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Flight Lieutenant Eric Stanley Lock, DSO, DFC, Second World War British Royal Air Force fighter pilot in the cockpit of his Spitfire. The 26 swastika emblems denote his aerial victories.
During the Battle of Britain 188 RAF Allied pilots achieved the distinction of “ace” (five confirmed victories). Lock was the RAF’s most successful, shooting down 21 German aircraft, most of which were Messerschmitt fighters, during the summer of 1940.
Born in Shewsbury, Lock had joined the RAF in 1939 and was posted to no.41 squadron RAF Catterick, North Yorks, before redeployment to RAF Hornchurch, Essex.
On 17 November 1940 his Squadron attacked a formation of 70 Bf 109s that were top cover for a bomber raid on London. After shooting down one Bf 109, and setting another on fire, Lock’s Spitfire was hit by a volley of cannon shells, which severely injured his right arm and both legs. The rounds also knocked the throttle permanently open by severing the control lever, enabling the Spitfire to accelerate swiftly to 400 mph, leaving the Bf 109s in his wake. Badly injured and with little control and no means of slowing the fighter down, Lock couldn’t execute a landing or parachute to safety. He was in a perilous situation. After losing height to 2,000 feet, Lock switched the engine off and searched for a suitable crash site near RAF Martlesham Heath Suffolk, where he glided the stricken Spitfire down.
Lying in the aircraft for two hours, he was found by two patrolling British soldiers who carried him two miles on an improvised stretcher made from their Enfield rifles and Army issue winter coats—made after instruction from Lock. By this point, Lock had lost so much blood that he was unconscious, and so unable to feel the additional pain of being dropped three times, once into a dyke of water.
His final kill was recorded on 14 July 1941. Shortly after this photo was taken, he crashed into the English Channel having been hit by ground fire near Calais, France and was posted as missing in action.
He was never seen again.
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RAF Spitfire pilot, No. 610 Squadron recounts how he shot down a Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 110, Biggin Hill, September 1940.
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The Irvin Flying Jacket
As aircraft advanced during the Second World War, the altitudes climbed and the temperatures plummeted for pilots and aircrew.
Leslie Leroy Irvin (US inventor of the parachute rip cord system) responded to this by creating and manufacturing the heavyweight sheepskin Irvin Flying Jacket and provided them to the RAF during the Battle of Britain and throughout WW2 from the Irving Air Chute British factory at Letchworth.
A masterpiece of design, it provided maximum warmth, comfort and mobility in the cramped crockpit. The long sleeves were zipped accomodate gauntlets. The wide collar could be raised to provide insulation around the neck and jaw while a waist belt ensured draughts couldn’t reduce the pilot’s body temperature and his level of alertness.
The original jackets didn’t have pockets but it proved so popular Irvin had to enlist subcontractors to meet demand. When faced with scarce supplies of high-quality sheepskin resourcefulness often resulted in variations to the pattern.
Aviation Leathercraft [Moto-Lita] in Thruxton, now own the Irvin trademark and still make a faithful reproduction of the original jacket.
Leslie Leroy Irvin, was born in Los Angeles, California 1895 and became a stuntman for the fledgling movie industry. He made his first parachute jump at age 14 and was first to make the first free-fall decent in 1919 (breaking his ankle on landing).
He worked ambitiously on developing a parachute that could be worn by the user and operated by a manual ripcord. When Irvin demonstrated a silk version of his design in April 1919 in Dayton, Ohio he was awarded a military contract by the U.S. Army. What had begun as a prototype created on a borrowed sewing machine in Buffalo became the “Irving Air Chute Company” the world’s first parachute manufacturer. Irvin was 24 years old.
The company grew quickly. In 1925, the Royal Air Force ordered Irving parachutes for its airmen and Leslie Irvin moved to England to operate the factory in Letchworth. By 1939, 45 countries were using Irving parachutes worldwide, including Germany, which had confiscated an Irving factory.
The folding technique was patented and its bias construction gave it strength. A 24-ft. Irving chute was made of 24 silk panels, each manufactured in four sections cut on a bias, so any rips would quickly dead-end against a seam, which were 4-layers thick and sewn with a strong thread of a tensile strength: 8 1/2 lb.
In July 1940, as part of its promise to end U.S. dependence on silk (and Japan), Irving Air Chute delivered to the government an experimental order of parachutes made from DuPont nylon.
The Allied paratrooper landings on D-Day used Irving Air Chutes.
Irvin also designed and manufactured the original sheepskin Irvin Flying Jacket for the RAF pilots and aircrew during the Battle of Britain and the Second World War from the Letchworth plant.
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The Irving Air Chute Company, 1937. Photograph by Margaret Bourke-White
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Amy Johnson, born in Kingston upon Hull, Yorkshire, graduated from the University of Sheffield with a degree in economics and then worked in London as secretary to a solicitor. She was introduced to flying as a hobby, gaining a pilot’s “A” Licence in 1929 at the London Aeroplane Club.
With financial help from her Father she purchased G-AAAH a second-hand de Havilland DH.60 Gipsy Moth which she named “Jason”, not after the legendary Greek voyager, but after her father’s business trade mark.
In 1930 Johnson achieved worldwide recognition when she became the first woman pilot (an ”aviatrix” in the language of the time) to fly 11,000 miles solo from England to Australia, leaving Croydon on 5 May and landing in Darwin on 24 May.
Over the next 3 years Johnson went on to set records between England and Moscow, Tokyo, Cape Town and India. After recovering from injuries sustained in a crash-landing in Connecticut with her pilot husband Jim Mollison, the pair were feted by New York society and received a ticker tape parade down Wall Street. She divorced Mollison in 1938 and reverted to her maiden name.
During the Second World War, Johnson joined the newly formed ATA and transported Royal Air Force aircraft around the country. On 5 January 1941, while flying an Airspeed Oxford from Blackpool to RAF Kidlington near Oxford, Johnson went off course in adverse weather conditions. Reportedly out of fuel, she bailed out as her aircraft crashed into the Thames Estuary. There was a heavy sea, a strong tide, snow was falling and it was intensely cold. Lt Cmdr Walter Fletcher, commander of HMS Haslemere, dived into the water in an attempt to rescue Johnson and died in the attempt. Johnson’s body was never recovered.
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Around 7pm Thursday, May 6 1937 the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg approached the Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey. Her arrival had been delayed by local thunderstorms.
This was to be a Flying Moor - a high landing where the airship would drop its landing ropes and mooring cable, at an altitude of about 300 feet, to be then winched down to dock with the mooring mast.
At 7:25 pm as the ground crews grabbed the mooring lines, the Hindenburg caught fire and was quickly engulfed in flames.
A few witnesses reported seeing the fabric ahead of the upper fin flutter as if hydrogen gas were leaking; others saw flickering blue discharges — possibly static electricity, St Elmo’s Fire — moments before the fire appeared. Several eyewitness testimonies suggest that the first flame appeared on the port side just ahead of the horizontal port fin, and was followed by flames which burned on top. On board, a muffled explosion was heard and those in the front of the ship and the officers in the control car felt a shock, which they initially thought was a broken rope.
Observers believed it took about 34 seconds for the airship to be destroyed.
As the tail of the Hindenburg crashed into the ground, a burst of flame came out of the nose, killing nine of the 12 crew members in the bow. There was still gas in this section of the ship, so it continued to point upward as the stern collapsed down. The crack behind the passenger decks collapsed inward, causing the gas cell to explode.
Of the 97 people on board, 13 passengers and 22 aircrewmen died. A linesman on the ground was also killed. The majority of the victims were burnt to death, while others died jumping from the airship or as a consequence of smoke inhalation or falling debris.
Some of the survivors were saved by luck.
Werner Franz, the 14 year-old cabin boy, was initially dazed by the realisation that the ship was on fire. As he stood near the officer’s mess where he had been putting away dishes, a water tank above him burst open, and he was suddenly soaked to the skin. Not only did this snap him back to his senses, it also put out the fire around him. He then made his way to a nearby hatch and dropped through it just as the forward part of the ship was briefly rebounding into the air. He began to run toward the starboard side, but stopped and turned around and ran the other way, because the flames were being pushed by the wind in that same direction. He escaped the wreck with singed eyebrows and soaking clothes.
Passenger Joseph Späh, a diminutive vaudeville comic acrobat, smashed the window with his movie camera, with which he had been filming the landing. As the ship neared the ground he lowered himself out and let go at 20 feet above the ground. His instincts kicked in and attempted to do a safety roll when he landed, injuring his ankle nonetheless. As he crawled away a member of the ground crew slung Späh under one arm and ran him clear of the fire.
The four crewmen in the tail fin all survived. They were closest to the origin of the fire but sheltered by the structure of the lower fin. They escaped by climbing out the fin’s access hatch when the tail hit the ground.
Captain Max Pruss attempted to re-enter the wreckage to look for survivors. He suffered serious burns but after months of hospitalisation and reconstructive surgery he survived.
The disaster was the subject of spectacular newsreel coverage and Herbert Morrison’s impassioned recorded radio report from the landing field, which was broadcast the next day.
The incident shattered public confidence in the giant, passenger-carrying airships. The Hindenburg had afforded her passengers great comfort when travelling long distance, much like that of an ocean liner, but aircraft were already crossing the Atlantic and Pacific faster.
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The Hindenburg departed from Frankfurt, Germany on the evening of May 3 1937 on the first of 10 scheduled round trips between Europe and the United States. Its return flight was fully booked with many passengers planning to attend the coronation of King George VI in London the following week.
Except for headwinds that slowed its progress, the crossing of the Hindenburg was unremarkable. The airship was behind schedule when she passed over Boston on the morning of May 6 and her landing at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey was expected to be further delayed because of afternoon thunderstorms.
Advised of the poor weather conditions, Captain Max Pruss charted a course over Manhattan, causing a public spectacle as people rushed out into the street to catch sight of the airship.
After being notified at 6:22 pm that the storms had passed, the airship headed back to Lakehurst to make its landing almost half a day late…
Unknown Photographer, The USS Akron Under Construction, (1930)
The above Photographs show the USS Akron under construction at the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation “air dock” hangar in Akron, Ohio on Nov. 5, 1930. Because she was the biggest airship ever to be built in America up to that point, a special hangar was constructed and a team of experienced German airship engineers, led by Chief Designer Karl Arnstein instructed and supported design and construction of the ship. Unfortunately, The USS Akron had a relatively short lifespan. Shortly after midnight, in the early minutes of April 4,1933, the ship was hit by a series of strong updrafts and downdrafts off the New Jersey coast. Akron rose and fell in the strong winds, and while attempting to climb, the ship’s tail struck the water. With its control surfaces destroyed, Akron was lost, and the ship crashed into the ocean, killing 73 of her 76 crewmen and passengers.
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