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Subject: ‘Aerospace’

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The invention of the parachute came long before its time

Posted in Aerospace, Bravery, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions on Tuesday, 28 January 2014

This edited article about parachutes first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 529 published on 4 March 1972.

Garnerin jumps with prachute,  picture, image, illustration
The first parachute jump was made by Jacques Garnerin, by Ferdinando Tacconi

“The world’s biggest step.” This is the slogan which Captain Joseph Kittinger of the United States Air Force saw painted on the floor by his feet as he stepped out of the gondola of his balloon on an August morning in 1960. He was certainly taking a leap that had never been equalled.

Captain Kittinger was about to make the world’s longest parachute drop. It may well be that, as he checked his equipment, he thought briefly of Jacques Garnerin, the fourteen-year-old boy whose enthusiasm and bravery had made it all possible. When Garnerin had made his first jump from a balloon, over 160 years before, he could have had no idea of the way his invention would be developed. Powered flight, free fall acrobatics and paratroops would come in time, but he was then stepping out into the unknown.

Captain Kittinger’s balloon was high above the United States; at 102,200 feet, nearly eighteen miles above ground which had long since been hidden by banks of cloud below. For sixteen miles, he rocketed downwards without opening his main parachute and covered this distance in just over four and a half minutes. Despite having a small stabilizing parachute to keep him from falling in a corkscrew motion, he reached the terrifying speed of 614 miles per hour. Finally, a special mechanism operated and opened his main parachute and the last nine minutes of his earthward journey were completed more gently. After 13 minutes and eight seconds it was all over, and the world’s most spectacular parachute drop could go into the record books.

Our story starts on the other side of the Atlantic at the end of the eighteenth century but, although Jacques Garnerin did not realise it, the use of parachutes had been considered nearly three hundred years before. Leonardo da Vinci had sketched in the design for one and, like so many things he designed, it would almost certainly have worked if the right materials had been available. But his notebooks were lost to the world, and although the Chinese were said to use “aerial umbrellas,” Europe was still waiting for the idea to be reborn.

It was largely because of the interest in hot-air and hydrogen balloons that men’s thoughts became centred once more on the way in which they might come back to earth more safely. In 1783, the provincial town of Montpellier in France became the scene of the first rather dangerous and daring jumps when Louis Le Normand gave his public demonstrations. He used an observation tower at the local botanical gardens to jump from with a “parachute” which was a strange contrivance which managed to look like a conical umbrella.

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Peter Twiss was the first man to break the sound barrier

Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Historical articles, Technology on Thursday, 9 January 2014

This edited article about aviation first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 505 published on 18 September 1971.

Air Speed Record, picture, image, illustration
The Fairy Delta 2 (second row, right)

In these days of rocket-powered research aircraft which fly at over 4,000 mph, and conventional planes which top the 2,000 mph mark, to say nothing of trips to the Moon, a speed of a mere 1,000 mph may seem as outdated as a stagecoach to some people.

Most of us, however, who have never travelled at anything like that speed can still marvel at the first man to crack the barrier.

The pilot who pulled off the amazing feat was Peter Twiss, chief test pilot of the Fairey Aviation Company.

The Fairey Company had built the V-winged Fairey Delta 2, which it believed could beat the existing world speed record of 822.27 mph, set up by the Americans in 1955. The new plane was a turbo-jet.

The Company thought that if anyone could nurse the new plane to record-breaking speed it was Twiss. It was, as usual, a long business. Every flight involved checking and rechecking, recording stresses and strains, reporting every quirk and characteristic of the new plane being tested.

Once, flying over Southern England, Twiss suddenly saw the needle of the fuel gauge swing from full to empty in a matter of seconds. He radioed to his base at Boscombe Down and had to decide whether to eject himself from a plane which had now become a glider, or have a go at bringing the plane down. He decided he had just enough height to reach base.

He concentrated on keeping the nose of the plane down to maintain as much control as possible, but the Delta had a drop-nose mechanism by which the nose could be lowered before landing to let the pilot see the runway ahead of him. The plane was actually called the Droop Snoot!

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Bill Fleming’s test flight of a jet-propelled lorry

Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Historical articles, Technology on Friday, 24 May 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 267 published on 25 February 1967.

Until Lieutenant William H. Fleming came to England, he was just an ordinary officer in the United States Air Force. He was not even a pilot, and had no particular desire to become a hero.

But in 1955, when he was stationed at RAF Station Bentwaters, in Suffolk, he risked his life several times to make flying jets just a little safer. He also became the first – and probably the last – man ever to drive a six-ton lorry at a speed well over 100 miles per hour!

It all started when an American Air Force F84F Thunderstreak jet fighter-bomber crashed through an arresting barrier which had been set up at the end of the runway to catch planes which could not stop. Something was very wrong with the design of the barrier because the heavy jet plane ploughed straight through the nylon webbing and steel cable stretched across the runway and failed to drag the 30 tons of battleship anchor chain behind it which would have brought it to a clanking but safe stop.

Within days, two more jets sailed right through the barrier in just the same way. In each case the jet was wrecked, but fortunately none of the pilots was hurt.

The commander of the American base, Colonel McElroy, held a secret conference with his senior officers. He told them he could not risk any more of his planes and pilots until the barrier had been cured of its faults. And quite obviously some tests would have to be made to discover what was going wrong.

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The German Air Ministry witnessed the world’s first jet-powered flight

Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Thursday, 9 May 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 248 published on 15 October 1966.

Early jet flight, picture, image, illustration
Heinkel HE 178 (top left), Gloster Whittle E28/39 (top right) by Wilf Hardy

On 27th August 1939, on a remote airfield in Germany, a strange, high-pitched whining sound rose above the familiar roar of piston-engined aircraft being tuned up for the day’s test flights. A tiny, shoulder-winged monoplane bumped its way out on to the runway, with a haze of heat coming from an opening in its tail.

The whine rose to a full-throated roar as the plane gathered speed. It lifted a few feet from the runway, flying in a straight line, and then its pilot brought it down again. The Heinkel HE 178 had made the world’s first turbo-jet powered flight.

Three days later, the slim little machine was in the air again, making fast circuits of the airfield. This time the engine gave trouble and the pilot had to make a forced landing, but three months later, the Heinkel jet made a perfect demonstration flight before officials of the German Air Ministry. After that, development began in earnest.

In design, HE 178 was very similar to the British Gloster E28/39, which did not fly until nearly two years later, powered by Sir Frank Whittle’s jet engine. It had a shoulder-mounted wing of wooden construction attached to a duralumin fuselage, and the Heinkel-Hirth HeS 3B turbo-jet engine developed 1,100 lb. of thrust – low by today’s standards.

The Heinkel reached a top speed of 435 m.p.h. and had a wing-span of 26 feet 8 inches.

The first British RAF turbo-jet to become fully operational, was the twin-engined Gloster Meteor.

The inevitable journey from Hitler’s V2 rocket to Sputnik I

Posted in Aerospace, Communism, Engineering, Famous news stories, Historical articles, Science, Space, Technology on Thursday, 9 May 2013

This edited article about Sputnik originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 247 published on 8 October 1966.

V2 rocket, picture, image, illustration
Hitler's V2 rocket

The Second World War accelerated interest in the development of rockets, and by 1945 the famous V2, forerunner of modern rocket systems, was a familiar phenomenon. Scientists and engineers, in both the Eastern and Western worlds, strove to perfect a rocket powerful enough to launch an artificial satellite.

These early satellites were needed to study the problems and dangers that faced Man when he ventured into the upper atmosphere and out into space.

On 4th October, 1957, the U.S.S.R. launched the world’s first artificial satellite. Called Sputnik I, this first explorer of the upper atmosphere weighed 184 pounds and was a polished metal sphere about 23 inches across. Travelling at a height which varied between 133 and 585 miles, it circled the Earth once every 95 minutes. Until the batteries powering the radio transmitter failed, it relayed back much information to the Russian scientists.

The Lightning is the fastest interceptor in the world

Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Technology, Weapons on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.

The Lightning, picture, image, illustration

The Lightning by Wilf Hardy

The young Royal Air Force pilot sat motionless in the cockpit of the big silver Lightning fighter. At “cockpit readiness” – strapped into his ejection seat and ready to go, he waited for orders from the master controller who is at the centre of our air defence system. If the order to “scramble” comes through then Mission 61 will be off the ground and climbing like a rocket into the sky within thirty seconds. The order will come through the telebrief lead, a cable link that snakes across the runway and is plugged into the side of the Lightning.

Suddenly the telebrief crackles into life, bringing the voice of the controller into the cockpit, “Mission 61, stand by for pre-brief.” Then seconds later, “Aircraft is now at one hundred miles, we are checking all scheduled movements.”

The pilot of Mission 61 brings his aircraft to life with quick, practised hands.

“Mission 61, are you ready for pre-brief?”

“Roger.”

“Mission 61 to identify one target present position Oscar November two zero two nine at flight level 430, heading 210, estimated speed point eight two. Climb on vector 030 and make flight level 390. Call Control on 989 decimal six.”

The pilot writes the brief down on the plastic knee pad of his immersion suit and repeats the instructions back to the controller. There must be no mistake, for the target may be a peaceful airliner, or it may not.

“Mission 61, as pre-briefed – scramble.”

On hearing this the pilot’s gloved hand presses the starter buttons and the two mighty Rolls-Royce Avon jet engines burst into life. The brakes are released and as the throttles are thrust open the Lightning rumbles forward and turns on to the runway. Gathering speed, the pilot pushes the throttle levers right forward into the reheat position and as the afterburners light up, giving additional thrust, the seventeen-ton fighter lunges down the black tarmac runway.

A bare two minutes later the aircraft is at flight level 390 – 39,000 ft. The master controller directs the pilot towards the target until the aircraft’s own radar is within range and able to take over. There’s the target – a small green blip on the cockpit radar screen.

The radar scanner, or aerial “locks” itself on to the quarry and the computer behind it quickly gives the pilot the precise information for intercepting the target.

Looking out of the cockpit window he sees the aircraft with its thick white vapour trails streaming out from behind, and opening the throttles a little wider, the pilot draws closer to examine it – a Boeing 707 of Pan-World Airlines. He reports back to the controller who, in turn, contacts London Heathrow civil airport on a direct line to confirm that it is a genuine airline flight.

Confirmation is received and the controller reports back to the pilot, “Mission 61, you are cleared to return to base, pigeons 280, base weather fine.”

The Lightning turns away and sinks back into the gathering dusk, its mission completed. The sinister missiles mounted on its sides have not been fired, but if they had, they would have destroyed the target. Whatever the weather conditions, whatever violent evasive action it tried to take, the target would not escape, for the fierce heat given off by its engines would act as a magnet for the infra-red heat-seeking devices built into the nose of each missile.

This is how R.A.F. Fighter Command guards the skies over Britain, day and night, in any weather. The Lightning, first introduced to R.A.F. fighter squadron service in 1960, was the first R.A.F. fighter to fly at supersonic speeds in level flight. It is still the fastest climbing interceptor in the world and one of the finest defence weapon systems. The term “weapon system” embraces many things; the aircraft itself is only a link in the chain that embodies ground guidance radar and communications, the aircraft, its own radar and missiles, and that vital link, the pilot.

The test pilot who first flew the Lightning, then known as the P.1, was World War Two Typhoon fighter ace, Roland Beamont. He took the P.1 into the air on August 4, 1954, and also led the group of British Aircraft Corporation and R.A.F. test pilots who turned it into a supreme interception weapon.

NASA and the USAF developed the X-15 Rocket Plane

Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Space, Technology on Thursday, 28 March 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 214 published on 19 February 1966.

X-15 rocket plane, picture, image, illlustration

X-15 Rocket Plane by Wilf Hardy

The sun glinting on its metal fuselage, the giant B-52 bomber scored eight vapour trails across the purple sky. Hanging beneath its port wing was a sharp-nosed rocket plane, the X-15, looking like something out of a science fiction story, with its huge wedge-shaped fins and short stub wings.

It was July 17, 1962, and sitting in the cockpit of the rocket plane, wearing a silver pressure suit that was in fact a full space suit, was Major Robert White, a test pilot for the United States Air Force. In a few minutes he would be released from the B-52 and propelled by rocket beyond the earth’s atmosphere.

All the X-15′s complex machinery was working satisfactorily, the big XLR-99 rocket engine was primed and ready to go and the jet fighter chase planes that would help guide the rocket back to base after the flight were in position. The X-15 suddenly dropped away from the bomber’s wing and as the rocket engine exploded into life, a thirty-foot flame, laced with white diamond-shaped shock waves, shot from the tail.

For eighty-four seconds White endured the thunderous roar from the rocket that propelled him to 314,750 ft. above the earth. There he hung in space, at the top of a long curving arc, before skilfully piloting the X-15 back home to Edwards Air Force Base, Southern California.

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The F8U Crusader could exceed the speed of sound

Posted in Aerospace, America, Aviation, Historical articles, Technology, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 213 published on 12 February 1966.

F8U Crusader, picture, image, illustration

The F8U Crusader by Wilf Hardy

Jet engines screaming, two F8U Crusaders, not long delivered to United States Marine Squadron 122, lined up on the runway on a day in March, 1957, at Beaufort Naval Air Station, South Carolina, ready for a practice combat flight. Asking and receiving permission to take off, the pilots pushed the throttles right forward, standing on the brake pedals as the engines thundered to full power. Then, brakes off and throttles into afterburner – extra fuel squirted from a ring of nozzles in the tail and ignited with a thunderclap in the already white hot exhaust from the engine – the F8Us streaked down the runway and into the air, pulling almost straight up into the sky.

At 40,000 feet they levelled off and got ready for the mock combat in which only the reels of film in the camera guns would be shot as they fought to get the edge on their “enemy”.

As his companion turned and shot away, Lieutenant John Glenn, now famous as an American astronaut, in the other F8U whipped over to follow and get on his tail. The fight grew fast and furious as they felt out the qualities of the big new jet in combat flying and suddenly Glenn, an extremely determined and aggressive pilot, went a little too far as he chased after his target and exceeded the F8U’s high-altitude limitations. Handled a little too violently in the thin air it stopped flying and dropped like a brick.

As Glenn pulled the throttle shut to kill the mounting speed he was hurled sideways and his gloved hand knocked the throttle lever into the engine cut-off position. The big jet coughed and “flamed-out”, dying completely.

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Courage, skill and showmanship characterise the Black Arrows

Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 27 March 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 212 published on 5 February 1966.

Black Arrows, picture, image, illustration

The Black Arrows by Wilf Hardy

Whistling in at 800 feet through a clear blue sky, the gleaming jet-black Hawker Hunters of Treble-One Squadron, Royal Air Force, headed straight down the runway at Odiham, Hampshire, where television camera crews eagerly waited to film them. Leading the flight formation display was Squadron-Leader Roger Topp, who had trained and drilled his men into the finest aerobatic pilots in the world.

It was May, 1957, when, positioned exactly right for the TV cameras, Topp pressed the radio button on the control stick to order the first manoeuvre in a carefully-rehearsed sequence – but the radio was dead! Topp, who had to call out every move in the display with split-second timing, could not speak to his men or hear them!

A sixth sense alerted the pilot in the Number Three position. All the pilots knew the sequence of aerobatics by heart and could fly it in their sleep; so, guessing his leader’s trouble, Number Three took over and called the moves himself.

Squadron-Leader Topp got the idea. In a flash he swung slightly ahead of the formation and, a fraction of a second after each move was called, he took over to lead it. Only the men in the control tower knew what was wrong and even they could see no fault in the flying. The display was as slick as ever.

Treble-One Squadron, unofficially known as “The Black Arrows,” held the coveted honour of being R.A.F. Fighter Command’s aerobatic team for three years running, so brilliant was their teamwork and flying.

In 1956, they provided the reserve team, and in 1957 became the main team. Squadron-Leader Topp immediately added a fifth aircraft to the traditional four jet fighters, and was permitted the singular honour of painting his five aircraft a glossy black instead of the standard R.A.F. grey and green camouflage. They became black all over, with R.A.F. roundel and flash markings outlined in white. When the squadron’s display career began in 1957, these markings became famous throughout Europe.

The appearance of the team of five aircraft was eagerly awaited at the 1957 Farnborough Air Show. The event was announced over the loudspeakers and the spectators, looking out across Laffan’s Plain, saw nine black Hunters in tight formation. Obviously Treble-One would fly past straight and level before splitting into groups of five and four for the display. . . . But, instead, all nine aircraft swept up and over in a breathtaking loop. Swooping down, they levelled out and went smoothly into a formation roll!

Nine aircraft had looped and rolled before in public, but only in the pre-war days of 200 m.p.h. biplanes. The Hunters were flying at nearly 500 m.p.h.!

In 1958, sixteen Treble-One Hunters looped and rolled, and in 1959, twenty-two close-packed Hunters awed the Farnborough crowds!

Supreme flying and showmanship are the two essentials for an outstanding aerobatic team. All R.A.F. teams, before and since Treble-One, have possessed these qualities in full measure.

All the displays are carefully worked from the spectators’ point of view. Turns are made away from the crowd, and manoeuvres are carried out so that no excessive “neck-twisting” is necessary to watch them.

These points are the responsibility of the leader. To produce a good display, his flying must be rock-steady and precise. Any slight correction he makes to his flying is transmitted through the formation until the outermost and rearmost aircraft have to make hefty control and throttle movements to maintain their positions. If the air is gusty or rough, or if there is scattered cloud about, then the demands on the pilot’s skill are twice as great.

Performing at 500 m.p.h., the aircraft travel eighty feet in one-tenth of a second, fly only feet apart, often with wings overlapping. Each display is ten minutes of solid mental and physical effort.

One thing is worth remembering the next time you see a display team in action, and this is that, during their year in the limelight, the pilots are still part of the nation’s air-defence network and are training hard for this duty. Many squadrons have been known to dazzle air display crowds and sweep the board in the R.A.F. air-to-air gunnery competitions in the same year!

De Havilland’s 106 Comet had several disastrous test flights

Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Historical articles, History, Technology, Transport, Travel on Monday, 25 March 2013

This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 209 published on 15 January 1966.

DH 106 Comet, picture, image, illustration

Group Captain John Cunningham flying the D.H. 106 Comet by Wilf Hardy

First flight! The broad black ribbon of the runway stretched away ahead, split dead-centre by a broken white line. With a gentle, skilled use of brakes and engines, Group Captain John Cunningham, war-time night-fighter ace, lined up his gleaming silver prototype jet aircraft for its first take-off. After a brief radio conversation with the control tower, he was ready to go.

It was July 27, 1949 – and Group Captain Cunningham’s birthday. The best present he could hope for would be a perfect flight. With the test crew he went carefully over the written check lists and studied the flickering lights of the instruments in front of him for any slight hint of trouble in engines, oil pressures, temperatures, hydraulics or controls.

Brakes hard on, the four throttles were advanced smoothly to full power, producing a thunderous sound which smote the eardrums and chests of the spectators, men and women who had designed and built the world’s first turbo-jet airliner at de Havilland’s Hatfield factory in Hertfordshire.

Like all de Havilland designs, the D.H. 106 Comet “looked right,” and the old flying adage: “If it looks right, it flies right” was about to be proved true once again.

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