Monday, 1 March 2010

A hundred feet over Hell by Jim Hooper - Recommended Aviation books (1)

A military adaptation of a 1950s design that first saw service during the Korean War, the Cessna Bird Dog was already rather long in the tooth by the time of the Vietnam war. However in the Forward Air Control role the Bird Dog managed to get into far more scrapes than many other far more glamorous combat machines. Although it was a flimsy parasol-winged light aircraft barely capable of 100 mph, the Bird Dog over Vietnam spent most of its time in the early years of the conflict in the air stooging around over the jungle, spotting and sighting within range of every enemy weapon on the battlefield. Author Jim Hooper's brother flew one and this is his story and that of his unit, the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company, the 'Catkillers'. It is the tale of a handful of young pilots who put their lives on the line virtually every time they got airborne. They operated over the northern-most part of South Vietnam, along the so-called DMZ or demilitarized zone, either alone or with a second crewman, often, amazingly enough, venturing into North Vietnam searching out targets and directing artillery or air strikes against them. The only Army Bird Dog company to bear the Marine designation of Tactical Air Coordinator (Airborne), they supported both Army and Marine infantry, often spelling survival for embattled American or Vietnamese troops. They went to war the hard way, with nothing more than 217 hp, a radio and a map. With the exception of a handgun and a M16, they were unarmed. But as the Vietcong learned, once the Catkillers had located their target and marked it with their smoke rockets, they could bring a formidable arsenal to bear. From rolling artillery barrages to successive flights of Phantoms or Skyhawks, all the FAC had to say was "Hit my smoke," and a carpet of destruction would descend upon enemy troops, sometimes within tens of metres of friendly positions.
A handful of aviation memoirs from the Vietnam War truly stand out - 'Thud Ridge' and 'Chickenhawk' to name just two. Jim Hooper’s 'history' of the 220th Reconnaissance Airplane Company will become another classic, packed as it is with accounts of rare heroism and thrilling flying action. In these days of unmanned drones, it almost beggars belief that the Catkiller FACs flew low and slow in some of the most heavily defended airspace in the history of aerial warfare. 'A Hundred Feet Over Hell' is a must read for all with an interest in military aviation.

Hawker P1127 Kestrel Harrier jump jet prototypes

Hawker P1127/Kestrel in flight over Farnborough (1966)

The Hawker P1127 and an improved variant the Kestrel were the 'prototypes' of the famed Harrier. The first prototype P.1127, serial XP831 was delivered in July 1960 for static engine testing, and in October the Pegasus flight engine was made available. The first tethered flight took place the same month and free flight hover achieved on 19 November after which the first publicity photos were released. The second prototype made its first take off conventionally on 7 July 1961. The two aircraft proceeded to "close the gap" between vertical take off and flight, achieved by 8 September. Four more prototypes were ordered. Throughout this period improved Pegasus engines were being developed, with the Pegasus 3 being capable of 15,000 lbf (67 kN) of thrust. Apart from this, the first four aircraft were quite similar, but the fifth, XP980 introduced the taller fin and tailplane anhedral seen on the Harrier. The fourth machine was used, in part to give the Hawker production test pilots P.1127 familiarisation. The first carrier vertical landing was performed by the first prototype on HMS Ark Royal in 1963. The last P.1127, XP984, introduced the swept wing. It was eventually fitted with the 15,000 lbf (66.7 kN) Pegasus 5 and functioned as the prototype Kestrel.

Kestrel FGA.1
Evaluation aircraft were ordered as the Kestrel FGA.1, an improved version of the P.1127, the first flying on 7 March 1964. The Kestrel had fully swept wings and a larger tail than the early P.1127s, and the fuselage was modified to take the larger 15,000 lbf (85 kN) Pegasus 5 engine as in the P.1127/Kestrel prototype XP984.

Due to interest from the US and Germany, the Tri-partite Evaluation Squadron (TES) was formed on 15 October 1964 at RAF West Raynham, staffed by military test pilots from Britain, the US and West Germany. During testing one aircraft was lost;[10] and evaluations finalised in November 1965.

Six of the eight surviving evaluation aircraft (the three allocated to US plus those allocated to Germany) were transferred to the USA[10] for evaluation by the Army, Air Force, and Navy (but not the US Marine Corp) as the XV-6A Kestrel. After Tri-Service evaluation they were passed to the USAF for further evaluation at Edwards Air Force Base, except for two that were assigned to NASA.

One of the two remaining British based Kestrels was attached to the Blind Landing Experimental Unit (BLEU) at RAE Bedford and the other, XS693, went to Blackburn's for modification to take the uprated Pegasus 6 engine. In addition to some strengthening, there were alterations to the air intake, which had throughout the P.1127 and Kestrel series featured an inflatable lip to smooth the intake airflow when the aircraft was almost stationary. There were concerns about the Service life of these devices, so they were replaced with conventional suction relief doors. This aircraft became the prototype for pre-production Harriers.

Alfie the P-47 Ace

School boy gets a tour around the 56th FG ace Dave Schilling's P-47 'hairless joe' circa winter 1944/45..Great footage (cheers Nige!). Click on the last image to go to pathe's site to watch the video.


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