Sunday, February 06, 2005

What is that strange noise I say?

Back in the summer of 69 (actually I think it was 99) I clearly remember a day when I lay on my back on a grassy field in the beautiful English countryside gazing up lazily at a rare sight in this country. Clear blue skies. I was not alone though. A couple of my friends and a few hundred other people were doing pretty much the same thing. I remember looking around and seeing several people engaged in heated discussions as to what the bright unidentified object in the sky could be. You see in England it is quite possible to reach the age of 25 before you see the Sun for the first time in your life. Therefore it is not a surprise that it is often mistaken for a UFO when it makes a rare appearance.

The place in question was an airfield located in picturesque Shoreham on the south coast of England. The reason we were all there was to witness an Air Show which in my opinion and most other people was a Bore Show up to that point. It had consisted of seemingly endless fly pasts by planes that appeared to have escaped from an aircraft equivalent of an old age home. These propeller powered planes had almost succeeded in putting most of the visitors to sleep except for a few aged enthusiasts and keen airplane spotters. We obviously failed to take a hint from the title of the show which was "Second World War Battle of Britain" and had decided to turn up anyway.

The commentator was doing his best to keep the crowd awake by promising that the next airplane on the schedule was going to be amazing, incredible, mind blowing etc etc. By late afternoon however most people had given up and had started dozing off. Therefore after yet an other mind numbingly boring display by something that looked like a Cessna on mild steroids the commentator once again returned to the speakers and promised that there was something “potent” heading our way and we should take notice.

As usual we chose to ignore his advice. That proved to be a big mistake. I remember scanning the skies lazily to see what was next. I spotted a shiny object hurtling towards the runway at a speed no propeller plane could match. As the object closed in on the runway I looked around at the unsuspecting people most of them half asleep. The object soon revealed itself to be as "potent" as the commentator had promised. As the Royal Airforce's front line air defense fighter the Tornado F3 blasted across the runway at low level with wings fully swept back the pilot suddenly pulled the plane into a steep climb and lit the twin afterburners to demonstrate its phenomenal climb rate. As the thundering jets powered the airplane high in to the sky several of the sleeping spectators had already reached an altitude far higher than the Tornado could ever reach (heart attacks etc).

The change of pace (quite literally) at that airshow resulted in an enjoyable afternoon as the Tornado put in a spectacular flying display before zooming back to its home base.

Nothing has more wow factor at an air show than what is possibly one of the greatest inventions of all time. The Jet engine. The Tornado is an old plane and is by no means the most impressive fighter in today’s skies however on that day it certainly stole the show when pitted against the Spitfires and Hurricanes :) Once you have seen a jet in action a propeller plane just doesnt feel the same anymore.

I watched an old British second world war movie some time ago and I just cant seem to remember its name. In one of the scenes two RAF officers are walking past a hangar at some air force base. In that hangar Frank Whittle is busy testing his new invention and outside the female officer stops listens to the weird howling noise and remarks “What a strange noise I say!”

Little did anyone know that the “strange noise” would one day be directly responsible for the 7 year old brat sitting behind you in economy class practising his kick boxing skills against your seat back. Little did anyone also know that the “strange noise” would also induce murderous thoughts in perfectly normal human beings when it makes you feel like lifting that little brat and throwing him outside the window into one of those jet engines (yeah yeah that was a bit mean but after 8 hours in a flying tube after being fed meals catered by the nearest prison get the picture)

I am not good with history lessons so I will just provide a brief overview of the dawn of the jet age. In the 1930s engineers around the world began to realise that they were approaching the limits of what could be achieved with a reciprocating piston engine and propeller which had been used up to that point. It was soon realised that a whole new type of power plant must be devised to push planes to go faster and higher than ever before.

While it is true that work was underway in different countries to devise a new method of propulsion there are three names which stand out the most, England’s Frank Whittle and Germany’s Hans von Ohain and Anselm Franz.

Von Ohain’s designs made it on to the Heinkel aircraft company’s He 178 which in 1939 became the first jet powered airplane in the world. Back in England Frank Whittle’s engine was fitted to the Gloster Pioneer E28/39 which flew for the first time in May 1941. Von Ohain is credited with the first operational turbojet engine however Frank Whittle was the first to register a patent for his engine.

Later in 1944, Anselm Franz’s engine design became the first mass produced jet in the world eventually making it on to the feared Messerchmitt Me 262 which became the first operational jet fighter in the world. The fighter jet entered service with the Luftwaffe too late in the Second World War to affect the outcome (thank god for that).

The rest as they say is history. The invention of the jet was probably as important as the invention of the aircraft itself.

Thanks to the jet we no longer have a valid excuse for not visiting our relatives during Christmas inspite of being separated by thousands of miles which we mistakenly thought was a safe distance. Thanks to the jet we have regular modern day wonders like jet lag, lost baggage, and DVT. Thanks to the jet that we have the horrors of carpet bombing, "shock and awe" and cluster bombs.

Howeer thanks also to the jet for making the world a smaller place and enabling us to see more of our wonderful planet than at any other time in history. I think it was Bill Gates who once said that the airplane was the world’s first World Wide Web.

The airplane certainly was the world’s first world wide web but it was an airplane with a Jet Engine.

As always please leave comments. Also feel free to suggest any topics that you might find interesting.



Blogger Shreyan said...

You're a remarkable writer, I say. Well done, or as you Brits put it, 'Good on you, sport!'

Thoroughly enjoyed it. Lets hear about VTOL the next time you write. Jet-engined choppers could be another fecund area.

3:20 AM  
Blogger The Unknown Aviator said...

Thank you :)

My next post will be about VTOL as requested. you have picked an interesting subject.

5:55 PM  
Blogger jhgasuhvkjahklnsdlksnlknmlwvlckn said...


Nice write up... VTOL is definitely an interesting subject, kindled all the more by the FRS.1 display at Aero India where the pilot showed off with a vertical landing. Hope to see you write more and of course I guess I will read stuff here...

Good going and Cheers!

7:44 PM  
Blogger Roshan said...

nice stuff...the airplane was the first WWW, eh? and here i'd been thinking it was STDs.

speaking of, for your next topic, i'd like to hear your experiences in the mile high club, of which i have no doubt you're a member. and a list of those air hostesses who may provide a good 'initiation' would be an added service.

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