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It must be true because I read about it in the Daily Mail…

[Editorial note - this story is from a while back but I've been sick as a mangy hound with nastiness so never finished it. I'm back now.]

… except it isn’t. Since childhood I have been an aviation fanatic. I’m astigmatic, somewhat short sighted and RG colour blind. So when I started my degree I spoke to the recruiting officer for the East Midlands Universities Air Squadron and when I explained my ishoos I was told to politely eff off. Having said that would you really trust someone who had to be told what colour Corsodyl toothpaste is with hands on the throttle and stick of a something that costs more than David and Victoria Beckham’s house and can drop JDAMs?

Thought not.

Shame but fair enough I guess. Having said that the highest scoring fighter ace in British history, Major Edward “Mick” Mannock, Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order and Two Bars, Military Cross and Bar (61 confirmed kills, maybe 73) and that Irishman was blind in one eye (allegedly). He (allegedly) bribed someone in the medical section to get the sight-test chart and memorised it. I think they are a bit more careful these days. Never trust the Irish or the Daily Mail.


Prince Harry has created a scholarship to get wounded veterans behind the wheel of an iconic Spitfire.

A fine and noble goal except a Spitfire (do we need to be told it is “iconic”? Do we ever need to be told something that actually is iconic is “iconic”?) doesn’t have a wheel. No, seriously. This is a snarky piece but it is aimed against the Mail and not Harry. I knew a lass at Nottingham University who helped out with riding for the disabled. Imagine how freeing it is for a paraplegic to be astride a horse and to gain that speed, height and mobility. A Spit has rather more horses in the front so…

The scheme, inspired by Second World War pilot Douglas Bader, will see the strongest candidates move up from a Tiger Mother biplane, to a Harvard, to the bespoke craft.

A Tiger Mother? God help us! The Harvard though was the RAF’s LIFT at the time so OK there but what’s that with “bespoke”?

Oh, and we had many disabled pilots in WWII. One bloke had nose art on his Spitfire showing the arm he’d had blown off flicking the V-sign.

Harry, an Apache helicopter pilot, launched the scholarship by climbing into the cockpit of a Spitfire and starting it.

Er… He’s an Apache WSO. Whatever.

But this is astonishing…

Not Spitfires

The Mail caption is this, “Britain built about 20,000 Spitfires, but they became obsolete after the invention of the jet engine. Here, a fleet is pictured with wing commander Robert Stanford-Tuck for the 1968 film.”

I’m not even going to point out they are Hurricanes.

I can fact-check stuff in the press. But I have limits. I know about certain areas such as aviation, bits of physics, a few other odds and ends but that is my lot. Worrying isn’t it? How much can the media smuggle past you as “truth” if you don’t know the subject?

I’m just wear my Mr Sceptic hat. I’m not exactly accusing them of making things-up or even of cherry-picking things to reflect their views but of in a fundamental way not really caring about hard truth. I mean that in the sense that the Mail sees the truth of telling a heart-warming story of the dashing young prince driving fast cars for a good cause (which it is) is more important than the awkward little facts. They all do it. What we have to do is behave like small Danish boys and sometimes shout, “But I can see his willy!!!”.


  1. john in cheshire says:

    NickM, you weren’t allowed to train as a pilot? That’s shocking, surely you must sue the MOD! After all, in this day and age, you have a right to be trained. I cite the two Civil Nuclear Constabulary Policepersons who sued because their dainty handies couldn’t fire their gunsies. They were awarded dosh so surely you, not being allowed to be a pilot; which is far more important than a mere plodette; would be entitled to oodles of the stuff.

  2. nemesis says:

    I was informed long ago that a certain major aircraft manufacturer didn’t test its employees for colour blindness. Have you ever seen the multi-coloured spagetti wiring that goes into a jumbo jet?

  3. Mr Ed says:

    ‘Oh, and we had many disabled pilots in WWII. One bloke had nose art on his Spitfire showing the arm he’d had blown off flicking the V-sign.’

    Fact check: it was a Hurricane, a Night Intruder squadron tasked with flying into France at night and shooting up Jerry as he came to land etc. the pilot was Sqn Ldr James MacLachlan DSO DFC** aka ‘One-Armed Mac’:

    And how many scum claim incapacity benefits on spurious grounds these days, and get a free pass?

  4. RAB says:

    We are moving into a post literate world. Several generations of Comprehensive Education has ensured that nobody but the old can spel and punkchewate proper no more. Even those in the Communications industry and the MSM do not know how to write, research and stand up a story properly. They just re-write badly written press releases.

    It’s happened before of course. Them ancient Egyptians had copperplate handwriting and phenomenal literary skills, then someone invented Ramases 8 touch screen Papyrus and it all went to hell in a handcart with symbols and Hieroglyphics. And before you could say Ptolemy, it was all over for them. The same is happening to us.

    If you want a cheap laugh at the woeful literacy of our current generation, then turn the subtitles on, on your tv. We do when visiting my mum, or she visiting us, as she is very very deaf now. Utter howlers and disgraceful paraphrasing. The Mail is far from being on it’s own here. The Guardian was not nicknamed the Grauniad for nothing, and them supposed to be Intelectfools too boot.

  5. XX Britain built about 20,000 Spitfires, but they became obsolete after the invention of the jet engine. XX

    No, actualy they did not (although preaching to the converted here.) The Spitfire went on to do sterling service in the Israeli airforce, as one example. (See Wiki link for usesrs. Below) LONG after the invention of the jet engine.

    In fact it was a spitfire that was the first to shoot down a jet engined fighter (Me 262) in 1944/5.

    They also did rather well against impulse rockets. (V1s)

    One thing I find most interesting. See the list of “user nations;

    Deutsches Reich…???!!!??

  6. Mr Ed says:

    FT the Germans captured the occasional Spitfire. Dunkirk, forced landings etc. and had a unit to evaluate them and other captured aircraft, as did the RAF for Axis aircraft. at Boscombe Down, I think. There is even an Argentine Pucará from the Falklands War at the RAF Museum in Cosford that flew over England after shipping back to the UK in 1982.

    The piston engine aircraft reached its zenith with the Sea Fury, which saw action in Korea, one or two still fly with the Royal Navy Historic Flight, it is a roaring beast, I saw one at an airshow last autumn.

  7. NickM says:

    Interestingly, the Egyptians also had Spitfires so the ’48 War saw Spit v Spit combat. What really did for the piston engine was the turboprop due to the increasing maintenance load of ever more powerful and therefore complicated piston engines. Imagine changing the spark plugs on a B-36 – 6×28 cylinder engines and you get the idea… Mr Ed. Advocates of the Grumman Bearcat might disagree, or the DH Sea Hornet.

  8. single acts of tyranny says:

    Without wishing to turn this into “what’s my best piston engined fighter?” I’d always fancied it to be either the late model P-51or if you’ll take limited production runs and what it might have become the Ta-152

  9. NickM says:

    No! SAoT you are well OT :-) and all that but the P-51Ds with teardrop hoods (-25 on?) are my vote too. Possibly some of the P-38s. I’m basing this on aircraft built and deployed in quantity in war.

  10. The Jannie says:

    I don’t get the deification of Bader which has gone on for years. Yes, he overcame stupendous odds to continue flying – and continued with a lot of success. I can’t get over the fact that those doing the deifying conveniently usually omit to mention how he lost his pins. This was due to an air to ground interface miscalculation which was not in some valid combat situation but while showing off.

  11. NickM says:

    Well, yes. Two things are worth pointing out here. Bader was an extremely good and aggressive pilot but he was vainglorious. He was not too popular with his subordinates because of this. He lost a lot of men. Of course this almost pathological self-belief was a large part of how he managed by an act of pure will to overcome his lack of legs. The second thing though is worth pointing out and is directly from Bader himself who said (I paraphrase), “There is nowhere but in bed that you need legs less than in a cockpit”. This is true – up to a point.

    My real hero is Sailor Malan. He ticked all the boxes. Great pilot, great leader and commander, and great thinker about air warfare. He was fundamental in changing RAF tactics from the dismal vics of three with ludicrously complicated numbered attack patterns to something like the Luftwaffe “finger-four”. And he produced these rules which are universal…


    Wait until you see the whites of his eyes. Fire short bursts of 1 to 2 seconds and only when your sights are definitely ‘ON’.

    Whilst shooting think of nothing else, brace the whole of the body, have both hands on the stick, concentrate on your ring sight.

    Always keep a sharp lookout. “Keep your finger out!”

    Height gives You the initiative.

    Always turn and face the attack.

    Make your decisions promptly. It is better to act quickly even though your tactics are not the best.
    Never fly straight and level for more than 30 seconds in the combat area.

    When diving to attack always leave a proportion of your formation above to act as top guard.
    INITIATIVE, AGGRESSION, AIR DISCIPLINE, and TEAM WORK are the words that MEAN something in Air Fighting.

    Go in quickly – Punch hard – Get out!

    Having said that Boelcke came to much the same conclusions in WWI.

  12. NickM says:

    Oh, and they worked fine for me over the Yalu in Rowan Software’s MiG Alley. Well that and astute energy management. Always try and force the MiG-15 (which has much better T/W than a Sabre) into the horizontal plane then fight the bugger to the stall. An old but great game.

  13. Mr Ed says:

    Malan? NickM you fail to mention the Battle of Barking Creek, a ‘friendly fire’ incident and Malan trying to get pilots he had ordered to attack their own convicted for it. Rather puts a damper on the man’s character.

    Methinks that ‘One-Armed Mac’ had a harder time than Bader, (he writes in peaceful comfort) flying night raids over occupied France with a wooden arm, he lost his left arm to a 20mm cannon shell over Malta.

  14. NickM says:

    Nobody is perfect Mr Ed.

  15. single acts of tyranny says:

    @ Nick M – the MIG-15 was better than the sabre ? I really dont know this stuff at all but weren’t they both just shiney 262 clones ?

  16. Mr Ed says:

    NickM, I am not asking for perfection, I am asking for an RAF officer not to be a treacherous bastard to the men he commanded, a very low bar, which Malan flew under with aplomb.

  17. NickM says:

    The MiG was inferior to the Sabre in everything* but zoom-climb (hence the likes of the F-104). As to the 262 heritage – forget it! Both, especially the MiG drew on late FW work such as the the Ta-183 (note the high tail on both the Ta-183 and the MiG-15) rather than Me work. Essentially it was about trying to get suitable performance out of a single early jet.

    *armament is a tricky issue here. Neither were ideally armed.

  18. Mr Ed says:

    Whilst on the subject of piston-engines and therefore not wholly OT, but almost, the Canadian Lancaster is visiting the UK in August 2014:

  19. NickM says:

    That is wonderful! I shall go out to see… I usually do.

  20. XX single acts of tyranny
    February 24, 2014 at 7:10 am
    I really dont know this stuff at all but weren’t they both just shiney 262 clones ? XX

    Clones??? Except for the obvious missing turbine you mean? You know, those two bloody big lumps a 262 had under the wings?

  21. NickM says:

    The 262 was pants. The Sovs captured the factory entire and didn’t build it. The engines had a 10hr life. It could be taken by a Hawker Tempest. Oh, and you know why it had swept wings? To shift the CoG – just like the dear old Fairey Swordfish (The Taranto tin opener). They were only issued to the elite (what was left) and still struggled to get above unity kill-rate. On the straight and narrow it had nose mounted cannon and the Mk108 was good on the straight and narrow but other than that it was not a great fighter.

  22. Mr Ed says:

    The Fairey Swordfish didn’t have swept wing, I have poked my nose inside a static Swordfish and ‘built for speed’ does not come to mind, the wings are essentially straight. If anything, its virtue was its ability to fly at low speed, which reputedly completely foxed the German Navy’s radar-guided AA guns, which fired in front of an attacking aircraft at the point that it was expected to have arrived at for optimal convergence, but the algorithm was probably set for Hurricanes etc., so the fire crossed where a Hurricane would have been, whereas the Swordfish was wheezing along at the back nicely in front of the bullets, which then sprayed off into the distance.

    You can keep the Swordfish going here, it is only partly UK government funded, a bit like Ukraine and Argentina:

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