Thursday, January 31, 2008

I'd appreciate your comments and feedback

Some weeks ago I asked whether anyone was interested in reading manuscripts online. The initial response was favorable, so I've gone ahead and set something up.

I've created a second blog solely for the purpose of putting up my manuscripts. The first one is a fantasy novel, and I've posted the first five chapters plus the Glossary and List Of Characters. You'll find a link to it at the top of the sidebar to this blog under the heading, "Readers Wanted".

I hope you'll take the time to click over there and read it, and please comment as you see fit. I'm still learning the craft of fiction writing, and any feedback will be most helpful.

Thanks in advance!


Ever heard of "Weiberfastnacht"?

I was astonished to read today that "German carrier Lufthansa is to warn international passengers, men in particular, about the dangers of landing at airports on the Rhine tomorrow, the day women cut men's ties off and compensate them with an unexpected kiss."

It seems that in Germany, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday is when women take over. They occupy the town halls and administrative offices, cut off men's ties and generally create mayhem. At 11.11 a.m. the Carnival season is officially declared open, and apparently raucous (and alcoholic) celebrations are the norm - at least, if this video from Trier in 2007 is anything to go by!

Sounds like fun . . . if you're not wearing an expensive silk tie!


Drinkers beware!

For those who enjoy beer or port, there's news.

First, beer. It seems that Carlsberg has just launched the world's most expensive beer - at about U.S. $400 per bottle!!! They're only producing 600 bottles, to be sold through some of Copenhagen's most exclusive restaurants. The brew, known as 'Vintage No. 1', contains 10.5% alcohol by volume. An expert said that "the taste of the brew hinted at prunes, caramel, vanilla, oak and cherry port bitterness, and was best consumed with gourmet blue cheese or on its own with 'a very special friend'."

At that price, mate, it'd have to be an extraordinarily special friend! I enjoy Heineken myself, and for that kind of money I can buy close to 40 six-packs of it! I don't think I'll be splurging on Carlsberg Vintage No. 1 anytime soon . . .

Another bit of beer news: the Japanese brewer Kirin has introduced "Hot Beer". Yes, you read it right the first time: beer that's consumed in a cup, like coffee. Kirin's Ichiban Shibori Stout is heated to 120° Fahrenheit in a microwave, then stirred to give it a Cappuchino-like foamy head. It's served with a cinnamon stick and sugar cubes.

Again, I don't see myself trying this one anytime soon! I like my beer cold, thanks. If I want something hot I have plenty of alternatives!

Finally, port lovers have something to feel sick about as well. A British retailer, Marks & Spencer, has launched a monstrosity known as "Pink Port", allegedly "for the ladies". It's bright pink with a fruity scent.

According to Guy Woodward, editor of Decanter magazine, it "doesn't taste like any port I know - it's more like vodka and cranberry juice . . . The nose smells like a rose but then you get this whack of confected fruits and alcohol on the palate . . . It tastes rather cheap, and is worryingly close to the alcopop market".

Once more, I think I'll pass! I like a good vintage port far too much to pollute my palate with some modern gustatory ghastliness!


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A case of police overkill?

According to a report in Japan Today:

Hirofumi Fukuda, 27, who had been wanted for assaulting police officers on Jan 21, was arrested after a chase through central Osaka. Around 11 a.m., police received an emergency call saying that a car was driving recklessly, ignoring traffic lights. When a patrol car approached the vehicle in question, it took off.

So far, so good: but the report goes on to inform us that the chase "involved 2,240 officers, 460 police cars and one helicopter".

Let me repeat that.

Two thousand, two hundred and forty officers;

Four hundred and sixty police cars;

And one helicopter.

Sounds like almost superhuman restraint on the part of the police air wing!

I think I can guess what movie was shown at the last Osaka PD social gathering . . .


Fantastic photography!

Tennyson spoke of "Nature, red in tooth and claw".

If you want to see that in reality, there's an absolutely fascinating set of photographs of sharks taking seals in False Bay, South Africa.

People, these pictures are incredible! I've crossed False Bay by boat and ship many times, and seen the sharks hunting the seals for myself: but the sheer clarity and stop-action detail of these shots amazes me. They're a must-see.

Head on over to the London Telegraph and see for yourself.


What kind of lover are you?

There's an interesting online 'aptitude test', for want of a better description, concerning your qualifications (or lack thereof) as a lover.

According to an article in the London Telegraph, it's a "a unique experiment which deploys the latest advances in personality testing to gain a deeper understanding of how and why we love."

I'm hardly the world's hottest lover, and my knowledge of the field can hardly be described as encyclopedic, but the test passes an interesting few minutes.

Log in to the test here and see how you do. Let us know in a comment, if you feel so inclined.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Doofus Of The Day #6

This is not a good way to get away.

It seems Mr. Mthandani Nqetho stole various bits and pieces from the stalls of 'informal traders' in Cathedral Street, Durban, South Africa yesterday.

When he'd finished he wanted to leave as quickly as possible, so he jumped over a palisade fence.

Er . . . let me rephrase that.

He tried to jump over a palisade fence.

He didn't succeed. Instead, he impaled both feet on the fence posts.

Police found him hanging from the fence this morning. He'd managed to free one foot, but the other was still firmly attached to the fence. He'd held himself up all night using his arms to take pressure off the foot, which would otherwise probably have ripped completely open under his weight. (See picture at the link above.)

Furthermore, to add insult to injury, it seems that some kind soul had passed during the night and put a cigarette between his lips . . . but failed to light it, and didn't bother to call for any help.

The cigarette was found still between the felon's lips, chewed to a nub.

He's now in hospital, recovering from perforations in both feet. According to another report, police are "eager to speak to him on his release." I'll bet they are!

I'm sorry, but someone has to say it:

To hold oneself up all night like that is certainly a noteworthy feet!



Ever heard of 'glamping'?

I hadn't either until I read this article. The word means 'glamorous camping'. Essentially one has all the comforts of a five-star-plus hotel - under canvas.

Personally, I don't see the point. I remember many years of camping, as a child, a teenager and an adult. I've been snowed into a mountain cave in the Cedarberg in South Africa; spent stifling nights under canvas in the African bush (where one's principle concern was what might come sniffing around the tent at oh-dark-thirty, looking for a midnight snack); camped beside rushing rivers where one could reach an arm outside the tent and feel the spray from the water breaking against the rocks; watched the sun rise over frozen winter mountains, shivering in multiple layers of clothing while clutching a blessedly hot cup of campfire coffee in both hands; and felt the icy shock of mountain stream water as I've plunged into it, soap in hand, to wash off the sweat and stains of a few days' hike through the hills. Blessed memories, all of them (even if the last-mentioned involved water so cold that I came out with certain portions of anatomy shrunk to the size and consistency of dried walnuts and a [very small] frozen carrot!)

'Glamping', on the other hand, involves only the best of everything, up to and including hot and cold running servants. The article cites Whitepod in Switzerland (from $640 per night in low season); Al-Maha in the United Arab Emirates ($1,100 per night); Aman-i-Khas in India ($1,170 per night); Baines' Camp in Botswana ($575 per night in low season, $1,040 in high season); Clayoquot Wilderness Resort in British Columbia, Canada ($5,900 to $6,850 for three days, all inclusive); Paws Up in Montana, USA ($835 to $940 per night for two people); and Longitude 131, Australia ($990 per person per night, sharing). Click on the Web links provided for a taste of utter opulence - at a price.

Even allowing for different levels of service, numbers of guests and length of stay, those numbers average out to about $1,100 per night across the seven resorts. In my active camping days, that sort of money would buy supplies and pay travel costs for a week to ten days of camping for a party of four, including entrance fees to national parks and all related expenses! We didn't have champagne, masseurs or servants, but we had a pretty darn good time nevertheless.

I don't think you'll find me 'glamping' anytime soon!


When people forget to be human beings

There's a terribly sad, hard-to-read post up on My Own Woman's blog. She describes a mother whose only interest is in her present relationship, at the expense of her son.

I've had to deal with so many cases of parental neglect like this . . . the children usually grow up with no sense of right or wrong, no understanding of morality or ethics, no idea of how to behave. Many of them end up in trouble with the law: it's after that became irrevocable that I met many of them behind prison bars. Trouble is, by that time they're usually so set in their ways that to give them any real incentive to change is almost impossible. They'll make a great pretense of 'getting religion' or anything else that might get them an 'early out': but once they're on the streets again they usually revert to their old ways in a matter of hours (if not minutes).

From her story, it sounds like we have another prime candidate for such a life growing up right now. I guess this kid's only hope is to find a foster parent who can help him see the light: and since he's already in his teens, it's likely too late for that. By the time kids reach double digits in age their personalities have largely been formed. It takes a miracle to change them - or the strict discipline of military service or something like that.

Please take a few moments to click over to My Own Woman and read her story . . . and be grateful that you didn't have to endure such an upbringing. (At least, I hope you didn't. If you did, congratulations on surviving it!)


Monday, January 28, 2008

Now that's what I call dedication!

You're a scientist.

You want to collect samples of hippopotamus sweat for study in your laboratory.

However, there's one slight difficulty.

The average hippopotamus will stomp you into a mudhole (and fill it in after you) if you try to get near him.


You get into an artificial hippopotamus suit, built strong enough to withstand the impact of an angry (or amorous?) hippo.

You smear the whole thing with hippo dung to hide your scent. (No word of how it smells to you inside the darn thing.)

Then you creep up on your hippopotamus.

So far, so good . . . but as the inimitable Robert Burns warns us, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley". Or, in this case, hippos and scientists.

You see, hippos tend to prefer muddy areas . . .

And your fake hippo suit, armored to withstand aggression, is very heavy . . .

And deep mud and heavy objects really, really don't go well together.

That sinking feeling you're getting? It's real.

For the details and pictures, see this report in the London Daily Mail.

As an old Africa hand, what else can I say but:



A musician with a mission

If you've never paid much attention to classical music, there's a treat in store for you - and it's free!

British violinist Tasmin Little has recorded a new album, The Naked Violin - and she's making the entire album available for download, free of charge. You'll find it at her Web site.

In an interview with the London Times newspaper, she says that she wants to break down the prejudice expressed by many against classical music. During a private recital, she says:
“Some people there thought that they hated solo-violin music, until they actually experienced it. That made me think about tackling these prejudices on a wider scale.”
She points out:

“This notion that classical musicians are all snooty, and that our snootiness creates a barrier that stops people enjoying what we play. By doing what I’m doing I want to prove once and for all that the only reason why people don’t sample classical music is that they don’t have open minds, or they are lazy.”
She invites those who've avoided classical music to "undertake the Tasmin three-step challenge":

“First, download the recording. Secondly, write to me at my website, saying what you didn’t like about my chosen music or playing. Thirdly, tell me what barriers still remain that prevent you from entering a concert hall. In other words, what is your problem?”
I love classical music, and I've already downloaded her album. I highly recommend it to music lovers - and if you've never tried classical music for yourself, here's a golden opportunity for you.

Thumbs up and a big "Thank You!" to Tasmin Little from the other side of the Atlantic!


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lest we forget: Auschwitz, 1945

On this date, January 27, 1945, the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz in Poland was liberated by the forces of the Soviet Union.

In the preceding three years, something over a million people (the exact total will never be known) had been murdered there on an assembly-line basis.

They were part of approximately six million 'enemies' murdered by the Nazi regime in concentration and extermination camps, plus another six million or more (again, the real total will never be known) killed in prisoner-of-war camps (particularly Soviet prisoners) or starved to death or shot or otherwise murdered in German-occupied areas.

There were many concentration and extermination camps, but Auschwitz tops the list in terms of the sheer number of murders and the casual, almost banal brutality of its activities.

I could post links to many organizations and Web sites that describe what went on there, but I'll leave you to do an Internet search on your own. There are so many that you could spend a year reading them and not be done.

All I can say is this: if you ever get the chance, visit Auschwitz. Most of what was there now lies in ruins . . .

. . . but enough is left for you to understand.

Stand in the gas chambers.

Be silent, and listen.

Those who died there . . .

Many of their souls are still there.

They have never left.

And if you have ears to hear . . .

You can still hear them scream.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Weekend Wings #4: The Last Stand Of The Biplane

Following my last Weekend Wings post, which looked at the line of descent between the Sopwith Pup biplane fighter of World War I and the Lockheed F-35B STOVL variant of the Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, I had a few queries from readers asking when the last biplanes saw combat.

The answer might surprise you. You see, biplanes served in several theaters of combat all the way through World War II and in the Korean War. Indeed, a biplane is still in military service in at least three nations, including two current major powers!

During the 1930's most military aircraft saw rapid development. Wood and metal tube fuselages covered with fabric gave way to stressed metal skins and monocoque construction. Fabric-covered wings and ailerons were replaced by metal. Engines grew more powerful. The first pressurized transport aircraft were developed. However, biplanes were still common, and served as front-line fighters right up to the beginning of World War II. In the Spanish Civil War biplanes were used in front-line service by both sides. Franco's Nationalists and their German Condor Legion allies flew Heinkel He-46's and He-59's, and Mussolini's Fascists flew Fiat CR-32's. The Republican side flew Russian-sourced Polikarpov R-5's and I-15's (the latter is shown below).

During World War II virtually all nations used biplanes as basic training aircraft. The USA used the Stearman; Britain used the Avro Tutor and de Havilland Tiger Moth; Germany the Bücker Bü-131 Jungmann and Heinkel He-72 Kadett; the Soviet Union the Polikarpov U-2/Po-2; and so on. Details and photographs may be found at the links provided.

For actual combat service, let's look at each of the nations involved in turn.


The Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy used biplanes very successfully throughout the war. The Fairey Swordfish was its primary torpedo-bomber in home waters (it used the US Grumman Avenger in the Pacific). The Swordfish played a vital role in Operation Judgment, the air-strike on the Italian naval base at Taranto in November 1940 (which was a major inspiration to the Japanese in their planning for the air attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941) and in the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941. The aircraft also gave stellar service in anti-shipping strikes in the Greek campaign of 1941, and served in the Western Desert, dropping flares to illuminate bombing targets at night, and from Malta to strike ships trying to supply and reinforce Axis forces in North Africa. They also equipped several land-based squadrons in England carrying out anti-shipping attacks across the English Channel. During the latter part of World War II they equipped anti-submarine forces aboard escort carriers in the North Atlantic.

The replacement for the Swordfish, the Fairey Albacore, was another biplane: but its performance was little better, and it ended up being withdrawn from service even before the Swordfish! It gave good service, but appears never to have been as popular with its crews as its predecessor.

Another biplane, the Supermarine Walrus, an amphibian, equipped British warships as a catapult-launched spotter aircraft. It served throughout the war, sinking at least five German submarines. It also provided air-sea rescue facilities in the English Channel and in the Pacific, where American pilots were amazed to see a biplane on active service as late as 1944/45!

The Gloster Gladiator was the last in a long line of biplane fighters, and several squadrons were still in front-line service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) at the beginning of World War II. Two squadrons were sent to Norway to operate from a frozen lake-bed during the German invasion, but were hopelessly outclassed by the more modern Messerschmitt Me-109 fighters of the Luftwaffe.

Three Sea Gladiators (a variant adapted for carrier landing and used by the Fleet Air Arm) were flown by the Hal Far Fighter Flight in defense of the island of Malta in 1940-41. They were named 'Faith', 'Hope' and 'Charity' and provided a huge boost to Maltese morale. The fuselage of 'Faith', the only one of the three to survive the war, is today displayed in the Malta War Museum.

The Gladiator was beloved of its pilots and superbly aerobatic, as this video shows.

The only sustained biplane-versus-biplane combat in World War II appears to have been in the East African campaign of 1940-41. The RAF and the South African Air Force (SAAF) in Kenya and the Sudan operated a large variety of biplanes. Hawker Hart light bombers (and their derivatives, the Hind, Audax and an Audax derivative, the Hartebees) and Hawker Fury fighters served with distinction against Italian Fiat CR-32's and CR-42's during the Abyssinian campaign. The Hart and CR-32 are shown below, in that order.

SAAF Vickers Valentia biplane transports were also involved. One is illustrated below.

An SAAF Valentia carried out what was perhaps the most madcap bombing raid of World War II. The aircraft had landed at a Kenyan forward base in 1940 to deliver supplies. Over supper that night (probably including a fair amount of the local beer) the airmen were told of an Italian fort at Namoroputh in Somalia which was 'simply waiting to be bombed'. Nothing loth, the intrepid airmen concocted their own 'bomb', consisting of a 40-gallon drum containing '386 sticks of dynamite, parts of a sewing machine, a motorcar differential and two packets of incendiary bullets', according to a contemporary report. Lacking an impact detonator they wired it up to a length of slow-burning mining fuse.

Next morning the aviators (by now doubtless nursing severe hangovers) loaded their bomb into their slow, lumbering transport (its maximum speed - in a dive - was about 120 mph!) and took off. As they approached the fort they lit the fuse and tried to throw the bomb out of the door of their transport. To their horror it stuck fast in the doorway, leading to much pushing and shoving - and language that probably turned the sky a considerably deeper shade of blue than usual! Eventually they managed to heave the bomb out. It scored a direct hit on the fort, which disappeared in a cloud of smoke. The airmen returned to their base to a right royal roasting from their superiors (whose permission for the strike they had neglected to obtain) and three rousing cheers (and many more beers!) from their squadron-mates. (I learned about this 'raid' from my father, who served in the RAF during the Abyssinian Campaign. He has lots of interesting stories like this one, which was later reported in Time magazine, minus some of the more interesting details!)


The Avia B-534 was a biplane fighter produced just too late to resist the German takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1938 (and the remainder of the country, then titled Slovakia, in 1939). The Slovak Air Force was forced to assist the German Luftwaffe in the invasion of Poland in 1939, and sent two squadrons of B-534's to do so. The aircraft also served alongside the Luftwaffe in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Some B-534's were supplied to Bulgaria, and were used to intercept USAF B-24 Liberator bombers during their attacks on the Romanian oilfields at Ploesti in 1943. Interestingly, a B-534 scored the last known air-to-air victory by a biplane fighter when, in 1944, one shot down a German Junkers Ju-52 transport during the Slovak National Uprising against Germany.


During its invasion of Poland in 1939 Germany used Heinkel He-50 biplane dive-bombers to good effect, although they were already second-line aircraft, having been replaced in first-line service by the famous Junkers Ju-87 'Stuka'. The remaining He-50's were used for dive-bomber pilot training from then on, until in 1943 they were reactivated for combat service after the Germans had experienced (to their unpleasant surprise) the attentions of the 'Night Witches' of the Soviet Air Force (see below). From mid-1943 until September 1944 the He-50's were used for night harrassment raids, copying the Soviet example.

Heinkel He-59 seaplanes were used for reconnaissance, mine-laying and air-sea rescue during the first few years of the war. The Germans painted the Red Cross symbol on some of them to pick up pilots shot down in the English Channel and North Sea during the Battle of Britain. Needless to say, Britain wasn't about to allow their pilots to be taken prisoner like this or have German pilots returned to service against them, so the RAF shot down several of the 'rescue missions'. The video below is from a contemporary British newsreel, clearly filmed with propaganda intentions but showing the He-59 to good advantage.


Italian Fiat CR-32 and CR-42 biplane fighters saw action over France and against England in 1940, with disastrous results against the more modern British fighters. They were rapidly replaced in front-line service by monoplane aircraft with higher performance. However, they continued to serve in 'minor' theaters of war. CR-42's saw combat against Yugoslav Hawker Fury fighters in 1941, and were also involved in the Abyssinian and Western Desert campaigns.


The Soviet Union was caught unprepared by the German invasion in 1941, and suffered losses of thousands of combat aircraft in the first six months. Its Air Force was not fully equipped with modern aircraft at the time, and many hundreds of biplane fighters (such as the Polikarpov I-15) were destroyed in the air and on the ground.

The Polikarpov Po-2 trainer was pressed into service in the tens of thousands as a liaison and partisan supply aircraft and light night bomber. In the latter role it achieved worldwide fame in the hands of the female pilots of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, popularly known as the 'Night Witches'. They developed specialized tactics and carried out thousands of raids against German positions, keeping the exhausted troops from sleeping. Members of the unit won twenty-three Hero of the Soviet Union awards and dozens of Orders of the Red Banner. They flew over 24,000 sorties and dropped several thousand tons of bombs.

The little Po-2 was superb in this application. Its maximum air speed was slower than the stalling speed of the German fighters which opposed it, so it could dodge them with relative ease. Its tiny 100hp engine wasn't very hot, so it couldn't be tracked by infra-red very easily as a heat source, and the plane's wood-and-canvas construction made it very hard to detect on radar.

The video below is of a Po-2 at a 2007 air show.


The stellar service rendered by the Polikarpov Po-2 was not forgotten by the Soviet armed forces, who kept it in service for some years as a night intruder. During the Korean War it became notorious among American GI's as 'Bedcheck Charlie', keeping them from sleeping at night. Two very interesting accounts of such raids (from the receiving end) may be read here and here.

The Soviets went further, and looked for a replacement. In 1947 the prototype of the Antonov An-2 flew for the first time. It was one of the largest single-engined biplanes ever produced, using a fuselage cross-section similar to that of the Douglas DC-3 transport (which the Soviets had received in large numbers during World War II, and manufactured their own version under license as the Lisunov Li-2. The An-2 used a 1,000hp radial engine and could carry two pilots and up to 12 passengers or over 4,000 pounds of cargo. It was manufactured in colossal numbers: it's estimated that in its original Soviet version, plus production in Poland and in China (as the Shijiazhuang Y-5) over 40,000 have been produced, making it the most-manufactured aircraft in history. Incredibly, it's reportedly still in production in China!

The video below shows a short pleasure flight in an An-2. It provides good detail shots of the cabin interior, the flight deck and instruments.

A later version, the Antonov An-3, had a turboprop engine: it's still available from its Russian manufacturer.

The An-2 is still in military service with North Korea, where it's used as an assault transport for special forces. Its tiny radar signature, slow speed and ability to land on almost any surface make it valuable as a means of getting an assault force to a pinpoint target (although it's unlikely any of the aircraft - or their passengers - would survive such missions). It's also still in service with the Russian and Chinese air forces, as the video below demonstrates. This was taken of a joint parachute drop by Russian, British and US parachutists in 1998.

So, the biplane didn't end its wartime service after World War I. It soldiered on right through World War II and beyond: and if war should break out on the Korean Peninsula in the next few years, it's likely that the biplane will be in action once again.


A little more humor

I offer this morning another British comedy duo for your enjoyment: Mitchell and Webb. Their zany, offbeat humor can sometimes leave me cold, and at other times have me splitting my sides. You'll have to judge for yourself.

I've included two of my favorite clips. Being a writer myself, the first, an interview between an author and his agent, has a certain appeal to me.

The second is a short advertisement they did for Apple Computer in England.

There are many clips of their show on YouTube if you'd like to see more of them.


The Last Mutiny Against Captain Bligh

Two hundred years ago today Captain (later Vice-Admiral) William Bligh suffered the last of four rebellions or mutinies against his authority that he was to experience during his extraordinary career. The so-called 'Rum Rebellion' (which had nothing whatsoever to do with rum) is celebrated, by coincidence, on the same date as Australia Day - fitting, really, since the rebellion took place on that continent.

Bligh, of 'Mutiny On The Bounty' fame, was a skilled, efficient, professional naval officer cursed with a difficult personality. Despite his competence, he appears to have been one of those people who simply can't suffer fools gladly: acid-tongued, intolerant of other's views and autocratic.

The crew of HMS Bounty were well treated by the standards of the times, but appear to have been seduced from their duty by the 'tropical paradise' of Tahiti, where the ship had been sent to collect breadfruit for transportation to the West Indies. They mutinied on April 28, 1789, and put Captain Bligh into a ship's boat along with 18 loyal seamen.

In a masterly display of seamanship Bligh conned the boat over 4,000 miles to safety in Timor. He and his crew were repatriated from there to England. The mutineers were subsequently hunted down and court-martialed.

Bligh went on to a successful career in the Royal Navy, but had further problems with mutineers in the great mutinies of 1797 at Spithead and The Nore. He was not held to blame for those mutinies, of course, as unrest and disobedience were widespread throughout the Royal Navy.

In 1805 Bligh was appointed Governor of the colony of New South Wales. He soon came into conflict with the local militia, led by a Royal Marine officer, Major George Johnston. Both men appear to have been pawns in the conflicting interests of other, more powerful men. Matters came to a head on January 26, 1808 when Johnston led the militia to Government House, arrested Bligh and expelled him from the colony. In 1811 Johnston was court-martialed and cashiered (dismissed) from the Royal Marines as punishment for his actions.

Bligh went on to be promoted Rear-Admiral in 1811 and Vice-Admiral in 1814. He died in London in 1817. Clearly, the fact that those under his command had mutinied against him on four separate occasions wasn't held against him by his superiors and didn't hamper his career: but it must surely have made him wonder sometimes.


Friday, January 25, 2008

When "the law is an ass".

The title of this post is, of course, a quotation from Charles Dickens' well-known novel Oliver Twist.

Would that it could remain as a novelist's turn of phrase . . . but very sadly, it proves true time and again in this sick, twisted world of ours.

In England, five pre-teen and teenage thugs tortured a twelve-year-old girl. They "kicked their victim, set off fireworks near her legs and ripped off her underwear during an hour long ordeal - even recording it on mobile phones". One of them then "took a running kick at her as she lay on the floor."

You'd think they'd receive salutary punishment for such monstrosities, wouldn't you?

Think again.

These cretins "escaped jail because the JPs said they were bound by guidelines issued by politicians over the sentencing of juveniles. Instead the gang, which included two girls, were given supervision or referral orders which means they will be monitored by the probation service and youth workers. The yobs will each have to pay the girl £150 (about $300) compensation."

This sickens me to an extent that I really can't describe without using profanities ill-suited for a blog like this.

If I'd ever behaved like that as a teenager I might not have survived to adulthood . . . because my own father would have reasoned (rightly) that it was his fault for letting such a monster loose on society, and it was up to him to correct his error.

I consider myself very fortunate to live in a part of the USA where most parents would feel the same way. If any teenagers here were to behave in that way their own parents would deal out to them - at the very least - the thrashing of their lives: and if they didn't most of the rest of the parents nearby would force them to watch whilst they acted in loco parentis for the good of all of us. Furthermore, if any damnfool limp-wristed liberals tried to object and laid charges, there isn't a jury in this part of the world that would convict the adults of any crime under such circumstances. We have more sense here. I daresay the local cops wouldn't even manage to identify or locate the culprits. Gee, gosh, darn, what a pity.

I'm simply aghast that the once-great, once-proud British nation could descend into such legalistic stupidity. Such morons don't deserve to be a part of our society. Period. There is no place for them.

It may already be too late to teach them what it means to be an upright member of society. They may by now be so set in their evil ways that they can no longer change. I hope I'm wrong, for their sakes . . . but as a prison chaplain I've seen too many behind bars who learned early and very young that 'might makes right'. Very, very few of them ever succeeded in changing once this concept had been set into their pre-pubescent consciousness. They lost the capacity to function as human beings and became animals. Once that happens it's almost impossible to change it.

As for the parents who cared so little for their children that they allowed them to grow up to behave like that . . . they should share the punishment due to their sons and daughters.

Do read the article at the link, dear friends. This is what happens when political, social and psychological ideologies overwhelm common sense. This is what happens when parents abdicate their responsibilities to schools, counselors and 'The State'. This is what happens when children are 'spared the rod' and allowed to run rampant, without supervision or discipline. This is what happens when the family breaks down and children have to form their own structures, but don't have the experience, wisdom or understanding to form good ones.

Don't let it happen to your children. Please. Or your daughter may end up the traumatized victim of such monstrous cruelty. Or your child may end up in and out of jail for the rest of his or her life . . . as I have little doubt will happen to most, if not all, of the five cretins mentioned above. It's probably too late for them.

And that may be the saddest thing of all in this whole tragedy. Five wasted, useless lives - that need not have become like that at all, if only their parents had cared.


A timely reminder on firearms safety

My good and highly-respected buddy, the Expert Witness (otherwise known as JPG), has a very timely blog post about firearms safety.

He links to another horror story about what happens when you disregard such considerations, and reminds us of the classic Four Rules promulgated by El Jefe, the late and greatly lamented Colonel Jeff Cooper.

Well worth reading . . . and absorbing. Thanks, JPG. We need to be reminded from time to time.


Doofi Of The Day #5

Here's a hint.

Those who operate tattoo parlors do business in such premises for a number of very good reasons.

There's the license for the operator and premises, health and safety regulations, questions of hygiene, and a host of others.

If a tattooist offers to 'operate' on you in the comfort of your own home, using an obviously home-made, non-professional device, you might want to ask yourself why he'd do business in that way, evading or avoiding all the aforementioned good reasons for having work premises of his own.

If you fail to ask yourself those questions, you have only yourself to blame for the consequences . . . as a number of women in Springfield, MO have recently discovered.

Friday night, a man knocked on doors holding a tattoo gun and offering his services.

Tamra Eason described the tool as homemade, but still agreed to pay for a tattoo. So did two other women in her apartment complex.

"It was wrapped with black tape, had a pin underneath it, had fishing wire going through it, you could tell it was a homemade gun," Eason said.

The next day, Linda Falls passed out and had to be hospitalized."I passed out in the store and they said I should have it checked out," Falls said.

All the women have an infection in the tattoo area and have been told to get tested for HIV and hepatitis.

Perhaps my favorite comment on this moronity:

"Beware of deals in parachutes, brain surgery and tattoos," said Miller Cotton, a tattoo parlor owner.

No s***, Sherlock!


Thursday, January 24, 2008

I get the feeling this must have been an interesting morning.

It seems that the staff of the National Parks Service are both versatile and courageous. (If that link shows later news, select the news for this date from the drop-down menu.)

A few days ago Mr. Ron DeLong was driving through the Everglades National Park, FL, and stopped his SUV to watch a six-foot Burmese python. The snake promptly installed itself in his engine compartment, despite his attempts to stop it.

Realizing he couldn't handle it on his own, he drove 15 miles to the main entrance station. There a ranger, a biologist, a biologist's assistant and a fireman tried to pull it out. That didn't work, so they tried a taser, which "resulted in the python contracting and excreting bodily fluids all over the responders".

I'd have paid good money to have been around to hear the language at that point! :-)

Finally the four responders actually disassembled parts of the SUV to get at the snake, covered its head in duct tape and extracted it through the engine compartment and out the top. Unfortunately they had to kill the snake (due to its exotic non-native status - it must have been abandoned in the Park by some bozo who couldn't be bothered to do the decent thing and give it to a zoo or pet shop - and possibly due to injuries suffered from being driven around and extracted like that).

Full marks to ranger Willie Lopez, wildlife biologist Skip Snow, biologist’s assistant Alex Wolf and firefighter Henry Delvalle for a difficult and certainly unusual job well done! Sorry about the snake s*** all over your uniforms, guys, but, hey - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?



A failure looking for a place to happen . . .

In Winnipeg, Canada, "a group of teenage car thieves took a joy ride to a court-ordered counseling program aimed to keep them away from stealing cars".

It seems the teens "were attending the counseling program in the Canadian prairie city as part of a court order relating to previous auto thefts". Some of them "are level four offenders, the highest designation for chronic auto thieves in the city".

Gee. Gosh. Let me get this straight.

You have chronic repeat-offender car thieves . . .

You continually release them on bond, bail or probation . . .

You attach no real inconvenience or cost to their punishment . . .


(Bangs head heavily on desk, tears of frustration in eyes.)

I just don't believe this. I really, really can't believe the comment that "the city has introduced a program where high-risk offenders are called as often as every three hours to ensure they are not out stealing cars".

To add insult to injury, the local newspaper suggested that "the teens had stolen the car because it was 'too cold to walk' to their court ordered training program".

Too cold? Really?

My heart bleeds for the little buggers.

O ye custodians of the Winnipeg criminal justice system, have you lost what passes for your minds?

If you want to stop thieves from stealing, put them where they can't steal any more.

In other words, LOCK THEM UP!!!

Or is that too much to comprehend?

Sheesh . . .


We have seen the enemy - and he is us.

A favorite slogan in recent years has been: "It's The Economy, Stupid!"

What those spouting this drivel have failed to mention is that we are the economy - you and I, the ordinary men and women who make up this nation.

What they also fail to mention is that our Government and Federal Reserve have been spending like drunken sailors for the past several decades. They haven't asked us about it: they've just gone ahead and spent money they didn't have. They're still doing it. All the 'entitlement' programs so beloved of politicians - whether the recipients are inner-city welfare mothers, farmers in the Mid-West, or defense contractors all across America - are funded by our Government. Most of them are not paid for out of our taxes, but out of borrowing. The Government has eaten up our Social Security patrimony by 'borrowing' it to pay for other programs. As a result, Social Security is technically approaching bankruptcy. The only reason it's not been declared bankrupt is that it has a stash of Government I.O.U.'s saying that they'll repay the money.

As for our money supply, the Fed hasn't published figures on the US money supply for some time. Why not? My guess is that they've been running the printing presses overtime, flooding the market with dollars to meet the demand for liquidity - but without any underlying assets to maintain the value of the currency. The steadily declining value of the US dollar against other currencies bears this out.

There's just one small problem with that picture. Where is our Government going to get the money to pay back all those I.O.U.'s? What can be done to restore the value of our currency?

There's only one answer, friends. Take a look in the mirror. That's right. You and I are going to have to pay for this profligacy. We'll have to do so in part by paying our share of the national debt through increased taxation; in part by accepting lower benefits from the State in terms of Social Security, Medicare, etc.; and in part by paying a lot more for the goods we want from overseas. Of course, our politicians will disguise their guilt by appealing to us to 'share the burden' and 'do our part' - but they'll never admit that it's their fault we're in this mess to begin with.

And, to be honest, they may have a point. You see, we elected them in the first place. We've continued to elect them. We've voted to station the hogs at the trough and voted in more hogs to keep it full. Now that the trough's empty and the feed bill's come due, we have only ourselves to blame.

Politicians know this. Just look at the current candidates to be our next President. Look at those who are telling us, "I have a wonderful program to fix this - I'll allocate X billion dollars to that problem - if we take spending from here and allocate it there we can deal with so-and-so." They're all lying to us, people, and they're doing it because they know they can get away with it. We've grown into a nation that believes you can fix social and societal issues by throwing money at them. It's never worked throughout human history, and it certainly hasn't worked in the USA over the past half-century, but we continue to tolerate (and elect) those politicians who lie to us about it.

Just look at the numbers. Let's take education for a start. From 1965 through 1999 the US Government spent $118 billion on Title 1, the largest K-12 education program. However, evaluations concluded that the program "has been unable to lift [the] academic level of poor students". If that's so, where's the return on that $118 billion? You tell me. Some more numbers: "Since 1983, over 10 million Americans have reached the 12th grade without having learned to read at a basic level. Over 20 million have reached their senior year unable to do basic math. Almost 25 million have reached 12th grade not knowing the essentials of U.S. history." This in a nation where "average per-pupil spending in U.S. public schools rose 212 percent from 1960 to 1995 in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars" - but "American 12th graders rank 19th out of 21 industrialized countries in mathematics achievement and 16th out of 21 nations in science. Our advanced physics students rank dead last."

How about Social Security? If anyone tries to suggest that the system is bankrupt and reform is necessary, the 'entitlement junkies' will eviscerate him - but the facts speak for themselves. Our current politicians are deathly afraid to fix things because they know they'll be savaged at the polls by those who've grown accustomed to feeding at the public trough: so they're ignoring the problem, leaving it to their successors in office to deal with the mess they inherit. The fact that our children will hate and loathe us for dumping them into such a financial cesspit doesn't faze them in the least. They won't need our children's votes. They do need ours.

Take the current credit crunch. It exists for one reason only: GREED. Good old-fashioned greed, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. We became greedy, as a nation, as a people, as individuals. We're overflowing with physical possessions (just look at the number of storage units springing up all over the country to hold 'stuff' that we can't fit into our homes any more). We're drowning in debt. The average US family had over $8,000 in credit card debt in 2003; about 43% of US families spend more than they earn each year; and the total US consumer debt in October 2003 was just under $2 trillion - yes, TRILLION - or about $18,654 per household excluding mortgage debt.

Because we're willing to spend like drunken sailors, the banks and the Federal Reserve have fallen over themselves to accommodate us. Valuations on houses were 'fudged' to look better; mortgages were offered to sub-prime borrowers; credit cards were issued as if they were greeting cards; and banks loaned money on an ever wider variety of consumer goods. Now the chickens are coming home to roost . . . and everybody's looking for someone else to blame.

Folks, it's time we started being honest at last. We're to blame, each and every one of us, for tolerating this mess, for allowing it to develop for so long, for voting into office the politicians who empowered it, for putting up with their lies, for not taking a stand for the things we know to be true.

When I was a child my father began to give me pocket-money as soon as he figured I was old enough to manage it. I received five cents for every year of my age. Guess what? When I didn't have any money left because I'd thrown it away on chocolates or candy, my father and mother wouldn't help me out with more. I soon learned that if I wanted something expensive, I had to save up for it. If I wanted something really expensive I was expected to do odd jobs around the house, or get a part-time job, and earn the money I needed. My dad wasn't unreasonable: if he saw I was really working towards something and saving responsibly he'd often give me half its cost so I didn't have to work too hard. However, if I didn't bring my part he wouldn't help me. I learned from that.

The Master, Robert A. Heinlein, coined an acronym in his magnificent novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. It's T.A.N.S.T.A.A.F.L., meaning "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch". My father taught me that from an early age. I highly recommend the book, and I suggest it's long gone time all of us re-learned that lesson - and time we started electing politicians who understand it.

If we don't, we're doomed.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Does marksmanship in Australia leave something to be desired?

Two news reports from Down Under have left me shaking my head.

First, Mr. Jason Grant was collecting crocodile eggs on a croc farm when he was attacked by one of the beasts. His unnamed co-worker fired two shots at the crocodile, hitting it with one but shooting his colleague in the arm with the other. Mr. Grant was flown to a hospital in Darwin, where he's recovering from both bite and bullet wounds.

Next, Benjamin Jorgensen and Donna Hayes decided to rob a bakery in Melbourne last year. Not content with grabbing a sack of dough - bread dough, not the preferred monetary variety - Jorgensen shot his accomplice in the backside during the process. They were sentenced yesterday, the judge calling them 'a pair of fools'. Jorgensen drew seven years. Despite her perforated posterior (which one might regard as a mitigating circumstance), Hayes drew eight years.

I have a suggestion. Let's make Jorgensen and Hayes collect crocodile eggs for the duration of their sentences - and as a reward for good behavior, let's promise them that Mr. Grant's co-worker won't shoot at the crocs while they do so!


The Mile High Club's origins

It seems that the Mile High Club may be rather older than one might imagine.

It's said that the first recorded incident of mile-high mischief may have been undertaken by a pilot, one Lawrence Sperry, and his trainee pilot passenger, Mrs. (!) Waldo Polk, in November 1916. The two were airborne in his Curtiss flying-boat over South Bay, New York at the time.

Apparently their efforts had something other than the desired result. Their aircraft crashed and the two were found naked in the wreckage by some passing duck-hunters. Allegedly Mr. Sperry explained that the crash had 'divested' them of their clothing.

If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you. Cash only, please, and in small bills.

I'm also intrigued to learn that Mr. Sperry was involved in the design and testing of the first autopilot for aircraft. I'd always assumed that it was a labor-saving device for the pilot. It now appears that he may have had in mind freeing the pilot for entirely another kind of effort . . .

At any rate, the Club seems to have maintained a steady popularity among travelers. A recent poll conducted by the Airlines Web site showed that 9% of respondents had done the deed up there. Interestingly, both sexes registered a similar response, which tends to support the accuracy of the survey result.

Personally, I've never even tried. Any readers out there who can enlighten us on what's so attractive about the idea? If so, please add your comments and stories.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

When the Force becomes the Farce

OK, some people clearly have waaaaay too much time on their hands!

According to a report in the British Daily Mail, it seems that in North Wales brothers Barney and Daniel Jones have established 'the Holyhead chapter of the self-styled Jedi Church, which claims up to 400,000 members worldwide'.

Barney, age 26, is now known as 'Master Jonba Hehol' while his brother Daniel is 'Master Morda Hehol'. Together they are the 'ministers' of the new church.

Barney informs us that the group, 80 strong so far, will "have teachings based on Yoda - the 900-year-old grand master - as well as readings, essays submitted, meditation and relaxation, visualisation and discuss healthy eating." He warns, however, that "we have developed on the film's teachings, introducing teachings we believe the Jedi Knights would seek". No word on who decided whether or not the Jedi Knights would actually approve of those unspecified teachings, or on what grounds. In due course, once suitable premises are available, the brothers plan to offer light-saber classes as well.

Let's see now. The UK bans the possession, importation and carry of knives, swords and other such impedimenta. That being so, it's now going to be expected to allow light-sabers? On religious grounds?

Leaving aside the fact that a working light-saber has yet to be invented, if these idiots get away with this I'm going to start the Church of the .45 in Scotland (being of Scots descent myself). Possession of at least one of Saint John Moses Browning's famous products will be mandatory for believers - with, of course, copious supplies of ammunition, magazines, holsters and other bits and pieces.

Perhaps we can arrange a match between the 'Scottish Forty-Fivers' and the 'Welsh Light Saberers'. Guess who'll win?


Don't sell thieves short - especially short thieves!

A Swedish report suggests that a rash of thefts from baggage compartments of buses may be due to a new criminal tactic.

It seems that thieves are stuffing a short or small compatriot into a bag and then loading it into the luggage compartment. Once inside, while the bus is under way, the miniature mobster is getting out of his bag and sifting through the contents of passengers' luggage. Once he's made his selection he climbs back into his bag with the loot and closes it again. At the bus's destination his bag is offloaded by his buddies, whereupon they all vanish without trace.

Thefts like this have occurred on multiple bus lines and routes. I guess it won't be long before our own criminals learn from their Swedish counterparts and try something similar on Greyhound buses.

Hmm . . . memo to Swedish bus drivers: have you ever thought of concealing a skunk, or a snake, or a large hairy tarantula, in a suitcase and slipping it into the baggage compartment?

(Insert evil grin here!)


Doofus (Doofi?) Of The Day #4

Some crooks are so dumb one wonders how they've managed to survive so long.

Messrs. Rudy Villanueva and Tony Logan are members of a Miami gang known as the Bird Road Boys. They decided, perhaps out of a misplaced sense of macho, that life wasn't interesting enough . . . so they made a video and posted it on YouTube. In it they displayed firearms, taunted police, and challenged the authorities to do something about it. "Metro-Dade Gang Unit, here I am, baby," Villanueva taunted. "Come and get it," Logan invited.

Big mistake. Big, big mistake.

The police, nothing loth to take up such a challenge, decided to respond appropriately. Messrs. Villanueva and Logan (along with several of their colleagues) are now in durance vile, facing charges of threatening police, possession of firearms by convicted felons, and doubtless a host of other illegal activities. The video news report below gives more details.

(Sigh . . . ) I've heard of dumb people being referred to as "a few cents short of a dollar". As far as I can tell, these bozos were about five cents short of a nickel!


Monday, January 21, 2008

Surgeons and video games - a natural combination?

This one makes me wonder . . .

A study by the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona has found that surgical residents performed better during simulated surgery after playing games on the Nintendo Wii console for an hour beforehand. The study found that "only those games requiring precise movements, like Marble Mania in which a player guides a marble through a 3D obstacle course using the Wii's motion-sensitive remote, are effective".

Sounds like a good idea - in theory. But what if they don't play only "games requiring precise movements"?

I can see it now . . . some surgically gowned maniac decides that my gall-bladder resembles the golf ball he was trying to drive 400 yards on the long 9th hole and swings at it with a two-iron scalpel. His partner jeers at him, saying "You're in the rough!", and carves a trough in my innards trying to get his own ball (my left kidney) out of the woods (my intestines) and onto the green (my liver).

By the time they finish I doubt whether I'll be capable of a Wii at all!


Make sure you're dead before they bury you!

There seems to be a slight problem with funerals here and there . . .

A few days ago it was reported that a Cambodian man went missing for a few days. He'd been drugged, robbed and dumped in the bush, and made his way home as soon as he recovered. Unfortunately for his family, they'd found an unidentified (and presumably unidentifiable) decomposing body in the jungle - and assumed it was him. When he walked in the door they were in full swing with the funeral rites. They'd just lit the cremation fire when he arrived. Must have been a bit of a shock, that - and I guess they still don't know who was on the pyre!

Today we learn of Feliberto Carrasco, an 81-year-old Chilean who lay down for a nap. His family found him lying limp and cold, and presumed that he'd shuffled off this mortal coil. They promptly dressed him in his finest suit, laid him in his open coffin and called the neighbors for a wake before burying him. Much to their surprise, in the middle of the festivities he opened his eyes and sat up. After convincing themselves that their eyes weren't seeing things due to an overdose of the local hard stuff, they duly helped him out of his coffin and had the local radio station announce that the earlier report of his death had been somewhat premature.

Hmmm . . . I have to wonder whether the respective families' (over)eagerness to lay their loved ones to rest had anything to do with the disposition of said loved ones' belongings. I think I'll have to include a provision in my will to the effect that my nearest and dearest had better be darn sure I'm dead before they bury me!

Of course, that reminds me of this . . . :-)


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Twenty days, 10,000 visits!

At 8.11 p.m. on Tuesday, January 1st, 2008, this blog went live.

At 8.15:02 a.m. this morning, Sunday, January 20th, 2008, my 10,000th viewer arrived.

In 19½ days of blogging, that averages to a little over 500 visitors per day - a wonderful start for this blog. My heartfelt thanks to all of you who've already become regulars, and to the bloggers who've linked to me and told their readers about me.

My 10,000th visitor accessed this site from a ComCast connection in or near Pleasant View, TN, about 462 miles from where yours truly sits. He or she came here via a link from my buddy Lawdog.

Whoever you are, thanks for stopping by.


Weekend Wings #3: From The Pup To The Lightning

Would you believe that there's a direct relationship, a traceable line of descent, between this:

. . . and this?

It's quite a story, crossing two continents, nine decades, a couple of dozen corporate names, two different air services and not a few ships. Let me tell you about it.

The Sopwith Pup was a very successful mid-World-War-I fighter aircraft. The design was originally known as the Sopwith Admiralty Type 9901, and after successful trials was officially named the Sopwith Scout. However, its crews referred to it affectionately as the 'Pup'. A disgruntled senior officer issued an order to stop calling it by that name. This had the inevitable result - the nickname became the recognized name of the aircraft and the official moniker is long forgotten!

The Pup first flew in February 1916. It was powered by an 80hp Le Rhone rotary engine and carried an armament of a single 0.303" Vickers machine-gun firing synchronized through the propeller. Almost eighteen hundred were built and it served with the Royal Naval Air Service, the Royal Flying Corps (later to become the Royal Air Force) and other air arms. The picture above is of the prototype as it first flew in 1916. There are many excellent photographs of Pups at, and the Shuttleworth Collection in England has a flying Sopwith Pup in its fleet, video of which is shown below.

Another Pup can be seen in the Shuttleworth Collection's museum, equipped with eight wing-mounted rockets intended as anti-Zeppelin weapons. Given that the aircraft was covered with 'doped' fabric which was highly flammable, I can only imagine the risks involved in firing them! It must have been a nail-biting experience.

Anyway, on with our story. The Pup was the first warplane (as opposed to unarmed trainers) to be used in wartime trials for the development of aircraft carriers. It must have been a 'sporty' experience - the aircraft were slowed down upon landing by members of the deck crew grabbing leather straps dangling from the wings! You can see this in the picture below - the man at the left wing is grabbing for the straps, while the short straps on the right wing are clearly visible just outboard of the vertical struts. Cross-wires were later installed on the decks, the first appearance of what have become known as 'arrester wires' on modern aircraft-carriers. In 1916 Pups flew off 200-foot wooden decks installed on converted merchant ships, and on August 2, 1917, Squadron Commander Edwin Dunning landed one on HMS Furious while the ship was under way. Tragically he was killed a few days later when a tire burst during another landing and his aircraft crashed over the side into the sea.

The Pup also served in small numbers with the United States Navy. In 1926 Edgar Percival was catapulted from the battleship USS Idaho in a Pup. The same ship had wooden landing platforms installed on top of her upper main armament turrets fore and aft and aircraft are said to have landed on them. I understand they folded out over the gun barrels for greater length. Even so, I don't think there's enough money in the world to persuade me to try it - just look at how small they are! (Click on the picture to get a larger view.)

By now some of you are doubtless muttering, "Yes, yes, that's all very interesting, but how do you get from a World War I fighter to an ultra-modern stealthy strike aircraft?" Patience, friends - we're getting there.

The Sopwith Aviation Company produced many successful aircraft during the First World War. Apart from the Pup there was the 1½-Strutter, the famous Triplane (so successful that Anthony Fokker copied the concept to produce his Fokker Dr.1, which was flown by the 'Red Baron', Manfred von Richthofen, and in which he was killed), the even more famous Camel, its successor the Snipe (which continued in service as the Royal Air Force's front-line fighter until the mid-1920's), the Dolphin, the Cuckoo and the Salamander.

After World War I the Sopwith Aviation Company was forced into bankruptcy under the threat of punitive taxation of war profits by the British Government. Thomas Sopwith, his chief test pilot Harry Hawker and two others proceeded to form H. G. Hawker Engineering, taking over the buildings, equipment and assets of the now-defunct Sopwith company. In 1933 it was renamed Hawker Aircraft Limited, and in 1935 following several mergers and take-overs it became Hawker Siddeley Aircraft. During World War II it produced some of the finest combat aircraft in the Royal Air Force, including the Hurricane, Typhoon and Tempest.

In the jet age Hawker Siddeley continued its tradition of innovation. Its Hunter fighter-bomber was very successful, almost two thousand being manufactured and seeing combat service up until 1980 (with the Rhodesian Air Force). The company's last design before it was nationalized was the P.1127, a vertical/short take-off and landing (V/STOL) conceptual prototype. Astonishingly, these jet fighters were produced in the very same factory buildings that the Sopwith Aviation Company had used to build its Pups in World War I!

The P.1127 flew in 1960, making its first vertical lift-off in November of that year. Six prototypes were built and the design was developed into the Kestrel FGA.1, nine of which were built as evaluation aircraft and eight of which came to the USA for testing.

A supersonic version was proposed, the P.1154, but was cancelled in 1965 by the government of the day. Following this cancellation the Kestrel was developed into the Harrier, the first V/STOL aircraft (apart from helicopters, of course) to enter front-line military service anywhere in the world. It entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1969 and the US Marine Corps a few years later. The Sea Harrier also served aboard Royal Navy aircraft-carriers and together with land-based variants played a vital role in the Falklands War of 1982.

The Harrier was very successful, but also very difficult to fly. Its accident rate was catastrophically high. The US Marines fell in love with the aircraft and bought over a hundred, but wanted to improve it. By this time Hawker Siddeley Aviation had been nationalized and absorbed into British Aerospace (BAe), which was initially reluctant to fund the improvements required: so the Marines contracted with McDonnell Douglas in the USA to produce an updated design. BAe came on board later to produce the upgraded versions for the RAF. The result was the AV-8B Harrier II in US Marine Service and the Harrier II GR5/7/9 family in the RAF.

The Harrier has achieved combat success in the Falklands, both Gulf Wars and other theaters of operation, but it's a very complex and difficult aircraft to fly. Its loss rate has typically been far higher than more conventional types of aircraft and it demands more from its pilots. Nevertheless, the advantages offered by V/STOL have kept it in service. The US Marines fly it as an attack aircraft from the US Navy's amphibious assault ships. The photograph below shows one aboard the USS Nassau, illustrated next.

When the US armed forces decided to develop a Joint Strike Fighter for use by the Air Force, Navy and Marines, the latter insisted that they wanted Harrier-like performance in their future aircraft. After a great deal of discussion, it was decided that one of the models of the JSF would incorporate short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) capability, and manufacturers competing for the contract were required to produce one prototype demonstrating this ability. As the world knows, Lockheed won the JSF competition with its X-35, one prototype of which did indeed demonstrate STOVL performance.

The production version of this variant, the F-35B Lightning II, is now in prototype form and about to make its first flight. However, memories of the very difficult handling of the Harrier have ensured that a huge effort has been made to make the F-35B much, much easier to handle in V/STOL maneuvers. To accomplish this, even before the F-35B has flown, years of effort have been put into testing a new flight control system on an early-model Harrier using what is known as 'vectored-thrust aircraft advanced flight control' or VAAC. This technology, developed by QinetiQ, automates most aspects of flight and has already led to the first fully-automatic vertical landing of an aircraft on a warship, without pilot intervention. An independent reviewer has said that "this technology is going to make it so spectacularly easy for a pilot to fly the STOVL variant JSF".

So, the lineage between the Pup and the Lightning is now clear. The Sopwith Aviation Company produced the Pup, the first fighter aircraft to operate from aircraft-carriers; the Lockheed F-35 Lightning II will be the latest. The successor to the Sopwith Aviation Company produced the first V/STOL fighter aircraft, the Harrier, in the same factory buildings that had been used to manufacture the Pup decades earlier. The Harrier has in its turn both inspired the STOVL version of the F-35 and played a crucial role in its development by serving as a testbed for the VAAC technology that will be used in the latter aircraft.

Interesting how these things work out, isn't it?