Come with me Jasmine in my flying machine

Jasmine Lydia Bligh, television hostess at the British Broadcasting Corporation, aboard a Cierva Rota autogiro with Reginald Alfred Charles Brie, Hanworth, England. Anon., “On a ‘télévisé’ les évolutions d’un autogyre.” Paris-Soir, 21 February 1939, 10.

Hello there, or is it here, my reading friend. No matter. Yours truly is pleased to present you a little something that should pique your interest. Before going too far in this peroration, I thought you might be interested in reading the caption of the photo that initiated it. Said photo was found in the 21 February 1939 issue of a long defunct French right of centre illustrated newspaper, and a very successful one at that, Paris-Soir. Here’s the caption.

Yesterday, on the aerodrome of Hansworth, in England, the state television services produced a curious news report. On the field, a camera filmed the evolutions of an autogiro while the pilot – a young woman – gave her impressions on a microphone. The test was quite good, and the listeners with a television screen thought for a moment that they were transported to the aerodrome of Hansworth.

And yes, my observant reading friend, the name of the airfield was Hanworth, not Hansworth. It was to be found near London. And no, the young woman mentioned in the caption was not the pilot of the autogiro, and…

Do you know what an autogiro / gyroplane was / is? You should, having read the October 2017 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee where this type of flying machine was mentioned. You did not read it, did you? Sigh. An autogiro, say I, was / is a less complex and expensive cousin of the helicopter developed in the 1920s by Spain’s Juan de la Cierva y Codorníu. Its rotor was / is not powered by an engine and rotates freely. An autogiro could / can not take off or land vertically, nor hover in mid air, but it could / can operate from very small landing areas.

Strong in our knowledge of what an autogiro was / is, let’s proceed down memory lane, to 19 February 1939 and the airfield at Hanworth. One of the 3 television hostesses / hosts and announcers of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was on hand for a special flight. Dare one say that said flight was the sort of shenanigan that Jasmine Lydia Bligh dearly loved?

Appointed around May 1936, Bligh was involved in the first television broadcasts of the BBC, from October of that year onward. This elegant and beautiful young woman loved to take part in various escapades that made the news in the United Kingdom and abroad. During a televised fire fighting demonstration at the Alexandra Palace, in London, she was carried down a ladder by a fireman. At least one photo of this event was published in newspapers. Another photo published by newspapers showed Bligh driving an 1898 Benz automobile in London at some sort of gathering. As well, she took part in a motorcycle stunt demonstration performed by a member of the London Divisional Signals, a unit of the Territorial Army, the active duty volunteer reserve force of the British Army. A photo showed her holding the wheel she had detached from the sidecar she was riding in. And yes, the “Ally Pally” was mentioned in October, November and December 2018 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Given such shenanigans, it was hardly surprising that Bligh, one of the first British television stars, was known as the television thrill girl. Incidentally, she may have been a descendant of the famous William Bligh, the commanding officer of HMAV Bounty at the time of the equally famous mutiny, in April 1789.

If I may be permitted to digress for a moment, Bligh was apparently not the unsavoury character portrayed by various movie actors over the years. He was a perfectionist, yes, but also a superb navigator, but back to our story. Incidentally, Bligh was apparently a commanding lieutenant in 1789, not a captain, but back to out story. You have a question, my reading friend? What does HMAV mean? The acronym stood / stands for His Majesty’s Armed Vessel, say I, ye barnacle. But back to our story. Actually, have you noticed that the actors who portrayed Bligh (baddy) and the chief of the mutineers (goody) in the 3 movies released since the 1930s were respectively British and American? It goes without saying that these movies were American. Come to think of it, British movie actors are often used to portray characters whose devilry is checked by American heroes. Bur back to our story. Really.

On 19 February 1939, say I, finally, Bligh clambered aboard a Cierva Rota 2-seat autogiro of the Royal Air Force (RAF). A BBC television crew stood by, ready for action. Once Bligh was safely buckled in, the pilot took off. The television crew caught the Rota as it made a spectacular jump into the air, easily clearing a hedge. It followed the autogiro as it manoeuvred in the sky, at an altitude of up to 300 metres (1 000 feet). The television crew also caught the near vertical landing of the Rota. Bligh broadcasted her comments during the entire flight, using a portable radio transmitter.

Bligh’s pilot was a minor celebrity in his own right, if only within the world of autogiros and helicopters. Reginald Alfred Charles “Reggie” Brie served as observer / gunner in the Royal Flying Corps / Royal Air Force both during and after the First World War. He joined the staff of Cierva Autogiro Company Limited in late 1930, as a test pilot. Brie became chief test pilot in late 1931. He took part in demonstration flights, both private and public, in the United Kingdom and abroad, throughout the 1930s. Brie was also involved in other promotional activities like delivery flights, record attempts, informal races and pleasure flights with a passenger. In September 1934, he was involved in experimental mail flights between a London airport and a downtown post office. The idea was to see if the autogiro could speed up mail delivery. Brie also made the first landing of an autogiro on a Royal Navy ship, in September 1935.

Interestingly, in 1935, Brie patented a sprung cradle intended to receive and hold down, even in bad weather, an autogiro attempting to land on a ship at sea. His idea, which was never built, was / is a distant ancestor of a family of Canadian devices that count among the most important developments of the 20th century in the field of antisubmarine warfare. Their story is well worth telling.

In 1951, Harry B. Picken founded an aircraft maintenance and repair company in St. Catherines, Ontario, Genaire Company Limited. In the summer of 1954, he submitted to the Department of Defense Production the basic design for a device that would allow a helicopter to land on a ship even in bad weather.

A brief digression if I may. During the summer of 1950, while living in Hamilton, Ontario, Picken completed the construction of a conventional homebuilt helicopter. Equipped with a tail rotor like most successful helicopters that flew at the time and still today, the HP 100 or HP 400 Helicon did not go beyond the prototype stage, but back to our story.

A federal agency, the Defense Research Board, deemed Picken’s design too complex but believed that the idea showed promise. It launched a research project even before the end of 1954. This work gave birth to the Helicopter Hauldown and Rapid Securing Device (HHRSD), developed by Fairey Aviation Company of Canada Limited of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, a subsidiary of the British company Fairey Aviation Limited, itself a subsidiary of Fairey Company Limited. The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) enthusiastically collaborated on the project. Sea trials of a prototype began in November 1963, with an America-made Sikorsky CHSS Sea King helicopter of the RCN. There were numerous problems and delays, which was understandable considering the degree of innovation of the concept. And yes, my reading friend, the Defense Research Board was mentioned in December 2018 and January 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Fairey Canada Limited, a corporate name adopted in 1964, received a first order towards the end of the year. The HHRSD gradually entered service from 1966-67. Mounted on escort and helicopter-carrying destroyers of the RCN / Canadian Armed Forces, this device, commonly known as the “Beartrap,” was used in conjunction with the CHSS / CH-124 Sea King. It allowed the use of 1 or 2 helicopters from relatively small warships in almost any weather. While it was / is somewhat exaggerated to say (type?) that the destroyer-helicopter duo revolutionised anti-submarine warfare, said duo was / is nevertheless an important addition to the arsenal of naval forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

And yes, my reading friend, the breathtaking collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum of Ottawa, Ontario, includes a Sea King to be delivered in the spring of 2019.

Around 1967, when it faced serious financial problems, Fairey decided to end her activities in Canada. Dominion Aluminum Fabricating Limited of Mississauga, Ontario, bought the production rights of the HHRSD from the Federal Government in 1969.

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force, or Kaijō Jieitai, became the first foreign customer of the Canadian device in 1973. The signing of a first contract by the United States Navy in 1981 was a milestone in history of the Recovery Assist, Securing and Traversing (RAST), a new official designation adopted around 1976-78.

Dominion Aluminum Fabricating became DAF Indal Limited, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Indal Canada Limited, around 1977. Indal Technologies Incorporated, a company name adopted around 1985, completed the prototype of a new device, the Aircraft Ship Integrated Secure and Traverse (ASIST), around 1986.

In 1987, Indal Technologies apparently began discussions with the Italian company Caproni Vizzola Costruzioni Aeronautiche Società per Azioni, a subsidiary of a major company, Agusta Società per Azioni, to develop a version of the ASIST compatible with the anti-submarine helicopters manufactured by the latter. This project seemingly went nowhere.

With the support of the Defence Industry Productivity Program and Technology Partnerships Canada, Indal Technologies gradually became a world leader in helicopter landing systems. By the end of the 2000s, the RAST and ASIST together accounted for three quarters of the systems installed worldwide.

Even before the end of 2016, the navies of at least 12 countries in America (Canada, Chile and the United States), Asia (India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Turkey), Europe (Italy and Spain) and Oceania (Australia) had ordered about 215 RASTs and about 45 ASISTs, not to mention about 10 Twin Claw Aircraft Integrated Integrated Ship and Traverse (TC-ASIST), a version mentioned below. In other words, about 270 warships sailed / sail with these Canadian devices.

The TC-ASIST, developed no later than 2008, made it possible to secure a helicopter that was not equipped with the harpoon normally used for securing it on the platform of a warship.

The American firm Curtiss-Wright Corporation acquired Indal Technologies in 2005. It still existed in 2019 and seemed to operate under the name Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions – Indal.

A Cierva Rota of the Royal Air Force. Anon., “Service Aviation.” Flight, 24 October 1940, 355.

Would you care for a few words of wisdom on the Rota autogiro, my reading friend? Yes? No? All right. The Rota joined the ranks of the RAF during the summer of 1934. A.V. Roe & Company Limited (Avro) produced under license the first 12 aircraft ordered by this service. Two small firms, British Aircraft Manufacturing Company Limited and Odie, Bradbury and Cull Limited, did the same for a second group of Rotas, built to a different design. Six of these 7 autogiros were actually delivered, in 1939. And yes again, me reading friend, Avro was mentioned a few times in our blog / bulletin / thingees since March 2018.

The first group of Rotas operated by the RAF was of a type known commercially as the Cierva C.30. This flying machine was the most successful autogiro of its day. It was made under license in the United Kingdom, Germany and France, by

- Avro, a member of Hawker-Siddeley Aircraft Company Limited from 1935 onward,

- Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau Aktiengesellschaft, and

- the Établissements Lioré et Olivier and the Société nationale de constructions aéronautiques du Sud-Est, which absorbed the former in 1936 when the French government nationalized most of the aircraft industry.

While most of the Type 671s, as the C.30 was designated by Avro, went to individuals or small civilian operators, the 12 RAF machines mentioned above were used for observation missions in cooperation with the British Army. They did not prove very effective in that regard. Twenty-five or so factory fresh autogiros were exported to more than 15 countries, including 7 that were used by the armed forces of Belgium, Denmark, Spain and Yugoslavia. Forty or so Type 671s were sold to civilian users in the United Kingdom.

Around 1934, Cierva Autogiro operated one or more Type 671s on behalf of London’s Metropolitan Police Service. At the time, this renowned organisation commonly known as Scotland Yard was conducting experiments in studying and controlling road traffic from the air. Would you believe that one or more Type 671s helped that same police service to control the traffic on the day of the Epsom Derby, the greatest turf event in the world if you must know, for several years during the 1930s? And yes, Scotland Yard was mentioned in an October 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

While a few Lioré et Olivier Leo C.30s were used by individuals or small civilian operators, the great majority went to the French air force, or Armée de l’air, which used them for observation missions in cooperation with the army, or Armée de terre. They did not prove very effective in that regard. The French navy, or Marine nationale, also operated some LeO C.30s. It is possible that at least one of these was used to calibrate the radar sets of some warships. This writer does not know if any were French-made autogiros were exported.

Interestingly enough, Focke-Wulf became the German maker of the Cierva autogiro when Hamburger Flugzeugbau Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung proved unable to take on the project. Even though the German air ministry ordered 40 examples of the Fw 30 Heuschrecke, as the German made C.30s were known, for use as a liaison aircraft, all of them actually went to individuals or small civilian operators, in Germany and elsewhere. The German air force, or Luftwaffe, saw no reason to use such motorized grasshoppers, and… Did I forget to mention that the German word for grasshopper was / is heuschrecke? Sorry. It is worth noting that the experience gained by Focke-Wulf through the production of the Fw 30 proved very useful when it designed one of the first successful helicopters in history, the Focke-Achgelis Fa 61 / Focke-Wulf Fw 61, test flown in June 1936.

The second group of Rotas operated by the RAF was of a type known commercially as the Cierva C.40. This flying machine differed from its stable mate primarily in that its rotor could be rotated for a brief period of time through a rapidly disengageable connection with the engine, an improvement that greatly reduced the take off run.

All in all, 175 or so C.30s and 10 or so C.40s were built in the 1930s and in 1940: 85 or so in the United Kingdom, including all the C.40s; 60 or so in France; and 40 in Germany. Only 5 modified C.30s from a pair of French 100 machine orders were completed before the defeat of France in June 1940, but back to our television star.

Bligh’s on air career came to a stop in September 1939, at the start of the Second World War, when the BBC ended its television broadcasts. She returned to the airwaves in 1946 and kept at it until the 1970s, ending her career with Thames Television (Holdings) Limited, a private broadcaster jointly owned by Associate British Pictures Corporation and British Electric Traction Company Limited. Bligh died in June 1991 at age 78.

Brie, on the other hand, kept on flying for Cierva Autogiro until the company all but shut down, in 1940. In July of that year, he became the founding commander of an RAF autogiro unit whose function was to assist the calibration of the giant antennas of the Chain Home radar network that played a crucial role during the Battle of Britain – a function for which the low speed capabilities of the Rota proved extremely useful. In April 1941, Brie became commander of an RAF unit whose function was to conduct research on the use of various types of equipment, from parachutes to cargo gliders, needed to transport airborne forces. And yes, my reading friend, cargo gliders were mentioned in an October 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Brie went to the United States in late 1941. Although sent overseas to promote the use of ship borne autogiros to detect the German submarines that attacked convoys of merchant ships crossing the Atlantic, he became increasingly involved in the use of helicopters. Brie seemingly ran the first helicopters flying school in the United States and the world, for example. He seemingly stayed overseas until the end of the Second World War. Brie played a leading role in the early commercial use of helicopters in the United Kingdom, by British European Airways Corporation (BEAC), in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He later joined Westland Aircraft Limited. Brie retired in 1969. He left this world in 1988, at age 92.

You may be pleased to hear (read?), or not, your choice, that BEAC was mentioned in August 2017 and April 2018 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Westland Aircraft, on the other hand, was mentioned in that same August 2017 issue, and in a May 2018 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

Have you had your fill of aviation and space content for today, my reading friend? I thought so. Ta ta for now.

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Rénald Fortier