The Anonymous Widower

Don’t be Conventional!

On the BBC tonight, they had a program about a pilot who in the Second World War used to insert and extract agents of the SOE into German-occupied territories. One of the aircraft they used was the remarkable Westland Lysander, which although it wasn’t too good at its original job of Army Co-operation, was a superb aircraft to sneak in and out under the noses of the Germans, due to its slow speed and superb STOL performance.

But then the Second World War had its fair share of what could be described as unconventional aircraft.

The Mosquito didn’t look unconventional, but who’d have thought that an unarmed bomber built out of wood, would have been so successful. It was just that because it was light, aerodynamically efficient and could carry the same bomb-load as a B17, it could get to its targets fast and return.  In fact Mosquitos often bombed Germany twice in one day. 

But the theory of the heavily-armed four-engined bomber prevailed and we lost 250,000 aircrew bombing the Nazis, as did the Americans. Mosquitos incidentally had a much higher return rate and it could also be argued that because they were so much more agile and fast, they could have hit strategic targets, like ball-bearing factories, morning, noon and night. So there was also a moral case for using de Havilland’s wooden wonder.

The Mosquito is probably the only Second World War aircraft, that has a legacy in modern designs.  Bombers these days are not armed and British ones haven’t been for some decades.  This is because de Havilland’s fast unarmed concept was shown to be so superior, to any armed one. But the biggest legacy is in the wings of Airbuses, which like the Mosquito are glued together, rather than riveted.  You can trace the technology back through Tridents and Comets to the Mosquito and before that to the Albatross.

Supermarine is well-known for the Spitfire, but another of its products was the distinctly unconventional Walrus, designed like the Spitfire by R. J. Mitchell. It was an amphibious aircraft that could be lauched and recovered from naval ships like cruisers and battleships, but it found its major use in picking up downed airmen out of the sea. This maritime-rescue role has been taken over  by helicopters, but perhaps the role could be handled better, by a modern fixed-wing aircraft of unconventional design. The Americans have experimented with using Lockheed Hercules and pick-up systems, but nothing sensible has emerged.

The Americans too had an unconventional amphibian, the Consolidated Catalina. Like the Mosquito, the Cat seemed to revel in every task thrown at it. But unlike the Mosquito, you can still see a few examples flying.

And then there is the Swordfish or Stringbag.  This aircraft was probably obselete when the war started, but  went on to sink large amounts of Axis shipping. The Swordfish also destroyed a large part of the Italian fleet at the Battle of Taranto.  Was this battle the blueprint for Pearl Harbor? The Japanese certainly gave what the Fleet Air Arm did with a handful of obselete bi-planes more than a cursory glance!

I have always thought unconventionally!  It has never done me any harm! Although it’s got me into a few scrapes.

November 8, 2010 - Posted by | World | , , ,

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