A Power Point version of this feature on Model Naval Aviation was presented to the Gloucester Branch of the World Ship Society on 12 May 2014.
I’d like to start this talk where all other World Ship Society presentations finish – at the end – with an outline of aviation before looking at how it has influenced naval strategy and in turn modelling. Mankind has always been fascinated with flying creatures and also with the idea of making his own presence felt in the skies. In his film “2001: A Space Odyssey” director Stanley Kubrick expressed this very succinctly with a shot of a bone thrown into the air by an ape man being suddenly cut to a bone-like space ship orbiting the Earth. I won’t be going back or forward as far as Mr Kubrick but I will be filling in some of the milestones on this journey.
Once man had first used bones to make tools it was less of a leap to fashion others from stone – and, by combining the right stones with fire – metal. These in turn could cut wood, so that tree trunks could be carved into primitive canoes and rafts and – as the Biblical Book of Genesis records – Noah could build an Ark from Gopher wood to save two of each of every bird and beast from the impending Flood. Another interesting facet of Noah’s enterprise was the way he searched for land as the waters receded – by sending out a dove which eventually returned with an olive branch in its beak.
In the same way, the ape man’s bone could also be used as a weapon as could the stone and metal implements that followed on. Similarly too, these could be used on boats and ships – gradually gaining more precision and longer range as longbows were replaced by crossbows and then guns. Famously at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805, Admiral Lord Nelson was killed by a musket ball fired by a sniper in the rigging of an enemy ship. Like HMS Victory, this would have had its own muzzle loading cannon able to fire broadsides from the hull – and tall masts to carry both an expanse of sail and a crow’s nest from which a lookout would have been able to see ships and land at some great distance.
In 1906 – just over a century after the Battle of Trafalgar – HMS Dreadnought joined the Royal Navy and began a revolution in warfare at sea. Unlike the wooden HMS Victory, she was made of steel and similarly powered by steam rather than sail. Although masts remained for flag signalling and a crow’s nest, the ship’s centre of gravity was now lower – thanks to the fuel oil tanks for her turbines – and allowed the installation of 12” guns firing explosive shells rather than cannon balls from fore and aft rotating turrets on the deck. HMS Dreadnought was also fitted with torpedoes – an underwater weapon obviously – but one which had its own autonomous prime mover when launched and could be programmed to run at a set depth and for a set time. Also of note is that HMS Dreadnought was built in the epoch of radio, and was so able to receive and transmit messages by this means as well as by flags, semaphore and signalling lamps.
Moving ahead more than a century, Britain’s capital ships of today are the Vanguard class submarines. Like HMS Dreadnought they are built of steel and powered by steam turbines but unlike the revolutionary battleship of 1906 their fuel is enriched uranium rather than oil. Similarly, although both vessels have torpedo armament, the four strong Vanguard class fire wire-guided Spearfish class torpedoes and their main weapons are Trident missiles rather than big guns. Each Trident missile has three solid rocket motor driven stages and can deliver a nuclear warhead over 7 000 miles at a largely unstoppable 13 000 miles per hour. Although like HMS Dreadnought they can receive radio messages – in fact the crew regularly tune in to Radio 4 to make sure that Britain still exists – the strength of the Vanguards lies in their stealth. Limited only by the need to surface to take on food and be maintained, the nuclear boomers can hide themselves in the ocean depths for months, constantly ready to launch their missiles.
As of 2013, all Royal Navy fleet submarines are also capable of firing Tomahawk cruise missiles via their torpedo tubes. Like the Trident leaving its Vanguard silo, a Tomahawk is launched under water by gas pressure before a small rocket motor ignites to push it into the air. Once above the waves, wings and tail surfaces extend and an air scoop is deployed to feed the turbofan engine which powers it to the designated target. Also like the ballistic trajectory Trident, the Tomahawk can use inertial navigation but this can be supplemented by data from Global Positioning Satellites and knowledge of the target pre-programmed into its guidance computer. The latest US built Tactical Tomahawks can even be reprogrammed towards an alternative target while in flight and also work in a network environment, receiving data from and sending to aircraft, tanks, ships and even foot soldiers.
In many ways the Tomahawk cruise missile can now act just like a manned bomber aircraft except that it is only going to fly once and, most importantly, it can be fired from a submarine while still submerged. An earlier attempt to achieve this capability combined the Grayback class of US Navy submarines and the Chance-Vought Regulus cruise missile, in service from 1955 to 1964. Like the Tomahawk, Regulus was a rocket-launched jet-propelled subsonic missile but required its carrying submarine to make itself vulnerable to attack by surfacing for a launch. The two Grayback boats – like their modified World War II vintage predecessors Tunny and Barbero – were diesel electric which further disadvantaged them as a deterrent platform and the final Regulus carrier, the nuclear powered USS Halibut – was replaced by Polaris ballistic missile submarines. However, USS Growler – now preserved – and the other Regulus fitted submersibles did recall a time when submarines were expected to launch and recover manned aircraft.
During the Second World War Japan’s most numerous class of diesel electric submersible was the B1 or I-15, each originally fitted with a launching rail, recovery crane and watertight hangar for a folding Yokosuka E14Y seaplane. Although the seaplane – known as Glen to the Americans – could fly far away from the submarine and report back by radio, attack enemy vessels or even collect supplies, the I-15 was always vulnerable to attack itself while launching and recovering and also lost the element of surprise. As a result, many I-15 later had their seaplane capability replaced by deck guns, although one Glen – launched from I-25 off the coast of Oregon on 9 September 1942 – did become the only Japanese aircraft to bomb the mainland USA. However, its incendiaries caused little damage to the State’s timber reserves. This model was made by a member of the Salisbury branch of the International Plastic Modelling Society and was exhibited at Churchdown.
Also displayed at the Churchdown IPMS show was this model of a 1926 vintage Glenn Martin MS-1 aircraft aboard the United States submarine S-1. Rather than bother with launch rails or a crane, the S-1 was designed so that the assembled floatplane would just float off and on the stern as the submarine partly submerged – a process which had the disadvantage of involving further co-ordination between different crew members and so prolonging the time that the S-1 spent on the surface.
His Majesty’s submarine M-1 was launched in June 1917 and was ultimately tasked with using her 15 000 yard range gun instead of torpedoes while semi-submerged. However, this would have required very accurate aiming as M-1 could only reload its artillery when vulnerably surfaced. On 12 November 1925 M-1 sank with all hands during a dive after the bows of the Swedish registered SS Vidar collided with its turret and ripped it off, flooding the rest of the hull.
Of her M Class sister ships M-4 was scrapped while still partly built, M-3 was converted to a mine layer in 1927 and scrapped in 1932, while following the loss of M1 the 12″ gun on M-2 was replaced by a hangar and hydraulic catapult for launching a Gloucestershire-built Parnall Peto biplane – which could be recovered after a reconnaissance flight by a crane. However, M-2 was also lost with all hands, during a training dive on 26 January 1932 and later discovered with her hangar doors open and Parnall Peto N255 – only one of two built – still inside, suggesting that either the hangar doors were opened prematurely or that rear hydroplane failure had caused M-2 to sink at the stern allowing the hangar to flood.
The Royal Navy would never launch a manned flying machine from a submarine again, although it had been one of the first military services to launch and recover seaplanes from surface ships. This scratchbuilt 1/128 scale model of HMS Ben My Chree can be found in the Manx Air and Military Museum at Ronaldsway on the Isle of Man and the caption reads: “ Built in 1908, The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s vessel Ben My Chree (the third vessel to carry this name) was used by the Admiralty as a seaplane carrier in the First World War. The most significant modification was the construction of a large hangar aft, which housed two Short 184 seaplanes which could be hoisted over the side into the sea. Most of her wartime service was in the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Red Sea. One of her Short 184s was the first ship-borne aircraft to successfully torpedo an enemy ship. She was sunk by Turkish artillery off the island of Castellorizo in January 1917.
HMS Ben My Chree really was just a Manx Steam Packet with a rear flight deck and hangar and little armament to offer but her biplanes, although during the 1930s catapult launched seaplanes and flying boats began to be fitted to more conventional large warships. This model, from a display at the Jet Age Museum at Staverton, is of a 1936 vintage Fairey Seafox which was unusual in having an open cockpit for the pilot but an enclosed canopy for the observer.
In December 1939 a Fairey Seafox of 718 Squadron from HMS Ajax acted as gun spotter for British cruisers attacking the German pocket battleship Graf Spee, whose own Arado seaplanes were unavailable for similar duties. Lieutenants EDG Lewin and REN Kearney – catapulted from HMS Ajax – were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and mentioned in dispatches: the first Fleet Air Arm officers to be decorated in World War II.
Just like HMS Ben My Chree in the previous global conflict however, HMS Ajax would have had to have stopped to recover its Fairey Seafox by crane, making it vulnerable to attack, and by the end of World War II many British battleships and cruisers had traded their potentially dangerous rocket propelled seaplane catapults for improved radar systems. While these gave an enhanced 360 degree warning of enemy air and surface attack though, their transmitters and receivers were still limited by the height with which they could be installed on a ship.
At the same time however, Russian émigré designer Igor Sikorsky was perfecting the first practical helicopter, which entered service with the US Navy as the R-4 in 1944. Although limited in use by its 180 bhp piston engine, the R-4 could carry personnel and stores off and on board a ship as well as acting as an observation platform above mast height and most importantly could take off from and land vertically aboard a ship under way. By the mid 1950s, too, helicopters were being powered by gas turbine engines with better thrust to weight ratios, making them a much more important naval asset. In turn, new warships – and other vessels such as HMS Endurance seen here with its Westland Wasp – began being designed with a helicopter flight deck and hangar at the stern.
Most types of modern helicopter can now fly faster than the biplane seaplanes of the two World Wars, but the challenge of launching – if not recovering – a higher performance aeroplane from a moving ship was first embraced by the Royal Navy over a century ago. Commander Charles Samson, became the first airman to take off from a moving warship when, on 2 May 1912, his Short S27 left the battleship HMS Hibernia while she steamed at 10.5 knots during the Royal Fleet Review at Weymouth.
Later in World War One, Sopwith Camel fighters were launched from lighters towed by destroyers to intercept Zeppelins approaching Britain and in the Second World War catapult aircraft merchantmen – the CAM ships like the SS Empire Tide seen here – had the option of launching a Hawker Hurricane to engage marauding German patrol aircraft. In each of these cases though, unless the launch was made within reach of land, the aircraft were obliged to ditch in the sea at the end of a flight and await rescue, once again causing a ship to make itself vulnerable by stopping. And the aircrew weren’t thrilled about this practice either.
What soon became apparent was the need both to recover wheeled aircraft on to a moving ship and to be able to launch a number of aircraft in quick succession both for attack and reconnaissance missions and to fly combat air patrols over the launching ship and other nearby friendly vessels.
In 1909 the French inventor Clement Ader published a book entitled “L’Aviation Militaire” including a description of a ship to operate aeroplanes at sea, with a flat flight deck, an island superstructure, and deck elevators descending to a hangar bay.
On 18 January 1911 meanwhile American pilot Eugene Ely became the first to land on a stationary ship, using a temporary structure aft of the USS Pennsylvania anchored at San Francisco. An improvised braking system of sandbags and ropes led directly to the development of arrester hook and wires and his aircraft was turned around, allowing him to take off again.
However, it was soon found that a full length flat deck was needed so that wheeled aircraft could have a longer takeoff run and also so that the carrier could steam into the wind during this procedure. Similarly, a through deck – as seen here on HMS Furious in post 1925 condition – allowed aircraft to land free of the turbulence created by air flowing round a conventional superstructure. Another rare design feature of HMS Furious was the second lower flight deck at the forecastle which allowed aircraft to make a 60 feet takeoff run directly from the hangars.
Commissioned in 1938 as the third Royal Navy Ship to carry the name, HMS Ark Royal – pennant number 91 – represented the next level of aircraft carrier development. Purpose designed from the outset rather than being converted from a cruiser like HMS Furious, Ark Royal was the first to have flight and hangar decks integrated into the hull rather than added on top and also featured a compressed steam catapult for launching aircraft.
Although lost to a U-boat’s torpedo in the Mediterranean in November 1941, HMS Ark Royal set the precedent for the carrier fleet of the US Navy which became its main striking force after most of America’s Pacific based battleships were sunk at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on 7 December 1941. Throughout the Second World War, carrier based aircraft became heavier, faster and more powerful and further specialised into air defence fighters, dive and torpedo bombers and, with radar sets becoming small enough to be fitted to aircraft, airborne early warning assets.
Similarly, the fourth HMS Ark Royal of the Royal Navy – pennant number R09 – took naval aviation into the jet age as the first ship to be constructed with an angled flight deck and steam catapults, as opposed to having them added after launching. The angled flight deck allowed any aircraft attempting to land but failing to engage its arrester hook with the trapping wires at the stern to take off again rather than face being caught in a crash barrier net stretched across the deck to prevent collisions with aircraft parked further forward. It also allowed aircraft to be launched and recovered at the same time. Catapults fed with steam direct from the ship’s boilers also allowed heavier aircraft to be launched faster and a mirror landing system replaced the deck landing officer with his illuminated bats so that jet pilots could react faster when attempting to land. At the stern are six Fairey Gannet aircraft, in this case anti-submarine variants without the belly radome of the airborne early warning type.
In commission from 1955 to 1979, HMS Ark Royal would eventually host Blackburn Buccaneer and McDonnell Douglas Phantom aircraft far larger and therefore fewer in number than the De Havilland Sea Venoms and Armstrong Whitworth Sea Hawks first embarked on R09. Indeed, by the time that this picture was taken in 1978, HMS Ark Royal displaced 53 950 tons but was still only just over half the displacement of the 101 600 ton USS Nimitz moored beside her at Norfolk Virginia. Between 1962 and 1966, the Royal Navy had considered building two new CVA-01 Class aircraft carriers of around 55 000 tons but this project was cancelled in a bitter dispute with the RAF over defence expenditure at a time when an increasingly impecunious Britain was withdrawing from operations east of Suez.
Indeed, the fourth HMS Ark Royal became the last British aircraft carrier to operate conventional fixed wing aircraft, leaving the US Navy’s giant nuclear powered flat tops to fly off and land on such heavy aircraft as the Grumman F-14 Tomcat and – in July 2013– the first Northrop Grumman X-47B uninhabited air vehicle. The X-47B is designed to land on and take off from aircraft carriers and fly 2000 miles to and then from a target which it will attack automatically using pre-programmed data.
As it happened, the Royal Navy flew its first drone from the RFA Cardigan Bay on Tuesday 17 December 2013. The ScanEagle uninhabited aeroplane – pictured here – was catapulted off the stern and, after hunting for Somali pirates, was recovered by being caught by a wire extended over the side of the Royal Fleet Auxilliary.
Instead, the Royal Navy began to champion what it referred to as a Through Deck Command Cruiser, a ship of about 22 000 tons displacement with the ability to launch helicopters to hunt for Soviet submarines in the north east Atlantic. To protect these helicopters and the Through Deck Cruiser itself, it was also proposed that the new breed of ships would carry Short Take Off and Vertical Landing British Aerospace Harrier aircraft.
The first Through Deck Cruiser, HMS Invincible, was commissioned in 1980 with a fifth HMS Ark Royal – pictured above – joining her in Royal Navy service in 1985.
As you might have noticed from the previous picture, what were eventually referred to as Invincible Class aircraft carriers featured a so-called ski ramp which allowed its Sea Harriers to combine a rolling take off – as the ship has no catapults – with the thrust vectoring that also allows this type of aircraft to land vertically, fly backwards and even VIFF – or vector in forward flight – so that a pursuing aircraft will rapidly overtake the Harrier and allow its air to air missiles to lock on to the opponent’s hot exhaust. VIFFing was one technique successfully used against Argentine Skyhawk fighters in the Falklands War of 1982 although the Royal Navy’s Sea Harriers were retired in 2010 and Her Majesty’s ships Invincible and Ark Royal subsequently scrapped, leaving only HMS Illustrious to fly helicopters.
17 July 2014 saw the launch of HMS Queen Elizabeth which, as can be seen from this picture, is the lead of a new class of two 70 000 ton aircraft carriers, the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy. Like the Invincible Class they will have no arrester wires or catapults and will again use a ski ramp to launch Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II short take off and vertical landing fighters. These will work alongside Agusta Westland Merlin helicopters for airborne early warning and anti submarine duties although provision has been made for Boeing Chinook helicopters and even Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft to be carried on board. Perhaps most interestingly, the Queen Elizabeth class carriers will also feature a highly mechanised weapons handling system in which remotely controlled electric vehicles will be able to re-arm aircraft six times faster than by conventional means – perhaps a harbinger of a totally robotic aircraft carrier of the future.
Having touched on the concept of vectored thrust, model aircraft are a good way of demonstrating this idea in the absence of the real thing. In its most basic form, the jet engine sucks in air and adds fuel. The fuel and air mixture is then ignited and provides rearward thrust by means of a hot exhaust which also rotates a turbine to power the compressor sucking in air at the front. In a turbofan engine, some of the turbine power goes to power a fan mounted around the basic jet engine which can then move a larger volume of cold air. In effect, it produces both a hot and a cold exhaust. At the heart of the Harrier, in this case represented by a Corgi die cast model, is a Rolls Royce Pegasus turbofan engine with the cold turbofan exhaust leaving the aircraft through the duct that you can see just to the right of the number 250.
At the rear of the Harrier meanwhile are the hot exhaust ducts, one of which is visible under the wing. These swivel together with the cold air ducts at the front, pointing backward to push the aircraft forward, pointing down to yield vertical lift and pointing forwards to slow the aircraft and make it go backwards. In fact it is even possible to make a Harrier bow!
The elegantly efficient Harrier design was the result of years of experiment with vertical jet flight, including a number of aircraft which used separate engines to lift and propel the aircraft – their disadvantage being that the lift engines were not used in forward flight while the propulsion engines did not contribute to the hover. One 1970 vintage example from the USSR was the Yakovlev Yak-38, more often known by its NATO reporting name of Forger. Designed with the Soviet Kiev Class heavy aviation cruisers in mind, the Forger, as seen in this injection moulded plastic kit based model built by a member of the IPMS, has a turbojet feeding two swivelling nozzles at the rear. To effect a vertical landing or take off though, a vertical panel jacks up to reveal two smaller lift jets. As a result, the Forger has a very limited payload compared to the Harrier, especially in hot and high conditions.
The Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II in fact combines elements of both the Yak-38 and the Harrier, with a large swivelling exhaust for vectored thrust at the rear and a vertical fan just behind the air brake behind the cockpit turned by a shaft from the single engine. For take off and flight, the vertical fan is hidden under covers and the rear exhaust vectors as is needed to supplement conventional flying controls. For a vertical – automated – landing, the covers over and under the fan are extended, allowing the F-35B to hover on a cold efflux at the front and a hot exhaust at the back.
The F-35B shares 80% of its components with the F-35A designed for use on conventional land runways as well as the F-35C designed for use on fleet carriers with catapults and arrester wires. All versions of the Joint Strike Fighter – to be used by American armed forces as well as the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force’s F-35Bs- have very low observable characteristics due to their design and radar-absorbing paint and can fly at 1 300 mph with a range of 1 450 miles. They also have the ability to actively suppress enemy radar detection and pilots can be supplied with enhanced-reality helmet visors, speech recognition software and glass cockpits.
A number of naval aircraft have also been released as vacuum formed kits, and one of my favourites from the Jet Age Collection is the Supermarine 508. Having realised that their catapult aircraft merchantman Hawker Hurricanes could perform much better without the weight of a useless undercarriage, the Royal Navy later investigated the idea of catapult launching jet aircraft and recovering them with belly landings on a sprung rubber deck. As such, Supermarine offered a design with a butterfly tail that would both stay out of the efflux of two Rolls Royce Avon engines and be likely to survive the bounce. However, in 1948 the Navy decided not to proceed with the rubber deck idea and what became the Supermarine 508 first flew with a tricycle undercarriage on 31 August 1951, later carrying out trials aboard HMS Eagle in 1952. Although the 508 remained a prototype, it did form the basis for the swept wing Supermarine Scimitar naval bomber – the last Supermarine aircraft ever built.
And finally, one ancestor of the Parnall Peto we saw aboard HM submarine M2 was the 1917 vintage Panther, a two seat reconnaissance machine built in Yate to the design of Harold Bolas and serving aboard HMS Hermes and HMS Argus until 1926. This particular model came to Jet Age via former GAC Technical Author Julian Partridge, who built it from scratch – even down to the rigging and the hinges of the unique folding birch plywood monocoque fuselage. And where the Panther folds, so do I. Thank you very much!