Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Any review is a good one I guess!


'Peterborough author pens two aviation books: Air’s two good books'

So said the Peterborough Evening Telegraph.
A Peterborough author has written two works concentrating on one of the most versatile aircraft in military history and how to get from A to B during next year’s Olympics.
PETERBOROUGH author Graham Simons has produced two works concentrating on the opposite ends of the aviation spectrum.
Aircraft historian Mr Simons used extensive contacts to produce “Mosquito - The Original and Multi-Role Combat Aircraft.”
His other work “London’s Airports” is written for the passengers and aviation buffs who will use the capital’s main airports during next year’s Olympics.
Mr Simons’ background is a blend of engineering, military history and commercial flight.
His love for aeroplane design and engineering started when he worked as an apprentice for Baker Perkins in the late 1960s and continued when he worked at Molins Machine Company, which had built weapons for the Mosquito.
He was one of the founder creators of Duxford Aviation museum, and has written articles and works on a host of subjects including Dan Air independent airline, where he previously worked.
It’s not the first time the Bretton book writer has tackled the subject of the Mosquito, but he describes his first effort back in 1986 as “a bit na├»ve.”
He said: “In the ’80s I was writing lots of bits and pieces while I was working at Molins machine company.
“I have been collecting research material in a series of bins in my loft for about 30 years, and as stuff comes in I put it in a certain bin depending on the subject.
“It got to the stage where it was one or the other, and my wife said to me: ‘unless you try (being an author), you will never know.’
“The original one didn’t come out as I wanted, but this is better. The design is also mine as Pen and Sword publishers let me write the back and lay the book out.”
When the Mosquito entered production in 1941, it was one of the fastest operational aircraft in the world.
Entering widespread service in 1942, the Mosquito supported RAF strategic night fighter defence forces in the United Kingdom from Luftwaffe raids, most notably defeating the German aerial offensive Operation Steinbock in 1944.
As well as its versatility the Mosquito had several other advantages, including its speed and the balsa wood used in its construction, which allowed its frame to expand under pressure.
This meant that while certain US planes made from metal cracked and shattered when they fired guns, the Mosquito remained intact.
Much of the information and anecdotes in the book came from primary sources, made possible through years of gathering knowledgeable contacts from aviation and business.
These even included a talk with dignitaries in the upper echelons of Molins, who gave him access to previously-unseen original pictures and plans when the plane’s artillery was being manufactured and tested in the 1940s.
The distinctive Mosquito became a key component for the Allied Forces during the Second World War, based largely on its brilliant design which allowed it to be used as a fighter, bomber, reconnaissance vehicle and night flyer.
The book says: “During the history of aviation there have been very few aircraft that have achieved immediate successes when entering front-line service. The de-havilland Mosquito was one such aircraft.
“It was not designed to an RAF requirement, but was the result of an initiative of the designers and builders to utilise the skills of woodworkers and the relative abundance of wood in the crisis years of the Second World War.
“The result was an aeroplane which could be built quickly and, was extremely fast and extremely versatile. The pilots loved it.”
Mr Simons has also produced another book with the help of friend and fellow enthusiast Martin Bowman which concentrates on Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, City and Stansted airports.
For each airport there is a brief history, plans and photographs, together with directions and information about gates, security, passport control, shopping, restaurants, car parks and other transport connections.
Details of air traffic control in London airspace will be explained with the inclusion of aerial photographs taken during the approach to landing so passengers may locate places of interest.
There’s also a look at the quirkier facts of the airports, including Gatwick Bridge, which is large enough for a Boeing 747 to pass beneath.
Mr Simons said: “People are now starting to think in terms of dates, and travels and times and hotels.
“I have been contacting various people at the International Olympic Committees across the world, and we are hoping it can be advertised and pieces can be placed in their newsletters.”
Mr Simons’ future projects include work on the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, the B-24 Liberator, and a look into conspiracies behind Concorde.
“Mosquito – The Original and Multi-Role Combat Aircraft.” costs £19.99, while “London’s Airports” costs £11.99. For more information go to www.pen-and-sword.co.uk

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

B-70 Valkyrie


Next for Pen and Sword and coming out later in 2011 is a complete change of tempo - I thought it was about time I did one of Cecil the sea-sick Sea Serpent!

The first time anyone sees the sole surviving XB-70A Valkyrie it’s hard not to be struck dumb by the jaw-droppingly amazing shape of this totally futuristic other-worldly looking aircraft.
Firstly, it’s huge. The aircraft is five times heavier and a whole lot larger than the MiG 25 Foxbat or SR-71 Blackbird , the design’s nearest rivals. Secondly it looks fast. The first time I saw Air Vehicle One was outside the USAF Museum (as it then was) at Wright Field, near Dayton Ohio, in 1980 - it looked as if it was about to go supersonic just parked there! At the time it was playing one of a pair of ‘bookends’ outside the main building to a later generation Rockwell B-1 ‘Bone’ and the Valkyrie still looked the more advanced!
Thirdly, the aircraft was one very big leap-into-the-future design that pushed the envelope in terms of exotic materials used - such as stainless steel honeycomb, very large amounts of titanium, the use of tool steel for structural components and it would have used the chemical high energy ‘zip’ fuel if that had not been cancelled.
At one stage - if all the plans and rhetoric had come to fruition - there would have been 250 Valkyries in the air - the pinnacle of General Curtis LeMay’s quest for the ultimate strategic bomber operated by his Strategic Air Command.
It has been said that the beginning of the XB-70 story was the search for a nuclear-powered bomber - that started with a highly modified Consolidated B-36 Peacemaker, the design of which came from World War Two when it looked as if the USA would have to fight a two front war from bases only on the mainland. The B-36 was the first interim bomber, replaced almost as soon as it appeared by the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, itself the second interim design, albeit jet-powered, but it was still subsonic.
The Convair B-58 Hustler came out of the preliminary studies and was supersonic - but at best it could only be called a medium bomber and was too much, too soon. It became a maintenance nightmare, as any crew chief from the time will tell you.
What General Curtis LeMay wanted was a machine with the speed of the B-58 and the load-carrying capacity of the B-52 - and without doubt the B-70 looked like it would fulfill his needs. What LeMay got was possibly the biggest fight he ever had experienced - with Robert McNamara and his team of ‘Whiz Kids’. This small, elite band of civilians, who had mainly moved over from either the RAND Corporation or the Ford Motor Company and went right to the heart of the John F Kennedy  and Lyndon B Johnson presidential administrations. The Whiz Kids invented a world where all decisions could be made based on numbers - an ideal that is still skirted on by many MBA programs and consulting firms. They found power and comfort in assigning values to what could be quantified and deliberately ignored everything else.
The B-70 was cut back to two experimental aircraft - with the possibility of a further machine, as a prototype to the ‘Reconnaissance Strike’ concept. It was also to be used as a test aircraft in the American ego-driven ‘Mach number too far’ SuperSonic Transport  that was doomed to failure.
Of the two built, one was lost - and two highly experienced test pilots were killed - during what politicians called an illegal flight, despite the same type of event happening many times before.
The revealed story is one of ambition, dreams, spying, and dirty pool politics on Capitol Hill – so nothing unusual there then!
‘Cecil the sea-sick sea serpent’ may have been one of the silliest nicknames ever given to an aircraft, but what an aircraft, what a shape, what a design!