooled, fuel-injected, 541.511-cubic-inch-displacement (8.874 liter) AVCO Lycoming IO-540-C4B5 6-cylinder, horizontally-opposed, direct-drive engines. The -C4B5 has a compression ratio of 8.5:1 and a Maximum Continuous Power/Takeoff rating of 250 horsepower at 2,575 r.p.m. It weighs 374 pounds (170 kilograms). The engines drive two-bladed Hartzell constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 6 feet, 2 inches (1.880 meters).

The PA-23-250 Aztec D has a maximum structural cruising speed (VNO) of 172 knots (198 miles per hour/319 kilometers per hour) at 7,500 feet (2,286 meters) and maximum speed (VNE) of 216 knots 249 miles per hour (400 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 19,800 feet (6,035 meters). With standard fuel capacity of 144 gallons (545 liters) the airplane’s range is 1,055 miles (1,698 kilometers). Mythre carried an auxiliary fuel tank in the passenger cabin.

After the around-the-world flight, Scott returned Mythre to the Piper Aircraft Company at Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, for overhaul. Following Tropical Storm Agnes in June 1972, the Piper factory was flooded to a depth of 16 feet (4.9 meters) and Scott’s airplane, along with many others and much of the tooling for aircraft manufacture, was destroyed.

Sheila Scott's Piper Aztec, Mythre, over the North Pole, by Paul Couper, 2008
“Sheila Scott over the Top—Piper Aztec,” by Paul Couper, Guild of Aviation Artists, 2008. 62 × 52 centimeters, oil/acrylic.

This painting is available from the Guild of Aviation Artists at:

http://www.gava.org.uk/index.php?option=com_phocagallery&searchterm=Paul%20Couper&view=category&id=12&Itemid=534&picsearch=simple

¹ FAI Record File Numbers 4622, 4623

² FAI Record File Number 14203

³ FAI Record File Numbers 4626, 4627

⁴ FAI Record File Numbers 4624, 4625

⁵ FAI Record File Numbers 4622, 4626, 14203

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 May 1966–20 June 1966

Sheila Scott in the cockpit of her Piper PA-24-260B Comanche G-ATOY, Myth Too, 1966.
Sheila Scott in the cockpit of her Piper PA-24-260B Comanche, G-ATOY, Myth Too, 1966.

18 May 1966: Sheila Scott O.B.E., (née Sheila Christine Hopkins) departed London Heathrow Airport, London, England, on the first solo around-the-world flight by a British subject, the longest-distance solo flight, and only the third around-the-world flight by a woman. Her airplane was a 1966 Piper PA-24-260B Comanche, registration G-ATOY, which she had named Myth Too.

Sheila Scott had been a nurse at Haslar Naval Hospital during World War II. She was an actress on the stage, in films and on television. In 1959 she followed a lifetime ambition and learned to fly. She owned or leased several airplanes which she entered in races or used to establish flight records.

Scott was a commercial pilot, rated in single and multi-engine airplanes, seaplanes and helicopters. She was a member of The Ninety-Nines, founding and serving as governor of the British branch. She was also a member of the Whirly-Girls and the International Association of Licensed Women Pilots.

Sheila Scott was the author of I Must Fly and On Top of the World (Barefoot With Wings in the United States).

Sheila Scott's Piper PA-24-260B Comanche, G-ATOY, Myth II, after her around the world flight. The signatures on the wings and fuselage were collected at stops along the way.
Sheila Scott’s Piper PA-24-260B Comanche, G-ATOY, Myth Too, after her around the world flight. The signatures on the wings and fuselage were collected at stops along the way.

Departed London, England 18 May 1966
Rome, Italy
Athens, Greece
Damascus, Syria
Barhain
Karachi, Pakistan
Jaipur, India
Delhi, India
Calcutta, India
Rangoon, Burma
Butterworth, Malaysia
Singapore
Bali, Indonesia
Sumbawa, Indonesia
Darwin, Australia
Mount Isa, Australia
Brisbane, Australia
Sydney, Australia
Auckland, New Zealand
Norfolk Island
Nandi, Fiji
Pago Pago, Samoa
Canton Island
Honolulu, HI
San Francisco, CA
Phoenix, AZ
El Paso, TX
Oklahoma City, OK
Louisville, KY
New York, NY
Gander, Newfoundland
Lagens, Azores
Lisbon, Portugal
Arrived London, England 20 June 1966

The Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain.
The Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom.

The flight covered approximately 31,000 miles (49,890 kilometers) and took 189 actual flight hours over 34 days.

During her around-the-world flight, Shiela Scott set ten Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Speed Over a Recognised Course: London to Rome, 258.13 kilometers per hour(160.40 miles per hour) (FAI Record File Numbers 4679, 4680); London to Auckland, 41.42 km/h (25.74 mph) #4660, 4661; London to Darwin, 45.67 km/h (28.38 mph) #4666, 4670; London to Fiji Islands, 34.60 km/h (21.50 mph) #4672; 4673; Lisbon to London, 244.00 km/h (151.62 mph) #4956, 4657. During her flying career, she set a total of 76 FAI World Records.

Harmon Aviatrix Trophy (NASM)

For her accomplishments, Ms. Scott was awarded the Silver Medal of the Guild of Pilots; the Brabazon of Tara Award for 1965, 1966 and 1967; the Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom, 1968; and the Harmon International Trophy for 1966.

Italy gave her the title, Isabella d’Este. Sheila Scott was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the New Years Honours List, 1 January 1968.

Sheila Scott flew around the world twice in Myth Too, and a third time in a twin-engine Piper Aztec, Mythre. She died of cancer, 20 October 1988, at the age of 61 years.

Myth Too was built by the Piper Aircraft Corporation in 1966 and was registered N8893P. It was a PA-24-260B Comanche, an all-metal 4–6 place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. It is flown by a single pilot and can carry three passengers, though an additional two seats can be mounted at the rear of the passenger cabin.

The airplane is 25 feet, 6 inches (7.772 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet (10.973 meters). Empty weight is 1,728 pounds (783.8 kilograms) and maximum gross weight is 3,100 pounds (1,406.1 kilograms).

The Comanche B is powered by an air-cooled, fuel-injected 541.511-cubic-inch-displacement (8.874 liter) Lycoming IO-540-D4A5 6-cylinder overhead valve (OHV) horizontally-opposed engine with a compression ration of 8.5:1, rated at 260 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., driving a two-bladed Hartzell constant speed propeller through direct drive. The IO-540-D4A5 weighs 384 pounds (174 kilograms).

Cruise speed is 185 miles per hour (297.7 kilometers per hour). The range is 1,225 miles (1,971.5 kilometers) and the service ceiling is 19,500 feet (5,943.6 meters).

Sheila Scott sold G-ATOY in 1975. It was substantially damaged 6 March 1979 when the engine lost oil pressure then seized after taking off from Elstree Aerodrome, Hertfordshire (EGTR). There were no injuries. The wreck is in the collection of the Scottish National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, East Lothian, Scotland.

The wreck of Myth Too, Piper PA-24-260B Comanche G-ATOY at the Scottish National Museum of Aviation. (Aviation Safety Network)
The wreck of Myth Too, Piper PA-24-260B Comanche G-ATOY at the Scottish National Museum of Aviation. (Aviation Safety Network)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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15 May 1941

Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 original configuration. Not the absence of small vertical fins on horizontal stabilizer. The horizontal paint stripe was used as an indication of heating by the turbojet engine (Gloster)
Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 W4041/G in the original configuration. Not the absence of small vertical fins on horizontal stabilizer. The horizontal paint stripe was used as an indication of heating by the turbojet engine (Gloster)
Phillip E.G. Sayer (Flight)
Phillip E.G. Sayer (Flight)

15 May 1941: Having been delayed by weather until 7:40 p.m., Gloster Aircraft Co., Ltd., Chief Test Pilot Phillip Edward Gerald Sayer taxied into position on the long, hard-surfaced runway at RAF Cranwell, stood on the brakes and advanced the throttle. When the engine reached 16,000 r.p.m., Sayer released the brakes and the little airplane began to roll forward.

Acceleration was slow. Relying on the feel of the flight controls rather than a pre-calculated airspeed, Sayer lifted off after 600–700 yards (550–640 meters), at about 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour). At 1,000 feet (305 meters), he retracted the landing gear and continued to climb at reduced r.p.m. He reached a maximum 240 miles per hour (386 kilometers per hour) Indicated Air Speed at 4,000 feet (1,219 meters).

Sayer landed after a 17-minute first flight.

Gerry Sayer's knee board notations from the Gloster E.28/39 first flight, 15 May 1941. (Hartley Moyes, courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)
Gerry Sayer’s knee board notations from the Gloster E.28/39 first flight, 15 May 1941. (Hartley Moyes, courtesy of Neil Corbett, Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

The airplane was the Gloster-Whittle E.28/39, registration W4041/G, the first of two prototype fighters powered by a turbojet engine. (The “/G” in the registration indicates that, for security reasons, the airplane is at all times to be under guard when on the ground.) It was a single-seat, single-engine, low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction. The E.28/39 had retractable tricycle landing gear, one of the first fighter-type aircraft with that configuration.

The Gloster E.28/39 was 25 feet, 3 inches (6.696 meters) long with a wingspan of 29 feet, 0 inches (8.839 meters) and overall height of 9 feet, 3 inches (2.819 meters). It had a fuel tank of just 81 gallons (368 liters) capacity. The prototype’s takeoff weight was 3,341 pounds (1,515 kilograms).

Power Jets, Ltd. Whittle Supercharger Type 1 turbojet engine, as seen from the front. (Science Museum Group)
Power Jets, Ltd., Whittle Supercharger Type W.1 turbojet engine, as seen from the front. Air enters the compressor through barely visible intakes in the sides of the cast aluminum alloy compressor case. (Science Museum Group)
Whittle W.1 combustion chambers and exhaust as seen from the rear. The turbine section was water-cooled. (Getty Images/Science & Society Picture Library)
Whittle W.1 combustion chambers and exhaust as seen from the rear. The turbine section was water-cooled. (Getty Images/Science & Society Picture Library)

W4041/G was powered by a single Power Jets, Ltd., Whittle Supercharger Type W.1. The turbojet used a single-stage, centrifugal-flow compressor, ten reverse-flow combustion chambers, and a single-stage axial-flow turbine. The turbine had 72 blades. The W.1 produced 860 pounds of thrust (3,825.47 Newtons) at 16,500 r.p.m., burning paraffin (kerosene).

Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 W4041/G, front. (Gloster)
Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 W4041/G, front. (Gloster)

The E.28/39 had a single large air intake at the nose. This split into two ducts which passed around each side of the the cockpit, following the inner contours of the fuselage, and then entered a plenum chamber. Intake air was compressed approximately 4:1 and passed to the combustion chambers. Fuel was mixed with this heated, compressed air, then ignited. Flame temperatures approached 600 °C. (1,112 °F.) This very hot, expanding gas flowed through spiral ducts to the turbine blades, causing the turbine disc to spin to a maximum 17,750 r.p.m., above 4,000 feet (1,219 meters).

The turbine drove the compressor at the front of the engine through a central drive shaft. The exhaust gas left the engine and passed through a straight pipe to the rear of the fuselage. The high velocity gas exiting the tail of the aircraft—thrust—resulted in the aircraft being propelled forward at a proportional velocity.

Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 W4041/G, rear (Gloster)
Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 W4041/G, rear (Gloster)

Because of limitations in materials technology, the Whittle W.1 had a limited service life of just ten hours. To keep the most time available for flight tests, early static and taxi tests of the Gloster prototype were made using an engine built from non-airworthy parts and spare components. This engine was designated W.1X.

Over the next thirteen days, Gerry Sayer made fourteen flights, totaling ten hours. The E.28/39 reached a maximum of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour). W4041/G was restricted to 2g maneuvers because of stress placed on the cast aluminum compressor case.

Gloster test pilots conducted three series of flight tests with W.4041/G. With Gloster test pilot John Grierson in the cockpit, on 24 June 1943, W4041/G climbed to 41,600 feet (12,680 meters) in 27 minutes, and reached an absolute maximum altitude of 42,170 feet (12,853 meters). This flight completed Gloster’s flight test program and the airplane was turned over to RAE Farnborough.

A second Gloster E.28/39 was built, W4046/G. Using an improved Whittle W.2/700 turbojet engine, the second prototype reached a maximum speed of 505 miles per hour (813 kilometers per hour) in level flight at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters)—0.74 Mach.

On 30 July 1943, W4046 was lost when its ailerons jammed at high altitude. The pilot bailed out and parachuted safely, but the prototype jet airplane was destroyed.

Wreckage of W4046/G
Wreckage of the second prototype Gloster E.28/39, W4046/G

On 27 April 1946, Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 W4041/G was placed in the National Aeronautical Collection, Science Museum, South Kensington, 27 April 1946.

Chief Test Pilot Phillip Edward Gerald Sayer, Esq., was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) on the New Years Honours list, 30 December 1941. He was killed in flying accident 22 October 1942, probably the result of a mid-air collision.

RECOMMENDED: “No Airscrew Necessary. . .” by Robert J. Blackburn, Flight and Aircraft Engineer, No. 2131, Vol. LVI., Thursday, 27 October 1949, at pages 553–558

Gloster-Whittle E.28/39, W4041/G, piloted by Squadron Leader J. Moloney, takes off from RAE Farnborough for a test flight. (Flight Lieutenant Stanley Devon, Royal Air Force Official Photographer. © Imperial War Museum CH 14832A)
Gloster-Whittle E.28/39, W4041/G, now in standard camouflage and RAF markings, piloted by Squadron Leader J. Moloney, takes off from RAE Farnborough for a test flight. Note the small outboard vertical fins on the horizontal stabilizer. (Flight Lieutenant Stanley Devon, Royal Air Force Official Photographer. © Imperial War Museum CH 14832A)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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24–27 April 1929

Sqadron Leader A.G. Jones-Williams and Flight Lieutenant N.H. Jenkins at RAF Cranwell, June 1929. (Flight)
Squadron Leader A.G. Jones-Williams, M.C. and Bar, with Flight Lieutenant N.H. Jenkins, O.B.E., D.F.C., D.S.M., at R.A.F. Cranwell, June 1929. (Flight)

24–27 April 1929: At 0937 GMT on the 24th, Squadron Leader Arthur Gordon Jones-Williams, M.C. and Bar, and Flight Lieutenant Norman Hugh Jenkins, O.B.E., D.F.C., D.S.M., both of the Royal Air Force, departed R.A.F. Cranwell, Lincolnshire, England, aboard the Fairey Long Range Monoplane, J9479. Their destination was Bangalore, in the Kingdom of Mysore, British Indian Empire. They were attempting a long distance flight record.

Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, front view.
Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, front view.

Their departure had been delayed for several days while waiting for favorable conditions for takeoff. It was decided to limit the Monoplane’s takeoff weight to 16,000 pounds (7,257.5 kilograms) and wait for at least a 10 mile per hour (16 kilometers per hour) headwind before attempting to takeoff.

After 16½ hours in flight, Jones-Williams and Jenkins were overhead Istanbul, and reached Baghdad 10½ hours later. After another 22 hours airborne they were overhead Karachi, Sindh, in the Bombay Presidency (now, Pakistan). With an estimated 6 hours fuel remaining they were unable to reach Bangalore and elected to land at Karachi while it was still daylight.

The duration of their flight was 50 hours, 37 minutes. They had flown a distance of 4,130 miles (6,646.6 kilometers) on their non-stop flight.

Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, right side view.
Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, right side view.

Arthur Gordon Jones-Williams (1888–1929) was a second lieutenant in the Welsh Regiment during World War I. He was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as a fighter pilot. He shot down 11 enemy airplanes and was awarded the Military Cross, followed by a Bar (a second award). Jones-Williams was promoted from Flight Lieutenant to Squadron Leader in the list of New Years Honors, 1 January 1928.

Flight Lieutenant Norman Hugh Jenkins, DFC, DSM, Royal Air Force, was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 3 June 1925.

Fairey Long Range Monoplane
Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, right rear quarter

The Fairey Long Range Monoplane was an experimental airplane designed and built in 1928 by Fairey Aviation Company, Ltd., at Hayes, Middlesex, England, for the Royal Air Force to investigate methods of increasing the range of airplanes. The agreed price was £15,000.

It was flown by two pilots and had a bed for crew rest. It was a high-wing monoplane with a wing built of wood and covered by fabric. The Monoplane was 48 feet, 6 inches (14.783 meters) long with a wingspan of 82 feet (24.994 meters) and height of 12 feet (3.658 meters). The maximum takeoff weight was 17,500 pounds (7,937.9 kilograms).

J9479 was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,461.135-cubic-inch-displacement (23.944 liter) Napier Lion XIA (Special) dual-overhead-cam (DOHC) “Triple Four” or “broad arrow” (three banks of four cylinders with a common crankshaft), now generally referred to as a  W-12 engine. The cylinder banks were separated by 60° angles. The Lion XI had four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6:1. It produced 530 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m., and a maximum of 570 horsepower at 2,585 r.p.m. It was a geared engine with a 1.885:1 gear reduction. The Lion XI was 5 feet, 1 inch (1.549 meters) long, 3 feet, 6 inches (1.067 meters) wide and 3 feet, 3 inches (0.991 meters) high. The engine weighed 995 pounds (451 kilograms). The XIA (Special) was specially-tuned for the Fairey Long Range Monoplane, and had a slightly higher compression ratio.

The cruise speed was 110 miles per hour (177 kilometers per hour). The fuel tanks in the wings had a capacity of 1,043 Imperial gallons (1,252.6 U.S. gallons/4,741.6 liters).

Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, left front quarter.
Fairey Long Range Monoplane J9479, left front quarter.

Because of headwinds encountered, the April flight was short of the record. Another attempt was made, this time with a destination in South Africa. On 16 December 1929, however, J9479 crashed at Djibel Lit, south of Tunis, French Tunisia. The airplane was destroyed and both A.G. Jones-Williams and N.H. Jenkins were killed.

Fairey Long Range Monoplane. J9479, right front quarter.
Fairey Long Range Monoplane. J9479, right front quarter.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 March 1948

John Cunningham with the record-setting de Havilland DH.110 Vampire (BNPS).
John Cunningham with the record-setting de Havilland DH.100 Vampire F.1, TG/278. Note the metal canopy with porthole. (BNPS).

23 March 1948: During a 45-minute flight over Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England, the de Havilland Aircraft Company chief test pilot, Group Captain John Cunningham, D.S.O., flew a modified DH.100 Vampire F.1 fighter to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Altitude of 18,119 meters (59,446 feet).¹ Cunningham broke the record set nearly ten years earlier by Colonel Mario Pezzi in a Caproni Ca.161 biplane.² (See This Day in Aviation, 22 October 1938)

DH.100 Vampire F.1 TG/278 prior to high-altitude modifications. (de Havilland)
DH.100 Vampire F.1 TG/278 prior to high-altitude modifications. (de Havilland)

The de Havilland DH.100 Vampire F.1 flown by Cunningham was the fifth production aircraft, TG/278. It was built by the English Electric Company at Preston, Lancashire, with final assembly at Samlesbury Aerodrome, and made its first flight in August 1945. It was intended as a prototype photo reconnaissance airplane. The cockpit was heated and pressurized for high altitude, and a metal canopy installed.

The photo reconnaissance project was dropped and TG/278 became a test bed for the de Havilland Engine Company Ghost 2 turbojet (Halford H.2), which produced 4,400 pounds of thrust (19.57 kilonewtons) at 10,000 r.p.m. The Vampire could take the Ghost engine to altitudes beyond the reach of the Avro Lancaster/Ghost test bed already in use. The airplane’s wing tips were each extended 4 feet (1.219 meters) to increase lift.

De Havilland DH.100 Vampire F.1 TG/278 before the record flight. (De Havilland)
De Havilland DH.100 Vampire F.1 TG/278 after modifications. (de Havilland)

The aircraft was stripped of paint to reduce weight. Smaller batteries were used and placed in normal ballast locations. Special instrumentation and recording cine cameras were installed in the gun compartment, and ten cylinders of compressed air for breathing replaced the Vampire’s radio equipment. At takeoff, the Vampire carried 202 gallons (765 liters) of fuel, 40 gallons less than maximum, sufficient for only one hour of flight. The takeoff weight of TG/278 was 8,400 pounds (3,810 kilograms).

John Cunningham had previously flown TG/278 to a world record 799.644 kilometers per hour (496.876 miles per hour) over a 100 kilometer course at Lympne Airport, 31 August 1947.³

TG/278 continued as a test aircraft until it was damaged by an engine fire in October 1950. It was used as an instructional airframe at RAF Halton.

De Havilland DH.100 F Mk 1 Vampire TG/278 after high-altitude modifications (Vic Flintham)
De Havilland DH.100 Vampire F.1 TG/278 with high altitude modifications (de Havilland)

A standard Vampire F.1 was 9.370 meters (30 feet, 8.9 inches) long with a wingspan of 12.192 meters (40 feet, 0 inches) and overall height of 2.700 meters (8 feet, 10.3 inches). The fighter had an empty weight of 6,380 pounds (2,894 kilograms) and gross weight of 8,587 pounds (3,895 kilograms).

The basic Vampire F.1 was powered by a de Havilland-built Halford H.1B Goblin turbojet engine. This engine used a single-stage centrifugal-flow compressor and single-stage axial-flow turbine. It had a straight-through configuration rather than the reverse-flow of the Whittle turbojet from which it was derived. It produced 2,460 pounds of thrust (10.94 kilonewtons) at 9,500 r.p.m., and 3,000 pounds (13.34 kilonewtons) at 10,500 r.p.m. The Goblin weighed approximately 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms).

It had a maximum speed of 540 miles per hour (869 kilometers per hour), a service ceiling of 41,000 feet (12,497 meters) and range of 730 miles (1,175 kilometers).

The Vampire F.1 was armed with four 20 mm Hispano autocannon in the nose, with 150 rounds of ammunition per gun.

De Havilland DH.100 Vampire FB.5 three-view illustration with dimensions.
Group Captain John Cunningham, Royal Air Force. (Daily Mail)
Group Captain John Cunningham, Royal Air Force. (BNPS)

Group Captain John Cunningham C.B.E., D.S.O. and Two Bars, D.F.C. and Bar, A.E., D.L., F.R.Ae.S, was born 1917 and educated at Croydon. In 1935 he became an apprentice at De Havilland’s and also joined the Auxiliary Air Force, where he trained as a pilot. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer, 7 May 1936, and was promoted to Flying Officer, 5 December 1937. Cunningham was called to active duty in August 1939, just before World War II began, and promoted to Flight Lieutenant, 12 March 1940.

While flying with No. 604 Squadron, Cunningham was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, 28 January 1941. He was appointed Acting Squadron Leader, Auxiliary Air Force, and was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order, 29 April 1941. The Gazette reported,

“This officer has continued to display the highest devotion to duty in night fighting operations. One night in April, 1941, he destroyed two enemy bombers during a single patrol and a week later destroyed  three enemy raiders during three different patrols. Squadron Leader Cunningham has now destroyed at least ten enemy aircraft and damaged a number of others. His courage and skill are an inspiration to all.”The London Gazette, 29 April 1941, Page 2445 at Column 1.

His Majesty George VI, King of the United Kingdom, greets Squadron Leader John Cunningham, D.S.O., D.F.C., 1941. (BNPS)

Acting Squadron Leader Cunningham’s promotion to Squadron Leader (Temporary) became official 10 June 1941. The King approved the award of a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross, 19 September 1941. Squadron Leader Cunningham took command of No. 604 Squadron 1 August 1946.

On 3 March 1944 Wing Commander Cunningham received a second Bar to his Distinguished Service Order. According to The Gazette,

“Within a recent period Wing Commander Cunningham has destroyed three more hostile aircraft and his last success on the night of 2nd January, 1944, brings his total victories to 20, all with the exception of one being obtained at night. He is a magnificent leader, whose exceptional ability and wide knowledge of every aspect of night flying has contributed in large measure to the high standard of operational efficiency of his squadron which has destroyed a very large number of enemy aircraft. His iron determination and unswerving devotion to duty have set an example beyond praise.

The London Gazette, 3 March 1944, Page 1059 at Column 1.

Promoted to Group Captain 3 July 1944, Cunningham was the highest scoring Royal Air Force night fighter pilot of World War II, credited with shooting down 20 enemy airplanes. He was responsible for the myth that eating carrots would improve night vision.

In addition to the medals awarded by the United Kingdom, he also held the United States Silver Star, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Order of the patriotic War (1st Class).

Following the War, John Cunningham returned to de Havilland as a test pilot. After the death of Geoffrey Raoul de Havilland, Jr., in 1946, Cunningham became the de Havilland’s chief test pilot. He remained with the firm through a series of mergers, finally retiring in 1980.

Cunningham was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) in 1951, and promoted to Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 1963. He relinquished his  Auxiliary Air Force commission 1 August 1967.

Group Captain John Cunningham C.B.E., D.S.O. and Two Bars, D.F.C. and Bar, A.E., D.L.,  died 21 July 2002 at the age of 84 years.

Wing Commander John Cunningham, D.S.O. and two bars, D.F.C. and Bar, A.E., Auxiliary Air Force. (Test and Research Pilots, Flight Test Engineers)

¹ FAI Record File Number 9844

² FAI Record File Number 11713: 17,083 meters (56,047 feet)

³ FAI Record File Number 8884

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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