Friday, February 26, 2010

War Stories: The Douglas A26 Invader

As a long time enthusiast of historic military aircraft, I couldn't pass on a visit to the newly opened Lyon Air Museum on a recent trip to Southern California. Among the many excellent exhibits this WW2 vintage, Douglas A26 Invader light bomber stood out from the pack. The Invader mostly served in a ground attack role. It wasn't as pretty or as innovative as the iconic DeHavilland Mosquito from which it drew some inspiration but had great longevity. The US military retained the aircraft through the Korean and Vietnam wars and and was used by various airforces around the globe until the 1980s.

A26 Invader
Douglas A26 Invader beautifully restored and looking quite menacing with its black paint and shark's teeth nose.

A26 Poster
Poster from the exhibit. I'm not sure if you can see this but some of the forward firing machine guns were mounted in the cockpit by the co-pilot's (right seat) legs. Firing them must have been unbelievably noisy for the crew and the cabin would have become very hot and smoky.

Nose with bomb sight
Head on view of the plexiglass nose showing the famed Norden bomb site.

This particular aircraft survived 22 missions: its targets included three convoys and a train.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Drop of the Hard Stuff

At dinner with some colleagues the other night I dredged up this memory from the recesses of my grey matter. Every word of it is true, honest.

Some years ago I was at Heathrow waiting to catch a flight to San Diego. It was Christmas and the airport had a festive atmosphere. I'd been extremely busy getting ready for my flight and the journey out on the Tube had been a scramble so I was looking forward to an hour of relative calm browsing mindlessly through the huge Duty Free shopping area. While I was shuffling around, a pleasant lady with a tray full of small plastic glasses containing amber liquid said,

"Would you care to try a Scotch, Sir?"

Now I wasn't shopping for whisky and rarely buy the stuff. Besides it was 11.00am and really a little early in the day. But then I told myself I'd been up most of the night packing, I was about to undergo an 8 hour time zone change and I could sleep on the plane. This was a time to relax. So I took one of the samples. It was fairly ordinary, cooking grade, blended malt. I knocked it back, thanked the lady and told her I wouldn't be buying a bottle.

"Oh", she said, "I have some much better stuff here, try one of these"

She produced another tray and I remember clearly it was Laphoraig of quite a decent vintage. But slamming back Scotch before lunch time is not really my thing and I hesitated...

"Go on" she said "you look a bit stressed, this will help you relax before your flight, and besides there's no obligation to buy anything"

It was hard to resist this logic. I agreed that I was a bit tense and accepted the second dram; it was much nicer than the first.

"I know what it's like" continued the lady, "I have a lot of stress at home"

"Oh", I rejoined, "why's that?"

"It's my husband, he's quite unwell", she said gravely

"What's the nature of his illness?" I asked, thinking I might offer some words of sage advice

"Oh, he's an alcoholic; would you like to try another?

I ran for my flight....

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Johnny Dankworth

So it's farewell to stalwart of British jazz, Sir John Dankworth who departed for the big-gig-in-the-sky yesterday. Sir, you were amazing, not only for your virtuosity on alto sax but for numerous compositions including the theme for The Avengers. Requiescat in pace.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Next Year in Monte Carlo

A shot of the Col de Turini in the Maritime Alps that towers above Monte Carlo. The mountain is known for a series of severe hairpin bends and is a notorious, classic stage of the rally. The photo here doesn't look too bad but imagine driving this route flat out, at night, with fog, snow and ice to contend attrition is always high.

I suffered severe withdrawal symptoms by not competing on this year's Monte Carlo Historique. As I write, the competitors will be getting down to some serious partying in the Sporting Club and celebrating their victories or drowning their sorrows. All with have epic stories to tell. Next year Mad Dog rallying will be back with a vengeance. In the meantime here's a nice clip of Paddy Hopkirk (winner, 1964) and Rauno Aaltonen (winner, 1967) explaining why the Mini Cooper was such a good rally car as well as talking about the unforgiving nature of the Col de Turini.
And as Mr Aaltonen states (talking about the run over the mountain):

"Certainly we had many memorable moments...because if you don't have them you're too slow".


P.S. Despite the fact that Mr Hopkirk and Mr Aaltonen are now both in their seventies, they are still evidently certifiable maniacs when they get behind the wheel.