Photography

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.


Westland Lysander on clandestine operation

Westland Lysander secret ops Gary Eason

Colchester 18 April 2017

On a moonlit night in July 1944, an RAF Westland Lysander IIIA comes in low over a field of lavender in the South of France, to land on the makeshift grass airstrip beyond.

On board are three passengers, who disembark down the Lysander’s fixed ladder, while three others get in for the trip back out to its forward operating base in the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

This was the second attempt at the secret operation codenamed Tamise. The first run, two nights previously, had had to be abandoned because of heavy cloud and electric storms - as well as flak and a night fighter to evade, according to the book We Landed by Moonlight (Secret Landings in France 1940-1944) by another Lysander pilot, Group Captain Hugh Verity.

There should have been two Lysanders but the other was unable to locate the landing zone, which was codenamed “Spitfire”. It went back successfully two nights later to finish the job.

Their contact on the ground was the Service d'Atterrissages and Parachutages (SAP) officer “Archiduc” - real name Camille Rayon. Among the agents brought out on the first trip was Neil Marten, later the MP for Banbury, who worked with the Resistance in France and in Norway during the war.

SEARCH FOR INFORMATION

His pilot, the subject of my depiction (right), was Flying Officer Henri “Frankie” Franklin of 148 (Special Duties) Squadron - but he knew nothing about the individuals in the back of his aircraft. Following standard protocol they were all - men and women - just “Joes” to the RAF aircrew who transported them.

Frankie Franklin detail Gary EasonThe squadron, comprising mostly Handley Page Halifax aircraft, was at this time in WWII based in Brindisi in Italy, reaching out to partisan fighters in Northern Italy, Yugoslavia and Poland. But the Lysanders of ‘C’ flight were detached to Corsica.

My picture was commissioned by one of F/O Franklin’s nieces. My researches into the details of the aircraft - such as whether it carried the squadron's identification letters, FS - led me via the Operation: Dark of the Moon website about 148 Squadron, and its associated forum, where Bill Pogson kindly passed on my request for information and I was contacted by the author Oliver Clutton-Brock. By chance he has just completed a history of 148 Squadron, which is due to be published shortly.

He had been in touch with Franklin’s daughters and had a copy of the pilot’s logbook.

"Nothing interesting, I’m afraid, Gary. Just that he took in 3 Joes and brought 3 out in Lysander IIIA '9498'. The Tamise trip, at night, took 4 hrs 35 mins," he reported.

"As to whether or not the Lysanders carried FS on their fuselage or not I can’t say for certain one way or the other, but the evidence would suggest that they didn’t."

One of Franklin's daughters very kindly provided me with photographs she had taken - one of which forms part of the background in my picture - and a map compiled by Air-Britain historian Serge Blandin, which had helped her to pinpoint the site on a recent visit.

LAVENDER FIELD

This is remote countryside. Even to this day the roads in the immediate vicinity are just dirt tracks. The grass landing field, now marked by a small information board, was approached over a field of lavender.

The board commemorates an action a month later on the same field when a much bigger, twin-engined RAF Dakota aircraft from 267 Squadron dropped key French personnel ahead of the Allied landings on the south coast.

It tried to bring out 31 passengers, including US airmen who had been evading the Germans and Vichy French forces after being shot down. But its undercarriage became entangled in the lavender strip that you see in my picture, which had been planted across the middle of the grass to disguise its use as a runway. Eight of the passengers had to be ordered out by “Archiduc” before the Dakota could manage the take-off from the shortened field.

The Dakota and its crew went back the following night as they had promised. But if you need an indication of just how dangerous these operations were, no-one was there to meet them and the isolated farm adjacent to the field - Le Castellet - had been burnt down, its occupants shot by the Germans.

This Dakota operation formed the basis of a fictionalised account by English author Deborah Lawrenson: it forms the starting point for The Lavender Field, the mid-section of her triptych novel The Sea Garden.

Ms Lawrenson, who lives in the south of France, also kindly passed on to me what she knew about the scene.

TOUGH JOB

The quirky-looking but rugged Lysander, with its automatic wing slats, variable incidence tailplane and solid undercarriage, and a fixed ladder on the port side for rapid access by passengers, was perfect for these clandestine operations on short, makeshift strips in occupied territory.

It had been designed in the 1930s to be an army co-operation aircraft, providing photographic reconnaissance and eyes in the sky for artillery units. It proved too slow for that, but splendidly capable for these secret ops - and for its other main niche role, air-sea rescue.

The pilots who undertook the missions behind enemy lines performed brilliant feats of navigation, alone and at night with only the most basic equipment.

Grp Capt Verity, speaking to the RAF Historical Society in the late 1980s, described how the planning process involved picking good landmarks along the way.

Pilots would then cut up 1:500,000-scale maps to cover 50 miles on each side of the  planned track and fold them like a concertina, with a larger scale section for the target area.

They memorised the key features and compass bearings. They then flew the planned headings and speeds very accurately until any error in the forecast wind showed up as they drifted off course - after which some mental geometry was used to adjust accordingly.

The final, short leg was a timed run to where the target should be "when, lo and behold, you would see the agreed Morse letter flashing up from the dark ground - and that was really quite a thrill".

Remarkable.

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


Desert camouflage Spitfire EN152

Spitfire EN152 over Gulf of Tunis Gary Eason

Colchester, 30 January 2017

Maybe it is the relative unfamiliarity but I think there is something undeniably cool about the desert camouflage the RAF and Allies used in their combat operations in North Africa and the Mediterranean during WWII. 

Dark earth and mid stone paintwork, scuffed by the sand and faded by the heat and dust, blends perfectly with the landscapes they were operating over. My latest picture highlights it by isolating the aircraft over water, but with complementary light on the horizon. 

The guys who had to fly, maintain and live alongside these aircraft in such inhospitable conditions might take a different view but to me, the grit of their endeavours as the battle ebbed and flowed across North Africa only adds to the drama.

You might have seen my picture on the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (Official) page on Facebook.

My commission was to recreate a particular Spitfire: a Mk IXc, EN152 - QJ-3 as it was coded with No 92 (East India) Squadron in the Desert Air Force. This is the scheme that their IXe, MK356, is going to be repainted to represent - while retaining its very different broad chord rudder and cannon configuration. 

As so often I was working with a fuzzy, black-and-white photograph as the basis for my artwork. But it did mean I knew for sure what the aircraft looked like. Anyone familiar with the tropicalised "lantern jaw" Mk V Spitfires, with the hulking great Vokes dust filters under their chins, might be surprised to find that these Mk IX variants had nothing like that, just the short carburettor air intake tucked under the fuselage.

Their impact on the air warfare was inspirational though. Whereas the Allied pilots had found their mounts completely outclassed by the latest German Me 109 and Fw 190 fighters, they were now right back in the game. 

Having a photograph also meant educated deductions could be made about colours - but a red herring (or should I say, yellow one) had to be dealt with too. 

YELLOW

From what I can glean, 92 Squadron used either red or a sort of blue-grey colour for its identifying letters, QJ, depending on the flight of aircraft. In the photo they were obviously dark, so much so they are all but illegible. Probably red, then. The '3' on the other hand was clearly white.

In Tunisia in the spring of 1943 you might expect the airscrew spinner to have been red. But it very obviously is much darker than the grey shade of the known reds: those in the red, white and blue (and yellow) fuselage roundel and fin flash in the photograph. Almost certainly it was black - or more likely 'night'.

The only caveat was that the photo had no date but there is another photo of another 92 Squadron aircraft,  EN458 (QJ-10) captioned Bou Goubrine, Tunisia, spring 1943, which has the same colouration. 

The yellow herring: the standard C1-type RAF roundel these aircraft wore at this time had a yellow outer circle. The trouble was that in our fuzzy photo there was no sign of it. Had it been omitted for some reason?

In the end I reckoned a more likely explanation was the nature of the film and/or the filtering used in the camera or processing, making the yellow invisible. I soon found other photos of 92 Squadron aircraft in which the same thing had happened - including two photos of one particular aircraft, Squadron Leader Jefferson Wedgewood's Mk V, BR476, both taken in Libya in late 1942. In one of these there is almost no discernible yellow and in the other it is plain as day (albeit in monochrome obviously).

CAMOUFLAGE PATTERN

The overall desert camouflage scheme itself was not something I have had dealings with before. Having looked into the subject, it throws up the old familiar can of worms you get with almost anything about WWII aircraft. A reasonable assumption would be that EN152 had had its desert colours applied at the factory, in what was known as the A fighter scheme.

Yet that very obviously did not fit with what I could see in the photo, and it soon became apparent that various desert schemes were in use: not just the A scheme but with its colours reversed (that is, swapped over - not mirrored, as in the defunct B scheme). The key, as so often, was to have a photo of the aircraft in question. I had one, so I went with what I could see.

For now I am offering a solo portrait of EN152 as QJ-3, depicted over the Gulf of Tunis. It is available in the WWII Fighters gallery on my website, and through authorised print outlets. A bigger picture will follow in due course. 

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


Polish 'boxing bulldog' Spitfire TD240

Screen Shot 2017-01-05 at 20.47.36

Artwork © Gary Eason 2017 / Flight Artworks

Colchester, 4 January 2017

Let's get the new year off to a flying start with this new depiction of what is going to be the new paint scheme for the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire TE311.

When eventually their Mk XVI emerges from its repaint it will be sporting the colours of TD240 when it was the aircraft usually flown by the Officer Commanding No 131 (Polish) Wing, Group Captain Aleksander Gabszewicz VM KW DSO DFC, during the last weeks of the Second World War and into the summer of 1945.

It was common practice among RAF officers of his rank to have their own initials on 'their' aircraft, but his was coded SZ-G as if it were still part of his old unit, 316 Squadron.

It did have his group captain's pennant on the side of the cockpit, and the red and white Polish checkerboard emblem (szachownica lotnicza), with the word POLAND beneath it, on the nose.

But far and away its most striking feature was the colourful boxing bulldog artwork alongside these, the last and largest of similar artworks he had on his various aircraft.

DISNEY

I had been under the impression until I researched this that the "boxing bulldog" - wearing Polish national team colours and a flying helmet - had been created by a member of Gabszewicz's ground crew who was an accomplished boxer.

But the story has been muddied by the existence of another, celebrated and very similar artwork by none other than Walt Disney, of the legendary cartoon studios.

It seems Disney created a boxing bulldog in an almost identical pose, and set up a team that made numerous other insignias, as a contribution to the US war effort - in this case as the emblem for the 62nd Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, as this Luke Air Force Base article shows.

Gabszewicz flew with the 56th on secondment in late 1943/early 1944 when it was suffering from a shortage of pilots.

I cannot say at this stage who first came up with the design. I am sure the BBMF will have the full story in due course.

But another version of the nose art was adopted by No. 135 (Fighter) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force as its emblem.

PREVIOUSLY

I believe TD240 was next flown by Squadron Leader Boleslaw Kaczmarek with of RAF No. 302 (Polish) Squadron, until August 1945, whereupon it was re-coded as WX-V.

Those with longer memories might recall having seen a version of the scheme before on another Spitfire, MH434 operated by the Old Flying Machine Company. It carried a smaller artwork and SZ-G codes for just over a year between 1997 and 1998.

Now the full size, final iteration will be appearing on the same type of airframe as Gabszewicz's original: the Memorial Flight's clipped wing LF Mk XVIe (MH434 is an elliptical wing Mk IX).

I am portraying TD240 as it was in 1945 in this air-to-air depiction; in keeping with their usual practice, I believe TE311 will continue to bear its own serial number. I am sure many other images will follow once the real thing is unveiled later in 2017.

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


The view from the back seat

And-finally-Gary-Eason-blog-version

Colchester, 23 January 2016

The blog has taken a back seat recently. Of course there was Christmas – my first in a new household, with 17 at our dinner table – New Year and my birthday all in a rush; wonderful company, great meals and long country dog walks and musical parties and so on, but not a time of the year that is conducive to getting any work done.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 22.33.07Happily some previous work formed a surprise Christmas gift for the man who was subject of it, thanks to the generosity of one of my clients, Graham Cowie, of Project Propeller fame. So it was that Bill Viollet found himself signing the depiction we had devised of his escape from a burning Lancaster at Mailly-le-Camp in 1944. (Picture courtesy of Graham.)

And I have been re-organising my office around having my son here: so you might get Joe – actor, designer and illustrator – answering the phone at Eason Media rather than me. Again, a pleasant turn of events but also disruptive.

I am told I am deluding myself when I imagine there was a golden age during which I just made pictures and somehow all the household stuff and travelling and relentless admin either did not exist or somehow took care of itself (ok, maybe just did not get done).

Still, I have managed to produce some pictures: various Vulcan images which seem to be highly popular, including a couple of B1 variants in anti-flash white paint.

Building an image

The Vulcan image at the head of this article, which I call "And finally", is a composite like most of my work and as usual has a bit of a story to it.

The background was photographed in Lincolnshire late in November 2014 after a visit to the BBMF at RAF Coningsby and to Avro Lancaster Just Jane in her hangar at the East Kirkby Aviation Heritage Centre. The sun and the rest of the landscape were photographed a few minutes apart in locations a few miles apart, and blended later.

As an aside: when I saw it up close the sun had two dark marks on its face. I thought at first they were "dust bunnies" – blemishes resulting from dust on the camera's digital sensor. When I looked more closely still, I realised they were sunspots. A bit of research online revealed that I had by chance photographed some unusually flamboyant solar activity. The trouble is, they looked like blemishes, so I removed them for the purposes of my picture.

The Avro Vulcan – XH558, the last flying example of its type  – was photographed passing over a field in Essex, not far from my home. I did not have time on the day to get to Clacton Airshow but thankfully the Vulcan's operators had published a map of their intended route.

Distinctive smoke plume

I figured that if I headed over towards Ardleigh Reservoir, north east of Colchester, I had a reasonable chance of seeing it passing by. At the allotted hour, alerted by their Twitter feed, I did indeed see a puff of dark smoke off to the north east followed by that unmistakable delta shape turning to an arrow in profile, low over the flat landscape, about half a mile to the east.

I then stood around for a while, checking and re-checking the camera settings, photographing a hovering bird of prey and a circling light aircraft, chatting with car drivers who slowed to ask why a man with a fancy, monopod gimbal-mounted long lens was loitering in the corner of a nondescript field (one of whom guessed correctly and wished me luck).

Finally, another smudge of smoke on the far horizon and a dark dot that became steadily bigger – and I realised with a sudden rush of excitement that XH558 was not only on its way back but was heading straight for me. With a purposeful but steady roar the huge airframe sailed majestically almost directly overhead. Fantastic!

I made a series of pictures – not without difficulty because it was closer than I had anticipated and low enough to fill the Nikon's viewfinder through the 600mm lens. These included several as the sleek shape with its distinctive exhaust trail headed away to the north. It is one of those that I realised was at the perfect height and angle to take pride of place in my Lincolnshire sunset. Given how many people have since bought a print, I think I got it just right. 

Canadian pilot

From a completely different era comes my depiction of that rare bird, the Westland Whirlwind - a single-seat, twin-engine RAF fighter-bomber that saw service from 1940 to 1943 but never in the large numbers originally envisaged for it, suffering as it did from a lack of development and being constantly superseded by other aircraft that were just better in every niche it might have occupied.

Tiger-Moth-low-level-flight-Gary-Eason-blogOnly two squadrons were equipped: 263, and the one shown in my depiction, 137. Among its pilots was a Canadian: Arthur 'Art' Gaston Brunet, one of whose relatives asked me if I had any Whirlwind pictures. I do now!

Talking of back seats: you might recall I was treated to a flight in a vintage Tiger Moth biplane last autumn. It was huge fun. I have a video to treasure as a memento, shot on small cameras strapped to the wing struts.

Needless to say they do not stretch to an air-to-air photo of your flight – so I had always had it in my mind's eye to make one, and finally I have got around to it. This gave me the chance to pull on some WWII pilot gear and go solo, in the back seat, into the bargain. I hope this picture might strike a chord with anyone else who has had the same opportunity.

A striking feature of the Tiger Moth – especially so when you consider it was a basic trainer – is that the forward visibility is very limited unless you hang your head over the side. 

My own road map for the year has some very exciting personal developments in it – and a string of picture plans stretching out to the horizon.

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


Dambusters Lancasters practising ... in Essex?

Dambusters at Abberton Gary Eason

Framed print: Flight Artworks picture 

Colchester, 17 November 2015

One of the delights of this part of the world is the number of nature reserves within a short distance of my office.

Among them is the Essex Wildlife Trust haven at Abberton Water, a reservoir – recently expanded – that is a specially protected, internationally important wetland because of its resident and transient wildfowl populations.

In spring 1943, when the reservoir was only a few years old, it was visited by a flock of altogether more sinister 'birds': the specially adapted Avro Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron - who in May that year would undertake an extraordinarily daring raid against dams deep in Germany and in so doing acquire their famous nickname, the Dambusters.

It is fairly common knowledge, thanks in no small part to the celebrated 1955 film about the operation, that the aircrews trained for it in the Derwent Valley in Derbyshire, at Howden and Derwent Dams.

Less well known is that they also tested their extremely low-level precision attack at Eyebrook Reservoir, near Uppingham on the Leicestershire-Rutland border - and here, at Abberton.

Topography

Remarkably, in their final rehearsals, Abberton was the stand-in for the Edersee. I remark on it because the landscape through which the Eder reservoir twists is picturesque, steep-sided wooded valleys. I have been there; it is pretty, green countryside as you can see from my photo.

Below the Eder by Gary EasonThe terrain at Abberton on the other hand is rather flat and largely featureless. To the casual  observer the two locations could hardly be more different.

It has been suggested that they look similar from the air. Well, no they don't - and in any case the Lancasters of 617 Squadron were not exactly going to be approaching "from the air", they were tree hopping.

It seems more likely that it provided a useful navigation exercise: Abberton is about the same bearing from the Eyebrook as the Eder is from the primary target that night at the Möhne – albeit nearly twice as far.

Even weirder, you might think: the Derwent Dam with its distinctive towers was the stand-in for the Sorpe, which has a totally different construction and no towers, and was hit along its length rather than at right angles – by the Upkeep dropped by bomb-aimer George Johnson, now the last British survivor from those who took part. 

Full dress rehearsal?

The squadron's official historian, Dr Robert Owen, told me: "Somewhere in the Lake District, such as Ullswater, would have been a better representation if a realistic rehearsal for the attack on the Eder were intended.  

"This perhaps reinforces the view that Abberton was used rather because it was a large stretch of water at a location that was conveniently placed in relation to the cross country routes, rather than for its physical characteristics of the target."

At any rate the squadron's leader, Wing Commander Guy Gibson, recorded in his flying log book that a "full dress rehearsal" was carried out at "Uppingham Lake and Colchester Res."  (his terms for the Eyebrook and Abberton) on the night of 14 May 1943, two days before Operation Chastise itself. He added: "Completely successfull [sic]".

Now, I have been involved with a fair bit of theatre over the years, and the point of a "full dress rehearsal" is to run the whole show as if it were the real thing.

What is the single most defining characteristic of the dams attack? Surely the extraordinary sight of those huge, revolving, 4.6-ton cylindrical depth charges bouncing across the water after being released at a precise speed, height above the surface and distance from the target.

Steep climb-out

Of course in a rehearsal they were not actually going to let off these massive weapons – the only live test of one had taken place many miles off the Kent coast. But the description "full dress rehearsal" does suggest they did spin up inert ones and sling them across the water to test all other elements of what was to unfold – no? 

"The aircraft did not drop any weapon, and it is unlikely that they even carried an inert Upkeep on these runs," Dr Owen said.

"The aircraft ran in across the lake, using their spotlights to achieve the correct height, fired a red Very light [pistol flare] as they crossed the dam, then climbed steeply away (possibly to simulate the manoeuvre required for the exit from an attack on the Eder dam)," he said.

This steep exit was necessary because the bluff beyond the dam rises to almost 1,400ft (425m) within about half a mile, the river valley turning sharp right.

You might recall that the 1955 film The Dam Busters does show 617's Lancasters dropping small practice bombs near a floating target buoy at the Derwent. Never happened, apparently, not on any British reservoir. This aspect of the training was done on the Wainfleet range on the Lincolnshire coast.

Which brings me back to my picture, depicting the special Type 464 (Provisioning) Lancasters running across the water at 60ft as determined by their spotlight altimeters — but not carrying any weapons.

What prompted me to double check all the details was that a big framed print of this is going to be hanging in the Layer Fox pub near Abberton reservoir, and I promised to write an extended caption to accompany it. Look out for it if you're having a pint.

Cheers!

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


A Mk I Spitfire and a PR Mk XIX silver Spitfire: my latest Flight Artworks

Up-against-it-Charles-Sydney-Spitfire-Gary-Eason-SM

"Up against it": F/Sgt Charles Sydney of 92 Squadron

Colchester, 15 September 2015

The house and office move mentioned in the Preface to my first book was completed relatively painlessly as these things go, although the unpacking and decluttering took longer than I had imagined.

I then spent a delightful few weeks in the US this summer, and have only recently got back into the groove. Consequently it has been a while since I have written anything, so this is by way of  a catch-up.

My first priority on return from holiday was a commission for the RAF Memorial Flight (BBMF). This came about because one of their Spitfires - PR Mk XIX no. PS915, is being repainted to represent another of its kind that achieved a certain amount of fame in the early 1950s.

Spitfire PS852 of 81 Squadron, RAF, was used by Flt Lt Ted Powles AFC to make unofficial daring spy flights over Chinese territory during the Korean War, pushing it to the extreme limit of its fuel range.

Silver Spitfire

He also took it to a world altitude record for piston engine aircraft of 51,550 ft (almost 16 kms high!) on 5 February 1952. When the cabin pressurisation malfunctioned he then made an extremely fast descent, although the actual speed he attained is disputed.

The Memorial Flight repaint is going to be in the colours PS852 wore when it was based at RAF Kai Tak, Hong Kong. The exact date of the original colour scheme is uncertain, but there is a blurry photo from 1954/55 that shows how it looked: overall 'silver', which was actually RAF Aluminium.

Spitfire-PS852-at-altitude-Gary-Eason-SMThe Memorial Flight Spitfire's repaint has not been done yet but they need pictures for their publicity materials - and that is where I came in, with my depiction of the original. Here's a small version (right): look out for it if you are visiting RAF Coningsby.

I love the way this picture has turned out. When you see it full size the Spitfire seems to leap out of the frame.

Incidentally, while researching this I came across a delightful book by Valerie Ann Penlington called Winged Dragon: the History of the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force. It features that blurry photo of PS852 on page 100, as well as lots of colour ones of aircraft and pilots, and a string of flying anecdotes. There is an enthusiastic review of it on this website

Unsung hero

At the head of this article is my next project, produced for the man who maintains a memorial in south-west London to one of The Few - unsung hero Spitfire pilot Flt/Sgt Charles Sydney of 92 Squadron, who was killed in one of the many engagements between RAF Fighter Command and the Luftwaffe on 27 September 1940.

A ceremony is being held, along with many others this year, to mark the 75th anniversary. I was asked to depict his aircraft, Spitfire R6767, coded QJ-N, and here you see the result.

According to the squadron's operations record book in the National Archives, Sydney had already made one short sortie from Biggin Hill that morning, from 0710 to 0740. He was one of nine pilots ordered up again at about 0845. It is a bleak record: he is marked "Missing" and two of the others "Crashed".

At the time, the fighting on the 27th was regarded as having been very intense. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was moved to send a message the following day to the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, which read in part: “The scale and intensity of the fighting and the heavy losses of the enemy ... make 27 September rank with 15 September and 15 August as the third great and victorious day of the Fighter Command during the course of the Battle of Britain."

Mailly-le-Camp

Understandably there has been a heavy focus recently on the Battle of Britain, with numerous magazine specials, TV programmes and social media comment. Indeed I am writing this on 'Battle of Britain Day' (15 September) and a flock of WWII fighters has just gone past within earshot of my office, part of the mass flypasts that began at Goodwood.

Next however I am going to be turning to a very different phase of World War II, featuring the memorable attack by RAF Bomber Command near the village of Mailly-le-Camp in the Aube area of north central France.

To set the context, if you do not know it: as part of the build-up to D-Day, 346 Lancaster bombers and 14 Mosquitoes were sent out on the night of 3/4 May to bomb the German military barracks near the village.

Communication difficulties forced a delay before they could bomb. It gave the defenders time to get organised. While circling the target under clear skies and a bright three quarters moon, and on the way back, the Lancasters fell prey to numerous German night fighters. A total of 42, almost 12% of the attacking force, were shot down: a loss of some 300 men.

'Milk run' (not)

Despite the heavy RAF losses that night the attack itself was very successful.

Mailly-le-Camp marked a turning point however. Until then there had been a perception that the long hauls to Germany and back were far more perilous operations than the softening up of enemy positions in France prior to D-Day, which sometimes were even characterised as "milk runs".

This extended to the official view of how many successfully completed operations a crew should have to make to complete a tour of duty. Ordinarily this was 30 but the shorter trips to France were being counted as only one third of an op - until several of them, and notably Mailly-le-Camp, showed just how deadly they could be. The policy was changed.

One thing is certain: anyone who was there would never forget it. But - spoiler alert: I will say no more at this stage about the picture I am making. Watch this space. 

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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.

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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.


Thanks for the memories

Arnhem-Dakota-drop-FB

Arnhem Dakota drop © Gary Eason

High Wycombe, 24 Apr 2014

When I am making pictures I  need to know what various details of an aircraft look like in order to portray it correctly, and for that nothing beats being able to go and see one.

I spent an enjoyable time the other day poking around in the lovely little De Havilland Aircraft Museum, being able to pore over every rivet and glued joint of their Mosquitos - my chief interest.

And I had the great privilege recently of being able to clamber around inside and sit in the cockpit of a 1942 Douglas Dakota at North Weald airfield, thanks to David Petters of Dakotair / the RAF Transport Command Memorial

They are aiming to have three of these venerable aircraft in D-Day livery carrying passengers, and commissioned me to make the picture you see above as part of the fund-raising effort. If you would like to support them by buying a print, click here

The picture depicts Dakota KG374, YS-DM of No 271 Squadron, flown by Flt Lt David Lord, who was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross, the UK's highest military award for valour, for his efforts to resupply the British forces at Arnhem in 1944.

I have read about how rugged the Dakota supposedly was and how it could survive a remarkable amount of battle damage. But standing next to one in a dimly-lit hangar, then clambering inside (using the 'flashlight' apps on our mobile phones as torches), I was struck by the sheer lightweight flimsiness of its largely aluminium alloy construction.

It makes me marvel all the more at the bravery of those who flew them into combat zones loaded with men and materiel  - let alone jumped out of them.

Those of us who love old 'planes are  hugely indebted to the people who maintain some of them in flying condition or - next best thing - in museum condition. So here's to them all.