Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Statue unveiled in memory of Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown – Britain’s Greatest Test Pilot

I have to confess I had no idea this statue existed, let alone was complete and set to be unveiled.

I came across Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown’s name on numerous occasions whenever I was investigation aviation related stories, and my attention became all the greater when I learned he was a Scot from Leith.

I did raise a page to his achievements in our Wiki, but it was really only a token gesture, so I could avoid being accused of not noticing him. There’s just too much to mention.

He even met Yuri Gagarin, and learnt how Gagarin ejected from his spacecraft and parachuted to Earth separately – something denied by the Soviets, and not revealed officially until some years later.

Episode 40: April 2nd 2011: Gagarin in London : Captain Eric Brown

As well as the summary, there are a couple of short video clips featuring him.

Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown

Edinburgh Airport has unveiled a statue of Eric “Winkle” Brown, Britain’s greatest ever test pilot.

The life-sized bronze sculpture outside the terminal was funded by former pilots from the Edinburgh University Air Squadron.

Prince Andrew revealed the statue on Monday (01 July 2018).

Sir Jon Elvidge, chairman of Edinburgh Airport, said: “Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown is someone who is synonymous with RAF Turnhouse, and is in turn a key figure in the history of what is now Edinburgh Airport.

“His achievement (sic) speak for themselves and the fact his remarkable career is still held in such high regard after all these years is testament to the man himself.”

Statue of Britain’s greatest ever test pilot unveiled

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02/07/2018 Posted by | Aviation, World War II | , , , | Leave a comment

Unveiling of Grangemouth Spitfire memorial promised for May 9, 2013

Spitfire and pilotOne of the items we latched on to some time ago (as in 5 years ago), was the arrival of a full size replica Spitfire in Grangemouth, due to be erected on the site where RAF Grangemouth had operated during World War II.

This was way back on Saturday,  September 13, 2008, when the unveiling of the replica was set to coincide with the opening of a memorial garden dedicated to those from the airfield who had died during the conflict. At the time, the unveiling was to take advantage of the Leuchars Airshow, (taking place on the same day) when the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight – Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire – would carry out a flypast at the unveiling, in tribute to air cadets killed while training at Grangemouth, and remembering the contribution of the hundreds of Polish pilots who developed their skills there as members of 58 Operational Training Unit (OTU).

The full-size replica Spitfire is described as an exact copy of the aircraft flown by 58 OTU Sergeant, killed in 1941 when his Spitfire came down in Avondale Estate in nearby Polmont. The replica will bear the distinctive markings and colours of the Polish 303 Squadron, which was the highest scoring foreign squadron in the Battle of Britain.

Unveiling ceremony 2013

At the start of April 2013, there was news that the replica had been joined to its wings, and the Grangemouth memorial would finally be unveiled on Thursday, May 9, 2013:

Every Remembrance Day Air Training Corps cadets from Grangemouth lay wooden crosses and poppies on the graves of Spitfire pilots and other air crew who died while flying with 58 Operational Training Unit.

Chairman of the Grangemouth Spitfire Memorial Trust Iain Mitchell said: “It’s fantastic what’s been achieved. The cadets managed to raise the money to crate the base for the Spitfire.

“She will really be going home again, I suppose you could say.”

The Spitfire is to be installed on Bo’ness Road, near what remains of the airfield.

Via WWII Spitfire memorial gets its wings at RAF Grangemouth

Ceremony completed on schedule

Thanks to one of commenters, Colin, we can confirm that the ceremony was successfully completed on the day:

The Spitfire was unveiled by cadets of 1333 (Grangemouth) Squadron Air Training Corps during a very impressive ceremony today, with representatives from Australia, Poland Defence Forces, Lord Lieutenant of Stirlingshire,  Provost of Falkirk District, the Central Band of The Royal Air Force, and the Queen’s Colour Squadron RAF.

In the news later:

The idea for the memorial came from cadets in the 1333 (Grangemouth Spitfire) Squadron Air Training Corps. It cost £100,000 which was raised through campaigns led by the Grangemouth Spitfire Memorial Trust.

Chairman Iain Mitchell said: “The young men who trained at Grangemouth were among the bravest the world has ever seen, and it is a huge honour for us to be in a position to commemorate their sacrifice with this stunning memorial. It’s the first of its kind in Scotland and we can’t wait to share it with everyone.

“This project has been five years in the making for us. Ever since the memorial wall went up in 2008 we’ve been trying to raise the funds to have the replica put up so to see it finally happen is a proud moment for all involved.

“The effort the cadets have put into this has been astonishing. This would not have been possible without them.”

The memorial aircraft is a replica of a Spitfire flown by 23-year-old Polish Sergeant Pilot Eugeniusz Lukomski who crashed and died in the Avondale estate in Polmont during a training flight in November 1941.

Via Grangemouth unveils Spitfire memorial to 71 pilots killed in WWII | Dundee & Tayside | News | STV

Supermarine Spitfire Mark 1 was unveiled by 100-year-old former aircraft mechanic John “Dinger” Bell in a public garden in Grangemouth, close to the site of a former RAF airfield.

Via Spitfire replica tribute unveiled in Grangemouth – Heritage – Scotsman.com

29/04/2013 Posted by | Aviation, World War II | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crashed wartime bomber saves climber

Avro LancasterThere was a remarkable story spotted in the news, relating the circumstance around the survival of a climber caught in an avalanche and swept down a mountainside in Fuselage Gully on Beinn Eighe, Torridon, last December (2009).

Although badly injured in the incident, the climber was saved when he came to a stop on hitting the remains of a propeller which had been lodged in ground after a Lancaster bomber crashed there a few years after the end of World War II.

The aircraft had left Kinloss and been on a training flight on March 14, 1951, when the crash took place on Triple Buttress on Beinn Eighe. All eight crew members on board lost their lives. Difficulties in recovering the bodies over several months would lead to the formation of RAF Mountain Rescue.

Most of the wrecked Lancaster is understood to have been destroyed in a later controlled explosion, but some sections of wing and its Rolls Royce Merlin engines remain.

A small brass plaque on part of the wreckage serves to remember the accident and those on board.

06/10/2009 Posted by | Civilian, World War II | , , | Leave a comment

Unusual wartime bomber restoration

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley

One of the things that truly irritates me is the selfish behaviour of souvenir hunters (and let’s not even go into the contemptible world of those that just want something to sell on eBay for a quick profit) who visit historic sites and sweep up finds and remains to decorate their coffee tables as conversation pieces. At a stroke they wipe out a historic reference, and possibly desecrate a war grave or memorial in the process, and denying anyone that follows the pleasure of visiting such a site by their action. By definition, the site and artefacts are lost for ever, as they cannot document, record, or publish the detail of their theft.

For that reason, I always raise an enquiring eyebrow whenever I see mention of aviation wreck sites, especially in the news, and hope the mention has arisen from official sources, rather the action of grave robbers.

In this case all appears to be well, and remote sites in the Scottish hills are being visited with the permission of the RAF to retrieve wreckage related to a specific type of aircraft – the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley twin engine medium bomber – as part of a specific reconstruction, The Whitley Project, which aims to reconstruct an example of the aircraft for museum display.

(Note the the link given originally has been withdrawn as geocities is no more. There is a related discussion here: Whitley_project : Messages.)

At present there is a gap in the RAF’s bomber history, the Whitley bomber preceded the well known and famous Avro Lancaster bomber, but there are no surviving examples of the type which was among the first (believed to actually be the first when it dropped leaflets over Germany on the first night of the war) to drop bombs on Germany. Until the arrival of the purpose-designed Lancaster, the RAF lacked a heavy bomber that had the required combination of both range and capacity to carry out such missions, and had to carefully balance the fuel and bomb load weights carefully to ensure its crews could reach their targets, and return home safely. This was further compounded at the time by the lack of a fighter with sufficient range to accompany and defend the bombers all the way to their target. The Whitley was later used to carry out anti-submarine patrols, then as a glider-tug, a training, and a transport aircraft.

At the outbreak of the war the RAF had 196 Whitleys on charge. ? Group, commanded by the late Sir Arthur “Mary” Coningham, was the only trained night bomber force in existence anywhere in the world. Although it was propaganda leaflets, or “nickels, rather than bombs that were dropped on Germany at first, the Group lost no time in starting operations, the first “nickeling” mission being flown by ten Whitley 111s from Nos. 51 and 158 Squadrons on the first night of the war. They dropped six million pamphlets over the Ruhr and north west Germany. They were the first aircraft to penetrate into Germany in WW11. The first bombs dropped by 4 Group’s Whitleys was on Borkum and Sylt, 12/13 December 1939.
April 2002 “Short Burts”, magazine. Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada.

Wreck sites in Glen Carron (Wester Ross), East Scareban (Caithness), and Glen Esk (Angus) have all been visited. Little remains at the Caithness site, where an aircraft of 612 Squadron Coastal Command crashed, but a section of turret outer ring is reported to have provided valuable information regarding construction.

The Glen Carron aircraft was lost while returning from raid on Cologne on February 26, 1941.

The Glen Esk aircraft was lost after departing from RAF Kinloss on May 26, 1944.

These aircraft were listed in the BBC News story relating to this item, but we can’t find them in any of the Scottish aviation wreck listing we have access to online, but at least five more are listed, together with more than 80 south of the border, although these will have been cleared, or picked clean, due to the greater population density around the sites.

16/03/2009 Posted by | Aviation, World War II | , , , | 7 Comments

Machrihanish airbase to be sold

Thousands of conspiracy theorists will be reading news of the sale of the former RAF, NATO, Cold War, MoD airbase, and by dismayed that one of their favourite sites – which they christened “Scotland’s Area 51” – is to be sold.

We look forward to their theories as to how the British, and Americans who they must be in cahoots with, will sneak out all the black secrets from the area without being seen, and how all the flying saucers and Top Secret, non-existent, craft that use the area are going to continue without this essential European staging post.

Then there’s the question of the “City Beneath the Runway”. Surely all the resources and peoples living and working down there are not just going to be abandoned. Or will there be another Mary King’s Close event, and the underground city will just be sealed off and forgotten, together with its occupants. This would, of course, conveniently eliminate anyone that might later run to the papers and sell their story and the secret.

(Your scribe used to work with US technical support staff who had been posted to NATO Machrihanish over twenty years ago, and the stories made for great laughter over a pint).

Meanwhile, back in the real world…

The MoD has given an undertaking to consult with the local community prior to completion of the sale, which will see twenty jobs lost, and Argyll and Bute MP Alan Reid has warned the base should not simply be sold to the highest bidder.

At the forefront of concerns is the future of Campbeltown Airport, which uses the western section of the of the former airbase for its operations, however the MoD has already stated that this operation is not threatened by their plans.

Those who will lose their jobs are currently employed as facilities management staff and security guards, however the MoD has said there may be opportunities for them to provide services to the existing tenants, or transfer their positions to the new owners. Campbeltown Airport operates from a section of the site which is leased for the purpose by Highlands and Islands Airports.

They couldn’t put the airfield at risk now, not with the luxurious developments and Machrihanish Dunes golf course moving towards completion, which are sure to depend on it to bring in wealthy visitors.

The airfield has a long military history, and can trace its roots back to World War I, when a small aerodrome with grass runways was established there to provide facilities for non-rigid airships (blimps) and fixed wing aircraft of the Royal Naval Air Service.

With the end of World War I in 1918, the military left the area, and the aerodrome became established as a civilian operation, serving the growing number of private and pleasure flyers, created from the ranks of those who had been trained to fly during the war, and were redundant as it ended. By the early 1930s, Midland & Scottish Air Ferries Ltd began to operate scheduled, commercial flights from the airfield, which had become known under a variety of names, including Campbeltown Aerodrome, which is simply the obsolete language form of Campbeltown Airport.

World War II

The outbreak of World War II saw the Royal Navy return to the area, requisitioning the original airfield and the area to its north. Sunley’s (an English construction company) began construction of the new airfield to the north of the existing site, on an area of flat land known as The Laggan. On completion, the new airfield opened as Strabane Naval Air Station, and named HMS Landrail on June 15, 1941, becoming RNAS Machrihanish on Monday, June 23, 1941. The old Strath airfield became HMS Landrail II, and continued to operate as a satellite of the new airfield.

The airfield was reactivated during the Korean War (1950 – 1953), and became operational from December 1, 1951 to December 1, 1952. During this period, squadrons used the area’s training facilities to practice their operations prior to embarking on HMS Indomitable in May, 1952. By 1953, the airfield had again been abandoned.

During the 1950s, tensions relating to the Cold War steadily grew in intensity, and this led to the next, and largest, development at Machrihanish.
The base was also home to a US Navy SEAL (SEa, Air, Land) Commando Unit, a twenty person team known as a Naval Special Warfare Detachment. The unit was located at the western end of the runway, together with the buildings and silos of the Weapons Facility. Three such units have been identified: Navy Special Warfare Unit One, Subic Bay, Philippines; Navy Special Warfare Unit Two, Machrihanish, United Kingdom; Navy Special Warfare Unit Three, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.

The need to maintain the base and facilities at Machrihanish gradually diminished during the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the Cold War effectively ended with the breakup of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.

After the Cold War

Operational activity at Machrihanish decreased rapidly in the early 1990s, and on June 30, 1995, the US Navy officially handed control of the base back to the MoD, which is now responsible for the site. Retained on a care and maintenance basis, the airfield could be reverted to military use in times of conflict or national emergency.

Update

On May 26, 2012, the BBC carried news of the sale of the site of the former base, for £1.

The land was bought by a local community group, a company owned and controlled by local people. Their intention is to use the site to reinvigorate the local economy near Campbeltown.

The Machrihanish Airbase Community Company wants to attract businesses to the areas and create jobs.

The site covers some 1,000 acre, and includes Campbeltown Airport and an often troubled factory involved in wind turbine manufacturing. The report by BBC Scotland suggests that both have signed long leases and are unaffected by this deal.

Former RAF Machrihanish bought for £1

07/10/2008 Posted by | Aviation, Cold War, Naval, World War I, World War II | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Spitfire memorial for RAF Grangemouth

Taking advantage of the Leuchars Airshow, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight – Lancaster, Hurricane and Spitfire -will carry out a flypast on Saturday 13th at the unveiling of a full-sized replica of a Mark 1 Spitfire which has been installed in tribute to air cadets killed while training at Grangemouth’s former RAF base, RAF Grangemouth, and remembers the contribution of the hundreds of Polish pilots who developed their skills there as members of 58 Operational Training Unit (OTU), during World War II. By the end of 1939, RAF Grangemouth was used solely as a Battle of Britain satellite airbase, strategically vital for the protection of the Forth Bridge and Rosyth Docks, where many of the Royal Navy fleet were based or repaired.

The full-size replica Spitfire being unveiled is an exact copy of an aircraft flown by 58 OTU Sergeant Eugeniusz Tadensy Lukomski, killed in 1941 when his Spitfire came down in Avondale Estate in nearby Polmont. The replica will bear the distinctive markings and colours of the Polish 303 Squadron, which was the highest scoring foreign squadron in the Battle of Britain.

The event also marks the opening of a memorial garden to those who died, and is located on ground granted on the perimeter of the original airfield, and has a wall featuring the names of each of the Polish fighter pilots who died at Grangemouth.

The commemoration has been organised by the 1333 (Grangemouth) Squadron of the Air Training Corps who began a campaign to trace the former cadet’s families in 2006.

Update

The original article above contained the following note:

Sadly, it seems that many who test flew the planes were killed during training as a direct result of the poor condition of the aircraft, which had been so badly shot up, but had to be used since new aircraft had to be sent straight into action to replace losses in battle.

This was based on material published by The BBC and the The Scotsman online, both of which contained the statement “Many of these planes had been badly shot up, one of the reasons that so many were killed in training accidents, and which both attributed the statement to Flying Officer Tom McMorrow, commanding officer of the 1333 (Grangemouth) Squadron of the Air Training Corps.

Further to correspondence and research detailed below, we are pleased to report that this statement was incorrectly attributed by those sources, as follows:

I have now received an official explanation! It appears that the C.O. Grangemouth A.T.C. in an interview quoted an extract from a book relating to accidents at another airfield flying elderly Blenheim Bombers. This is the basis of the story, He states that at no time was Grangemouth and its Spitfires implicated. Regretably this erronious version still is circulating on the Web. I received also a fulsome apology for the frustration felt by myself and ex-collegues relating as it did to our wartime service.

A. Paterson.

Secret testing at Grangemouth

Doing a little background reading, I found a report that the base had also been used for secret operations involving the spraying of gas, using Lysanders of 614 Squadron. The whole area around the base became a restricted area due to the stockpiles of mustard gas and the secrecy of the missions carried out. The restricted area took in the nearby town and the docks, and special passes were issued to all residents.

Although the name suggests mustard gas is the harmful component, it is in fact a liquid which can be dispersed as an aerosol, and persists where it lands, denying access to an area, and remaining dangerous for some some, being absorbed through the skin if picked up directly or on clothing, and not displaying any significant symptoms for some hours, by which time it is generally too late for effective treatment to be administered.

Employed during World Wars I and II, mustard agents are now regulated under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Three classes of chemicals are monitored under this Convention, with sulfur and nitrogen mustard grouped in Schedule 1, as substances with no use other than chemical warfare.

13/09/2008 Posted by | Aviation, World War II | , , , , | 36 Comments

Oldest veteran of WWI reaches 112

Spotted this in the news feeds this morning, and thought it worthy of mention.

Born on June 6, 1896, Henry Allingham has reached his 112th birthday, and the last surviving original member of the Royal Air Force, formed 90 years ago.

In his lifetime, he has seen six monarchs and 21 prime ministers, and is Britain’s oldest man, believed to be one of three surviving UK World War I veterans.

Mr Allingham is the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland in 1916 and also fought at the Somme and Ypres where he was bombed and shelled.

He joined the Royal Air Force when it was formed from the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and the Army’s Flying Corps in 1918.

His many medals and honours include the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the Legion D’Honneur – the highest military accolade awarded by France.

His birthday will be marked with a flypast by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, a parachute jump by the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team, and be attended by Air Vice Marshal Peter Dye (retd) and Vice Admiral Sir Adrian Johns.

06/06/2008 Posted by | World War I | , , , , | 1 Comment

Delays threaten Nimrod

RAF Kinloss in Moray is home to the country’s fleet of Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft, often referred to as ‘ageing’ in the media, it was due to to see the end of its service life in 2003. However, increasing costs and delays in the MRA4 replacement programme mean that it is now some eight years late, and £800 million over budget, leading MPs on the Commons Defence select committee to suggest that an order for eight replacement aircraft might as well be cancelled.

The (UK) Government has responded by stating that it remains committed to the MRA4 Nimrod replacement programme.

The current Nimrod MR2 has become of a matter of concern, with a number of relatively recent media stories referring to problems with the aircraft, and concerns over leaks in the fuel system. In September 2006, 14 crew members died (12 based at RAF Kinloss) when their aircraft crashed in service in Afghanistan.

Although the aircraft has seen considerable upgrading over the years, to extend its life, and the operator has said that it is operating satisfactorily, suggestions that the replacement programme be scrapped, without an alternative, have led to calls that such a move could put lives at risk if the existing aircraft are subsequently obliged to extend their operating lives even further than currently expected.

27/03/2008 Posted by | Aviation, military | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scottish UFO document release due

ufoInterest will be high in the coming weeks, as the National Archive prepares to release hundreds of MoD documents relating to UFO sighting reported across the country.

The files date back more than 10 years, and contain information relating to sightings reported by the public, together with any pictures or drawing they provided at the time, and a reference to any nearby air activity that may have been taking place at the same time. The files do not contain any scientific data, and the MoD has concluded in the past that such sighting can usually be attributed to natural phenomena, or known activity, leaving very few that may really be described as ‘unidentified’, but there are a few.

Bonnybridge is likely to feature significantly in the files, as this has been credited with being a hotspot for such activity, but one can help but wonder why the same people succeed in making sightings, and just why aliens (if we assume them to be the owners/source of the sightings) should be quite so careless as to let themselves be seen at just one spot, if they can hide themselves so well elsewhere. Ditto if it’s the military, employed in covert activities.

The sightings may be unidentified, but that doesn’t mean they don’t take place, nor does it make them alien, or conspiracies,

04/03/2008 Posted by | Civilian | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Air Transport Auxiliary honoured

ATA emblemFollowing an approach earlier this year from Nigel Griffiths, Labour MP for Edinburgh South, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced that the men and women who flew Spitfires and other planes between bases during World War II are to be honoured with a special merit award. Their job to ferry aircraft from the factories to the RAF’s airfields in Britain, freeing the RAF’s pilots for operations. The preservation of the status of the pilots as non-combatants was, initially, something of an obsession. So the aircraft were flown unarmed and usually without instruments, whose accidental loss to the enemy would have given away our marginal technological lead.

BBC News media feature.

The honour is in line with the announcement last year that the Land Girls of World War II were to receive a special badge.

The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was made up of old World War I pilots, injured airmen and well-to-do women who had private flying experience.

There are believed to be about 15 of the women pilots left, and 100 men, all now in their eighties and nineties. They also flew Hurricanes, Lancasters, Mosquitoes and other wartime aircraft. The female pilots were the only women from among the Western Allies to fly in the war.

Of flying Spitfires, Margaret Frost (87) said “You had to fly the Spitfires without any radio system, and the only way you knew you could land at an airbase was when someone stood on the runway with a green light rather than a red light.

154 ATA pilots lost their lives in services, many of them when their aircraft developed mechanical or engine problems while en route to their destination.

  • 164 women flew with the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA)
  • In the Second World War the ATA flew 415,000 hours
  • It delivered more than 308,000 aircraft of 130 types
  • It flew repaired, damaged and new aircraft between factories and active service airfields
  • Lord Beaverbrook, wartime Minister of Aircraft Production, said: “They were soldiers fighting in the struggle just as completely as if . . . engaged on the battlefront

Source: Times database

The most famous female member of the ATA was Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia in 1930, a journey of 11,000 miles. She joined the ATA in 1940 and was promoted to First Officer. In January 1941, while flying an Airspeed Oxford from Blackpool to RAF Kidlington in Oxfordshire, she was caught in poor weather and eventually the aircraft’s two tanks ran out of fuel. She clambered out on to the fuselage with her parachute and jumped, but landed in the Thames Estuary and drowned. A rescue attempt was made but her body was never recovered.

See also a review of the book Spitfire Women by Giles Whittell.

20/02/2008 Posted by | Aviation, World War II | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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