Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Info sought on Seafire trials on the Clyde

I don’t have any details on the pic below, other than the note that came with it asking if we had any more info, and saying that it was of a Supermarine Seafire landing on HMS Illustrious while taking part in trial on the Clyde during World War II.

The Seafire (a shortened version of the name Sea Spitfire) was a version of the Spitfire which was modified in various ways to make suitable for use at sea and on carriers.

Most notable of the changes were folding wings to allow the aircraft to be stowed, and an arrester hook to assist with deck landings.

From what I’ve read to date (and that is little) it seems that the creation of Seafire was not the best idea someone had ever had. While the idea of a short-range interceptor was a great idea on land, the very elements that made it so were a liability at sea, and many of the developments made to the Seafire were based on overcoming those problems. Short range, limited weapons load, and short endurance are significant disadvantages at sea, but easily dealt with on land. The Spitfire was a tail-dragger (as opposed to having a tricycle undercarriage), which made it hard to land at low speeds on deck, as such aircraft want to glide on and on forever – the configuration also resulted in restricted forward visibility for the pilot (many would open the cockpit and look out of the side to get an idea of where they were, there simply being no forward vision when taxiing. You can in fact see this problem clearly illustrated in the photograph below. The narrowness of the original undercarriage did not help stability, and it seems the engine was so powerful that the draft made the aircraft swerve on deck, even with full opposite rudder applied to counteract such adverse yaw effects arising from the engine.

But it was war, and such aircraft were needed at sea to help defend against enemy aircraft, so even with its problems, the Seafire still had a job to do while specialised aircraft were being developed for the job.

I can vouch for all the landing problems with a tail dragger, after ‘learning’ to fly in Flight Simulator (always in full realism mode and with all the toys/aids turned off). When you are used to seeing the runway ahead at all times, and to landing with a flare, coming down in my first tail dragger was a nightmare. The runway disappeared from view as the angle of attack rose to as the airspeed fell, and the very first time I tried this exercise I thought I was never going to touch down as the glide just carried on and on and on, seemingly forever (you end up in ground effect, a phenomenon that acts to reduces the aircraft’s stall speed, extending the glide yet further, particularly in low wings), until I rotated the aircraft slightly and killed the lift and set it on the ground. Anyone who could bring a Seafire down onto an aircraft carrier and catch the arrester wires had to be an expert. It seems that many failed – coming too fast. If they were lucky, they missed and could go around for another try. If not, they would catch the wire… and ended up tearing the tail off the aircraft.

It looks like a subject worth reading into.

However, our interest is more in the local events that may have taken place on the Clyde while trials were carried out on the Seafire.

If anyone has pointers to where further information, and maybe even some more pictures may be found, we’d be grateful to hear of them.

It’s just occurred to me that there was a DLT (deck landing training) school at HMS Condor, the FAA (Fleet Air Arm) Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Arbroath, which would probably have been in involved in some of the early training. At such schools, deck landings could be practised in relatively safe circumstances, using land based decks created on the runway. Pilots might still have accidents while trying to catch the arrester wire, but at least would not end up in the sea as a result.

With no features to give the location away, this picture could be almost anywhere, but according to the info that came with it, it is a HMS Illustrious carrying out Seafire trials on the Clyde:

Seafire Clyde trials

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January 5, 2013 - Posted by | Aviation, Maritime, Naval, World War II | , , ,

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