202. HMS Vindex centenary
On 3 November 1915, a Bristol Scout C, serial no. 1255, made a significant advance in Naval Aviation by becoming the first wheeled aircraft to take off from a moving ship. Flt Cdr B F Fowler took off from the foredeck of HMS Vindex, who was steaming at 12 knots into a steady breeze, and landed back at Great Yarmouth.
Eugene Ely had used a Curtiss Pusher with wheels to take off from a launching platform fitted to the bows of the cruiser USS Birmingham on 14 November 1910, but she was moored in harbour at the time. The 80ft platform was barely long enough and Ely’s wheels skipped over the water before he struggled back into the air again and landed successfully ashore.
A couple of months later he did the double – landed on, and then took off again – using a longer platform on the USS Pennsylvania, moored in San Francisco Bay.
And the most famous images of early aircraft experiments on ships are of course those of Flt Cdr Dunning in his Sopwith Pup, who successfully landed on the deck of HMS Furious, and was killed five days later trying the same thing again. But these took place in August 1917 – nearly two years later.
So Fowler’s achievement is a very significant turning point in naval aviation, and we hope to commemorate it by seeing if we can copy his takeoff performance in an aircraft identical to his own.
The platform on HMS Vindex was only 68ft long, and Fowler was apparently off in 46ft – though the only picture of the event would seem to indicate that might be a little optimistic; perhaps it was a first bounce.
And they used a guide trestle to hold 1255’s tail in flying attitude with a catch on the tailskid that was released only when the engine reached full power to ensure the briskest possible start.
But it would be pointless to recreate those conditions on land, since we couldn’t replicate the most important thing of all – the fact that the Vindex was steaming into wind at 12kt, with a steady breeze – I estimate around 10kt from the size and look of the waves – giving Fowler 22kt airspeed while he was still on the trestle!
So how can we check Fowler’s takeoff performance?
Here’s the cunning plan.
- Fit a GoPro camera to the aircraft trained on the wheel.
- Measure the windspeed, and perform a perfectly normal takeoff into wind, but obviously trying to lift off as early as possible within safe limits.
- Back on the ground, measure the angular movement of the wheel between video frames to calculate the instantaneous groundspeed.
- Mark the point when the groundspeed reaches the Vindex’s 12kt plus the 1915 windspeed of, say, 10kt, less the 2015 windspeed, by which time we hope that the tail has lifted.
- From that point count the number of rotations of the wheel until lift off occurs, and hope that the distance travelled is less than the 68ft of the Vindex’s platform.
From → Flying