By Charlie Trumpess, 03-Oct-2013 19:58:00
Very loosely based on the trials and tribulations of Sir Geoffrey de Havilland and the de Havilland Aircraft Company, the 1952 movie The Sound Barrier is a fascinating, albeit fictional, snapshot of the UK’s aviation industry following WW2. Written by Terence Rattigan, directed and produced by David Lean, The Sound Barrier tells the tale of a British aircraft manufacturer and its autocratic boss John Ridgefield played by Ralph Richardson. Ridgefield single-mindedly determines to produce the world’s first supersonic jet fighter. The steely-eyed industrialist Ridgefield, based on Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, will stop at nothing to see his ambition realised.
The first victim of Ridgefield’s dangerous obsession is his son Christopher (Denholm Elliott) who is killed on his solo flight. Next, his daughter’s husband and company test pilot Tony (Nigel Patrick) crashes the prototype Prometheus fighter (nicely played by a Supermarine Swift) and is also killed. Finally, the sound barrier is broken by company test pilot, ex-Spitfire pilot and all-round-good-egg Philip Peel (John Justin). It’s the last section of the film that remains in the public consciousness and has become something of an urban myth: that an aircraft’s controls behave in reverse as it reaches Mach 1. Naturally, the hard-hearted Ridgefield is finally reconciled with his widowed daughter (Ann Todd), and they live happily ever after. Of course, things didn’t turn out quite so rosily for Britain’s aviation industry.
Besides its entertainment value, the film is interesting for a number of reasons. It’s clearly a piece of marketing propaganda for Britain’s aircraft industry. The various jets used in the film all receive star billing in the opening credits, as do the test pilots. The film also uses real events, such as the death of Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr., to illustrate key points about the dangers and importance of staying ahead in the new jet age. Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr. was killed in 1946 testing a de Havilland DH 108 "Swallow". To underscore the commercial opportunities and benefits of jet-powered flight, test pilot Tony takes his wife Susan for a quick flight to Cairo in a de Havilland Vampire fighter and then hitch a ride home in a de Havilland Comet – the world’s first jet airliner. The couple make the round trip to Egypt and back in less than a day.
Later in the film the maniacal John Ridgefield walks through his factory stocked with shiny, new Comets just waiting for customers. In retrospect the scene is chilling, as the Comet was to suffer a number of catastrophic failures and two high profile crashes in 1954. The Comet disasters are often blamed for the terminal decline of the UK’s commercial aircraft industry, which is almost certainly unfair. The Sound Barrier is definitely worth a look and is available on DVD. One last thing, Britain didn’t actually break the sound barrier, although our technology helped. The credit goes to American test pilot Chuck Yeager who broke the sound barrier in level flight on 1 October 1947 in the Bell X-1.
Watch a clip of The Sound Barrier on YouTube
By Charlie Trumpess, 30-Aug-2013 12:38:00
It’s been a busy summer. We’ve been to numerous military history and re-enactment events such as The War and Peace Revival, The Military Vehicle and Flying Machine Show and Military Odyssey. It was my first time at Military Odyssey this year. The show is promoted as the world’s largest multi-period military re-enactment show, and featured everyone from the ancient Greeks and Romans to Japanese samurai warriors, American Civil War, Zulu Wars, WWI and WWII groups. There was a smallish scattering of WWII armoured vehicles including the mock StuGs and Panzer IIIs of the LSSAH. Next on the list is the Duxford air show on September 7th, 2013.
You will find plenty of photos of recent military history events on my Flickr photostream.
You can also see videos from War & Peace Revival, Military Vehicle & Flying Machine Show and Military Odyssey on my YouTube channel.
Beside the military history events, I’ve been playing a couple of fun WW2 themed games on my iPhone. Developed by Hyperspace Ltd, The Dambusters is 3D flying game inspired by the famous WW2 bombing raid on the great dams of the Ruhr Valley, Germany 1943. You get to fly the iconic Avro Lancaster heavy bombers of 617 Squadron, and must drop your bouncing bombs exactly 420 yards from the dam walls at 60 feet. The game is easy to play, using the native functionality of the iPhone to enable you to pilot your aircraft to and from the target. You must fly at ultra-low level and avoid various obstacles such as electrical pylons, search lights and anti-aircraft fire or flak. The game offers various levels of difficulty, practice mode, history on the raid, and even features Eric Coates stirring music from the Dambusters movie.
Visit The Dambusters game site: http://www.thedambusters.co.uk/index.html
Sky Gamblers: Storm Raiders
Keeping with the WW2 aerial combat theme, I’ve also been playing the free version of Sky Gamblers: Storm Raiders on iPhone. The game offers excellent quality graphics, is very responsive and uses real WW2 combat aircraft and locations. The game really feels like something you’d normally play on a PC or console. However, if I have one criticism, it’s the game has tried to replicate the joystick or paddle controls using numerous on-screen buttons and icons. The result is the screen is a little cluttered, and the controls don’t always respond by touch as desired. Otherwise, it’s a great game. I’m playing on an iPhone 4 so I’m not getting the benefit of iCloud or AirPlay to save and play on multiple devices or play on a big screen Apple TV.
Take a look at Sky Gamblers: Storm Raiders: http://www.atypicalgames.com/StormRaiders/index.html
By Charlie Trumpess, 29-Jul-2013 17:19:00
Not A Promising Start
A new venue for The War & Peace Revival, RAF Westenhanger, Folkestone Racecourse, after 25 years at the old one. We arrived just after 9am on Saturday morning to be greeted by absolute chaos: a massive, disorganised queue. Visitors had no idea if they were in the right queue or why they had to queue in the first place. The whole thing was ridiculous. Anyway, after waiting for nearly an hour we finally arrived at the ticket office. Yet another feux pas, a spelling mistake on the signs that informed visitors of the ticket prices. Apparently if you were a “veteren” you got a discount. Not sure what our veterans thought about this – but not a great start.
Anyway, once inside things looked up. The permanent facilities provided by the racecourse made it easy to get a cup of tea and take a refreshment break. However, lack of decent signage and poorly informed staff made finding particular exhibits, even with the show guide and map, difficult. On the plus side, the arena shows were excellent. The Vietnam War re-enactor’s highly entertaining display called Rolling Thunder pitched US Special Forces against the Viet Cong. The mock napalm strike was something to see and we could feel the heat from 100 yards away. The .50 calibre heavy machine gun was also impressive.
We spent a good deal of time with the WWII German re-enactors, and were very impressed by the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) encampment. Mock StuGs, Panzer IIIs, and a Panzer V (Panther) plus PAK 40 and a wide assortment of wheeled reconnaissance vehicles and terrific array of small arms. The Waffen SS re-enactors would also put on a good show in a large-scale mock WWII battle at the end of the day.
As well as the vast collection of military vehicles and terrific living history encampments, the other popular side of the show is the huge collection of traders. As well as the traditional militaria traders the show has greatly expanded the vintage fashion side of the event. In fact, there was so much to see just walking round the trade stands could easily take a whole day.
WWII in Colour
Toward the end of the day the crowds were treated to a great WWII mock battle, entitled The Heroes Last Stand. The battle featured a number of the German LSSAH panzers, a tank destroyer and panzer grenadiers. The American troops arrived by jeep and were supported by mortars, a half-track, Sherman tank and M10 tank destroyer.
By the end of the day I’d taken over 90 photos and about an hour’s video. We’d also done a little shopping at the trade stands, and had forgotten and forgiven the unpromising start to the day. Overall, the event remains one of the best in the WWII living history calendar, and well worth a visit next year.
Photos and Video Footage
You can view all my photos on Flickr now.
You can also see my two videos of the day by visiting my The War Years channel on YouTube.
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