Saturday, 29 January 2011

Makhonine 10 and 101 retractable-winged aircraft - an innovative French aeronautical design

Continuing with our series of posts on innovative French aeronautical designs. Yvan Makhonine, a Russian expatriate conceived the idea of the telescopic wing. The wing outer panel 'telescoped' into the inner panel to reduce span and wing area for high speed flight and was extended for economic cruise and landing. His first design was the MAK-10 first flown 11 August 1931 (video screen grabs below) which proved the concept but was severely underpowered.  The sliding wing was pneumatically powered and a standby manual system was provided. French Government support carried the test programme a further stage culminating in the MAK-101 of 1935.

above;  rare picture found on Ebay of the French experimental Makhonine 101 in German markings. Testing continued under German occupation with plans apparently being made to transfer the aircraft to Rechlin. The aircraft subsequently had its landing gear deliberately wiped off in a crash-landing by its French pilot to prevent this. The factory technical plans had already been burnt before the Germans arrived...

 This machine achieving 233mph with the outer wing panel retracted. The concept attracted another Frenchman, Charles Gourdou, who designed in 1937 what could have been the world's first variable-geometry single-seat fighter, the Gourdou G-11 C1. (via

Video grabs of the MAK 10 under going testing. Photos 1 and two show the wing 'tip' extended and then retracted. The last photo (bottom) depicts the MAK 101 again in German markings;

The original configuration of the 1931 Makhonine 10 was updated with a new engine - the Lorraine 12EB engine being replaced by a Gnome Rhone K14, and the fixed trousered gear was replaced with retractable units. The modified airframe was re-designated MAK101. It resumed flight testing in 1935. Makhonine was still persisting with the testing when WW II began, the programme having been the subject of a one million francs grant from the French government. The German occupation authorities permitted the tests to continue, albeit under RLM supervision, after France's defeat. However, in 1941, the RLM decided that the Makhonine101 should be ferried to the Rechlin test centre. Makhonine requested permission for his test pilot Burtin to make one more flight before the aircraft was flown to Rechlin, and this being granted, the pilot deliberately crashed the aircraft which suffered just sufficient damage to prevent its removal to Germany. The Makhonine 101 was subsequently stored in a hangar at Villacoublay where it was eventually destroyed in a USAAF bombing attack. The original drawings of the variable-span aircraft had been destroyed at the French Air Ministry to prevent them falling into German hands, but detailed drawings of the damaged plane were made by German technicians and sent to Germany where considerable interest was shown in them. (Sources: Air International March 1975, Le Fana de l'Aviation article (below), an old issue of RAF Flying Review and an old issue of "Der Flieger")

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Coléoptère annular wing vertical take off and landing "fighter"

A coleopter is a type of  vertical take off and landing design that utilises a ducted-fan as the primary fuselage of the entire aircraft and closely resembles a large barrel with a small cockpit area suspended above it. A coleopter is generally designed to take off and land on its tail. The term is an anglicisation of the French coléoptère (beetle). The first design of an aircraft clearly using the coleopter concept was developed during World War II. From 1944 onwards the Luftwaffe was suffering from almost continual daytime attacks on its airfields, and was finding it almost impossible to conduct large scale operations. One potential solution was to introduce some sort of VTOL interceptor that could be launched from any open location, and there were many proposals for such a system. Heinkel conducted a series of design studies as part of their Wespe and Lerche programs. The Wespe intended to use a Benz 2,000 hp turboprop engine, but these were not forthcoming and the Lerch used two Daimler-Benz DB 605 piston engines instead. Nothing ever came of either design.

The first French Coléoptère was an 'aircraft' like no other and typified the 1950's era of outrageous and outlandish French jet prototypes. Conceived by German engineer Helmut von Zborowski the prototype Coléoptère, the first 'practical' ducted-fan flying body, was developped by SNECMA. To demonstrate the feasibility of an aircraft launching vertically on the power of its jet-engine thrust SNECMA produced the 'ATAR Volant' which starred at the Paris Air Show. Author Jean-Christophe Carbonel's new work on the type relates the entire history of this programme which culminated in 1959 and the nine free flights of the C-450 Coléoptère utilising records and photos from the partcipants and the family of Zborowski. He explores the circular wing fighter concept, the C-400 ATAR Volant programme and the numerous civilian and military offshoots sketched out by the Bureau Technique Zborowski (BTZ).

Book contents as detailed by author J-C Carbonel on the 'secret projects' forum

- a brief history of annular wing before the Coléoptère

- history of the Zborowski design bureau detailing how Zborowski was recruited, what he did in France (missile, aircraft, submarine projects)

- prehistory of the Coléoptère with "alphabet" Coleoptere , 3-engined projects etc....

- history of the C400 ATAR Volant including early ATAR P2 projects (with side cockpit) , C401 and testing of C400 P3 on train

- history of C450 Coléoptère including accounts of all nine flights (illustrated with original period colour photographs of the machine before and after the crash)

- drawings from the C450 instruction manual and drawings from the transport/erector trailer instruction manual

- further developments of Coléoptère by SNECMA including Mach3 interceptor, ground-attack variants, satellite launcher and up to disc-shaped airliners

- books and toys related to the Coleoptere

- foreign projects with annular wings

- an index of all BTZ and SNECMA designs, built and unbuilt, from small missiles to a B47-class 4-engined annular wing bomber (all with full specs when available, original blueprints, photographs of desk models / windtunnel models / real machine)

2010 retrospective - best shots from RIAT, Flying Legends, Cambrai (northern France) and Gilze Rijen (Holland)

Best shots from RIAT, Flying Legends, Cambrai and Gilze Rijen 2010 by Nico Charpentier. Click on the images for a bigger view. These are low-res but if you like the look of them and fancy using the full size contact me for more info. More from RIAT on my ealier blog post  RIAT RAF FAIRFORD 2010

Among the pictures; Armée de l'Air and Patrouille de France Alpha Jet, Gripen, F-22 takeoff, Red Arrows Hawk, B-1 in full heat, Airbus A400M, Slovakian MiG 29, Swiss Hornet, Rata, Sea Fury

Damien Burke - TSR 2 Britain's Lost bomber - (Crowood Aviation Series)

Chapter 1 - Beginnings - covers the initial thoughts about replacing the Canberra, and the aircraft suggested as a possible replacement - namely Blackburn B.103(A) (Buccaneer), de Havilland developed Sea Vixen, English Electric P.18, Vickers developed Scimitar, Hawker P.1121, Folland Light Bomber. All but the P.18 with three views and various other illustrations.

Chapter 2 - Submissions to GOR.339 - covers the actual GOR.339 'competition' submissions - Avro Type 739, Vickers Swallow momentum bomber, Blackburn B.108 (developed Buccaneer), Bristol Type 204, de Havilland GOR.339, English Electric P.17 family (14 pages worth), Fairey Project 75, Gloster P.384 thin wing Javelin, Handley Page GOR.339, Hawker P.1121 Stage B and P.1129, Hawker-Siddeley P.1129 development and the Vickers Type 571 (6 pages). Plus details of the evaluation process, choosing the winners, etc. Again each aircraft has detailed three-views and other illustrations.

Chapter 3 - Designing TSR2 - covers the design process that brought the VA Type 571 and EE P.17 together to form the final TSR2 design, with 3-views of each significant step along the way and lots of wind tunnel and other model shots.

Chapter 4 - Building TSR2 - covers the manufacture of the aircraft, with detailed production sequence diagram, details of the problems run into along the way, lots of photos of the various stages in production - many previously unpublished. Also revision of the spec in the final months.

Chapter 5 - Flight Test Development - covers the flight test programme, including the real story behind the choice of Boscombe Down (differs somewhat from the usual one), taxiing trialsm XR220's accident on arrival (again a subtly different story to previous accounts), a fairly detailed run-down of each flight and the problems experienced; undercarriage problems, handling characteristics and a flight log. Lots and lots of photos of XR219 and XR220, mostly previously unpublished including some tasty colour air to air shots and - for the first time I believe - photos of XR219's rather basic cockpits.

Chapter 6 - The Aircraft - describes the TSR2 in detail from nose to tail and everything in between including refuelling probe, buddy refuelling pack, drop tanks, ejection seat development etc. with lots of detail photos of the aircraft (either as preserved or being built), diagrams from the maintenance manuals and other BAC documentation. Includes colour cockpit photos and diagrams of how the cockpit was going to look on production aircraft.

Chapter 7 - The Engine - a detailed look at the engine choice arguments, development of the Olympus 320 and associated systems, engine test failures, the Vulcan flying test bed, problems with the physical engine installation and accessories bay, flying the engine and the huge risks taken on flight 1. Again lots of photos and diagrams.

Chapter 8 - Electronic Systems - covers all of the major systems on the aircraft; stable platform, doppler, side-looking radar, central computer, automatic flight control system, terrain following radar, head-up display, recce pack, linescan, recce radar, cameras, missile warning system, chaff & flare dispensers, etc. Lots of previously unpublished material.

Chapter 9 - Weapons - accuracy, delivery methods, attack profiles, the nuclear strike role - Red Beard and subsequent weapons up to WE177, conventional strike, Bullpup, AS.30, Tychon, Martel... lots of pics again, and a few unpublished shots.

Chapter 10 - RAF Service - a look at how it was intended to enter service and the initial squadron make-ups. Brief intro to the TSR2 dual trainer, details of the Lightning TSR2 trainer proposal and Hunter lead-in training. Operational plans, overseas training, a bit on paint schemes including some excellent profile artwork from Ronnie Olsthoorn; ground support equipment.

Chapter 11 - Cancellation. A rather different story to the one you are used to reading. Lots of the same ingredients but cooked in a different way! Australian sale efforts and other export customers; the RAF losing faith; final cost saving efforts; the actual cancellation, attempts to keep the aircraft flying, and the aftermath. The story behind the 'everything must be destroyed' myth. Surviving airframes and current whereabouts. The 1970s/80s plan to resurrect the aircraft. Alternatives to TSR2 - P.28 (mod) Canberra, Spey Mirage IVA, AFVG and conclusion. Piccies of XR221 nearly completed and XR225 at various stages of the construction and scrapping process as well as of course XR219, XR220 and XR222, many previously unpublished.

Chapter 12 - Unbuilt versions - Whiffer heaven - STOL version, VTOL versions including baby TSR2, swing-wing versions including how the Americans took the idea and ran with it, TSR2 in the strategic role - Blue Water, glide rockets, ballistic missiles with Polaris heads, overload fuel, Grand Slam missile, enlarged wing designs, a detailed look at the Type 595 Trainer version, the fighter versions. Again lots of 3-views and other diagrams.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

TSR 2 - Britain's Lost Cold War Strike Aircraft -Tim McLelland

A detailed yet fairly readable history of the development of the TSR-2, with photographs drawn from the BAE Systems Heritage archive at Warton. Difficult though to describe it, as Amazon do in their blurb, as a photographic history. While there are some lovely colour shots sprinkled throughout the work, McLellands earnest tome has been produced by Classic Publications for Ian Allan and as such is designed down to a budget and format - the text packed into its 120 pages so densely that it is uncomfortable to read and Caruana's profile artworks spread over two pages with most of the drawings lost to the tight page binding.  No museum or walkaround photos for modellers and only a page or two of equipment drawings. However the Amazon discount certainly invites a purchase if you only need one volume on the type on your shelves. McLelland looks more at the developmental side of the story rather the political shenanigans which he appears to dismiss as the work of alarmists and dreamers - there were no conspiracy theories - just an advanced new aircraft type that may or may not have performed. Given the array of cutting edge early -60s technology then being designed for it, you suspect the author rather feels it wouldn't have.

The author has researched original sources from the BAe archives at Warton Heritage Group, and uses a compelling array of unpublished photographs and material to illustrate the story. Although various proposals, under the designation OR (Operational Requirement) 343, were considered for a replacement of the existing Canberra bomber, in 1959 the go-ahead was given to the British Aircraft Corporation submission, named the TSR.2. This stood for Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance 2. As is often the case, the original estimates for the TSR.2 were overtaken by rocketing costs. Two prototype aircraft were completed and the first test flight was made on 27 September 1964 with Roland Beamont at the controls. In the course of testing, the TSR.2 was found to meet easily the demanding performance specification. Aerodynamically the aircraft was trouble-free, though there were continual problems with the engines and the undercarriage. By now, some in the RAF were coming to favour the American General Dynamics F-111 over the TSR.2. The new Labour government, which came to power in 1964, at first denied that it was going to drop the British aircraft but in the budget speech of 6 April 1965, the Chancellor announced the cancellation of the TSR.2 in favour of the F-111 on the grounds that the American aircraft would prove cheaper. Subsequently, this decision was used to berate the Labour government by those of an opposite political persuasion who always found it difficult to accept that Britain was no longer the force in world affairs it once had been. The fate of the TSR.2 was seen by some as a metaphor for the decline of Britain itself. This view was reinforced by the famous aircraft designer Sir Sidney Camm, who said, 'all modern aircraft have four dimensions: span, length, height and politics. TSR.2 simply got the first three right.'

ETO P-61 425th Night Fighter Squadron


(with thanks to Erich Brown for P-61 ETO operations log reports)

The 425th NFS flew the P-61  night fighter in the ETO during 1944-45. Generally assessed as no better than 'competent' depending on the theatre, probably most successful in the PTO. There is still some controversy today about its acceptance and usage in Europe due to the fact that the later marks of Mosquito NF were already in service and at the disposal of US forces if needed. Overall the Mosquito was a much better aircraft than the Widow except for night ground attack where the Widow excelled over all other Allied night ground attack types. The principal feature of the 'Black Widow' the size and bulk of the type. It was not a nimble aircraft at all. It was broad and heavy, perfect for an immense array of arms, bombs, rockets and napalm, the first US fighter to use an upper power turret of 4-.50 cal mgs standard on the Widows in the PTO, and most frequently removed from the squadrons in the ETO.  The lower four 20mm were sufficient to carve anything up when needed, while the upper turret was a weight expense. P-61 crews also emphasise when used th upper turret machine guns would throw off the aerodynamics of the a/c.

In addition the air intercept radar carried by the Widow was not particularly reliable, although its supporters believe that the SCR 720 was far better than na SN 2, Neptun or, other German AI radar. Reasons for this include:  SCR 720 operated at 10 cm wavelength versus the roughly 50 cm to 75 cm wavelengths of German sets. This gives it far better range and bearing accuracy all other things being equal (which they are not). The German use of simple dipole antennas gives no side and back lobe supression. This means the German radars are far more susceptable to jamming. The SCR 720 could be trained in both azmuth and elevation to allow tracking a single target and to allow scanning a larger section of the sky ahead of the aircraft. An oddity of German radar was that in the Ju 88 and He 219 at least the radar operator sat backwards to the pilot. This meant his display showed things in reverse to their true position. That is, right was left on the display. This adds an unnecessary potential problem to directing the pilot onto a target. That SN 2 was adopted at all had more to do with Allied jamming and attempts to get around it than with it being a good AI set.

One interesting point on the P-61 was that it was equipped with large and effective air brakes. These were installed so the aircraft could rapidly decelerate after closing on a target at high speed. One problem WW 2 night fighters often had was that their closing rate on a target was very high. That is the fighter was going fast and the target was moving slow. Because optical spotting was still needed for the actual attack, this could result in the nightfighter not spotting the target until it was on top of it and then it would overshoot rather than get a firing pass. The speed brakes allowed the P-61 to quickly decelerate in such a situation and then match the target's speed for a firing run.
The first P-61 sorties in the ETO were carried out by the 422 NFS on 4 July 1944 under Lt. Col. O.B. Johnson. Five Widows each had two missions apeice seeking out Luftwaffe aircraft operating by night over Cherbourg/LeHavre. Four more missions were completed with no results before the first Anti-Diver (V1 doodlebug) patrols were launched on 14 July 1944 again with five Widows flying again two missions each. The 422nd NFS claimed a total of 5 V-1's for the month of July 1944 before operating defensive patrols as of August 3/4, 1944 when it committed a total of 9 Widows with the CO flying # 58 which found one contact then lost it. None of the other P-61's made contact with LW A/C. This evening was the first official operation actually Operation # 1 in their history while the Anti-Diver patrols took on their own separate patrol operations which was # 1 - 15.

Operating initially from bases in the UK the P-61s would catch the V-1's in flight if possible and destroy them over land or ocean eg Operation # 6: pilot T. Spelis flying # 40 dove down on a V-1 from 1000 feet above at 340mph. shot down V-1 with 420 rounds of 20mm and received damage to the left and right ailerons as he flew through the wreckage. Four P-61's on Anti-Diver patrols on 20 July 1944.

The 422nd NFS moved to A-15: Maupertus, France on 25 July 1944 and on 26 July performed an Anti-Diver patrol for operation # 12. The 425th NFS claimed a total of 4 V-1's from 31 July 1944 to 9 August in 10 operations. From August 12-26th 1944 the NF unit moves to Vannes Airfield which was a total wreck and had to be reconstructed for the Widows.  At this stage of the war US intruder operations were still only in their infancy in the ETO. Elsewhere US squadrons in the MTO were using the Beaufighter and Mosquito for most of their term in the war, only very late did 1-2 receive the Widow.

On the late evening of 14 August 1944 a P61 A "Black Widow" of 422nd NFS followed a He 177-A5 "Greif" (F8+AN, Werknummer 550077) of I./KG 40. The bombers had taken off from Schwäbisch Hall in order to attack Allied targets in France. Over Barfleur on the Cherbourg peninsula the He 177 tailgunner (Uffz Fabinger) saw the approaching P-61 (he thought it was a P-38) and opened fire with his 20 mm-canon at 00:48 local time. He reported that hits and the right engine of the 'P-38' was on fire. The crew of the P-61 "Impatient Widow" was 2nd Ltd Lewis A. Gordon (pilot) and 2nd Ltd Creel H. Morrison.

The right engine was on fire and the hydraulic system was hit. Gordon went into a steep dive and succeded in distinguishing the fire. They were able to make it back to their base at Maupertus/France. Due to the hydraulic damage the nose-wheel didn' t deploy and they made a crash-landing. Both men unhurt. The "Impatient widow" was severely damaged and became a Hangar-Queen.

A superb shot of one of the unit's P-61s fitted with the ground attack rockets so often used in late fall of 44 into 45 by the unit.




On 28 and 29 August 1944 the 422nd NFS moved to A-39 : Chateaudun, France. The 425th NFS was in the process of moving to Vannes which needed total reconstruction.
On 27 August 44 the 425th NFS had dispatched 13 Black Widows to strafe German installations, only the pilots flew this sortie, the R/O were left at base. This was a daylight mission that the CO Lewis was very excited about. The P-61s hit 9 gun emplacements and shot up supporting tents/houses with 20mm cannon fire. Flew west of Hemnebout/Bolz Bridge, circled around towards St. Helen Kergoal and made a raid on guns west of Merlerenez with 300 guns reported and had light Flak available as protection. Major Lewis led this raid with

# 76 Ornsby

# 85 Montmeat

# 80 Heflin

# 37 Buck

# 46 Stacey

Three of the Widows caught light Flak damage during the mission and the raiding party of Widows expended some 4,452 rounds of 20mm. Although a successful mission, tragedy struck Lt. Nelson Willis who clipped a telephone pole and smashing into a bridge, he was killed.

The 425th moved to A-58/Coulommiers on Sept 11-13, 44 with few events to record due to poor weather  - more ground fog and visibility down to 0 at times. a few chases, German AA giving problems with Widows returning to base damaged. The pilots are getting frustrated as they are involved in some chases but lost them all. Average up on each night 8 -14 Black Widows.  23 September 1944 ;

Lewis up from 2308 to 0107 hrs in # 85 Follwed a B-17 which may according to his after action report was a He 177 which fired with it's rear 2cm cannon and tore the Widow to pieces luckily Lewis was able to land at base and the wings had to be replaced. A note that the fuselage was full of 13mm holes ( should of read 20mm).

The  422 NFS moved to A-78/Florennes, Belgium on September 17-20, 1944 with the unit stood down for another 2 days. On hand are 28 P-61's. the patrols are cut short for another 3 days due to shortage of fuel on the 23rd of September this being operation # 38. September 24, 1944 though an operation no-one made contacts. No operations the following evening on the 25th of September.

During October tactics changed - operation # 45, 3rd October 1944 8 A/C airborne. Rhubarb-intruder mission with the following results reported;

# 80 Sartanowicz 1 Loco, 1 Train

# 83 Heflin 1 Loco and strafed a railroad station and yard

# 76 Bierer 1 Loco which exploded and 1 Train

# 82 Thompson 1 Loco which exploded, 1 Train then to another yard and did the same plus a signal tower. This was in the area of Saarbrucken. Numerous freight and railroad cars shot up.
 1,348 rounds of 20mm used.

7 A/C airborne on night intercept patrols in the area of Metz and Nancy. 0 contacts except for J. Slayton which caught up on 3 "Friendlies" in # 70 P-61 at 10,000ft directed by GCI between 1931/2212 hrs.

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A visit to the Bristol Aeroplane Co. Filton - pre-war colour film footage

A visit to the Bristol Aeroplane Co. Filton, just prior to the outbreak of WWII. Bristol's chief Test pilot Capt. C.F. Uwin...