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Friday, May 31, 2013

D.B. (the first one)

This is the first of what might become a series.    When I was a child, and even today, many of my heroes were pilots.  Since I was born in the late 1950s, pilot stories of my youth were dominated by World War II, which to me seemed ancient history - but with the advantage of experience and histrical context I now realize it had only recently ended and shaped much of the world I grew up in.  In many ways the history of the 20th century can be seen as one long struggle between the rising powers of Russia, Germany, Japan and the USA, with the declining powers France and the British and Ottoman Empires, starting in 1870 with the newly unified Germany defeating France, and not ending until the fall of the Soviet Union and collapse of the Warsaw Pact in 1989 and 1990.

I spent my childhood and got my education in England, and have spent nearly all my adult years in America.  Initially my flying heroes flew for the RAF and RCAF, and only later did I learn much about America's flying heroes Dick Bong, Hub Zemke and others.  By the way, for my American readers, did you know Charles Lindbergh was the 27th person to fly across the Atlantic?  He wasn't even the first to do it non-stop?  He just had better PR.  Later still I learned about Luftwaffe aces Macky Steinhoff, Adolf Galland and Eric Hartmann, and Japanese aces like Subaro Sakai.  It took years to realize that they weren't necessarily better men, or even better pilots - they were better warriors.

So I'm going to introduce you to a British ace who was a better pilot, and a great leader and fighter.  As a man he had his flaws, but sometime history rises to meet the person and shows his or her greatness.  British and Canadians know him, but most Americans do not.

Douglas Bader was born in 1910 in England, although his parents, like many of the time, lived in India, where they returned almost immediately after his birth, leaving him with relatives.  Only after two years did he rejoin his mother and father in India.  Shortly before World War 1, the family returned to England, and soon afterwards Douglas' father was wounded in the trenches and later died.  His mother re-married to a church of England clergyman, and Douglas was sent off to boarding school.  There he neglected his studies, but became a well regarded sportsman, playing Cricket, Boxing and Rugby with fervor.

When it came time to leave, he determined to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) as cadet at Cranwell, the RAF officer training school.  He had to take extra lessons to pass all the academic criteria, but succeeded and won a full scholarship.  At Cranwell he learned to fly and to pass the technical ground school, and again excelled at sports - stubborn, arrogant and cocky, he was selected for fighters and was posted to 23 squadron in 1930, flying Gloster Gamecocks - a slow but agile biplane little different from World War I fighters like the Sopwith Camel.

In those days squadrons were also training schools, and his flying training continued - and Bader excelled at that too.  By the next year he was selected to fly in the RAF's precision flying display at the Hendon Air Day - a precourser to the Red Arrows formation flying displays at Farnborough.  He was also selected to play cricket and to box for the RAF teams, and to play rugby on the England national team.  Before that game could take place however, his cockiness and unwillingness to back down from challenge caught up with him.  Challenged to do low level aerobatics at Woodley Aerodrome near Reading England, he initially declined, and when accused of being "windy" he angrily took up the challenge and crashed performing a low level roll.

The wreck pushed the rudder pedals through his lower legs.  At Reading hospital, both legs were amputated - one above the knee and one below.  When ready, he was fitted with two artificial legs - but stubbornly he refused to walk with a cane.  The RAF sent him to Central Flying School to see if he could still fly, which he succeeded at brilliantly, despite having no feeling in his (artificial) legs.  Because the RAF had no regulation permitting a legless man to fly, he was re-assigned to ground duties, and finally left the service with a pension, 100% disabled.

Bader got a job in the City of London working for Shell Oil, in their aviation fuels office. While recovering from his accident, he had met his future wife Thelma, and they married.  His competitive drive undimmed, he took up golf (and became good enough to play in pro-am tournaments) and unbelievably, squash - a game played with racquets and a bouncy ball in a small room, very similar to racquetball.  In 1938, the RAF started rapid expansion, and Bader got confirmation that they would take him back if war made it necessary - he started praying for war with Germany.  It came on September 3rd, 1939.

Bader rejoined the RAF and was sent to flying school, and passed rated as "exceptional".  He passed his medical, but retained his disability pension - officially 100% fit and 100% disabled - at the same time.  He was posted to 19 squadron as a very elderly Pilot Officer (2nd Lieutenant), flying Mark 1 Spitfires.  He was rapidly promoted to Flying Officer, and was sent to 222 squadron as flight commander, also flying Spitfires, just in time to cover the British Armies evacuation at Dunkirk.  There he shot down his first aircraft, a bf109 and probably shot down a Heinkel 111.  Or probably not - over-claiming was rampant in the RAF, especially over enemy held territory.  The RAF over-claimed about 3 to 1, about the same at the US Army Air Corp fighter pilots. 

File:Douglas Bader.jpg

RAF 242, a Hurricane squadron was withdrawn from France soon after, and its Canadian pilots lacked a squadron leader, the last being killed in France.  Placed in 12 Group it needed a strong leader, and Bader was transferred as acting Squadron Leader (Major).  The role of 12 Group was to guard the English industrial midlands from air attack, and to back up 11 group in the south.  Flying alone in bad weather, Bader soon shot down a Dornier 17 bomber off the coast of East Anglia.  Finally, in August 1940, 242 squadron was thrown into the Battle of Britain, asked to cover the North London sector.
 The squadron did well - the experienced Canadian pilots experience and skill worked together with the calm, confident leadership of Bader to become extremely effective, and Bader was given operational command over first three, then five squadrons, which he operated as the "12 Group Big Wing".  12 Group had the luxury of time to gather a big wing, being further from the French coast, while 11 Group operated their squadrons singly, or in pairs.  Even so, 12 Group was often late arriving, hitting the bombers after they had bombed their targets.  Since many of these targets were 11 Group airfields, some bad feeling arose between the group leaders, Leigh-Mallory of 12 Group and Park of 11 Group.  The 12 Group fighters way over-claimed, but being hit by up to 60 British fighters at once demoralized the German pilots.  Finally Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to attack London, bringing the bulk of the fighting within range of Bader's squadrons, who feasted on the often unescorted medium bombers.

By the end of October, the Battle of Britain was winding down, and the Chief of Fighter Command, Sir Hugh Dowding, retired. Leigh-Mallory was chosen to replace Keith Park as head of 11 Group, and he brought Bader with him.  Douglas was promoted to Wing Commander (Colonel), and given command of the three squadrons based at Tangmere, on the South coast.  In the spring of 1941, the RAF began offensive operations, the daylight bombing of occupied French facilities and airfields near the coast (the RAF was also night bombing Germany, rather ineffectually).  The Tangmere wing was called on to escort them, and to perform fighter sweeps over Northern France.

At this point, Bader introduced his most important innovation, the "Finger Four" formation.  It was derived from a German formation, but was modified for the British way of operating.  The Finger Four was flexible, suited for both offensive and defensive maneuvering. This formation replaced the line astern and 3-plane "vic" formations used by the RAF before, and was later adopted by the US Air Force and used all way into the Vietnam era, before being replaced by the "loose deuce" and "fighting wing" 2-plane formations used today.

Tired and overdue for a rest, in August 1941 Bader allowed himself to become separated from the rest of his wing, and was shot down (he always claimed a Messerschmidt 109 collided with him, but the evidence is that he was shot down, possibly by one of his own pilots).  One of his legs got stuck inside his Spitfire, and he bailed out with only one leg attached.  The Germans placed him in a hospital under guard, and the RAF dropped him a spare leg.  Mobile again, he escaped by climbing down knotted bed sheets from his 3rd floor window, but was recaptured the next morning, and sent to Germany and a POW camp.

He became an incorrigible annoyance to the German guards, baiting them and attempting to escape several more times.  He was transferred frequently, and narrowly avoided being part of the the "Great Escape", in which 50 POWs were murdered by the Gestapo.  With his record, he would likely have been one of those killed.  Finally, in exasperation, he was sent to "Colditz", an escape proof prison in a castle in a hill.  Several more escape attempts failed, and eventually he and his co-prisoners were freed by the US Army in 1945.

Returned to England, he was promoted to Group Captain, commanded the RAF's tactics school, and flew the first jets.  But the thrill of combat was gone, and Shell Oil recruited him back with the offer of a Vice President's title and his own private aircraft (his last one was a Beechcraft Bonanza).  He flew all over the world in his airplane, was knighted by the new Queen, and played golf against the very best.  In 1982, Sir Douglas Bader died after speaking at a dinner in the London Guildhall (where I had just received my bachelors degree in aeronautical engineering 17 months earlier, before moving permanently to the USA).  For more details, see the Wikipedia page here:

Bader was immortalized by Paul Brickhill in his book "Reach for the Sky".  As a teenager I read that book over and over.  I liked the flying parts the best, but now, having found a copy on Amazon, I am more taken with how brave, determined and stubborn he was, and how that was both an aid (he used them to learn how to walk on his "tin legs") and a hindrance (he refused to admit it if he was wrong).  The book became a movie starring British actor Kenneth Moore, and Bader himself authored a book on World War 2 fighter tactics, called "Fight For the Sky" (in my collection).

I also have a poster depicting his Spitfire Mk 5a and a bf-109F in combat in the spring on 1941, signed by Bader himself and his great war time enemy and post-war friend, General Adolf Galland.  It is hanging in the front hall.  I saw him once, from a great distance, at an airshow in Nottinghamshire.  But I recall being more interested in the Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft parked near him - I was 15.

By the way, my English Springer Spaniel is named Douglas - after this man.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Trip Planning

There's a big spring conference coming up in two weeks in Las Vegas.  I've attended nearly every one for the past 18 years (I missed 2000 because I was living in England at the time).  This is "Wireless 2013", put on by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, or CTIA.  Insiders usually refer to it at "CTIA", not by its official name.

CTIA 2013™ Logo

Normally I go representing my employer, to put on an exhibit, meet with customers, or speak in a "track", a series of presentations about some burning topic of the moment. Since I'm currently unemployed, I'll be representing myself, using my network to help find that next opportunity, and using my airplane to get there and back on my schedule and my terms.

From North Dallas to Las Vegas is slightly over 1,000nm direct, taking a few minutes more than 6 hours at 162 kts average ground speed.  But I won't be doing that for several reasons.  My V-tailed Bonanza holds 80 gallons in 2 tanks, 40 in each wing, but 6 gallons are unusuable and shouldn't be counted on, and I need to leave at least 30 minutes (VFR) or 45 minutes plus time to an alternate (IFR).  I normally plan on 1 hour reserve fuel at 15 gallons an hour, meaning I have 18 gallons unusable for planning purposes.  I can only plan on burning 62 gallons, or slightly over 4 hours before I have to refuel.

I'm getting older and need more of what are euphemistically known as "comfort stops".  My bladder range is between 2 and 3 hours, 2 being comfortable and 3 not. I've tried using various implements to take care of this in the air, but for some deep psychological reason it doesn't work for me.  So since I have to stop anyway, I generally try to plan legs at about 2.25 to 2.75 hrs with 3 hours being the maximum.  I fill up with fuel at each stop, so as one tank empties, the others are filling.  I'm never weight limited in the Bonanza, the limit to how much I can carry is usually based on the rear CG limit.  I can carry my wife Sally, Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the back, full fuel and about 80 lbs in the rear baggage compartment, leaving some 300 lbs of gross weight capability unavailable.

The service ceiling for the V35A Bonanza, according to the POH (Pilot's Operating Handbook) is 17,000 ft.  My real world operating ceiling, since I don't carry oxygen, is 14,000 ft for 30 minutes duration, or 12,500 ft indefinitely, in accordance with FAR part 91.211. I could carry an oxygen bottle with a cannula (that leaky tube they put under your nose in a hospital) to use the full range of altitudes, but the airplane performance goes down substantially after 12,000 ft, and I don't think it's worth the extra expense and complexity.  If I had a turbocharged or supercharged engine that could provide full power into the high teens and 20's, that would be different.  A straight line direct route from Dallas to Las Vegas would go over some pretty high terrain, with mountains over 10,000 feet.  My route will avoid anything over 8,000 feet.

Taking all of this into account, I'm choosing a route over El Paso and Phoenix.  It will add about 30 minutes, but the direct route, if I could fly high enough, would be in stronger headwinds, so the penalty isn't too bad at all.  I can expect better winds lower down.  

First leg: T31 (AeroCountry) direct to KPEQ (Pecos TX), 2 hours and 34 minutes, plus a few minutes of vectoring by DFW Approach.  Pecos has reasonably priced fuel, and the direct route doesn't go through any restricted airspace.

Second leg: KPEQ to E60 (Eloy Municipal), 2 hours and 55 minutes.  That's the long leg, and will go via the El Paso (EWM), Deming (DMN) and San Simon (SSO) VORs.  The reason for that route is that it avoids the military operations areas (MOAs) and most of the high ground, passing over Bassett Peak (7,660 feet MSL), the highest point of the the whole route.

Third Leg: E60 to Henderson, NV (KHND), 1 hour 40 minutes.  This leg needs some planning.  I'm thinking of going via the PXR (Phoenix) VOR, the MAIER intersection and Drake (DRK) VOR, because a route directly over the main airport would be least disruptive to the constant airline traffic approaching PHX from the East or West, especially if I can be up at 8 to 10,000 feet before South Mountain, a point commonly used by aircraft on a visual approach to Skyharbor.  It is relatively direct, with two nearly 7,000 ft peaks along the way.  There is a more direct route over low ground, but it has several MOAs along the way, and no planned airways - unlike the route I selected.  I doubt I would get ATC approval.

Altogether, this route avoids the highest mountains, has stops reasonably spaced, with good fuel availability, and covers 1,060 nm, only 50 more than direct.  And I get to fly my own airplane!