The Gray Ghost: B-17 Flying Fortress Wreck, Papua New Guinea

b 17 wreck new guinea  The Gray Ghost: B-17 Flying Fortress Wreck, Papua New Guinea(Image: Alf Gillman, reproduced with permission)
This remarkably intact Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress was one of 32 aircraft built for the Royal Air Force on a lend-lease agreement in 1942. But prior to delivery, the aircraft were reassigned to the 5th Air Force in a bid to cope with the demands of the Pacific theatre.   Hastily repainted in U.S. markings, this aircraft, later dubbed the Gray Ghost, made a spectacular crash landing near Black Cat Pass in Papua New Guinea in 1943.

b 17 port moresby  The Gray Ghost: B-17 Flying Fortress Wreck, Papua New Guinea(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

The B-17’s final ill-fated mission saw it depart 7-Mile Drome (now Jackson International Airport) at Port Moresby to bomb a Japanese convoy off Lae. But anti-aircraft fire crippled the Flying Fortress, forcing pilot 1st Lt. Raymond S. Dau. of Arlington, VA to crash land the stricken plane on the grassy hillside. The crew were returned to Port Moresby, but radio operator Robert Albright, aged 19, sadly died from his wounds.

(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

The Gray Ghost, which was issued the RAF serial number FL461 and flew 12 missions prior to crash landing, remains one of the most intact and accessible aircraft wrecks in Papua New Guinea. The B-17E’s weathered paintwork has since revealed the original RAF markings, giving rise to the urban legend that it was a British aircraft on a secret mission.  More information about the Gray Ghost can be found at Pacific Wrecks.

Is Restoration on the Horizon for Heathrow’s Neglected Concorde?

concorde heathrow  Is Restoration on the Horizon for Heathrow’s Neglected Concorde?(Image: Google Earth)

I’ve long thought it strange – and somewhat ironic – that Heathrow authorities couldn’t get their acts together in securing the future of Concorde G-BOAB, coded Alpha Bravo. While other groups have worked hard to restore their most prized exhibits, Alpha Bravo languishes behind the BA hangars at Heathrow, while BAA Ltd., the Spanish-owned operator of six British airports including Heathrow, reportedly shows little interest.

concorde heathrow 2  Is Restoration on the Horizon for Heathrow’s Neglected Concorde?(Image: Arpingstone, public domain)

Previous longterm proposals have included cutting the Concorde’s wings off and shipping her to Dubai. More recently, Club Concorde revealed plans to display Alpha Bravo on the River Thames – similar to the New York example.  Heritage Concorde, meanwhile, is campaigning for the preservation of Alpha Bravo at Heathrow – the aircraft’s true home.

concorde heathrow 3  Is Restoration on the Horizon for Heathrow’s Neglected Concorde?(Image: Arpingstone, public domain)

Heritage Concorde details the ongoing plight of Alpha Bravo. The neglected airliner is reportedly a bare shell inside, with cockpit instruments donated to Brooklands Museum, seats auctioned off upon retirement and other fittings torn out. There have even been rumours of a rat infestation, not to mention inevitable external deterioration brought on by several years standing in the open air.

concorde heathrow 4  Is Restoration on the Horizon for Heathrow’s Neglected Concorde?(Image: Luigi Rosa, cc-nc-nd-3.0)

While Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport proudly displays its Concorde on a plinth, Heathrow authorities seem uncommitted to the longterm future of their flagship aircraft (British Airways gifted Alpha Bravo to BAA in 2004). While display on the Thames is preferable to rotting in a corner of Heathrow, it’s a pity that the Concorde’s home of over 30 years – and Britain’s premier airport – can’t support the preservation of its greatest ambassador.

Commemorative Air Force T-6 Trainer Converted to Japanese Zero Fighter

t 6 conversion zero  Commemorative Air Force T-6 Trainer Converted to Japanese Zero Fighter(Image: Monty Marion, cc-sa-3.0)

What happens when you need a period aircraft from a foreign air force but none are available?  The solution – according to the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) – find something that resembles the plane you’re looking for and give it a make-over.  In this case, a T-6 Texan trainer has been converted into a Mitsubishi A6M Zero, which works nicely as an educational tool and doubtless provides some spectacular airshow viewing.  Below is the T-6 in standard American markings.

t 6 texan trainer  Commemorative Air Force T-6 Trainer Converted to Japanese Zero Fighter(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

Little Nellie: James Bond’s Autogyro

little nellie autogyro2  Little Nellie: James Bond’s Autogyro(Image: Hannibal, public domain)

Film enthusiasts may recognise the autogyro (also known as gyrocopter) above as Little Nellie, the craft flown by James Bond in the Sean Connery film You Only Live Twice.  Nellie, a Wallis WA-116 Agile, is pictured here with owner Wing Commander Ken Wallis, a retired RAF officer and leading authority on gyrocopters.

little nellie autogyro 2  Little Nellie: James Bond’s Autogyro(Image: Dave McLear, cc-3.0)

Wallis piloted Little Nellie, kitted-out with an assortment of mock-up weaponry, in an aerial sequence pitching Bond against several SPECTRE helicopters.  While Bond was – of course – victorious, filming wasn’t easy.  Wallis almost crashed onto the camera on several occasions, while a look-down shot ended when cameraman John Jordan’s foot was severed by the autogyro’s rotor.

little nellie autogyro 3  Little Nellie: James Bond’s Autogyro(Image: Les Chatfield, cc-3.0)

According to Wallis, his autogyros were produced for “reconnaissance, research and development, surveillance and military purposes”, and are not available to enthusiasts (other than in model form, above).  Several of his designs are set to appear in the upcoming documentary Into the Wind, featuring the experiences and memories of Bomber Command aircrew.  (More on Little Nellie here.)

(Fun fact about You Only Live Twice – the screenplay was written by Roald Dahl.)

Hurricane and Spitfire Replicas at Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne

spitfire hurricane replica  Hurricane and Spitfire Replicas at Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne(Image: Helmut Zozmann, cc-sa-3.0)

Located near the famous White Cliffs, between Dover and Folkestone in Kent, the pleasant village of Capel-le-Ferne is home to a monument dedicated to the allied aircrew who fought in the Battle of Britain.  Sitting adjacent to a Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire replica – enduring symbols of the heroic British and Commonwealth fight against German invasion – a lone airman gazes out over the English Channel in a poignant gesture to missing friends.

battle of britain memorial  Hurricane and Spitfire Replicas at Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne(Image: Chris Barber, cc-sa-3.0)

Initiated by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust and opened by the Queen Mother in July 1993, the Battle of Britain Memorial was designed as a large propeller shape with the seated pilot, carved by Harry Gray, at its centre.  Nearby, the names of almost 3000 aircrew from Fighter Command, who took part in the Battle, appear on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall.

spitfire replica  Hurricane and Spitfire Replicas at Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne(Image: Bill Henderson, cc-sa-3.0)

The full size replica aircraft stand to the west of the monument.  The Spitfire replica (above) is a newer addition to the Hawker Hurricane (below), and together they form a fitting tribute to “The Few“.  Their position under the now-peaceful Kent sky, where the Battle of Britain raged during the summer of 1940, is highly significant.  So too is their proximity to the White Cliffs of Dover, considered a symbolic guard against invasion at the narrowest point of the English Channel.

hurricane replica  Hurricane and Spitfire Replicas at Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne(Image: Bill Henderson, cc-sa-3.0)

While the Spitfire captured the public imagination and created a lasting legacy due to its speed, agility and grace, the Hurricane deservedly cemented its reputation during the Battle of Britain, claiming 60% of the RAF’s air victories.  Cheaper and significantly easier to fly than the Spitfire, it was a popular aircraft with pilots.  This Hurricane replica (coded US-X) represents the plane flown by 20-year-old British fighter ace Geoffrey Page when he was shot down, surviving despite suffering terrible burns.

More Battle of Britain: Don’t miss this rare behind-the-scenes footage from the 1968 feature film.

RAF Manston History Museum’s Jaguar Escapes Fires

jaguar manston  RAF Manston History Museum’s Jaguar Escapes Fires(Image: Oast House Archive, cc-sa-3.0)

If you hear that a retired aircraft is heading for RAF Manston in Kent, it usually spells trouble for the jet.  That’s because Manston is home to the Defence Fire Training and Development Centre (DFTDC), and many great military aircraft, including several Avro Vulcans, have perished in its firepits.  Fortunately this Jaguar GR3A – serial number XZ106 – is now on display outside the RAF Manston History Museum, making it one of the luckier Manston airframes.  It certainly appears to be in better condition than the Jaguar that enjoyed several months of fame at Tate Britain (Harrier and Jaguar exhibition) before likely heading to a Harrow scrap yard.