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& Bullets

Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.


With reviews of books that cover these topics


Awesome Beaver

As a spotty youth, and air cadet, I was privileged to be taught the basics of gliding. This took place at one of England’s most historic airfield – Old Sarum. I probably did not appreciate the surroundings – archaeology from Pagan, Roman, and Saxon times aplenty, as much as I should have. My gliding course at 622 VGS was on weekends from school and was blighted by bad weather. Flying the old Sedbergh and Tutor gliders, which were cabriolets so to speak, was not much fun in poor weather, even if one knew what one was doing – which I did not.


Fortunately Old Sarum was a military airfield, and there were other units on the site. Notably  the slightly secret squirrel Joint Warfare Establishment, and an Army Air Corps flight which operated the De Havilland DHC 2 Beaver. Trying to occupy youths frustrated at not being able to glide, the powers that be procured a Beaver flight for us – a huge adventure. We piled into the back – as I recall without even the luxury of seats, let alone seat belts. The Beaver is built with girders.


As Mike Brooke recently wrote (the review will be out shortly):

Starting the motor was a bit of a lottery and required a high level of ambidextrousness. After priming it with extra fuel, the starter flywheel was spun up electrically until the noise reached a treble C, then the  switch as moved to the engage position, ignition switches selected ‘on’ and the throttle opened slightly. The propeller spun up, encouraging pops and bangs emanated from the exhaust pipe, along with a good deal of oily smoke, and then the engine started to run more smoothly.


The 450hp of the Pratt & Whitney Wasp were unleashed, and (without headsets) the noise was deafening. Old Sarum is a rather convex hilly grass field, and we bumped into the air. It was handily placed (for Joint Warfare etc) on the edge of Salisbury Plain, so the AAC pilot released his inner hooligan and set off towards  the Army Training area. He must have been afraid of heights because I seem to remember we rarely rose above about 250’ – it was a rather thrilling introduction to what would now be called ‘nap of the earth’ flying.


copyright Paul Smiddy 15 May 2015


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