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An absolutely wonderful film of Spitfires in USAAC service

by Ziks511 / October 29, 2013 7:43 AM PDT

As is discussed in the film the P-38-F-5 reconnaissance model, normally called the F-5, was not as successful as it might have been and wasn't well liked by its pilots. Gen Ira C Eaker and his British counterpart decided that Spitfires would be better and worked out the arrangement between themselves.

Britain had found that if they removed the machine guns and used the section of the wing forward of the mainspar right to the leading edge of the wing as a fuel tank they could fly to Berlin and back and actually loiter for quite a while.

The PR Spitfires had F24 cameras with a 24 inch focal length, this film features the Spitfire PR Mk XI (i.e. eleven) with the enlarged fin rudder and stabliizer due to the increased power of the engine, which by this point was double the output of the original Spitfire Mk I.

The USAAC in Europe operated Spitfires and Mosquitos for Photo Reconnaissance duties until War's end because they were better in terms of performance than the P-38 variants tasked for Photo duties, in both variants the aircraft were unarmed.

The P-38-F-5 was used in the Pacific Theatre. It may have been that in the Pacific and at equatorial latitudes the Turbo Supercharger was less liable to icing than in Europe.

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Fascinating stuff, Rob.
by Paul C / October 30, 2013 6:45 PM PDT

It got me thinking about how the British and Americans worked together in WWII even before Pearl Harbor. For example, the machine guns on British aircraft were chambered to use the so-called .303 Vickers cartridge, but were in fact a version of the air cooled American M1919 gun, designed from the earlier M1917 water cooled machine gun. Both were designed by the brilliant John Moses Browning. The British gun used in aircraft were different in that they fired from an open bolt so as to allow for better cooling of the breech. In practice, that led to the guns icing up and refusing to fire at high altitudes, an issue that was resolved by ducting warm air over the guns in flight.

What most Americans don't know, Rob, was that the best American - and I believe the absolute best - fighter of WWII in Europe, the P-51 Mustang, was originally a British initiative (the Brits even gave the aircraft its name). And, the decision to replace the American built Allison engine with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine also originated in Britain. When the U.S. Army Air force adopted the P-51, it decided to use the more potent M2 .50 caliber machine gun, also a John Moses Browning design. That gun, like all Browning designs, fires from a closed bolt. If you look carefully at the gun ports ion a P-51, you'll see a gap between the gun barrel and the skin of the wing; that's an air duct that directs cool air over the breech to prevent overheating of the gun.

It was the Brits, moreover, who got Merlin engine production started in this country - and long before the P-51 came into being. The article states that Henry Ford was first approached about the project, but ever the isolationist, Ford replied that he would agree to only build engines for defense, not offense - and certainly NOT for Britain. That's how Packard wound up building the Merlin in the U.S. It should be noted that Ford held to his position even after Pearl Harbor; it took a threat by FDR to nationalize the Ford Motor Co. to get Ford to relent.


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My late uncle told me stories about them,fascinating indeed.
by Tony Holmes / October 30, 2013 11:59 PM PDT

He was a fighter mechanic in both the European and Burma theaters.I still have his A&P manuals for the P51,P38 and P47 around here somewhere.

He liked the Merlin and said it wasn't a great engine until Packard improved it with improved crank bearing material and going to the Wright supercharger drives.He had his own way of maintaining them too,he preferred to "run up" and tune a Mustang after the sun had gone down.

I asked him why,"I could tell by the color of the flames coming out of the exhaust ports when the mixture was right and my pilots never complained" Grin

He had his own way of maintaining the Browning M2s,they were never worked on in the plane.When a Mustang returned from a sortie,line personnel removed the complete M2 and he cleaned,repaired and oiled it.As a finishing touch he took out his large box of wine bottle corks and wooden mallet,he then slammed a cork into the end of each barrel.

His rationale was simple,"a grain of sand into a barrel on take off could jam a gun and cost a pilot his life,I eliminated that".Once airborne the first round out would clear the barrel and all was good.

Which was better..P51/P38? is up for debate,he liked them both.
America's all time highest scoring aces both flew P38s in the Pacific Theater;
Not too many people realize it but Charles Lindbergh had a "kill" in Pacific Theater flying a P38.Here he is talking tactics with Major Tommy McGuire in front of his P38:

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Thanks Tony. The British split their mechanics into riggers
by Ziks511 / October 31, 2013 3:37 AM PDT

and fitters, the same designations they used in WW1. Riggers were airframe mechanics who also took care of armament, and fitters were engine mechanics. The mechanics had a whole encyclopaedia of tricks and tips. They'd check out the exhaust stains on the side of the aircraft. What you wanted was a pale grey almost white streak which indicated complete and clean combustion. Brown either meant a poorly tuned engine or (worse) a cracked Piston ring. I actually had a chance to see that happen in action when the last British Lancaster was doing its appearance at the Southend on Sea Airshow (free). The Lanc had been flying around for a bit while the other a/c did their stuff and then did a shallow dive to begin its show when suddenly one engine started putting out grey exhaust rather than the propper invisible one. I said, "That's it, they're going home, they just broke a piston ring" and so it proved to be. I took my 10 year old son all over southern England visiting various engineering companies which fixed and maintained privately owned Warbirds and Aerobatic aircraft. Eventually the mechanics got to know us, and let us in behind the yellow rope, and I got to chat with them about the ins and outs of maintenance.

Duxford near Cambridge is amazing. It is the Imperial War Museum's Flying Collection, as well as the USAF Museum in England, and you can drool over things you never thought you'd ever see. When we were there they had a Bristol Blenheim light bomber and a Messerschmitt G-7 from North Africa. I wandered the flight line oohing and ahhing, while my wife's eyes were rolling every time I did. The nice thing was that they didn't shoo you away from the planes or have a rope around them keeping you away. you could touch them and examine everything. My kind of wonderful. There was a great free airshow with a third of their collection up and flying.

Then off to the USAF museum to one side of the grass field where many of the aircraft are displayed beneath the wings of a B-52 which looms over everything. Great collection of WW2 and afterwards in a gorgeous award winning pavilion. F-111's from the First Gulf War, and a good selection of fighter a/c. from the Sabre forward as well as the WW2 collection. It's one of the few places you can get up close and personal with a B-24 Liberator whose nose gear is really short, and the bomb-bay doors are segmented garage-door-type doors which run on tracks from the mid-line of the a/c up the sides. It's still a damned big a/c even though it's dwarfed by the B-52. The Liberator didn't really have enough forward firing defensive machine guns and the Germans used to prefer head on attacks at least for the first pass. There was even an experimental grafting of the Boeing B-17 G nose with a chin turret with twin .50's onto the Liberator, but it was just too much work and expense so the Liberators continued to go out with their weak-spot leading.


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The specification for the 8 gun fighter was laid down in
by Ziks511 / October 31, 2013 2:54 AM PDT

1935, and then the search was on for the most reliable machine gun, because prior to the Hurricane and the Spit the guns had been mounted on either side of the cockpit in biplanes so the pilot could clear stoppages by using the cocking handles. As you say, they settled on the Browning very quickly as the most reliable machine gun in the world. The one mistake I think they made was going with 8x .303 armament rather than .50. Six .50 cals would have contributed significantly to the Hurricane's and Spitfire's ability to knock down German aircraft during the Battle of Britain. The British adopted the Hispano Suiza 20mm cannon which was eventually made very reliable, but I still think the Browning M2 was the best balance for air combat.

An interesting and little known fact was that Air Marshall Hugh C. T. Dowding, called "Stuffy" by his pilots for his remarkable shyness, moved from the committee which oversaw the creation of the specifications for the fast monoplane fighters, to the committee responsible for the search for Radar and then setting up the Radar and Observer Corps reporting network, and the massive telephone network which linked everything with the Control rooms, to being C in C of Fighter Command in 1939. If there's one person who deserves credit for Britain's survival it's Stuffy Dowding. During all of this the RAF bureaucracy was treating him like dirt, changing his orders on zero notice and trying to retire him (early). He was told to clear out his desk on one days notice in November 1940 and was replaced by Sholto Douglas. His pilots who were initially put off by his shyness came roaring to complain about the shabby treatment, but bureaucracy ruled and Stuffy went off to the US where he was head of the Fighter Purchasing Commission.

Britain approached North American in April 1940 to build Curtiss P-40's, but Dutch Kindleburger thought the Curtiss was a hunk of junk and persuaded the Brits he could design and build a much better aircraft and produce the first prototype in 120 days. He did it in 119, but had to roll the aircraft out on AT-6 Texan wheels because they hadn't been able to get the right ones made.

As you mention the original a/c was Allison powered, and was apparently very sweet to fly, but suffered from the Allison's fall off in power at altitudes above 12,000 feet. A ground attack version designated the A-10 Apache was supplied to American squadrons which didn't require superior high altitude performance.

The first lot of Allison engined P-51's arrived in Britain and examples were sent to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough to be wrung out, and as you mention, the Brits were disquieted by the lack of high altitude performance since they were defending against the Luftwaffe from 16,000 feet up to 30,000. The sizes of the two engines were similar so the RAE cobbled together engine bearers and other plumbing and put a Merlin in it, and it went from very sweet to a world beater, but a bit of a bear to handle on the ground. The Brits never seemed to mind that. It was they who pioneered landing the Corsair on carriers after the US Navy decided it was a little too hairy to use that way. US Corsairs until late 44 or early 45 were operated from island landing strips only.

Then the Brits decided that they didn't like the rearward view on the Mustang, and put a Spitfire "hood" (windscreen and sliding canopy) on the Mustang which gave North American the idea to create a bubble canopy which made enormous difference in vision for the pilot. Britain had its own design for an emergency fighter, the Miles M-20 which did have a bubble canopy, and the first that I know of unless we include the P-38 which was an odd sort of bubble hood with vertically sliding windows, not a whole unit which slid rearward.

American pilots who were by 1942 arriving in Britain were hearing about the Mustang (British aircraft all have names while American aircraft mostly were identified by numbers. Even the Curtiss Warhawk was referred to as the P-40, it was Britain who named the variants Tomahawk, Kittyhawk, Warhawk etc) and went down to Farnborough to try out the Mustang, and then sent letters back to North American and the Air Force command demanding the Merlin engined Mustang.

With regard to names, my Dad flew Douglas DB-7's which the British called Bostons or Havocs depending on their role. It was a very popular aircraft with the Brits and a great attack bomber, although my Dad lost his heart to the de Havilland Mosquito which he flew (though not on operations) as often as he could.

Britain wouldn't have survived without American machine tools, and American Stromberg and Bendix carburettors (their spelling) and American made instruments. Still, they designed some truly superb aircraft and were willing to take chances on aircraft that others ruled out without even trying the idea. The concept of the Mosquito came partly out of de Havilland's experience before the war with plywood monocoque airliners. While in development was called Freeman's Folly because Sir Wilfred Freeman was the only one in the Air Ministry who would support it. An unarmed bomber?? Are you joking?? But it worked out brilliantly and became a remarkable multi role aircraft as a bomber, a fighter, an attack fighter bomber, a night fighter and a fast reconnaissance aircraft. Top speed of the prototype was 410 mph in 1940 roughly the same as the P-38 which was first to break 400.

The Brits were very big on the Schneider Trophy races for float planes, and Rolls Royce designed a 36 litre engine based somewhat on the Curtiss engine which powered the American Schneider Trophy winner piloted by Jimmy Doolittle. The engine took a lot of coaxing and special handling but eventually drove Reginald Mitchell's design, the Supermarine S-6 and S-6b to the second and third victories (first one was the Napier Lion powered S-5) which won them the Schneider Trophy outright. Both the Trophy and the Supermarine S6b are in the Science Museum in London. The S-6b is still in its original paint. The S-6b won the competition at 340mph, and then a couple of weeks later set a World Speed Record considerably in excess of any land plane at the time of 407 mph.

The R type engine derived from the Rolls Royce Buzzard wasn't very good in its non-race configuration, but Rolls scaled it down to a 27 litre version originally called the PV (Private Venture) 12 which went on to become the Merlin. Then using what they had learned through the races and with the Merlin, they built a new 36 litre engine called the Griffon which went on to power later Marks of Spitfire. The wonder of it all was the Spitfire accepted whatever the designers could throw at it. Single Stage single speed Supercharger giving way to Two Stage two speed Supercharger with Intercooler 9 inches longer, giving way to Griffon which was about a foot and a half longer. The most noticeable change was in the tail plane which had to be enlarged as the number of propeller blades rose from 2 to 3 to 4 to 5. They even had bubble canopy variants of the Spit. Power started at 975 hp then 1030 hp for the Supermarine Spitfire Mk 1 rising to 2050 hp for the Mk 21 with a Griffon Engine. The all up weight of the Spitfire (4810 lbs empty Mk 1) went from 6317 lbs fully loaded up to 9200 lbs in the Mk 22 fully loaded.

For all the brilliance of the Daimler Benz family of engines, they never achieved the flexibility of the Rolls Royce design nor the doubling of available horse power through the war.

Packard Merlins were prized by the Brits because of the tweaks that Packard introduced, and most went into Lancaster bombers.

The icing problem with the guns was addressed by having adhesive cloth patches which covered the gun ports until shot away by the first burst. They also thinned the grease used with petrol which helped, but as you note a duct from the radiator was also used to heat the breeches of the guns.

Henry Ford was a cantankerous SOB, and as you point out stridently anti-British and pro-Nazi. They (FDR;s Administration) had to brow-beat him into building B-24 Liberators, and build him a free factory to do it with.

Thanks Paul for allowing me to indulge my passion for prop-driven aircraft.

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