DB explains the Greenwich Grid
October 8th dawned fine and bright with an autumnal sunshine all day and just the faintest hint of a warm breeze. Members began arriving from 10.00 and, once logged in, where ushered to the NAM Café where coffee and biscuits were being served. During the morning, they were free to inspect the Museum where several aircraft including the Vulcan, Hastings, Shackleton, Varsity, and Canberra were open for inspection. A buffet lunch was served at 12.30 around the Varsity where the catering ladies had gone to great trouble to cater for the three special diets ordered and lay aside separate plates of food for the three expected late arrivals. Tea and scones were served at 15.30 although we weren’t expecting the scones to arrive with whipped cream, jam, and real strawberries. Yes strawberries in October!
We knew we could expect a polished, thoroughly researched, and timed to the second presentation from Jeff Jefford, and that’s exactly what we got. Jeff began by explaining that he felt slightly uncomfortable talking about just RAF long-range flights, because while epic flights had been made by the RAF, many more had been made by civilians and even more by crews from countries other than those of the British Empire. Also, whilst navigation was important, the main requirement for inter war flights was a reliable engine, and success or failure was most likely to depend on that. This was probably followed by ‘Where can I land?’ and “Will there be fuel there?” and these depended on careful planning and logistics. The reasons for doing it were also covered. These were principally commerce, imperialism and prestige although the RAF reasons could be extended to include: power projection, Imperial communications, deployment, sales, publicity, showing the flag, reinforcement and training. Jeff went on to compare numerous inter-war flights against many of these criteria using some excellent photographs of the aircraft and airships concerned. He finished by returning to the overall need for reliability and the hard work and dedication of the RAF servicing groundcrew concerned. His final slide showed a photograph of the groundcrew working on one of the world distance record-breaking Wellesleys in 1938, and he pointed to one chap on a ladder working on the engine. He had joined the RAF at the age of sixteen as a Halton apprentice in 1929. By the time of the photograph he was an LAC Fitter One; he got his corporal’s stripes out of this effort, and he eventually retired in 1968 as a squadron leader engineer. He was Jeff’s dad.
David Broughton began his talk with a quick description of his own career followed by an explanation of the particular problems of Polar flying, notably: the meridians all joining together making longitude rather meaningless; magnetic compasses becoming very sluggish, not to mention having to allow for massive variation; the Sun is often below the horizon; it’s extremely cold outside on the ground and inside the aircraft of the time whilst flying; and a shortage of diversion airfields. David went on to describe the five Aries aircraft, their crews, and their navigational fit: Aries 1, a Lancaster; Aries 2 and 3, Lincolns; and Aries 4 and 5, Canberras. There were no more specially dedicated Aries aircraft after 1962, but there had been Hastings flights from the RAF Flying College at Manby from 1950 and others within 400 miles of the Pole from the RAF Central Navigation and Control School from 1952. From 1960, a different kind of Aries Polar flight began for the RAF Specialist Navigator Course and later the GD Aerosystems course using temporarily, specially fitted out, Britannia, VC10, and Comet aircraft until 1996. These flights were particularly valuable to RAF Students and Industry, because it gave Industry the opportunity to test their latest equipment close to the Pole and the students the opportunity to work with it. David is believed to hold the record for travelling on most of these.
Howard Heeley, NAM’s Secretary and Trustee gave the last talk of the day. He began by explaining that, although the Museum opened officially in 1973, interest had begun ten years earlier in 1963 when the remains of burned out Westland Wallaces were found near RAF Cranwell. By the time it opened officially, the Museum had also obtained a Percival Prentice. After 1973 the aircraft arrived thick and fast with a Varsity in 1976, a Shackleton in 1977, a Javelin in 1981, and a Vulcan in 1983. Howard produced some wonderful anecdotes of how the more interesting aircraft were obtained; how they were shipped or flown in; and how they were eventually displayed. Howard wove his own connection with the Museum since first attending as a schoolboy into his talk. The Seminar broke up about 16.30.