Talks are held in the FAAM auditorium on the last Thursday of each month (except August and December) at 19.30. The entry price is £7.00 (unless otherwise stated). Non members are welcome. The price includes light refreshments, including a glass of wine. These are very popular events and numbers are limited. Tickets are available online and from the Museum Ticket Box during normal Museum opening hours. Remaining tickets can be bought on the night as capacity allows. For any queries please contact the Museum Ticket Box on 01935 842617.
For further details on any of the monthly talks, please contact us
25th January 2018
“The FAA at war in peacetime”
Mr Graham Mottram, Chairman of SoFFAAM
22nd February 2018
“Royal Navy Wasp – Operational stories”
29th March 2018
“Griffons, Merlin’s and Spitfires”
26th April 2018
“Britain’s last airliner (The BAe146)
Speaker Stephen Robson talks about the 21 year gestation from development to flight of the BAe146!
FEBRUARY 2017 TALK BY DAVE MORRIS
Barracuda Project DP872
David Morris, AMA, Curator of Aircraft – Fleet Air Arm Museum
David reminded us that the FAAM has an impressive collection of Fairey aircraft including Flycatcher, Swordfish, Albacore, Fulmar, Firefly, Gannet, but not a Barracuda. By 2006/07 sufficient material had been collected to consider rebuilding a Barracuda to add to the collection. David showed us a picture of the remnants of the aircraft, DP872, on picture of a large black sheet laid out on the hangar floor marked with the plan of the aircraft. On top of the plan were the large chunks of components collected to date and placed in the position they would occupy on the plan. Very impressive, but nevertheless it was little more than a collection of parts that had been exposed to the elements for decades, often after a destructive crash. Fast-forward to today and David was visibly excited by the progress made to date and the prospects for the future. The aircraft is positively taking shape. Regrettably the FAAM has yet to discover any photograph of Barracuda DP872 in service. If you see a photograph anywhere, do let David know immediately.
The Barracuda is often regarded as a strikingly ugly aircraft. However, David’s research throws a light on it that is usually overlooked. Having produced the Swordfish and the Albacore, both biplanes, Fairey Aviation was tasked with producing a modern torpedo/bomber successor and the outcome was claimed to be the first all metal FAA monoplane (albeit it competes for that title with the Blackburn Skua). In 1937, the aircraft was known as the Fairey Type 100 and the first prototype flew in 1940. It was designed with a high wing so that the observer and torpedo-aimer could sit below the wing to have a better view, without the wing getting in the way. The prototype also had a low mounted tailplane, but when the Youngman flaps were extended they had a quite significant effect on the tailplane. The solution was to raise the tailplane high up on the fin to minimise the turbulence. It solved one problem and created another. When the pilot opened his canopy the tailplane was again affected and the aircraft had a tendency to porpoise! In peacetime a solution would have been found, but due to the exigency of war, it was never fully resolved and the Barracuda entered service in 1942 before all the snags could be developed out.
A staggering 2,500 Barracudas were built, none of which has survived, even though the last example was operated by Dowty Rotol as a test bed until 1959. Although designed as a torpedo/bomber for carrier duties, it scored most of its success as a bomber. Was it a good aircraft? It was a bit underpowered, but it has perhaps been unfairly maligned. It was in service for 11 years performing multi-role tasks with considerable loads hung on it and aerials abounding. It played a prominent role in the wartime history of the FAA. The first action seen was at Salerno in 1943, where it provided cover and support. In April 1944, 42 Barracudas attacked the Tirpitz in two waves, scoring 15 direct hits. The objective of this raid was to prevent Tirpitz from leaving the fjord, thus enabling Lancasters to follow-up with their devastating raid. The next significant operations were with the British Pacific Fleet in Sumatra, when attacks were made on Japanese submarine bases.
The three principal Barracuda manufacturers were Fairey, Boulton Paul and Blackburn, although Westland also built around 12 examples. DP872 was built by Boulton Paul and was just seven months old when it crashed in January 1944 shortly after taking off from RNAS Eglinton in Northern Ireland. The cause of the crash is unknown, it simply banked steeply to the right and continued banking until it crashed into a bog, where it submerged.. With the resources available at the time, it was unrealistic to attempt to recover the aircraft and the crew. By the 1970s, the family members of the crew again sought to have the aircraft lifted out, which eventually happened, albeit with some difficulty. At last the crew received a formal burial in a local churchyard. The family agreed that the aircraft could go to the FAAM and the large pieces of wreckage made restoration a possibility. Numerous sites were visited to recover parts, mostly from hillside crash locations. Recovery is rarely straightforward and in some locations it took five years to conclude negotiations and obtain access permission.
David could not sing the praises more loudly of William Gibbs, the restoration engineer who has taken on the rebuild. Having heard David say what excellent work he does, we visited the restoration hangar and believe me it is good. William and his team are reworking and refurbishing all the original components for re-use. David is not aware of any other aircraft restoration world-wide using so much original material. The question has often been asked why new materials are not used and new components manufactured – this would be much quicker and no one will see them. The answer is mainly cost, but why use a substitute when the original piece can be reworked and used? Every rivet, nut, bolt, washer is removed, the piece is straightened and made true and then reassembled using original period rivets, nuts and bolts.
Every Barracuda built starts with Frame 11. Once this component is assembled in its jig everything else is built out from it. It also incorporates the undercarriage and wing folding attachments. Centrepiece of the restoration workshop is: you guessed it, Frame 11, rebuilt from original components – some of which did not even require refurbishment – just cleaning up. Several shelving racks are set against the hangar wall, each overflowing with Barracuda artefacts. Spaced around the workshop are components either waiting to be disassembled and reworked, or others already complete. A good example is a complete undercarriage assembly, looking brand new, but we are assured is simply reworked and refurbished from original pieces. For comparison an un-refurbished undercarriage sat alongside and it is hard to believe the transformation. What is also hard to believe is the size of the Barracuda – about the same size as a Fairey Gannet. Perhaps less surprising, with that knowledge, is that it weighs about 6 tons. The original Merlin engine suffered very little damage in the crash, because of the nature of the bog. Likewise, a pneumatic system still contained air pressurised at 61psi, which was carefully bottled and sent to a university for examination. Oil was also found to be in very good condition and has been reused. Nothing is being wasted.
In all, David is aiming for expenditure of about £60,000 over six years, with a target of £100,000 to assemble and complete the aircraft for display. It will only be used for display, but both the undercarriage and wing folding will be operational – a necessity bearing in mind its size and the need to manoeuvre the displays. There is a long way to go yet before a recognisable Barracuda will emerge, but reconstruction has now started and it has moved on from a theoretical possibility to metalwork in jigs. DP872 is becoming reality again. It will of course be an amalgamation of pieces from several aircraft, but DP872 provided the large component parts as a basis for reconstruction. If you are interested, you can see work in progress through the glass walls of the restoration workshop. Make the effort and have a look. I am pleased to report that SOFFAAM has been contributing funds for the rebuild of torsion boxes, plus very recently for the purchase on E-Bay of a complete Barracuda tailwheel. Meanwhile, David has a campaign running for the receipt of all and any donations towards the project, plus a plea for everyone to look in the old cocoa tins at the back of the garage or shed to see if you still have that hoard of 1940/50/60s aero standard nuts, bolts and rivets, etc.. David needs them and will put them to good use in the Barracuda. Meanwhile, the search still goes on for recovery of any original parts. Did you know that the French bought nine examples for their special forces? Apparently the French have a reputation for hoarding and David’s man in France has feelers out to see if a Barracuda, or chunks of Barracuda are still lurking in a barn or woodshed waiting to be discovered.
Report by Robert Heath
JUNE 2017 TALK BY ROB BAYLY
The 1992 Atlantic Balloon Race
The Transatlantic Balloon Race took place in 1992, using five identical balloons, made in Bristol by Cameron Balloons Ltd. It is the one and only time such a race has taken place – why? Cost. It was a hugely expensive undertaking, with each balloon costing around £100,000 each and that was 25 years ago, when a pint of beer cost £1.29. On top of that would be the stunning cost of the support organisation. So, how did it ‘get off the ground’ at all? It was Don Camerons dream to fly the Atlantic by balloon – something he had tried in the 1970s, making a crossing starting in Canada, which unfortunately failed due to a leak from a small tear, which occurred only 100 or so miles from Europe. So close. The idea never went away and in due course, Don’s plans and ideas coincided with the plans of the Chrysler Corporation of America to make a large scale launch of its brand of cars in Europe. They were looking for a big event to associate with to promote the name Chrysler and Don was looking for a sponsor. The match was made.
Crossing the Atlantic by balloon was not a new idea. There have been several attempts, the earliest recorded being in 1873, which ditched 3 hours after launching from New York. Another was made in 1970, which sadly disappeared without trace, then in 1978 Don Cameron made his first attempt and also in 1978 an American team in the Double Eagle II made it all the way to France in 130 hours. Also in 1978 Richard Branson set off with Per Lindstrand (another very experienced balloonist) at which time they made landfall in Ireland in the manner of a heavy bump. Per Lindstrand shouted ‘jump’ as he did so himself and for one reason or another Richard Branson did not and ended his journey a little later, being rescued from the sea.
Before Rob Bayly took us into the detail of the Race, he first gave us a brief background to ballooning. A quick show of hands in the audience made it clear that around one third or more had already experienced a hot air balloon ride. Annually, Bristol hosts a balloon festival where scores of hot air balloons rise into the air, not quite all at once. As you can imagine throughout the evening we watched a lot of beautiful sequences of film showing balloons being prepared and in flight. One common remark by those who have flown is the sound, which could be called silence, because there is no wind noise. You are moving with the wind, so you don’t hear it. Consequently you hear any other sound very clearly – of bird song; of people on the ground talking and so on. Rob also explained that contrary to expectations, balloons can be steered, particularly when close to the ground, where layers of air flow in different directions – climb higher and you steered to the right, lose height and you will steer to the left, etc.. Like anything, the more experience you have, the more easily you can ‘feel’ the scope and options. A typical hot air balloon flight will last around 1½ hours. Not long enough to cross the Atlantic. As the name says, hot air balloons comprise an open basket for passengers and crew, attached to a large air bag which is filled with hot air from a gas-fired burner. When sufficient hot air is contained in the bag, it rises and control is maintained by replenishing the hot air as required.
A duration of just hours is insufficient for an Atlantic crossing, so instead a combination is used, where helium in a sealed sphere is mounted above a conical sleeve. The air inside the conical sleeve can be heated using conventional hot air balloon propane burners. The hot air facility provides additional lift for heat loss when the sun goes down and for climbing to a higher altitude, etc.. This type of balloon is known as a Roziere balloon.For the race, five international teams were competing all in identical balloons made by Cameron Balloons and named Chrysler 1, Belgium; Chrysler 2, Germany; Chrysler 3, Britain; Chrysler 4, Holland; and Chrysler 5, USA. All were to take off from the same place at the same time. The winner would be the first balloon to land in Europe. Don Cameron and Rob Bayly crewed the British entry, Chrysler 3. During the build-up intensive training took place including time in a hyperbaric chamber to experience loss of air pressure, plus of course parachute training, all exciting stuff in themselves. Take off was from Bangor, near Boston, USA and the journey was expected to take around 5 days.
Eventually, the big moment arrived. Just after midnight in calm, still air on 16 September 1992 Chrysler 1 took off in a blaze of floodlights as the National Anthem for Belgium was broadcast, followed immediately by Chrysler 2 against the back-drop of the German National Anthem and then the others followed in sequence. The race had started. The first 12 to 15 hours were to be overland across Nova Scotia to test all the systems, one of which was the helium system, which vented gas if it became too hot. To begin with the speed was little more than 5 to 6 kts, which rose to nearer 8 to 9kts as dawn started to break. Rather eerily the only sound was that of foghorns, of which there are 15 along that coast. At sea level it was quite misty.
Once at around 10,000ft, Chrysler 3 dropped some sand ballast to gain more height rather than use precious gas. 24 hours after lift off, they were still overhead Nova Scotia and each of the other balloons was still within sight. With the increasing altitude it became quite cold outside and being practical Rob and Don wore appropriate footwear to help keep warm – yes, what else would you expect from a couple of true Brits, they wore woolly slippers bought in Marks & Spencer. Inside the cabin itself, it became very hot by contrast. Food was stored outside of the cabin in the cold air to keep it fresh. Generally speaking the food comprised plenty of fruit, plus self-heating cans of food and soup. Throughout the race radio contact was maintained with Rotterdam for weather forecasts – sent in the form of maps, via fax. What they were looking for were zonal flows preferably in a straight line giving good conditions and heading towards Europe. A small generator was carried by each balloon to charge the batteries for the radio. Information was also shared between each team to ensure safety, even though they were racing each other.
One feature they had all been told to expect was an overpass at great altitude by Concorde on its scheduled passenger service. What they did not expect was the almighty sonic boom followed by a pressure wave that caused Rob to exclaim ‘Wow’ (so he tells us). The pictures we were shown were magical. It is hard to imagine being carried along just by wind power and seeing around you nothing but sea and sky. Rob found it a very humbling experience realising that you are alone and very small in this vast space. Don, a very calm man himself played Pink Floyd! Rob and Don took turns to sleep for about an hour at a time and wore oxygen masks as required. Propane burners were used to maintain altitude at night when the cold would otherwise have made the balloon lose height. As the propane canisters became empty they were dropped to lose weight. In all Chrysler 3 dropped three of their eight canisters. Not something you do rashly, at a cost of £800 each.
In all, the journey total was to be around 2,500 miles, yet after three days they were still level with St. Johns, Newfoundland. It was all going a bit slower than expected. However, the German team flew at a lower altitude and were apparently achieving a speed of 20 to 25 knots. That was their good news, but what could be seen on the horizon was not so good. The weather was starting to get visibly heavier and the last thing a balloon needs is rain or storms. Rain makes a balloon heavier and the German team was already at a lower altitude and things were not looking at all good for them. Having reached a third of the journey, the German balloon was becoming overwhelmed by the weight of rainwater and they were getting low on propane gas. It was decided to declare an emergency and prepare to ditch. The US Coastguard immediately flew out to co-ordinate a rescue and a nearby tanker took the crew on board safely. Meanwhile Rob Bayly and Don Cameron were flying serenely at a much higher altitude above all the drama and bad weather (typically not above 20,000ft for comfort). The USA team was flying even higher, to meet the needs of their own private agenda, which was not to be the first to arrive in Europe, but instead to undertake the longest duration flight!
On Day 6 (21 September), the Belgian team were in the lead and triumphantly made a race-winning landing in Spain – upright. The Dutch team meanwhile had got caught in a deep depression weather system spiral and found they were going too fast for safety. Regretfully, but wisely they too declared an emergency and landed on the water while they could still do so. A Sea King from RNAS Culdrose flew out to their rescue. While all this was happening, the British entry was about 100 miles offshore with no means of communication. The generator had failed and nothing would get it back in action. The journey continued towards the Portuguese landscape visible ahead, which was lovely to see but comprised a beach surrounded by dense forest. Not a great deal of choice on where to land, so the drag ropes to cushion the descent were ready to be dropped to try and place the balloon on the narrow stretch of beach. In the event, the balloon touched down about 100 yards from the beach but dragged across the wave tops to rest on the beach itself – not upright, Rob hastened to add. After 128 hours in the air, they had made it, albeit in second place behind the Belgian team. Nevertheless it was good to arrive, and safely at that. A very emotional moment. Don Cameron had achieved his dream. The British balloon, Chrysler 3, now resides in the Rotterdam showroom of a Chrysler dealership, for all to see. The USA team happily drifted further away and landed as desired having remained airborne for 144 hours, on Day 7, in Morocco.
What was it like living in such close proximity for 6 days? Rob and Don got on very well with each other. The fact that Cadburys supplied a handsome amount of chocolate also went down well.It was a splendid evening’s entertainment with lots of drama and blissful vistas. Thank you Rob Bayly.
Summarised by Robert Heath