Taking to the Air

Bristol Freighter
Bristol Freighter

This week I am going to do something different. I’m not a big fan of aeroplanes, but a few planes appear to me to stand out from the rest. These are the planes that, to my mind, represent the high points in aviation history.

The first one I would like to mention is the “Bristol Freighter“. This little workhorse was introduced in 1948 and was only produced for eight years or so, but it was so useful that it was in service for many decades after that. I recall seeing one chugging through the skies of Wellington and that must have been in the 1980s. Sadly, I don’t think that there are any still flying, though some grounded planes may still be seen in exhibitions and the like.

Bristol 170 Mk.31 Freighter, Liverpool 1961
Bristol 170 Mk.31 Freighter, Liverpool 1961 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recall seeing them flying when I was a child. We used to go to Hastings, in what is now East Sussex for holidays, and often went to Lydd Airport to spot the planes. The little Bristol Freighters used to load on cars and passengers (through the two large nose doors) and hop across the English Channel to Le Touquet in France. Then they would turn around and come back again. We could watch a plane going out and see it return while we were there.

One of the planes was called “Fourteenth of July”. On the other side of the fuselage it bore the name of “Quatorze Juillet”, which is of course, the same name only in French. All the Bristol Freighters at Lydd bore both the French and English versions of their names which is appropriate for these channel hoppers!

Short Sunderland
Short Sunderland

The Short Sunderland “flying boat” was an amphibious plane first produced in 1938 and which was produced for around 8 years. I’ve unfortunately not seen one flying, since I believe that it has been a while since any flew. It took off from the water there were a few issues that didn’t arise with conventional planes.

For instance, if the sea was too calm pilots found it difficult to take of as the “suction effect” on the hull prevented it breaking free from the water surface. It took off best in slightly choppy conditions and sometimes a boat had to be used to chop up the water surface so that it could take off.

Taking off
Sunderland flying boat taking off

Although it took off and landed on water, it had wheels which could be attached so that it could be dragged onto the land, for maintenance and cleaning. As the hull was in the water most of the time it suffered from the growth of marine life on the hull, like any other marine craft.

Concorde
Concorde

Concorde was a supersonic plane and one of only two supersonic models that have ever been produced. It featured a distinctive narrow delta shape, and to assist with takeoff and landing the nose could be lowered to improve forward vision.

It was produced by the British Aircraft Corporation in Filton, Bristol, England and Aérospatiale in France. Parts were flown between the two sites operated by the companies in a transport plane with a huge fuselage, known as the Super Guppy, and I recall seeing the Super Guppy several times flying into or out of Filton.

The last ever flight of any Concorde, 26th Nov...
The last ever flight of any Concorde, 26th November 2003. The aircraft (G-BOAF) is overflying Filton airfield at two thousand feet to take a wide circle over the Bristol area before the final landing on the Filton (Bristol) runway from which she first flew in 1979, and from which the first British Concorde flew in 1969. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the building and testing of Concorde in Filton, some “escape tests” were done in the outer areas of the airfield. These tests were done on an actual Concorde fuselage which was occasionally set alight. Apparently all the testers escaped successfully! The area could be seen from the road, so the spectacle provided some entertainment for the locals.

The big engines for Concorde were tested by mounting them on a Vulcan Bomber. That was quite a spectacle too. The Vulcan was reaching the end of its life at that time and reputedly finished the testing with only one set of tyres left.

English: at the 2009 , being flown by Martin W...
English: at the 2009 , being flown by Martin Withers, the pilot of Vulcan XM607, the first Vulcan to bomb Port Stanley airfield in the Falkland Islands, in One (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The initial flight of Concorde was quite a show, with the two first Concordes taking off “simultaneously” from Filton and Toulouse. A bit of gamesmanship went on with the French pilot delaying his takeoff run a little, intentionally or otherwise, which meant that the pilot of the British Concorde was a little in advance of the French plane and was nearly forced to abort his takeoff.

The result was that viewers at the end of the runway at Filton, on a low hill overlooking the airport, saw the British Concorde start to travel down the runway, disappear into a dip, and finally reappear over the crest near the end of the runway.

The official handover ceremony of British Airw...
The official handover ceremony of British Airways first Concorde following it’s delivery from Filton the previous day. The location is North Bay, Technical Block B at the BA engineering base. This aircraft operated British Airways first commercial Concorde service six days later to Bahrain in the hands of Captain Norman Todd, Captain Brian Calvert and Senior Flight Engineer John Lidiard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The two Concorde took off pretty much at the same time with the British version actually having plenty of spare runway, but it passed over the hill on which spectators were watching at a fairly low altitude, letting them experience the full power of the Rolls Royce Olympus engines. This was before they were modified to make them quieter! I saw the Concorde from my place of work in Bristol city centre as it circled the city before heading to Fairford for fit out.

Lockheed C130 Hercules
Lockheed C130 Hercules

The silhouette of the Lockheed Hercules is distinctive, with its high tail. This aircraft first flew in 1954 and is still in use 63 years later. It will continue in service all around the world until at least 2020. In my opinion it is likely that they will be around for some time to come.

The key reason for the Hercules’ success is its flexibility. It can carry cargo or drop bombs. It can carry troops and it can carry supplies. It can act as a tanker and spread water or chemicals over large areas. If you can’t land you can chuck stuff out of the back with parachutes of course and troops often parachute out of the back of the plane.

English: A Polish C-130 Hercules, Radom Air Sh...
English: A Polish C-130 Hercules, Radom Air Show 2009 Polski: Polski C-130 Hercules, Radom Air Show 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Hercules was able to take off from short and unprepared airstrips so was a really versatile tool for armed forces everywhere. Apparently it is a noisy aircraft to travel in, with no real creature comforts. Nevertheless its ability to fit stuff in and operate under marginal conditions means that it remains a very popular aircraft to this day.

Well, I’ve only got through four aircraft and I have some more in mind, so I may come back to this in a future posting.

Paper Plane
Paper Plane

Sporting Times

Sport in childhood. Association football, show...
Sport in childhood. Association football, shown above, is a team sport which also provides opportunities to nurture social interaction skills. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We as a race spend a lot of time on what is loosely called ‘sport’. From the ad hoc beach cricket and ‘touch’, through the more organised school age sports, through the grade sports all the way up through the local and national representative sports, both individual and team.

The individual and team sports pull in a huge number of supporters, officials, organisers and so on, so it is rare individual who has not been in some trivial or profound way involved in sports at one time or another.

Strongmen event: the Log Lift & a referee (bac...
Strongmen event: the Log Lift & a referee (backwards). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sport is obviously of great importance to the human race. I don’t know of any animal that indulges in activities that could be called sports. Of course, males of many species battle other males for dominance and control over females or territory, and their young do seem to practise for these battles, but there is no sense in which these battles are fought for pleasure. They are too serious for that!

Great Battle
Great Battle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The roots of sport can be found in interpersonal contests of course, like arm wrestling to see who is the strongest, or quizzes to see who has the best memory and so on, but human contests don’t usually have the serious implication of battles between animals of other species. Very often they can be cooperative contests as training exercises so that the group as a whole can perform better.

Two young men arm wrestling
Two young men arm wrestling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This would be very useful indeed to hunters, who as a group would be benefit from the increased accuracy with the spear or the bolos, or even the simple thrown stone.

The technology would also have benefitted from such practice contests. Each contestant would have seen how his fellow contestants had improved the technology. That’s no doubt how the woomera or atlatl came to be invented, in a contest before the hunt.

Mokare with spear and woomera, another woomera...
Mokare with spear and woomera, another woomera lies at his feet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sport can also serve as a way of defusing or sublimating a dispute between rival groups. The tests of skill replaced an actual contest, and rules of procedure were imposed on the contest, so that, mostly, no one actually got killed.

The smallest group of humans is probably the family, which has a flexible definition. It could be as few as two people or as many as twenty. The concept of the nuclear family, mum, dad, kids is fairly new, inspired by cheap or affordable housing, and the ubiquity of affordable transport.

English: Indian family in Brazil posed in fron...
English: Indian family in Brazil posed in front of hut – 3 bare-breasted females, baby and man with bow and arrows. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway, whatever the size the family team ‘competes’ usually in a more or less friendly fashion with neighbours. However neighbourhood families ally themselves in competition with other neighbourhoods to form villages, suburbs, cities and so on up to countries. Only at the highest level is there no global group, though the United Nations aspires to that title.

United Nations - New York
United Nations – New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sports give humans the chance to compete, and they seem to enjoy it. How else can one explain the rise of sports like snooker, card games, and contests which don’t rate the name of sport, such as beauty contests? Is car racing a sport? Obviously some people are better at these marginal sports, so is the contest the key? It seems so.

When there is no one else around humans will compete against themselves or against chance. Solitaire, a card or peg game for a single person is popular and automatically installed on most computers. It is used in cartoons to characterise a lazy or disinterested employee.

The initial layout in the solitaire game of Golf.
The initial layout in the solitaire game of Golf. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Often a person may not be particularly proficient at a sport but may still enjoy it. They may enjoy it particularly at one or two removes, as spectators.  Spectators may identify strongly with the sports person or team in which they are interested. If they come across supporters of some other person or team, they may interact adversely with them, even to the point of fighting with them.

English: Angelic Supporter used in Heraldry
English: Angelic Supporter used in Heraldry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Parents are notoriously partisan supporters, yelling support from the sideline to their offspring, often I suspect to the embarrassment of their children. Parents also tend to overestimate the abilities of their kids and tend to push them more than they should. Sport for kids should be fun, but pushing them too hard can spoil their enjoyment of sport, which is a shame.

English: Wildman Supporter used in Heraldry
English: Wildman Supporter used in Heraldry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who continue to enjoy their sport and become good at it can become heroes to a large number of fans. The All Blacks are almost revered in New Zealand and the national team who play the national sport can not only receive adulation but can also be paid a lot of money.

Of course if the national team fails that can lead to a sense of devastation for their followers. Failure can be losing to another team or simply not winning. Recently the New Zealand All Blacks drew with the Australian team and it was almost as if they had lost! Fortunately the All Blacks won well the next weekend, otherwise the country might have sunk into depression.

All Blacks v Wallabies
All Blacks v Wallabies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sports stars in the most part realise that they are representatives, but the stresses on top sports people is tremendous. The All Blacks are a good example of this. One or two of the top echelon of the rugby players in New Zealand have not succeeded in withstanding that pressure and have had issues with alcohol and violence. In a lot of ways it is unfair to expect exemplary behaviour and expertise at the top level of the sport.

Nevertheless, a surprising number of top sports people do appear to be genuinely nice people. These days, the team captain, winner and loser, has a microphone stuffed under his or her nose and is expected to give an instant analysis of the game, and to their credit most appear to come up with something intelligent about the game, congratulating their opponents, win or lose.

English: interview
English: interview (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Interestingly, after the drawn game I mentioned above, both teams were disappointed, but for slightly different reasons. The All Blacks were expected to win, and were expecting to achieve a record number of wins, and their disappointment at not winning was obvious. There was a sense of let down. The Australians, however, obviously believed that they had missed a great chance to beat the All Blacks.

Shows All Black haka before a match against Fr...
Shows All Black haka before a match against France, 18 November 2006. The All Blacks won the match 23-11. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Banding together

Flag ~ Romania, Roumanie
Flag ~ Romania, also by chance the Tawa colours.

Our local rugby team has made it to the final of a competition (they won!) and naturally supporters are getting ready for the final match. They are organising coaches to take people to the match and no doubt there will be a good turn out. This got me thinking about how humans like to form bands and groups and supporter groups.

I think that banding together is at heart a self-protection thing. A human who belongs to a group gets supported by the group and reciprocally supports the group himself. In many cases the group is in competition against other groups of humans for a scarce resource such as food or territory, or in the case of sport points on the board of the elusive trophy. There is a synergy when people work together.

A rugby union scrum between the British and Ir...
A rugby union scrum between the British and Irish Lions and the All Blacks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not always humans versus humans though. A group may be formed to overcome some physical difficulty or to provide something that an individual can’t provide or achieve by themselves. That’s why travellers form caravans to cross deserts and a group of individuals might be able to buy a bigger boat together than they could have bought alone and take turns using it. Musicians of all genres usually form groups, at least to get started.

Les Rolling Stones à l'Olympia Stadion de Müni...
Les Rolling Stones à l’Olympia Stadion de Münich, alors qu’une partie de la scène avançait dans la foule (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Forming a group allows individuals to specialise – in a hamlet or village one person becomes the smith, another the baker, another the mayor and another the constable, each person his or her particular skills in the role.

The role of supporters is to encourage and assist but not to actually take part in the contest or enterprise, but sometimes the line is blurred. For example the coach and trainer might not take part in a game, but in some ways they are part of the team. The supporters on the sidelines, yelling encouragement and advice, are even less part of the team, but they can certainly help out, and they form a larger group surrounding the team.

English: Greece - Russia Euro 2008
English: Greece – Russia Euro 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes, of course, two groups of supporters clash. This is generally agreed to be a bad thing, but if you take a step back and think about it, it is to be expected, but not encouraged. It is an unwritten but basic rule of sport that the conflict, physically at least, stay on the field of play. Non-physical conflict, such as chants, banners and team regalia, is permitted between opposing spectators and even encouraged. “Get behind the team” is a rousing call for supporters. No wonder the non-physical conflict fairly often becomes physical.

The biggest ‘teams’ are countries, which strike me as being somewhat artificial in this day and age. Can one supergroup really speak for people who might be thousands of miles away? There may be an aboriginal population in a country that has far more inhabitants of immigrant origins, and these people may not consider themselves to be truly part of the nation in which they reside. Some nomadic people may travel through several countries, and may not consider themselves to be a part of any of them. The sheer size of modern countries almost invites the formation of ethnically or geographically ‘seperatists’ groups.

Matthes -- Separatists at Coblenz  (LOC)
Matthes — Separatists at Coblenz (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

Mankind probably started out as family groups, and were probably nomadic. When they settled down (perhaps as a result of developing agriculture) it would seem natural to settle down in larger groups, maybe two or three families to provide defence against those still travelling around. As mankind spread and became more numerous these little settlements would grow into towns, with inhabitants specialising into roles like the smith or baker mentioned above.

At some stage strong leaders became feudal lords. This appears to have been common, but was possibly not universal. Eventually the lords and barons gave their allegiance to a king or overlord and a number of small (by current standards) states were formed, sometimes based around a city as in Sparta in Greece or sometimes based in a geographical area. The debatably mythical Arthur around the 5th or 6th centuries in Britain was supposedly king of Britain, although at that time there were probably several kingdoms in what is now Britain, and Athelstan is usually considered the first true English king.

English: King
English: King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The nations of the world are these days largely static in shape and size, but they do still change now and then. Czechoslovakia split apart in 1993, and the Soviet Union (USSR) formed in 1922 and split up in 1991.

The next logical step in this process, one would have expected, would be the formation of a global entity, grouping the whole of mankind into one huge group, but this has not happened. There are a number of global entities, notably the United Nations, but they tend to concentrate on specific areas of endeavour rather than being the World Government that would have been expected. There are ‘blocs’ of similarly inclined countries but these also don’t have the spread of activities that would make them a ‘super-government’.

English: Global map of noted supranational uni...
English: Global map of noted supranational unions. Based roughly upon http://www.towardsunity.org/. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may be that the only thing that would cause the formation of a super-group encompassing all of humanity would be an encounter with hostile and destructive aliens, but the chances of that would be very small.

Take me to your leader. iPhone 3GS
Take me to your leader. iPhone 3GS (Photo credit: Kimb0lene)