The Aviation Historian: The modern journal of classic aeroplanes and the history of flying

The Aviation Historian
The Aviation Historian
The modern journal of classic aeroplanes and the history of flying
Current edition cover

Issue 23: out now

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Issue 24 will be published on
July 15, 2018

Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Hugh Trenchard

RAF centenary: how Trenchard’s fledgling took an early wrong turn

Fairey Rotodyne in flight

Fairey Rotodyne: novel but noisy, and a nightmare of bureaucracy

Partially dismantled Sepecat Jaguar on trailer

Good runner sir, might need some attention: Nigeria’s Jaguars

Ernle Clark and  Percival Gull

In Batten’s wake: Ernle Clark, first man to fly solo from UK to NZ

About the current issue

With the 23rd quarterly issue of The Aviation Historian arriving in readers’ hands from mid-April onwards, it is logical that we choose this edition to mark 100 years of the Royal Air Force. On April 1, 1918 – All Fool’s Day, as more than a few politicians, paymasters and pilots no doubt noted at the time – the RAF was established as an independent air arm. Naturally, the storied history of the Service and its many battle honours and achievements will be trumpeted far and wide during this centenary year; but, in true TAH style, we wanted to take a closer look at the reasoning behind its establishment in the first place. Enter Greg Baughen, whose examination of why the RAF came into being – in the shadow of aerial bombing and “total war” – offers some thought-provoking insights into how a “new broom sweeping clean” led, in this case, to the wholesale dumping of some invaluable lessons learned during four hard years of World War One.

The establishment of a very different sort of air force is detailed in João-Paulo Moralez and Vatche Mitilian’s article on the Lebanese Air Force’s DIY development of Bell “Huey-bombers”, in which parts from a 1950s jet fighter were grafted on to a combat helicopter emblematic of the 1960s to fight a war in 2007. Necessity truly is the mother of invention!

Inventiveness was a hallmark of the work of Lockheed designer Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson – the man who, according to his boss Hall Hibbard, could “actually see air”. But Johnson was not infallible, and apparently did not want to see that the uniquely elegant shape of the P-38 Lightning fighter concealed a performance-limiting aerodynamic problem. Matt Bearman explains what caused it, and how the solution was already available – but mysteriously was never taken up.

Something else never taken up was the Fairey Rotodyne – for some years the innovative compound helicopter-gyroplane was seen as a potential worldbeater, but it was hamstrung by its own earsplitting noise levels (a showstopping problem for its intended city-centre-to-city-centre airline operations) and by a lack of enthusiasm from all four points of the military/civil/industry/government compass. Former Royal Aeronautical Society Head of Research Professor Keith Hayward examines the political purgatory that plagued its development.

Our cover story in TAH23 features Indonesia’s adoption of the fast but expensive-to-run Convair 990 as its entry-point into the international jet set. Other articles in the issue include the fascinating though all-but-forgotten story of Ernle Clark, the first man to fly solo from the UK to New Zealand (he did so just after Jean Batten’s solo trailblazer in 1936); the “inaction-packed” career of the Sepecat Jaguar in Nigerian Air Force service; early trimotor air services to the Channel Islands; a Hawker Siddeley 748 sales tour of Africa; the futuristic but hopeless SNCASO Narval shipborne fighter; and an unexpected but effective use for Armstrong Siddeley Viper jet engines.

Finally, while preparing this issue, we were deeply saddened to learn of the death of aviation enthusiast extraordinaire Mike Hooks in January. Mike was the very definition of what I described in the first TAH Editor’s Letter as aviation’s “true believers”, and his tireless passion for all things aeronautical, often tinged with more than a hint of mischief and iconoclasm, will continue to inspire us here at TAH. We pay tribute to our longstanding friend and former colleague with a dazzling collection of the magnificent photographs he took over the course of a lifetime in aviation. As the man himself would say when settling in for a good read: “Woof!”

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Nick Stroud, Editor

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