A Moment of Silence for Fallen Eagles

RF-4E Phantoms, which will fly their last for the Turkish air force on 12, March, 2015
RF-4E Phantoms, which will fly their last for the Turkish air force on 12, March, 2015

A Sorrowful Sendoff

Tomorrow, March 12, the Turkish air force will retire their remaining fleet of RF-4E Phantom reconnaissance jets. This move has, most unfortunately, been brought about by the recent loss of three Phantom jets in Turkish service in accidents which took the lives of all six crew members of the three jets.

This news article will give you more details about the matter:

http://www.todayszaman.com/national_air-force-to-clip-wings-of-rf-4e-aircraft-top-military-official-says_374919.html

For myself, I take this moment to reflect on the genuinely friendly Turkish RF-4E crew members I met and chatted with at the 2014 edition of the NATO Days event at Ostrava and sincerely hope none of them were involved in the accidents.

On behalf of Pickled Wings and its readership; I extend deep condolences to the people of Turkey who these crew died in the service of, the crews’ families and unit mates.

We mourn with you.

Happy Birthday, Spitfire!

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The Icon Flies On, 79 Years Young!

On March 5, 1936; the Supermarine Spitfire took to the air for the first time and the rest is history!

The crowning accomplishment for an aircraft manufacturer until then best known for flying boats and a level of success the Supermarine company would never again see; there is little to be said about the Spitfire that has not been said many times over.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a few shots of Spitfires I’ve taken over the past ten years or so…enjoy:

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The Mighty Hercules

pickledwings:

Here’s a lovely write up about an encounter with an aircraft type quite close to my heart, the C-130 Hercules.

Originally posted on Keep Calm and Remember:

This post is about the incredible C-130 Hercules military aircraft- but don’t worry, it’s not going to be a flavourless list of specifications and figures. Although I’d probably find such a list interesting, I’ll restrain myself! Instead, this post will focus on a fortuitous day in June 2012; when I saw a Hercules up close, and most unexpectedly!

I’d just landed at London International Airport (located in Ontario’s London), where I was picked up by my grandparents. It’s about a half-hour drive through verdant countryside to my grandparents’ house, and as we drove my eyes (as usual) kept wandering to the sky. I’m always on the lookout for airplanes… well, my attention was rewarded that day by the sight of a mammoth military plane in the sky! At once, I recognized it to be a C-130 Hercules; the transport mainstay of the Royal Canadian Air Force for the past fifty years!…

View original 313 more words

Schneider Grunau Baby – A Soaring Sensation

A Zlín 24 Krajánek, the Czechoslovak built version of the Grunau Baby IIb, seen at Prague in 2014
A Zlín 24 Krajánek, the Czechoslovak built version of the Grunau Baby IIb, seen at Prague in 2014

A Titan of the Thermals

The interwar period saw a complete change in how people viewed aviation; members of the general public aspired to be part of what was once seen as the exclusive territory of the elite or eccentric. The aircraft was seen to have a practicality and mass appeal not perceived prior to the First World War. It was a golden age that saw tremendous development in a wide range of aviation related disciplines.

This period was a true heyday for gliders, particularly in Germany. The conditions of the armistice which formally ended the First World War forbade powered flight in Germany, but made an exemption for soaring activities. Not surprisingly, air minded Germans flocked to the activity in droves and many key developments in glider design were pioneered by German designers in this period. One such designer was Edmund Schneider (1901-1968), whose Grunau Baby design of 1931 was a watershed event that would prove wildly popular worldwide and influence the design of successive generations of sailplanes.

While gliding was immensely popular in the interwar period, it was an expensive pastime in a period where not everyone who wished to get involved had the financial means to do so without great sacrifice. It was also a period of great experimentation and risk, with many gliders being primitive home built types which often only barely if at all met airworthiness standards of the day or were built primarily for high performance competition. For many pilots, whose main desire was simply to fly, a different sort of aircraft was needed.

Seeing the obvious need for affordability, safety and docile handling characteristics; Edmund Schneider set about creating a solution by downsizing and simplifying the design of one of his company’s existing glider types. The resulting aircraft, the Grunau Baby, was an affordable glider which could be build easily from plans and was safe and responsive enough to become the standard training glider for many soaring clubs worldwide during the interwar period. The Baby put emphasis on basic flight training and cross-country flying and struck a balance of price to performance that satisfied soaring clubs around the globe.

A Zlín 24 showing the high  degree of wood construction which was a hallmark of the Grunau Baby family.
A Zlín 24 showing the high degree of wood construction which was a hallmark of the Grunau Baby family.

A Revolution of Least Risk

Schneider’s company was based in Grunau, today known as Jezow Sudecki, in Poland. Geographically, the region was ideal for soaring and attracted many accomplished glider pilots so Schneider had optimal conditions to perfect his designs and access to experienced pilots to test fly them.

The prototype Baby glider was a modification of Schneider’s existing ESG 31 sailplane, but with a new wing of smaller size and more refined design of elliptical plan form with large ailerons to give greater responsiveness. The Baby inherited the older glider’s deep and narrow fuselage of hexagonal cross section which had already been proven to work well. The Baby I was developed through the winter of 1930 and took to the air for the first time in 1931.

The Baby incorporated a great deal of wood in its design, possessing a wood frame fuselage covered in wood sheeting and the forward sections of the wing and horizontal tail constructed in a similar manner. The use of so much wood assured the aircraft would be of strong construction, affordable and easy to build from plans and local materials. Indeed, the Baby was built in at least 20 countries under license both before and after the Second World War; it could be built either in a factory setting or by private individuals who possessed the skills and means to do so.

The first major revision to the Baby came in 1932 when, as the result of a fatal crash of a different Schneider sailplane design, Schneider ordered extensive revisions to the Baby for safety reasons; these revisions resulted in the Baby II. The addition of air brakes on the wings created the Baby IIb, widely considered the definitive version of the Baby family. The Baby II and IIb were immediately popular on a wide scale and more than 1,000 had been built by the time the Second World War began. The German war effort saw production of the Baby increased tremendously to meet the demand for a basic flight trainer for potential Luftwaffe pilots.

The Baby's elliptical wing with large ailerons seen to good advantage.
The Baby’s elliptical wing with large ailerons seen to good advantage.

Life After War and Enduring Influence

Unlike the armistice conditions of the First World War, those which formally ended the Second World War made no special exceptions for gliders when forbidding aviation activities in Germany. Edmund Schneider fled from Poland and, after holding a few non aviation related jobs in West Germany, endeavored to move his family abroad.

While he initially considered India, his attention was caught by news of attempts to create organised gliding clubs and build gliders in Australia. After making contact, financial assistance was given for Schneider and his eldest son to travel to Australia to build and advise fledgling Australian companies on how to build gliders.

Schneider spent the 1950s in Australia before returning to Germany in 1960. During his time in Australia, he further refined the Baby to, among other things, include a fully enclosed cockpit. Such refinements created the Baby III and Baby IV.

Many aspects of the Baby set new standards for glider design and helped to define favorable qualities in future generations of sailplanes. Perhaps the most significant lessons taken from the Baby family are to do with fuselage design as they showed how critical it was to reduce the fuselage cross section behind the wing to reduce the effects of airflow turbulence generated by the cockpit area.

Keeping the construction and assembly aspects of the Baby relatively simple also contributed much to the safety of gliders and many of the Baby’s safety aspects have been included and refined in later glider types.

A Zlín 24 performing at Prague in 2014.
A Zlín 24 performing at Prague in 2014.

The Baby Today

The total worldwide production of the Baby family is open to conjecture, but most sources put the total between 5,000 and 6,000 aircraft. Given such figures, it’s hardly surprising that several Grunau Babies remain airworthy in the hands of enthusiasts as vintage aircraft. In fact, enough are still airworthy that regular gliding meets of Baby owners can be held.

Jezow Sudecki remains an important hub of gliding activity to the present day and serves as home for The Glider Factory, the descendant company of Edmund Schneider’s pre war operations.

Several Babies are preserved in museums around the world and with several still flying, you probably have a good chance of getting up close to one if you’re in the right place at the right time.

Learning More

While a bit dated in places, this is a very good site to visit for information related to the Baby’s history, surviving examples and Edmund Schneider himself:

http://www.grunaubaby.nl/index.htm

This is the home page of The Glider Factory; here you can find some historical information about the company and also their current activities:

http://www.szdjezow.com.pl/index_eng.html

When Lions Roar – A Good Read and a Good Cause

The Winged Lion Monument, unveiled in Prague in 2014, is the official thanks from the British expatriate communities of the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the approximately 2500 Czechoslovaks who bolstered the Royal Air Force ranks in the Second World War.
The Winged Lion Monument, unveiled in Prague in 2014, is the official thanks from the British expatriate communities of the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the approximately 2500 Czechoslovaks who bolstered the Royal Air Force ranks in the Second World War.

A Companion to the Lion

In 2014, after much protracted effort, the desire of the British expatriate communities of the Czech Republic and Slovakia create a permanent symbol of their gratitude to the many Czech and Slovak airmen who served in the Royal Air Force during World War Two came to fruition with the unveiling of the bronze “Winged Lion” monument near Prague’s city centre.

In August of 2014, a booklet was published in conjunction with the monument unveiling. Entitled “When Lions Roar”, it was written by Nicholas Watson and is marketed as: “A brief history of the some 2,500 Czechoslovak airmen who fought with the RAF during World War II.”

Very recently, I received my copy and read it in a single sitting.

A Story that Needs Telling

This is a story that, until the fall of Socialism in 1989, many Czechs and Slovaks had no knowledge of. This was because the Socialist regime was supporting the idea that Czechoslovakia was liberated exclusively by the Soviets. Anyone who could prove that was a lie, such as the airmen themselves, was deemed a threat to the state and marginalized or imprisoned. In short, the Socialist regime made a concerted effort to erase the airmen and their contribution to the war effort from history as far as the Czechoslovak populace was concerned.

At a time when the remaining few Czechs and Slovaks who fought in the RAF are in their twilight years, theirs is a story that must be told.

Even at a modest length of 81 pages, this book does a very good job of summarizing the experiences of the Czechoslovak airmen from the moment the Munich Agreement of 1938 saw them forced to hand over their airfields and equipment to German occupying forces to the humiliating treatment they were subjected to by the Czechoslovak Socialist regime when they returned home after the war.

Nearly as soon as German forces started taking control of airfields, Czechoslovak airmen began trying to escape to friendly countries. First to Poland, then to France and then to Great Britain after Poland and France had fallen. The book does a good job of showing how complicated and risky it was for them to even simply cross into Poland much less to points further away. The trip they had to make to get to France was particularly complex and anything but direct.

The book then moves on to the formation of the four fully Czechoslovak units, three fighter and one bomber, and the experiences of Czechoslovak personnel in the RAF. This section Contains profiles of some of the more notable airmen and missions of the conflict, from the initial 88 who took part in the Battle of Britain to the total of roughly 2,500 who served in the RAF throughout the war.

Finally, the book takes the reader to an overview of the harsh and humiliating treatment the airmen and their families received upon returning to their homeland after the war. They were marginalized and watched very closely by agents of the StB, the secret police; those who had returned with foreign wives came under particularly close watch. This section also highlights the extremely limited work prospects the airmen had open to them, mainly hard manual work on farms or in mines and foundries.

The final section also touches upon escape attempts from Czechoslovakia made by the former airmen in the post war period, including a quite complex multiple hijacking of three Czechoslovak Airlines flights in one day. Escaping post war Socialist Czechoslovakia was every bit as harrowing and risky as escaping German occupied Czechoslovakia, the only thing that had changed was that it was the StB and not the SS that had to be evaded.

The book is rounded out by a short appendix that gives brief histories of the four Czechoslovak RAF squadrons, plus an RAF squadron that had a very high number of Czechoslovak airmen in it and was eventually adopted as a Czechoslovak unit.

A Small Package with Substance

While small, this book was clearly designed for broad appeal. The writing style is straightforward and accessible, there is enough information to satisfy those who possess only a general interest and enough to serve as a primer on the subject for those wishing to learn more.

I recommend it to anyone with an interest in either military history or this particular chapter in Czech and Slovak history.

Buying the Book and Helping a Good Cause

“When Lions Roar” can be purchased online from the Shakespeare & Sons bookshop in Prague:

http://www.shakes.cz/book/273581

At the beginning of the book, there is a page suggesting a donation to the Sue Ryder charity in Prague if you wish to lend support to the cause of remembering this particular group of veterans.

The Sue Ryder charity runs a home for the elderly in Prague and has close ties with the Royal Air Force to help veterans and their widows. You can find more information about the Prague operations of Sue Ryder at their website:

http://www.sue-ryder.cz/en

A Couple of Good Reads for you to Check Out

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While deciding on the subject of my next blog entry, I’ll use this week’s spot to recommend a couple of books I’ve read recently that I quite enjoyed and think you might enjoy too:

Lettice Curtis – Her Autobiography

Lettice Curtis (1916-2014) dedicated her life to flight and, as such, had many stories to tell. She spent the Second World War in the Air Transport Auxiliary, a group of civilian pilots tasked with ferrying RAF aircraft around Britain to operational squadrons. Her stories from her time in the ATA highlight the high risk nature of the work and give a good deal of insight into the differences in flying the various aircraft types that became legends in RAF service during the conflict.

The book follows her post war life working as a pilot for Fairey Aviation and as a flying instructor.

A truly engaging book about a remarkable life.

http://www.wingleader.co.uk/shop/lettice-curtis-her-autobiography/

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

This is the first book written by Chris Hadfield, a former Canadian Armed Forces fighter pilot and astronaut; a very enjoyable first effort it is.

The book follows Hadfield from his earliest childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut to the reality of him becoming one and how he has been able to apply all of the training he received in becoming an astronaut to his everyday life on Earth.

Where this book really shines is in giving an insight into the life of an astronaut and the realities of it. It certainly is a very different world than the movies would have you believe and the kind of personality needed to be a successful astronaut is certainly not what one might expect.

http://chrishadfield.ca/books/

Praga Air Baby – Sky Bound Sports Car

A Swiss registered E.114M displaying at Prague, Czech Republic in 2014.
A Swiss registered E.114M displaying at Prague, Czech Republic in 2014.

Feeding A Hunger

The interwar period saw an increasing interest in aviation among the public of many nations around the world. It was in this period that general aviation was born; the First World War had demonstrated quite clearly that the airplane could be practical rather than simply the plaything of eccentric dreamers, as early aviators were often considered to be.

The Praga company, founded in 1907 and still operating today, merged with Czechoslovak engineering giant ČKD in 1929 and produced a selection of aircraft through the 1930s. The E.114 Air Baby, which was aimed at the growing sport touring aircraft market, took to the air for the first time in Autumn of 1934 and would see production both before and after the Second World War.

The Air Baby, so named for its very light weight, spent most of its life firmly in the civil aviation sector and set many records for distance and speed in its class as well as taking victory in a number of international air rallies.

E.114M at Prague in 2014.
E.114M at Prague in 2014.

Engineering Efficiency

The E.114 was a very clean, efficient and modern design for its time. In a period where open cockpit biplanes with wire braced, fabric covered wings and fuselages were still in abundance; the Air Baby was a monoplane of all wood, internally braced construction with a fully enclosed cockpit. It also had a single piece wing and accommodated two people in a side by side arrangement.

The weight savings and aerodynamic benefits that the Air Baby’s all wood construction and internally braced wing produced allowed the aircraft to be powered by a substantially smaller and less powerful engine than many other aircraft of its class could use. The Praga B series engines fitted to the E.114B versions were two cylinder engines of roughly 40 horsepower; though low on power, the B series engines were noted for low fuel consumption.

After a series of demonstrations across Europe and being shown at the 1934 Paris air salon, enough interest had been generated in the Air Baby that a license for production in the United Kingdom was granted. A total of around 40 E.114B aircraft were constructed by F. Hills & Sons Ltd. of Manchester along with approximately 135 Praga B2 engines built by Jowett Cars Ltd. of Bradford. The British produced aircraft were marketed under the name Hillson Praga. Several were used by a flight school in Manchester while several others reached other points in the UK or were exported.

Other interwar developments of the E.114 included the E.114D, which was powered by a four cylinder engine, as well as the E.115 and E.117 which both featured significant revisions to the wing and fuselage design. Additionally, a single example of the radial engined E.214 variant was built.

E.114M at Prague in 2014.
E.114M at Prague in 2014.

While the German occupation of Czechoslovakia interrupted Air Baby production, the aircraft had already left a big mark on the international aviation landscape. Among the aircraft’s interwar accomplishments for its class were:

A world record of 1020 kilometers flying without landing.

Flying non-stop from Prague to Constantinople, a distance of 1560 Kilometers.

A world record flight from Prague to Moscow, 1680 kilometers, in 15 and a half hours.

An English record flight of 14,722 kilometers between London and Cape town in 16 days.

In its E.115 variation, it set two world records for speed in a straight line and new world records for altitude in both one person and two person categories.

E.114M at Prague in 2014.
E.114M at Prague in 2014.

Life After War

In 1946, Praga reopened the Air baby production line with the E.114D version and its four cylinder Praga D engine. By 1947, the E.114M version with a more powerful four cylinder Walter Mikron engine was introduced as the last member of the aircraft family.

While the bulk of pre war Air Babies, both Praga and Hillson versions, did not survive the war; post war versions proved popular as touring and training as well as glider tug aircraft in several countries around Europe.

Total pre and post war production came to around 275 airframes . The aircraft enjoyed export success to such countries as: Algeria, Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Romania and Switzerland.

Through the 1960s, with Praga having turned its attentions away from aviation as well as superior aircraft being introduced, the Air Baby faded from favour. Through the late 1980s and the 1990s, none were airworthy.

Happily, over a six year period spanning 2003 to 2009, an E.114M was restored to airworthy condition and placed on the Swiss civil register as HB-UAF. At the time of writing, it appears to be the only airworthy example of the type in the world.

A partially reconstructed E.114B showing the distinctly different nose contour created by the Praga B2 engine. Prague, 2014.
A partially reconstructed E.114B showing the distinctly different nose contour created by the Praga B2 engine. Prague, 2014.

Learning More

The Air Baby has not fared so well in retirement and your chances of seeing one are slim indeed if you don’t travel to Europe. Of the 275 or so built, the only three examples known to survive intact are to be found there.

The aforementioned HB-UAF resides in Switzerland though does make appearances at shows around Europe.

Another former Swiss E.114M, HB-UAD, is now under Czech ownership and in the process of being reconstructed to E.114B status with an original Praga B2 engine. As it is on the Czech civil register, presumably the intent is to return it to the air at some point.

The third surviving Air Baby is an E.114D which is on display in the Kbely Air Museum in Prague, Czech Republic. It is not airworthy.

The following two links will take you to pages relating to the E.114B currently under reconstruction in the Czech Republic. The translation is a bit rough in spots, but there’s quite a few interesting pictures of the reconstruction process:

http://translate.google.cz/translate?hl=en&sl=cs&u=http://avia.vyrobce.cz/doc/e114stavba.htm&prev=search
http://translate.google.cz/translate?hl=en&sl=cs&u=http://avia.vyrobce.cz/doc/e114his.htm&prev=search

This link will take you to a brief overview of HB-UAF:

http://translate.google.cz/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://www.gost.ch/index.php/gost-flugzeuge/oldtimer-a-andere/47-hb-uaf-praga-baby&prev=search