Monday, March 31, 2008

In honor of April Fools Day . . .

. . . I thought I'd share with you my favorite April Fool spoof.

On April 1st, 1957, the BBC broadcast a Panorama documentary (narrated by the prestigious Richard Dimbleby) which included a short description of gathering the spaghetti harvest in Switzerland. Viewers were reminded that this was, of course, on a relatively small scale compared to Italy, with its "vast spaghetti plantations in the Po Valley"!

The program was so realistic that some viewers wanted to know where they could get their own spaghetti plants for their gardens! (The BBC reportedly advised callers to "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best"!). Others tried to book holidays to the spaghetti-growing regions of Europe. It's on my all-time "great pranks" list.

Here's the video.


I think Texas already has something like this

A news report indicates that the Indian Army is about to introduce a curry grenade.

According to the report:

India's weapons development experts have developed an eye-watering spice bomb, packed with a potent mix of red chilli and pepper which will be used to smoke out militants during counter-insurgency operations.

. . . scientists from India's Defence Research and Development Organisation have discovered that the spices which make your curry so hot can also bring an enemy to his knees in seconds.

They have created an 81-mm grenade packed with red hot chilli, pepper and phosphorus to use in Kashmir where Islamic separatists linked with al Qaeda are fighting a long-running insurgency war.

. . .

The mix of spices and phosphorous chokes the enemy's respiratory tract, leaving targets barely able to breathe for a time. Their eyes, throat and skin burn and sting.

Army scientists have also discovered the "curry bomb" can be used to block enemy attacks by creating a smoke screen and preventing snipers from using night-vision devices and thermal imagers.

From being fired by a grenade launcher, it creates an effective smoke screen ninety metres away within five seconds.

The curry bomb will be used both as a hand grenade by police and armed forces, and as a tank-mounted device.

Fortunately the US already has such a weapon. I encountered (and experienced) it during my last-but-one visit to Texas. The locals called it "chili" . . .


P.S.: Do note the date of the news report!

Book winners of a different kind

I'm delighted to learn the results of the latest Diagram Prize for Oddest Title Of The Year. The competition began in 1978, and has had some interesting entries. Appropriately enough, the results are released annually on April Fools Day.

This year the five runners-up, from low to high place, are:

6. People Who Mattered In Southend And Beyond: From King Canute To Dr. Feelgood.

5. Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues.

4. How To Write A How To Write Book.

3. Cheese Problems Solved.

2. I Was Tortured By The Pygmy Love Queen.

And this year's pièce de résistance and Diagram Prize winner:

1. If You Want Closure In Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs.

Er . . . ah . . . yes, well, quite!

Mr. Horace Bent, who is the "diarist" for The Bookseller and the "custodian" of the Diagram Prize, observed earlier:

I confess: I have been anxious that as publishing becomes ever more corporate, the trade’s quirky charms are being squeezed out. Lists are pruned, targets are set, authors are culled. But happily my fears have been proved unfounded: oddity lives on. Your submissions for the 2007 Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year were as rich and varied as ever. Drawing up the six-strong shortlist was a fraught and wildly controversial process.

I must pay homage to those books that narrowly missed out on a shortlist place. These were, in no particular order: Drawing and Painting the Undead; Stafford Pageant: The Exciting Innovative Years 1901–1952; and Tiles of the Unexpected: A Study of Six Miles of Geometric Tile Patterns on the London Underground. All sound like they are positively thrilling reads, and I do hope that the authors will try again next year. Honourable mention should also go to two titles that were ruled out because they were published too long ago: an unlikely-sounding HR manual called Squid Recruitment Dynamics, and the fascinating anthropological tome Glory Remembered: Wooden Headgear of Alaska Sea Hunters.


Beer commercials

I've been idly scanning YouTube in recent weeks, partly for amusement, partly looking for videos to go with my Weekend Wings series and other blog posts. I've found a number of beer commercials that have tickled my funny-bone. I've already shown two in a previous post, so here's another selection.

WARNING: Some of these are emphatically NSFW. Use discretion if viewing in public.

OK, here we go. Let's start with one from Guinness.







And last but not least, Moosehead Light:


Back from Texas

I'm back home after this weekend's bloggers rendezvous. A lot of fun was had by all, and it was great to see old friends again. Holly's and JPG's three hounds welcomed me like an old friend, which was nice of them (rather than eat me on sight, which two out of the three are very well-equipped to do if they feel that way inclined). The biggest problem was to keep them off the blow-up air mattress on Saturday night . . . they seemed to think it had been inflated solely and entirely for their benefit!

I made my usual raid on the local used bookstore. There's an unusually good one near H&J, and I seem unable to prevent myself dropping a Franklin or two into their coffers whenever I'm nearby. It's the same when I visit Oleg in Nashville and mutual friends in Knoxville - there are excellent used bookstores in both cities. I'll be in Tennessee in May, all being well, but this time I'm planning to take several boxes of books up with me. I'm busy with a cull of my library, trying to cut down from about 5,000 volumes to around 3,000. It's like pulling teeth! Still, it'll give me trading material instead of having to spend too much money.

Ah, the joys of being a bookworm bibliophile . . .


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Weekend Wings #13: The Spitfire - The Legend Lives On

In the first part of this three-part series we examined the initial development of the Spitfire and its operational service through the Battle of Britain in 1940. In the second part we looked at its further development and operational service through the rest of World War II. In this final part we'll examine the maritime version of the Spitfire; the Spiteful, Seafang and Attacker developments; and the final versions of this classic fighter to see service.

1. The Seafire.

The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) of the Royal Navy expressed interest in the Spitfire very early in its development, but the urgent need for operational aircraft for the Royal Air Force (RAF) meant that no attention could be spared to develop a more specialized version suitable for aircraft-carrier operation. In one sense this was a blessing, because by the time such attention could be given the Spitfire was already in its Mark V version with a more powerful engine and armament. The "Sea Spitfire" was quickly renamed the Seafire by collapsing the two words into one.

The Seafire Ib, the first production variant, was a converted Spitfire Mark Vb equipped with an arrestor hook. It soon exhibited very serious problems in the carrier environment. The aircraft had never been designed for the hard landings encountered on an aircraft-carrier (which are essentially a controlled crash onto the deck), and the relatively narrow undercarriage wasn't strong enough to stand up to repeated landings of this sort. The fuselage was also too weak to take the strain of such abuse, for which it had never been designed.

The Seafire II was soon introduced, with reinforcing strips riveted around weak areas, catapult spools and other equipment making the aircraft more suitable for the maritime environment. Unfortunately this had the effect of moving its center of gravity further back, making it more difficult to control in low-speed flight. The aircraft also lacked the large landing flaps found on other carrier-dedicated aircraft such as the Grumman F4F Wildcat and F6F Hellcat and Chance-Vought Corsair F4U. These problems led to many landing accidents. Furthermore, neither the Ib or II had folding wings, which made it difficult to store the aircraft aboard carriers.

The Seafire F.III was the most developed Merlin-engined Seafire variant. It incorporated double-folding wings (folding at the tips and near the roots in a reversed Z shape) and addressed many of the shortcomings of earlier versions. It proved to be a little slower than its Spitfire progenitor due to the added drag of the tailhook and additional maritime equipment, but still satisfactory in overall performance.

The Seafire saw its first major operational service during Operation Torch, the invasion of North-West Africa during late 1942. It flew from HMS Furious, a full-size aircraft carrier, and from smaller escort carriers whose confined decks weren't really suitable for the combat operations of high-performance aircraft. Several aircraft were lost to operational accidents due to the relatively light, low-strength airframe - a perennial problem with early Marks of Seafire. This would be even more in evidence during the Salerno landings in southern Italy in 1943. Out of over a hundred Seafires covering the landings from escort carriers, more than 40% were lost due to operational accidents and still more required an excessive amount of maintenance and/or repair.

The Seafire F.III design tried to address these problems, but the FAA wanted a more significant improvement. Jeffrey Quill, Supermarine's Chief Test Pilot, was given a temporary commission as a Lieutenant-Commander and spent five months at sea on Royal Navy carriers, flying Seafires in all weather conditions and sea states and getting a clear idea of what was needed to make the Seafire as superb a performer at sea as the Spitfire was on land. When he returned to Supermarine he was able to inform designers of his experiences and pass on lessons learned.

This would bear fruit in the Seafire F Mark XV, a Griffon-engined variant which entered service in 1944. Its more powerful engine gave it significantly better performance, and its fuselage and undercarriage were further strengthened. This version would see combat against Japanese aircraft in the Pacific theater. It was basically similar to the Spitfire Mark XIV. Just as the latter was was developed into a flush-fuselage version with bubble canopy, the Mark XVIII, so the Seafire was developed into the Mark XVII, shown below. Note the unique double-folding wings, at the tip and near the root.

Four aircraft-carriers plus a supporting fleet of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and a Fleet Train moved into the Indian Ocean during 1944, carrying out air strikes against Japanese installations in Malaysia en route to Australia where they would be based. In 1945 they joined the US Navy in operations against Iwo Jima and Okinawa. The British carriers were tasked with interrupting the flow of Japanese aircraft replacements through minor islands, freeing the larger US carriers to support the landings and resist kamikaze attacks.

British carriers could accommodate fewer aircraft than their US counterparts because of their heavily-armored decks, which weighed far more than the wooden decks of US carriers and took up much more internal space. On the other hand, during kamikaze attacks the British armored decks withstood the impact of enemy aircraft and bombs far better than their US counterparts. In one famous incident a kamikaze crashed abreast the island on a British carrier, making a large dent in the armored deck. It was promptly filled with quick-drying cement, and within ninety minutes the carrier was in full operation once more. US Navy officers observing the incident were amazed, saying that any US carrier suffering such an impact would be out of operation for months and require major shipyard repairs.

The FAA and Royal Navy Carriers also operated with the US Navy carrier task forces against mainland Japan. The Seafires still had the same limited range of their Spitfire forebears and couldn't carry as much ordnance as the larger, more powerful US aircraft, so they were usually assigned to Combat Air Patrol over the carriers to protect the ships. They performed very well in this role.

After World War II a final version of the Seafire, the Mark 47, was produced. This was the highest-performance variant of the entire Spitfire/Seafire family. It had a Griffon 87 or 88 engine driving a contra-rotating propeller with six blades. It carried 152 gallons of internal fuel, giving it a greatly extended range compared to earlier versions. This version saw action from a Royal Navy carrier early in the Korean War.

2. The Spiteful.

The elliptical Spitfire wing was very effective, but as aircraft speeds increased with more powerful engines it became clear that it produced too much drag. Supermarine engineers designed a new laminar-flow wing similar to that of the P-51 Mustang to overcome this problem. They took the opportunity to widen the track of the undercarriage. The new wing was tested on a Spitfire Mark XIV in 1944.

While the new wing was being developed the Griffon-engined Spitfires were experiencing directional stability problems. To overcome these a larger tail unit was designed. The opportunity was taken to mate this with the new wing and a flush fuselage with bubble canopy, similar to that on the Spitfire Mark XVIII. This effectively produced a completely new aircraft, which was named the Spiteful. The Air Ministry ordered 150 of the new design, but due to the higher performance of jet-powered aircraft only a few were built in 1945. They were never taken into service.

3. The Seafang.

The Spiteful design was not adopted for service, but the FAA wanted a faster, more powerful fighter for carrier operation. The Spiteful was redesigned with an arrestor hook and folding wings. It was also fitted with a contra-rotating six-bladed propeller. In this naval version it was renamed the Seafang. Eighteen prototypes and initial production aircraft were completed, but its low-speed handling was not as good as the competing Hawker Sea Fury. Also, its performance was essentially the same as the Seafire Mark 47. Further production was therefore cancelled and the Seafang never entered operational service.

4. The Attacker.

The advanced laminar wing design of the Spiteful and Seafang was adopted by Supermarine for its Attacker jet fighter design for the FAA. This first flew in 1946 and entered service in 1951. 183 were built, but its tail-wheel design led to numerous problems in service and it never saw combat.

5. The Last Versions Of The Spitfire.

Towards the end of World War II the Spitfire Mark 21 was produced. This had severe handling problems, so much so that the RAF's test pilots recommended that no further development of the Spitfire family be undertaken. However, Supermarine still had faith in its aircraft and worked hard to eliminate the problems. Meanwhile, the Mark 21 entered service in 1945. Only 120 were completed before the end of the war terminated production.

A later development with a flush fuselage and bubble canopy, the Mark 22, was produced in larger numbers after the war.

As mentioned above, an enlarged tail unit was designed for the Spiteful to provide greater longitudinal control. This was adopted for the Spitfire, along with a larger fuel capacity and provision for launching rockets. The final Spitfire version, the Mark 24, incorporated all these improvements. Only 84 were built and it served with only one squadron (plus reserve units).

Spitfires continued to serve in the Royal Air Force and many other countries after World War II. They saw combat in the 1947 Indo-Pakistani War and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The last combat flight of the Spitfire in the Royal Air Force occurred in 1954 in Malaysia, an air strike against Communist guerillas. The last RAF Spitfires were withdrawn from service in 1957, but some air forces continued to operate them into the 1960's.

In conclusion, what can we say about this magnificent aircraft? It saw service from the first to the last day of World War II and in every theater of operations: Britain, Africa, Sicily, Italy, the Normandy invasion and assault on Germany, the Russian Front, Australia and the South-Western Pacific, the assault on Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Japan, and operations in the China-Burma-India theater. Including the Seafire variants, well over 22,000 were produced in total. That makes the Spitfire family the third-most-produced fighter aircraft in history, behind the Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 and German Messerschmitt Bf-109.

Unlike most other aircraft companies which produced new aircraft designs at frequent intervals (e.g the Hawker Hurricane-Tornado-Typhoon-Tempest-Fury/Sea Fury range), Supermarine chose to keep developing the Spitfire. I think this may be due to the premature death of its designer, R. J. Mitchell, in 1937. His successors actively sought ways to continue to improve his design rather than replace it with something new. Furthermore, Mitchell's basic design was so advanced, so superb, that it allowed for such development.

It should also be noted that the Spitfire achieved the highest speed ever attained by a propeller-driven aircraft. In high-speed diving trials conducted at Farnborough in England during late 1943 and 1944 a Spitfire Mark XI achieved a true air speed of 606 mph. Another Spitfire, a Mark XIX, reached an altitude of 51,550 feet in 1951, which is reportedly the highest altitude ever attained by a single-engined propeller-driven aircraft. In descending, this aircraft entered an uncontrollable dive during which it is calculated that a true air speed of no less than 690 mph was achieved. The aircraft landed safely. The Spitfire's ability to achieve such speeds in a dive was due to its wing, which had a Mach limiting number of 0.9 - the highest of any Allied aircraft in World War II.

Overall there has never been a more successful fighter aircraft than the Spitfire in operational service in any country. It established a record that is unparalleled and unsurpassed, and to this day remains iconic of the Royal Air Force in World War II. The surviving Spitfires draw huge crowds at air shows to this day, and an Australian company is even producing a kit version of the Spitfire to 80% and 90% scale for home-building!

In closing, let's remind ourselves that the Spitfire can still surprise people. The following video clip illustrates this perfectly. Warning - the reporter's language is Not Safe For Work.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Gathering Of Bloggers

Light blogging tonight, because Holly, JPG, Lawdog, Phlegm Fatale and yours truly all gathered at the home of the first-two-mentioned for a day of fun.

We shared a monster breakfast (well, more like brunch) of eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy, potatoes and all the rest (courtesy of Holly's cooking), and then raided the Fort Worth gun show in a massed body, enjoying a couple of hours of wandering the aisles and getting various bits and pieces. We got back home a few hours ago, spent a couple of hours in hysterics at one another's stories (you have a lot to look forward to on Lawdog's blog - we got enough stories of mayhem and mishap to keep him going for several months!). Thereafter we adjourned to a local restaurant for a splendiferous supper, and we've just got home.

Various bottles are now being opened and uncorked, and we're settling in for another mammoth session of stories, reminiscences and fairy-tales. I'm not sure when (if?) we'll get to bed tonight, but it promises to be fun!

To give you something to enjoy in the meantime, here's another Japanese game show for your edification. They call this "Human Tetris" - if you go to the YouTube home page and do a search on those words you'll find a number of fun videos.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Laws for laughs

I've been enjoying reading about old laws in England that today make no sense at all, but are still in effect. Some examples:

  • Ladies who bare their breasts in public in the city of Liverpool are exempt from prosecution - if they work in a tropical fish shop.
  • Women are permitted to bite off the nose of any man who kisses them without permission.
  • King George I decreed: "The severest penaltys (sic) will be suffered by any commoner who doth permit his animal to have carnal knowledge of a pet of the Royal House." So, even if your pampered pooch is pedigreed, if he gets into the wrong sort of Royal petting he's in trouble - and so are you!
  • A 1307 law assigns ownership of the head of any dead whale found on British beaches to the king. The queen gets the tail (for whalebones for her corsets). No word on who gets the middle bits.
  • Edward VI ruled that anyone cracking a boiled egg at its sharp end would spend 24 hours in the village stocks.
  • In the city of York it's still legal to kill any Scotsman found within the city walls, provided he's carrying a bow and arrows.
  • In the city of Hereford, on Sundays, you are forbidden to shoot a Welshman in the Cathedral Close using a longbow. (Presumably a crossbow - or a firearm, for that matter - is quite OK. No word on shooting at nationalities other than Welsh, either.)
  • And finally, it's treason to stick a postage stamp bearing the image of the British Monarch upside down.
A bill has been introduced to repeal 328 such obsolete laws from the British statute books. Personally, I'm not sure that's a good idea . . . the utter daftness of some of the laws cited above makes them worth keeping for the amusement value alone!


Thursday, March 27, 2008

On geneaology and Presidential candidates

Readers have doubtless noticed news reports (like this one, for example) about the ground-breaking study by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, demonstrating long-distant links between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama.

It seems that Barak Obama is a ninth cousin of Brad Pitt, while Hillary Clinton is a ninth cousin twice removed of Angelina Jolie. No word, of course, on whether this has brought the two Hollywood celebrities together in a more Democratic relationship . . .

Furthermore, Mr. Obama is related to no less than six current and former US presidents, including George W Bush, his father George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman and James Madison. He's also the eighth cousin of Vice-President Dick Cheney. (An Obama spokesman, when asked about the latter, allegedly commented, "Every family has a black sheep.")

Mrs. Clinton doesn't appear to have so prominent a presidential pedigree, but through French-Canadian descent on her mother's side she is a distant cousin of singers Madonna, Celine Dion and Alanis Morissette.

I'm not so impressed by the claims of past ancestors. I've known many scions of blue-blood families who ended up in jail, and others from the most common backgrounds who earned the title of "hero" in the truest possible sense. Genes don't seem to make much difference.

Of course, speaking of relationships, it's regrettable that Hillary Clinton isn't eligible to marry Senator Chuck Schumer. If she could (and he would) then she'd become, in name as well as by reputation (among the right-wing, at any rate), the Bride Of Chucky!



Casting frogs upon the waters?

Another interesting news report tells us of Nicolas the frog, found in a garden pond in England (and named, inevitably, for the current Prime Minister of France!).

It seems Nicolas tried to get through some netting covering his pond, and broke his leg. A diligent veterinary surgeon put it all back together and placed a cast on the leg, and the frog is now recovering from his injury.

What got me chuckling was the name of the veterinary hospital to which Nicolas was taken: "St. Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital".

Saint Tiggywinkles???

Good grief . . .


An unlikely rape (or two, or three, or four)

I was hugely amused to read about Arthur Ross Cradock, a New Zealand man who was sentenced to community service after claiming he'd "been left speaking Australian after being raped by a wombat".

In case you've never heard of the animal, a wombat is an Australian creature as large as a medium-sized dog (40-80 pounds), and is herbivorous.

Police prosecutor Sergeant Chris Stringer told the court that on the afternoon of February 11 Cradock called the police communications centre, threatening to "smash the filth" if they arrived at his home that night.

When asked if he had an emergency, he replied "yes", Mr Stringer said.

On a second subsequent call to the communications centre, Cradock told police he was being raped by a wombat at his Motueka address, and sought their immediate help.

He called police again soon after, and gave his full name, saying he wanted to withdraw the complaint.

"I'll retract the rape complaint from the wombat, because he's pulled out," Cradock told the operator at the communications centre, who had no idea what he was talking about, Mr Stringer said.

"Apart from speaking Australian now, I'm pretty all right you know, I didn't hurt my bum at all," Cradock then told the operator.

. . .

Judge Richard Russell said he was not quite sure what motivated Cradock to make those statements to the police.

Well, Your Honor, I have a few ideas about that. All of them involve bottles - minus most or all of their contents!

This reminds me of a couple of other unlikely mating stories. The first is about the hedgehog. Early last century the Times of London published a somewhat scatological doggerel submitted by a highly distinguished correspondent, Dame Margaret Cole. It caused a sensation and produced a number of replies (in verse, of course). It also appears to have inspired the Hedgehog Song of Nanny Ogg, a character in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels.

The original poem ran:

Protracted and painful researches
By Darwin and Huxley and Ball
Have conclusively proved that the hedgehog
Can never be b*****ed at all.
And further protracted researches
Have still more conclusively shown
That comparative safety in Keble
Is enjoyed by the hedgehog alone.

I've included hot-links for some of the names readers might not recognize (although no-one is sure who "Ball" may have been). There was a notorious scandal at Keble College, Oxford in 1913 involving homosexual behavior.

An American rejoinder noted:

Ingenious Yankee professors
At Harvard and Princeton and Yale
Have o'ercome the problem by shaving
The spines off the hedgehog's tail.

A British correspondent retorted:

The search carries on unabated
As eminent scientists seek
For a creature so small and so nasty
As to baffle the Cambridge technique.

This poetic to-and-fro may have given rise to one of the better-known riddles concerning American politics:

Q: Why is the relationship between the President and Congress like the mating of hedgehogs?

A: It's one p***k against thousands.

So much for the hedgehog. Another unlikely mating story is that of the relationship between the camel and the Sphinx. My father learned this doggerel in Egypt during World War II, and used to annoy my mother by singing it from time to time. It was apparently written during World War I, when thousands of British and Empire troops were based in Egypt prior to and during the Gallipoli campaign.

The sexual urge of the camel
Is stronger than anyone thinks.
One day, in a fit of frustration
He attempted the rape of the Sphinx.
But the intimate parts of that Lady
Are sunk deep 'neath the sands of the Nile:
Hence the hump on the back of the camel
And the Sphinx's inscrutable smile!

Finally, Holly sent me these pictures by e-mail. Since they fit in so well with this post, I just have to include them.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Just because I feel like it . . .

. . . here's an old favorite.


Grandma's got a machine-gun!

Two short videos from YouTube illustrate what happens when you put fully-automatic firearms in the hands of elderly ladies.

In the first case, it's a weapon of the paintball variety:

In the second, it's the real deal - an MP40 sub-machinegun:

Love her comment at the end!


And newts to you, too!

This is unreal.

Bureaucracy gone mad.

An English couple, the Histeds, have a million-pound house that suffered flood damage some months ago. They repaired the damage, to the tune of a quarter of a million pounds.

Last week, with the repairs almost complete, a blocked drainage ditch - not on the couple's property, but part of a motorway drainage system - caused their house to flood again. They now have to re-do much of the repair work.

They duly approached the Highways Agency to ask permission to unblock the ditch, so that they wouldn't get flooded again.

Would you believe it? The Highways Agency refused permission for them to drain the ditch - because it might (I emphasize might) contain Great Crested Newts (a protected species). They don't know for sure if they're there, so the Highways Agency will have to undertake a survey, sifting the water and mud by hand to see if they find any. That will take - wait for it - until autumn this year.

Meanwhile, the Histeds daren't waste any more money on repairs in case they're flooded out again: and they're forced to live in a travel trailer rather than in their house.

The mind boggles.

Y'know, I think there's a fair, rational, reasonable solution to this problem. The Government agency(ies?) responsible for protecting the Great Crested Newt should pay the Histeds the value of their house - a million pounds, and tax-free at that. The Histeds could then buy themselves a home wherever they pleased (probably as far away as possible from the nearest newts) and the Government agency(ies?) could use the nicely flooded house to breed as many Great Crested Newts as their dear bureaucratic hearts could desire.

To victimize the Histeds for damage to their home that's caused by a blocked State drainage system, and then add insult to injury by making them put up with all this crap . . . all I can say is, if it happened in my part of the world it'd be cause to get out the tar and feathers for those responsible for this insanity.

The arrogant, uncaring, domineering bureaucracy now running England never ceases to find new ways to astonish me. I think it's time to rewrite the chorus to the famous "Rule, Britannia!" anthem.

Oh, Britannia, you used to rule the waves:
But your bureaucrats have made you into slaves!



Doofus Of The Day #13 and #14

Our Doofi Of The Day are two anonymous Canadians.

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A war on gophers waged by two Canadian men went awry this weekend when a device used to blast the rodents in their holes sparked a massive grass fire in a rural area near Calgary, Alberta, causing more than C$200,000 ($197,000) in damages.

Despite a ban on fires in the tinder-dry area of Springbank, just northeast of Calgary's city limits, two men went into a field to kill gophers using a device called a Rodenator, fire officials said on Monday.

The device pumps a mixture of propane and oxygen into gopher holes, which is then ignited, and, according to the manufacturer's Web site, the resulting blast creates a shock wave that kills the gopher and collapses its tunnel system.

"We had a couple of acreage owners out taking care of their rodent problem with this device," said Captain Joe Garssi of the municipal district of Rocky View's fire department.

"They did a few holes successfully and then hit a hole that didn't go in very far. When they filled it with propane it over-filled the hole...and when they ignited it (fire) flashed out of the hole into the grass beside them."

The resulting grass fire scorched about 160 acres of surrounding property and destroyed a number of outbuildings. No homes were damaged.

"The way I look at it, it's 'humans eight, gophers one'." Garssi said, as the two men destroyed about eight of the rodents before sparking the blaze.

Revenge Of The Rodents?


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More fun with Lolcats


Why We Serve(d)

Hat-tip to the Mad Rocket Scientist for bringing my attention to this incredibly stupid, dishonest, vapid bigotry on Daily Kos. I invite you to read it for yourself, but you might need copious amounts of antacid and brain-scrubber afterwards. Proceed at your own risk.

I simply can't understand the loony left. There's a perfectly rational, intelligent "left wing" in politics and society with whom I can conduct a normal conversation: people with whom I may disagree, but whose convictions I respect and whom I regard as Ladies and Gentlemen (with capital letters). They think, they're prepared to discuss issues rationally, and they're open to persuasion. I'm honored to call some among them my friends. On the other hand, there are those on the ideological fringe, such as (it would appear) the author of the article linked above, who are in-your-face dishonest, blatantly ignorant and have no clue whatsoever as to the realities of life, the universe and everything. They seem to live in a little bubble of their own imagining, viewing life through ideological lenses that distort, twist and mangle every reality that doesn't fit into their world-view.

(Pauses to spit vehemently into convenient cuspidor. There - I feel better now.)

I'd like to quote a few passages from that drivel article and show how "misguided" (for want of several more forceful words I'd prefer to use) the author proves himself to be.

Those of us in the reality-based community know that it's a myth created by the right wing that liberals and anti-war protesters ran around attacking soldiers returning from Vietnam.

Oh, yeah? Then why do so many of those veterans have so many stories of precisely such attacks? Are you telling me that they're all lying? And what makes your community "reality-based"? As far as I can tell it has about as much relationship to reality as I have to Mata Hari.

The author goes on to examine why soldiers enlist, citing at length a left-leaning source (without bothering to cite any source offering a different perspective - not that that surprises me, of course). He/she "demonstrates" that most of them enlist for economic and social reasons rather than any innate patriotism or commitment to the ideals that have historically motivated military personnel.

The article goes on:

What kind of country have we become when the only way for young Americans to be assured of the basic social safety net provided to citizens of just about every other advanced country requires them to risk death in a war that their fellow Millennials overwhelmingly oppose, and which many of the enlistees themselves view with ambivalence if not hostility?

You know, I'm a veteran myself. I mingle with veterans almost every day. I've worked with veterans from the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines for years, in more than one country - and NOT ONE OF THEM ever said that he or she went into military service in order "to be assured of the basic social safety net provided to citizens of just about every other advanced country".

I repeat. Not. One. Of. Them.

As for a war "which many of the enlistees themselves view with ambivalence if not hostility", I'm sure many servicemen and -women have their doubts about how the Iraq war was and is being handled. I have such doubts myself. However, those doubts aren't directed at the military services themselves, but at the top commanders and politicians running things. Politicians are notoriously bad military commanders, and the top commanders in any defense force tend to cover their asses rather than stand up for their men and women. When one gets crossways with the politicians (as General Shinseki did with Donald Rumsfeld concerning the forces that would be required to conquer and stabilize Iraq), the other top commanders all too often don't stand up to support their colleague, but duck for cover instead. (By the way, time has proved General Shinseki to have been absolutely correct. No apology was ever issued to him by Mr. Rumsfeld or his successors in office, needless to say.)

Our present Administration has screwed up mightily in Iraq, as I think any fair observer will concede - but our military has done its best under extraordinarily difficult conditions, and continues to do so. They did the same under the former Democratic administration of President Clinton, which screwed up just as spectacularly (albeit on a smaller scale) in Somalia and the former Serbia. They've done so despite political screw-ups since the beginning. (Ask veterans of World War II about some of the screw-ups by politicians and generals and admirals sometimes. The needless and very costly invasion of Pelelieu; the abominably bad generalship during the Italian campaign, causing immense casualties; the daylight bombing of Germany without adequate escort fighters, which led to catastrophic losses . . . the list will be a very long one indeed.)

You don't go into combat (or refuse to go into combat) because you agree (or disagree) with the cause or like (or dislike) the politicians concerned. When you join the military you take an oath to (among other things) obey the lawful orders given you. That's part of the deal. You also know that your life depends on your buddies, and their lives depend on you. You're a team, and you fight together - for one another, perhaps even more than for your country.

I don't doubt that one factor influencing many recruits who enter the armed services is economic motivation - "What's in it for me?" It's been that way since the dawn of time. However, economic motivation alone doesn't explain it. Anyone entering the military today knows that he or she is more likely than not to be sent into combat, or at least into a combat zone. It's the way things are. That being the case, I'm pretty sure that economic motivations aren't the primary factor in anyone's decision to join the military. After all, they'll surely be saying to themselves, "No amount of money or benefits will do me any good if I'm not alive to enjoy them!"

(Is it even possible that the author of that article can be so blind to reality that he/she genuinely thinks military recruits are so stupid that they can't see that little fact for themselves?)

A final quote from the article:

To repair its stature among young people, the Military needs to be viewed by young women and men as a institution prudently employed to protect America, and not a plaything abused by a reckless administration and it's Republican supporters. The military can easily survive and thrive in the presence of a New Deal that ameliorates the economic and life pressures currently afflicting the age cohort targeted by military recruiters, but only if we end our disastrous war in Iraq.

Oh. I see.

Well, ducky, for a start I don't think the military's stature among young people needs repairing (except, of course, in the case of your unfortunate children, who couldn't choose their parents and thereby escape such indoctrination). The fact that recruiting goals are consistently being met tends to demonstrate that quite conclusively, I'd say. Your complaint that such goals are only being met because of added incentives is puerile. The military is in competition with the rest of society for its recruits. If the attractions of life outside the military are too great, people will opt for the greater reward. If the military has to up its ante to compete, guess what? That's capitalism. That's the free market at work.

As for "a New Deal that ameliorates the economic and life pressures currently afflicting the age cohort targeted by military recruiters" (what a mouthful!), those economic and life pressures will afflict them whether or not they're in the military. Life happens - or had you forgotten that little fact? If we're ever unfortunate enough to have your socialist-wet-dream "New Deal" inflicted on us, it'll be inflicted on all of society and we'll all benefit or suffer equally (I suspect the latter). That won't change the reality of military service.

As for ending "our disastrous war in Iraq", you basically mean cut and run, don't you? You might want to ask the ordinary Iraqi man and woman in the street about that. You'll find they view the prospect very differently. Almost all of them who've been interviewed by objective, rational, reliable sources (I suggest Michael Yon and Iraq The Model as good places to start) have indicated that they want American troops to stay, because they offer the best hope for peace.

Indeed, so "oppressed" are the Iraqis by the presence of US forces that some detainees are refusing to be released from US-run detention camps! They're getting better education and training there than they ever got from their own government, and they don't want to cut it short by being kicked out. So much for Abu Ghraib. That admittedly unacceptable incident is now clearly demonstrated to have been an aberration, a blot on the landscape - but hardly the norm for the behavior of US forces.

That puts a rather different spin on your blinkered, blindfolded, indoctrinated blathering, doesn't it?


OK, I'll get off my soapbox now. Sorry for the rant - but sometimes idiots get under my skin with their idiocy, and I need to work it out.


Felons fuss over foul food

Goodness me. According to Yahoo! News:

MONTPELIER, Vt. - When shooting suspect Christopher Williams acted up in prison, he was given nutraloaf — a mixture of cubed whole wheat bread, nondairy cheese, raw carrots, spinach, seedless raisins, beans, vegetable oil, tomato paste, powdered milk and dehydrated potato flakes.

Prison officials call it a complete meal. Inmates say it's so awful they'd rather go hungry.

On Monday, the Vermont Supreme Court will hear arguments in a class action suit brought by inmates who say it's not food but punishment and that anyone subjected to it should get a formal disciplinary process first.

Prison officials see nutraloaf as a tool for behavior modification.

"It's commonplace in other states as a way of providing nutrition in a mechanism that dissuades inmates from throwing feces, urine, trays and silverware," said Vermont Corrections Commissioner Rob Hofmann.

"It tends to have the desired outcome," Hofmann said. "Once the offender relents, we stop with the nutraloaf. That's our goal, to protect our staff and not have them subjected to behavior that the average Vermonter would find incomprehensible."

Those of you who haven't worked in a prison are probably shaking your heads and murmuring "Oh, the poor dears!" (Well, perhaps not.)

On the other hand, those of you who've experienced this environment (on the right side of the law, I hasten to add) are probably sniggering and murmuring "Suck it up, punk!" Me, too.

You see, there's a class of criminal that takes delight in flinging all sorts of stuff at passing correctional officers, psychologists, chaplains and others. Sometimes (if we're lucky) it's only food. Other times it's urine and feces.

Some of them even go so far as to wait until women staff are on duty, then strip naked and masturbate, trying to time their orgasm for when a woman passes the bars of their cells so that they can spray her with the effluent (and I use that word deliberately, as many of them test positive for the most nauseating diseases).

Charming characters.

If nutraloaf or other means can help to correct such behavior (and they don't in all too many cases, I'm sorry to say) then I'm all for using them. Yes, it's a punishment - and it's richly deserved. Believe me, inmates don't get put on this diet unless they deserve it. Furthermore, whilst it may not be very tasty, it satisfies all nutritional requirements: so inmates can't complain that their health will suffer from eating it and nothing else.

After all, what other punishments can we use? Send them to jail? They're there already!

Let me tell you a fairy story. You understand, of course, that This Never Happened and it's totally A Figment Of My Imagination. Right?

Very well.

Once upon a time, there was a prison. This prison had an Isolation Unit for the Very Bad Boys among its inmates. These Very Bad Boys were in the habit of behaving towards female staff members as described above, particularly concerning masturbation.

Lo, one day an outside (visiting) chaplain did arrive to provide counsel to the Very Bad Boys (not that they wanted to hear him, of course). During his visit some of the female staff did complain to the visitor concerning the actions of the Very Bad Boys and ask for advice concerning the matter.

The visitor did opine that he had noticed several cans of aerosol air freshener in the control room of the Isolation Unit. The female staff agreed, observing that since most of the Very Bad Boys didn't bother to shower and threw noxious substances around the Isolation Unit (and upon them) with gay abandon, such aids to breathing were all too frequently necessary.

The visitor noted, casually, that aerosol cans of brake parts cleaner (available from the Fairy Supermarket down the road) looked identical in shape and color to the cans of air freshener - at least, from a distance, and probably also on the television security cameras of the Isolation Unit. He further mentioned, casually, that brake parts cleaner was renowned for its deflationary and other effects upon tender portions of the male anatomy.

The visitor and the female guards did look upon one another and smile evilly . . . and the visitor took his leave.

When he returned a couple of weeks later he found the female guards much more cheerful, and the Isolation Unit much quieter than usual. The normal screams, shouts and imprecations of the inmates were strangely absent.

When he inquired concerning this unnatural stillness, he was informed that large quantities of "air freshener" had been employed to "adjust the attitudes" of some of the Very Bad Boys. Some of them had been very ungrateful about this, and had lodged formal complaints of assault and use of chemical weapons by the female staff: but video from surveillance cameras proved conclusively that only normal air freshener (an approved, non-weapon product) had been used in the Isolation Unit. The air freshener cans were recognizable by their shape and color, although the labels couldn't be read on the low-resolution pictures. The male members (and surrounding areas) of the complainants had been examined for evidence, but had shown only a nasty red rash (probably from rampant self-abuse). The complainants alleged that the rash was the result of the "chemical weapons" and demanded to know why no-one had reported their screams of anguish - but the security video cameras didn't record sounds, only pictures. Given the lack of evidence, all complaints were dismissed.

The visitor also noted that the female officers no longer bothered to bring spare uniforms to work in case they needed to change, and were now treated with great respect and obedience by the Very Bad Boys.

He smiled.



A couple of good posts

Found two good articles today in my blog reading.

Stingray, one of the two Atomic Nerds, confesses past sins. Fun.

And Lawdog rants about the sheer, utter stupidity of a police comment about a victim of violent crime. Not fun at all, but very, very important. The comments are also very important.

Go read.


Monday, March 24, 2008

It really can happen to you!

I was saddened to read this article in the Daily Mail by Tim Rushby-Smith, who was paralyzed after falling out of a tree he was pruning. I'm pleased to report that he seems to be adjusting to his new life, and I wish him every success.

The reason it struck a responsive chord is that something similar happened to me a few years ago. Until February 2004, I was a fairly normal male (well, that's a matter of opinion, of course!), reasonably active physically and enjoying the freedom of movement that one takes for granted and doesn't even think about most of the time (if at all). I'd hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail, driven thousands of miles over the course of a week . . . in general, I could do pretty much as I pleased, physically speaking.

Then, everything changed. I was injured in a job-related accident. A disc in my spine was herniated and put extreme pressure on the sciatic nerve in my left leg. From that moment onward I've not had a single day without pain. After some to-ing and fro-ing to get my injury accepted under Workers Compensation, I had two operations to trim the disc (which didn't solve the problem) and fuse my spine (which did as much as could be achieved). I've been left with a permanently impaired left leg and constant pain from the damaged nerve. I take a cocktail of drugs each day to control the nerve responses, keep the pain to a tolerable level, and deal with related problems.

I've had to medically retire, as I can no longer stand or walk for extended periods the way I used to do. I'm trying to build a new career as a writer, and have hopes of success in due course if I can find a publisher and/or agent (at least, much of the feedback I've received so far has been positive). Fortunately I'm eligible for a disability pension, which isn't much but is enough to keep me fed and clothed. Many in my position aren't so fortunate.

I'm not telling you this because I'm looking for sympathy - far from it. I can still walk short distances (albeit slowly) and I'm young enough to work hard at finding a new way to support myself that will be compatible with my physical restrictions. Again, many aren't so fortunate.

The reason I mentioned that article, and I'm telling you about my own injury, is that both Mr. Rushby-Smith and myself were living our lives without a thought for tomorrow - until tomorrow caught up with us. In an instant, both our lives were changed forever.

It can happen to you, too, dear reader.

I'd like to ask you to think about that, and do the following:

1. Be grateful for who you are and what you have. You never know when things may change.

2. Enjoy your life to the fullest. I'm not saying go out and do something immoral, or stupid, or anything like that . . . but while you're able to do things, do them and enjoy them. The time may come when they're beyond your reach.

3. Reach out to those who lose the ability to live as they'd like to. There are many people in your community who've suffered such injuries, or contracted a disease that has a similar effect. In many cases they're lonely, cut off from society. You can help them enormously by being there for them and trying to help.

4. Get involved with efforts to make sure that people have access to the help they need in such circumstances. I'm not talking welfare and social security here. In far too many cases (including my own) employers will try to make out that the injury wasn't job-related and that therefore Workers Compensation doesn't apply. For that matter, the Workers Compensation bureaucracy might drag their heels, insinuating that things aren't as bad as you make them out to be and trying to save money. In far too many cases employers and bureaucrats succeed in their efforts. I hope you'll talk to your politicians (local, State and Federal) and press them to make sure that genuine cases of injury don't go unaddressed because of bureaucratic red tape or employer obfuscation. I used to think that this wasn't much of a problem. Now, after my own experience, I know all too well that it is.

5. Finally, remember that in helping others today, you may be helping yourself or another member of your family tomorrow - because this can happen to you too.


Boys And Their Toys #1

I think a new series of posts is called for - something to go with Weekend Wings, Doofus Of The Day and so on. I'm calling this one Boys And Their Toys.

The reason will become self-explanatory as soon as you've read this post (or even before you finish it!).

I'll start with the boys of Top Gear, the BBC TV program. They're basically three adolescents who've never grown up (and flatly refuse to even try to do so), having as much fun as possible with things that move on (and sometimes off) roads.

They also seem to enjoy getting large military machines and guns involved in some of their shows.

Here are four video clips to show you what I mean. In the first, Jeremy Clarkson tries to run rings around a Challenger II main battle tank (and avoid getting shot by it) while driving a Range Rover.

In the next clip, a Lotus Exige sports car tries to make it around a racetrack without an Apache attack helicopter "locking on" to it with its fire control system.

Next, Jeremy Clarkson tries to make it through a sniper-infested village, using a Porsche and a Mercedes-Benz, without getting "shot".

Finally, the Bugatti Veyron, the world's fastest production car, takes on the Eurofighter Typhoon in a drag race. The car will do a mile along a runway, turn around and come back. The Eurofighter will also cover a mile out and back - straight up and down. Let's see who wins!

Like I said . . . boys and their toys!


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Weekend Wings #12: The Spitfire - the legend grows

Last week I published the first of a three-part Weekend Wings series about the Supermarine Spitfire, possibly the most significant fighter aircraft of all time in terms of its performance, versatility and operational record. That article examined the development and early versions of the Spitfire and its operational career up to and during the Battle of Britain.

In this second part of the series I'll examine the Spitfire's operations during the remainder of World War II, with reference to its ongoing development and new versions that substantially improved its performance. I won't go into too much technical detail about the various Marks of the aircraft, as there's so much information involved that this article would become no more than series of engineering reference notes. Those who'd like to learn more about the different Marks may consult the following references:

If you'd like to know more about the development of the engines that powered the Spitfire, consult these links:

At the end of the Battle of Britain the Spitfire had captured the imagination of the British public as the savior of the nation, despite the fact that Hurricanes far outnumbered Spitfires in Royal Air Force (RAF) service and had shot down many more German aircraft. The higher-performance Spitfire had also earned the high respect of the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, to such an extent that the German fighter leader Adolf Galland had famously demanded of Hermann Goering that his squadrons be equipped with Spitfires! (This did little to enhance Galland's short-term career prospects.)

Luftwaffe bombing raids on Britain continued, but were conducted almost exclusively under cover of darkness. Efforts were made to use the Spitfire, Hurricane and other single-engined aircraft as night fighters, but with the technology of the day and lacking (as yet) an effective airborne radar installation, these were unsuccessful. Twin-engined aircraft such as the Blenheim, the Beaufighter and later the Mosquito proved far more successful in this role.

RAF Fighter Command began almost immediately to engage in operations over occupied France. They were intended to develop an offensive-minded spirit and ensure that the Germans could not rest easy in their newly-gained territories: but the RAF was soon to find that these operations were costly in the extreme. All the disadvantages faced by the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain now applied to the RAF. They had to operate short-ranged fighter aircraft over unfriendly territory, where they had only a limited time to engage in combat before shortage of fuel forced them to withdraw. The Luftwaffe, on the other hand, could now operate near many friendly bases and use its radar equipment to predict RAF incursions and respond to them. The loss ratio immediately favored the Luftwaffe and would continue to do so for some time.

In addition the RAF had to improve the performance of its aircraft. The Spitfire Marks I and II had proved equal to the Messerschmitt Bf 109E model they'd encountered in the Battle of Britain, but the Hurricane had been clearly outmatched by the German aircraft: and by late 1940 the improved Messerschmitt Bf 109F model (shown below) began to appear in squadron service. It was considerably superior to its predecessor - and to the existing Marks of Spitfire. (As always, click the picture for a larger version.)

Clearly, the Spitfire's performance would have to be improved to counter this new threat. Fortunately a solution was at hand. The Mark I/II airframe was fitted with the Merlin series 45 engine, producing 1,440 hp and giving a substantial increase in performance. In addition, a new type of Spitfire wing accommodating two 20mm. cannon and four .303-inch machine-guns had now had its teething troubles sorted out and went into large-scale production. The result was the Spitfire Mark V, the most-produced of any Spitfire model. It began to enter squadron service in early 1941 and proved a match for the Bf 109F.

The Mark V saw more widespread service than any other Mark of Spitfire. Many were sent to North Africa, fitted with an enlarged sand filter that reduced performance but allowed operation in desert conditions, as shown below (note the bulge of the filter beneath the nose).

More were flown to Malta to reinforce the aerial defenses of that island, including dozens that flew off British and US aircraft-carriers.

Mark V's were also sent to the Soviet Union to aid in its fight against Germany after Operation Barbarossa commenced in June 1941. Britain would supply a total of over 1,300 Spitfires of several Marks to the Soviet Union over the course of the war, along with almost 3,000 Hurricanes. An interesting relic from the period is a 1942 Finnish Air Force aircraft recognition guide depicting fighters in service with the Soviet Union (remember that Finland fought alongside Germany against the Soviet Union). This is how they depicted the Spitfire Mark V in Russian markings:

The Luftwaffe's introduction in late 1941 of the Focke-Wulf FW 190 fighter, and soon thereafter the further improved Messerschmitt Bf 109G, spelled trouble for the Spitfire Mark V, which couldn't match either of them. The Spitfire Mark IX was the answer. Fitted with a double-supercharged Merlin engine it was at least equal to either German aircraft. It would be the second-most-produced model of Spitfire and give satisfactory service until the end of the war. It entered service in 1942, making its combat debut over Dieppe during Operation Jubilee.

Both Mark V and Mark IX Spitfires would receive modifications to improve their performance in particular applications or missions. A common modification was to remove the elliptical wing-tips, leaving a so-called "clipped wing" that improved roll rate considerably. With more powerful engines such Spitfires offered greatly improved performance at lower altitudes, particularly in a fighter-bomber role. The two-part video below shows an airshow display by a surviving Spitfire Mark V with clipped wingtips, today part of the Shuttleworth Collection in England. It offers unique views taken from inside the cockpit during flight.

Other modifications included pressurized cabins and extended wingtips to improve performance at higher altitudes. The latter were incorporated in the Mark VI in England, along with more powerful engines, and also improvised in the field in Egypt (as mentioned in Weekend Wings #9). The difference in wingtip profile can be clearly seen in the photographs below, the top one being a standard Spitfire Mark V and the lower a Mark V with extended wingtips.

By now limitations in the Spitfire/Merlin airframe/engine combination were becoming apparent. The Air Ministry had planned to replace the Spitfire in 1943 with the Hawker Tornado, a new fighter using the Rolls-Royce Vulture engine. However, the latter experienced so many problems during development that it was cancelled. The Tornado would be further developed into the Typhoon, using the Napier Sabre engine: but a new and more powerful fighter was urgently needed to counter ongoing German developments.

Fortunately, as early as 1939 Supermarine's chief designer, Joe Smith, had envisaged using the Rolls-Royce Griffon engine as a more powerful replacement for the Merlin engine in the Spitfire. After many delays caused by the urgent operational demand for Merlin-engined Spitfires, in November 1941 the first Griffon-powered prototype took to the air. The Griffon was only slightly larger than the Merlin in physical size but had 36% greater capacity (36.7 liter versus 27 liter) and produced far more power. It proved an instant success in the Spitfire, despite requiring aerodynamic modifications to allow the airframe to handle the additional power. The prototype Griff0n-engined Spitfire is shown below.

In a fly-off between a prototype Typhoon, a captured FW 190 and the prototype Griffon-engined Spitfire in July 1942, the latter beat both of the other aircraft convincingly. This caused a sensation at the Air Ministry, which had never imagined that such an improvement in the performance of the Spitfire was possible, and ensured the ongoing production of the Spitfire through many more variants. The most-produced Griffon-engined version would be the Mark XIV, which proved fast enough to intercept V-1 flying bombs and continued to serve in the air superiority mission until the end of the war. A later development, the Mark XVIII, coming right at the end of the war, featured a cut-down rear fuselage and bubble canopy similar to the P-51D model of the Mustang. A photograph and video of the Mark XVIII are shown below. Turn up the sound to hear the roar of the Griffon engine - and note the five-bladed propeller needed to make use of all that power!

Merlin-engined Spitfires continued in production and service and operated increasingly in the fighter-bomber role, leaving the higher-performance Griffon-engined variants to deal with later and more advanced German fighters.

Spitfires served in the US Army Air Force (USAAF) from 1942. Two fighter groups were sent over to England and equipped initially with the Mark V, later transitioning to the Mark IX. In addition three so-called "Eagle Squadrons" of US pilots in RAF service would transfer to the USAAF in 1942, taking their Spitfires with them. An Eagle Squadron Spitfire is shown below.

USAAF units also used Spitfires in the Mediterranean theater until 1944, when they transitioned to the P-51 Mustang fighter. Interesting accounts of USAAF Spitfire operations may be found here and here. Below is shown a Spitfire Mark Vc in USAAF markings, which is preserved in the National Museum of the USAF. Note the sand filter beneath the nose and the desert camouflage - this is clearly intended to represent a Spitfire from the Mediterranean theater.

The Spitfire was somewhat hampered throughout its operational career by a relatively short range on internal fuel (400-500 miles at most). It had been designed that way, as a defensive fighter to protect Great Britain, and its range was adequate for that purpose. However, when different missions called for longer range, a solution had to be found. Adaptations included fitting the Spitfire with external drop tanks and modifying later versions to provide increased internal fuel capacity (particularly the photographic reconnaissance versions, some of which had a range of over 2,000 miles). However, it was never able to match the range of aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang, which (after an initial false start) was fitted with the Spitfire's Merlin engine and developed into a long-range escort fighter to accompany USAAF bombers to their targets in Germany and back.

In order to allow the Spitfire to operate in support of the advancing Allied armies, Spitfire units were forward-based on improvised airstrips almost immediately following the D-day landings in June 1944. As the advance continued they moved to captured German airfields, and by 1945 were operating from within Germany itself. It was at this stage that another advantage of the wing-mounted external fuel tanks became apparent. Some ingenious armorer discovered that a keg of beer could be fastened in place of the drop tanks! The Heneger and Constable Brewery donated free beer, and Spitfires regularly made "maintenance flights" back to England, returning with two kegs beneath their wings. This is said to have led to frequent visits by USAAF fighters to RAF airfields, using all sorts of contrived excuses, as the USAAF apparently didn't provide beer to their forward-deployed squadrons! (Allegedly His Majesty's Customs And Excise Service were not amused and tried to stop the supply . . . but RAF Spitfire squadrons somehow, mysteriously, remained well-supplied with beer. I guess where there's a will, there's a way!) The painting below was commissioned by the brewery to commemorate the flights.

Spitfires also operated in the China-Burma-India theater with the RAF and in Australia and the South-West Pacific with the Royal Australian Air Force. Mark V Spitfires defended Darwin in northern Australia against Japanese air raids, and later Marks of Spitfires continued to drive the Japanese northward during General Macarthur's campaign. Carrier versions of the Spitfire, known as the Seafire, operated in every theater of Royal Navy operations, including against Japan, and will be discussed in greater detail in the final instalment of this series next week.

Photographic Reconnaissance (PR) versions of the Spitfire were in service from 1939, as discussed in last week's article. As new Marks of the fighter were developed the higher-performance versions were also produced in PR form. They were usually painted in a pale blue camouflage for high-altitude missions and in a strange pink color (which proved almost impossible to see against a background of low cloud or ground haze) for low-level work. Most had their weapons removed and the weapon bays in the wing converted to fuel tanks, plus additional fuel tanks in the fuselage and below it and the wings. This gave later models a range of about 2,000 miles.

PR Spitfires performed some of the most important and spectacular reconnaissance missions of the war, including the hazardous low-level operation that photographed the German Würzburg radar set at Bruneval in occupied France (shown below). This led to the famous Operation Biting in February 1942 to capture parts of it for analysis and its operators for interrogation.

They also conducted the famous reconnaissance of Peenemünde that led to its identification as the test center for German rocket development. This led to its destruction in Operation Hydra during August 1943. Below is the Spitfire photograph of Peenemünde in which V-2 rockets were first identified.

Spitfires also conducted regular reconnaissance of the Ruhr dams prior to their destruction in Operation Chastise during May 1943, and photographed them again the day after the raid to verify its results. One of the post-raid images is shown below. The pilot who took it later spoke of his experiences:

When I was about 150 miles from the Moehne dam I could see the industrial haze over the Ruhr area and what appeared to be a cloud to the east. On flying closer I saw that what had seemed to be cloud was the sun shining on the floodwaters.

I looked down into the deep valley which had seemed so peaceful three days before [on an earlier reconnaissance mission] but now it was a wide torrent.

The whole valley of the river was inundated with only patches of high ground and the tops of trees and church steeples showing above the flood. I was overcome by the immensity of it.

Merlin-engined PR Spitfire variants culminated in the PR Mark XI, shown in the video below.

The last PR version was the Griffon-engined Mark XIX, shown in the photograph and video below. It was based on the very successful Mark XIV fighter.

Next week, in the final instalment of this three-part series on the Spitfire, we'll examine the Seafire naval variants, further development of the Spitfire into the Spiteful, Seafang and the jet-powered Attacker, and look at post-war production and service of this magnificent aircraft.