Saturday, 31 March 2012

disbandment of Escadron de Chasse 1/12 and closure of Cambrai-Epinoy - Armée de de l'Air Mirage

French defence cuts coming into effect and starting to bite. Yesterday saw the last flying activity at Cambrai-Epinoy BA 103 with the 'official' disbandment ceremony of EC 1/12 "Cambrésis" with their Tiger banner and traditions being tranferred to the EC 1/7 "Provence" flying the Rafale at Saint-Dizier. Note the Rafale toting its MICA air-to-air missiles. EC 1/12 has been at Cambrai-Epinoy since 1952 and the height of the Cold War. The three runways at Cambrai were constructed by the German Fritz Todt Organisation in 1941 and their construction employed over 1,000 local workers. The Dornier bombers of Kampfgeschwader KG 2 operated through much of WWII against the UK from here.

Pics by work colleague and good friend Nico Charpentier, trying out a brand-new 1,300 euro lens! Click on the images for a larger view.

More from Cambrai on this blog

Report on the dissolution of the EC 1/12 in the regional press, la Voix du Nord

Friday, 30 March 2012

50 aérodromes pour une victoire – Fifty airfields for victory, June-September 1944

North American P-51 Mustang

Lt. William B. King from the 355th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force leans on the wing of his Mustang named "Georgia Peach".

Republic P-47 Thunderbolts

9th Air Force Thunderbolts from the 50th Fighter Group at a base somewhere in France. The two nearest machines are from the 81st Fighter Squadron. Note the damaged RAF Spitfires in the background and the one damaged P-47.

New book from Heimdal  50 aérodromes pour une victoire – Fifty airfields for victory, June-September 1944

Due out in May 2012 is this latest 336-page volume from French publisher Heimdal devoted to the fifty principal Allied air forces airfields in Normandy established in the immediate aftermath of D-Day, 6 June 1944. With plans, period images and over one hundred profile artworks of the aircraft based on these airfields along with the history of the units’ participation in the Normandy campaign.

D-Day, 04:00 hours - the 834th Engineer aviation battalion is ordered to prepare two ELS ( Emergency landing strips) of 600 metres length suitable for aircraft in difficulty to put down on - location, directly behind Utah beach at Pouppeville and Omaha beach at St Laurent sur Mer. The engineers work around the clock under enemy fire. The ground is prepared but the shelling and bad weather hinders operations - the men also have to dig trenches  and fox holes to give themselves some shelter. But these temporary tracks are ready on D+1 - but are not designed to be used for mounting operations since air superiority over the front is not yet assured. This would not be the case until 19 June in accordance with the a plan drawn up by IX Engineer Command. The 368th FG P-47s would be based at 'A3 Cardonville'..

A flak damaged Thunderbolt from the 367th FS, 358th FG, 9th AF after crash-landing at an airfield in France. The pilot (Lt. Jacob C. Blazicek) was wounded by the flak and knocked unconscious when the plane nosed over. Republic P-47D-20-RE Thunderbolt s/n 42-76436

Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

P-47 Thunderbolt pilots from the 397th Fighter Squadron, 368th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force at a rough strip near St. Mere Eglise on June 15,1944. By the end of August, all 18 of the 9th Air Force's fighter-bomber and 4 of its medium bomber groups were based on the continent. (U.S. Air Force photos)

368th Fighter Group P-47 and pilots

Spitfire Mk. XI of the 7th PG (photo-recce group)- Spitfire 944

Spitfire MK XI PA 944 Color

June 12, 1944. PR photo taken from an altitude of around 9,000 metres of Juno beach sectors Mike Red and Mike Green. At right is the village of Graye sur Mer. Photo taken by Lt John S Blyth, 7th Photo Group, who on this day flew a sortie to photograph the Loire bridges from Nantes to Tours. He was flying a 14 Squadron (7 PG) Spitfire MK XI coded PA 841 from Mount Farm, Oxfordshire, UK. Montage by Michel Le Querrec on Flickr. Original photo posted via John S Blyth's son on Flickr and reproduced here via their embed code. John S Blyth and the 7th PG feature in a short film downloadable via iTunes entitled Spitfire 944
Colour images via

Gold et Juno beaches, Montage

Lt. John S. Blyth of the 14th Squadron 7th PRG at Mount Farm, Oxfordshire, UK 1944.
 Photo embedded via Flickr and posted there by Scott Blyth  - " The photo is of my father Lt. John S Blyth and he flew with the 14th squadron of the 7th PRG based at Mount Farm, UK. According to him the flight suit was an experimental American design. He still has it...I'm not certain if this was his first mission in a Spitfire Mk XI but that wouldn't surprise me. He flew a number of sorties in F-5s (P-38s) before that when he was with the 22nd Squadron 7th PRG.."

American Spitfire Pilot World War II

American Spitfire Pilot Cockpit

The 7th Photographic Group was established at Mount Farm, near Dorchester, Oxfordshire on 7 July 1943, the group being transferred from Peterson AAF Colorado and absorbing the assets of the 13th photo squadron.

The group consisted of the :
13th Photographic Squadron (red rudder)
14th Photographic Squadron (green rudder)
22nd Photographic Squadron (white rudder)
27th Photographic Squadron (blue rudder)

The Spitfire XIs were concentrated in the 14th PS. The Mark XI featured a deep 'chin' housing an enlarged oil tank and a frameless windscreen and those examples delivered to the 7th PG were initially all in RAF PRU blue with black spinner. The 'paint job' was removed in early 1945 for a natural metal finish while the aircraft serial no. was painted on the tail fin in large figures/letters. The Mk XI had a very considerable range of over 1,300 miles and with a drop tank a round trip to Berlin was possible. The 7th PG also flew F-5 (P-38) and P-51s and fulfilled a variety of mission types; photographing bombardment targets and damage inflicted by bombing operations, providing a mapping service for air and ground units and observing and reporting on enemy transportation, installations and positions as well as obtaining data on weather conditions.
Prior to June 1944, the group photographed airfields, cities, industrial establishments, and ports in France, the Low Countries, and Germany. Following the Berlin raid in March 1944, Major Walter L Weitner flew the first Eighth Spitfire photo sortie to Berlin on 6 March and by 11 April the Group had chalked up its 1,000th sortie. The 7th received a Distinguished Unit Citation for operations during the period, 31 May - 30 June 1944, when its coverage of bridges, marshalling yards, canals, highways, rivers, and other targets contributed much to the success of the Normandy campaign. The group covered missile sites in France during July, and in August carried out photographic mapping missions for ground forces advancing across France.

A  newly delivered Spit XI seen at Mount Farm during 1944

I am indebted to Malcom Laird's "American Spitfire camouflage and markings" Vol II (Ventura Pubs) for assistance with this post !

And another one from Scott Blyth to conclude, Spitfire MK XI MB 948 'Oh Johnnie'

"..This was supposedly assigned to my father Lt John S Blyth, 14th Squadron, 7th Photo Group, Mount Farm, UK. The reality was that just about every pilot in the squadron flew it at one time or another. The invasion stripes suggest that this photo was from June, 1944. Please note the iron cross mission marks..."

Spitfire MK XI MB 948 Oh Johnnie

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Flying Legends 2012 - trailer and some pics from previous shows!

Here's a look at the latest trailer for the 2012 Flying Legends Air Show at Duxford. The show will be held on Saturday 30th June and Sunday 1st July, for more information and to buy tickets go to after you have scrolled down these pics. Plenty more Legends pics to come on this blog as we move closer to this year's event, with coverage of the event itself. Prior to that we'll be at the Jubilee airshow in late May also in Duxford and the Folkestone Jubilee airshow on Sunday 02 June. And if you are reading this via, ich wünsche euch viel Spaß auf meinen Blog (Webseite) and feel free to post these there ! To start some pics from Legends 2006 - please click on the photos to see a much larger image !

Landung auf dem Rotem Platz - Cessna to Red Square, the notorious flight of Mathias Rust

German Mathias Rust made headlines in May 1987 as a 19-year-old when he flew a Cessna 172 all the way to Moscow via Iceland and Helsinki, a flight that appears on at least one listing of the Top Ten most remarkable flights in the history of aviation. Although he was shadowed for part of the trip by a Russia MiG 23, since the shootdown of the Korean B747 the Soviet air defences required high level authorisations to intercept civilian 'intruders' and the assumption must be that this incursion was not felt to warrant such measures - until it was too late. Rust was sentenced to four years in a Soviet labour camp and served 432 days before returning to Hamburg in 1988. Rust described his motives for undertaking the flight in a later interview with the Guardian newspaper;

".. I was 19 and very political. I was interested in relations between East and West, particularly the Reykjavik meeting between Gorbachev and Reagan. I realised that the aircraft was the key to peace. I could use it to build an imaginary bridge between East and West. I didn't tell anybody about my plan because I was convinced my family or friends would stop me. I didn't think much about what would happen afterwards. My main focus was on my mission to get there and land. I believed that something would work out..."

" For Rust, the flight was going flawlessly. He had no problem identifying the landmarks he had chosen as waypoints, and he was confident that his goal was within reach. “I had a sense of peace,” he says. “Everything was calm and in order.” He passed the outermost belt of Moscow’s vaunted “Ring of Steel,” an elaborate network of anti-aircraft defenses that since the 1950s had been built up as a response to the threat of U.S. bombers. The rings of missile placements circled the city at distances of about 10, 25, and 45 nautical miles, but were not designed to fend off a single, slow-flying Cessna. At just after 6 p.m., Rust reached the outskirts of Moscow. The city’s airspace was restricted, with all overflights—both military and civilian—prohibited. At about this time, Soviet investigators would later tell Rust, radar controllers realized something was terribly wrong, but it was too late for them to act..."   (Tom Lecompte - The notorious flight of Mathias Rust)

“At first, I thought maybe I should land inside the Kremlin wall, but then I realized that although there was plenty of space, I wasn’t sure what the KGB might do with me,” he remembers. “If I landed inside the wall, only a few people would see me, and they could just take me away and deny the whole thing. But if I landed in the square, plenty of people would see me, and the KGB couldn’t just arrest me and lie about it. So it was for my own security that I dropped that idea.”.

Rust flew a few cicuits around  Red Square before putting down on a wide bridge.

"..As he circled, Rust noticed that between the Kremlin wall and the Hotel Russia, a bridge with a road crossed the Moscow River and led into Red Square. The bridge was about six lanes wide and traffic was light. The only obstacles were wires strung over each end of the bridge and at its middle. Rust figured there was enough space to come in over the first set of wires, drop down, land, and then taxi under the other wires and into the square. Rust came in steeply, with full flaps, his engine idling. As planned, he came in over the first set of wires, dropped down, and flared for landing. As he rolled out under the middle set of wires, Rust noticed an old Volga automobile in front of him. “I moved to the left to pass him,” Rust says, “and as I did I looked and saw this old man with this look on his face like he could not believe what he was seeing. I just hoped he wouldn’t panic and lose control of the car and hit me.”  (Tom Lecompte - The notorious flight of Mathias Rust)

Rust in his red flying overalls handed out autographs and chatted to passers-by in Red Square - before being arrested !

Der Kreml-Flug von Mathias Rust sorgte weltweit für Schlagzeilen   - Mathias Rust's Kremlin flight  resulted in headlines worldwide (screen grab from NDR Fernsehen Tageschau of 29 May 1987)

Rust returned to Hamburg the following summer having been pardoned by the Russians and released on 3 August 1988, a benevolent action hailed by the then West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Rust's aircraft had been flown back to Germany as early as October 1987 having been bought by a businessman for DM160,000. Cessna D-ECJB is currently on display at the Deutches Technik Museum in Berlin. (photo credit Skyhawk)

The best account of Rust's flight that I have read was written by Tom Lecompte and published on the Air & Space Smithsonian web site

Disclaimer - images used on this private non-commercial blog are reproduced here solely for the purposes of depicting an historic event, the incursion of Mathias Rust's airplane into Soviet restricted airspace and his landing in Red Square, and as such may fall into the category of fair-use under copyright law. If such is deemed necessary, they can be removed by simple request.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Arsenal VG 33 - Armée de l'Air dans la tourmente

The Arsenal VG 33 was the most visible model of a ‘family’ of light, fast and manoeuvrable French fighter types being developed during 1939 - 1940 to replace the Ms 406. In fact many sources quote the VG 33 – of which only a handful of examples approached service due to production difficulties – as being somewhat superior to the Dewoitine D.520, despite the fact that it was powered by a smaller engine. In addition the VG 33 was designed to be a machine that could be constructed quickly by small sub-contractors (a D.520 required 8,000 man-hours per aircraft, a similar figure to the Me 109) and had it been available in numbers the accepted view is that it “might have given the Germans a harder time over France”. As it was one or two examples of the type did see some form of service (the prototype n˚1 and VG33 n˚7) in the short-lived GC I/55 flying some sorties between 17 June and 24 June 1940 as detailed in the Avions Hors-Série n˚ 7: " La chasse française inconnue de Mai-juin 1940 ".

However the results obtained by test pilots at the French CEMA (Centre d’Essais – test centre) during mid-1939 probably posed more questions about this type than they answered. At least one French commentator (Ehrengardt in Aérojournal magazine no. 46) has stated that the constructor – while not openly falsifying the prototype’s performance figures - did everything possible to ensure that they were superior to those of the D.520 – 200 kilos lighter and powered by a smaller 860 hp Hispano Suiza engine developing some 60 hp less, the Arsenal VG 33 was supposedly able to climb to 5,500 m some three minutes quicker than the D.520 and could reach 560 km/h at 5,200 m. Tested by CEMA pilots during March 1940 the VG33 n˚5 apparently flew at 620 km/h at 4,000 m and approached 1,000 km/h in a dive. (Ehrengardt, article in Aerojournal 46) Few commentators stop to point out that the aircraft tested were prototypes – with no ‘military’ value whatsoever. And while the test pilots apparently lauded the aircraft’s flying capabilities the manufacturer’s own handbook placed certain limitations on the type’s flight characteristics which under different circumstances would have straight away precluded any attempt to put this aircraft into production let alone military service. In addition the proximity of the type’s large ventral radiator so close to the ground proved particularly problematic when operated from grass fields. The idea that here was a machine that could easily be constructed by small sub-contractors working with non-strategic materials (spruce) and that French industry was advanced enough to produce the glues required was simply pie in the sky. Construction of the series machines were dogged by a series of logistical and organisational problems that had been completely over-looked by the French Air Ministry. With sub-assembly construction dispersed throughout France and the various components brought together in final assembly plants it was hoped that production could reach 350 machines per month by March 1940. This totally over-looked the fact that for a wooden aircraft each machine required some 880 kg of steel, 436 kg of aluminium and 125 kg of magnesium, requirements that simply caught out those civil servants charged with obtaining stocks of strategic materials. Following on from the first production order of 220 machines passed during September 1939, it was not until March 1940 that the need was seen for a second production/assembly facility which was opened at Michelin in Clermont Ferrand in the south for deliveries to start during July 1940. Even large constructors such as Potez had singularly failed to relocate their factories from northern France despite the experiences of 1914-18. By the time of the evacuation of the Arsenal assembly facility at Satrouville (under the auspices of the Chantiers Adro-Maritimes de la Seine) 17 miles north-west of Paris only 19 aircraft had actually been completed – ten prototypes designated V.30 to V.39 and nine V.33 series production machines. A further 160 fuselage assemblies and some 40 machines approaching completion had to be destroyed.

Airports of the World magazine

The current issue of the bi-monthly Airports World features a nicely done article on Skiathos airport -  often referred to as the " Greek St Maarten" -  which I looked at last year on this blog

Taking off and landing at Skiathos airport; the Greek St Maarten

" Skiathos Airport is Europe’s equivalent to St Maarten in the Caribbean, where aircraft literally pass right before your eyes while landing...".

One or two interesting facts; only aircraft Captains can land their aircraft here - if the Captain is incapacitated for whatever reason then the First Officer must divert. As it is airliners often have to make a refuelling stop-over on the Greek mainland because of the weight issues involved at Skiathos. The biggest aircraft to land at Skiathos was an Air Italy B767 in June 2011 (while I was there) - special dispensation had to be sought from the local aviation authority after the original aircraft planned for the sector went techical. The aircraft was flown in by one of the airline's most experienced Captains. According to the article the local authority are planning a 300 foot extension which will presumably encroach on the beach at the far (sea) end of the runway.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sea Vixen survivors XS 587 (Gatwick Aviation Museum) , XP 924 G-CVIX

It is well over twenty years since I last visited Peter Vallance's Gatwick Aviation Museum collection at Charlwood near the airport back in the days when I was dispatching Air France B737s and Air Inter A320s but if a recent post on is anything to go by the place is now open regularly through the year on Sunday and some Saturdays.

Here's a few shots I took back then of  Sea Vixen XS 587. This aircraft was built as an FAW.2 and served with 899 NAS. After frontline service she was converted to drone/target tug (FAW(TT).2) configuration. As a result, she carries a colourful paint scheme of white and red topsides and yellow and black striped undersides. As usual click on the images for a larger view.

Text extract from thunder and lightnings     " ... Once retired, Mike Carlton bought her with the intention of flying her in civilian hands as G-VIXN, but on his death the project came to an end and she was sold to Peter Vallance to join his impressive collection near Gatwick Airport. She's the only target tug Sea Vixen left so there's one reason at least to visit Vallances and help keep the local council from closing the place down. Peter runs the engines on XS587 from time to time and she can certainly shift a bit of gravel when she wants to!.."

De Havilland dH-110 Sea Vixen D3, formerly of the Royal Navy as XP 924, now on the UK Civil Register as G-CVIX, is maintained by De Havilland Aviation Ltd. at Bournemouth Airport, Dorset, England. The aircraft was in Red Bull advertising markings but has been repainted in its Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm markings. XP 924 entered service with the Royal Navy in 1964 as an FAW.2 model. It ended its flying in 1991 as a trainer for teaching pilots to fly aircraft by remote control from the ground (for use as missile targets).I purchased the following shots via Ebay - they apparently appeared in Flypast magazine at the time - although I'm not sure of the event. These are my photo-scans of those original images. More info would be welcome..

Now back in its Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm markings, the shot below was photographed by Adrian Pingstone in June 2009 and released to the public domain.

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