We exchanged some polite remarks while we heaved our bags in the rack above us and sought our proper place. We just fitted in our seats together: the blonde lady in sweater and jeans at the window, I in the middle and to my right the middle aged guy in safari jacket with long hair in a ponytail… Then we underwent in silence the start of the machine and the handout of some gorgeous delicacies like peanuts wrapped in tiny little plastic bags.
After a while the plane had climbed to cruising height and I bent forward to the left to look out of the window. I saw an elegant upward turned wing tip against the hard blue expansion of the universe and the faintly curved horizon of our planet.
“Isn’t it amazing?” the lady smiled at me – “how we are sitting here crunching peanuts above the world?”
“It’s stunning,” I agreed. – “I was also observing the wing tip. There seems to be a fashion nowadays to bend them upward.”
“Well dear, it’s all about saving fuel you know. The proper shape may give you an extra 3 or 4 per cent range. It all counts with the present fuel prices.” (This conversation took place some years ago).
“How can that be?”
She explained: “The wings leave behind a corkscrew of whirling air, one at each side. It is an air vortex. In a way you may say that the airplane pulls the vortex forward. The bigger the vortex, the more energy it takes from the plane. With careful design of the wing tip the engineers try to make the generation of the vortex more gradual, less violent, see?” She looked at me and smiled.
“Yeah,” the man to my right added -“and these vortices are bloody dangerous for the little guy who is flying behind them. You better stay out of the wake of the big ones…”
And so it turned out to be a pleasant flight for all of us. The safari chap ordered a meal and offered me his dessert because he was, as he explained, a diabetic. The lady at the window knew more about airplanes than any of us. And I told them about Willy Fiedler who had built and flown a sailplane in 1933 with vertical wing tips and no fin at the tail. I even showed them a picture on my i-phone.
They were properly impressed.
We spent the rest of the flight with pleasurable chitchat. However, as always when flying, I lost my new friends at the Luggage Claim. If we had traveled by steamship we would probably still be in contact now.
DescriptionAirplane vortex edit.jpg (see earlier picture)
Date 4 May 1990 English: Wake Vortex Study at Wallops Island
The air flow from the wing of this agricultural plane is made visible by a technique that uses colored smoke rising from the ground. The swirl at the wingtip traces the aircraft’s wake vortex, which exerts a powerful influence on the flow field behind the plane. Because of wake vortex, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires aircraft to maintain set distances behind each other when they land. A joint NASA-FAA program aimed at boosting airport capacity, however, is aimed at determining conditions under which planes may fly closer together. NASA researchers are studying wake vortex with a variety of tools, from supercomputers, to wind tunnels, to actual flight tests in research aircraft. Their goal is to fully understand the phenomenon, then use that knowledge to create an automated system that could predict changing wake vortex conditions at airports. Pilots already know, for example, that they have to worry less about wake vortex in rough weather because windy conditions cause them to dissipate more rapidly.
ELEMENTARY NAVIGATION FOR AIRCRAFT PILOTS By A. W. BROWN
” A KNOWLEDGE of at least the elements of navigation is necessary to the pilots of modem aircraft undertaking long journeys. whether over land or ocean. On recognised air-routes over the land, his task will be made easier by the provision of land marks and lighthouses, but over the ocean, his only guides will be the wireless telegraph, or the SUN and stars. Wireless telgraphy provides an efficient and rapid means of locating the positions of an aircraft during a moderately long journey, but its reliability has yet to be proved over greater distances, such as will obtain in the Atlantic flight. On the other hand, observation of the sun or stars provides a reliable and never-failing means of position-finding, for it will be seldom indeed that aircraft will be unable to rise above any clouds obscuring the sky. It is not necessary for the pilot to know every detail of the methods of navigation in use on shipboard ; aircraft are in no danger from rocks or shoals, and have a large radius of vision, so that a high degree of accuracy is not essential. At the same time, the great speed of aircraft, and the extent to which they are affected by the wind, render necessary a system of navigation by which the position may be found at frequent intervals with rapidity and a minimum of calculation. “
From the same splendid Archives: FLIGHT magazine, June 19, 1919: THE FIRST NON-STOP FLIGHT ACROSS THE ATLANTIC WITH a British-designed and British-built aeroplane and engine, piloted by British officers, rests the honour of having made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic. In an .Vickers-Vimy-Rolls-Royce biplane. [This] has won for them the Daily Mail prize of 10,000 pounds, the 2,000 guineas from the Ardath Tobacco Co., and 1.000 pounds from Mr. Lawrence R. Phillips for the first British subject to fly the Atlantic.….”
MESSAGE from Capt. Alcock and Lieut. Brown to the Royal Aero Club, sent off from the wireless station at Clifden :—
” Landed at Clifden, Ireland.at 8.40 a.m., Greenwich mean-time, June 15; Vickers-Vimy Atlantic machine, leaving Newfoundland Coast 4.28 p.m. (G.M.T.), June 14. Total time 16 hours 12 minutes. Instructions awaited.” AS SOON AS the formalities were completed Capt. Alcock and Lieut. Brown dismantled the instruments from their machine and prepared to make for London as quickly as possible.…
[after many celebrations in Ireland they finally arrived at the Royal Aero Club in London:]…
They were welcomed by Gen. Holden, who said: “…It was one of the most remarkable feats of this century, and one which would be remembered as long as the world lasted. It was nine years since Bleriot crossed the Channel, a distance of 20 miles. Everybody thought that a magnificent exploit at the time ; but here they were welcoming men who had crossed nearly 2,000 miles.”
Three cheers having been given for the airmen, there were repeated calls upon them to speak.
Captain John William Alcock (1892-1919)
CAPT. ALCOCK, standing on a chair, said :— ” I should like to thank Gen. Holden for the kind words he has said about Lieut. Brown and myself. I must say the flight has been quite straightforward. Although we had a little difficulty in keeping our course, Lieut. Brown did very well and steered a wonderful course. With regard to the flight itself all the credit is due to the machine, and particularly the engine—that is everything. If the engine went well there was nothing to prevent us getting across so long as Lieut. Brown was able to get his sights, and here we are.”
Lieut. Brown, who also was loudly cheered, [spoke in similar vein]
AFTERWARDS Capt. Alcock and Lieut. Brown stepped out on to the balcony, where they were greeted with loud cheers by the crowds still waiting outside, Lieut. Brown ultimately driving off to Ealing where a further reception by the local authorities was gone through.
Meanwhile Capt.Alcock, after dinner at the Club, went to Olympia to witness the great boxing match.
THE FOLLOWING is the story of the crossing as given to the Daily Mail by Capt. Alcock :
—” WE have had a terrible journey.The wonder is we are here at all. We scarcely saw the sun or the moon or the stars. For hours we saw none of them. The fog was very dense, and at times we had to descend to within 300 ft. of the sea.For four hours the machine was covered in a sheet of ice carried by frozen sleet; at another time the fog was so dense that my speed indicator did not work, and for a few seconds it was very alarming. We looped the loop, I do believe, and did a very steep spiral. We did some very comic “stunts,” for I have had no sense of horizon. The winds were favourable all the way : north-west and at times south-west. We said in Newfoundland we would do the trip in 6 hours, but we never thought we should. An hour and a half before we saw land we had no certain idea where we were, but we believed we were at Galway or thereabouts. Our delight in seeing Eashal Island and Turbot Island (5 miles west of Clifden) was great. People did not know who we were when we landed, and thought we were scouts on the look-out for the ‘ Vimy.’
“We encountered no unforeseen conditions. We did not suffer from cold or exhaustion except when looking over the side ; then the sleet chewed bits out of our faces. We drank coffee and ale and ate sandwiches and chocolate. The only thing that upset me was to see the machine at the end get damaged. From above, the bog looked like a lovely field, but the machine sank into it up to the axle and fell over on to her nose.”
It certainly was unfortunate that what looked like a good meadow from above should have turned out to be a bog. Not only did the ” Vimy ” bury her nose in it but a R.A.F.machine which flew over from Oranmore to render assistance also came to grief. Later advices indicate that the Vickers machine is not so seriously injured as was at first supposed.
DURING the greater part of the flight of 1,950 miles the machine was at an average altitude of 4,000 ft. but at one
time—about 6 a.m.—in an endeavour to get above the clouds and fog, it went up to 11,000 ft. Lieut. Brown was only
able to take three readings for position, one from the sun, one from the moon and one from the Pole Star and Vega.
On passing Signal Hill, Lieut. Brown set out a course for the ocean on 124 deg. compass course and at 3 a.m. from an observation on Polaris and Vega he found he was about 2 deg. south. He then set a course of 110 deg.
Between 4 and 5 a.m. the machine ran into a very thick fog bank, and the air speed indicator jammed, through sleet freezing on it, at 90 m.p.h. It was then that Capt. Alcock thinks the machine looped, at any rate it went into a steep spiral which only ended with the machine practically on its back about 50 ft. from the water. The machine was covered with ice, and it continually became necessary to chip ice off the instruments, etc. Capt. Alcock says that he nursed the engines all the way, and had one-third of his petrol supply left when he landed. One of the exhaust pipes blew off, but otherwise there was no trouble from the engine installation.
APPARENTLY the start from St. John’s provided an anxious time for the onlookers. The machine had a hard job to get away with her heavy load. The aerodrome level was only 500 yards long, but the machine took off at 300 yards, and just managed to clear the trees and houses. However she climbed steadily if very slowly, and when she passed over the harbour a t St. John’s had reached a height of 1,000 ft.
THE FLIGHT has shown that the Atlantic flight is practicable, but I think it should be done not with an aeroplane or seaplane, but with a flying-boat. We had plenty of reserve fuel left, using only two-thirds of our supply.”
From FLIGHT Magazine, Deceember 25, 1919: THE DEATH OF SIR JOHN ALCOCK IT is with most profound regret that we have to record the fatal accident to Sir John Alcock, which occurred on the afternoon of December 18,’ while he was engaged in taking a new Vickers machine to Paris in connection with the Salon. It appears that the machine when nearing Rouen had great difficulty in negotiating a strong wind. A farmer at Cote d’Evrard, about 25 miles north of Rouen, saw the machine come out of the fog, commence to fly unsteadily, and—it was then about 1 o’clock—it suddenly crashed to the ground.
SIR JOHN ALCOCK was taken from the wreck, but unfortunately there was considerable delay in getting medical assistance as the farmhouse near where the crash occurred is out of the way. As soon as the accident was reported, doctors rushed from No. 6 British General Hospital, Rouen, but they were too late. It is probable that an enquiry will be held by the French authorities, at which the Air Ministry and Messrs. Vickers will be represented. Arrangements are being made for the conveyance of the body of Sir John Alcock to England for burial in Manchester, his native city. The death of Sir John Alcock is an irreparable loss to aviation. His great flight across the Atlantic is too fresh in the mind of readers of FLIGHT for further reference to be made to it here, while his previous work is recorded in the pages of past volumes of this paper.
NOTE: After his record Atlantic flight, Sir Arthur Whitten Brown pursued a career in industry. He rejoined the RAF for a short period during the Second World War, but had to resign because of ill health. He died in his sleep in 1948.
When, in 1953, in my capacity of apprentice in the KLM Maintenance Service at Schiphol, I started one morning to help take off half the wing of a Douglas DC-3, I was most astonished to find that the wing of this rather famous and historic airliner had no sturdy spar in its innards, but that the metal wing cover had a seam from front to back at a position close to the engine, where it was simply bolted to the center section of the airplane.
Only recently I read that this particular construction was called ‘multi-spar’ and invented by Jack Northrop around 1930. In document 3-22(a-b) 3-22-b: Engineering Department, Douglas Aircraft Co. “Development of the Douglas Transport”, Technical Data Report SW-157A, ca. 1933-34, Folder AD-761184-05, Aircraft Technical Files, National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C., one can find:
“In the Douglas and Northrop types of multi-cellular wing construction, there are a multiplicity of full length span-wise stiffeners, and the fact that they have no abrupt changes or ‘breaks’ [in their extended shape] results in no concentration of stresses. With the centroids of the stiffeners located at the maximum distances from the neutral axis of the [wing] section, a most efficient structure for absorbing the bending load is obtained.”
In my interpretation this means that the outside skin of the wing (well reinforced with span-wise stiffeners) will absorb all the bending stresses and that one can dispense with heavy spars directly connected to the fuselage. The remainder of the text is too interesting to be omitted, as we, modern airline customers, only too well know how scary modern airliners sometimes flex their wings:
“In a highly stressed airplane, torsional rigidity of the wing is of paramount importance in the prevention of wing flutter at high speeds and torsional deflection of the structure must therefore be kept to an absolute minimum. When under load, there will always be some vertical deflection but this must not be excessive since a wing with large vertical deflections might cause jamming of aileron controls and by no means inspires confidence in the passengers or pilots.”
Also, vibrations can generate most annoying noise (I remember flying in the Vickers Vanguard in 1962):
“If unsupported flat metal surfaces are even moderately large, there is always a tendency for the middle of the surface to vibrate in flight, even when there is no stress. This is termed ‘oil canning’and will, in time, cause fatigue in the sheet metal and in the rivets and cause rivet heads to work and to pop off. These unsupported flat surfaces continually drum and cause a noise that cannot be completely eliminated in a cabin, because part is carried as vibration thru the structure. This is different from ‘wrinkling’of the skin. Wrinkling will be present in every metal wing with a flat metal covering taking stress. These wrinkles are deflections of the skin under load and ordinarily do not have any tendency to vibrate.”
The report continues with more on the subject of the wing design for the early Douglas airliners:
“In determining the wing construction of the early Douglas machines single, two, three and multi spar designs were considered as well as shell type and multi-cellular designs. After a thorough investigation of all types the Northrop multi-cellular wing construction was finally decided upon. This type of structure consists of a flat skin reinforced by numerous longitudinals and ribs. The bending is taken by the combination of flat skin and full length [longitudinal] stringers. Three main flat [vertical] sheets or ‘webs’ carry the shear loads. Torsion and indirect stress are carried by the skin with frequent ribs preserving the contour and dividing the structure up into a number of small rigid boxes or cells. Since the major loads are carried in the outer surface of the wing as well as in the in the internal structure, an inspection of the exterior gives a ready indication of the structural condition. The unit stresses in the material are low and therefore the deflections are at a minimum giving a maximum in rigidity. This construction has proven to be a happy medium of those considered since it combines practically all of the advantages of each; namely, very small unsupported areas, extreme lightness for its strength and rigidity; also ease of construction, inspection, maintenance and repair.“
For the early Douglas airliners:
“The Northrop wing being comparatively small, it is economical to have many of the stringers run from the top to the bottom of the wing as shear webs or spars. However, when the principle is carried out on a larger scale, as in the DC-1 with its deeper wing, it is more efficient to have only three shear webs or spars. Thus it was not necessary to evolve a new type of structure but merely to adapt a time proven type to the dimensions of the DC-1.” [end of quote]
The exterior wing was fastened to the center section with a great numbers of bolts. It was my task to receive each bolt, nut and washer that became undone and secure them in a numbered hole in a plywood board. In the end there were 20 boards with a total of 652 bolt sets. My mentors /colleagues worked according to strict KLM protocol [see the following drawing which I owe to Mr. Wim Snieder, The Hague, Holland] and had the use of an overhead crane.
We finished unbolting the [half] wing by 3 pm and went for tea, delivering on our way the boards with fasteners at Testing for examination on hair cracks and corrosion.
With some disappointment Carla looked through the downward slanting large windows: there was still nothing more to see than grey fog, a pea soup that seemed to touch the windows and that moved past with considerable speed. Of course she had it wrong, she realized, the ship was moving forward at one hundred twentyfive kilometer per hour and it was the fog that was stationary.
They had departed from Frankfurt yesterday and that had been an exciting experience. The ship had been moored to the landing tower at a height of about thirty meters and hundreds of people had swarmed below it. Commands and shrill whistle signals could be heard, hawsers were cast off, even a ship’s bell was sounded. She had heard a steady discharge of water – that was ballast, she was told. Then the ship had moved slowly away from the mast, going backward and upward in a stately manner, while the crowd below was cheering and waving. She had felt a shudder going through the mighty structure surrounding her, followed by a steady vibration when the engines took hold of the airship and started to propel it forward. The “Hindenburg” had freed itself from the airport departure site and had at first flown low over the city until it had begun to rise gradually into the clouds.
Obviously that’s where they still were at present. Carla had slept very well and after having been awakened by a light knock on the door, she had dressed quickly in order to hasten to the dining room with almost childlike impatience. Coming from the ladies’ rest room on the lower deck, it struck her that the corridor was sloping slightly downward toward the rear and that the ship was rolling and pitching lightly. Much gentler than an ocean liner, but, as she moved towards the tail, the movement became more noticeable. The engines hummed far away, not loudly and not bothersome, but rather emanating a feeling of security.
The breakfast room was empty except for two well-dressed gentlemen, most likely business men on their way to Brazil. As Carla walked past them to the large picture window at port, she smiled and exchanged a friendly “grüß Gott”. She had been hoping for a cheerful sunny morning, but outside there was only grayness. All the same, she peered out intently for some minutes as if to grasp the true meaning of the passing cloud patches.
She could not help overhearing the conversation of the two gentlemen. It also concerned the clouds.
“I think we’ll probably stay in the clouds today as long as possible,” said the larger of the two, a military looking man. “In that way the Captain saves his hydrogen gas. See, we are heavily loaded – the fuel tanks are almost completely full – we are near maximum weight. If we get out over the clouds into the sun, the gas cells will heat, the gas expands to maximum and it could well be that the safety valves will bleed it off. But, see, we can’t afford that – we need all the gas to stay afloat, especially during the night. That’s why we are staying in the clouds now. Do you want some more coffee?”
“There is one more thing that shows that we are heavily loaded: we’re cruising with the nose slightly up. That means the forward speed gives the ship some lift on its hull, just like the wing of an airplane. If we were to fly horizontally, with static buoyancy, we might loose height gradually.”
“We could jettison ballast?”
“Yes, we could, that’s true, but we are at the beginning of the journey and the Capitan must make best use of his resources – we may get into a situation later where he needs the ballast badly. Don’t forget that the ship gets slowly lighter all the time because it uses its fuel. In a while we’ll get to a warm country with a much lighter ship. You wouldn’t want to be in a situation where you couldn’t descend because you were too light, would you now? Or where you kept going higher and higher? Haha!”
Carla felt a bit of a shiver – there was much more involved in this type of travel than she had ever suspected.
“But in that case he would valve off the gas, wouldn’t he?”
“Of course, I was only joking. But the essence is to maintain control of the airship in an optimal way by preserving as much as possible of both gas and ballast. Remember, we can use the resources – fuel, gas and ballast – only once. When they’re gone, they’re gone for ever. That’s to say, until we can land.”
“Same with water?”
“Less so. We can collect rainwater and condensation on the hull and replenish our stores. But that takes time.”
The weather outside cleared somewhat. The pea soup became less dense and wispier. Occasionally there were even clear spaces between the shreds of fog. The men behind her continued with their breakfast and the expert on zeppelin travel volunteered more information:
“On the other hand, of course it is advantageous to fly as high as possible.”
“Because there the air is less dense?”
“Yes, the air is thinner; the ship has less drag. That means less effort to propel it. So we can make the same speed with less fuel, or we can go faster with the same fuel – so we arrive earlier in Rio.”
“So, we should fly as high as possible?”
“Yes, but there are limits. First of all we get trouble breathing. Especially the older passengers may not find it very comfortable at two thousand meter. The engines also will have their problems; they deliver less power per liter of fuel. Then there is the cold, mind you. At two thousand meter it may start to freeze. So the ship has to be heated, for the passengers first of all, and that takes fuel again…”
“Yes, but if there are no clouds at two thousand meters, the sun will heat us. You said just now that the gas would get warm …”
“Indeed, by radiation, but the air temperature is low and the air will have to be heated!”
“What fuel do we use?”
‘Diesel, we have four twelve hundred horse power diesel engines.”
Carla no longer followed the conversation. Typical boy’s talk. Men were awful… They could go on and on about something technical. She was more interested in the clouds. They were unmistakably becoming less and less. Occasionally she could even see a small patch of ocean surface. Ripples in a grey sheet: waves seen from a great height. It was only for a moment that she could see the sea and the thought flashed through her that somebody on a ship could have seen the Hindenburg. She imagined being on a ship underneath an endless cover of clouds and then suddenly in an opening, an airship appears and is gone again immediately. A strange thought. Would there have been somebody, there at sea? Or were they the only ones present in this space: a surreal dining room at five hundred meters, surrounded by clouds? Was she dreaming? Did the sea down there really exist? And had the zeppelin been visible from the sea even if nobody had been there to see it? Was there a reality outside the things that you saw yourself?
Fortunately, at that moment more passengers entered the room and a friendly elderly couple invited her to join them. They talked about their destinations and where they came from and soon the disturbing thoughts were gone.
Luftschiff Zeppelin LZ-129 ‘Hindenburg’ was the largest operational passenger airship between the wars in Germany. It had a length of 800 ft and a diameter of 135 ft. Starting March 1936, it flew a regular airservice between Germany and South (later also North) America, until it was destroyed by fire in May 1937 at Lakehurst, New Jersey, USA. In 1936, 17 round trips were made across the Atlantic, carrying an average of 65 passengers with a crew of 56. In that season the ship flew 192,000 miles, carrying more than 2000 passengers and 160 tons of freight and mail. A westward trip took an averige of 65 hours depending on weather conditions; eastward it took ten hours less. The one way fare to the USA amounted to $400.–.
It may be surprising,
but the confrontation
with Real aeroplanes
often comes as a shock.
To begin with, we shudder at jet’s
Aeroplanes turn out to be Noisy.
(They never were so
in our picture books or imagination).
Next, we resent being
into a Wide-Body fuselage
for transport to our Exotic Holiday.
The very act of embarking the aircraft,
changes our feelings towards it.
We can no longer,
with our eyes,
its smooth outside shape.
We can no longer dream
how it will traverse the sky
after a graceful start.
In our imagination
is the perfect Man-Made object.
Imitating a living being,
it almost has come to life itself.
of this almost-living being,
it turns out to be stuffy,smelly,
The interior flying machine
stacks its passengers
into a cramped,
Starved, strapped, sedated,
we are offered at most
a narrow glimpse of clouds,
earth and sky.
We fancy birds,
we admire birds,
we wonder how they fly.
We would like to Be birds,
but we don’t necessarily
want to be
Every country has its own Aviation History, with gods and goddesses, who were as famous ninety years ago as the baseball players and pop stars of today. America of course had Lindbergh and Byrd, Holland had renowned pilots like Geyssendorffer, Parmentier and van Dijk, while in the U.K. Alan Cobham was one of the most famous pioneers, who explored new traffic routes through the British Empire with aircraft that were exceedingly primitive according to our present standards.
Cobham was born in 1894. After a simple education he seemed predestined for office life in the City of London. However, during WWI he found himself with the Royal Flying Corps and after demob, he dived into civil aviation, a sector of endeavor that had not yet really begun to function. Cobham tried every alley that was presented to him. In his first season he gave 5000 people their ‘air baptism’. He took part in air shows, demonstrations, aerial photography and record setting flights. His name became well known because of exploratory flights to such faraway places as Rangoon and Cape Town.
In 1922 he married Gladys Lloyd and in the same year he flew in one day from London to Bucharest. In 1926 he set off a wave of national pride and excitement by a flight to Australia, after which he was knighted to “Commander of the British Empire”. From then on, he was entitled to call himself Sir Alan and his wife Lady Gladys.
Always looking for new challenges, he meets in 1927Sir Oswald Short, builder of a revolutionary type flying boat, the “Singapore”. It is a beauty of a biplane with a wing span of over thirty meters. Between the wings, two powerful Rolls Royce Condor engines are mounted, braced by sturdy crosswise struts. The machine is particularly special because of its whale-like boat fuselage that easily accommodates six persons and is built of seawater resistant aluminium.
Sir Oswald asks Sir Alan to submit the machine to an ultimate trial by making a flight around the African continent. Of course our young lord cannot say no to this tempting invitation and so, on a windy day in November 1927, Lord and Lady Cobham, co-pilot Worrall, Rolls Royce engineers Green and Conway and camera operator Bonnett take off from a choppy river at Medway. Bonnett will record the journey on celluloid for Gaumont Pictures.
Cobham (with goggles) and Worrall
Three days later, while cruising along the west coast of Corsica, the weather suddenly turns bad very quickly. The wind, which is first a tail wind, now blows from the direction in which their destination lies. Daylight is diminishing and there is no inn in sight to pass the night…
“On the long journey that we had begun, we had taken it as a rule not to open the throttles of our engines fully, but now an occasion presented itself to call upon our spare power, because we had to make up for time. So full-throttle it went, lowering at the same time the nose of our machine to present less frontal area to the head wind. In this way we gave our giant flying boat a speed of no less than 115 sea miles per hour. Our altitude was no more than 10 meters over sea level to avoid the maximum counter force of the wind, because the higher one flies, the stronger the wind.”
From Bonifacio, Cobham sets out a southeast course to Sicily, to cross from there on a short run to Malta, where they hope to spend the night in the comfortable harbor of St. Paul’s Bay. With a headwind of thirty miles an hour, however, it is a mighty struggle to reach Sicily and pass the island to the south, a distance of more than 450 miles. The day is drawing to a close. Heavy clouds in the western sky make for an early evening and the crew begin to feel uncomfortable. The waves look ever more ominous as the daylight fails and the storm increases. The giant airplane is a mere toy in this deserted world of waves and clouds, splashed by water and tossed about by gusts of wind. If no sheltered landing site is found before dark sets in completely, the sea will overwhelm them and they all will be pulled down in the deep and drown…
Lady Gladys shivers at her little typewriter table in the dark hull with the two open deck hatches through which showers of rain and wind sweep inside. To her immense relief her husband suddenly calls through the speaking-tube that he has seen the lights of a man-of-war at anchor near the west coast of Malta. Oh, miracle, it is the flagship of the British Mediterranean Fleet, the “Queen Elizabeth”. The Singapore circles low, touches the water on the lea side and plows through the high waves to the ship. Cobham makes himself known by means of his megaphone and the Commodore on the big ship orders his First Mate to shout back that he would be honored to receive the famous air travelers for diner and a bunk for the night.
Securing the flying boat to the giant ship and preparing her for the night takes some time and Lady Gladys takes the opportunity to inspect her wardrobe for a suitable outfit for this unforeseen dinner invitation. It is of necessity rather limited, although she does possess two evening dresses for official occasions. She finally selects her long black suede skirt with white silken blouse and chain of pearls. Because of the beastly weather she’ll be leant a long, grey woolen uniform coat by one of the crew members in the sloop carrying them to the battleship. It is obvious that all the ship’s men are eying her as she carefully steps from the sloop onto the ship’s ladder in her grey pumps. A whistle is blown and even a hurrah is heard.
The introductions are very formal yet cordial. Loyal subjects of the same King meet in the middle of the sea and behave as if they are at a cocktail party. At dinner, CommodoreJames first proposes a toast to His Majesty George the Fifth and then one to the success of Cobham’s mission. As the meal progresses, Gladys, seated of course to the right of the Commodore, feels more and more at ease and happily secure in the middle of all these handsome, immaculately dressed men smelling nicely of tobacco. She is so glad to be delivered from that horrible sea. She is truly grateful to God, Alan and the Royal Navy.
After dinner she would have preferred to go straight to bed, but the Commodore insists on a guided tour of the ship, so she obediently follows him upstairs, downstairs, along decks and back again below, from bow to stern and back to bow, all the time stepping in her tight skirt with her pumps through odd doors with high thresholds in watertight bulkheads, meanwhile smiling to one thousand grinning sailors.
The following day they were towed to a sheltered part of St. Paul’s Bay. From then on the whole flight became a huge success, even if they nearly drowned near Malta, suffered a hurricane in Benghazi, underwent quarantine because of the pest in Alexandria, weathered a sand storm near Khartoum and overheating in Malakai. In the marshes of Bor they scattered a herd of one thousand elephants, which made Worrall loose his index finger in the air screw; they nearly lost control in the rapids on the Nile near Mongalla and enjoyed liqueur and cigars at the crossing of the equator. They almost sank because of a collision near Mwanza, made an emergency landing at Tresco and were delayed for one full month at Bassam.
But these were exactly the things why they had started out in the first place and Gladys loved it.
Today I am updating the ROHRBACH ARCHIVES with some remarkable photographic material sent to me by good friends. Also available is now a link to the PDF copy of a Publicity Brochure (in French) of the ROHRBACH METALL-FLUGZEUGBAU from 1928, promoting its flying boats with Trans Atlantic capacity. Click here or in the relevant column on this screen: