Sunday, 3 May 2015

890 NAS Sea Vixen FAW 1s on the deck of Ark Royal

posted recently on britmodeller by "Ex-FAAWAFU" and since they are so interesting I've repeated his comments verbatim! Click to view the full image..

 "..This picture from 1961 shows (amongst other things) 890 NAS Sea Vixen FAW 1s on Ark Royal's deck. Lots of interest in this evocative image; the deck for a start; every other colour picture I've seen shows Ark with a red centre line, but clearly at one stage it was yellow. As for the Vixens, they are in bright sunlight and there are issues with the angle, but they certainly look pretty faded to me - a bit lighter even than the Scimitars alongside, though that might easily be the angle of light reflections (the flat top bit of the Scimitars looks similar). But judging, say, from the deep shade of the blue on the Whirly on the back end, or even just of the dark overalls on the Grubbers walking in the foreground, then the deep dark grey colour that comes straight out to the bottle of paint needs a fair amount of fading! Note the nose (complete with red protective RBF cap) of a yellow Firestreak just peeking out on the starboard wing of 254, and also the Buddy refuelling pod clearly visible on the starboard wing of the un-identified Vixen on the right of the picture. Note that 2 of the Scimitars have their underwing serials replaced with "Royal Navy". If you look at the folded Gannets on the left, for instance (849 A flight, I think, because red tail fins), look how worn the upper surfaces are - especially the port tail of the nearer aircraft, which looks incredibly dusty. I think they were in the Med in this picture; maybe lots of Saharan sandy dust? I am also struck, not for the first time, by how tiny the target was for a deck landing. This is probably not a wildly different angle to the view of the arrestor wires when on finals. 4 wires in - what? About 25 feet, judging by the deck distance to go marks. Not a lot to aim at on a pitching deck in something doing well over 100kts.

Re the Scimitar underwing serials! .. there's a photo at the back of Richard Franks' Sea Vixen book of Fred's Five (an early Vixen display team, that flew FAW1s, unlike the later and better known Simon's Sircus that flew Mk 2s) practising from Lossie. There are 5 of them plus a Scimitar (whipper-in?) at the top of a formation loop, and that Scimitar has Royal Navy instead of serials under the wing, too.

 I agree about the Firestreaks; little point in protecting the nose of a totally inert, dummy round - I assume it had some sort of seeker head in it, but no motor and no warhead.

 Trivia moment here: the aforementioned "Simon", of Simon's Sircus, was Simon Idiens, who was Kristin Scott Thomas' step-father. The Scott Thomas family had awful luck; Kristin's Dad was killed in a Vixen crash, and her Mum re-married, this time to his best man, Simon Idiens... who was himself killed in a Phantom not long after. There is a beautiful sundial memorial to the two of them in the FAA cemetery at Yeovilton parish church, I assume donated by the family.."

"...Naval aircraft are very well looked after when it comes to salt (it being so corrosive); washed after pretty much every sortie, and coated with PX-24 (an anti-corrosion / water repellant oil). In my young, pre-flying days I went across the Atlantic in Jan 1982 in HMS Fearless. No hangar, and we had two Wessex 5s embarked. We were caught unawares by a really bad storm (forecasting being a lot less accurate in those days), so there was not enough time to really protect the two cabs before it became too dangerous to be out on deck. For two whole days these two aircraft were subjected to salt water under pressure, which reacts very cheerfully with magnesium alloy. One of them never flew again, and had to be craned off 2 months later in Devonport and used as an instructional airframe. So it matters. But the paintwork still gets faded by sun, wind and salt. If you look carefully at the starboard wing of the spread Vixen in that photo, there us a visible colour difference between static and folding section of the wing - that'll be because the folding section spent far less time exposed to direct baking sun (see the adjacent aircraft for why!). The flight deck, on the other hand, really cops it. Those streaks in the photo are probably partly from washing aircraft, and partly from compressor washing ("comp washing") them; running the engine for 30 seconds on the starter without ignition, and forcing a wash fluid through the engine under pressure - this is to wash the salt and carbon deposits off the compressor blades. It works, but makes a right mess. (As an aside, the marinised Olympus and Tyne engines used in my era ships were cleaned in a similar way by pouring sacks of ground walnut shell into them when running. It was abrasive enough to dislodge the salt and carbon, but not so abrasive as to damage the blades, and then the shells just burned up in the engine. A bit too brutal for aircraft engines!) Then add in oil spills, fuel spills, dents & scrapes from chain lashings, burning from jet engines, and rubber from tyres... and you can see why flight decks need to be re-coated regularly. Again, in that photo above, there's a diagonal darker section running from the mobile "Jumbo" crane towards the bottom right of the pic; that section has been painted more recently than the rest of the deck... but it's already just as stained and marked - though slightly less faded.."

More Sea Vixens on this blog here

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