Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Can numbers be romantic?

My father had a gregarious yet authoritative style which would have suited the armed services during WWII. Profound deafness prevented this so he joined the Royal Observer Corps, spending time with other disqualificatees (mainly businessmen) on windswept Otley Chevin, north of Bradford, noting aircraft movements and acting as first-line visual defence against aerial invasion.

ROC members had to tell good planes from bad and this spilled over domestically. From five to ten I was sucked in and read the necessary publications more avidly than my father, becoming fairly good at what he did. (I may have passed on the appropriate gene: my elder daughter, having beaten her sword into a ploughshare, could differentiate between a Ford Zephyr and a Ford Zodiac, an extreme distinction which depends mainly on a few strips of chrome trim.)

My skills would not have impressed a similarly indoctrinated young American. To me the most iconic (Hate the word but can’t escape it here) US fighter plane was a Mustang which he would have called a P-51. Moving to bombers my four-engine Liberator would have been his B-24. This numerical nomenclature still prevails among US vintage plane fans. A minor mystery, especially since many of the best-known American planes had good memorable names: Corsair, Lightning and Vengeance (manufactured by the equally memorable company, Vultee.)

But not all. The Brewster Buffalo was actually a fighter. Funnily enough its tubby fuselage hinted at the eponymous herbivore. Also an uncertain image springs to my mind when someone says Flying Fortress (US: B-17); all those bricks and mortar! This must seem like the Punic Wars to many bloggers. PS: The silhouette pic is a Macchi, an unlikely visitor to Otley Chevin.


Julia said...

Did you go spotting with your father too? And did you see German planes frequently? Were there American planes nearby too? So many threads to follow here.

Relucent Reader said...

Cool post.
Just to make things more interesting, the Royal Navy called the Grumman "Wildcat" (F4F) a "Martlet"....and the few B-29s in British service after the war were not known as a "Superfortress" but as a "Washington".The Russians acquired one (B-29)after an emergency landing and copied it exactly, right down to a hole in the wing that they did not know what it was but duplicated it anyways. That a/c was known as a Tupolev 4 (Tu-4).
Further muddying the waters, the very first model of the P-51 'Mustang' was not a 'P' for pursuit; it was an A-36 "Apache". It was dive bomber, complete with dive brakes.

Plutarch said...

Like you I did my National Service in the RAF. I did not rise above the rank of Aircraftman 1, but I did manage on one occasion to get a lift in a Meteor (the RAF's first jet fighter. This was a plane which no one was proud of. There are probably none extant to qualify for vintage status. They were nicknamed Meatboxes and news of the numerous crashes at my station were, I suspect, supressed.
My flight, up, round in a circle and safely down was over in minutes. It was too fast to see more than a blur. A Gloster Gladiator would have provided a better ride.

marja-leena said...

To answer that question, I think it depends on who you are, what life experiences you've had and what the numbers are referring to. Interesting to read about yours and the commentors views without really having a clue about fighter planes.

The Crow said...



herhimnbryn said...

Oh, this reminds me of my youngest brother. From the age of 10(ish) he became smitten with all things aeronautical. He could (and still can I beleive) identify any plane in the air or by it's silhouette ( spelling?). Thankyou for reminding me.
I also have a copy of Jane's aircraft recognition guide sitting in a bookcase somewhere. How it travelled to Australia with me is a mystery.

ps. answer to your Wine question over at my place.

herhimnbryn said...

That would be belIeve!

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: The ROC was a sub-section of the RAF; the participants wore uniforms and there was a rather rackety sense of discipline. A child of 5 - 10 would have been unwelcome. German planes: they came over at night when I was tucked up in my little wooden bed or after I had been transported (usually asleep) down into the cellar when a warning sounded. US planes: Harvard trainers(AT-6) with their distinctive droning radial engine almost every day, occasional Fortresses; otherwise British planes.

RR: I'd forgotten the Martlet. Just looked it up: "In heraldry, a representation of a swallow without feet (!). Used eg, in indicating descent." That latter bit doesn't sound too promising. Re the B-29: Wonder if the Russkies copied the Betty Grable cartoon and the bomb signage indicating missions flown. P-51: And now the Apache is a helicopter.

Plutarch: Meteor flight. Could have been worse; de Havilland Vampires fell out of the skies with even greater regularity. I suspect the technology of the surrounding cockpit was something of a distraction. So you were an AC1; I hadn't realised I outranked you - junior technician, one upside down stripe.

M-L: I suppose we all have our own significant numbers. As to WWII fighter planes, the circle of interest is wider than you might imagine. Many people - women included - respond to the sleek lines of the Spitfire, now featuring in my home page header.

HHB: I seem to recall that you responded to Avus's suggestion, months ago, that we photograph our bookshelves. I take it that Jane's was temporarily removed from the shelf so as not to spoil the impressive line of poetry books and nineteenth century novels. Do a post on Jane's - I double-dare you.

herhimnbryn said...

BB. My bookcase photo only showed 1/3 of one bookcase! The Jane's is in another bookcase! Now I wonder how I could post about it? I wonder?

herhimnbryn said...

The Zinfandel seems to be retailing over here at about $35(au)=17 pounds(uk)


Barrett Bonden said...

HHB: Pretend it's a catalogue and you're shopping for a plane.

Avus said...

My old boss was a retired WWII Wing Commander (Owen). He was a fighter ace and had the DFC(and bar), AFC and DSO.

He loved the Spitfire. Most planes, he said, you got in and flew. The Spitfire you put on like a jacket and it became part of you. You just thought where to go and it went