Less than 10 years separated Louis Bleriot’s first flight across the English Channel in 1909 from Alcock and Brown crossing the Atlantic. In 1939, the Royal Air Force – founded in 1918 – was still flying piston engined biplane bombers. Ten years later it had the twin jet Canberra and twenty years later the thermonuclear armed trio of Valiant, Vulcan and Victor. Such was the pace of aviation development in the 20th Century – which continued into space. Only twelve years separated the first Sputnik to the first men on the Moon. And for every famous astronaut, thousands of technicians worked on rocket motors, guidance and life support.
Since the days of airborne assaults with gliders rather than gas turbine powered transport aeroplanes and helicopters – and the first jet aircraft themselves – flying machines have grown ever more capable and complex. Both aerospace firms – and the people who keep the aircraft in the sky each day – have embraced new technology to keep up. As a result, their working practices and vehicles have changed.
In 1940’s Battle of Britain for example, the pilots who flew with Fighter Command of the Royal Air Force to defend against the attacking German Luftwaffe might have been “The Few” – as Prime Minister Winston Churchill described them. But their Spitfires, Hurricanes and other aircraft could not have flown without being refuelled and re-armed between sorties. And everyone concerned had to be fed as well!
The Battle of Britain display scheduled for the Cheltenham GWR Modeller’s Exhibition on 7 and 8 April 2018 was based on Airfix set A50015 but with the vacuum formed blast pen treated with grass flock powder and attached to a larger base. This allowed further structures, vehicles and personnel from the period to be represented.
ON THE GLIDE PATH
The Armstrong Whitworth AW41 Albemarle was developed in response to Air Ministry Specification B9/38 which called for a simple medium bomber which could be built by companies without aircraft construction experience. The Air Staff then saw the Albemarle as primarily a reconnaissance machine capable of carrying out bombing missions when required.
The first prototype flew from Hamble on 20 March 1940. The Albemarle’s secondary bombing role was soon abandoned when it became apparent that the aircraft’s performance was no better than that of the Wellington.
It entered service with No 295 Squadron at RAF Harwell in January 1943 – only to be re-assigned almost immediately to paratroop transport and glider towing duties. The Albemarle took part in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and reached the epitome of its service on D-Day and during subsequent operations in Europe; No 295 Squadron claiming to be the first squadron to drop Allied troops on 6 June 1944. The aircraft was also heavily involved as a glider tug at Arnhem for Operation Market Garden with 73 aircraft committed over the first 2 days. Seven RAF squadrons and a considerable number of glider conversion units equipped with Albemarles at one time or another.
The Soviet Air Force place an order for 200 aircraft, albeit this was subsequently cancelled in favour of the Douglas C-47 Skytrain after delivery of the first 12 machines. The Albemarle was transferred from front line RAF squadrons to training units shortly after Market Garden and finally retired in February 1946.
A total of 602 aircraft were built, most of them at A.W. Hawkesley Ltd’s No 2 Shadow Factory at Brockworth. There are no known survivors.
The General Aircraft Hotspur was the RAF’s standard training glider of World War II and was inspired by the German DFS 230, used to great effect in the Nazi Blitzkreig across Western Europe in 1940. First flown on 5 November 1940, the Feltham designed eight seat Hotspur can also be seen as a development of the Slingsby Type 17 sports glider and began the trend for naming British gliders after soldiers from antiquity. In all, 1015 Hotspurs were built, many by furniture manufacturer Harris Lebus.
With a wing-span of 45ft (14m) and a length of 39ft (12m) the Hotspur could carry a cargo of 1,880 lbs (850kg) and fully loaded weighed in at 3598lbs (1630kg).
Towing trials began with a Boulton & Paul Overstrand but the Hotspur was well matched with all tug planes which were available at the time – including the Hawker Hart and Miles Magister seen in this display.
The Hawker Hart biplane was chosen as the RAF’s standard day bomber in April 1929 after a competition with two other types – the Avro Antelope and de Havilland Hound. A total of 459 Harts were built, a testament to the adaptability of the simple airframe, and served at home and abroad with distinction for many years. The first aircraft arrived at No 33 Squadron in January 1930 and served until their eventual replacement by the Hind – also designed by Hawker’s Sydney Camm – in 1936.
Following the success of the civil Miles Hawk trainer in the mid-1930s, the Air Ministry issued a specification for the development of a variant to serve as an elementary trainer for the RAF. Design changes included the provision of larger cockpits and blind-flying equipment. Designated the Miles M14 Magister, the aircraft first flew in May 1937 with production starting shortly thereafter and entry to service beginning in October of that year. The Magister retained the Hawk’s de Havilland Gipsy Major 130 hp engine and was the first low-wing monoplane trainer in the RAF’s history.
THE GLOSTER JETS
The idea of jet propulsion came to Flight Cadet Frank Whittle during his studies at RAF Cranwell in 1928. In 1936 he set up a design company, Power Jets Ltd, to investigate the problems involved and Power Jets first experimental turbine – built by British Thomson Houston – first ran on 12 April 1937.
In fact the first ever jet-propelled aeroplane to fly was the Heinkel 178 at Marienehe, Germany, on 27 August 1939. This was powered by a 1 100 lb thrust Heinkel HeS3B gas turbine designed by Dr Hans Pabst von Ohain and based on Whittle’s initial work. However, as the German government at the time felt that its conventional piston aircraft were sufficient for its current needs, Heinkel’s jet programme was not greatly encouraged.
Supported by the British Government, Power Jet’s experimental BTH turbine evolved into the 860 lb thrust W1 power plant which drove the Gloster –Whittle E28/39 into the air during its initial flights at Hucclecote on 8 April 1941 and then during its official first flight at Cranwell on 15 May 1941. A second E28/39 flew in March 1943 but crashed during the following July. The first example however continued to test ever more powerful jet engines until being retired from flight in 1943.
First flown on 12 October 1948, the long nacelled F8 was the ultimate day fighter version of the Gloster Meteor and was only replaced in 19 front line RAF Fighter Command squadrons by the Hawker Hunter in 1955. Between 1951 and 1953 however, the Meteor F8 also became the only British built jet aircraft to serve with the United Nations forces in Korea: equipping 77 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force based at Kimpo, South Korea.
The Gloster Javelin was designed to Air Ministry Specification F4/48 and was selected to equip the RAF’s all-weather squadrons in 1952. It was the world’s first delta winged fighter and could intercept high flying bombers day or night and in all weathers because of its electronic and radar instrumentation. The first prototype flew in 1951 from Moreton Valence, just south of Gloucester, and it entered service with the RAF in 1956 with No 46 squadron at Odiham in Hampshire.