A Visit to the Royal Air Force Museum in London.
Formed at the end of the First World War, on 1 April 1918,the Royal Air Force is the oldest independent air force in the world.It has taken a significant role in British military history,in particular,playing a large part in the Second World War where it fought its most famous campaign- the Battle of Britain.
The Royal Air Force museum in London largely consists of fixed-wing aircraft, including:fighter and strike aircraft,airborne early warning aircraft, aerial refuelling aircraft and strategic and tactical transport aircraft. The RAF Museum is Britain’s only national museum dedicated wholly to aviation,the science of flight and the RAF.
Below I have described some of the aviation ‘artifacts’ that I got to see at the RAF museum during my visit there last month.
ROLLS ROYCE MERLIN 23
The Rolls Royce Merlin engine was one of the most important piston engines for aircraft ever produced.Early marks were fitted into Spitfires and Hurricanes which took part in the Battle of Battle of Britain of 1940. Continuous development allowed the Merlin engine to continue in production throughout the Second World War.The Merlin 23 was fitted with a two stage supercharger and was used in many of the Mosquito variants.
The Liberty engine was designed by two American Engineers,Jesse Vincent of Packard and E J Hall of Hall-Scott in 1917.The US War Department had tasked them to design an engine based on proven ideas that was capable of mass production.
The basic design was four separate cylinders, in a water-cooled V shape,and to produce 4,6,8 and 12-cylinder versions.Many thousands continued in military and civilian service into the first half of the Thirties.
This engine was originally fitted to the biplane D.H.9A.Damaged by enemy action in 1918.It was further damaged in the Berlin Air Museum by Royal Air Force bombing in 1943.
PC1400X ‘FRITZ X’ Guided Bomb
The German ‘Fritz X’ a radio-controlled glide bomb with moving fins,was the first of what we now call ‘smart bombs’ today.
Experiments with radio-controlled spoilers fitted to bombs to control their flight began in 1938.The bomb came into use in 1943 with III/KG100 of the Luftwaffe,based near Maeseilles.On 9th September,Dornier Do217K-2s,each carrying two Fritz X bombs attacked ships of the surrendering Italian fleet in the Mediterranean.The battleship Roma was sunk and another,Italia,damaged.
After this success,British and American vessels supporting the Allied landings at Salerno were targeted.Later that month, HMS Warspite was severely damaged and HMS Janus and HMS Spartan were sunk.
However,by the end of September,the weaknesses of the weapon were exposed.The aircraft which launched and controlled the bomb needed to maintain a steady course at a relatively short distance from the target,making itself an easy target for anti-aircraft fire.
The last sorties with the weapon were against land targets,but by April 1994 Fritz X had been abandoned.
Grand Slam Bomb
The Grand Slam remains the largest and heaviest bomb ever used operationally by any air force and,together with the small Tallboy,was the most effective conventional bomb produced during the Second World War.
In 1941 Barnes Wallis,the engineer and inventor,proposed the use of a huge bomb able to penetrate deep into the ground before exploding.The shock waves generated would destroy the target by shaking it to pieces in a similar way to an earthquake.
By June 1943 the British were able to authorise the production of two different sizes of earthquake bomb.Known as the 12,000lb Tallboy (Medium) (5440kg) and the 22,000lb Tallboy (Large) (9980kg) work was stopped on the larger weapon two months later.In July 1944, this decision was reversed and work began again,with the bomb now called Grand Slam.
The first live Grand Slam was dropped on 13 March 1945 and it produced a crater, 38m diameter and 9m deep.The following day the bomb was used operationally against the Bielefeld viaducts.A total of 41 Grand Slams were dropped before the end of the war.
The Everest Expedition
On 3 April 1993, two Westland biplanes made the first flight over Everest.Barely seven months earlier Britain’s Vickers Vespa fitted with a supercharged engine,had reached 13,400m and captured the altitude record for Great Britain.
An immediate result of this success was an approach from the Everest Flight Committee to Westland in an effort to interest them in an attempt to fly over the unconquered Mount Everest (8850m) and to photograph it as an aid to mountaineers.
Originally conceived as a fighter,the Eurofighter Typhoon has matured into one of the world’s most advanced multi-role aircraft.It is capable of undertaking a variety of missions from air defence through to strike missions with a wide range of sophisticated weapons.
The first aircraft will start to enter service in 2017 and will be stationed at a new airbase at Adam.
The Gloster Meteor was not only the first jet aircraft to enter squadron service with the Royal Air Force,but was also the only Allied jet aircraft to see operational service during the Second World War.Highly versatile, it served in a wide variety of roles and was a major export success for the British aircraft industry.
The Bulldog was the RAF fighter of the early 1930’s.By the mid-1920s the RAF desperately needed to replace its obsolescent fighters.The competition to find a replacement began in the summer of 1927.After lengthy testing of competing designs the Bristol Bulldog was declared the winner.
The Bulldog was also something of an export success-examples were bought by the United States,Australia,Japan and Finland.
Sikorsky R-4B Hoverfly
The Hoverfly was the first operational helicopter to be developed by the Americans and saw widespread use in the closing months of the war in the Pacific. The type was also the first helicopter used by the Royal Air Force and entered service with the Helicopter Training Flight at Andover and one was used for Radar Calibration by No.529 Squadron in 1945.This is the first truly capable Allied helicopter. Whilst relatively under powered it could do all the basic tasks carried out as a matter of course by modern helicopters.
Hunting Percival Provost
The Hoverfly was the first operational helicopter to be developed by the Americans and saw widespread use in the closing months of the war in the Pacific. The type was also the first helicopter used by the Royal Air Force and entered service with the Helicopter Training Flight atAndover and one was used for Radar Calibration by No.529 Squadron in 1945.This is the first truly capable Allied helicopter. Whilst relatively underpowered it could do all the basic tasks carried out as a matter of course by modern helicopters.
Hunting Percival Provost
Upon its formation in 1959,the Sultan of Muscat and Oman’s Air Force received three Hunting Percival Provost (XF682,XF683 and XF688) direct from the manufacturer via the RAF’s No.27 Maintenance Unit.In total,the Sultan’s air force operated nine Provosts,with two lost on operations.
While designed as a trainer,the Provosts used by the Sultan’s air force were adopted to carry machine guns,bomb racks and rocket rails for the ground attack role.
On 25 July 1909, Louis Bleriot,a determined and courageous Frenchman,became the first person to cross the English Channel in an aeroplane.The Bleriot XI was a versatile machine for its day and served as a training aircraft at flying schools all over the world.
The Bleriot XI was not the only monoplane in a contemporary aviation world populated by increasing number of biplanes but it was one of the first dependable,reliable and versatile examples of this design;at a time when many of its contemporaries were dangerous,difficult to control and unstable.
The Mustang was designed as an alternative to an RAF requirement for North American Aviation to licence build Cutiss P-40s.The resulting aircraft proved superior to any contemporary American fighter and when latter fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine it was transformed into one of the war winning weapons of the Second World War.
Named the Mustang by the RAF it was officially known as the P-51 by the Americans.The prototype first flew in October 1940 and the P-51D entered service in 1944.With the supercharged V-1650-7 Merlin engine in place together with its clean aerodynamic design and impressive range,it was ideally suited for the vital role of bomber escort.The versatile P-51D was also a formidable fighter-bomber and, when equipped with cameras as the F-6D,a successful photographic reconnaissance aircraft.
The aircraft was built with the main cabin having a VIP interior finish,furnishings and sound proofing.An external folding step was fitted below the cabin door.Additional Decca navigation equipment was installed on the fight deck.It was named as VIP Transport Helicopter.
4th Year Mechanical Engineering Student
Thapathali Campus, Institute of Engineering