John Oliver Lancaster – a little about the first pilot to use a British ejector seat in an emergency and his Rolex watch

RICHARD MADDOX

THERE ARE OVER 700 RECORDS listed in IWM Collections’ ‘Post War British Aircraft’ photographs online.

Many are fighters and bombers that first flew in the Second World War – Avro Lancasters, Handley-Page Halifaxes and De Havilland Mosquitos.

Others are the first prototypes of aircraft that would replace them.

Yet more are transport aircraft – some designed to carry paying passengers glamorous destinations as opposed to troops to the far corners of the Empire.

There are trainers, gliders, helicopters, seaplanes and flying boats.

There are aircraft that sit nose up sniffing the air and ones that stand level with the ground, pointing at the horizon. There are jets and propeller-powered designs.

Some are strange insect-like concoctions – almost the doodlings of bored schoolboys done while their teacher explains the finer points of the Latin grammer or the formation of igneous rock strata.

And there are the deltas and tail-less aircraft and the ‘flying wings’.

Unlike the others they will never number in their hundreds or even tens. For they are purely for research.

One of these was the Armstrong Whitworth AW 52, designed to examine laminar flow (1) – the smooth and efficient passage of air over the wings – and as well as the concept of a tail-less aircraft, that is an aircraft which is without a separate fuselage – not just a tail assembly. (2) 

VIEWS OF THE Rolls-Royce Nene powered Armstrong Whitworth AW 52 (TS363).
A second aircraft (TS368) was powered by less powerful Rolls-Royce Derwent engines.
All images copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue references:
Main image – ATP 14842B (Original source – https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127427).
Top right – ATP 14842D (Original source – https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127426)
Bottom right –  ATP 14842C (Original source – https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127428)

By May 1943 aerodynamic calculations had proved the concept so an unpowered glider was built in March 1944 and made its first flight a year later, being towed aloft by a ‘tug’ aircraft. A series of flights followed with the glider being towed to a height of around 20,000 feet (just over 6,000 meters). (3)

From there the decision was made to produce a jet-powered version. This had a wingspan of 90 feet (27.4 metres). The first of two aircraft was complete at the end of 1946 but didn’t start flying until 13 November 1947.

Flying continued into 1948 and a second aircraft – this time with less powerful Rolls-Royce Derwent engines – took to the air 1 September 1948.

Considerable interest was shown by both the technical press and the general public – this being a time when British people took a great interest in aviation matters.

On 30 May 1949 Armstrong Whitworth test pilot John Oliver Lancaster was flying the first aircraft when – in a 320 mph (515 kph) dive – he experienced problems with the control surfaces.

A former apprentice with Armstrong Whitworth, Lancaster had served in RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War flying some 54 sorties before becoming a test pilot with a number of aviation firms, finally returning to Armstrong Whitworth. (4)

The plane increasingly started vibrating and wouldn’t respond to the controls. So violently did the aircraft shake that he thought it would break up.

Having pushed the dive correction buttons and wrestled with the controls to no effect he knew he had no choice.

He pulled the hood-jettison knob in front of him – and then made British aviation history by becoming the first British pilot to eject from an aircraft.

Using the what the company calls a pre-Mark 1 Martin Baker ejection seat he ejected over Southam in Warwickshire. (5)

Lancaster shot clear of his aircraft and in doing so became the first of 69 airmen to be saved by this manually operated early ejector seat. (6) The seat sent him some 24 feet skyward before a parachute opened on, enabling the pilot to undo his seat straps and free himself before opening his own  parachute.  (7)

After pulling the ripcord on his parachute landed  – badly bruised – but otherwise safe in a field. (8)

Afterwards the Martin Baker company presented their first user with an engraved gold Rolex watch to mark the occasion.  In 1975 the watch was stolen and thought lost for ever – or at least until 2014 when it turned up in New York.

Descendants of one of the firm’s founders – the Martin family – decided to purchase the watch and return it to Mr Lancaster. He in turn suggested that the watch be sold and the funds used to support the upkeep of the RAF Bomber Command Memorial in London, England.

Martin-Baker then bought the watch for a third time allowing Mr Lancaster to donate the money he received to the Memorial. (9) 

The watch is now in the Martin-Baker company museum.

John Lancaster celebrated turned 100 years old on 4 February 2019. (10) 

 

A little background information

  • The first working ejection seat was developed for the Luftwaffe with the first successful ejection being made on January 14 1942. (11)Helmut Schenk ejected from a Heinkel He 280 jet he was testing. The type of seat he used was installed in a variety of Luftwaffe aircraft. (12)
  • Martin Baker was originally an aircraft manufacturer until Valentine Baker (the co-founder of the company with James Martin) was killed testing one of the company’s aircraft in 1942. Deeply affected by his friend’s death James decided to dedicate the company’s future to aircrew safety. (13)
  • Much of the initial testing of the seats was done by Bernard Ignatius Lynch a fitter at the factory. (14)
  • For his pioneering work he was awarded British Empire Medal on 1948. (15)
  • To date 7595 lives have been saved in the seventy years since John Lancaster left his stricken plane over Warwickshire. (16)
  • Martin-Baker still presents watches to aircrew who have used the company’s seats to eject from a stricken aircraft. (17) (18) 

Sources

 (1) https://www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/laminar_flow_chat.html – retrieved 16 February 2019

(2) https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1948/1948%20-%200080.PDF – retrieved 16 February 2019. The rest of the article is available on the following PDFs.

https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1948/1948%20-%200081.PDF – retrieved 16 February 2019

https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1948/1948%20-%200083.PDF – retrieved 16 February 2019

https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1948/1948%20-%200084.PDF – retrieved 16 February 2019

 https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1948/1948%20-%200085.PDF – retrieved 16 February 2019

(3) https://airscapemag.com/2014/12/18/the-aw52/ – retrieved 16 February 2019

(4) http://thetartanterror.blogspot.com/2006/06/john-oliver-lancaster-dfc-ceng-fraes.html – retrieved 16 February 2019

(5) http://martin-baker.com/about/history-founders/ – retrieved 16 February 2019

(6) http://martin-baker.com/products/mk1-ejection-seat/ – retrieved 16 February 2019

(7) https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/tag/j-o-lancaster/ – retrieved 16 February 2019

(8) https://www.pprune.org/military-aviation/526300-john-oliver-jo-lancaster-dfc-ejector-seat.html – retrieved 16 February 2019

(9) https://www.theargus.co.uk/news/10760951.hassocks-bomber-command-hero-donates-historical-rolex-to-the-raf/ – retrieved 16 February 2019

(10) https://www.rafbf.org/news-and-blogs/raf-bomber-command-veteran-turns-100 – retrieved 16 February 2019

(11) https://www.wired.com/2011/01/0113ejection-seat/ – retrieved 16 February 2019

(12) https://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/asma/amhp/2017/00000088/00000008/art00017?crawler=true&mimetype=application/pdf  – retrieved 16 February 2019

(13) http://martin-baker.com/about/history-founders/ – retrieved 16 February 2019

(14) http://martin-baker.com/about/history-founders/ – retrieved 16 February 2019

(15)  https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/38161/supplement/36/data.pdf – retrieved 16 February 2019

(16)  http://martin-baker.com/ – retrieved 16 February 2019

 (17) http://martin-baker.com/merchandise/bremont-watch/ – retrieved 16 February 2019

 (18)  https://gearpatrol.com/2016/05/12/want-watch-eject-airplane/ – retrieved 16 February 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty seven years ago…

RICHARD MADDOX

THE FALKLANDS CONFLICT, APRIL - JUNE 1982 An Argentine Airforce Dagger aircraft visible between the masts of HMS FEARLESS in San Carlos Water, on 24 May 1982. The rear of the ship has been deliberately flooded so that landing craft carried aboard can be launched. Image Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue reference FKD 184. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205189469

THE FALKLANDS CONFLICT, APRIL – JUNE 1982 An Argentine Airforce Dagger aircraft visible between the masts of HMS FEARLESS in San Carlos Water, on 24 May 1982. The rear of the ship has been deliberately flooded so that landing craft carried aboard can be launched. Image Copyright: © IWM. IWM catalogue reference FKD 184. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205189469

 

MAY 2019.

IT IS THIRTY-SEVEN YEARS since the Falklands Conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom.

Look at the picture above. It shows a Royal Navy ship – HMS Fearless, a specialist assault ship in San Carlos Water, East Falkland Island on May 24 1982 and the ship from where the British landings were directed.

Officially classed as one of two landing platform dock (LPD) ships, the stern ramp on the Fearless has been opened and the rear of the ship deliberately flooded to enable some of the landing craft carried within the ship to be launched, accounting for why the forward end of the ship at the waterline is higher than the rear.

What looks to be a picture of nothing much happening is deceptive, for it shows the ferocity of the conflict and bravery of all who were caught up in it.

Why?

Look between the two masts of the ship. You will see two Royal Navy flags (ensigns) flying – one on each mast. The bigger one is the ship’s ‘Battle Ensign’ used historically for additional identification and also as a back up to the smaller one.

Traditionally if that was not seen it could signify that the ship had lowered its colours and surrendered. (1)

Now look by the box shaped structure at the base of the main mast.

Here is an attacking Argentine Air Force ‘Dagger‘ fighter-bomber aircraft, the sun glinting off its cockpit, its camouflage blending with the hills beyond.

So effective is the camouflage that golden-yellow panels were painted on the wings and tail as recognition aids for Argentine forces.

A long range fuel tank can be seen below the starboard wing as the aircraft banks towards the ship and the camera.

Even though the aircraft is equipped with two of these – one under each wing – it is flying at the very limit of its range, having flown from around 500 nautical miles from bases on the Argentine mainland. (2)

While still 100 miles away from the British ships the attacking aircraft would drop to around 30 metres above the sea.

This manoeuvre combined with the aircraft’s speed meant that the British had no more than 30 seconds to identify and fire their anti-aircraft missiles and guns – which were based both on the ships and ashore – at the attackers. (3)

These attacks were directed against the British warships – rather than the transports – in an effort to leave the latter less defended.

But the Argentine tactics worked in favour of the British. Thirteen of the bombs dropped did not have sufficient time in the air to arm themselves and – even if their velocity did cause damage – this was considerably less than if the bomb had detonated.

Such damage could even have put the whole operation in jeopardy. (4)

In 2002 HMS Fearless was withdrawn from operations. In December 2007the ship was towed to Belgium and scrapped.

Having been launched in Belfast in 1963 and commissioned in 1965 the ship spent 37 years in Royal Navy service. (5)

May 1982.

It is thirty seven years since the war in Europe ended…

Sources

(1) https://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/gb-nav.html – retrieved 8 February 2019

(2) http://www.academia.edu/1295394/Argentine_Airpower_in_the_Falklands_War_An_Operational_View Page 4 – retrieved 8 February 2019

(3) http://www.academia.edu/1295394/Argentine_Airpower_in_the_Falklands_War_An_Operational_View Page 10 – retrieved 8 February 2019

(4) http://www.naval-history.net/F62brshipslost.htm –  retrieved 8 February 2019

(5) https://hmsfearless.co.uk/?page_id=2493 –  retrieved 8 February 2019

 

Mother and child – a terrible vision that could have happened but thankfully never did

Richard Maddox

WEARING HER GAS RESPIRATOR a mother sits with her newborn baby. The child is almost totally encased in a C3 Baby Gas Respirator. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference D 3918. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205198677

WEARING HER GAS RESPIRATOR a mother sits with her newborn baby. The child is almost totally encased in a C3 Baby Gas Respirator. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference D 3918. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205198677

EVEN TODAY – almost eighty years since it was made – thie images in this post still have the ability provoke fear and sadness.

A new mother – perhaps unfamiliar with the responsibilities of motherhood – and sits up in a bed wearing her gas respirator (or ‘gas mask’).

Her face constricted by the rubber she reaches across and pumps air into a heavy and cumbersome metal and leather device that protects her new born baby.

Perhaps nearby is her midwife, her own mother. They are also wearing gas masks, their voices muffled and strange.

Perhaps outside bombs are falling, shouts and screams and shrill whistle blasts beating on the windows.

Perhaps too a light mist is rising from split bomb casings or sprayed from under the wings of low flying aircraft.

Thankfully the fears of such a gas attack – still fresh in the minds of many who had lived through the First World War and its immediate aftermath – being launched by either side were never realised.

But that same fear meant that regular gas drills were held by all the warring nations throughout the conflict.

Interestingly many of the photographic images of people – particularly civilians – wearing gas respirators in IWM’s Online Collections have been made with lighting and angles etc that emphaise the skull-like and robotic appearance of respirators.

Whether this was deliberate or something suggested with the luxury of hindsight is impossible to state for certain.

NURSES CARRY OUT A GAS DRILL AT A HOSPITAL, 1940. Wearing their own gas respirators nurses practice fitting babies into baby gas respirators and moving carrying them. The nurse in the foreground of the right-hand image is using the built-in carrying handle on the respirator used to carry the baby.

Both images Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue references (left) D 648 (right) D 654. Original sources (left) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194068 (right) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205197655.

Note that the nurses in the above images are all wearing the civilian – duty gas respirators which have a number of upgraded features over the standard or general civilian item as seen in the first image. (1)(2)

A brief look at the British C3 Baby Respirator.

A C3 BABY RESPIRATOR. It consists of a metal-framed helmet covered in rubberised fabric with a large celuloid transparent window within rubber mask. A hand-operated bellows pump is fitted to the side of the respirator. The infant is placed on a curved metal tray inside, enveloped in a folded flexible skirt that was secured tightly. A shoulder strap was fitted so that the baby can lie flat and be seen through the window. IWM catalogue reference EQU 3965. Original source https: www.iwm.org.uk collections item object 30016113.

A C3 BABY RESPIRATOR. It consists of a metal-framed helmet covered in rubberised fabric with a large celuloid transparent window within rubber mask. A hand-operated bellows pump is fitted to the side of the respirator. The infant is placed on a curved metal tray inside, enveloped in a folded flexible skirt that was secured tightly. A shoulder strap was fitted so that the baby can lie flat and be seen through the window. IWM catalogue reference EQU 3965. Original source https: http://www.iwm.org.uk collections item object 30016113.

The design of the standard civilian respirator was not suitable for children less than two years of age and a whole-body helmet-like device was developed to completely surround the baby.

With the child placed inside and secured, air was manually pumped into the helmet to create a positive-pressure barrier to stop gas from entering.

The respirator could be adjusted and worn as a helmet by children (up to about the age of five) who wear unable to wear the children’s version of the standard gas mask.

A NURSE at the Flint Green Road Nursery for Working Mothers prepares C3 Baby Respirators ‘in case of a gas attack’ (more likely a drill or a mock drill as the image is one of a series taken at the Nursery by a Ministry of Information photographer) at some point in 1942. The respirators are placed on low trays for use as children's beds. Each bed has a respirator and a blanket. The beds appear to be laid out in a cloakroom as evidenced by the numbered coat pegs, some of which have items of children’s clothing on them. The room is lit by a large mullioned windows. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference D 9064. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205199434.

A NURSE at the Flint Green Road Nursery for Working Mothers prepares C3 Baby Respirators ‘in case of a gas attack’ (more likely a drill or a mock drill as the image is one of a series taken at the Nursery by a Ministry of Information photographer) at some point in 1942. The respirators are placed on low trays for use as children’s beds. Each bed has a respirator and a blanket. The beds appear to be laid out in a cloakroom as evidenced by the numbered coat pegs, some of which have items of children’s clothing on them. The room is lit by a large mullioned windows. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference D 9064. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205199434.

Between 1936 and 1945 around two million C3 respirators were made. (3)

Flint Green Road Nursery for Working Mothers was in the Acock’s Green area of Birmingham, a key manufacturing city in Britain. The building continued to be used as a nursery until around 1980. General details can be found below at (4) (5).

Sources

(1) https://gasmaskandrespirator.fandom.com/wiki/British_Civilian_Duty_Respirator – retrieved 20 April 2019.

(2) https://gasmaskandrespirator.fandom.com/wiki/British_General_Civilian_Respirator – retrieved 20 April 2019.

(3) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30016113 – retrieved 20 April 2019.

(4) https://aghs.jimdo.com/sherbourne-road/ – retrieved 20 April 2019.

(5) https://www.search.connectinghistories.org.uk/Details.aspx?&ResourceID=1571&PageIndex=1&KeyWord=flint%20green%20house – retrieved 20 April 2019.