A six pack of Spitfires (and not the Kentish Ale variety) thunder low across the sea. Judging by their beard air scoops these are Spitfire "Trops", especially kitted out to deal with the dust and heat of the desert and other more southerly climes. Perhaps this is somewhere near North Africa, further evidenced by the open canopies on all the aircraft - to cool the pilots at lower altitudes. The shear thundering determination of this photograph speaks volumes, but one can almost hear the soundtrack in the background - perhaps the Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner. One wonders if the "photo-ship" is a B-25 Mitchell, still considered by photographers like Richard Allnutt to be the best platform for head on shots to this day (save perhaps the lowered ramp of a C-130 Hercules). RAF Photo
Over the past three years of Vintage News stories, there has been much research to verify facts and find images that help tell the remarkable stories of Canada's aviators. Throughout that time, I have come across many spectacular images which, though beautiful, have no bearing on the story being researched. For many months, I simply viewed these images on line and then moved on with my quest for illustrative photos.
About two years ago I started dragging these images into a new file folder and I called it Random Beauty. Into that folder, regardless of whether they were related to our stories or not, I dumped these powerful or revealing images, not quite knowing what I was going to do with them. Eventually, their numbers reached a critical mass and Vintage Wings ran a story - or rather a gallery of fifty or so of the best images - just for the sake of the image. I took the name of the folder on my hard drive where they were stored - Random Beauty - and that became the title of the article and indeed an annual feature of Vintage News.
The images range from the dramatically sublime, to the poignantly voyeuristic, to the almost artistic to the just plain quirky. Critical mass was achieved earlier this year for the third time, and I knew that these photos should be shared even though they do not necessarily jive with our goal to promote Canadian aviation history. If for no other reason than that they paint a dramatic landscape of the beauty, the violence and the determination of military aviation, we present them here.
Most photos in this group are from the Second World War since they were found during photo searches for that period, but some are not. As well, since this past year we did a lot of research into Naval aviation in anticipation of the Centennial of the Canadian Navy, so I ran across many many great Naval air shots - some of which are below. A few are not for the faint of heart, and capture a moment of extreme stress and even death. So a word of caution before you scroll down.
It will be our goal to do one of these Random Beauty pieces at least once a year. Enough blather - the photos tell a powerful story. I apologize to all those whose photos I have "lifted" and for whom I have not asked permission, but I am going under the military adage - "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission".
Let's, as I always say, let the photos do the talking.
A couple of years ago while researching Harvard paint schemes for our High Flight Harvard, I came across this marvelous and rare colour image of a busy winter day at No. 14 Service Flying Training School at Aylmer Ontario. Shot for Life magazine, this image thunders with two yellow Harvards moving out together on a miserable day to keep the supply line of new pilots flowing. It is perhaps the best and most telling image of BCATP life I have ever seen. The shot seems to have been taken from perhaps the top of a moving fuel bowser, providing the viewer with a unique image of moving aircraft... From in front! Whenever I see the serials on Canadian aircraft, I rush to the computer and to R. R. Walker's wonderful RCAF Serials website to trace its history. Just so you know, the lead Harvard, No.3066, was built by Noorduyn, taken on strength at Aylmer on August 6th of '41. Four weeks later it suffered Category C damage, but was repaired and put into service. This photo was taken either in the winter of '41 or '42, as 3066 was struck off service in June of '43 and broken up for spares. Photo via Life
Another training shot - this time showing a student in the front seat of a T-6 Texan taking off from a sunny airfield in the American coastal South - possibly Pensacola. The clarity of the air, the hot sun shining and the open canopies (in fact, completely removed in the rear) speak loudly of the joys students must have had learning to along the Gulf Coast... Stark contrast to the nasty weather and miseries offered up at Canadian training bases which we saw in the previous photo. USAAF Photo
When scouring the web for supportive images, I run across similar visual themes all the time. One oft-recurring image is that of post-D-Day aircraft tearing over the French countryside either looking for or returning from trouble. Here, a Douglas A-20 Havoc of the US Army Air Force makes her way home. It is not the fact of the mission that grabs me every time, but rather the simple juxtaposition of the striking and symmetrical "Wasp Wings" graphics with the willy-nilly layout of the bucolic farmland below. USAAF Photo
Nothing says muscle to me more than the Martin B-26 Marauder, the Chevy SS of Second World War aircraft - Small, over-engined, fast and dangerous. And just slightly ugly in the ugly-is-good sort of way (Bf-109, F-4 Phantom and de Havilland Buffalo also fit this category). Close inspection reveals the reality of invasion stripes - they were put on quickly without regard to accuracy or neatness - witness the off-kilter line work on the port wing stripes. In addition, the photographer managed the "complete propeller disc", an effect most real aviation shooters these days strive to capture since this is what the eye would perceive and not stopped blades. This requires shooting at slower shutter speeds, which would normally result in blurred images when shooting from the bucking tail of a photoship. Modern shooters with all their sophisticated cameras still seem to find the "disc effect" elusive. USAAF Photo
At first, I thought "Wow.. I just found an example of ground crew that screwed-up the D-Day invasion stripes order of three white stripes separated by two black ones - all the same width." This Hawker Typhoon clearly had three white stripes, but there are four black ones and they are thinner to boot. But when I visited the fabulous website www.flightglobal.com, where this photo was stored, I realized that this was a presentation Typhoon which was displayed in distinctive markings a full year and more before D-Day. This photo was taken at the time of the Typhoon's first public appearance - at the Gloster Aircraft factory field at Hucclecote, Gloucestershire. The website also gave me a piece of information that I found very powerful - of the more than 3,300 Hawker typhoons built in Britain during the war, only 15 were built by the parent company, Hawker. The vast majority, 3,300, were built by Gloster Aircraft! The FlightGlobal archive of images from Flight Magazine is perhpas the finest two hours I have ever spent on the web - a must-visit site for the hardened aerogeek.
In keeping with the "Wasp-Wings" graphic theme, this startling image of a USAAF P-38 lightning best demonstrates the contrasts of painted aluminum and planted field. As a graphic designer, I have not seen a more graphic image than this in all my wanderings round the net - shape and tone only - making a powerful statement of depth and light. Beautiful. USAAF Photo
Same plan view, same aircraft type, completely different intensity. Whereas the previous image of a P-38 Lightning carried with it the sense of being homeward bound, straight and level, this silhouetted Lightning seems bound for trouble - rolling over and down to the fray. USAAF Photo
Six sturdy Hawker typhoons of 56 Squadron form up over their home base at Matlask in April of 1943. The purposeful squadron grouping heading into harm's way is a favourite theme of mine. Photo via Flight Global
More squadron groupings. One of the most iconic gaggle photos of Spitfires during the war is this shot of two flights of 611vint Squadron Spitfires making their way to battle over scattered cloud. These boys look like they are ready to wax some Kraut tails and I can't help myself imagining the excitement, trepidation and awe in the hearts of the eight pilots involved. RAF photo
Another great Flight Global shot - the caption on the site says "A text book 'vic 3' formation of camouflaged Hawker Fury I of 43 Squadron, Sept 1939. Camouflage was added at the time of the 1936 Munich Crisis." Who cars about the camo... lokk at that beautiful light spilling over the clouds in the distance! Photo via FlightGlobal
Another image of Supermarine fighters, this time Seafires, making a low level pass over their carrier. RN Photo
Helldivers hell bent for hell-raising in the hell of the Pacific. Hellishly good shot.
And one last gorgeous squadron formation shot - of Vought SB2U Vindicator dive bombers. Nearly obsolete at the beginning of World War II, the Vindicator was known more often as the "Vibrator" due to the noise and vibrations that one endured while flying in it. While it was used by the Marines in the battle of Midway, it was soon retired from front-line service because it was too vulnerable to Japanese aircraft such as the Zero. USN Photo
Whenever I come across a squadron-sized group photo, I always pause to scan the faces of the men who stand so proudly, all the time wondering if they made it. And if possible, if I can identify anyone in it, it makes the photo all the better. In this image, which I came across while checking out the photo site called Flickr, we see recently graduated Navigators employing a CNR locomotive for a group photo. The man standing on the cow-catcher (with his hands behind his back) is W. F. Wilson, who graduated from No. 31 Air Navigation School at Port Albert, Ontario on Lake Huron. This tiny community and BCATP airfield was just a few miles north of Goderich, where they would have had to go to catch a train to their assignments. Wilson, one of the lucky ones, was about to deploy to the Pacific war when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and he was granted a full and wonderful life. The photo was part of the collection of Wilson's son Phil which can be seen on flickr.com
Another wonderful group shot of pilots - this time lining up for hot tea, sweet biscuits and a warm smile from girls in this mobile "Tea Car". Judging by the identical kit worn by all the men, this was shortly after being issued their flight suits - or perhaps they were all asked to turn out in regulation everything just for the propaganda machine. Regardless, this image captures a certain "schoolyard" youth and obedience that belies the oncoming hell in which these boys will find them selves. This shot was taken at No.9 EFTS at Ansty, England in 1939/40 and you have to wonder how many finished out the war alive. Photo: Flight Global Archive - you simple HAVE to visit.
I've always considered the Hawker Typhoon one of the broadest-shouldered single-engine aircraft of the Second World War - true Percheron Warhorse among Mustangs and this photo of what seems like an entire squadron sitting in her arms exemplifies that strength.
It's not often that we get to see true glorious colour of Allied airmen - and never have I seen such a relaxed bunch as these lads and their Typhoon. photo via WW2incolor.com
Moving on from "Wasp Wings" to "Dazzle Paint", I found this wonderful site dedicated to the colourization of First and Second World War (and before) images of ships and a wonderful image of HMS Argus, Great Britain's first flush deck Air Craft Carrier. Being a graphic artist, I have long been dazzled by dazzle (or razzle dazzle) paint and even considered painting my house this way long ago - common sense and resale value saved me. Dazzle paint was meant simply to confuse the snooping and predatory eyes of a U-Boat captain. Captains would always carry with them books of enemy and friendly ship silhouettes so that they could make a determination about the type of ship they had encountered. The dazzle paint would break the lines of the ship and in many cases could be designed to imply a different direction of travel, a certain speed (by the painting of a bow wave) and to confuse snooping eyes as to the distance from the shooter's periscope. The theory was that even a few second's worth of indecision or the incorrect calculation of speed and distance would cause a "fish" to miss the target. While the jury is out whether the dazzle paint idea worked at all, the idea lingers on today - with Canadian CF-18 Hornets still wearing "false" canopies on their undersides - an idea first put forward by American aviation artist Keith Ferris. Regardless of effectiveness, the complexities of early dazzle paint on First World War warships and troopships was surely the result of artistic flare as much as military science. RN Photo colourized by Orootoko
In another shot from the website dedicated to colourization of old monochromatic images, we see the quirky and somewhat unattractive lines of HMS Eagle. Eagle's strange high sighting tower, massive island structure and open sides made her a one-off design. I show you Eagle here largely because of a story we ran sometime back about the last flight of Ottawa native David Rouleau, who launched from Eagle on June 3rd 1942 bound for Malta in a Spitfire - never to be seen again. Seeing these ships in their "natural" blue gray paint gives the viewer a new perspective on stories like Rouleau's. Photo colourized by Orootoko
And we think shoveling our driveways is a huge pain in the ass. This image of the flight deck of USS Philippine Sea off the coast of Korea in 1950 shows us that it's just not fog and gales that can shut down operations. At least they don't have to worry about the city snowplow dumping a bank of snow bank onto the deck just as soon as they are finished. If you look closely, you can see that two of the sailors on deck are tossing snowballs amidst the Corsairs and Skyraiders and there seems to be the remains of a toppled snowman just forward of the midships elevator. Photo: USN
Some photos are simply not "beautiful" as the title of this piece might indicate, but their power is visceral and the image tells a story of the perils of military aviation. Here on the 16th of February 1950, a Corsair is launched from the American carrier USS Saipan during operations off the coast of Korea. Immediately after catapulting from the deck, the Corsair's wing folds when a lock gives way. The result were catastrophic as the sequence of four photos reveals (I'll spare you those). The pilot, Lt Loren Grover, could do absolutely nothing to prevent his death. As Corsair operators, it is a sobering lesson to all of us that the unimaginable can happen... at any time. Photo via USS Saipan website.
Many of the most graphic and powerful images I have come across capture a split second moment of terror for the pilots and aircrews of Second World War aircraft. On December 31st, 1943, a Spitfire Vb (P8537) of 761 Squadron has lost its tail wheel and has bent the rear fuselage (at the roundel) possibly from a particularly hard landing aboard HMS Ravager. The RAF pilot, Squadron leader G.C.Morris is just striking the deck for a second time bending the starboard wing tip. The barrier wires directly in front saved him from going overboard or into forward aircraft park. You can read the body language in Morris' shoulders as he senses the oncoming barrier. Despite having no motor drives on their cameras many military photographers seem to nail the moment perfectly. Photo: RN via Flight Global site
Grand harbour, Valetta, Malta has been the site of much naval history and host to some of the greatest aircraft carriers in the world. When viewing this image of USS John F. Kennedy I was reminded of images of HMS Illustrious being bombed by the Luftwaffe right here back in January of 1941. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Joshua Karsten (#040626-N-8704K-004).
You might have figured it out by now, but I love the Martin B-2 Marauder. Its compact size, muscular character and hard-to-fly legend, make it a fighter among bombers. These 20 Marauders are Hell bent for trouble and this unique perspective really emphasizes their determination. USAAF photo
Testosterone fired, speed addicted, and happy-to-still-be-alive youth were the primamry source of pilots of the Second World War. At 6 foot, 4 inches, I would want to be standing up on the runway for this beat-up by a Mosquito. The HT Squadron code is a bit of a mystery to me. the only reference (albeit a quick search) brought up 601 Squadron - a Spitfire Unit. This photo, with the shooter following the Mossie, creates the true sense of the speed of these remarkable twins.This just in from Cameron Fraser, Martin King, Percy Contractor and Peter Arnold (talk about good references!) : This aircraft had the military serial number RR299 and was built as an unarmed, dual control trainer at Leavesden in 1945. It served in the Middle East until 1949, when it returned to the United Kingdom. It then served with a variety of RAF units, this service being interspersed with periods in storage. The aircraft was retired from the RAF in 1963 and was acquired by Hawker Siddeley Aviation (now British Aerospace) at Chester. The first Permit to Fly was issued on 9 September 1963. The aircraft continued to be based and maintained at Chester and typically flew around 50 hours per year. Photo RAF
Things haven't changed all that much - here, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum's Lancaster does a super low fly-by with the photographer being above in the control tower at the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan airport. The only difference is that the pilots are not young - still glad-to-be-alive and perhaps a tad less testosterone-fired, but infinitely more experience. These photos have been all over the warbird universe this past year so I hope the photographer won't mind one more appearance - this time in blue to match the Mosquito shot before. Photo by Pat Gould
We ran this photo earlier this past year, but for new subscribers, it warrants a second look. Back in the early 60s, former BCATP instructor Moe Fraser ran into a lone Golden Hawk Sabre at his local airport. He grabbed is son Cameron and posed him with the Sabre - complete with his tiny flight suit and toy helmet. Cameron has been a life-long pilot and now volunteers at Vintage Wings of Canada. Moe's grandson 'Zander worked the Vintage Wings of Canada air show this year as an Air Cadet volunteer. Photo: Moe Fraser
Affectionately known as the Hawker Hurricat, the ship-based, catapult-launched Hurricane was boosted into the sky by a cluster of 13 solid fuel rockets. Given that this launch would take place far out at sea, there was no chance of landing safely - only ditching. This was a job for volunteers only and seeing this firey launch (a test flight) we can see why - clearly the crow's nest was no place to be during a launch either. The Hurricat was created to counter the long range Focke Wulf FW 200 Condor anti-shipping bomber. The first successful encounter between a Hurricat and a Condor on August 3rd, 1941 ended with the demise of the German bomber and the successful recovery of the RAF pilot, Lt. Robert Everett . Photo via the excellent site WW2 in Color
American 8th Air Force bomber crews we subjected to a constant onslaught of flack and fighters from the moment they crossed the French coast all the way to their targets and back again. The proximity of German fighters is well illustrated in this shot of a Messerschmitt Me 410 narrowly missing the wingtip of a B-17 of the 388th Bomb Group en route to Germany.
A great shot of a group pf aviation photographers looking for the perfect shot of a Fox Moth from the back of a Skyvan. The shooter of the shooters is a friend of Vintage wings - Eric Coeckelberghs of Belgium. This photo was taken at a de Havilland Canada Chipmunk event called Chipmeet 2009 in Zoersel, Belgium. Eric's site: http://www.ericcoeckelberghs.com
This is something you don't see every day - A quartet of thirsty Grumman Cougars suckle at the mother ship - in this case a Convair R3Y Tradewind (Thanks Tim) flying boat. Crowding four aircraft behind the turbulent wake of the giant Tradewind was surely dangerous and unnecessary. Photo USN
Grim Determination... that's what I see here. The pilot of this Vickers Wellington was clearly trying to get as close to the photographer as possible. The dramatic image of these four "Wimpey's" was taken in 1940, and shows a very different view of this much-admired medium bomber. Because of the Wellington's unique "geodesic" structure designed by Barnes Wallis, almost every shot I have come across tries to feature it - not so here. Photo: National Archives of Canada PA 128144
Although this photo makes us smile today, these men in their Curtiss flying machine were at the leading edge of aerospace technology and naval aviation in 1912. The man on the left is USN Commodore J.C. Gillmore and Lt. Milling on the right. If you want to spend a lovely hour poring over vintage photos, visit shorpy.com, an amazing image bank of period photography. Photo via Shorpy
One of the most important photographs of the Second World War along side the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima image. This photo of St. Paul's in London amidst the destruction and chaos of the Blitz, has the distinction of being used for propaganda purposes by both sides. The Germans used the image to show their citizens the terrible beating they were inflicting on the British, while the British employed it to show the resolve and stiff back of Londoners - implying that the greatest structure of all stood proudly, resolutely and largely untouched throughout the bombings as a symbol of determination and strength.
Westland Whirlwind I, P7110 flown by Westland Chief Test Pilot Harald Penrose, climbs steeply past the cameraman riding the back of a Westland Lysander - a dramatic shot. Photo via FlightGlobal
OK... I'm still on my Marauder jag - this spectacular image of a French B-26 pounding a pinpoint target gives us a vivid sense of the altitude as we look straight down past an attacking B-26 to the the dust and smoke of her bombs striking the target. Flying with the Mediterranean Allied Air Forces under the tri-color of France, the French split the vital rail bridge, 600 feet long and 15 feet wide, at the Piteccio viaduct in central Italy. Stare at this image long enough and you start to get vertigo.
A striking short-time lapse image of searchlights feeling for RAF bombers - as seen from an RAF bomber - very spooky and yet beautiful. The circular glows are the bomb strikes on the target below.
Another amazing time-lapse image of anti-aircraft fire coming up from below (the left in this orientation) shows us clearly the intensity of fire faces by RAF crews.
Tracers fired by the 5th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion — formerly the 5th Defense Battalion — light up the night skies over Yontan Airlield, Okinawa during a Japanese air attack in March of 1945. A Marine fighter squadron's (Hell's Belles) Corsairs are silhouetted against the spectacle. Department of Defense photo (USMC) 08087 by TSgt C.V. Corkran
Turkeys in flight. As a torpedo dive bomber, one does not often see a large gaggle of Grumman Avengers simultaneously dropping bombs from straight and level and at a high altitude - this looks more like a strategic bombing.
The first thing that comes to mind when viewing this fivesome of Italian Air Force Avantis is .... get me some bug spray.
HMWhen I was a kid, I was smitten by the ugly and martial lines of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator and spent many hours drawing them. In particular, I was drawn to the insect-oid looks of the nose turret on later models. This perfect top-down shot shows the "Lib" to be elegant and lean - which it was not. Though many men would swear by the airplanes they flew during the war - especially those that got them through it, but I have not heard many kind words about the Liberator. One, just one, heavy hit to the wing from the outboard engine inwards could easily result in the complete collapse of the spar and the torching of the fuel held there. Photo USAAF
Quite a different view from the side - gone is any sense of slim and elegant lines - leaving a flying barn with its doors nailed to its ass. There are plenty of dramatic images of B-24 wings burning and collapsing - the B-24 was particularly dangerous if hit in this area. This image is interesting in that all crew got out safely - and one guy can be seen here sitting at the open escape hatch behind the pilot. I can only imagine the scene he beheld and how long that image stayed in his mind - 200 mph winds, the heat of the flames at his back, his airplane sitting and vibrating beneath his ass, the thunder of the still screaming engines and all the others in the formation spread out around him and 20 thousand feet of air below him... my God. Photo: USAAF
The vertical white smoke columns in this shot look like they are SAM missiles, but this is well before their day - perhaps they are Me-163 Comet fighters climbing up or some sort of rocket. if you have any idea what these B-24v liberators are facing, let me know - perhaps they are not coming at the Lins, but rather they are fired from them.
There is no image of a Kamikaze that is not spectacular and spell-binding. Though this scene depicts the death of a Japanese warrior attempting to kill other warriors, I bet all Japanese will admit to the singular almost zen-like beauty of the one flaming stroke that speaks volumes about the manner and dare I say, perfection of the pilot's death. Here the baby flattop USS Kitkun Bay misses a date with destiny. USN Photo
A US Navy Helldiver from VA-34 Black Panthers is spun around backwards after hitting the barrier very hard aboard USS Kearsarge in 1948. The thing about carrier operations, they are just as dangerous in peacetime as they are in war. Photo: USN
A Skyraider pirouettes as it snags the barrier aboard USS Saipan and is caught in mid crash - the pilot survived largely unhurt.
Yet another spectacular image of a landing gone awry - this time a US Navy Corsair taking the barrier - rather hard I would say. Photo: USN
Well, after all the chaos and the mishaps, I thought I would leave you with a smile. I have often seen images of carriers ferrying a deck load of aircraft to the battle zone, but this is the first time for a deck load of automobiles. This is the USS Hancock (Hanna to her crew) delivering her crew member's cars to her new base at San Diego from her re-commissioning port in Bremerton, Washington in the 1950s. Seeing this image brings to mind a truly goofy (in the way only the French are goofy) Citroen commercial depicting the launch of a car from a French Carrier. Photo via Hancock Website