PTT, Dave Un­win

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Dave­un­win Pi­lot’s Flight Test Ed­i­tor op­er­ates a Jodel D.9 from a farm strip and has logged stick-time on ev­ery­thing from ul­tra­lights to fast jets

Boldly go­ing from the past to the fu­ture and beyond

Hav­ing ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion to the world pre­miere of the film Arm­strong in cen­tral Lon­don I thought I’d make a day of it and visit the Royal Ob­ser­va­tory and the Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum at Green­wich first. If you’ve never been, both are well-worth a vis­it­par­tic­u­larly as the mu­seum is host­ing a spe­cial Moon exhibition un­til Jan­uary next year. How­ever, we all know how much the sciences of aero­nau­tics and as­tro­nau­tics owe to all things nau­ti­cal, and bear­ing in mind my even­tual des­ti­na­tion I was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in the ex­plo­ration and nav­i­ga­tion sec­tions of the mu­seum.

Green­wich re­ally has played a tremen­dous role in the his­tory of nav­i­ga­tion. Af­ter all the his­toric Prime Merid­ian of the World, Lon­gi­tude 0° and the In­ter­na­tional Ref­er­ence Merid­ian (which passes 102.5m to the east of the Prime Merid­ian) are here. The fa­mous bright red Time Ball atop Flam­steed House still drops at 1300 ev­ery day, just as it has done since 1833, when ev­ery ship’s cap­tain an­chored in the Thames set their chronome­ters by it, and fine ex­am­ples of early sex­tants and time pieces can be seen in the mu­seum. The syn­ergy be­tween the Prime Merid­ian, the chronome­ters cre­ated by John Har­ri­son and the sex­tants built by John Hadley are pos­si­bly the pri­mary rea­son why Britannia ruled the waves for so long, and why famed ex­plor­ers such as the im­mor­tal Cap­tain James Cook achieved so much.

Lat­i­tude has al­ways been rea­son­ably easy to as­cer­tain, but lon­gi­tude is much trick­ier with­out a sex­tant and the abil­ity to know the cor­rect time at lon­gi­tude 0°. Know your ‘lat and long’, and you know where you are−and even a stu­dent pi­lot can con­firm it’s much eas­ier to get to where you’re go­ing if you know where you are! In­ci­den­tally, and it may seem in­cred­i­ble, but even early Boe­ing 747s had a periscopic sex­tant, with which the hard-work­ing nav­i­ga­tor was ex­pected to shoot a rea­son­ably ac­cu­rate ‘three

cor­nered hat’. A task that can’t have been easy with a ground­speed in ex­cess of 700mph! And talk­ing about know­ing where you’re go­ing and know­ing where you are, dur­ing the film Neil Arm­strong says that one ad­van­tage he and his crew had over an­other fa­mous ex­plorer, Christo­pher Colum­bus, was that at least they knew where they were go­ing. Colum­bus didn’t know where he was go­ing, and even af­ter he’d ar­rived still didn’t know where he was!

As for the movie, your Ed­i­tor re­viewed it re­cently and I can only echo his sen­ti­ments. I thor­oughly en­joyed it, and not just the space stuff. There’s some lovely footage of an Aeronca Champ (my first tail­drag­ger) shoot­ing touch ’n’ goes at a bu­colic grass strip in the Amer­i­can

The links be­tween Green­wich and the space pro­gramme are ir­refutable

Midwest, some won­der­fully sharp film of car­rier-based Grum­man F9F-2 Pan­thers dur­ing the Korean War (Arm­strong flew sev­eral com­bat mis­sions while still a mid­ship­man, and even ejected from his dam­aged Pan­ther over South Korea) and some amaz­ing footage of the in­cred­i­ble North Amer­i­can X-15. Arm­strong flew this Mach 6-plus ca­pa­ble rocket plane seven times, and it’s a ma­chine that has al­ways fas­ci­nated me. Even to­day, if en­gi­neers need solid, em­pir­i­cal data on hy­per­sonic flight they dust off those old X-15 files. X-15 stuff is still the best there is.

At the end of the movie (which re­ceived a well-de­served ova­tion) panel-show host, co­me­dian and self-con­fessed space nut Dara Ó Bri­ain hosted a Q & A ses­sion with the di­rec­tor, an as­tro­naut, a sci­en­tist and one of Arm­strong’s sons, Mark. The ques­tion I was go­ing to ask Mark (but some­one beat me to it) was “What was your dad’s favourite air­craft?” Mark replied that although Neil loved fly­ing the X-15 (who wouldn’t−it could ex­ceed 4,500mph and had an ab­so­lute ceil­ing in ex­cess of 350,000ft) his all-time favourite was the Grum­man Bearcat, an air­craft which is widely viewed as pos­si­bly the ul­ti­mate pis­ton-pow­ered fighter. How­ever, Mark also re­vealed that his fa­ther loved soar­ing flight, and was a keen glider pi­lot. Some­how, this didn’t sur­prise me−and rid­ing home on the train that night the film gave me plenty to pon­der.

Reg­u­lar read­ers may share my fas­ci­na­tion at the as­ton­ish­ing amount of progress made dur­ing the first seventy years of pow­ered flight, and my dis­ap­point­ment at the lack of ad­vance­ment re­cently. July saw the (muted) cel­e­bra­tion of an­other aero­nau­ti­cal mile­stone, the 110th an­niver­sary of Louis Blériot fly­ing his mono­plane across the English Chan­nel. I imag­ine that the Blériot XI prob­a­bly cruised at around 25-30mph, yet only seventy years later Arm­strong, Aldrin and Collins ex­ceeded 25,000mph on their way to the Moon. In­cred­i­ble. And if we’d con­tin­ued to progress at the same rate, we should be cruis­ing to­wards Mars at at least 250,000mph, if not more. But we’re not, are we?

One of the great things about liv­ing in the coun­try­side as I do is that, un­like most peo­ple in the UK, I can still en­joy a night sky un­sul­lied by light pol­lu­tion. Hav­ing ar­rived home from the pre­miere at around mid­night I was spend­ing a peaceful few min­utes study­ing the stars when an extraordin­arily bright ob­ject hove into view. It could only be the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion, and as I watched it pass over­head it sud­denly oc­curred to me that not only are the links be­tween Green­wich and the space pro­gramme ir­refutable, they still ex­ist to­day. The clock on the ISS is set to UTC (pre­vi­ously known as Green­wich Mean Time) and both Cook’s ship HMS Res­o­lu­tion and the Apollo XI Com­mand Mo­d­ule Columbia car­ried sex­tants!

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