A while back, I shared Indicator’s impressions of flying the De Havilland Mosquito – and promised to bring you more from that Flight magazine series. Time to make good on the offer… So, following our recent jaunt across America in four Fairey Swordfish, it seems most relevant to share a quick sketch of the venerable ‘Stringbag’.
Time off for good behaviour
One of the more pleasant wartime holidays from the normal military aircraft flying routine – during the short periods of summer, at least – was that of being given a delivery or test job on a Fairey Swordfish.
The routine at the average maintenance unit involved more or less continuous concentration, since we were habitually leaping from one then-modern aircraft to another, with a choice of anything up to a score of different types.
So the Swordfish’s rest-cure effect was simply that of flying something with which there was no need to concentrate on ‘drill-sequence’ or on memorising different positions of the hydraulic and other controls, as well as all the revolution and boost figures for take-off, climbing and cruising flight.
A pilot’s holiday
With its fixed-pitch airscrew, fixed undercarriage, and unflapped wings, the Swordfish was virtually a one-control aircraft—discounting the movements of the rudder pedals and control column which, in any complicated aircraft, are pushed around quite without conscious thought.
What’s more, the Swordfish felt so safe that the only real personal risk involved in flying this airship seemed to be incurred in climbing up to or out of its pulpit-like cockpit.
Twisting the tail
Despite having any of the normal complications, however, the Swordfish did possess one or two rather strange controls – including a means of increasing the droop of the ailerons so they would provide something in the way of mildly flap-like characteristics. I don’t remember this control ever being used on our ordinary flights.
Also, and unlike any other aircraft at the time, the Swordfish’s fore and aft trimmer was a genuine incidence-changing gear – an early all-flying tailplane – and the rudder-bias, which was adjusted by a little wheel on the right-hand side of the cockpit, was ‘powered’ by an elastic cord. This turned out to be a good deal more effective than the similar system used in Tiger Moths, and it was a good idea to remove as much of the tension as possible before throttling right back for landing.
A disarming quirk or two
During my first trip in a Swordfish, I remember being somewhat disturbed because I couldn’t find any obvious way to check the fuel level. Even the fact that I felt an unbound (if misguided) confidence in my ability to put the Swordfish down in any of the open fields below didn’t remove the anxiety. It was only after the flight that I learned the fuel gauge was viewed through a hole in the dashboard, and only then after it had been illuminated by switching on a special electric light.
The particular Swordfish which our unit held ran at quite alarmingly high oil temperatures too. This was another source of minor anxiety, as I progressively reduced the already low boost in an effort to keep the figure below a supposed danger mark. Evidently our Swordfish was one that had had its oil cooler modified for Arctic flying conditions. Either that, or someone had simply failed to connect up the oil cooler properly.
In touch with the elements
Accustomed as we were to rushing around the sky in little transparent canopies, within which there were no particular sensations of either motion or connection with the outside world, you truly felt as if you were airborne when you were sitting in the open cockpit of a Swordfish.
Not only could the air be almost seen as it passed over the wings, but the continuous draught was a reminder that even speeds as low as 90 knots could produce quite a gale.
And up front, beneath the narrow-chord engine cowling, the valve gear could clearly be seen in action, while the metal airscrew flailed around quietly to the accompaniment of a very typical reduction-gear rattle from the trusty Bristol Pegasus engine.
This review first appeared in Flight magazine of August 29th, 1946,
as part of their In The Air series by ‘Indicator’.
Next post, I’ll step things up eight-fold – in terms of engines; if not weight, power, speed, armament, crew numbers, etc – with Indicator’s comparison of the B-17 and B-24 in RAF service. Two heavies for the price of one! (And then I think we’ll leave the 1940s for a while…)