Tag Archives: Royal Air Force

10 August 1912

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Kennedy McLean, A.F.C., 18 September 1919. (Flight)
Lieutenant Colonel Sir Francis Kennedy McLean, A.F.C., 18 September 1919. (Flight)

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 London 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.”

The vertical distance between the upper walkways and the deck of the draw bridge is 141 feet, 0 inches (42.977 meters).

Diagram of Tower Bridge, with dimensions. (Wikipedia)
Diagram of Tower Bridge, with dimensions. (Wikipedia)

Flight reported the event:

By Hydro-aeroplane up the Thames

     ALTHOUGH London was deprived by the appalling weather of the sight of M. Beaumont piloting his hydro-aeroplane up the Thames, the visit of Mr. F.K. McClean more than compensated for the loss. Remembering an appointment in town on Saturday morning, Mr. McClean thought it would be a good idea to come up on his Short machine, and so at 6 a.m. he had it out of its shed at Harty Ferry, in the Isle of Sheppey, and after seeing everything in order he started off. Following the coast round Leysdown, Warden Point to Sheerness, he continued over the Thames. At Gravesend the smoke of various factories rather troubled the aviator but he made good progress. Approaching London Mr. McClean brought his machine lower down and negotiated the Tower Bridge between the lower and upper spans, but the remaining bridges to Westminster he flew underneath, the water just being touched at Blackfriars and Waterloo bridges. He reached Westminster about 8.30 and was taken ashore to Westminster Pier on a Port of London Launch.

The return journey on Sunday afternoon was not so successful—owing to restrictions as to rising from the water which had been imposed by the police. The bridges had all been safely negotiated, and when near Shadwell Basin Mr. McClean started to manœuver to get into the air at the point designated by the river authorities. He had made one circuit when the machine side-slipped, and either through hitting a barge or by sudden contact with the water one of the floats was damaged. The machine was then towed into Shadwell Dock, this operation being superintended by Mr. McClean from the driving seat, and dismantled for its return by road to Eastchurch.

FLIGHT, No. 190. (No 33, Vol. IV.) 17 August 17 1912 at Page759, Column 1

Frank McLean flying through the Tower Bridge, 10 August 1912. (Clan Maclean)
Frank McLean flying through the Tower Bridge, 10 August 1912. (Clan Maclean Heritage Trust)

The Short S.33 was a variant of the S.27 biplane, built specifically for McLean. It is a two-place, single-engine four-bay biplane with the engine in a pusher configuration. An elevator is forward. Although it had been fitted with two floats for operating from the water, McLean had it converted to a land plane by installing two wheels on a tube axle attached to the lower wing with four struts. Two wooden skids are also installed. The fuselage is an open rectangular framework. At the aft end is a horizontal stabilizer and elevator, and two rudders. There were two tail skids.

The Short S.33 was 36 feet, 0 inches (10.973 meters) long (following conversion) with an upper wingspan of 70 feet, 6 inches (21.488 meters). The upper wing had a maximum chord of 6 feet, 7 inches.  The outer 16 feet (4.877 meters) of the upper wing was swept aft and had a slight dihedral, as did the outer panels of the lower wings. The lower wing had a shorter wingspan and narrower chord—5 feet, 9 inches (1.753 meters)—than the upper wing. The biplane had a gross weight of 1,600 pounds (725.75 kilograms)

The S.33 was powered by an air-cooled 10.292 liter (628.048-cubic-inch-displacement) Société des Moteurs Gnome Gamma 7-cylinder rotary engine producing 70 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. It turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch wooden propeller with a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters) through direct drive.

Three-view diagram of Frank McLean's "70-H.P. Short biplane.: (FLIGHT, No. 232. (No. 23, Vol. V.), 7 June 1913 at Page 614)
Three-view diagram of Frank McLean’s “70-H.P. Short biplane.” (FLIGHT, No. 232. (No. 23, Vol. V.), 7 June 1913 at Page 614)

Sir Francis was a civil engineer, astronomer, pioneering photographer and aviator. He received the Royal Aero Club’s Aviator Certificate Number 21 on 20 September 1910.

McLean served in the Royal Naval Air Service during World War I and became an officer of the Royal Air Force when RNAS and the Royal Flying Corps were combined in 1918. He is considered to be the founder of the Fleet Air Arm. McLean was decorated with the Air Force Cross in 1919.

For his services to aviation, McLean was knighted by George V, 3 July 1926 and later appointed High Sheriff of Oxfordshire.

Sir Francis McLean died 11 August 1955 at London, England, after a lengthy illness. He was 79 years old.

Francis McLean’s Short S.33 biplane, which he used to fly through and under bridges on the Thames, 10 August 1912.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

13 July 1919

Airship R 34 over Pulham Airship Station, Norfolk, United Kingdom, 1919.

13 July 1919: The Royal Air Force rigid airship R 34 completed its two-way crossing of the Atlantic Ocean and at 6:57 a.m. landed at Pulham Airship Station, Norfolk, United Kingdom. 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 return flight from Mineola, Long Island, New York took 73 hours, 3 minutes. According to records of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the distance flown by R 34 on the return flight was 6,138 kilometers (3,814 miles).

This was the first “double crossing” by an aircraft. The round trip flight began at East Fortune Airship Station near Edinburgh, Scotland, on 2 July. The East-to-West crossing took 108 hours, 12 minutes.

Major Scott was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

This map shows the outbound and return tracks of His Majesty's Airship R 34, 2–13 July 1919.
This map shows the outbound and return tracks of His Majesty’s Airship R 34, 2–13 July 1919.

During the return flight on of the airship’s five engines suffered a broken connecting rod which damaged the cylinder block. It could not be repaired.

R 34 was based on extensive study of the captured German Zeppelin, L-33. It was built for the Royal Naval Air Service by William Beardmore and Company, Inchinnan, Renfrewshire, Scotland, but with the end of World War I, the RNAS and Royal Flying Corps were merged to become the Royal Air Force. 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) propellers 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.

Airship R 34 landing at Pulham, Norfolk, 13 Juky 1919. (Getty Images/Jimmy Sime)
Airship R 34 landing at Pulham, Norfolk, 13 July 1919. (Getty Images/Jimmy Sime)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

10 July 1940

The Battle of Britain begins.

“The Few.” Royal Air Force pilots run to their fighters to defend England from attacking German Luftwaffe bombers during the Battle of Britain. © IWM (HU 49253)

Before Germany could mount Operation Sea Lion, a cross-channel invasion of the British Isles, it needed to have complete air superiority over the invasion fleet. Because of the Luftwaffe‘s greater numbers and modern aircraft, German military leadership believed this could best be accomplished by defeating the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat.

The Royal Air Force had been conserving their limited numbers of pilots and aircraft up to this point in the war. Germany’s plan was to send its bombers against targets that the R.A.F. would be forced to defend. The escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109s (also referred to as the Me 109) would then shoot down the Boulton Paul Defiants and Bristol Blenheims. But the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires were up to the task. While the Hurricanes went after the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 and Heinkel He 111 bombers, the Spitfires engaged their Bf 109 fighter escorts.

Contrails over London during the Battle of Britain, 10 July–31 October 1940.
Contrails over London during the Battle of Britain, 10 July–31 October 1940.

Britain used a system of radar-directed ground control of its fighter squadrons. The result was that, although both sides lost about the same number of aircraft, the Battle of Britain was a decisive victory for Great Britain. Germany was forced to give up on its plans for an invasion of England.

During a speech the House of Commons, 20 August 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to the pilots of Fighter Command when he said,

The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Ever since, the Royal Air Force has been known as “The Few.”

Luftwaffe aircraft:

A flight of Dornier Do 17 bombers, circa 1940. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
A flight of Dornier Do 17 bombers, 31 December 1939. (Bundesarchiv)
Heinkel He 111 bomber. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
Heinkel He 111 bomber, circa September–October 1940. (Bundesarchiv)
A flight of Messerchmitt me 109s carry external fuel tanks to extend their range and time over target. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
A flight of Messerchmitt Bf 109s carry external fuel tanks to extend their range and time over target. (Bundesarchiv)
Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine heavy fighter, circa 1942. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine heavy fighter, circa 1942. (Bundesarchiv)

Royal Air Force aircraft:

Supermarine Spitfire fighters of No. 610 Squadron, RAF Biggin Hill, during the Battle of Britain. (Imperial War Museum)
Supermarine Spitfire fighters of No. 610 Squadron, RAF Biggin Hill, during the Battle of Britain. (Royal Air Force Museum)
Hawker Hurrican Mk.I P3408 (VY-K) of No. 85 Squadron, Church Fenton, Yorkshire, October 1940. (B.V. Daventry, RAF official photographer. Imperial War Museum CH 1501)
Hawker Hurricane Mk.I P3408 (VY-K) of No. 85 Squadron, RAF Church Fenton, Yorkshire, October 1940. Flying the same type, also with the identification letters VY-K, Squadron Leader Peter Townsend, DFC, was shot down by a Do 17 named Gustav Marie, over the English Channel, 10 July 1940. After the war, Townsend became good friends with the bomber’s gunner, Werner Borner. (Mr. B.J. Daventry, RAF official photographer. Imperial War Museum CH 1501)

Highly recommended: Duel of Eagles, by Group Captain Peter Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force. Cassell Publishers Limited, 1970 and Castle Books, 2003.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

8 July 1941

Fortress Mark I, AN521 ‘WP-K’, of No. 90 Squadron RAF based at West Raynham, Norfolk, preparing for take off at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, during an inspection of newly-arrived American aircraft by the Chief of the Air Staff and the US Air Attache. (Photograph by Flight Lieutenant Bertrand John Henry Daventry, Royal Air Force/CH 2873, Imperial War Museum)
Boeing Fortress Mark I AN521, ‘WP-K’, (U.S.A.A.F. serial number 40-2052) of No. 90 Squadron R.A.F., based at West Raynham, Norfolk, preparing for take off at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, during an inspection of newly-arrived American aircraft by the Chief of the Air Staff and the U.S. Air Attache. Photograph by Flight Lieutenant Bertrand John Henry Daventry, Royal Air Force. © IWM (CH 2873)

00DD3437_5056_A318_A85F9DA3980B669B8 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.)

"Vertical aerial reconnaissance of Wilhelmshaven." © IWM (HU 91201)
“Vertical aerial reconnaissance of Wilhelmshaven.” © IWM (HU 91201)

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.

Fortress B.I WP-F
Fortress B.I AN530, WP-F (U.S.A.A.F. B-17C 40-2066) (Royal Air Force)

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.

Boeing Fortress Mk.I AN529 at Heathfield, Scotland, after arrival from United States, May 1941. © Imperial War Museum E(MOS) 276

The Boeing B-17C/Fortress Mk.I was 67 feet, 10-9/16 inches (20.690 meters long with a wingspan of 103 feet, 9 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).

Crew members of a No. 90 "RAF Fortress crew at RAF Polebrook July 19, 1941." (IWM CH 3090)
“RAF Fortress crew at RAF Polebrook July 19, 1941.” © IWM (CH 3090)

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.

Fortress I AN528 (Getty Images/Three Lions)
Royal Air Force Fortress Mk.I AN528 (B-17C 40-2064) prior to being camouflaged. (Getty Images/Three Lions)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

2–6 July 1919

The Royal Air Force rigid airship HMA R34 landing at Mineola, Long Island, New York, 6 July 1919.

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.

This chart of R34's flight was published in the Times, 7 July 1919.
This chart of R34’s flight was published in The Times, 7 July 1919.

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).

Crewmen working in the forward control car of R34 during the Atlantic crossing, July 1918. (National Museums Scotland)
Crewmen working in the forward control car of R 34 during the Atlantic crossing, July 1918. (National Museums Scotland)

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.

R 34 at Long Island, New York. (Evening Times)

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.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather