I think I might have gotten a bit ‘soap boxy’ last month.
I don’t want to give the impression that I’m anti-enterprise, or anti-airlines, or anti- very much, really. Who has the time? I am, if anything, a little passionate about aviation and the freedom to practise it. And so I’m still committed to writing a follow-up article for ‘If you build it…’ about the future of GA.
In a flash of inspiration at about 0430 this morning, I thought of a way to do that without having to get the soapbox back off the woodpile. It may just take me a little longer to complete.
Meanwhile, there’s never any shortage of other things to write about…
A curious connection
Actually, even though it’s already half gone I’m excited for October. I’ve just completed another article for SAAM, this time on the installation of their ex-RAAF AP-3C Orion A9-756. I was lucky enough to have a look through the inside of the aircraft the other week, which will only be opened on special occasions in future. It was – and remains – quite an extraordinary aircraft.
I was also interested to learn that the Orion – which gave 50 years of remarkable service in its maritime reconnaissance, surveillance, ASW, ELINT, and support roles with the RAAF, as well as numerous other air forces around the world – shared a curious connection with the RAF’s Nimrod, which gave similar service for Great Britain.
The Nimrod, of course, was based on the ill-starred de Havilland Comet, the world’s first commercial jet airliner, which suffered a series of in-flight break-ups early in its career. Although remediated, the Comet never won back the public’s trust and was overhauled by the popular Boeing 707.
Instead, the design found its purpose in the military where it had a long and distinguished career – fondly esteemed by its crews, many of whom wouldn’t have even been born at the time of the Comet disasters. (Comet was, incidentally, the foundation of the modern, forensic, ‘just culture’ approach to air accident investigations – so its true contribution to air travel turned out to be immeasurable anyway.)
It turns out the Orion was also based on an ill-starred new airliner concept – the Lockheed L-188 Electra turbo-prop. (Technically the ‘Electra II’, I guess.) Just like Comet, the Electra was a ground breaker – the first large turbo-prop to be built in the USA. And just like the Comet, initial sales were buoyant until three aircraft were lost in flight, in quick succession.
Two of the crashes were traced to a phenomenon dubbed ‘whirl mode flutter’ (essentially the outer propellers would oscillate outside their normal rotational disc when their RPM was decreased) that set up a resonant vibration in the outer wing panels and eventually led to them tearing themselves off. Again, the design flaw was quickly remediated but public trust never returned. No more Electras were ordered after those three early disasters and only 170 were ever built – most going on to long careers with a variety of airlines.
However, just like the Nimrod. the Electra found its true calling in the military. Developed into the P-3 Orion, a further 757 were built – and adored worldwide by crews who weren’t even born at the time of the Electra’s ‘whirl mode’ disasters.
The Great Hunter(s)
And, in a final connection between two of the 20th Century’s greatest maritime patrol aircraft, the Orion and Nimrod were both, of course, named for great mythological hunters.