On this day in history….27th April 1922

On this day in history : 27th April 1922 – The birth of aviator Sheila Scott – who broke over 100 aviation records and was the first British pilot to fly solo around the world….

Sheila Scott – Public domain

Sheila Christine Hopkins was born in Worcester and she had a troubled childhood…. She attended the Alice Ottley School, a prestigious school that has seen pupils such as Barbara Cartland and Vanessa Redgrave…. But Sheila was not to do well at the school and was nearly expelled on several occasions….

During World War 2 she was to serve as a nurse at the Haslar Royal Naval Hospital – and then between 1945-1959 she was to pursue a career as an actress and model…. Using the name Sheila Scott she had small roles in theatre, films and TV…. She married Rupert Bellamy in 1945 but it was to be a short-lived marriage, ending in 1950….

Sheila learned to fly at Thruxton Aerodrome, near to Andover, Hampshire in 1958…. Her first aircraft was a Thruxton Jackaroo – a converted de Havilland Tiger Moth – which she bought from the RAF…. She owned this plane until 1964 and won several races with it…. To pay for her flying she worked as a demonstrator for Cessna and Piper….

In April 1966 she bought her Piper Comanche, which she named ‘Myth Too’ – it was the aircraft in which she set almost 90 of her records…. In 1967 she set the world record for flying between London and Cape Town and also in the same year the record for crossing the North Atlantic Ocean…. In 1969 the South Atlantic – and then in 1971 flying from Equator to Equator over the North Pole…. Sheila was the first to fly over the North Pole in a light aircraft….

The Comanche ‘Myth Too’ (which was damaged after Sheila owned it) – Image credit : Alan Wilson via Flickr

Her first solo around the world flight began on the 18th of May 1966, from Heathrow…. 34 days later, after flying some 31,000 miles and 189 hours of flying time, on the 20th of June 1966 she arrived back…. She was to repeat the trip again 1969-70…. In 1971 she bought her Piper-Aztec in which she completed her third solo around the world trip…. Unfortunately this aircraft was destroyed in 1972 whilst at the Piper factory in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, after a severe flood caused by Hurricane Agnes….

Sheila was to win several awards…. She received a Herman International Aviation Trophy for setting a new light aircraft speed record of 28,633 miles solo in 33 days and 3 minutes in 1967…. She won the Brabazon of Tara Award in 1965, 1967 and 1968, the Britannia Trophy of the Royal Aero Club of Britain 1968 and the Royal Aero Club Gold Medal in 1971…. In 1968 she was awarded an OBE….

She wrote two books:- ‘I Must Fly’ (1968) and ‘On Top of the World’ (1973)…. She founded the British branch of the ‘Ninety-Nines’ an international organisation providing support, networking, mentoring and scholarship for female pilots – which was originally created by Amelia Earhart in 1929…. She was also a member of the ‘International Association of Licensed Women Pilots’ and the ‘Whirly-Girls International’ – a non-profit making educational organisation to help women advance in helicopter aviation….

Image credit : SDASM Archives via Flickr

After having achieved so much in her lifetime it is sad to think Sheila’s life ended in poverty, living in a bedsit in Pimlico, Central London…. She died of cancer at the Royal Marsden Hospital on the 20th of October 1988, aged 66….

On this day in history….11th December 1967

On this day in history : 11th December 1967 – Concorde is rolled out of its hanger for its first public appearance….

Prototype Concorde 001 was revealed in Toulouse amid much pomp and ceremony, in front of some 1,100 guests from organisations such as the British Aircraft Corporation, Sud-Aviation, representatives of airlines who had already placed orders for the aircraft and ministers of state….

img_4832
Concorde 001 first flight, 1969 – Andre Cros CC BY-SA 4.0

Concorde’s first test flight was on the 2nd of March 1969…. Applause and cheers broke out from those watching as the Anglo-French supersonic airliner took off from Toulouse, at around 3.30pm, for the first time – piloted by test pilot Andre Turcat…. During the test flight the speed did not exceed 300 mph – and it stayed at a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet…. During commercial flights it would reach speeds of 1,350 mph – twice the speed of conventional aircraft – and would fly at a height of 60,000 feet….

img_4836
British Airways Concorde, 1986 – Eduard Marmet CC BY-SA 3.0

The first flight of the British prototype was made from Filton Airfield, near to Bristol – to RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire on the 9th of April 1969 and was piloted by Brian Trubshaw…. It was also in 1969 – on the 10th of October – that Concorde completed its first supersonic flight….

img_4833
Landing at Farnborough, September 1974 – Steve Fitzgerald GFDL 1.2

On the 21st of January 1976 Britain and France began their first regularly scheduled Concorde flights – with British Airways operating between London and Bahrain and Air France between Paris and Rio de Janeiro…. The London to New York service began on the 22nd of November 1977…. Concorde set itself a record on the 16th of December 1979 by completing the flight between New York and London in less than three hours….

It was on the 25th of July 2000 that Air France flight 4590 took off from Riossy Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris….bound for New York…. Two minutes later it crashed – killing all 109 passengers and crew on board and 4 people on the ground…. As Concorde had reached take off speed it had struck a piece of metal debris on the runway – that had fallen from a plane that had taken off five minutes previously…. The metal strip caused one of Concorde’s tyres to burst….fragments of tyre hit the aircraft’s wing with such force that the fuel tank punctured…. Gases from the engines ignited the leaking fuel, causing a massive fire…. Concorde crashed into the Hotelissimo Les Relais Bleus Hotel, close to the airport….

France Concorde Crash
Flight 4590 during takeoff – Toshihiko Sato – Fair use

This was the first crash in Concorde’s 31 year history….it was considered to be among the safest of planes…. As a result of the crash all Concordes, both French and British, were grounded pending further investigations…. Commercial services were resumed in November 2001, after £71m being spent on safety improvements….

img_4835
Parade flight at the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, June 2002 – Bleiglass CC BY-SA 3.0

However, on the 10th of April 2003 British Airways and Air France announced the retirement of their Concorde fleets…. Higher maintenance and running costs – combined with lower passenger numbers, after loss of confidence following the 2000 crash – were blamed…. The final Air France flight took place on the 27th of June – whilst British Airways put on a farewell tour…. The last flight was made on the 24th of October 2003….

On this day in history….23rd August 1944

On this day in history : 23rd August 1944 – An American Liberator bomber crashes into an English village school in Feckleton, Lancashire – killing 61 people, 38 of whom are children….

Two recently refurbished B-24 bombers had departed from Warton Aerodrome at 10.30 in the morning on a test flight, when a violent storm blew up…. Both aircraft were recalled to the USAAF airbase and as they approached visibility was greatly reduced because of the torrential rain and 60mph gusts of wind….

img_3757
B-24H Liberator bomber – similar to the one that crashed. Image : United States Army Air Forces – Public domain

Pilot John Blosmendal, in the first of the two bombers, reported to the control tower that he was going to abort his landing attempt and would circle around again – only his aircraft was to disastrously crash into the Holy Trinity Church of England village school, which lay to the east of the airfield…. The right wing of the B-24 was ripped from the fuselage as it hit a tree-top; it then impacted with the corner of a building…. The fuselage of the 25-ton bomber then continued to plough a path of destruction, partly demolishing three houses and ‘The Sad Sack Snack Bar’ – which catered for the American servicemen stationed at the base…. The aircraft then burst into flames, whilst another inferno raged, caused by the ruptured fuel tanks of the bomber, at the infants school….

The Feckleton air disaster instantly claimed the lives of the B-24’s three crew members, thirty-four children, a teacher, six American servicemen, one RAF airman and seven staff at the snack bar…. A further four children, a teacher, an American serviceman and three RAF airmen died later in hospital – and many more people were injured….

img_3755
Feckleton Air Disaster Memorial and Remembrance Garden

On this day in history….22nd August 1985

On this day in history : 22nd August 1985 – A British Airtours Boeing 737 catches fire during take-off from Manchester Airport bound for Corfu; 55 lives are lost….

img_3751
The aircraft involved – Image credit : G B_N Z CC BY-SA 2.0

British Airtours Flight 28M was full of holiday makers; 131 passengers, including 2 infants and 6 crew…. At 6.08am the engines started and all seemed normal – a request for clearance to taxi was made…. Once on the runway First Officer, 52-year-old Brian Love, requested take-off power and at 6.12am the take-off run began…. Twelve seconds later a loud thumping sound was heard; assuming it was either a burst tyre or bird-strike, 39-year-old Captain Peter Terrington immediately ordered the take-off to be aborted….

Unbeknown at the time to the crew No.1 engine, on the left hand side of the aircraft, had failed, resulting in an explosion…. In the process the underwing fuel tank, containing 4,590kg of fuel was struck; the leaking fuel ignited…. The fire warning signals were heard within seconds and the captain ordered evacuation of the aircraft, via the right-hand side exits…. However, the engine failure had caused the aircraft’s PA system to have a lower volume setting and many passengers did not hear the announcement….

The senior cabin crew member opened the door to release the inflatable escape slide – only for it to jam in the doorway…. He attempted to clear it but had to resort to opening the left-hand side exit – and was able to inflate the slide…. But by now the plane had filled with black smoke; passengers were unable to see – and panicked…. There was pushing, people fell and collapsed, blocking the aisle….while others clamoured over the seats…. There was simply not enough space inside the aircraft to allow people to reach the exits….

img_3752
Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (C) Crown Copyright 1989 OGL3

Meanwhile, on the ground another calamity was unfolding…. Fire crews battled to bring the flames under control but on attempting to refill their appliances found there was no water available…. The hydrant system at the airport was undergoing modification and the valves had been turned off, without the knowledge of the fire service….

img_3753
Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (C) Crown Copyright 1989 OGL3

This accident was one of the worst of its kind to happen in Britain…. Out of the 137 onboard there were just 82 survivors – most of the deaths were due to smoke inhalation…. In the aftermath changes were made across the air-travel industry; seating layouts near to emergency exits were changed – fire resistant seat covers, along with wall and ceiling panels were introduced…. Floor lighting was installed, more fire extinguishers made available onboard and clearer evacuation rules were devised….

img_3754
Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (C) Crown Copyright 1989 OGL3

On this day in history….27th July 1949

On this day in history : 27th July 1949 – The first jet-propelled airliner, the de Havilland Comet makes its maiden flight out of Hatfield Aerodrome, Hertfordshire….

 

The flight lasted for 31 minutes and was piloted by Chief Test Pilot John Cunningham – who was also known as ‘Cats Eyes Cunningham’ – having been a famous night-fighter pilot during World War 2…. He also flew the de Havilland Comet at the Farnborough Air Show in 1949 before the start of its flight trials….

img_3630
John Cunningham – RAF photographer – public domain

The de Havilland DH106 Comet was the world’s first commercial jet airliner…. With its four de Havilland Ghost turbo jet engines, the quiet, smooth, vibration-free flight that it gave – compared to that of other propellor airliners – was quite a novelty for passengers at the time…. The pressurised cabin, with its large, square, picture windows gave its passengers a feeling of comfort and luxury virtually unknown in travel at that time…. There was a galley that could serve hot and cold drinks and meals, separate men’s and women’s loos and individual life jackets underneath the seats as well as several life rafts stowed onboard….

However, in the first 12 months of service three aircraft were lost in highly publicised accidents – two of which were found to be caused by structural failure due to metal fatigue in the air-frame – causing the planes to break up….

The de Havilland Comets were taken out of service and largely redesigned…. The large square windows were replaced with smaller oval ones, as this was one area identified as a structural weakness….

Sales for the aircraft never truly recovered…. However, an improved Comet 2 and then Comet 3 resulted in the redesigned Comet 4, which made its debut in 1958…. This proved to be a highly successful aircraft, with over 30 years of service…. As well as being used as an airliner it was also adapted for military purposes – such as for VIP travel and medical transport….

 

img_3627
The flight deck of a Comet 4 – Geni CC BY-SA 3.0