Book Review – Gloster Javelin: An Operational history

Book cover image (credit: Pen and Sword Books)

Gloster Javelin: An Operational History

By: Michael Napier

Pen and Sword Books (2016)

First flown in Late 1951, the Gloster Javelin was a distinctive design and quite large for its intended roles as a fighter and interceptor. With its large delta wing and horizontal stabilizer set at the top of the tail fin, the Javelin was an unmistakeable shape among its contemporaries.

As British military aircraft of the Cold War go, the Javelin often gets downplayed as an “also ran” type with mediocre qualities where flight performance was concerned.

On the surface of things, it’s not difficult to see how history might record the Javelin in that rather dim light. The Javelin had no export success and only served the Royal Air Force for around 12 years. It always seemed to be something of a “work in progress” as no fewer than eight different versions of the aircraft were developed and put into service in that relatively short window of time.

Additionally, the Javelin was introduced to RAF service in 1956 and was gone from the front line of air defense of the United Kingdom by 1964, the last four years of its service life being spent fulfiling RAF committments abroad. As such, the Javelin never had much time to work its way deeply into the hearts and minds of the British public.

Last but not least was the aircraft that replaced the Javelin, the English Electric Lightning. The Lightning was a true performer from the start; capable of twice the speed of sound with a reputation of being a “missile with a man in it” the Lightning was a showstopper wherever it went and was able to capture the the imagination of the British public in ways the Javelin could never hope to.

To this day, among aviation enthusiasts far and wide, the Lightning has a large fan base while the Javelin is rather more of a niche interest.

All of this is borne out further by the fact that while over 430 Javelins were built, a respectable production run, only ten remain intact in museums today and none of them will ever fly again.

In spite of the rather lacklustre hand that many historians have dealt to the Javelin, it was a significant aircraft in many regards for the Royal Air Force and was an essential stepping stone to higher performance aircraft like the aforementioned Lightning.

The Javelin was an aircraft of “firsts” for the Royal Air Force; it was their first true all weather fighter, it was their first missile armed fighter, the first type in RAF service with the ability to be refuelled in flight, it was also the first type in RAF service with afterburner equipped engines.

If there was ever a military aircraft, British or otherwise, from the 1950s that deserved a fair hearing and reevaluation of its importance, the Javelin certainly qualifies.

Happily, this book gives the Javelin that fair hearing.

This book, as the title indicates, focuses on the service life of the Javelin and begins when the first squadrons of the aircraft were activated. A total of 19 squadrons used the Javelin during the type’s years in service.

The author does not shy away from the shortcomings inherent to the Javelin’s design and the fact that the aircraft was in a continual state of development throughout its service life to overcome many of those shortcomings.

However, the author also makes sure not to lump shortcomings of other systems associated with the Javelin in with those of the aircraft itself.

The Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engine, two of which were used to power the Javelin, was a typical fuel hungry turbojet engine of its era. Any perceived lack of range in the Javelin must be laid, at least partially, upon the fuel guzzling nature of the engines.

An additional, and much more serious, problem in the engine was that the Sapphire was prone to a phenomenon called centre-line closure. This disasterous phenomenon occured when the aircraft was flown through thick clouds and the temperature of air going into the engines lowered enough to cause the engine casing to shrink enough to make contact with the spinning turbine blades inside.

When contact was made between the turbine blades and engine casing, the affected engine ripped itself apart and typically took the other engine and a good sized part of the back end of the aircraft out with it.

A number of Javelins and their crews were lost to centre-line closure incidents.

The author also discusses the shortcomings of the DeHavilland Firestreak missile, which the Javelin was equipped with. The Firestreak represented the first generation of heat-seeking missiles and had all of the limitations that its contemporaries did. those limitations included the fact that it could only be fired at a target from behind and could only be fired at a maximum angle of around 20 to 30 degrees off the target to ensure a reasonable chance of a hit.

This book does a good job of showing that the Javelin was generally well liked by those who worked with it. It was a well handling and reliable aircraft with a roomy cockpit.

Some of the most important work the Javelins were involved in did not happen while flying from British soil, and this book does a very good job of detailing this aspect of the aircraft’s service.

While the Javelin never fired a shot in anger, it proved its worth as a projection of both NATO and British military airpower in some key hot spots through the late 1950s to the late 1960s.

Squadrons of Javelins were based in the former West Germany from 1957 to 1966 as part of the United Kingdom’s committment to NATO for the shared defense of the country.

A squadron of Javelins was based on Cyprus from 1963 to 1967 and turned back a number of Turkish air force fighters coming into the island’s airspace during the volatile years between Greek and Turkish Cypriots immediately after the island attained independence from British rule in the early 1960s.

A squadron of Javelins was dispatched to Zambia after Rhodesia announced its Unilateral Declaration of Independence in late 1965. Zambia had attained its independence from British rule in late 1964 and the Javelins were stationed there to ensure the country was protected from any attacks by the Rhodesian air force.

Javelin squadrons were based in Asia as part of the RAF’s Far East Air Force (FEAF) from 1961 to 1968. It was in this area of operations that they perhaps carried out their most critical work as it was also the time of the Indonesia – Malaysia Confrontation that lasted from 1963 to 1966 and the Cultural Revolution in China, launched by Mao Zedong in 1966. Javelins based in Singapore and detached other points on the Malay Peninsula were part of ensuring that Indonesian air force bombers were kept out of the area and the nation of Malaysia could be established. At the same time, Javelins based in Hong Kong guarded that colony’s airspace from possible incursions by Chinese military aircraft.

This book is a well researched and thought out volume on the Javelin and has a good balance of pictures to go with the text.

The book is also a timely one given that the generation that worked with the Javelin directly is certainly an aging one and many who did know the aircraft best are no longer with us to give first hand account of it. For those who are still with us, and the families of those who are not, this book is an affirmation that the Javelin and those who worked with it are not forgotten and are indeed appreciated.

If you like the Javelin, or would like to know more about it, this book will definitely give you a good starting point. It’s accessible reading that brings the nature of the Javelin across well without getting bogged down in unexplained technobabble.

Buy with confidence.

You can follow this link to the book’s page on the Pen and Sword Books website.

This link will take you to the book’s page on the Author’s website. If you have Facebook, the authour has this dedicated page for the book.

A Grand Old Horse – The Antonov An-2 “Colt” turns 75!

On August 31 of 1947, the prototype of Antonov’s An-2 took to the air for the first time. An instantly recognisable aircraft, the An-2 was given the name “Colt” in NATO’s code naming system for Soviet military aircraft during the Cold War.

Holding the distinction of being the largest single engine biplane ever to be put in production, the aircraft was in production from 1947 to 2001; an astoundingly long period for any aircraft.

Over 18,000 examples of the type are known to have been built between production lines in the former Soviet Union, Poland and China.

Here’s a selection of pictures I’ve taken of An-2s at various times and locations:

Morane-Saulnier Rallye – Gallic Gem

Rallye 100ST seen at Brno, Czech Republic in 2022.

From the Morane-Saulnier Stables

The Rallye (“Rally” in English) family of aircraft is a prolific one, with a number of twists and turns by way of corporate takeovers, product renamings and license production to create a rather convoluted history.

What is not unclear, however, is that the Rallye family represents the most successful French designed single engine general aviation aircraft of the latter half of the 20th century. Perhaps that should come as no surpize considering the origins of its pedigree: Morane-Saulnier.

When talking about French aircraft producers, few names are as well known as Morane-Saulnier. The Morane-Saulnier name has been around nearly as long as powered flight and is attached to some very pioneering aircraft from the pre World War I era, successful fighter aircraft in both world wars and a number of successful training and aerobatic aircraft in the interwar period. At the time the Rallye prototype first flew, in 1959, the company had nearly half a century of aircraft design experience behind them.

The company existed independently from 1911 to 1962, when it became a subsidiary of the Potez aircraft company. In the late 1960s, state owned Sud Aviation took over Potez and inherited the Rallye design in the process. After the Sud Aviation take over, the Morane-Saulnier name was replaced with SOCATA (Societe de Construction d’Avions de Tourisme et d’Affaires) and continued French production of the Rallye family took place under the SOCATA name.

Rallye 100ST seen at Brno, Czech Republic in 2022.

Giving Wings to the Public

Just as it was in the post First World War period, there was a significant upsurge in aviation mindedness among the public of many nations in the immediate post World War Two years. This led to the need for modern general aviation designs to satisfy the requirements of both individual pilots and flying clubs.

America had staked its claim on the market with the Cessna 172, which first flew in 1955 and experienced almost immediate widescale success.

Not to be left out, the French government opened a competition in 1958 for French aircraft manufacturers to design a light single engined aircraft suitable for training and touring as well as glider and banner towing. Morane-Saulnier won the competition with their MS.880 design and the prototype Rallye took to the air for the first time in 1959.

The Rallye was immediately successful at home and flying clubs across France took the new aircraft on in quantity. Before long, the aircraft experienced success more widely in Europe and points abroad. Over 3,300 examples of the Rallye were built across various family models, and the type saw export to no fewer than 65 countries. Aside of civilian use, members of the Rallye family were used by the air arms of 14 countries.

Part of the Rallye’s success can be found in its pilot friendly nature, it has a reputation as a very forgiving aircraft that is quite tolerant of novice mistakes. The same pilot friendly handling, along with the generous view outward provided by the large cabin canopy, also makes the Rallye pleasant for longer flights associated with touring.

Rallye 100ST seen at Brno, Czech Republic in 2022.

A Look at the Rallye

Two key qualities of single engine general aviation aircraft are affordability and maintainability. In achieving these qualities, simplicity is paramount. The Rallye certainly fits this description; it has proven itself to be a very economical and dependable machine at the flying club level.

At a glance, the Rallye can be described as an all metal, low-wing monoplane with a fixed landing gear. It seats up to four people, depending on the model.

On closer inspection, the Rallye has a few features that are rather unusual for an aircraft of its class:

As opposed to traditional doors, the cabin of the Rallye is opened and closed by a sliding canopy. This is an unusual feature on aircraft of the Rallye’s class and it allows for the aircraft to be flown up to a certain speed with the canopy left a bit opened. This means it’s possible to experience the sensation of open cockpit flying in the Rallye.

The Rallye was also designed to have near STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) qualities to it. To this end, it features slats on the leading edges of its wings that extend automatically at lower speeds to improve handling during low speed flying and at landings.

Aside of the leading edge slats, the Rallye also has quite large flight control surfaces for an aircraft of its size. This makes it very responsive in flight and lends to its forgiving flight characteristics. The trade off for the larger flight control surfaces is higher drag; accordingly, the Rallye is not the swiftest of aircraft in its class.

As part of the STOL features, the Rallye has quite robust landing gear that can handle not only short landings in the STOL regime, but also hard landings by student pilots.

Rallye 893 Commodore 180 at Kunovice, Czech Republic in 2018.

The Rallye Family

As mentioned at the start of this article, the Rallye family has a rather confusing looking family tree. This confusion comes not only from which Rallye variants were produced under the Morane-Saulnier brand versus those built under the SOCATA name, but also members of the family that began life with one designation, but were renamed later for marketing purposes.

There is also the license built versions by PZL, in Poland, to consider. In the late 1970s, PZL was granted a license to produce the Rallye as the PZL-110 Koliber (“Hummingbird” in English) and Polish Rallye production continued for several years after French production ended in 1984. Eventually, the Koliber diverged far enough from the Rallye to be able to constitute its own aircraft family.

The best way to look at this aircraft family is to separate it by the lightweight (MS.880) and heavyweight (MS.890) series, as all variants fall into one of those two categories. The main difference between the two series is that the MS.880 series was initially designed with two seats and later modified to have three or four seats, while the MS.890 series was designed with four seats from the start.

MS.880 / MS.880A

These two aircraft were prototypes. The MS.880 was the two seat version while the MS.880A was the three seat version. Additionally, the MS.880A had a swept vertical tail fin.

MS.880B Rallye Club

The MS.880B was the first full production version of the Rallye. It was a two seat aircraft with a 100 horsepower engine. A total of 1,100 of this version were built.

MS.881 / MS.883

These were two seat versions with slightly more powerful engines than the MS.880B had. The MS.881 was fitted with a 105 horsepower engine while the MS.883 had an engine of 115 horsepower.

MS.885 Super Rallye

The Super Rallye was available in two and three seat versions and had a 145 horsepower engine. Slightly over 200 of this version were produced.

MS.886

Powered by a 150 horsepower engine, only three of this version were made.

Rallye 100S Sport

This was a two seat trainer version with a 100 horsepower engine. 55 of this variant were built.

Rallye 100T / Rallye 125

The Rallye 100T was essentially an MS.880B with some minor revisions. the Rallye 125 was a four seat version of the Rallye 100T with a 125 horsepower engine.

Rallye 100ST / SOCATA 110ST Galopin / PZL-110 Koliber

The Rallye 100ST was a modest improvement on the Rallye 100T. It included three or four seats and a 20 kilogram gross weight increase.

The SOCATA 110ST Galopin was an improvement on the Rallye 100ST in that it had a 155 horsepower engine

The PZL-110 Koliber (Hummingbird) was the first of the Polish license built versions of the Rallye. It was powered by a 116 horsepower engine.

Rallye 150T / SOCATA 180T Galerian

The Rallye 150T was a four seat vesion of the Rallye100ST with a higher gross weight, enlarged tail surfaces and a 150 horsepower engine.

The SOCATA 180T Galerian was an improved version of the Rallye 150T by way of a 180 horsepower engine.

Rallye 150ST / SOCATA 150SV Garnement

The Rallye 150ST was a Rallye 150T that was structurally strengthened to handle stall recovery training. 66 of this verion were made.

The SOCATA 150SV Garnement was an improved version of the Rallye 150T through a 155 horsepower engine.

Rallye 893 Commodore 180 at Brno, Czech Republic in 2017.

MS.890 Rallye Commodore

This was the first member of the Rallye family to be designed and build as a four seat aircraft from the ground up. Eight were built, all powered by a 145 horsepower engine.

MS.892 Rallye Commodore 150 / Rallye 150

The MS.892 was an MS.890 fitted with a 150 horsepower engine.

Rallye 150 was a later redesignation of the MS.892.

MS.893 Rallye Commodore 180 / Rallye 180 / SOCATA Gaillard / SOCATA Galérien

The MS.893 was fitted with a 180 horsepower engine

Rallye 180 and SOCATA Gaillard were later redesignations for the MS.893 while the SOCATA Galérien was the designation for a glider towing version of the MS.893.

MS.894 Rallye Minerva / Rallye 220

This version took the horsepower up to 220 and was given the later redesignation of Rallye 220.

Rallye 235 / SOCATA Gabier / SOCATA R235 Guerrier / SOCATA 235CA Gaucho

As the Rallye 235 designation suggests, this variation was fitted with a 235 horsepower engine. This model was later redesignated as the SOCATA Gabier.

The SOCATA R235 Guerrier was the military version of the Rallye 235.

SOCATA 235CA was the designation for a handful of Rallye 235 aircraft that were modified for agricultural work. The modifications included a tail wheel landing gear arrangement and a hopper to hold material for spraying.

Rallye 893 Commodore 180 at Brno, Czech Republic in 2017.

The Rallye Today and Learning More

With around 3,300 built, there are still a good number of the Rallye family flying. However, they are not spread evenly around the world and your best chance of seeing one is likely to be in Europe.

A number of attempts were made to market both the Rallye and Koliber in America, but only a modest number were sold there due to the fact that there were already plenty of American made aircraft of similar capabilities saturating the market there.

You can find two good articles about flying the Rallye at the Achtung, Skyhawk! website. This article covers a flight from Spain to Croatia in an early MS.880 model and this article covers a flight in the later Rallye 150 model.

The Aeronautiker website has a nicely detailed article about flying and maintaining Rallye aircraft.

An article on flying the Rallye in America can be found at the AOPA website.

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