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Naval Aviation

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Since the earliest days of Naval aviation, an aircraft carrier always had at least one “planeguard” destroyer following close astern while she was operating her aircraft, ready to pick up aircrew after an accident. On “Thesus” final patrol off Korea early in 1951, the destroyer was replaced by a helicopter. In Korea, helicopters demonstrated the full range of their versatility. They not only rescued ditched or crashed aircrew, but evacuated wounded to hospital, acted as aerial staff cars carried mail or blood plasma to units in the line and ships at sea, spotted for bombarding ships, buoyed a crashed MiG in a river estuary and then guided recovery vessels to the spot.

The Royal Navy had become interested in helicopters during the World War II and the first Sikorsky R-4 Bs arrived from America in January 1945. The Navy Helicopter training squadron,705, formed in May 1947 to fly the Hoverfly I, as the R-4 B was named. But it was a primitive and under-power design. The Royal Navy’s fist “real” helicopter was the Sikorsky S.51, built by Westland under, as the Dragonfly.

The Royal Navy’s fist operational helicopter squadron 848, equipped with the Sikorsky S.55 the Whirlwind, was formed in October 1952 for operations in Malaya, where they arrived in January 1953 and transformed the tactical situation on the ground. One whirlwind could take five fully- equipped soldiers and them in 12 minutes to a position in the jungle which would have taken them 12 hours to reach on foot.

The first controlled landing by a true jet aircraft was made on 3 December 1945, off the Isle of Wight, when Lt Cdr “Winkle Brown landed a Vampire I on “Ocean’s” flight deck. Two days of trials, with 15 take offs and landings, convinced the high –ranking spectators embarked that jet flying from carrier was feasible. The Royal Navy’s first operational jet was the 590 mph (950Kph) “Supermarine Attacker”, which began carrier trials in 1947. 800 squadron was equipped with “Attacker” F.ls in August 1951. the “Attacker” and the “Sa Fury” were both replaced in 1953 by the 560mph (900Kmh) “hawker Sea Hawk” jet fighter for anti-submarine warfare, the “Fairey Gannet” entered frontline service in 1955. The Royal Navy’s strike aircraft of the 1950s was the 308mph (611Kmh) “Westand Wyvern”.

Higher landing speeds and heavy aircraft made obsolescent and dangerous the traditional flight deck layout, with arrester wires, crash barriers and the forward half used as deck park for other aircraft.

The solution was simple: slew the direction of the approach and landing a little to port, so that an aircraft which missed the wires could put on the power, take off and go ground again. The first experiments were made by painting new line on the flight deck of “Triumph”. Further trials required an extension of the flight deck out to port and realignment of the arrester wires. After trials the angled deck was adapted for all carriers, first with a 51/2 degree “interim” deck, then by a full 101/2 degree angled deck.

The mirror landing aid, where by the pilot himself could monitor his own approach, consisted of a number of while lights, shining into the curved inner surface of a concave mirror. The pilot flew so as to keep this apparently horizontal line of white lights, aligned with green datum lights fixed on the sides of mirror. The pilot could see by the lights whether he was too high too low? Or correct. The “mirror” was adjustable, to give different flight approach paths different aircraft and gyro-stabilized, to compensate for the ship’s motion.

The “mirror” was introduced into service in 1954, the same yea as the third British flight-deck innovation of the 1950s, the steam catapult, that worked by using steam from the ship’s min boilers.

“Ark Royal”, commissioned in 1955, was the first British carrier to have operational stream catapult.


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