Mosquito Bites

 

 

Fancy yourself at the controls of Military Aviation Museum’s DH98 Mosquito FB Mk.26?

Come on up... looking through the crew door of a Mosquito Mk.XIII NF (Night Fighter), from February 1945. (AWM SUK13768)
Come on up… looking through the crew door of a Mosquito Mk.XIII NF (Night Fighter), from February 1945. (AWM SUK13768)

I don’t know; maybe if Jerry Yagen was super-impressed by your glass-smooth arrival at Osh Kosh or something. Anyway, it would certainly be a priceless opportunity, even if the Timber Terror is reputed to have a nastier bite than its malarial six-legged namesake.

But back when KA-114 was brand new, vast numbers of Mosquitoes (de Havilland ones) were serving in a world war that would claim over 53 million souls. That meant attitudes around high performance combat aircraft were a lot more sanguine than they are today. In fact “losing a few” was pretty much seen as the price of doing business.

So when an RAF Test Pilot* shared his impressions of the big twin’s handling with readers of Flight magazine in 1946, he flew without fear – but with a good measure of respect.

KA114 shows her lines during the Wings Over Wairarapa air show at Hood Aerodrome, Masterton, New Zealand on January 19th, 2013 - one of several post-restoration appearances around NZ before she was shipped off to Virginia Beach. (Courtesy of Allister Jenks)
KA114 shows her lines during the Wings Over Wairarapa air show at Hood Aerodrome, Masterton, New Zealand on January 19th, 2013 – one of several post-restoration appearances around NZ before she was shipped off to Virginia Beach. (Courtesy of Allister Jenks)

Unexpected lightness and vigour

Most pilots came to the Mosquito from twin trainers, or the driving seats of single-seat fighters or four-engined types, so their feelings during the first hour or two on type must have been strictly marked and lastingly remembered.

In my own case, after a little flying in aircraft such as the Whirlwind, and a great deal more flying in Beaufighters, the sensation of being provided with multi-engined power and fighter handling qualities was not quite so surprising.

Certainly, apart from the unexpected lightness and vigour in the aileron control, my only outstanding memories of a first circuit in the Mosquito were of its comparative simplicity as a flying machine and its strange resemblance to much leas pugnacious de Havilland types. Though the wing loading of the Mosquito is probably nearly three times that of aircraft such as the Dominie, it still, somehow, appeared to have retained all the same general qualities – but at a much higher position on the speed scale.”

With a 1,460hp Merlin spinning counter clockwise on each side (1,620hp Packard Merlins on the FB Mk.26), keeping a Mosquito straight was no easy task - even in the air. (State Library of Victoria H98.100/4295)
With a 1,460hp Merlin spinning counter clockwise on each side (1,620hp Packard Merlins on the FB Mk.26), keeping a Mosquito straight was no easy task – even in the air. (State Library of Victoria H98.100/4295)

“During those early days on Mosquitoes, nearly everyone developed a bee in their bonnet about its veering off the straight during take-offs and landings. However there was nothing unusual about this; nearly every new high-powered twin and quite a few single-engined fighters had been libelled in the same way. Of course, the Mosquito could swing quickly and finally to its destruction during both take-off and landing if allowed to—but so could nearly every aircraft in a similar relative performance category.”

Open her up with some sobriety

“With the centre of gravity so far aft of the undercarriage, and a fair supply of keel surface, the Mosquito required reasonably intelligent handling during take-off, and could certainly not be allowed its head in a cross-wind landing. But those who had not been over-warned and consequently talked into a frightened state of mind, rarely found any difficulty. I certainly found none—at least until I actually saw one squeal round in a semi-circle, leaving a cloud of dust and rubber-smoke.

Naturally enough, the torque of two Merlins made it advisable to open her up with some sobriety and the port throttle leading, but rudder control appeared in good time and, if no initial deviation had been allowed to develop without proper correction (or abandoning the takeoff), there was no real excuse for expensive trouble.”

Put her down easy... KA114 lands after her display at Wairarapa. The aircraft is a rebuilt FB (Fighter Bomber) Mk.26, built in Canada for the RCAF in 1945 and taken straight into storage. (Courtesy of Allister Jenks)
Put her down easy… KA114 lands after her display at Wairarapa. The aircraft is a rebuilt FB (Fighter Bomber) Mk.26, built in Canada for the RCAF in 1945 and taken straight into storage. (Courtesy of Allister Jenks)

The Mosquito would kick

Any aircraft will try to rush off in some direction other than the right one when landing across-wind but, since the Mosquito could be controlled to the very point of touch-down, there was no real reason for completing any landing with a lot of built-in drift.

Tail up, everything else down. A PR (Photo Recon) Mark.XVI lands at  Alipore, India during World War 2. Despite being very rugged, heat and humidity in the CBI and SWAPO theatres was very hard on with the Mosquito's wood and glue. (Jack D. Canary Special Collection, SDASM)
Tail up, everything else down. A PR (Photo Recon) Mark.XVI lands at Alipore, India during World War 2. Despite being very rugged, heat and humidity in the CBI and SWAPO theatres was especially hard on with the Mosquito’s wood and glue. (Jack D. Canary Special Collection, SDASM)

The Mosquito would tend to kick sharply into a crosswind immediately after touching down; and if this wasn’t held firmly with the opposite brake a swing might start and, once started in full measure, it certainly would not be stopped. (There was, of course, a limiting cross-wind-speed, beyond which this drift could not be counteracted.)

In earlier days the Mosquito’s undercarriage was also a shade weak laterally. I remember one pilot who was comparatively new to the type completing his approach despite a sudden change in wind-direction and strength. Things certainly happened.

After he landed on the appointed runway, which was by now 90 degrees off to a 35mph wind, the Mosquito continued briefly in a straight line with a jet of deep blue smoke coming from the heavily braked port wheel, then hurried around in a twinkling pirouette. He taxied all the way in feeling there was possibly something odd about the aircraft, but only after descending through the entry hatch and looking at the ground crew’s faces, did he realise that both his undercarriage legs had distorted sideways by something like 20 degrees!”

"...the airplane that looks fast usually is fast, and the Mosquito was, by the standards of the time, an extremely well streamlined airplane” – Major Elwood Quesada, aide to Gen. Hap Arnold, USAAF. (State Library of Victoria H98.100/4298)
“…the airplane that looks fast usually is fast, and the Mosquito was, by the standards of the time, an extremely well streamlined airplane” – Major Elwood Quesada, aide to Gen. Hap Arnold, USAAF. (State Library of Victoria H98.100/4298)

A tendency to make rather untidy arrivals

“Nobody appeared to be too troubled by the final approach and landing in their first few hours on a Mosquito, but most pilots would go through a short period of difficulty at some later time during their first 20 hours or so.

The same PR Mark XVI, NS645 'P', taxis in on the PSP (or 'Marsden Matting' in RAF parlance, at Alipore. Clearly, it was hot work. (Jack D. Canary Special Collection, SDASM)
The same PR Mark XVI, NS645 ‘P’, taxis in on the PSP (or ‘Marsden Matting’ in RAF parlance, at Alipore. Clearly, it was hot work. (Jack D. Canary Special Collection, SDASM)

There was a tendency to make rather untidy arrivals, particularly when more serious attempts were being made ‘to do short ones’. My own temporary trouble was probably caused by my anxiety about overshooting on a field with comparatively short runways that were almost always out of the wind. I’d try too hard and, on each arrival, produce a premature stall.

The fact was that the Mosquito would behave perfectly if checked quietly and slowly from a reasonably high threshold speed, but the powerful elevators meant it could be G-stalled very easily if the check was made too rapidly once the engines were cut back. The solution was to arrive over the boundary with excess speed, then cut the throttles and start the hold-off in good time. For a really short arrival it was better, perhaps, to approach with plenty of power at a low speed and leave the power on until the aircraft was in the three-point position.”

A RAAF crew load up their Mosquito FB (most likely a locally built Mk.40) in Burma. Note the under-wing hard points of the Fighter Bomber variants. (State Library of Victoria H98.100/1583)
A RAAF crew load up their Mosquito FB (most likely a locally built Mk.40) in Burma. Note the under-wing hard points of the Fighter Bomber variants. (State Library of Victoria H98.100/1583)

Very surprising things

“For all that, after 40 or so hours on the Mosquito some very surprising things could be done. With judicious use of power you could make absurdly short landings. Mosquitoes have been put down on very small grass strips. The only real trouble was the none-too-bright performance when everything was hanging down.

Looking into the fangs of Mosquito FB Mark VI, MM403 'SB-V' of No. 464 Squadron RAAF at RAF Hunsdon in Hertfordshire, as Armourers prepare a load of 500-lb bombs. (IWM CH 12407)
Looking into the fangs of Mosquito FB Mark VI, MM403 ‘SB-V’ of No. 464 Squadron RAAF at RAF Hunsdon in Hertfordshire, as Armourers prepare a load of 500-lb bombs. (IWM CH 12407)

One of the more pleasant feelings when test-flying the Mosquito lay in the knowledge that one had fuel enough to pretty well fly across the Atlantic. There was never any real fear of being ‘stuck’ over cloud, and the confidence was increased by the presence of two engines when the whole outfit could fly very comfortably on either of them.

At one stage in the war we used to carry out long-period tests of radar equipment. A pair of Mosquitoes would climb to 8,000ft or so, then spend an hour or two hunting one another through broken cloud before returning back down below the undercast.

With the range available it didn’t matter if we’d gone a hundred miles away from the home airfield.

We always tried to have cannon tests coincide with these trips. As with the Beaufighter, which also had its guns grouped in the nose, it was often possible to see the shells proceeding on their way, despite the opaque and acrid fog of cordite fumes that accompanied each burst of fire.”

A loaded RAAF Mosquito FB Mk.40 heads off to bite at the Japanese during the Burma campaign. A total of 178 Mk.40s were built in Sydney, by de Havilland Australia. (State Library of Victoria H98.100/1584)
A loaded RAAF Mosquito FB Mk.40 heads off to bite at the Japanese during the Burma campaign. A total of 178 Mk.40s were built in Sydney, by de Havilland Australia. (State Library of Victoria H98.100/1584)

When fighter types appeared

“Given the responsiveness of the Mosquito, it would certainly have been a crime to leave it in a stolid bomber form. So no one was surprised when fighter types appeared with a stick control in place of the original half-spectacles yoke.

In my opinion the cabin was also more suited to the flat bullet-proof fighter windscreen, than the vee screen used on the bomber and PRU versions. With the necessary de-icing sandwich arrangement and, later, strengthening for cabin pressurisation, the comparatively good visibility of the bomber was still poor compared to that of the fighter and fighter-bomber marks.”

"Stolid" seems a harsh description for any Mosquito variant - even the bombers. They just LOOK so fast. (Charles Daniels Photo Collection, SDASM)
“Stolid” seems a harsh description for any Mosquito variant – even the bombers. They just LOOK so fast. (Charles Daniels Photo Collection, SDASM)

Distinctly touchy

“We learnt quite a lot about Mosquito control effects through routine flight testing. As far as I remember, lateral trim defects at comparatively low speeds were dealt with by adjusting one of the servo tabs, while problems in high speed dives could be cured by shimming the ailerons up or down at their fulcrum points.

It was actually possible to adjust the tabs so the ailerons would be slightly over-balanced at low speeds when the flaps were down, making it necessary to readjust the relative settings of the two tabs.

Certainly the Mosquito was distinctly touchy where control adjustments were concerned. It was sad, too, that production requirements dictated the use of unsuitable hydraulic equipment. We simply accepted that undercarriage retraction would nearly always needed to be re-selected after take-off.”

A flight of RAAF Mosquitoes (most likely from Amberley, QLD) peel off and dive onto their target during a training exercise off the Australian coast, 1945. (State Library of Victoria H98.104/3917)
A flight of RAAF Mosquitoes (most likely from Amberley, QLD) peel off and dive onto their target during a training exercise off the Australian coast, 1945. (State Library of Victoria H98.104/3917)

Part and parcel

“Naturally enough for machine designed as an unprotected high-speed bomber, conditions for the crew were not exactly roomy, but the seats were slightly staggered to provide extra elbow space. Apart from the fuel cocks – which took considerable contortions to adjust – the only real pity was a need to change hands during the undercarriage raising process. Everything else essential was reasonably placed and the two crew members soon learned to divide duties in such a way that they did not impede one another.CloseQuote

Indeed, one felt part and parcel of the Mosquito from the very first hours– and that’s a necessary (but not very common) sensation for any really good aircraft.

For more Mosquitoes

Finally, if you’d like to help increase the world’s population of Mosquitoes, please visit The People’s Mosquito and/or The De Havilland Aircraft Museum. Both have a huge amount of Mosquito goodies online, and both are immensely good causes. (Give, give!)

KA114 comes around during the 2013 WIngs over Wairarapa show. The DH98 was especially agile at altitude. Once, in a fight at 40,000 feet, a pursuing Me109 once stalled and fell more than 10,000 feet while trying to turn inside a high flying Mosquito, (Courtesy of Allister Jenks)
KA114 comes around during WIngs over Wairarapa. The DH98 was especially agile at altitude. Apparently, in one fight at 40,000 feet, a pursuing Me109 stalled and fell more than 10,000 feet while trying to turn inside a high flying Mosquito. (Courtesy of Allister Jenks)

 This post was extracted from a review in Flight magazine, May 2nd, 1946. There was a whole series of them, by the way, so if you’d like to see more resurrected here in airscape, just let me know.

Our pilot wrote his reports under the pen-name “Indicator’. All Flight would reveal was that he’d served as an ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) ferry pilot, before entering the Royal Air Force as a test pilot. As such, he had plenty of opportunity to handle new military types as delivered from the factory, as well as under service conditions.

I’m sure lots of people now know who ‘Indicator’ was. I do not. If you can enlighten us, please leave a comment. I’m itching to know (and there could be a good article in it).

8 thoughts on “Mosquito Bites

  1. Another outstanding article! Please, please dust off the archives and feed it to the hungry masses. Simply can’t get enough.

  2. I can’t imagine what it must cost to keep a Mosquito in the air today. A single Merlin is hard enough to care for and feed. But two?

    Another great article!

    1. Thanks Ron. Yep, they’re a big, beautiful, complex power-plant. And a real war winner to boot. Over 148,000 were built (between Rolls-Royce and Packard) but just try and get your hands on one today! As for taking on two… Ground crews are as invaluable today as ever they were.

      1. Ground crews are always worth their weight in gold!

        I’ve heard they’re having trouble finding pilots for warbirds, that nobody’s willing to invest in the next generation of people to fly these aircraft. Don’t know if that’s true or not, but it does seem to be an incredibly closed community, even by aviation standards.

      2. I’ve heard the same thing – for years! And I think it’s true for ground crew (certified restorers and maintainers) as well. The community is very close, rather than closed, and I get the sense there’s a lo-o-o-o-o-ng apprenticeship spent paying your dues; a bit like becoming an ag pilot, where you begin by getting all your qualifications, then ‘graduate’ to driving the loader for a few years. But for all that, the key word in your comment is “invest”. Combine an irreplaceable airframe with a 24-litre engine, add a lawyer and an insurance broker, and the result is stratospheric operating costs. While the world could use more classic training facilities like Stallion 51 and Boultbee Academy (boultbeeflightacademy.co.uk), someone still has to foot the bill. Aviation’s theme tune…

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