Aviation prints

Mid-air collision between Lancaster bombers

Lancaster ND968-G mid-air collision Gary Eason _DSC9312

Colchester, 12 October 2017

The airscrews on an Avro Lancaster's engines are about 13ft (4m) across. Spinning at, say, 2,700 rpm, they constitute an awesome power saw.

Apply it to the thin alloy skin of another Lancaster and . . . it makes me cringe even to think about it. The noise alone would be terrifying.

But that is what happened at 14,000ft over Alsace when Lancaster ND968/G, AR-O "Oboe" of 460 Squadron RAAF was hit by another Lancaster, thought to have been NN766 of 103 Squadron.

NN766 crashed in a snowstorm and all seven crew were killed.

Incredibly, ND968 made it back to England, was repaired and returned to service, and indeed saw out the war.

An account of the collision appears in the RAF Memorial Flight Club's autumn journal and I was asked to create a Flight Artworks depiction of the event to span the opening two pages.

You can see what it looks like here; the proper version of the picture itself, with print options and prices, is on the Flight Artworks website here.  

AILERONS JAMMED

Lancaster O for Oboe WIP detail screenshots Gary Eason

The account was written by the late Dave Fellowes, Legion d'Honneur, who was the rear gunner on "O for Oboe", prior to his death in June at the age of 93.   

He described how – along with those in other bombers, as it turned out – his crew had chosen to climb above their briefed altitude to escape thick cloud and bad turbulence on their way to attack Munich on 7 January 1945.

They had just emerged from the cloud when there was a rending crash and the Lanc lurched violently leftwards into a downward spin.

It had been ripped apart along the trailing edge of the starboard wing, jamming the ailerons, and through the middle – obliterating the H2S radar and its dome and almost severing the whole tail section with Dave in it, which started swaying alarmingly.

Remarkably it held together as they jettisoned their bomb load, returned to England and made a long, flat, flapless approach to the emergency field at RAF Manston in Kent.

Years later Dave established that the other Lancaster was most probably NN766, PM-R of 103 Squadron, which crashed that night about 23 miles away from the estimated collision point.

TECHNICAL CHALLENGES

Sketching out my intended composition was something I was able to do quite quickly. I already had a suitable photograph looking down onto thick clouds which I thought would perfectly frame the scene.

I also already had a Lancaster photograph at just the sort of angle I wanted, from the starboard rear quarter and a little below. What took the time was figuring out how to take this splendid machine and rip it open.

I worked on the ailerons and flaps first, creating just enough of the internal mechanism in Photoshop to enable it to be seen through torn fabric and metal, then using what is known as the warp tool to twist it out of alignment, and using the built-in brushes to rip the edges of the metal. While awful to contemplate in real life, this was rather enjoyable to do on screen.

Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 17.21.37

By far the bigger problem was how to portray the interior of the Lancaster fuselage from an angle that normally you cannot see because it is behind the outer skin and the radome suspended below the mid-upper gun turret.

The last time I visited the BBMF at RAF Coningsby I had taken a couple of photographs of the interior of their Lancaster, PA474. So I knew what it looked like – but from the wrong angle to use in my compilation.

Happily I was able to get their publications editor, Clive Rowley, who had commissioned the picture, to go and stick his camera in from the rear crew door to give me a better idea of the required perspective.

Once I had it clearer in my mind's eye, I then basically built the various pieces of equipment either by adapting the pictures to hand or simply creating elements from scratch - such as the outer and inner parts of the H2S radome, the ribs that frame the aircraft, and the pipework, wires, ammo boxes and runs.

NIGHT

There was also the lower portion of the mid-upper turret to be glimpsed. Its occupant that night was Sgt Ken De La Mare. After exclaiming that the floor below him had gone and the starboard side of the fuselage was missing for about 10 feet, Ken was helped out by the wireless operator, Flt Sgt J Wilson, and moved forward to the "relative safety" of the flight deck.

During this whole process I realised that the damage must have gone through the main joint between the centre and rear sections of the aircraft, which forms a ring just aft of the mid-upper turret. No wonder the tail was swaying.

The "G" suffix that ND968's serial number at the time was a security symbol: it carried the secret AGLT radar equipment on the rear turret, codenamed "Village Inn".

From my point of view this presented essentially another, smaller radome and mounting brackets, and I simply painted these on between and below the spent ammunition chutes on the FN-20 turret with its four Browning .303 machine guns. I made a point of checking that "Oboe" did not have the later, Rose turret with its two heavier weapons.

And then – it was night time. With these wartime operation pictures there just is no satisfactorily realistic way to portray a black aircraft at night so that you can see anything.

Before starting work I had checked that my Artistic Licence permit was still current so, under the pretext that there was quite a lot of moonlight, I splashed light onto the airframe in such a way as to highlight key aspects of the outline.

My rationale for being able to see the interior at all, having done so much work to create it, was that the moonbeams were coming in through the dinghy hatches and gun turret on the top of the fuselage.

I was pleased with the picture, but just to add a sense of drama and dynamism I scattered some debris around, coming off the wing, torn fuselage and smashed H2S. In reality this would probably already have dispersed, but we liked the effect so it stayed in.

And there you have it: a portrayal of a subject I had had in mind for some time, since reading about the fear that stalked bomber crews (one of many) of the risk of collisions in a loose formation of heavy aircraft flying at night, often in reduced visibility and poor weather, without proximity warning radars.  

I hope it stands as a tribute to their bravery and to the sacrifice of the seven men who did not come back from this particular encounter.

UPDATE: 21 November 2017

I was contacted overnight by former ice pilot "Doc" Knight in Calgary, Western Canada, who wrote: 

"I was reading your notes on the mid-air of these Lancs on the night of 7-8 January 1945. My wife's great uncle, Donald Campbell from Kelowna, was one of the air gunners in NN766, now buried in a collective grave with the other six of his crew. He had been briefly in the RCN in 1940, released on a medical after only four months in. Then, through the summer of 1943, he was working in Vancouver at Boeing and serving in the Seaforth Highlanders (Reserve)...I think he had to lie to get into the RCAF that autumn (re: previous medical discharge).
 
"The fellows are not forgotten...Meyer Greenstein was the Bomb Aimer; his sister, Rose Greebler, passed away in Toronto in 2014, made sure that a lasting scholarship in her brother's name carries on at University College, at U of Toronto.
 
"The Nav was Ralph James Lougheed of Winnipeg; his brother Lawrence became a doctor - as their father was - and passed away this spring out in British Columbia.
 
"An article was written this spring in a Wolfe Island, Ontario paper, remembering Millard Horne, the wireless air gunner in NN766; he left behind a wife, Betty Huff of Prescott, Ontario.
 
"I'm still hunting for info on the others, particularly the RAF member of the crew, #2220467 Sgt. R.P. Candy."
 
If anyone has any more info I will pass it on. - GE

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To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

As well as commercial assignments I also do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes.  To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.


Photographs from Duxford's 2017 autumn Airshow

Colchester, 7 October 2017

I know Duxford Airshow was a couple of weekends ago but I then went almost immediately up to Scotland for a short holiday with my wife - ok and some landscape photography - so I am now catching up with the processing.

The billed highlight of this year's Battle of Britain Airshow, to give it its proper title, was the bringing together of lots of restored Hawker Hurricanes of various types.

Six Hurricanes Duxford Gary Eason _DSC1981How fantastic to see (and hear) half a dozen of them in the sky at the same time, recalling Duxford's heyday. 

There were several other highlights for me. By a string of circumstances,  including the temporary grounding of the BBMF's Merlin-engined fleet, this was the first, rather belated chance that I had had to see Lancaster PA474 in its new liveries, in particular, the port side scheme of AR-L with its colourful nose art of a kangaroo playing bagpipes. 

Regular readers will know I was first with the news of this proposed scheme, almost a year ago now; commissioned to depict the original Lancaster that wore it, W5005 of 460 Squadron, (now a poster for Memorial Flight Club members); and involved with the search for the guy who had painted it

So having it down my camera lens was a real treat, spoilt only by the wretched bright overcast backlighting that can plague Duxford as an airshow venue. 

"IMPROBABLY ELEGANT"

I also met the author of WK275, being launched at the show, Guy Ellis, as well as the owner of this unique Supermarine Swift F.4 variant, Tim Wood. Guy contacted me earlier this year to ask if I could make the cover artwork. I hope the book does well: Grub Street Publishing have produced it beautifully.

And another was also finally getting to see the Shuttleworth Collection's splendid Westland Lysander in flight. I had seen it before in the hangars at Old Warden Park in Bedfordshire, but not flying. 

Westland Lysander  Gary Eason _DSC2984It is such an extraordinary-looking creation, improbably elegant in flight, and with a terrific history. I had taken a professional interest this year because a depiction of a Lysander on a clandestine operation in July 1944 has proved to be one of my more popular pictures (details here about prints).  

One of the more striking aspects was being reminded just how big it is, for a single-engined airframe, when seen alongside the WW2 fighters on the flight line.  

But if there was one aircraft performing at Duxford that I could have watched all day, it was the beautiful bare-metal Curtiss-Wright P-40C Warhawk of The Fighter Collection (TFC). 

Photography is all about light and nothing revelled in the shifting blue-sky-and-clouds backdrop so admirably as that polished alloy skin. 

I made up the slideshow (above) from a series of frames just as I shot them, not yet cropped for publication. Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM / S on Nikon D750, ISO 100, f10, 1/320 typically. 

It was lovely again to revisit the constantly-interesting display by (I believe) TFC's chief pilot, Pete Kynsey, as the raw images resolved themselves in Lightroom. 

Glorious. 

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To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I also do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes.  To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.


New Supermarine Swift WK275 artwork

Swift WK275 pictures Gary Eason

The Flight Artworks depictions of WK275: book cover (left) and in flight over the English countryside.

Colchester, 21 September 2017

If you are going to Duxford Airshow this weekend, look out for aviation author Guy Ellis who tells me that he will be signing copies of his new book about Supermarine Swift WK275 in the Aviation Bookshop marquee.

It is being formally published by Grub Street Publishing next week but is being launched at the show. I am excited to see it because I did the cover art.

Guy first approached me back at the start of January to see if it was something I could take on. Following my usual practice I drafted some initial ideas and he chose the sort of picture he wanted.

We then refined the precise angles in the composition - working by this time also with the publisher and their designer - showing the unique aircraft "almost as if it were 'climbing'  the cloud", as he put it, in my background photograph. 

SWIFT BY NAME . . . 

It is only fair to say the Swift was not the most successful aircraft the RAF ever got involved with - but from my point of view it is certainly not unattractive, perhaps quite a perky looking number whose lines live up to its name. As did its performance: an F.4 like this was, briefly, the holder of the world airspeed record, having attained 737.7 mph (1,187 km/h) over Libya, 64 years ago this week, in the hands of Vickers Supermarine's chief test pilot, Mike Lithgow. 

I say that WK275 was unique because as I understand it no other Swift airframe ever had its precise configuration, and it is the only fighter variant still in existence.

It was used as a test frame for various developments, including what they call a slab-type tailplane - in other words with wholly moving horizontal stabilisers instead of fixed ones with moving elevators on the trailing edges. Later, no longer flying, it was used for noise research.

By this time, the 1960s, it was already a very faded, tired and sorry looking specimen. It then became a "gate guardian" at an outdoor clothing and camping store in Herefordshire. Up on bricks in all weather, it was rotting away. 

It was rescued in 2012 by a private buyer, Tim Wood - who set out to buy his son an ejector seat and ended up with an entire aircraft - and he got the remarkable guys at Jet Art Aviation to do the seemingly impossible job of restoring it to (non-flying) splendour.  

I asked Tim whether getting it flying again had ever been on the cards. He had inquired, he said. It would have cost another £3m. 

DETAILS, DETAILS . . .

Not knowing anything about the Swift before I started on this project I had to get up to speed on the general outlines to begin with, then the peculiarities of WK275. 

For example, there is a stub on the top of the nose where you might expect to find a pitot-static tube, but the instrument itself had been moved to the starboard wing.

I was also keen to get the subtleties of such things as air vents and the various warning labels as correct as I could. Jet Art kindly answered some of my questions about specifics and sent some close-up snaps for reference. 

To create the picture I worked initially from a small model I commissioned of an F.4 converted from an FR.5, the more successful low-level reconnaissance version. But there was a great deal of pixel painting to do. 

My work on this as on everything else was interrupted by a delightful few weeks travelling around New Zealand and making landscape photographs

But eventually the finished picture was completed, tweaked and signed off in April, five months ago, and my job was done. Meanwhile, of course, the publishers had a book to make! 

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To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I also do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes.  To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.


Flight Artworks pictures published in RAF Memorial Flight Yearbook

Headlong-attack-v2

 Colchester, 2 Jun 2015 

As prefigured in a previous post, the Battle of Britain Day 'big picture' I was working on in February has duly appeared across two full pages in the Official Royal Air Force Memorial Flight Club Yearbook 2015, which has now gone to club members. 

I won't reproduce that picture again here but you can find it, and order prints, here on my website. One of the articles inside the yearbook is 'Spitfire or Hurricane? (... or Me Bf 109?)' - which was the best fighter? This features two more of my pictures.

The one at the head of this blog post, 'Headlong Attack' – which itself is quite a big scene, about events over Weymouth on 25 August 1940, which I have written about before – and this one below, illustrating the shooting down of a 109 on 8 October 1940 by Ronald 'Ras' Berry of 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Airforce:

  Berry-shoots-down-Boche-Gary-Eason-sm

It's a thoughtful article from the perspective of a former fighter pilot, Clive Rowley. I think the pictures look great, and I am delighted to have had them chosen for such a prestigious publication. 

And if you have any interest at all in the historic aircraft so superbly maintained by the Flight, then I recommend joining the Official Royal Air Force Memorial Flight Club.

If nothing else, you get a copy of the Yearbook!

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 TO BUY PRINTS  of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.


First Flight Artworks book published

 

 

 

Flight Artworks Volume 1 by Gary Eason
High Wycombe, 12 May 2015

I am delighted to present my first book drawn from my growing collection of Flight Artworks​: 32 pages, available now in printed and e-book versions.

It contains captions, commentary and points of note – but the focus is on the images and they occupy most of the space. You can see some sample pages above and below. 

To preview or purchase the books please visit the Blurb bookshop.

I built it using their self-publishing software BookWright in 'standard landscape' size (25x20cm / 10x8in), in three formats from £19.99.

The production was straightforward if time-consuming. I lost count of how many times I thought it was done, then spotted something that was not quite right - which I suspect could become an endless process if you are not careful.

In fact it turned out that their existing software cannot properly reproduce it as an ebook without divine intervention by the Blurb support staff, so that is an ongoing project. 

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 00.27.55Am I pleased with the book though? Yes very. It was launched this morning, and when I went to look in my account for something a few hours later, I had already sold two. 

I'm afraid I can't do anything about the price: the fixed costs imposed by Blurb, including shipping, mean I barely get the price of a pint from each copy and I would have to sell a very large number indeed to cover the time invested in its creation. 

My son works in the book selling business and he will tell you (if only when he sees his pay slip) that for the vast majority of us, publishing and selling books is rarely ever going to be a get rich quick scheme.

The pictures I have used are not new, apart from a few I have adapted to fit the book design. In fact many people have prints of them hanging on their walls. And as regular followers of this blog will know, a number of others have appeared in print already in magazines and elsewhere. 

Also, as an aside, I am increasingly licensing them through my Alamy account – although I do not usually know where they will end up, because sales are reported to us contributors simply in terms of "Editorial magazine" or the like, and maybe not in a country or language I am likely to see. 

So what's the point of producing the book? Is it all vanity? 

Oh, come on – can anything beat sitting down with a cup of coffee on your most comfortable sofa, savouring turning the pages in a book of your favourite things? 

So when I say "first" Flight Artworks book published, will there be more? Oh yes.  

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 TO BUY PRINTS  of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.


Battle of Britain Spitfire for magazine

Pied-Piper-Spitfire-Gary-Eason-sm600

Picture © Gary Eason. Licensing is via Alamy; for prints see www.flightartworks.com

High Wycombe, 10 May 2015 

Apart from all that spring stuff the month of May brought with it issue 16 of History Revealed magazine - whose cover features one of my Flight Artworks aircraft.

The Spitfire was commissioned by them to fit a rather precise slot in that front page, as you can see if you click on the link - after attempts to source a ready-made one had taken them to my Alamy account. There, they found things they liked but they were not quite at the right angle.

Creditably they were also anxious to be sure the details were authentic for the period. So I worked with them to get just what they wanted - which was as near to a "standard" Battle of Britain Spitfire as they could. 

I chose Spitfire R6891, DW-Q of No 610 Squadron, based at Biggin Hill, as flown by Sgt (later Wing Commander) Ronald Fairfax Hamlyn DFM. This was in part because there were some reasonable (for the time!) old pictures around of his aircraft, so I knew it was just the ticket. 

Hamlyn - "The Pied Piper of Harrogate" - became the RAF’s first 'Ace in a Day' of World War II, shooting down five enemy aircraft during three sorties on 24 August 1940. 

I also subsequently adapted this for my own purposes in the picture you see at the top of this page.

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 TO BUY PRINTS  of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.


Turning point: Battle of Britain Day, 15 September 1940

Battle-of-Britain-Day-Gary-Eason-sm

The Luftwaffe's afternoon attack on a day that changed the course of the war. Picture © Gary Eason. Licensing is via Alamy; for prints see www.flightartworks.com

High Wycombe, 16 Feb 2015

My latest picture portrays some 128 separate aircraft on what we now know was a decisive day: 15 September 1940.

The picture, which I have been working on for much of the past couple of weeks, was commissioned as a double-page spread for the Official Royal Air Force Memorial Flight Club Yearbook 2015 - currently in preparation - as part of a series of articles on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

I was given pretty much a free rein on what to depict by the editor, and settled on the 15th almost inevitably. On that day the Luftwaffe mounted two major attacks on London - as Prime Minister Winston Churchill happened to be watching in RAF Fighter Command's 11 Group Operations Room at RAF Uxbridge. 

In the morning, a relatively small force of Dornier Do 17 bombers, with numerically greater fighter support, tested the defences. This was followed a few hours later by a much bigger operation, involving some 114 bombers, in three main columns, escorted by several hundred fighters. That is what became my focus.

Cloud cover

I have tried to give a realistic snapshot of a moment relatively early on when the afternoon's attackers are approaching London. They are beginning to run into the fighter defences brilliantly orchestrated by 11 Group's commander, Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park.

This involved a good deal of reading to try to get a 3D picture into my head of what was going on. The clouds had built up during the day to between 7/10ths and 9/10ths cumulus, from about 3,000ft base to 12,000ft tops in places. Wind was from the northwest.

The clouds were a factor in the Luftwaffe crews' subsequently failing to find their targets, hitting alternates where there was a gap in the cloud cover, scattering bombs indiscriminately - or giving up and running for home.

I then chose specific actions with enough documentation to be able to portray the actual aircraft involved, cross-referring sources to get as much accuracy as I could.

So the result is a composite, putting us in the thick of the action at roughly 1430 that Sunday afternoon as two dozen Heinkel He 111s of Kampfgeschwader 53 'Legion Condor', forming the central column of bombers, cross Kent heading for London.

Details

Fighter Command begins to break up the formation: Nine Spitfires from No 66 Squadron attack head-on from below. Hurricanes from No 1 (RCAF) Squadron swoop from above. They are being challenged by Messerschmitt Bf109 fighters from JG 3.

Where there are identifiable aircraft I have based them on squadron records and published accounts of the actions. So for example, 66 were led in their upward-sweeping attack on the Heinkels' most vulnerable aspect by Sqn. Ldr. Rupert "Lucky" Leigh in Spitfire R6800 LZ-N (lower right) - closing to point blank range before firing then rolling away for another attempt. 

The foreground Heinkel He 111 is an H-2 of 3/KG 53, coded A1+EL.  As an aside, this had two MG15 machine guns in the nose blister instead of the usual (for the type) single gun. The Luftwaffe progressively beefed up the armament on these aircraft in response to their Battle of Britain losses.

It did not help Ltn Hermann Boeckh and his crew much: after dropping their bombs they were attacked by eight Spitfires. With both engines on fire and the airframe riddled with bullet holes, Boeckh made a forced landing on a farm in Orsett, Essex.

The flight engineer, Friedrich Grotzki, was killed and three of the other four on board were wounded - the pilot reportedly by his own revolver, which discharged after being struck by a machine gun bullet. Nevertheless the crew stuck to military discipline, torching what remained of their aircraft and refusing to give any information when interrogated.

Below them in the picture, another 3/KG53 H-2, A1+GL, is going into a dive after being hit by Spitfire bullets. It will be shot to pieces by up to a dozen Spitfires. Two of its crew died and two were wounded when it crashed on farmland at Sandhurst Cross.

Wounded

The RAF's priority on the day was to knock down the bombers. To get at them they had to run the gauntlet of a fighter escort from the pilots of at least six gruppen, who put up a formidable defence but were rapidly at the limits of their cross-Channel fuel range.

In the forefront in my picture are some of the experienced pilots of Jagdschwader 3 'Udet': the most successful gruppe in the Battle of France and now veterans of the Battle of Britain. Among the yellow-nosed Messerschmitt Bf109s coming in above is an E-4 piloted by Hptm. Hans von Hahn, recently appointed Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 3. Already an ace, he will account for another Spitfire this afternoon.

Above him in another E-4 from Stab I./JG 3, Ltn. Detlev Rohwer's shells are taking chunks out of Hawker Hurricane L1973 of No 1 (RCAF) Squadron and the left shoulder of its pilot, Fg. Off. Arthur Yuile, who later cursed his forgetfulness in not having maintained eyes in the sides and back of his head as he dived to attack the Heinkels. He managed to get the damaged aircraft back safely to RAF Northolt.

Off to the left in the distance, starting to attract 'ack ack' bursts from the anti-aircraft guns below, are the 19 Dorniers of II./KG3 followed by more Heinkels from I. and II./KG 26. They are about to be hit by the first of a string of fighter squadrons, Spitfires in line astern catching the sunlight as they dive from high above.

This pattern was to be repeated throughout the afternoon as wave after wave of RAF aircraft harried the attackers all the way in and all the way out, with increasingly devastating effect on the materiel and morale of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering's Luftwaffe.

This was a time-consuming but fascinating picture to research and to make. I hope I have done justice to the events and to the bravery of those involved. In the process I have been learning a lot about Luftwaffe units and aircraft. As usual, please let me know if you spot any howling errors.

I heartily recommend membership of the BBMF Club. The Yearbook is due out at the beginning of April.

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 TO BUY PRINTS  of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.


Remembering Berchtesgaden Lancaster "F for Freddy"

Lancaster-LM756-PG-F-shot-down-Gary-Eason-sm

High Wycombe, 30 Jan 2015

There is an interesting story around all the pictures I get asked to make, but it is usually about the original circumstances that are being portrayed. 

In the case of this latest commission however there is also a story behind why the picture itself came to be made, and where it is going.

It depicts the shooting down of Lancaster LM756, PG-F of No 619 Squadron RAF, during a daylight operation against Hitler's Eagle's Nest retreat at Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps on 25 April 1945  - almost at the end of the war in Europe, 70 years ago.

The operation involved 359 Lancasters and 16 Mosquitos from RAF Bomber Command's 1, 5 and 8 Groups. LM756 was one of six Lancasters from 619 Squadron, based at RAF Strubby in Lincolnshire, which went in ahead of the main force to check the wind speed and direction, and disrupt the German radar defences by dropping metal foil 'Window'.

According to survivors' accounts they had a clear run at about 22,000ft over their designated bombing target - the SS barracks - but then were coned in anti-aircraft fire and shot down in flames.

Three men bailed out and were prisoners of war briefly until liberated by the Americans: flight engineer Fred Cole, bomb aimer Art Sharman and wireless operator Jack Speers. Four of the crew died with the aircraft: Wilf DeMarco (Pilot), Norman Johnston (Navigator), Gordon Walker (Rear Gunner) - all Canadians - and Edward Norman (Mid-upper Gunner).

Austrian memorial

I heard about the story when I was contacted by Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service Watch Manager Kevin (Kev) Ruane MBE. He had seen my work and wanted to know if I could make a picture about F for Freddy.

In 2013 Kevin's role in the Fire Service International Youth Leaders Commission had taken him to a small town called Adnet in Austria, a few miles from Berchtesgaden, where he met the mayor, Wolfgang Auer.

Kevin speaks German fluently, having lived in Germany for nine years after serving there in the Army. Burgermeister Auer told him about the Lancaster that had crashed near his town and said he was keen to have a suitable memorial built, inviting members of the crew's families and of the 619 Squadron Association to its unveiling.

At the time neither of them knew that one of the crew - the bomb aimer, Arthur (Art) Sharman - was still alive. He died shortly after, aged 93. 

Kevin followed up the conversation by using the 619 Squadron Facebook page to pursue the mayor's  idea and now, two years later, on the 70th anniversary of the operation, it is all about to become a reality. He approached me because he wanted to be able to present a framed print to Herr Auer. 

Details

From what I can tell the Lancaster must have been a fireball as it went down onto the mountainside outside Adnet. I chose to portray it part way through the drama, before the starboard wing also burst into flames, so that the squadron codes were still visible.

At this point Art Sharman is descending by parachute in the distance. Flight engineer Fred Cole hangs limply from his: he passed out after being pushed from the 'plane  clutching his bundled parachute, which had inadvertently been opened inside the cockpit. 

The man who helped him to get out, wireless operator Jack Speers, is still inside the burning Lanc but is also about to make a successful exit. He was the third and last survivor - the other crew having been killed outright or fatally wounded by the flak shrapnel. 

Kevin runs a website about F for Freddy which has considerable detail about the operation, including accounts by the crew who survived. I also had a useful chat about certain technical details with the secretary of the 619 Association, Joe Dutton, who was also a bomb aimer on the squadron at the time. Indefatigable at the age of 91, he was in the process of organising their next reunion, set for this April. 

619 Squadron was in existence only from April 1943 to July 1945. It apparently does not even have a squadron crest in the RAF Club and is sometimes referred to as the "forgotten squadron". 

Well, not entirely, and I am pleased to have had a small part in honouring the memory of some of the men who did not return. Gone - but not forgotten. 

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 TO BUY PRINTS  of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.


A close-up look at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

Lancaster PA474 mid-upper turret Gary Eason _DSC3309

Lancaster PA474's mid-upper turret. Soft toys dot the airframe

High Wycombe, 2 Dec 2014

I was standing next to a World War Two Spitfire while one of the few modern pilots lucky enough to have flown it recounted how the engine had emptied of oil while he was doing an airshow display.

We were in the spacious and spotlessly clean hangar given over to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

Outside, their engines a crackling roar, Eurofighter Typhoon jets periodically hurtled off runway 25 and up through the lingering morning fog. Inside, the hangar was a haven of methodical maintenance.

Seeing the memorial flight's vintage aircraft up close I can only marvel again at the courage of those who originally flew them in combat.

Hurricane LF363 Gary Eason _DSC3230

With the outer fuselage skin removed it is all too apparent why the fuel tanks of a Hawker Hurricane fighter presented such a lethal fire hazard to the pilot's legs, stuck forward inside the skeletal tubular framework.

The aluminium alloy skin of the C-47 Dakota looks paper thin to be flown, unarmed, at low altitude over hostile territory with two dozen paratroops and their kit on board. The flight's ZA947 is currently fitted out with the basic metal bucket seats they used.

The rear gun turret of an Avro Lancaster looks impossibly cramped and claustrophobic even for someone in normal clothing, let alone a bulky flying suit and the boots and gloves made essential by freezing temperatures at altitude. I cannot imagine being stuck in there for hours on end in the dark with hostile forces making a point of trying to kill you. 

Dakota Kwicherbichen Gary Eason _DSC3214

My host for this VIP guided tour was Squadron Leader Clive Rowley MBE RAF (Ret'd), former officer commanding the BBMF. Clive was a Hunter, Lightning, Hawk and Tornado F3 pilot who joined the flight in 1996.

As we looked at the Mk PR XIX Spitfire PM631, its Griffon engine out on a stand and various other components neatly stacked on the floor, Clive pointed to a hose protruding from the forward bulkhead.

He recalled how he had been flying in a display at Southend Airshow in May 2004 when people in the other aircraft alongside and on the ground began telling him over the radio that the Spitfire was trailing oil.

He checked the instruments: all seemed well, oil pressure OK. Thinking "a little oil goes a long way" he was not unduly concerned but decided it wise to make an unscheduled landing on the airfield as a precaution.

Spitfire-PR-oil-leak-Gary-Eason-sm

Good call. As he was about to cross the runway threshold on his final approach, the oil pressure gauge went from normal to zero.

It turned out that a rubber hose connecting two bits of pipework had parted and the engine had lost almost all its lubrication. It would not have run for much longer when he touched down safely.

This was only one of several occasions in his career as a pilot that he was in a potentially disastrous situation, Clive tells me over lunch at the Lea Gate Inn. On a wall at home he has a souvenir piece of English Electric Lightning fuselage with the hole in it made by an exploding engine.

Just Jane Gary Eason _DSC3405

As well as being skilful and brave you also have to be lucky. So "lucky enough to have flown it" is rather double edged.

If you didn't know already, the BBMF hangar is open to the public for guided tours: more information via this link.

You might even get Clive Rowley as your guide - if you're lucky. 

And why not make a day of it, as I did, and pop up the road to see Just Jane - Lancaster NX611 - and friends at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Museum, where restoration work continues apace. 

 


Spitfires escorting Lancasters? In daylight?

Spits and Lancs FB

Picture © Gary Eason. Licensing is via Alamy; for prints see www.flightartworks.com

High Wycombe, 6 Nov 2014

Ever jump to conclusions?

What do you make of the picture above: Spitfires escorting Lancasters? (available via this link).

A typical first response from people who see it is "Cool picture - but of course it never happened". 

We all know that it was the American bombers that flew the daylight operations on the Western Front in WWII - supported increasingly by long range fighters when they became available. The RAF's Bomber Command sent its 'heavies' over at night, and they were unaccompanied.

But let's spool back a bit and see how I came to make this picture. Essentially, three things came together.

The first (below left) was a photograph which I made at the Flying Legends airshow at IWM Duxford in 2013. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's much loved Lancaster bomber and Hawker Hurricane LF363 in formation. Experimenting with a composition one day I multiplied them and thought the result was rather appealing. Maybe - but completely implausible, so it remained undeveloped in my Sketches folder:

Bomber-escorts-development-blog-Gary-Eason

 

(Click to enlarge)

Then I was asked to contribute a number of pictures to a special publication marking the RAF's involvement in D-Day, for the anniversary last June. As part of my research I was reading about how - in light of the Allies' air superiority - Bomber Command dipped its toe back into the daylight operations pool.

Thirdly, in Leo McInstrey's superb book Lancaster I read more about this and how "as the number of daylight raids increased, the Lancasters received fighter cover from the RAF for the first time in the war. 'The Spitfires were a very welcome sight and would accompany you to the target,' said Bob Knights of 617 Squadron. 'They would hang around and see you were all right. ...'."

Well fancy that. My sketch was not so fanciful after all - except that this was not a role the old Hurricane was going to be doing by this time. It had to be Spitfires.

So I realised I was onto something, and it was not something I had seen portrayed elsewhere.

Following the publication of the D-Day bookazine, I heard from the editor that a former Spitfire pilot [update, 2017: the late Tony Cooper, RIP] had said my picture was "just like the real thing", as he had actually done it. 

So, the moral of this for me was, keep an open mind - and do the research.

---------------------------

 TO BUY PRINTS  of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.