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Posts Tagged ‘Supermarine Spitfire’

   

On Christmas Day 45 years ago, Santa left my presents at my Grandfather’s house in Manila.  My Dad watched with sparkling interest as I unwrapped my first airplane scale models, a Spitfire and a Messerschmitt.  I was 12 years old.

We had no colour TV, DVDs, internet, or computer games.  No computers, even.  The model airplanes filled my world.

     

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It took me 45 years to fully unwrap that gift. 

   

   

    

  

My Dad’s delicious stories of World War II dogfights kindled my childhood interest in airplanes.  My son Carlo, of the TOP GUN generation, had his imagination fired up by his own Dad’s airplane stories.  Now we were in this amazing adventure together.

Our airplanes taxied line astern, canopies open, weaving side-to-side.

           

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We held short of the runway with three Cessnas.  Ardmore Tower re-sequenced all of us.  Carlo and I would take off together.  Just like the movies.  

   

  

Airborne and in formation, it was Christmas, Fathers Day and birthdays all in one.  We took photos of each other laughing out loud, tears in our eyes.  That unmistakable elliptical wing bridged us, less than one wingspan apart.

  

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

      

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Everything was perfect.  Blazing blue sky, creamy clouds edged in white gold sunlight.  Ecstatic pilots vaulting skyward in classic warbirds, streaming contrails of laughter.  Father and son.

  

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of…

         

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High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there… 
I flung my craft through footless halls of air….

 

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I slipped below Carlo, echelon left.  The sun slashed our canopies.  Overhead, towering cumulus raced us to altitude.

 

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —

  

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We rolled in tight formation.  Our hearts filled to bursting.  Our faces ached from grinning like schoolboys.

  

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We were having way too much fun.  Suddenly we were over England, and it was the summer of 1940.  Bandits, break right!

  

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In the video you can hear Carlo whooping into a barrel roll.  No stiff upper lip now.  “Whoo-hoo!”  Then a loop, aileron roll and steep wingovers left and right.

  

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Mickey Mouse stretched his arms.  Time stilled.

    

Miles away, Gavin and I pulled hard Gs.  Loop, barrel roll, aileron roll, a full Cuban Eight.  We were doing 300 miles per hour, 4,000 feet per minute in vertical up-lines.  Remember, this is a 72-year old airframe that survived 89 combat missions in World War II.  

We levelled out, snarling low over the Firth of Thames, rocketing past the North Island coast.  I jinked away from flakJust like the Spitfire model in my childhood bedroom.

Then we spotted the Harvard, the Hun in the sun!  Hard climb to his 5 o’clock, bit of left rudder, and a bit of Robert Shaw in the movie ‘Battle of Britain’…

“Tak-a-tak-a-tak-a-tak-a-tak!”

  

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We snapped into a vertical bank, our wings straight up and down as Carlo and JK spiralled low, dropping far below us.  “You can run, kid, but you can’t hide.” 

We took these last two photos of each other at almost exactly the same time.

  

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It was time to return to base, ‘pancake’ in RAF slang.  In less than an hour we had flown almost 80 nautical miles. 

As a final treat we shut down at the NZ Warbirds Association ramp. 

        

I thought of Santa and my Dad, who started it all.  As the memories streamed past, a fellow from NZ Warbirds took my photo.

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A very Happy Christmas to all our readers,

Make a bucketful of dreams come true in the New Year!  

  

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Posted from Manila, Philippines

December 24, 2014

     

     

Warbird Adventure Rides

http://www.warbird.co.nz/index.htm

   

New Zealand Warbirds Association

http://nzwarbirds.org.nz/

  

Lines from High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr

Spitfire pilot, killed in December 1941 at the age of 19

    

Twenty Five Years of Top Gunning

https://tonetcarlo.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/twenty-five-years-of-top-gunning/

   

My Dad and his Delicious Airplane Tales

https://tonetcarlo.wordpress.com/2007/04/05/my-dad-and-his-delicious-airplane-tales/

 

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I didn’t look up the Spitfire school website.  I could never afford it.  For two years I just watched the video of Alex James flying the Spitfire.  Here’s a rock star who once lolled in champagne with groupies in a hotel.  And was awed to tears by a World War II fighter airplane, “The prettiest girl at the ball.”  Lucky man. 

Fly a Spitfire, pfft.  It would never happen to me.

   

        

  

  

Carlo and I found Ardmore Airport at 10am.  The Spitfire flight was scheduled for 12 noon.  Already, I didn’t want the day to end.

Ardmore is just south of Auckland, in the beautiful North Island countryside of New Zealand.  Carlo and I wandered around the ramps.  Pilots fueled Cessna 162s at the Auckland Flying Club.  Instructors hovered Schweizer helicopters over grass.  A privately-owned Strikemaster attack jet ripped around the circuit.

             

My son Carlo, who used to watch TOP GUN every day at 1 year old, still watching airplanes

             

We watched two hangars in particular.  They harboured a matched pair of North American T-6 ‘Harvards’.

   

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A pilot pushed one Harvard out.  This must be Carlo’s airplane.  Warbird Adventure Rides had offered us a Spitfire and a Harvard to fly in formation.  Carlo and I meant to toss a coin for the Spitfire.  But I had made an executive decision sans currency.  Carlo, the English Professor, agreed to become a Harvard alumnus.

         

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We hurried over.  John “JK” Kelly, with 900 hours in Harvards, introduced us to the airplane.  The Royal New Zealand Air Force once had 200 of these training airplanes.  Ours, used for gunnery training, had a .303 machine gun in the starboard wing.  That Pratt & Whitney R-1340 gulped seven litres of gas per minute.  That’s seven times what our Cessna sips.  Nomnomnom!

  

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Carlo, in his Burberry, looked the RAF ace back from leave in Blighty, keen to get his ticket re-upped in a dicky op.

Other smiling pilots arrived.  Liz Needham, CEO of Warbird Adventure Rides, is a B767 airline pilot.  She has 20,000 hours in 37 years in aviation.  She is #2 in the Harvard “Roaring 40s” flying display team and also flies the P-40E Kittyhawk.

I checked my camera batteries yet again.  Then JK called out to me from the porch.  She was here.

   

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The prettiest girl at the ball.

I could only gawk.  I took several photos.  I wish I took hundreds.  I should have walked around, propped my camera on the grass, climbed a ladder, taken close ups.  The day was going too fast.

Safety briefing.  Pull bumblebee to jettison canopy.  Egress.  Clear the aircraft.  Pull parachute ripcord D-ring all the way out there.

                 

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Instructor pilot Gavin Trethewey would fly with me.  Gavin is ex-Air New Zealand and flew military jets in the RNZAF.  He stressed that, “This is your flight.  It is all about you.  We will do what you want to do.”

We briefed the op.  Formation photo shoot.  An aerobatic routine.  And I would fly the Spitfire through a low-altitude corridor near the Firth of Thames.  Down on the deck to evade Adolf Galland’s Jagdgeschwader 26.

Then we boarded the airplanes.

                  

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I was strapped to a Spitfire, cocooned in history.  Twisting around, I watched Carlo clamber into his own cockpit.  Carlo and I, who love airplanes almost as much as each other, were wingmen in this incredible adventure.

                  

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Too soon, it was time to go.  Clear ‘round, switches on, starter button.  The iconic Merlin V-12 engine was smooth and warm, like an old favourite song record.  The headset crackled, Gavin checking in.  But what I heard was a radio call for my childhood airplane models.

“Gannic Squadron, scramble, orbit station angels fifteen, bandits two-zero miles.”

      
    

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Posted from Köln, Germany.

13 December, 2014

  

  

    

Warbird Adventure Rides, Ltd.

http://www.warbird.co.nz/index.htm

Warbird Adventure Rides

  

   

   

            

History of Carlo’s Harvard:  The Royal New Zealand Air Force flew 202 North American Harvard T-6 trainer aircraft.  This was the advanced trainer flown by pilots before moving on to high-performance fighter aircraft.  This particular Harvard, NZ1057, served from the 1940s to the 1970s, then became a playground piece.  It was fully restored to airworthiness in 1998.

http://www.warbird.co.nz/harvard.htm

Harvard NZ1057

  

             

     

    

Want to hear what a Merlin engine sounds like?  Headset and medium volume recommended.  I played this here in Köln, Germany.  I thought the air raid sirens would go off.  This is the exact same Spitfire I was about to fly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xLVRCiHEAU

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New Zealand is breathtaking.  Most people see this fabled land second hand, in movies like Lord of the Rings or The Last Samurai

There are flyable Spitfires in New Zealand.

     

   

New Zealand is stunning from any altitude, from the window of a Boeing 777, the cockpit of a De Havilland Beaver, or an AS350 helicopter.  It’s almost a mythical landscape.

   

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New Zealand has a strong aviation heritage.  The country perches on the edge of the South Pacific, close to Antarctica.  Airplanes are vital here.  Helipads, grass airstrips and proud aircraft museums dot the countryside.

In Christchurch I once gave a talk under an A-4K Skyhawk jet at the RNZAF museum.  They also had a Spitfire. 

     

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Auckland has the Museum of Transport and Technology.  Their Avro Lancaster is an airplane that made The Dambusters famousThe Auckland War Museum has another Spitfire, a German V1 flying bomb and a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero.

    

       

I took Carlo to New Zealand last month.  Carlo lucked through visa, document and scheduling hurdles right into a new Airbus A380 to Auckland. 

    

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Carlo will always be lucky.  He is a teacher.  Teachers are angels assigned to earth.  I always stick close to Carlo. 

We all need luck.  There are things in life you just cannot work hard enough for.

When we arrived, Auckland was buffeted by thunderstorms, gusts to 120 kph, lightning strikes.  I walked with Carlo on the waterfront, waving him around like a magic wand.  The weather began to clear. 

     

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At the cruise liner pier there was a Perry-class guided missile frigate.  I built a scale model of this 20 years ago.  Our walk was turning curiouser and curiouser.

     

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The Lancaster bomber dwarfed Carlo.  Those Rolls-Royce Merlin engines were legendary.  A Lancaster could carry to Berlin a load bigger than that of three American B-17 Flying Fortress. 

     

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The De Havilland Mosquito light bomber could carry a 4,000 ‘Cookie’ bomb to distant targets.  Merlin engines again.  Frederick Forsythe’s Shepherd.

  

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Carlo said I spent a quarter of an hour photographing the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine of the Spitfire at the War Museum.  I was being a nerdy engineer.

     

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That Merlin and the Spitfire’s wing are the Holy Grail of aircraft engineering. 

In a dogfight, you must get behind your enemy.  Then he can’t shoot back.  The Spitfire’s elliptical wing could turn a full circle faster than the German Bf-109 or the American P-51 Mustang. 

Eight guns, four inside each wing, gave the Spitfire massed firepower.  The Bf-109 could fit only one gun inside each wing, the P-51 just two or three.

        

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Wings are choices.  Long wings fit more guns but roll slower into turns.  Short wings snap into turns but have less lift and internal space.  Thin wings are faster, thick wings stronger.  Narrow wings have less drag but also less lift.

You now know more than the average pilot.  Pilots don’t read aerodynamic theory.  That’s because engineers use long words like spanwise flow, mean chord length, aspect ratio, or lift coefficient to describe what they want.  Pilots use words like sleep, food, money, and sex to describe what they want. 

  

Bet you were wondering what this article’s title was about.

   

Carlo and I had to get to Ardmore airfield.  A taxi would cost 250 Kiwi dollars.  A rental car was cheaper, but I’m too old to learn right-hand drive. 

Then we made a wrong turn on Queen Street during our walk.  We bumped into an old friend on the sidewalk.  He insisted on driving us to and from Ardmore.  He could visit his Dad there anyway.

    

Luck.

     

  

Posted from Chicago, Illinois

05 December, 2015

  

  

  

The Spitfire at Ardmore

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4l5MAorZpx0

 

More Kiwi airplane museum tales

https://tonetcarlo.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/you-had-me-at-dambusters/

https://tonetcarlo.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/kiwi-warbirds/

 

The Dambusters!

https://tonetcarlo.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/the-dam-busters/

 

How bad was the weather when we arrived?

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/weather/news/article.cfm?c_id=10&objectid=11350465

  

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My bucket list always had it.  To fly a Spitfire.  Impossible, of course.  “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”  Winston Churchill’s soaring words during the Battle of Britain leave a painful edge today.  Of 20,351 Spitfires built, fewer than 35 are still flying.

  

     

  

  

I’d seen a Spitfire but once, its legendary Merlin engine snarling at an airshow over Arnhem.  A Kiwi friend told me years ago that Spitfires flew at Warbirds Over Wanaka, the biennial airshow in New Zealand.  I scoured their website.  Spitfires, yes.  Rides, no.

Then The Telegraph published a story about learning to fly a Spitfire. 

Learning to fly a Spitfire?

    

  

Alex James, a popular figure in Britpop, plays bass guitar for the British rock band Blur.  After a rather decadent lifestyle he has settled down with wife and family.  He did a bit of song-writing and TV gigs.  He also became a renowned cheese-maker.  He has been a pilot for 17 years.

This was a double bucket list irony for me.  Rock star.  Fly a Spitfire.  Damn.

   

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The Telegraph published James’ article on Spitfire training in October, 2012 (link below).  Boultbee Flight Academy in the UK offers intro and conversion courses.  They even have a fighter appreciation course.  You scramble with another Spitfire to intercept a Messerschmitt Bf-109.

I didn’t even look up their website.  I could never afford that.

 

So I just watched Alex James’ video in the Spitfire (click on image below).  Here’s a guy who once lolled in champagne with the five prettiest groupies in a hotel.  Now awed to tears by a World War II fighter airplane.  Lucky bastard.

 

Alex James Learns to Fly a Spitfire -- Telegraph.co.uk/video

I’m Alex James and  I’ve had a pilot license for about 15 years.  But I still can’t actually look at a Spitfire without crying.

The most beautiful handling aeroplane I’ve ever flown.

Such an overwhelming head rush of imagery.  You’ve got green and pleasant land, and seeing the other Spitfire… I was crying for most of it.

An incredibly well-balanced, beautiful flying machine.

        

I watched it a lot.  Shared it on Facebook. 

Fly a Spitfire, pfft.  It could never happen to me.

   

   

 

  

Posted from Singapore

27 November, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving to readers in America

  

Next week:  Already, I Didn’t Want the Day to End

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Alex James’ full article in The Telegraph.  

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/9605171/Alex-James-flies-a-Supermarine-Spitfire.html

  

The video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8AogiF8OOI

  

Another Spitfire video I enjoyed:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iOoiEbtf2w

 

Boultbee Flight Academy, Spitfire flight training.

http://www.boultbeeflightacademy.co.uk/

  

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It was the most enjoyable air show I’ve seen.  All the more because it was completely unexpected.

Do you remember the movie, A Bridge Too Far?  Dick Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Eliot Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Hardy Kruger, Ryan O’Neal, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Maximilian Schell, Liv Ulmann. 

Operation Market-Garden, the biggest airborne landing in history, really happened.  It happened last weekend, 66 years ago.

Remember Robert Redford rowing a canvas boat full of paratroopers across a wide river, under heavy fire?  That was in Nijmegen.  The crossing point on the Waal river is just 4,000 meters from my hotel right now.

  

I am in Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, for meetings.  I’d completely forgotten the date.  The internet notices about the 66th anniversary of Operation Market-Garden were very sparse.  I thought I might see a few commemorative parachute drops during the weekend.

Then, on Saturday morning, a camouflaged C-47 troop carrier with Normandy invasion stripes banked hard 200 feet above me, and I knew I was in a very historical place and time.

  

  

  

           

Then I got to the old drop zone itself, at Ginkel Heath 15 kilometers from Arnhem, and WOW!

British 'Dak' over Ginkel Heath again Green light, jump!

      

Soldiers in US 101st Airborne and British 1st Airborne uniforms drove jeeps flying the British 1st Airborne Pegasus flag.  Camouflaged tents sold World War II uniforms, flags, patches, books, even old World War II aircraft instruments.

        

Dutch paratroopers of the Luchtmobiele Brigade

Re-enactors as U.S. MPs

  

A low-flying procession of C-47s, C-130s and C-160 Transalls disgorged 700 paratroopers on the heath.  There were American, British, Dutch and German paratroopers and aircraft – once adversaries, they now commemorated the event together.

  C-130 Hercules and paratroopers over Ginkel Heath    

  

  

  

   

  

  

  

  

    Full stick of paratroopers out of a C-130

There were C-130s and C-160s from 3 air forces, and 700 paratroopers in 2 waves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sky over Ginkel Heath, last weekend

       

Ginkel Heath is the original drop zone for the British 1st Parachute Brigade.  A 3-square kilometer sandy meadow, it is still carpeted with purple heather, virtually unchanged in 66 years.

The heather on Ginkel Heath

 

In A Bridge Too Far, Sean Connery as Gen. Roy Urquhart listens in consternation as a briefing officer tells him that his drop zones are so far from his objective, the bridge at Arnhem, that they are off the map!  Gene Hackman, as Gen. Sosabowski, pointedly inspects at the briefer’s uniform.  “Just making sure which side you are on.”

        

U.S. C-130 banks hard over the Ginkel Heath drop zone

U.S. C-130 from Ramstein AFB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The printed programme for the air show included:

Boeing Stearman CAP 10
Piper Super Cub ASK21 aerobatic glider
Saab Safir Pitts Special
Harvard Fokker S-11
Antonov 2 Yak 52 formation aerobtics
Yak 3U Fouga Magistere
P-51 Mustang Breitling Jet Team
Supermarine Spitfire Apache helicopter
B-17 Flying Fortress  

     

Every young boy of my era knew Spitfires, Mustangs and B-17s.  But in my 53 years, I had never seen a real Spitfire before, nor had I ever seen a B-17 in flight.

All my boyhood wishes were about to come true.

    

     

The Stearman was loud, hefty and smoky.  The Super Cub with Dutch insignia and sneaked around the trees over the show line.

Boeing Stearman over Ginkel Heath show line

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

The Boeing Stearman was a primary trainer in WWII

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Piper Super Cub in Dutch insignia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

The Yak 3U is a Soviet fighter from World War II.  How many pilots have even seen this airplane, never mind seen it flying.

       Soviet Yak 3U , at the Market-Garden airshow over Ginkel Heath        

The other half of the Soviet pair, the Antonov 2, looks like a biplane, but a careful inspection shows a massive airframe. 

The Soviet Antonov 2 biplane was in service as late as the 1970s

       

The cockpit is high above ground, almost like an airliner cockpit.  Ten skydivers jumped out of that monster cabin.

Skydivers jump from an An-2 over Ginkel Heath

         

Then the pilots flew several chandelles right above the trees.  It was exhilarating to see a big airplane like that maneuvering up close.  

An-2 flies a low chandelle over the show line

    

         

         

         

         

        

        

        

      

Just above the trees!       Big aluminum biplane!

         

              

               

            

             

             

              

            

           

            

 

Other airplanes flew some very nice aerobatics.  I saw a Saab Safir for the first time, as well as a Falco F8 and that French aerobatic beauty, a CAP 10.

Saab Safir, great aerobatics, over Ginkel Heath

        

           

         

        

        

         

         

        

         

French CAP 10 flying aggressive aerobatics over Ginkel Heath  The programme billed this as a Harvard, but I'm not sure of that tail

 

  

   

  

   

  

  

  

  

  

The next items on the program were the Warbirds:  Spitfire, P-51 Mustang, B-17 Flying Fortress.  Then there would be jets.

It was about to become a truly unforgettable afternoon!

  

  

Posted from Nijmegen, September 18, 2010  

66th Anniversary, Operation Market-Garden

Next:  P-51 Mustang, Supermarine Spitfire and a B-17 Flying Fortress

  

 

  

  

  

  

  

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