By: Norman Hanson
Patrick Stephens Ltd. (1979)
Silvertail Books (2016)
This book is considered by many notable authors and critics to be one of the best pilots’ memoirs of the Second World War.
The author, Norman Hanson, served in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (FAA) as a pilot of Vought Corsair fighters in the Pacific Theatre of Operations and this book follows him from recuitment into the service to commanding officer of a fighter squadron.
He gives very good insights into the various aircraft he flew from the basic trainers he experienced in America to the Fairey Fulmar that he trained and qualified for carrier operations in. Ultimately, the Corsair fighter itself gets the spotlight and it’s a very enlightnening look at real life operations with the legendary carrier borne fighter in both shipboard and land based operations.
The book balances levity and poignancy particularly well. Efforts made to break up off duty boredom are interspersed well against sad tales of losing friends in battle or to accidents.
The unforgiving nature of the Corsair fighter is highlighted many times. Very clearly, it was not a machine that tolerated a lot of cockiness or complacency from the pilot.
The book is a very enjoyable read overall; the only thing I can bring against it is that it contains a fair bit of slang that is either period or service specific and some explanatory footnotes would not have gone amiss for those not familiar with it.
I definitely recommend this book for carrier aviation fans, Fleet Air Arm fans and those who like a well written combat memoir.
This link will take you to the book’s page on the Silvertail Books website:
Yesterday saw me pay my first visit of 2017 to the Kunovice Aviation Museum in the south east of the Czech Republic.
The museum and local flying club organised a special event called Military Day. The day invloved exhibitions of Second World war uniforms and equipment by historical reenactment clubs, tactical demonstrations by the Czech army, rescue and fire fighting demonstrations by airport emergency services, sightdeeing flights by the flying club and the roll out of a newly restored aircraft in the museum’s collection.
It was also a chance to see a lot of locally designed and built aircraft as Kunovice has, for many years, been a significant centre of Czech aircraft production.
The event was much more than the advertising led me to expect and I was astounded by the scale of it and it was a real challenge to choose just 12, that’s my rule for myself when making primarily photographic posts, pictures to give you a taste of the event.
I sincerely hope the museum and flying club will be making this an annual event, it’s worth it!
On a more protracted timescale, my existing article on the Let L-200 Morava will be subjected to both photographic and text updates through the year.
Partly, this is because I’ve recently made contact with a pilot of the type in the Czech Republic who has kindly provided me scans of some original marketing brochures from the 1960s that will no doubt help to expand the article.
Additionally, 2017 marks the 60th anniversary of the Morava’s first flight. The air museum in Kunovice has put together a special exhibition relating to this and I plan to visit it during the summer months.
May 20, 2017 saw me take a trip to Čáslav air base in the central part of the Czech Republic to partake in the biannual open day there. The weather was overcast all day, but thankfully the rain in the forecast stayed away.
I have to say that I came away with some mixed feelings about the 2017 edition of the event. The static display areas were much larger than in previous years, but I’m not sure the best use of the available space was made to best accomodate both those who were looking at the statics and those watching the dynamic show. Many of the static aircraft were placed between the crowd and the dynamic showline. As such, I had trouble getting close to some static aircraft because of people watching the dynamic show from in front of static display areas.
The increased size of the event also led to and increased size of crowd. The result of that was the special train running from the Čáslav rail station to the air base was inadequate for moving the volume of people going there and back in a timely manner.
Hopefully, these matters will be better handled at the next open day.
That said, here’s a small sampling of what was available to be seen on the day:
Ol’ Shakey: Memories of a Flight Engineer
By: Byron Gene Fish
Outskirts Press (2013)
Through the 1950s and 1960s, the distinctive looking Douglas C-124 Globemaster II was the primary heavy lift aircraft of the U.S. Air Force. It was a bulky, hulking aircraft that was difficult to mistake for anything else on a flightline of the period.
It was also a very distinctive aircraft from a standpoint of operating it and had a habit of keeping crew members, particularly flight engineers, alert and busy with a myriad of mechanical idiosynchrasies.
This book gives one a very good overview of the training involved to become a flight engineer on “Ol’ Shakey” as the C-124 was nicknamed in service. It also examines how crews had to have complete trust in each other to operate the aircraft effectively and what could happen if that trust was compromised.
The book also details a range of scenarios that were typical when working with the aircraft, such as crawling through a maintenance tunnel that ran through the wings in order to examine and service the engines in flight.
Beyond the aircraft itself, the book also gives the reader an idea of what the crews experienced at the various spots around the world they flew the aircraft into. It also gives one a feel for what the inter-service and inter-unit politics and rivalries of the time could be like.
Most of what is in this book are solid flying stories, though there are a few stories of off duty clowning about to add comic relief to the mix.
As it deals with the transport mission, it’s not the most exciting book you’ll find. Nonetheless, it is an accessible and informative read from a very qualified voice on the subject.
The author, Byron Gene Fish, spent the bulk of his professional life in aviation with many of those years spent at the flight engineer station of the C-124 aircraft.
This link will take you to the book’s profile on the publisher’s website:
The name Beneš-Mráz may not be well known outside the Czech lands, the company only existed from 1935 to 1939. However, in that short window of time, the company produced no fewer than 14 aircraft designs for the civil market.
The company was founded by accomplished aviation engineer Pavel Beneš and businessman Jaroslav Mráz. Previous to partnering with Mráz, Beneš had founded the famous Avia company in 1919 with fellow engineer Miroslav Hajn. Beneš also spent time working in the aircraft division of the Praga company before partnering with Mráz in the mid 1930s and setting up a factory in Cocheň in the northern part of today’s Czech Republic. By 1939, Beneš had divested himself of his part of the company and it was renamed Mráz to reflect the change in ownership.
Through the German occupation of World War II, the rise and fall of Socialism and a number of name changes of the years; the legacy of Beneš-Mráz has carried on to today in the form of Orličan a.s., a sailplane manufacturer that continues to operate in their ancestral home of Cocheň.
The Be-50 Beta Minor: A Solid Start
Summer of 1935 saw the first flight of the first aircraft type designed by the newly established Beneš-Mráz company, the Be-50 Beta Minor.
The Beta Minor was designed for touring, training and sport flying and proved an excellent start for the company. The aircraft was a very clean design with viceless handling qualities that made it popular with flying clubs of Czechoslovakia at the time.
With a large part of the airframe comprised of wood, the Beta Minor was, at 460 kilograms, a light yet sturdy aircraft. It was powered by a domestically designed and built Walter Minor four cylinder engine that could propel the aircraft to a very respectable top speed of 195 kilometers per hour. A combination of light weight and efficient design gave the Beta Minor a range of 750 kilometers without refueling. The aircraft gave a quite good account of itself at a number of distance based races in the late 1930s.
Outside of being very much a pilot’s plane, the Be-50 was also appreciated for mechanical reliability, ease of maintenance and very good short take off and landing performance. A total of 43 Be-50 aircraft were made in the original run by Beneš-Mráz and developed further via the Be-51 series in 1936.
The Be-51 was based on the Be-50, but featured a fully enclosed cockpit and a somewhat shortened wingspan; these modifications gave the Be-51 improved speed and aerobatic ability over the Be-50. The Be-50 shared the Beta Minor name with the Be-51.
In the Reich and the Resistance
As with so many other domestically developed aircraft in Czechoslovakia, the existing Be-50 and Be-51 aircraft in the country were commandeered for Luftwaffe service with the 1939 arrival of German occupational forces.
The Luftwaffe made use of both Be-50 and Be-51 types for liason and training work.
Beta Minors also found their way into the service of the Independent State of Croatia and the Slovak State, two German friendly puppet states that existed during the Second World War. The aircraft were primarily used as trainers and couriers by both bodies.
A strong anti-Axis partisan resistance movement rose up in Yugoslavia through the Second World War and at least one Beta Minor aircraft was captured from Croatian hands by partisan forces late in the conflict.
Very few Beta Minors survived the war and those which did were destroyed soon after the end of hostilities.
The Be-50 Today and Further Reading
For many years, the world had no extant examples of the Beta Minor in any form.
Happily, the original plans of the Be-50 have survived to the present and through several years of careful work in the early 2000s, the Military Historic Institute of the Czech Republic (VHU) built a fully fresh Be-50 faithfully following the original plans. The aircraft was put on static display to the public in 2013 and flew for the first time in 2015. It’s currently active on the Czech civil register and makes appearances at shows around the country.
The aircraft has a few concessions made for modern aviation regualtions and was given construction number 44 to fit in with the original 43 made by Beneš-Mráz themselves so many years before. It is considered a true Be-50 rather than a replica in many quarters.
When it is not flying, it is usually kept on display at the Methodius Vlach Aviation Museum in Mladá Boleslav, north east of Prague in the Czech Republic.
The following links have all been through a translator function and their English is somewhat rough as a result. However, they do contain a good amount of information about the original Be-50 development as well as the new built example: