My second visit to Shuttleworth in as many months and it certainly didn't disappoint. Some wonderful flying and some great weather combinations ensured a great show.
On the Evening of May 16, 1943 a fleet of specially modified Avro Lancaster bombers left the ground at Scampton, Lincolnshire and laid a course for Germany.
Their mission was to breach dams and flood large areas of Germany’s industrial heart. They were successful in breaching two of the targeted dams, the repair of which hampered Germany’s war effort for several months.
The two dams had been fully repaired by September of 1943, a relatively short span of time; a fact which has led some historians to question to overall effectiveness of the mission and its worth. This is a position that I personally do not understand, the mission was quite effective in two key ways:
First, in the short term, the breaching of the two dams gave a much needed boost to the morale of both the Allied militaries and to the British public, who were living under the constant threat of German bombing. The photographs of the breached dams provided invaluable propaganda material to show to the world at large.
Second, the results of the mission marked a turning point in how bombing was carried out. Large scale area bombing with lightweight bombs was expensive in material and not always particularly effective or accurate. It also required more aircraft and crew for a mission which, in turn, created the chance of losing more lives of aircrew.
The raids of May 16, 1943 proved that fewer aircraft with heavier bombs had a greater chance of not only hitting but actually destroying their specified target. This philosophy remains in place today in modern air forces which employ a strike element in their mission.
In the link below, you can find footage of today’s 70th anniversary flypast conducted over the Derwent reservoir in Derbyshire. The Avro Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is followed by a pair of Panavia Tornados, the current aircraft used by the Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron, who still proudly carry the “Dambuster” name that their legendary forbears earned for the unit that night in 1943.
The Long Odds of Becoming a Fossil
Why am I prattling on about fossils in my aircraft blog, you may ask. A fair question to be sure. Yesterday, during my visit to the Olomouc Air Museum, the rarity of some of the aircraft they have in their collection got me thinking about how humans go about preserving what we’ve made and what really governs what we keep and what we don’t.
I recall volunteering with an aviation museum in my native Canada several years ago and the insights into the museum business that I got during the time I volunteered. There’s a lot more to obtaining and exhibiting something than the average museum visitor realizes and a museum might have a lot less control over it than one might assume.
Museums need to contend with a good deal of bureaucracy, financing, publicity and logistical matters, among many others, to take an artifact from where it was located and turn it into an exhibit piece.
Like the factors that must come into play for the remains of a plant or an animal to be fossilized, the factors that allow museums to take an object from the field and make a meaningful exhibit of it must come together in a particular way. Quite often, they simply don’t.
Fossilization is actually a fairly rare occurrence which requires the creature or plant to die in just the right place and at just the right time for just the right conditions to be in play to get the process started.
In the main, what governs a piece of man made technology being preserved is not that different.
Let’s look at the similarities:
The Right Place
Just as the remains of prehistoric life had to be in just the right place to be quickly covered in sediment and the process of bone becoming stone to begin, those things that we create need to be in places where they will not be ravaged into oblivion by the elements.
If a machine is abandoned in relatively dry and arid inland conditions, it’s chances of surviving in relatively good condition until someone stumbles upon it are decidedly better than if it had been left in more temperate or coastal environs.
Ghost towns and abandoned mine sites in desert areas are good evidence of this. The minimal precipitation have allowed the vestiges of such places to remain visible and in situ for a significant length of time.
The Right Time
A creature having died at a spot which had the potential for fossilization to take place did not guarantee the process would happen. If the time of year or season that the creature died wasn’t just right, that particular set of remains could be lost forever.
It is a similar case with man made things. An old machine rusting away in a scrap yard will continue to corrode, be parted out for spares or cut up for its metal value if nobody values it above those things at the particular point in time that they encounter it.
Nearly as soon as the Second World War ended, huge amounts of military equipment were promptly scrapped for their metal value, sold off as surplus or simply abandoned in the field, little regard was given to preserving much if any of it.
While it is understandable that those living in the immediate post World War Two period would want to put it all behind them as quickly as they could, it has created a situation where we are left without a single example of some types of often historically very important machinery.
That, of course, is not to begrudge that generation. Just as the prehistoric sediments could not know that we would take an interest in the dinosaurs and their world; the generation which fought and lived through the Second World War could not know that there would be a future interest in preserving machines from that era.
The Right Conditions
So, let’s say that our prehistoric creature has made it to the present day in a fossil state. This is still no guarantee that it will find its way into a museum for us to marvel at.
There are many aspects to the right conditions, not the least of which is location. Is it actually in a place where its likely to be found? If it is, will those who find it be likely to recognize it for what it is? Even if they can, will they care?
Similar things affect our more modern artifacts. Are they in a place they can be accessed? If they can be accessed physically, can they be accessed bureaucratically?
Perhaps most important, did the right set of eyes see it? The eyes of someone who knows exactly what it is and the value of it to history, either local or global.
A Case in Point
Just as only a very small percentage of prehistoric life has survived to the present day in stone or amber, a very small percentage of what humans have made gets preserved in museums.
I’ve accompanied this piece with photos of an Avia Av-14FG which was lying in pieces around the Olomouc Air Museum when I visited yesterday. The Avia Av-14 was the Czechoslovak built version of the Illyushin Il-14 transport.
The baseline transport version of these aircraft was not particularly rare and several survive in museums. The FG version pictured here is a much more rare member of that aircraft family which was modified for aerial photography and survey work. The AV-14FG was important to the former Czechoslovakia in both military and civil circles.
This particular aircraft, from what I could find out about it, was taken into the care of the Military Historic Institute in Prague immediately upon its retirement.
At the Olomouc museum, it is clearly in the hands of people who truly care about their aircraft and I’ve no doubt they will have it reassembled and respectably displayed in due course.
Definitely time, place and conditions came together in just that right combination for this particular machine.
Not Many, but Much
Today was the opening day of the new season for the Olomouc Air Museum. Olomouc is a small city in North Moravian part of the Czech Republic. The air museum is small and relatively young, but boasts some true rarities within its modest collection.
For further information on the museum itself and a link to its website, I refer you to my original write up from late last year:
I have learned, between writing the above entry and this one, that the rather run down hangar the museum is in is actually something of a history piece itself as the Soviets used it to house military aircraft based at the city’s airport during the Cold War.
On With the 2013 Show
Without too much more commentary from me, here’s a selection of images taken during my visit today:
Last Known Dornier Do-17 Bomber Set to be Raised from English Channel
Once thought an extinct aircraft type with no examples surviving to the present day, it seems the Dornier Do-17 Bomber is not entirely gone.
In recent years a largely intact example of the type, which was a mainstay of the German Luftwaffe in the Second World War, was found of the English coast in an area called the Goodwin Sands.
The plan is now to raise the remains, desalinate the wreckage and put it on long term display in the Royal Air Force Museum in Cosford.
You can read more about the aircraft and the recovery of it in this longer BBC article:
You can also follow the museum and their work, as well as donate to the project, at this link:
Success Follows Success
In the immediate postwar years, the Czechoslovak aircraft industry introduced the Aero 45 and 145 light twin engine aircraft line to the world. This family of aircraft was a great success that demonstrated the resiliency of the nation’s aviation firms in the wake of German occupation.
Though Aero had designed the model 45 and 145, the bulk of production had been carried out by the Let company of Kunovice. It was from the Let drawing boards and the Kunovice runway that the successor of the 45 and 145, the L-200 Morava, would be born.
Design work on the Morava began in 1955, with the prototype first taking to the air in 1957 and approval for full production of the baseline L-200 given the following year.
The Morava’s production run, including prototypes, lasted from 1957 to 1964 and totaled just under 370. L-200s were exported, in greater and lesser numbers to around 20 countries.
A Worthy Heir
As the Morava was designed to carry out many of the same duties as the Aero 45 and 145, it shared quite a few things in common with its forbear including very clean and well thought out design. Indeed, both types had many smooth flowing lines and were very pleasing to the eye; to say that they were as much art as they were aircraft would certainly not be an unjustified statement.
Like its Aero forerunner, the Morava saw the bulk of its use in the air taxi role. It was a role it carried out particularly well and was appreciated for its ability to carry four passengers plus pilot in what was considered great comfort for an aircraft of its category and time period. Even by today’s standards, the Morava is considered a very pleasant aircraft to fly in as either a pilot or passenger.
Beyond the role of air taxi, the Morava also was adapted to air ambulance duties, training as well as corporate and general aviation tasks.
A Small but Popular Family
Only three variants constituted the L-200 family of aircraft.
New engines and propellers, along with some refining of the lines of the design, turned the baseline L-200 into the L-200A
The L-200D incorporated three blade propellers, a more complex navigational system and several minor modifications. Many examples of the L-200A were refitted to the L-200D standard at some point in their service lives.
The modifications that created the L-200D were at the request of the Soviet airline, Aeroflot. Approximately 180 L-200 aircraft were taken on by the airline for use as air taxis in the 1960s; however, before the 1970s were finished, the airline had retired or sold its L-200 fleet in favour of domestically produced aircraft.
Czechoslovak Airlines also used the L-200 in the air taxi role and pilot training. When the air taxi service was discontinued, several of the airline’s Moravas found their way into flying clubs.
Wherever it has flown, the L-200 has built a reputation for reliability, comfort and trouble free handling both in the air and on the ground.
As proof of the soundness and endurance of the aircraft in a contemporary context, two Czech pilots marked the Morava’s 50th anniversary in 2008 by flying an L-200A from Prague to the North Pole and back. According to interviews with one of the pilots, the aircraft handled the journey admirably without so much as even a minor problem.
The Morava Today
Several Moravas continue to fly in the service of flying clubs and flying schools in the Czech and Slovak Republics and can often be hired for sightseeing flights.
The aircraft has maintained its popularity with pilots over the years and is likely to stay flying for as long as the support network is there to keep them airworthy.
On a Personal Note
Distinctive, beyond the design of the aircraft, is the Morava’s sound. It has a unique, deep growling engine noise that is more fitting to an aircraft at least half again its size.
When I first saw a Morava fly overhead, shortly after I arrived in the Czech Republic, I couldn’t believe that sort of thunderous sound was coming from an aircraft of such modest size. I had turned my head skyward in expectation of seeing the source of the sound obvious and large; instead, I found myself scanning the sky for a few moments before catching sight of the relatively small shape growling its way overhead.
These two links will take you to interviews with one of the pilots that flew the Morava to the North Pole. The first was conducted before the flight and the second while the journey was in progress: