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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.
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.
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 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?”
“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.
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.
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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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.
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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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.
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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Posted in Aerospace, Aviation, Historical articles, History, Science, Technology on Friday, 22 March 2013
This edited article about aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 208 published on 8 January 1966.
Major Charles “Chuck” Jaeger flies The Bell X-1 by Wilf Hardy
Four giant propellers glinting like golden discs in the early morning sun, the Boeing B-29 bomber roared down the runway and zoomed up into the sky, fighting for altitude in a long, spiral climb.
Slung in the enlarged bomb-bay nestled a needle-nosed, yellow rocket plane – the Bell X-1. This 13,400-lb. projectile was loaded with seething water alcohol and liquid oxygen fuel, which it would release in one stupendous burst of energy when dropped from its “mother-place” at 28,000 ft.
For on this autumn morning in 1947, an attempt was to be made by the American rocket plane to achieve “Mach 1″: the speed of sound – 760 miles an hour or more!
In the bomber, project technicians helped “Chuck” Yeager, the rocket plane’s test pilot, with final adjustments to his tight-fitting pressure suit and helmet. If the X-1′s cockpit cover should fail at high altitude, the suit would clutch him in a vice-like grip to stop his blood boiling and his body exploding like a balloon in the rarefied air of the stratosphere.
At 7,000 feet the Boeing commander passed the word for Yeager to enter the X-1. He crawled into the bomb-bay and on to a tiny light-alloy lift that lowered him slowly to the level of the X-1 cockpit.
There was nothing between Yeager and the American desert 7,000 feet below. His parachute was in the X-1 seat. He crawled carefully into the cramped deck space and strapped himself in, then pulled the hatch shut and sealed it.
A few feet away from the X-1 was a jet-fighter, a “chase” plane whose pilot was looking for any tell-tale signs of trouble. Yeager waggled the controls and the chase pilot reported everything normal.
Yeager now pressurized the rocket engine to prime it for firing. A spurt of liquid oxygen vapour hissed out of the rocket exhaust. The chase pilot reported cheerfully: “Prime looks good.”
At 28,000 feet Yeager instructed: “O.K. to launch.” The B-29 bomber was pushed into a shallow dive to maximum speed and the pilot counted down “three-two-one – DROP!”
The bomb-bay shackles flew open with a clang and the X-1 dropped like a stone into brilliant sunlight from the gloom inside the bomber. Yeager’s skilled hands grasped the controls and turned the rocket switches . . . one, two, three four. Bomber and chase plane were left far behind in a few seconds as 6,000 lbs. of thrust hurled the yellow bullet up . . . up . . . up into the deep indigo of the stratosphere.
Yeager fought for breath and for control of the awesome energy he had unleashed. By the time the rockets sputtered, popped and died, flinging him forward against his safety harness, the Bell X-1 had carried him at 967 m.p.h. (Mach 1.46) and up to 70,140 feet.
Now began the delicate flying which required all the skill he could muster. The X-1 had become a powerless glider which had to be brought back “dead-stick” through the treacherously thin air and down to the 13 mile-long, dry lake-bed of a runway at Muroc (now called Edwards) Air Force Base, where America’s high-speed aircraft are tested. This Yeager successfully achieved.
The International Aeronautical Federation refused to recognize the speed record set up by Yeager on October 14, 1947, because the X-1 had been carried to the altitude for the flight. So, when his rocket had been checked and made ready, “Chuck” Yeager proved it could be done the hard way – he took the X-1 off the dry-lake runway under full rocket power, shot through the sound barrier and on up to 40,000 ft.
In a later flight in the Bell X-1A, Yeager reached 1,650 m.p.h., but his stub-winged rocket tumbled out of control into a sickening, crazy spin. Smashed about the cockpit, he was knocked unconscious and burned where his arms had torn through the insulating material and touched the metal outer-skin of the aircraft, still red-hot from the friction of tremendous speed. Yeager, dazed and injured, mastered the runaway rocket by the skill and natural instinct which made him, as all his brother pilots agreed, the finest flyer of them all.
The Bell X-1 was the first rocket plane in America’s long series of “X” experimental aircraft which since 1947 have gone higher and faster towards the very edge of space. Its fuselage was patterned on the shape of a .50 calibre bullet, because the behaviour of this tiny projectile was satisfactory at the speed of sound.
Yeager himself often flew as a chase pilot. One morning over the desert he caught up with Bill Bridgeman, who had just made his first rocket flight in a Douglas Skyrocket. Yeager edged in close and, grinning to himself, asked Bill over the radio what he thought of rocket flying.
Back came Bridgeman’s answer: “It’s mighty sudden, ain’t it!”
Note: Mach (pronounced “mark”) is a measurement of the speed of sound at any altitude. Mach 1 is the speed of sound, Mach 2 is twice the speed of sound, and so on. The speed of sound varies with altitude and temperature. Under average conditions it is 763 m.p.h. at sea level.
Posted in Cinema, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Music, Technology on Wednesday, 27 February 2013
This edited article about the cinema originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 163 published on 27 February 1965.
Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer
It was the most exciting night that the cinema is ever likely to know, for after more than thirty years, the silent screen had found its voice, and here was the first feature film to demonstrate the marvel.
As the crowds stormed into the New York cinema on a night in October, 1927, eager to see – and hear – Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, the Warner brothers, Harry, Jack, Sam and Albert who produced it, must have thought they were experiencing a fantastic dream of good fortune.
Only a few months before, as producers of silent films, they were near to bankruptcy. Then representatives of the Vitaphone Company came to see them with what appeared to be a crazy idea. Why not make pictures that talked? They had the necessary apparatus.
Today, nearly forty years later, it is difficult to think of talking pictures as a doubtful proposition. But the great entertainment medium of the cinema had been born in silence in the 1890s, people marvelling so much at the fact that the pictures moved that no one expected them to talk as well.
As the years went by the silent film became an accepted art. When lips moved in speech a printed “sub-title” was flashed on the screen giving the words that were spoken. To make the silence less obvious, and to create the “mood,” an orchestra played for the main film, and a pianist took over for the remainder of the programme.
No wonder Hollywood wanted the silent film to stay. With sub-titles written in the appropriate language a film could be understood and enjoyed in any country in the world.
Until that night in 1927 when Warners took a gambler’s throw with The Jazz Singer. It was a poor film, mostly a “silent,” but right in the middle Jolson, as the young Jewish singer, sat at the piano and spoke to his Momma telling her that he was going into Show Business. The silence was broken – and so was the reign of the silent film.
Other producers at first hoped that the talking picture would be a passing craze, but soon realized the truth. Hollywood was panic stricken. Silent film production schedules were scrapped, sound apparatus fought for, studios sound-proofed.
Al Jolson followed The Jazz Singer with The Singing Fool, a full-length talkie which not only flooded the cinema with sound, but tears as well. It was, as the trade termed it, “a weepie.” But he was established forever as the prototype black-faced “Mammy” singer of the cinema.
Vitaphone, a clumsy sound-on-disc system, eventually gave way to the more reliable Movietone with sound on film, and the cinema began to write a new chapter of spectacular achievement.
But as we look again at this scene in 1927 and the frenzy of the crowds trying to get into the cinema, we wonder (and no cinema historian can tell us) when sound would have arrived if it had not been introduced by the Warner brothers in a desperate gambler’s throw.
Posted in British Countryside, Farming, Historical articles, History, Technology on Wednesday, 30 January 2013
This edited article about British farming originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 113 published on 14 March 1964.
Prehistoric man was a hunter and fisherman. It did not occur to him to domesticate the wild animals or plant seeds. When at last cultivation began he had no metals, and the wheel had not been invented. He made his tools of wood, horn, flint or stone.
The Ancient Britons, like other peoples, would farm in one place for a season or two, then move on. But the Celts, arriving from the Continent, established permanent farms.
With the discovery of metals and the invention of the wheel the plough became a primary tool of farming. The Romans who colonized Britain used a light plough, unsuited to British conditions. But another tribe from the Continent, the Belgae, brought a heavy, wheeled plough with an iron blade, or coulter, to cut into the soil and a ploughshare and mouldboard to turn the soil over – as it is done today.
Roman methods were rejected. The Belgic plough was drawn by six oxen and because these powerful teams were difficult to turn round, the land was ploughed in long strips, called furrows.
This set a farming pattern in Britain right up to the nineteenth century. The strip, 220 yards long, became a standard of measurement still used today – one furrow long, or furlong.
The strip, which was 22 yards wide, was also the origin of the English acre, 220 yards by 22 – the area which a team of oxen could plough in one day.
The land was split up into big, open fields, divided into the long, Belgic strip for growing crops. Ploughing was by a village team but crops from each strip belonged to the owner of that strip. Meadow, pasture and woodland was shared.
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Posted in Communications, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Science, Scotland, Technology on Tuesday, 8 January 2013
This edited article about John Logie Baird originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 809 published on 16th July 1977.
John Logie Baird, inventor of television by John Keay
Although he was born 89 years ago this week, and died in 1946, John Logie Baird would not have been surprised to learn that today colour television is an everyday part of life. Many years ago he was filing patents for his own colour television system, three-dimensional television, large-screen television projection for theatres, and a method for recording moving pictures on gramophone discs.
After completing an engineering course, Baird, the son of a Scottish minister, decided to become an inventor. Soon he became fascinated by the idea of transmitting pictures by “wireless”.
Baird gave his first demonstration of television in the mid-’20s, and in 1926 sent a just recognisable moving picture by telephone line between London and Glasgow. One of his most spectacular feats was the transmission of a television picture from London to New York on 9th February 1928 – long before the days of satellite communications systems.
His equipment for receiving television pictures consisted of an aluminium black disc, with a spiral of 30 holes cut in it. It spun round at high speed and built up a picture of 30 lines which was viewed through a lens. In the 30s this partly mechanical system was rivalled by the electronic system such as we have today, and which Baird, rather late in the day, adopted.
When the BBC began the world’s first television service on 2nd November 1936, two systems were used. It had been agreed that each should be given a fair trial; the Baird system operated on one night and the Marconi-EMI system the next. After six months the BBC decided to go ahead with the latter.
This was a bitter blow to Baird, but he continued his experiments right up until his death. The real reason for his lack of success was his distrust of electronic devices.
Posted in America, Communications, Famous Inventors, Technology on Monday, 17 December 2012
This edited article about Alexander Graham Bell originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 799 published on 7th May 1977.
“Mr. Watson, come here: I want you.” These were the first words spoken by the human voice to be heard over a wire.
In these days of jet planes, television and communication satellites, it is not easy to recapture the wonder of that moment when the voice of Alexander Graham Bell was heard by his assistant at the other end of a wire on the night of March 10, 1876.
The telegraph had been in use for about forty years, and though a marvel of its day, was easily explained. Intermittent currents sent along a wire were used to spell out the letters of the alphabet. Even when, in 1858, the “wire” – an undersea electric cable – spanned the Atlantic Ocean, enabling Queen Victoria and the American President to exchange messages of greeting before the flood of business telegrams began, it was only an extension of the same idea.
That the human voice could ever be sent by the same means was such a fantastic thought that few people ever regarded it as being within the bounds of possibility. And those who did had not the faintest idea how it could be achieved.
Why, then, was Alexander Graham Bell the first man to break that sound barrier? Because he had the finest beginning that any man could have in that particular realm. He was the son of a man who had been closely concerned with human speech. His father wrote a book called Visible Speech, instructing deaf mutes in lip reading.
Young Bell, born in Edinburgh in 1847, showed signs of inventive genius, and one day his father said to him and his young brother. “Make a machine that speaks.”
They fitted up bits and pieces inside a human skull, imitating the human tongue and throat, and using bellows for lungs. Did it speak? It squawked “Mamma” well enough for the woman in the flat below to call up the stairs. “Why can’t you keep that baby quiet?” but young Bell was not deceived about his success.
Their “little man,” as they called the robot, “has no muscles and he can’t open and close his throat, or touch his teeth or the roof of his mouth with his tongue, or puff out his cheeks or press his lips together.” Oh yes, Graham Bell knew enough about the wonder of the human voice to realize how far he failed to imitate it.
Yet he could not escape from the subject. At the age of twenty-one he came to London, and read a translation of a book by a German named Hemholz describing how scientists had made tuning forks vibrate by electro magnets and imitate the human voice. Was this the way?
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