8 July 1941: Three Royal Air Force Boeing Fortress Mk.I heavy bombers departed from their base at RAF Watton to attack Wilhelmshaven, Germany. This was a daylight bombing mission, with the airplanes flying at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). One bomber diverted to a secondary target because of engine trouble, while the remaining two Fortresses continued to the primary target.
At the very high altitudes flown, the defensive heavy machine guns that gave the airplane its name froze due to the low temperatures and could not be fired. (In standard atmospheric conditions, the temperature at 30,000 feet would be -45 °C., or -49 °F.)
All three aircraft returned safely to their base. The mission was completely ineffective, however.
This was the very first use of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress in combat.
The Boeing Model 299H, designated B-17C, was the second production variant ordered by the U.S. Army Air Corps. 38 were built by Boeing for the U.S. Army Air Corps, but 20 were transferred to Great Britain’s Royal Air Force, designated Fortress Mk.I. (Boeing Model 299T.) They were initially assigned to No. 90 Squadron, Bomber Command. (A 1941 book, War Wings: Fighting Airplanes of the American and British Air Forces, by David C. Cooke, Robert M. McBride & Company, New York, refers to the B-17C in British service as the “Seattle,” which is in keeping with the R.A.F.’s system of naming bombers after cities.)
Of the 20 Fortress Mk.I bombers, 8 were lost in combat or in accidents.
The Boeing B-17C/Fortress Mk.I was 67 feet, 10-9/16 inches (20.690 meters long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9⅜ inches (31.633 meters) and the overall height was 15 feet, 4½ inches (4.686 meters). The B-17C had an empty weight of 30,900 pounds (14,016 kilograms). The maximum design gross weight was 47,500 pounds (21,546 kilograms).
The B-17C was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.876 liters) Wright Cyclone G666A (R-1820-65)¹ nine-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.70:1. The engines were equipped with remote General Electric turbochargers capable of 24,000 r.p.m. The R-1820-65 was rated at 1,000 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. for takeoff. The engine could produce 1,380 horsepower at War Emergency Power. 100-octane aviation gasoline was required. The Cyclones turned three-bladed, constant-speed, Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic propellers with a diameter of 11 feet, 7 inches (3.835 meters) though a 0.5625:1 gear reduction. The R-1820-65 engine is 3 feet, 11.59 inches (1.209 meters) long and 4 feet, 7.12 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter. It weighs 1,315 pounds (596 kilograms).
The B-17C had a maximum speed of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). Its service ceiling was 37,000 feet (11,278 meters) and the maximum range was 3,400 miles (5,472 kilometers).
The Fortress Mk.I could carry 4,800 pounds (2,177 kilograms) of bombs in an internal bomb bay. Defensive armament consisted of one Browning AN-M2 .30-caliber air-cooled machine gun at the nose and four Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber heavy machine guns in dorsal, ventral and waist positions.
2–6 July 1919: Two weeks after Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic airplane flight, the Royal Air Force rigid airship R 34 landed at Mineola, Long Island, New York, completing the first east-to-west Atlantic crossing by air. The airship was under the command of Major George Herbert Scott, A.F.C., R.A.F. The total complement, including passengers, was 30 persons.
The 108 hour, 12 minute flight started from East Fortune Airship Station near Edinburgh, Scotland at 2:38 a.m., British Summer Time (1:38 a.m., Greenwich mean time) on Wednesday, 2 July. R 34 arrived at Mineola at 9:54 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time (1:54 p.m. G.M.T.) on Sunday, 6 July. According to records of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the distance flown by R 34 was 5,797 kilometers (3,602 miles). On arrival, the airship had only 40 minutes of fuel remaining.
R 34 was based on extensive study of the captured German Zeppelin, L-33. It was built for the Royal Naval Air Service ¹ by William Beardmore and Company, Inchinnan, Renfrewshire, Scotland. 643 feet long (196 meters), with a maximum diameter of 78 feet, 9 inches (24 meters), the dirigible had a total volume of 1,950,000 cubic feet (55,218 cubic meters). The airship had a light weight metal structure covered with doped fabric. Buoyancy was provided by 55,185 cubic meters (1,948,840 cubic feet) of gaseous hydrogen contained in 19 gas bags inside the airship’s envelope. R 34 had a gross lift capacity of 59 tons. Useful lift was 58,240 pounds (26,417 kilograms).
The airship was powered by five water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 15.395-liter (989.483-cubic-inch-displacement) Sunbeam Maori Mk.IV dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12 engines with four valves per cylinder. The Mk.IV’s cylinder bore had been increased from 100 millimeters to 110 millimeters (3.94 to 4.33 inches), resulting in a larger displacement than previous Maori variants. The Maori Mk.IV was a direct-drive engine which produced 275 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. Each engine turned a two-bladed, 17 foot diameter (5.182 meter) propeller through a remote gearbox with a 0.257:1 reduction. The two wing engines were equipped with reversible gearboxes. With the engines turning 1,800 r.p.m., the R 34 had a cruising speed of 47 knots (54 miles per hour/87 kilometers per hour) and consumed 65 gallons (246 liters) of fuel per hour.
R 34 made the return flight to England, 10–13 July 1919, in 75 hours, 3 minutes.
Major Scott was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD.
St. James’s Palace, S.W. 1,
23rd August 1919.
The KING has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following appointment to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, in recognition of distinguished services to Aviation. :—
To be a Commander of the Military Division of the Said Most Excellent Order :—
Major George Herbert Scott, A.F.C., Royal Air Force, Commander of H.M. Airship R/34 on the outward voyage to the United States of America and and also on the homeward journey.
Colonel (A./Brig.-Genl.) Edwards Maitland Maitland, C.M.G., D.S.O., Capt. (A./Major) Gilbert George Herbert Cooke, D.S.C., Lieutenant Guy Harris and 2nd Lieutenant John Durham Shotter were each awarded the Air Force Cross.
The Air Force Medal was awarded to Flight-Sergeant William Rose Gent, Sergt.-Maj. II. Walter Robert Mayes, D.S.M., Flight-Sergeant Walter James Robinson, Flight-Sergeant Reginald William Ripley, Flight-Sergeant Norman Albert Scull, and Sergeant Herbert Murray Watson, D.S.M.
¹ On 1 April 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps were combined to form the Royal Air Force.
29 April 1945: With the defeat of Nazi Germany imminent, millions of Dutch citizens were still under the control of the occupying German army. Food was very scarce. The Allies tried to negotiate a cease fire so that American and British airplanes could fly into The Netherlands and drop food to the people.
The truce had not yet been agreed to by Germany, but on 29 April, Operations Manna and Chowhound began.
The first night, to test the feasibility of the project, two Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster four-engine long range heavy bombers of No. 101 Squadron—Bad Penny, crewed by Canadians, and a second ship flown by an Australian crew—were loaded with food at RAF Ludford Magna and flew into The Netherlands at barely 50 feet (15 meters) above the ground.
To drop the food they simply opened the bomb bay doors and the bags and packages fell to the starving people below.
With Flight Sergeant Robert Fairful Upcott, D.F.M., Royal Canadian Air Force, [service number R187858] leading with Bad Penny, the two Lancasters ¹ dropped their food on the Racetrack Duindigt at Wassernaar, near The Hague, then returned along the same corridor they had flown on the way in. At 2:00 p.m. that afternoon, another 200 Lancasters followed.
Over the next ten days, approximately 11,000 tons (9,979 Metric tons) of food were dropped by Royal Air Force Lancasters and U.S. Army Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress bombers.
¹ The second Lancaster was commanded by Flight Officer P. G. L. Collett, Royal Australian Air Force (A424149).
Friday, 5 April 1968: Flight Lieutenant Alan Richard Pollock, No. 1 Squadron, Royal Air Force, based at RAF West Raynham, southwest of Fakenham, Norfolk, was leading a flight of four Hawker Hunter FGA.9 close air support fighters. Pollock described the weather:
“Over London the weather was still one of those rare perfect 8/8 Gordon’s crystal, gin clear days when all the colours shout out brightly.”
Pollock broke away from the formation and flew toward London.
FLIGHT International reported:
Hunter to Tower—Under
An RAF Hunter few through the Tower Bridge, London, in a down-river direction just after noon last Friday, April 5. The Hunter, carrying underwing tanks, was glimpsed momentarily from Flight‘s offices in a descending, mushing turn until lost to sight behind United Africa House. Previous flights through Tower Bridge—never in a jet, and never so fast—have invariably been made in an up-river direction.
The MoD was investigating as we closed for press; the supposition was that the aircraft was an FGA.9 of 1 or 54 Squadrons, which comprise the close-support wing at RAF West Raynham. The station refused comment, but flying was taking place that day. Visibility was excellent. Some authorities attributed the incident to widespread resentment that the RAF had been deprived of a ceremonial fly-past on the 50th anniversary day, April 1. The Red Arrows were expecting to make this fly-past last month, but permission was presumably denied. A Ministry of Defence spokesman to whom we were referred at press time by the duty officer at RAF West Raynham, was not then able to reveal the name of the pilot.
—FLIGHT International, Vol. 93, Number 3083, 11 April 1968, at Page 500, Column 3
. . . and the following week:
The Man Who Shot the Bridge
The RAF pilot who flew a Hunter FGA.9 through Tower Bridge, London, on April 5 was no youthful prankster but a senior flight commander of 1 Sqn, RAF West Raynham, an Old Cranwellian, and the father of four children.
He was Flt Lt Alan Richard Pollock, aged 32. He was named on Sunday, April 7, by MoD (Air) too late, owing to Easter press schedules, for mention in our last week’s story. Flt Lt Pollock was placed under close arrest on April 5 and released into open arrest on April 7. A board of inquiry was convened at West Raynham on April 8. An all-party motion signed by six MPs [Members of Parliament] was tabled in the Commons in his support but was ruled unacceptable.
Whatever their views on the responsibility and possible consequences of flying a jet fighter through the 200ft-wide, 110ft-deep aperture framed by the towers, the bascules and the upper span of Tower Bridge, there is unanimity among pilots that it was a handsome piece of flying.
Flt Lt Pollock was the first pilot to fly through the bridge in a downstream direction, following the gentle sinuousities of King’s Reach from the Waterloo Bend—and passing over Blackfriars’ two bridges (road and rail), Southwark Bridge, Cannon Street rail bridge, and London Bridge. After clearing the last he probably had little more than five seconds to align himself with the eye of the needle presented by Tower Bridge, retaining until the last fraction of a second the option of pulling up had he found the opening partly obstructed by abnormally high vehicles, by hanging cradles or by the bascules opening.
It has been reported that Flt Lt Pollock peeled off from a formation returning from RAF Tangmere, where he had led four Hunters on display duties. This might have accounted for his choice of direction. The absence of pre-placed photographers, who always seem to have been around on previous Tower Bridge buzzings, seems to rule out premeditation. Another explanation of why he preferred the crane-lined Upper Pool downstream of Tower Bridge for his climb-out when all previous pilots have used it for the run in may have been to avoid climbing through the flight levels occupied by airliners on the approach to Heathrow had he made a westerly climb-out. He turned to port over the City.
The RAF and civil authorities were tussling last week about whether Flt Lt Pollock should be court-martialled or tried in a civil court. His one-man fly-past was construed in and outside the RAF as an expression of resentment felt by many in the Service—including those now responsible for deciding his punishment—of the way the Royal Air Force is being treated by the Government. It may be that the last straw was the cancellation of the 50th anniversary fly-past over the capital on April 1. A fly-past planned in conjunction with the Lancaster House dinner with the Queen was cancelled at the last moment as “inappropriate.” A mid-day fly-past, seen by the maximum number of Londoners and visitors, would have been most “appropriate” on this occasion.
Attitudes to the Tower Bridge exploit of past and present members of the RAF whom we have questioned vary from the very strongly censorious to the frankly admiring; but an unvarying theme was that some RAF protest was called for, without infringing flying discipline.
—FLIGHT International, Volume 93, Number 3084, 18 April 1968 at Page 567, Columns 1 and 2
The Royal Air Force did not court-martial Flight Lieutenant Pollack. A medical board discharged him from the service. The Ministry of Defence announced that Pollack had been hospitalized with pneumonia, and that, “. . . if he were brought to trial it would probably have a damaging effect on his health, both immediately and in the long term.”
An oral history recording with Alan Pollack (32 minutes, 20 seconds) is available at the Imperial War Museum:
This was not the first time an airplane had flown through Tower Bridge. On 10 August 1912, Frank McLean (later, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Kennedy McLean, A.F.C.) flew his modified Short S.33 float plane, and, according to his obituary in The Times, 12 August 1955, “. . . created a record by flying up the Thames in a seaplane, passing between the upper and lower parts of Tower Bridge and under London Bridge without touching the water.”
Alan Pollock was flying a Hawker Hunter FGA.9, XF442, c/n S4/U/3318. It had been converted from a Hunter F.6 interceptor. The Hunter was a single-seat, single-engine, swept-wing jet fighter, which first entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1954. The FGA.9 ground attack variant was based on the Hunter F.6 interceptor.
The FGA.9 was 33 feet, 8 inches (10.262 meters) long with a wingspan of 45 feet, 10½ inches (13.983 meters) and height of 13 feet, 2 inches (4.013 meters). The wing area was 340 square feet (31.6 square meters). The wings were swept back 40° at ¼-chord, and had an angle of incidence of 1½°. There is noticeable anhedral. The FGA.9 had and empty weight of 13,010 pounds (5,901 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 18,000 pounds (8,165 kilograms).
The FGA.9 was powered by a single Rolls-Royce RA.28 Avon 207 engine. This was a single-shaft axial-flow turbojet with a 15-stage compressor and 2-stage turbine. The RA.28 was 10 feet, 3.0 inches (3.124 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,869 pounds (1,301 kilograms). It was rated at 10,050 pounds of thrust (44.7 Kilonewtons).
The Hunter FGA.9 had a maximum speed of 702 miles per hour at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters)—0.97 Mach—and maximum range of 1,850 miles (2,977 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.
The basic armament of the Hunter were four 30 mm ADEN autocannon installed in a removable gun pack, along with 150 rounds of ammunition per gun. The ADEN was a gas-operated revolver cannon, capable of firing 1,200–1,400 rounds per minute. The FGA.9 could also carry a 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms) bomb under each wing, twenty-four 3-inch rockets, or two rocket pods with thirty-seven 2-inch rockets, each, for ground attack.
Hawker produced 144 of the Hunter FGA.9 ground attack variant, with 12 modified from F.6 interceptors. Most of Hawker’s foreign sales were based on the FGA.9.
Hawker Hunter FGA.9 XF442 was transferred to the Fuerza Aérea de Chile, 24 April 1982, and assigned identification number J-742. It crashed near Antofagasta, in northern Chile, 20 May 1982.
Alan Pollock was recently interviewed for the Daily Mail: