Things That Fly 

 Everything Avro Arrow



Black Magic : APU getting ready, main chocks removed ,final checks by pilot and electronic warfare officer, the elctro Voodoo from 414 " Black Knight Sqn " prepares to leave terra firma for a supersonic radar jamming sortie. Photo taken at CFB North Bay , June 1986  Centerline pod contains an array of jamming equipment derived from EB-57 package that made it one of the most effective electronic warfare jamming platforms that played havoc with fighter controlers and CF-18 Hornet pilots as well as American F-16s & F-15s during the 1980s. Black paint sheme was meant to make the aircraft more visible during  air combat manoevering.The aircraft in the background is a dual control CF-101F 101006 which was used to keep crews hours up. These were the last Voodoos to serve anywhere in the world and were retired in April 1987 because of operating costs and man hours required to keep them in the air. I don't know where 006 went but the EF-101 in the picture went to the Minesota Air National Guard museum in Mineapolis-St. Paul, Minesota.There is a Voodoo mounted on a pedestal at CFB North Bay but it is just a "B" model painted up as 0067. Canada operated only one EF-101 between 1982 and 1987.



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The McDonnell F-101 Voodoo in Canadian Service 1961-1986 

 The Voodoo was my favourite plane when I was a kid and I have many a fond memory of watching their loud and fast performances at airshows. Here`s my little history of a childhood fascination.

In 1961 just two years after the cancellation of the Avro Arrow project the Canadian government was caught with it`s pants down. The Royal Canadian Air Force needed to upgrade it`s air defence capability as the threat of Russian bombers attacking north american targets still remained. The United States offered for sale 56 Bomarc `B` nuclear tipped surface-to-air missiles plus 56 F-101B interceptors and 10 F-101F operational trainers. The Bomarcs were to be deployed in two squadrons based at North Bay, Ont and La Macaza , Que, while the Voodoos would form four operational squadrons and one operational conversion unit based on Canada's east and west coasts.
When the Diefenbaker government found out that the missiles being offered were to be armed with nuclear warheads it became reluctant to deploy them on Canadian soil which gave rise to poor US/Canadian relations in the early 1960`s. ( Jean Chretien wasn`t the only Canadian PM to tick off the Americans! ). When Lester B. Pearson and the Liberals returned to power in 1963 the re-evaluation of the Bomarc missile deployment was undertaken and the inert missiles recieved their warheads. In 1969 when Pierre Trudeau superseded Pearson as leader of the liberal party he decided that once again that Canada would not have nuclear missiles deployed on it`s soil and both sites were dismantled by 1971. The Voodoo squadrons were deployed at bases in North Bay,Ont, Chatham,NB, Namao, BC and Bagotville, Que.
 Line drawing depicting a United States Air National Guard F-101B
A Beast
The F-101A single seat version of the Voodoo began entering service with the United States Air Force in may 1957 and compared with other jet fighters of the day it was big, loud and fast. Throughout it`s early development in the early 1950`s to it`s introduction into operational service the design underwent several incarnations. It was originally intended as a single seat long-range escort fighter for Strategic Air Command but with the advent of the B-52 Stratofortress this requirement became redundant. It was then adapted as a multi-role aircraft and assigned to Tactical Air Command. A similar long-range photo-reconaissance version was developed simutaneously with the F-101A which was essentially an F-101A witha fully automatic camera system installed in the forward fuselage. Later single seat developments were the F-101C and it`s P/R counterpart the RF-101C. The RF-101C saw extensive action during the Vietnam war and some F-101As ( 20-25 ? ) were supplied to the Chineese Nationalist Air Force in the 1960s.
The two seat version of the Voodoo, the F-101B, was flown for the first time in March, 1957 and started entering service with Canadian squadrons in 1962. It had a newer more advanced fire-control system which was operated by a weapons officer from the rear seat. It also featured a high power searchlight situated just below the W/O`s cockpit for use during night intercepts. More powerful engines were also installed in the form of two Pratt & Whitney J-57-55 turbojets generating 17,000 lbs. of static thrust.
Early RCAF publicity photo of CF-101s with red ensign tail marking.
By the late 1960`s the United States began phasing out their Voodoos from front-line service and regulating them to Air National Guard units. By 1970 with no new interceptor replacement forthcoming Canada began exchanging it`s remaining Voodoos ( 10 were lost in accidents during the 60`s ) for 66 upgraded aircraft featuring upgraded infra-red detecting ability and improved avionics and weapons systems. These aircraft were used by the now amalgamated Canadian Forces up until 1986 when one was specially equipped as an electronic countermeasures target aircraft flying out of North Bay, Ont until it was flown out to it`s new home in a museum in Minnesota later that year as mentioned above.
  While it was well suited for long-range interception missions with it`s exceptional climbing performance, range and two engine reliability the Voodoo suffered numerous unresolved problems throughout it`s 25 year service career. From a Pilot`s perspective these range from inertial roll coupling problems to cockpit instruments which would malfunction or refuse to light up. The Canadian Voodoos also suffered from a chronic shortage of spare parts as well as numerous maintenance headaches. It nevertheless was a top draw at airshows and several exceptional formation teams flew the aircraft during it`s service in Canada and won many competition awards in NORAD exercises.



CF-101 in Detail

                          Pigs Might Fly  : Aussie 111s



I had originally and researched and written this tribute to the F-111C/G  for my old website back in 2009. The F-111 was retired in December 2010 and was replaced by the Boeing f-18 Super Hornet. Since the essay is more ore less up to date I decided to leave iit intact with just a few corrections and additions. Hope I got everything right.

Unofficially christened the "Pig" in service down in the Land Of Oz, The F-111 has remained in front-line service well past the three decade mark and will continue to provide The Royal Australian Air Force with long range multi-role capability in any environment and flight regime until the first of 24 Super Hornets are delivered in 2010, the first three of which have recently completed their initial test flights.

Originally designed as a fighter for both the US Navy and US Air Force, despite the ambiguious fighter designation it became an extremely effective strike/interdictor aircraft both in the US Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force capable of delivering both nuclear or conventional weapons at low altitude. The US Navy pulled out at an early stage of the F-111s development deeming it too heavy to operate from existing carrier decks. Nonetheless, the F-111 was one of the hottest operational aircraft ever to enter service in the 20th century, being the first production aircraft to incorporate variable geometry wings which allowed it to take off with heavy combat loads in relatively short distances of 3,000 ft at 16 degrees sweep. Advances in turbojet technology, electronics technology and the ground breaking terrain following radar ( TFR ) that guided the aircraft on a pre-set height following ground contours also made it one of the first "systems" aircraft in the surface -to-air attack category, another being the Grumman A-6 Intruder or " hot box". The F-111 can essentially fly itself over all kinds of irregular terrain in any weather at speeds exceeding twice the speed of sound. The wings and fuselage accomodate fuel tanks whose weight alone exceeds the all up weight of a fully loaded F-16 Fighting Falcon! Because the aircraft is a virtual flying gas tank a nozzle was installed in the tail allowing the F-111 to dump and burn fuel in case an wheels up landing was necessary reducing the risk of an explosion on impact. This feature is still a spectacular draw at airshows sometimes shattering windows, making organizers nervous and causing babies to cry. ( see photo below & video shot at Perth Airshow ).
External ordnance includes bombs, missiles and jettisonable fuel tanks that pivot as the wings sweep, keeping the ordnance parallell with the wings. The outer pylons that carry the external fuel tanks do not pivot and can be dropped for high speed runs.
The F-111 had another innovation where pilot and navigator sit side in an air conditioned and pressurized crew escape module that blasts clear of the aircraft by means of a rocket which can even be fired at ground level or from under water, descending by parachute. To deal with the reduced rear visibility as a result of this seating arrangement a warning antenna was mounted on top of the vertical stabilizer to warn the crew of any missile or aircraft threats from behind.
The first F-111s entered service with the US air Force in late 1967 and by the spring of 1968 they were in action over South East Asia where early in service problems were encountered with three aircraft being lost due to TFR failures and compressor stalls because of pressure fluctuations at the engine inlets. They were later redesigned by expanding the inlet and introducing an adjustable device that maintained constant airflow into the compressor as speeds varied. It was also discovered that the sink rate of the variable geometry wings were a handful for even the most skilled pilots and early losses were attributed to controlled flight into terrain which also caused 75% of Australia`s F-111 losses over the years. Early losses were also caused by hairline cracks in the pivot joints wherein the loads from the wings were transmitted to the fuselage. Despite these initial teething problems thousands of missions were flown by the F-111 during the course of the Vietnam war with the loss of only 4 aircraft to SAMs.


Early in the 1960s the Royal Australian Air Force required an aircraft to replace their ageing Canberra bombers with an aircraft capable of flying over vast distances of terrain & water, thus taking the initiatives of destroying the enemy on the ground. Among the aircraft under evaluation were the North American RA-5C Vigilante and the British TSR.2 as well as the General Dynamics F-111 which had yet to fly. The TSR.2 project was cancelled by the British and the Vigilante was deemed to become obsolete by the end of the decade. So, before tooling even began Australia placed an order for 24 F-111Cs that featured a lengthened wing which could accomodate the Harpoon anti-shipping missile.
Further problems ensued which I`ve already briefly described, which, with cost overuns and political bickering, put the F-111C procurement into limbo for over half a decade while 24 McDonnel F-4E Phantoms were leased by the Australians in early 1970 until the first F-111Cs began arriving in June 1973. 4 Aircraft were modified as RF-111C recconnaisance platforms in the late seventies and today about 17 F-111Cs are still operated by Nos 1 & 6 squadrons based at RAAF Amberley in Queensland.
 The Australian "Pigs" as they are locally known, have a 3,500 mile operating range and can carry 8,000 lbs of misery to any potential enemy for 1,500 miles, 300 of them at low level anytime in any weather. One US Air Force pilot flew for 500 miles at 200 ft during his final F-111 flight! More recently a detachment of F-111Cs was sent to RAAF Darwin in The Northern Territory to perform recon missions and send a clear message to the Indonesians during the East Timor emergency in 1999.
It is worth describing the awesome effectiveness of the terrain following radar ( TFR ) which was upgraded in the 1980s with Pave Tack laser designators to bring the good news to the bad guys with even more persuasiveness. Just in time for the first Gulf War, half of the laser guided bombs that were dropped during that conflict were dropped by US Air Force F-111s. Known as "consecutive miracles" , one laser guided bomb blasts a hole in a hardened shelter or ship and the other following seconds behind it slams inside finishing the job.

A typical F-111 bomb run commences with the push at 20,000 ft 50 miles from the target when the pilot goes through a checklist with the navigator. The navigator then throws a switch on the right hand side of the flight control panel engaging the TFR. The TFR noses the aircraft over into a 10 & a half G dive hurtling the aircraft towards the ground at 8,000 fpm. In the dive the pilot throttles back a little to prevent the aircraft from going supersonic. Then, with a pistol-like grip he/she sweeps the wings back to 44°.

 Down at 5000 ft is where all the fun really begins as the TFR pushes the nose down another 12° increasing the rate of descent to 12,000 fpm. At this point the pilot and navigator are just along for the ride. A reporter once asked an RAAF navigator what the crew does when the TFR kicks in he replied, " We watch the goddam thing and make sure it doesn`t kill us ". The F-111 rides like a Rolls Royce compared to an F-18 which tends to get bitchy at 600 knots at 200 ft and " it almost seems like the earth is moving beneath the airplane rather than the other way around ", remarked another US Air Force navigator. The TFR is sourced by a pair of radar dishes mounted in a fibreglass radome in the nose of the aircraft that can scope 15 miles ahead informing the autopilot of any obstacles that stand within 4° of the flight path as they whoosh by. The TFR then levels out the Aircraft at 1,000 ft then the crew step down to 200 ft and for the run in to the target the pilot sweeps the wings back to 50-60°. The navigator, meanwhile, has his/her head buried in the radar screen lining up the
crosshairs of the radar with the target as far as 30 miles in the distance. He/she then clears the pilot to release the ordnance. The pilot then pedals off, pulling the aircraft into a 25° 6000 mph 4G climb and then hits the release button releasing the bomb about 5 seconds into the climb. The navigator has to hold the laser on the target until impact. The aircraft is still climbing at this point and banking as much as 90° and is highly vulnerable to ground threats. The job is even more demanding at night during which 40% of F-111C missions are flown, requiring split second crew co-ordination while maintaining situational awareness, keeping aware of all terrain, obstacles and threats.
 Maintenance problems persist on the ageing fleet and not all aircraft are on line at any given time. Major maintenance problems include the wing pivot points which are constructed with a low carbon alloy which isvery brittle and succeptable to corrosion as well as hairline cracks on the wing sections closest to the pivot pionts which require entire wing sections to be replaced. Other headaches involve air ducts which also need to be frequently replaced. One mechanic remarked that you had to have the skills of a contortionist in order to get at them. Software for the old inertial navigation system and the third generation TFR also go on the fritz. A number of recently retired earlier model F-111Gs acquired from the Americans have been cannibalised in order to keep the fleet flying.

 After over 35 years of service the F-111 remains a fearsome beast even as the first 24 F-18 Super Hornets start replacing it from 2010 although many analysts consider the aircraft suitable for service until 2020 given the availability of spares from American stocks arguing there simply isn`t an aircraft in existence that can do what an F-111 can. I`ll leave you with a video of a "consecutive miracle" as an RAAF " Pig" takes out a North Korean drug smuggling ship with a couple of 2,000 lb laser guided bombs. The ship`s fuel had been drained and the smugglers captured and given long prison sentences so just say no to drugs kids because Mr. F-111 will be waiting for you.

 Everything F-111



               F-14 : Performance Baby !!

What appears to be a US Navy F-14 pilot ruining his career by buzzing the carrier it was actually part of an exercise that took place on the aircraft carrier USS America in the summer of 1989 to familiarise the flight deck crew with low flying/high speed tactical aircraf. It took a bit of searching but I finally unravelled the truth behind this unusual photograph right from the horse's mouth. Here is the pilot's description of the manuever. His name was Lt. Commander Dale Snodgrass and at the time had more hours in the F-14 than any other pilot. He went on to attain the rank of Captain ( N ) and led 34 F-14 missions during the first gulf war. He retired from the US Navy in 1999 with over 4,800 hours on the F-14 and over 10,000 hours total. In his own words :

" It's not risky at all with practice. It was my opening pass in an F-14 Tomcat tactical demonstration at sea. It started from the starboard quarter of the carrier slightly below the flight deck level. Airspeed was about 270 kt with the wings swept forward. I selected afterburner at about a half a mile out and the aircraft accelerated to about 350 kt. As I approached the fantail I rolled into an 85 degree bank and did a hard 50 degree turn finishing about 15 to 20 degrees off the boat's axis. Microseconds after the photo was taken  after rolling wings level at an altitude slightly above the flight deck I pulled vertical with a quarter roll to the left ending with an immelman roll 90 degrees and continued the rest of the demonstration". 


                           Pilot Error  Part One

I  have always loved solving lateral logic puzzles. I came across this one in Erwin Brecher's pocket book while onn a bus one night. Actually all the puzzles in this book were taken from real life. I had no problem solving this one see if you can solve it as quickly as I did. The solution follows afteer the video. Remember no cheating.

Tim Shaw, a pilot for 18 years had an outstanding safety record. One afternoon he was trying to land a British Airways 747. Visibility was good in spite of a slight snow flurry.  he was easing the plane gently down towards the runway when it happened. It appeared that Tim throttled back too early and the jumbo jet, one of the safest planes  in service, stalled and crash landed.

Although no one was hurt, the accident was clearly due to pilot error, yet Mr. Shaw was not grounded. He continued flying despite this blemish on his record his career remained unaffected. How was this possible, considering the stringest safety measures applied by all international airlines?



Who's  Flying the Godamn airplane ???

 " The inellectual and physical skills once required by the pilot have largely been replaced by an emphasis on " soft skills " and information management. The pilot who originally challenged sources of information now readily accepts information from a variety of sources, many computer generated, without question."

-Training conference, Aug 21, 2011, Royal Aeronautical Society 

  When I was in university back in the mid-16th century computers were just coming into vogue and we had to rely on ourTexas instruments calculators in order to do all our cheating. I've always maintained that computers would eventually steer us on some sort of collision course with disaster. I always think of Alex Colville' s 1954 painting " Horse and Train " that depicts a confrontation of the past with progress whenever I hear about  a monumental computer fuck up. Just as from the viewers perspective in  the painting,  we are helpless. Some of my favourite Star Trek episodes from the 60s were the  ones with the  "Capt. Kirk takes on a computer and wins" scenario. Maybe we could have learned something from Kirk's exploits and Coleville's painting. We are making technological advances at an insane rate and it is gradually catching up with us.


Although the computers have not yet achieved the deviousness of the HAL 2000 from 2001 : A Space Odyssey it seems that we're heading in that direction. Since February 12, 2009 when a Colgan Air Bombardier Dash 8 Q400  took a nose dive on approach to the Buffalo International Airport, crashing into a house and killing all 49 aboard plus 1 on the ground there have been a number of airline crashes that can be attributed to computers. In this instance it was not really  the computer's fault but rather the fault of the pilots who were ignoring their primary instruments ( airspeed indicator, altimeter, Artificial horizon etc.. ) and confiding too much in the computer. The computer was doing what it was told but it was the pilots who fed it the incorrect airspeed information causing the aircraft to fly too slowly causing it to stall. The pilot in command initiated the wrong recovery procedure pulling back on the control yoke rather than pushing it forward to gain  speed and restore the angle of attack back to normal flight parameters. This particular model of the Dash 8 even had a fail-safe system built into it called a "stick shaker" system that forces the airplane's nose down in the event of an oncoming stall. The pilot-in-command even fought the "stick shaker" and forced the airplane into a point-of-no return stall.  In fact, the pilots should have been flying the aircraft on manual because of severe icing conditions. Pilot fatigue and training  were also factors. The 24 year-old co-pilot was only being paid $ 16,000/ yr ( this is NOT one of my stupid typos ) and had to live with her parents on the opposite side of the country,  having  to work as a waitress in a coffee shop on her off time in order to make ends meet. The 47 year-old pilot in command was also seen napping before the flight in the pilot's ready room. Both pilots had relatively  few hours " in type "  and the female co-pilot actually had more Dash 8 Q400 time than the captain ! I think the company deserves some blame here.  I saw something wrong with this picture from the time I first read about it in my local newspaper. It is also worth noting that the aircraft was almost brand new, just over a year old.  


Before continuing on with my short synopsis I'll attempt to define an aerodynamic stall so you'll better understand the point (s) I am trying to make here before continuing on  with my 3 principal examples.

The term is rather misleading for the layman who thinks of a stall as a car's engine cutting out. In the aerodynamic sense it essentially means the wings are not producing enough lift in order to sustain the weight of the airplane, ie the weight of the airplane is no longer proportional to it's lift and the angle of attack with respect to the horizon has reached the critical point progressively creating air separation or a void over the trailing area of the wing moving more and more forward as the stall develops. Pilots in the very early stages in their training, whether they be civilian or military, learn how to cope ( manually )  with stalls. They also are taught how to identify an impending stall and how to recover from a stall that has fully developed. One of the major symptoms of a developing stall is the shuddering of the flight controls. I hope you're still with me here. The recovery manoever is really quite simple but doesn't come naturally because it goes against basic human  instincts which is why practice is necessary.  The diagnosis is to point the nose of the airplane down thus increasing speed and reducing the angle of attack, restoring an even airflow over the wings. It is advantageous if a lot of altitude is available or else the airplane might end up hitting the ground before the recovery is complete.   

A couple of weeks  after the Colgan Air tragedy another crash occurred as a result of  incorrect information sourced from a computer that resulted in disaster. This time it was a Turkish Airlines 737 on approach to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport.  There was a radio altimiter malfunction and by the time the pilots diagnosed the problem, which was the failure of the auto-throttle that recieves signals from the radio altimeter to disengage and hand over manual control to the pilots, it was too late and the aircraft had run out of the necessary altitude in order to effect a manual  response . Consequently  the aircraft plowed into a field 1.5 kilometers short of the runway threshold  killing 9  incuding the 3 pilots. This later model of the 737 flew with 2 pilots but on this occasion one was a trainee pilot and one was a safety check pilot ( this flight was certainly not safe ! ). At the time of the malfunction the novice pilot in the right hand seat was being monitored by the two other pilots and his radio altimeter was functioning perfectly wheras the captain's was not. There was also a audio warning that sounded in the cockpit advising the pilots that the landing gear should be deployed since they were flying lower than the captain's altimeter indicated. That alone should have alerted them to the imminent disaster. Fortunately the aircraft had used up most of it's fuel and  came down in a muddy field, two factors that helped to prevent a fire . One of the conclusions in the Dutch  investigation report was the pilot's failure to monitor primary instruments which was contested by  Turkish Airlines just as in the Colgan Air incident. This paticular 737 was also  a relatively  young aircraft, enetering service in 2002.

If this sort of scares you then I don't advise you to read part two of my  synopsis and conlusion which will cover the most baffling air disaster I've ever come across. I'm still scratching my head over this one and so are the expert investigators. I'm talking about Air France flight 447 that plunged into the south Atlantic on June 1, 2009. I placed it at the bottom of the page just like they put the dirty magazines in hard -to-reach places in magazine stores and newstands so you can avert it.   


Impossible Landing : F-15D Eagle, Israeli AirForce


 This event probably explains why Israeli Air Force pilots are regarded as some of the best in the world. it occured on May 1st 1983 over the Negev desert during dogfighting exercises when a two seat F-15D Eagle collided with an A-4N Skyhawk " agressor ". The Skyhawk fireballed and it's pilot was ejected automatically while the Eagle pilot managed to recover and limp back to the nearest airfield minus a wing! McDonnell-Douglas, the manafacturer of the Eagle, said that such a feat was aerodynamically impossible according to computer simulations. Flight International published this on June 8, 1985 :

" The most outstanding Eagle save was by a pilot from a foriegn air force. During air combat training his two seat F-15D Eagle was involved in a mid-air collision with an A-4N Skyhawk. The A-4 crashed and the Eagle lost it's right wing about 2ft.outboard.After some confusion with the instructor who said eject, the student who outranked his instructor said no, and the F-15 was landed at it's desert base. Touching down at 290 kt, the tail hook was dropped for an approach and engagement . This slowed the F-15 to 100 kt when the  hookweak link sheared, and the aircraft was then braked conventionally. It is said  that the student was later demoted for disobeying his instructor, then promoted for saving the aircraft. Mcdonnell-Douglas attributes the saving of this aircraft to amount of lift generated by the engine intake / body and  "a hell of a good pilot". " 


But I think there's more here. In just a few short seconds the Israeli pilot summoned every scrap of knowledge he possessed about flying an F-15 and transformed it into a series of actions that enabled him to recover the aircraft which was later repaired and returned to service. 

While no computer programmer could predict all the variables in such a situation what if the jet could be programmed to think? Given intelligence and becoming a learning system and transformed into a computer simulation. Like two babies playing in a bathtub using the water to learn about density, volume heat & weight. A baby's brain is firing on all four cylinders burning twice as much energy as an adult's brain and manafacturing millions of synaptic connections as it bashes on. So what if an F-15 could be programmed to think and learn like a baby and stabilize itself in the complex situation that the Israeli pilot found himself travelling at near super sonic speeds in a severely damaged state? Fortunately all the conditions,air pressure, speed, gravity, momentum etc. were right allowing him to recover the aircraft only having to make slight throttle and afterburner adjustments. William Shatner and collaborator Chip Walter investigate possibities using computer simulations to recover a severely damaged  F-15 in their remarkable book StarTrek  I'm Working On That. I highly recomend the book that explores the confluence of immagination and reality and how far we've come since Star Trek first aired in 1966 offering warnings about not allowing technology to go off the deep end but also as to how it can be beneficial to our propogation as a responsible spieces on planet Earth as long as we know how to handle it's reigns. Technology can be like an unbroken horse running wild.

                     A Canadian Spitfire Story

 "If anybody tells you anything about an airplane which is so bloody complicated you can't understand it take it from me : it' s all Balls. " - RJ Mitchell

The Supermarines Spitfire caught my immagination when I was a kid even though I had only seen them in books, museums and movies. The first time I actually got to see one fly was at an airshow in St. Hubert, Québec in the capable hands of Jerry Billing. Mr. Biling had flown various marks of the Spitfire in Malta and Europe during the Second World War and was decorated with a number of awards and decorations including The Malta George Cross. Initially rejected by the post war RCAF because he had become declared redundant as a figter pilot, he managed to re-enlist in 1948 and went on to fly numerous types of aircraft inclufding the Vampire, Sabre and Canadair T-333 Mk 3 Silver Star jets. He also flew a number of British fighters asan exchange officer with the royal Air Force. During the 1960s he flew as a test pilot for De Havilland Canada and was involved in ferrying transport planes to Vietnam for the CIA ! He became re acquainted with the Spitfire in the mid-sixties flying Spitfires for private owners and had the distinction of being the last pilot to fly the Spitfire Mk. IX which is now on display in the National Aviation museum in Ottawa.In the 1970s he began an association with film star Cliff Richard who had purchased a Spitfire in Europe with the intention of displaying it airshows in North America. Billing flew the Spitfire with it's distinctive Z-5J 126 squadron markings all the way up until 1994, when he made his last flight in his early seventies ! The aircraft was then flown to The Seattle Museum Of Flight where it resides today.

The airshow combination was a unique one featuring both a pilot and an aircraft that had actually seen action in historic battles during the Second World War literally giving audiences a display of living history. Mr. Billing's flying routine that day was eyewatering and sent shivers down my spine as Glenn Miller's In The Mood was played over the PA. A younger pilot was flying a Hurricaine along with Billing but didn't dare try any of the crazy maneuvers that Billing was pulling off. He pushed the Spit to it's envelope with rolls, climbing turns and low passes with such finesse that man and machine seemed as one.

 Mr. Billing to this day is arguably the pilot with more hours in the Spitfire flying' a feat that will probably never be equalled. Hope you enjoy the video even though the anouncer sounds like he's had one too many cappucinos.




         Do Aliens need pilot's licences ? ( Herman Cartoon )


                             Pilot Error Part Two

In a nutshell the tragedy of Flight 447 Airbus 330 crash could have been averted had the pilots followed the proper procedure in order to recover from a high altitude stall. As mentioned in part one above this is a standard maneover that is taught early on in flight school. The problem on Flight 447 originated from ice that had accumulated on the openings on the externally mounted pitot tubes which are  sensors which measure dynamic and static air pressure that is converted into data which tell the pilots how fast the aircraft is travelling throgh the air. As a cosequence the sensors began sending ambiguious datato the cockpit forcing the pilots to switch to manual. The French investigation team later concluded that the pilots were not sufficiently trained to respond to a speed sensor malfunction at high altitude. The pilot in command held the stick back for almost 3 minutes before the aircraft enetered into a stall descending at 10,000 feet per minute making recovery at that point next to impossible

One airline captain, Mark Hoffman a Boeing 777 and Airbus A320 veteran made these comments in Flying magazine shortly after the disaster :

"The Air France pilots had been so thouroughly indoctrinated into correctly thinking that their aircraft could never be stalled and simply never considered reverting to the basics of ' pitch, power equals performance ' when they were confronted with confusing instrument indications. rather, they held the stick fully aft thinking that the flight control computers would have saved the day as they would 99% of the time. When pilots stop thinking about actually flying the aircraft and  fly a perfectly sound aircraft into the water, something has gone terribly awry with aircraft design & training".

Experts ( both pilots & aerodynamicists ) concur that Flight 447 pilots had plenty of altutude ( 35,000 ft ) and that recovery was possible. One investigator commented, " what were they thinking ? " One can only imagine the mayhem that was taking place on Flight 447's flight deck  during the final moments.

I might be sounding like some sort of wack-job conspiracy theorist but unfortunately  it's only the most horrific aviation crashes which involve massive loss of life that are newsworthy. You're never going to hear  " breaking news! this just in !  Air Canada Flight AC 865  just made a perfectly safe departure from Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport just minutes ago on runway two four left. It left precisely according to schedule and the two pilots were not drunk. Textbook flying conditions were encountered en route and the flight was uneventful. The Airbus made a perfect landing and the passengers disembarked in an orderly fashion. There were no lawsuits against the airline". So how safe is airline travel with all this new technology that allow airplanes to practically fly themselves? I did some research earlier this year ( 2012 ) and found that there was an average of one fatal accident/1.52 million flights in 2011 that killed 514 people worldwide . Only 5 could becategorized as wide body airline passenger flights while the remainder costituted regional turboprops and freighters with skeleton crews. The worst accident in 2011 was an Iran Air 727 that killed 77. All the aircraft were relatively new and most crashed within close proximity of airports either on climb out or approach. Although the number of people killed has been signifigantly reduced over recent years thanks to this new technology, when accidents do occur they take place as a result of loss of control and in most cases could have been avoided. The unfortunate fact is that pilots suffer from automation addiction, according too much trust to automated systems.

In this age of paperless cockpits traditional dials and gauges have been rplaced by glass cockpits with  LCD displays that provide specific flight information when required by pilots. This eliminates the need for the flight engineer, a third creww member who was often  also a qualified pilot but with extensive knowlege of all systems aboard the aircraft who was responsible for monitoring and managing these systems. From the early 1980s glass cockpits began replacing flight engineers with this information was being processed and reported to the pilots via the LCD displays. The airlines liked this because it was one less human on the payroll. Even the Concorde carried a flight engineer. Compare the cockpit of the concorde below to that of the Airbus A330  at the top of this section. Another technological advancement that has contributed to ambiguous situations in the cockpit are next generation data link communication systems. Pilots 


and controllers communicate using a method that is not unlike texting or e-mailing. Controllers upload data to pilots that eliminate a variety of radio frequency change requests, reduce taxi time, fuel burn and air-to-air re-routes due to bad weather or emergencies as well as landing instructions. In other words it makes everything is more "efficient ". One such incident where the data link communications malfunctioned was on the taxiway at Hong Kong International Airport in November 2010 when a Finnair Airbus A340 tried to take off from a taxiway rather than on the intended runway. Fortunately the error was quickly detected by ATC and a potential disaster was averted. According to some statistics as many of 50 total system failures have been reported over the years.
An early example of a total system failure happened in July 1983 when an Air Canada 767, one of the first aircraft equipped with automated technology,  ran out of fuel at 41,000 ft on a flight between Montréal and Winnipeg as a result of a miscalculation during fuel transfer during a stopover in Ottawa. The 767 lost both engines and despite the deployment of wind generated hydraulic propellors, the two pilots found themselves with no power, no useful instruments, no flaps and no transponder, an on board device that sends out coded information indicating the airplane's position to air traffic controllers. Fortunately an outdated reflective radar was available to the controllers and they were able to pimpoint the airplane's position. While the captain ( an experienced glider pilot ) managed to maintain the the 90 ton airplane in a glide,  the first officer worked on cockpit management using mental calculations and pen & paper. It was discovered that the aircraft would not make the Winnipeg runway at their current angle of decent.  An ex-military pilot, the first officer recalled that there was an old Royal Canadian Air Force base at Gimli that was slightly closer than Winnipeg. A split second decision was made to try for Gimli. Unaware that it was being used as a drag race strip and on that particular afternoon a special event was being held by the local drag race club, the pilots focussed their attention on putting the 767 down there. By means of cross controlling a method used to slow  light gliders for landings the captain managed to effect a safe landing coming in at about 90 degrees. There were only minor injuries to the crew, passengers and nobody on the ground was hurt. The event made world headlines. No contigency plans existed to bring a mid size airliner to a safe landing so it was without doubt the experience and expertise of the pilots that were responsible for the safe recovery of this 767 later dubbed " The Gimli Glider". It is interesting to note that after the investigation the same scenario was fed into a company simulator and tested by several different crews with disasterous results. None were able to get the airplane down safely ! This sort of reminds me of the baby in the bathtub theory I briefly discussed in the Impossible Landing section with the Israeli F-15 fighter earlier.
I might have got a wee bit carried away with this section but my main intention here was to just make a point ; we are being turned into slaves to new technology. We have to put the brakes on soon and start relying on our own human faculties and instincts before we bcome extinct in spite of ourselves.
 Anyone interested in a more in a more depth account of the Gimli Glider incident here's a link to Wikipedia who actually have an excellent page and links
Answer to the lateral logic puzzle : Captain Shaw was flying a simulator

                                B 25 Tractor pull

Nothing that remarkable about a photo of a B-25 Mitchell but I was very suprised when a friend of mine ( a pilot himself ) sent me this photo of an outdoor assembly line in Kansas City that was taken in October 1942 ! Most photos that we see from that era are in black and white. Interesting.



              Things That Barely Fly

This unusual event occured on Feb 1,1943 during a raid by B-17s from the 414 Bomb Sqn of the 97th Bomb Group on the Tunis docks. An out of control FW-190 sliced into the tail section of a B-17F christened  "The All American III " leaving a hole in her fuselage that was 16 ft long and 4 feet wide that ran from mid-ships and causing the tail section to hang off only attched to the rest of the aircraft by a few spars and a narrow section of aluminum. The port stabilizer was missing, and the  two starboard engines were out. While one of the starboard engines was still functioning the other one was experiencing a critical fuel pump leak. The oxygen system was almost completely knocked out as were the radios. The captain, Lt Kendrick R Bragg, continued on to the target and released the bombs before high tailing it for home. The tail gunner, who was isolated in the rear section, along with the waist gunners used their parachute harnesses as well as parts of the fighter that were left behind in order to effect makeshift repairs while Bragg made a wide 70 mile turn in order to prevent the tail section from separating which was flapping dangerously and threatening to tear off. To make matters worse they were then attacked by two Messerchmitt 109 fighters whose attacks both waist gunners and the tail gunner were able to repell. " The All American III " finally made it back to it's base 2 1/2 hours after the collision. The fate of the German fighter is not known but ut is thought that the pilot was wounded and lost control of his aircraft the last of which was seen plmmeting towards the ground. Miraculously none of the crew onthe " All American III " were injured and " The All American III " was repaired and returned to service and survived the war serving withe 353rd Bomb Sqn of the 301st Bomb Group eventually being scrapped in 1945. 

          The Glory Days Of The Royal Canadian Navy


Yes Virginia, Canada used to have an aircraft carrier with fighter jets on it too. In January 1957 the HMCS Bonaventure was commissioned as an ASW  carrier in the Royal Canadian Navy and served until 1969 after which it was sold for scrap after undergoing a mid-life refit which cost... ahem... $11 million. Originally built for the Royal Navy as the HMS Powerful the " Bonnie " became a modified Majestic class Small ASW Carrier. In order to accomodate McDonnell F-2H-3 Banshee fleet defence fighters it was fitted with a steam catapult as well as a modern mirror landing system. 

 The McDonnell F2H-3 Bashee was well liked from a pilot's perspective but it's operational service in the RCN Naval Air Branch was not that successful. Not because the aircraft was not capable, but as result of not being compatable with the slower and smaller Canadian carrier. When operating with a full complement of Tracker ASW aircraft  both  the ship and aircraft were forced to operate at optimal limits at all times with little margin for error. Only 8 Banshees and 12 Trackers could be embarked at a time. 12 of the 39 RCN Banshees were lost in accidents. While not embarked on the carrier they assumed responsibility for the defence of Canada's 22nd NORAD Region  and performed in this caoacity exceptionally well being the only Canadian aircraft besides the CF-18 Hornet to be equipped with the ( then secret ) sidewinder air-to-air missiles. In the fighter bomber role it could carry 6 x 500 lb bombs and was also armed with four x  20 mm cannons which made it a formidable air-to air opponent despite it's obsolecency. A display team also performed between 1956 and 1960 that flew various combinations adopting the iconic name The Grey Ghosts in 1958. The most spectacular year was 1959 when the team flew with 6 aircraft to celebrate Canada's 50th anniversary of flight. By 1962 the Banshee was way past it's prime and was retired without being replaced. What a cool airplane!





Banshee carrying an aim-9 sidewinder missile

Banshee preserved at the National Aviation Museum

An excellent two volume set by Stuart E. Soward, a former RCN pilot,  published in 1993 tells the story of the Royal Canadian Navy's Naval Air Branch between 1945 and 1969. It's out of print but can still be found on the web or through a major public library.


                          Flying Test Bed Boeing B 720


I used to see this thing flying around the Island of Montréal all the time with it's unmistakable red & white paint job and unusual fittings. This "thing" was the last flying Boeing 72O, little brother to the more famous Boeing 707, which was used as a flying engine testbed by Pratt & Whitney Canada from 1985 until just last year ( 2011 ). You will notice that the nose was specially modified to accomodate a turboprop engine, the exhaust port  for which is visible just above the cockpit. The inboard side of the starboard wing was used to test more powerful jet engines. Below a picture of the B720 with an actual turboprop fitted for testing. She now resides at the Air Force Museum at CFB Trenton. A true Canadian icon.


                                         The Last Dogfight

  Although the last action in the air over the slies of Europe during April 1945 is sometimes is acredited to a P-61 Black Widow night fighter in fact it was another incident that can lay clain to this distinction and a very unusual one at that.

 On Sunday March 25, 1945 a US Army Piper L-4 Grasshopper        " Miss Me ? " ( the military designation for the ubiquitous Piper Cub ) piloted by Lt Duane Francies with Lt. William S. Martin as his spotter were performing a mission in support of the 5th Armoured Division, 9th Army. They were locating enemy strongpoints and oncoming attacks in the vicinity of Schonebeck. Armed with Colt 45 pistols they were also taking oportune potshots of the enemy on the ground when a German Feiseler Storch observation plane appeared. Although the Storch had a 30 MPH speed advantage over the Grasshoppers 75 MPH top speed, Francies and Martin commenced to blast away at it with their 45s. Despite some desparate manuevers the Storch was forced into the ground. Francies put the Grasshopper down on the ground after which a short action took place. resulting in the capture of the pilot and observer of the Storch. Francies and Martin became the only airmen during the Second World War to down an enemy aircraft using small arms


Francies was recommended for a DFC ( his second of the war ) and ironically it was Martin who was not even an aviator who recieved the Air Medal. 23 years later. Francies part was recognized largely due to the mention of the event in Cornelius Ryan's 1966 book The Last Battle ( where I first learned about this fascinating story ). Francies continued to fly after the war with the Army Reserve in addition to becoming a commercial pilot. Duane Francies passed away on May 5, 2004 at the age of 85.


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