Airplanes, Cratology & DoughnutsThursday, January 06, 2011
I think I can safely separate the people of the world in two distinct types. There are those who upon hearing the sound of an airplane will look up and those who don’t. I am from the former category. I remember with excitement and fondness having been a passenger in a DC-3, a DC-6B with oxygen masks while flying over the Andes, a Constellation and a Super Constellation ( with handsome Pan Am stewardesses who offered me chewing gum before take off!), a Comet 4, a Convair 990, a Boeing 747 and all kinds of smaller planes from De Havilland Beavers to Embrauers.
Airplanes have been in my mind for the last month. It could have been because Rosemary and I have watched two excellent British TV series (borrowed from our wonderful Vancouver Public Library). One of the series is the 1982 We’ll Meet Again. It features Susannah York and is about an American B-17 squadron based in England. Rosemary asked me all sorts of question like, “What is an escort?” What is a fighter?” The other series we finished last night and it is A Piece of Cake. This is a 1988 TV Series (most of the actors then went on to make very good films). This show anachronistically is about the Hornets a fictitious Spitfire squadron initially based in France. It is anachronistic because Spitfires were never stationed in France but the makers of the series could not find enough Hawker Hurricanes (the planes that indeed were at one time based in France).
This show follows the pilots from the invasion of Poland, to the so-called Phony War and ends with the climax of the air battle over Britain. Most of the protagonists from the beginning die except for one by the end of the series. This show has little nostalgia and is quite brutal. They used real flying Spitfires and Me-109s. In the last segment (there are 6) there is a beautiful flying sequence between a Me-109 and a Spitfire, flying low and swooping over the chalk cliffs.
This novel begins in August 1, 1955 and ends February 10, 1973. It covers the Sputnik, the making of the U-2 and the Lockheed Blackbird. It tells you how Boeing’s 747 became and unlikely reality and how the Americans, the French and the Russians vied to get the first supersonic jet liner on the air.
But it is the chapter on the significance of the shooting down of Francis Gary Powers in his U-2 over the Soviet Union and this little section on cratology that fascinated me:
October 14, 1962
“Cratology got me here.” Major Richard S. Heyser, the top pilot of the 4080th Strategic Wing, said the phrase aloud, 72,000 feet above Earth, at the controls of a U-2F borrowed from the CIA. With its Pratt & Whitney Yj75-P-13 engine developing almost sixteen thousand pounds of thrust, it was far more powerful that the J57 engine-powered Air Force U-2s that he had been flying for almost seven years.
The term “cratology” was coined a the National Photographic Interpretation Centre (NPIC by its director, the fiery, inspiring, hard-driving Art Lundahl. It meant the scientific study of the almost infinite variety of crates, boxes, and shipping containers that the Soviet Union used to protect its equipment en route and on site.
Supersonic Thunder, Walter J. Boyne
This novel is a gem and its next reader will be my friend Sean Rossiter who is the only person I know with whom I can talk about airplanes.
Last night I finished another book that had been in my collection for years but which I had not read in great detail. It is called The Bombers – The Illustrated Story of Offensive Strategy and Tactics in the Twentieth Century by Robin Cross (1987).
On the night of October 30, 1967 a single A-6A Intruder, flown by Lieutenant-Commander Charles B. Hunter with Lieutenant Lyle F. Bull as bombardier/navigator [the sat side-by-side], took off from the carrier Constellation to attack a ferry slip near Hanoi. The Hanoi area was now bristling with the greatest concentration of anti-aircraft defenses in the history of aerial warfare. It was defended by its 15 SAM sites, at least 560 anti-aircraft guns, and by Mig-17s and 21s flying from nearby bases. To attack the landing slip, Hunter had to make a low-level night approach across the rugged, mountainous terrain surrounding the Red River, dropping his 18,000 pound bombs along an impact line of 2800 feet. With Lieutenant Bull interpreting radar echoes to identify landmarks and avoid dangerous ridges, Hunter had flown to within 18 miles of the target when his instruments and earphones told him that the A-6 had been picked up by the North Vietnamese search radar. Hunter brought the Intruder down to a level at which he hoped to slip below the radar horizon, but as he reached the Initial Point he detected a SAM battery locking on to him. Descending again and turning on to the bombing heading, Hunter saw a SAM rising towards him.
Declining to jettison his bombs and head for home, Hunter executed a high-g low-altitude barrel roll, a near suicidal maneuver. The SAM exploded within 200ft of the A-6A, shaking it violently as Hunter rolled out at 2000ft and commenced the bombing run within a few degrees on the inbound heading. As Hunter and Bull closed on the target they came under intense AA fire. At least five SAMs were also airborne and heading for them. For the last seven miles Hunter flew the Intruder at deck level on the radar altimeter, hoping that he was too low for the missile batteries to track and shoot him down. One by one the SAMs detonated 400ft above him, filling the cockpit with a blinding flash and buffeting the aircraft as it bored in on the target. The flack barrage lit up the sky and searchlights illuminated Hunter’s aircraft, enabling small arms and automatic weapon sites to add to the volume of fire directed a the lone A-6A. Flying through this inferno at tree-top height, Hunter located the ferry and released his bombs directly on the target, executing a seven-g turn as they fell away and four SAMs exploded aft and above him. Rolling out, Hunter streaked southeastward, varying his altitude and at one point jinking [quick evasive turn] heavily to counter a Mig-17 which had briefly got on his tail. Flak followed him all the way until the A-6A cleared the coast.
|Captain Shork and his A-6B Intruder|