Yeovilton Royal Naval Air Museum, 25th April 2009
38 members and guests enjoyed a fascinating day covering naval aviation from its inception to the current contribution in Afghanistan
Admiral Terry Loughran CB , chair of the Museum Trustees, welcomed us and introduced the museum and emphasized the pioneering role of early naval aviation and the scale of it in both World Wars, and in the nicest possible way, that not everything that flies is RAF, which is why the FlyNavy 100 activities were set up to celebrate the anniversary of naval aviation, deemed to start with the signing of the contract for the Mayfly airship on 9 May 1909. (Though it did satisfy its critics by never flying)
Gordon Mottram, Director of the Museum, then gave us an excellent presentation covering the whole gamut of naval flying. The early naval airships, nearly all RN, were of great importance in WW 1. Though they didn’t sink many U boats, they kept them down, reducing their effectiveness.
The enthusiasm of some officers got naval aviation going, which also meant that naval aviators came to fight with distinction on the Western Front, downing the first Zeppelin. The RN was then at the forefront of innovation. Pegasus and Furious were the first ships to fly aircraft in a fleet context in the run up to WW 1.
During the interwar period, the M2 pioneered submarine carried aircraft. She was sunk (by collision it is now known), and the experiment was not repeated, though Japan copied the idea leading to the only air attacks on the US West coast.
The interwar years saw the removal of naval aviation from RN control until 1937, and this led to limited development of suitable aircraft types. The Swordfish of course, had numerous battle honours in WW II – at Taranto, which was model for Pearl Harbour, and there were the successful attacks on Konigsberg and Bismarck . Later they served on the MACs, which did so much to help win the U-boat war.
The Seafire was not a success, it had a high crash rate. So it was the Americans that developed modern monoplane aircraft solid enough to handle landing on a moving platform reliably, with the Wildcats and Corsairs coming to the RN via lend lease. By December 1945 the RN was technically in front again with first jet landing on a carrier, and later developed the steam catapult, mirror landing sights, and the angled deck, all central technologies for the modern air arm.
Fireflys and Sea Furies were very active during the Korean war. The arrival of helicopters and the Junglies represented a new phase of ever closer combined ops. The Harrier was an extraordinary technical leap, literally, and now celebrates 40 years of active service
Cdr. Paul Shawcross, the Chief of Staff Combined Helicopter Force, then took us through the history of the Junglies from the first trials of Dragonflies in 1949 through the Malaysia campaign, Suez and Malaya, the Indonesian sponsored insurgencies in the 1960’s and later the development of the Rapid Deployment and Response Force, and the Balkan involvement; some 20 odd campaigns in all. Throughout, good relations were sustained between the RN supplier and the troops on the ground, essential to effectiveness.
This continued in the naval contribution to the Joint Helicopter Command in Afghanistan and Iraq set-up in 1999.
Paul described how Sea Kings had to be modified rapidly to work effectively in Afghanistan with new rotor tips etc.
After lunch we had a “bonus” with a brief but entertaining account of life in the Wrens in the late 40’s early 50’s from Jean Berry. She had joined in 1949 to escape home, and started at Eglington, becoming a radio/radar mechanic. She had managed a number of flights, and had chilly times climbing up aerial masts in winter. Her photos included some of the Blackburn vs. Sea Gannet trials. She became an officer but her climb up the ladder came to an end with marriage.
Cdr. Adrian Orchard, hot from the Gulf, then gave us a rundown on the history of the VSTOL aircraft and the Harrier. It was one of several developments, but well ahead of others, and he moved on to its familiar role in the Falklands, and current intense involvement in Iraq and now Afghanistan. A 40-year period of combat service which is unequalled in recent aviation. Whilst the Sea Harrier is now retired, the more modern land versions are more capable. The joint force does mean that there is less sea training. When he joined, his role and the enemy were clear cut- his job was to protect the fleet. That is no longer the case.
Adrian emphasised how young new entrants now had a huge burden of responsibility for the legal and political consequences of their actions in a messy war, but were helped to some extent by advanced technology, which he illustrated.
Questions covered the rotation of Harrier pilots, who had served for very extended periods, and unlike the US pilots operating from carriers offshore, had the rigours and risks of Camp Bastion to contend with.
Questions were asked about the likelihood of the new carriers being continued during the “crunch “. Admiral Loughran was optimistic given how far down the road we were and the number of jobs and skills represented, and their many innovations in the best tradition of RN aviation.
None of us were left in any doubt as to the ongoing enthusiasm and commitment of the air arm from its earliest days to its current intense involvement in conflicts abroad.
Admiral Loughran closed by emphasising the importance of developing public awareness of the role of naval aviation, and encouraging members to join the museum.
Many members had a brief introduction to the exhibition under development, and took the opportunity to visit the impressive Ark Royal carrier simulation.
Finally, our thanks go to all the excellent speakers and Nigel Broadhurst for organising a really enjoyable day.
Short S27 replica from the museum
Reported by Anon
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