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February 2013

Gas patch soup: making Flight Artworks accurate

Spitfire Mk I R6596 flat_pr_blog
Allan Wright's Spitfire R6596, August 1940 

High Wycombe, 12 Feb 2013

Someone saw this picture on Facebook and asked what the yellow diamond shape was on the port wing.  A gas detector patch. 

His further comment prompted me to write this article. He said: 

"Of all the time I have studied, built, and cherished this time in History - this is the first time I have seen this! Thank you!"

When I was commissioned to make this Spitfire portrait I found, in one of the splendid Alfred Price Aces... books a (typically low quality) contemporary black and white side view of R6596, which is how I know that it had such large QJ-S lettering - and that peculiar big and non-standard fuselage roundel with its acres of white. Although not unique, this was unlike even the one on the aircraft alongside it. I've not seen any other profile of R6596 that gets this right.

The wing surface is indistinct in the picture so to an extent the gas patch is an educated guess. But they were on very many military aircraft and vehicles/equipment of all sorts in 1940. And see, for example, the still flying Spitfire P7350 of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Sometimes placed as a diamond, like this one, other times square on to the fuselage, typically attached with red doped strips.

The aerial wires are also deduction. The new type of VHF equipment did not go into general service until September onwards, and this is August. So the aircraft retains the aerial wire from the mast to the fin. It would not yet have wires for the IFF equipment running from the fuselage roundel to the outer leading edge of the tailplanes. See info on The Spitfire Site.

Spitfire wing variants are a bit of a nightmare for modellers of any kind, but fairly straightforward on this aircraft (I think!). Elevators: older type without the 'horns'; and like the ailerons at this time, fabric covered (the details are in my picture though you probably cannot make them out at this resolution).

Incidentally, looking at the tail fin in that old photo of R6596, it does appear that the red-white-blue flash colours are reversed, i.e. blue-white-red. This is a guess from the greyscale picture. This would not be unknown but certainly very odd, so in the end I stuck with convention on that detail.

Why bother with this level of accuracy? Because that is what Flight Artworks is all about. So please do let me know if you see something in a picture that you think I have got wrong. I will thank you for it.

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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.

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Seeing the lights

P-Popsie at the Mohne sm
AJ-P attacking the Mohne Dam, 17 May 1943

High Wycombe, 1 Feb 2013

Seeing this picture in my Dambusters series several people queried - or challenged - the fact that I have the lights pointing off to the right of the aircraft.

So I thought it was worth explaining this. It does not help that a number of aviation artists have in the past got this wrong, typically showing the lights either pointing straight down or off at an impossible angle when the aircraft are banked so as to remain pointing down. Both wrong. 

If you have seen the celebrated Michael Anderson film made in the 1950s about The Dam BustersTM you will know that clever old Guy Gibson was not only a wonderful team leader, pilot and dog owner but also a part-time engineering genius who cracked the problem of how to fly a Lancaster bomber at a consistent 60ft over water at night when no altimeter was accurate enough to measure this. 

Visiting a London theatre our hero notices how the two spotlights illuminating the star of a dance number track her to and fro across the stage at a precise distance from the front. Eureka. 

This might not be complete tosh in that I think I read somewhere that some of the aircrew claimed they had remarked on just this phenomenon.

Angles

But the solution for 617 Squadron's special Lancaster bombers in reality is down to a man who must have been paying attention in geometry lessons at Manchester Grammar School: George Pickard, who in 1938 was posted to the Royal Aircraft EstablishmentFarnborough. He designed a simple altimeter using two spotlight beams to help Coastal Command aircraft fly low at night to attack submarines. The device was recalled by Ben (later Sir Benjamin) Lockspeiser at the Ministry of Aircraft Production and applied to the Lancasters.

There is a formula for positioning two Aldis lamps on a Type 464 (Provisioning) Lancaster along the lines of d1 = [(h1 + 1 in) x tan 30° -0.7in] feet ... and so on. 

The upshot is that you have one in the front camera housing under the aircraft's nose angled 30° to the right and another at the back of the bomb bay angled 40° to the right but also forwards, in such a way that their beams form two adjacent circles in a sort of figure-of-eight arrangement out under the starboard wing at 60ft below.

This can be monitored by the navigator (but certainly not the pilot or the bomb aimer, who are rather busy) who then call out, "Up a bit, down a bit ... ". When the aircraft is too high, the rear spotlight's pool of light moves forwards and when it is too low it moves back. 

There is a small general arrangement drawing on the RAF Museum website. I would direct you to a better, scaled diagram as well except that I think my own picture above gets it just right so far as I can tell. A two-page explanation with graphics can be found in, of all places, the Haynes manual for the Dambusters' Lanc. - part of that series of theirs which, worryingly, does also include the Star Wars freighter Millennium Falcon and the Star Trek flagship Enterprise.

I digress. Maybe not though. The other big challenge in this latest picture was: what do tracer bullets look like? I think I will save that for another time.