Thursday, 31 August 2017

Problems with Early Seafires.

Seafire on H.M.S. Unicorn
 I mentioned in my blog of 12.8.17 (Spitfires to Malta) the improvisation necessary to get the required half flap setting for taking off from HMS Eagle.
This reminded me of another improvisation mentioned in my recent book in response to deck landings with the early Seafires. Capt. George C. Baldwin, who flew Seafires throughout the war, gave the following perspective on problems associated with aircraft-carrier landings with the early conversions: “‘pecking’ was a phenomenon caused by the tail being thrown up as the aircraft caught the arrester-wire and the propeller touching the flight deck and, if it was a wooden propeller, pieces flew off in every direction. Believe it or not, that was cured by just taking a sharp knife and cutting three inches off the end of each blade with no noticeable loss of performance whatever.” [There were also problems with pintles in the undercarriage being easily damaged and with hard contacts of the tail with the flight deck causing the fuselage to bend just in front to the empennage.]

A more chilling scenario may not be noticed in my Appendix One, where FAA pilot Henry Adlam describes a detail of the Salerno operation (September, 1943) with the early Seafire types:
For the Seafire to land on the small deck of an Escort Carrier, even under ideal conditions, calls for considerable skill and experience on the part of the pilot. But at Salerno, the wind conditions were no better than a zephyr breeze and almost a dead calm, conditions entirely to have been expected at that time of the year. Thus the Seafires had to operate with a total wind speed over the deck of only sixteen knots, being the maximum speed of the Escort Carriers, whereas they needed a total wind speed over the deck of at least twenty-eight knots. These were desperately difficult landing conditions for the Seafire pilots; conditions which surely should have been anticipated at the outset when the whole Salerno operation was being planned by Rear Admiral Vian who, despite never having flown an aircraft or having served in an Aircraft Carrier, had been put in charge of this, the first multi Carrier Fleet* of the Royal Navy… After two days the four Escort Carriers had virtually run out of Seafires, no less than forty-eight [my italics] of which had been written off as the pilots attempted to land in windless conditions.

* The fleet in question was composed of the four escort carriers and a support/depot ship, H.M.S. Unicorn, also configured as an aircraft carrier – see illustration below.

[Notwithstanding Adlam’s views, the enigmatic Vian, conclued his 40 year service with promotion to Admiral of the Fleet.

By 1944, the problems with the Seafire had been resolved: Adlam again, with reference to the Seafire XV: ‘An absolute thoroughbred of an aircraft requiring only the most delicate pressures on the controls for it to respond immediately and perfectly… On a runway with plenty of space, the simplest of aircraft to land’.]

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For reference sources, see my Blogpost: “Source Material and References" – an extended bibliography is included in my R.J.Mitchell at Supermarine; Schneider Trophy to Spitfire which also provides material for wider reading, grouped according to specific areas of interest. 

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