Friday, 20 December 2013

Banzai, me dearies

Carrot crunchers, I think is the polite term for folk who inhabit Gloucestershire, although there is a more colourful term, pertaining to sheep that sometime gets applied in that context but lets not explore that further here. Notable fact concerning the county, is that it was home to a couple of Britain's foremost aviation concerns, The Bristol Aeroplane company and The Gloster Aircraft Company. Amongst Gloster's notable contributions to British aviation, is the development of Britain's first gas turbine powered aircraft, including the first British production jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor. They also had a contender in the bidding for the RAF's wartime fighter, although development of the project seems to have been slow in comparison to its illustrious rivals for that role. The Gloster project took a rather different approach, developed under the RAF's F 5/34 Specification for an air interceptor/fighter, it was a considerably lighter aircraft than its rivals, something that would have made it ideal for marine applications. This comparatively low weight achieved mainly through the then novel application of an aluminium wing spar, both the Spitfire and Hurricane utilised more conventional steel members.

The project never really fulfilled its potential though, there is certain amount of speculation as to why that should be: the rivalry between the RAF and the RN, could've meant that its suitability as carrier borne fighter, hindered its chances. It's generally believed though that support in the Air Ministry was gathering around the Rolls Royce Merlin and those aircraft designed to fulfil the specification conceived to utilise that engine. So it never made it beyond a few prototypes that flew just before the war, too late to beat the Hurricane into production, as far as it's known the project never even acquired a unique name and the aircraft is ubiquitously known by it's RAF specification number ie. the Gloster F 5/34

Gloster F 5/34
Meanwhile across the other side of the world, something rather odd happened, the Japanese Navy issued a specification for a carrier borne fighter that was considered impossible to fulfil by at least one major manufacture who pulled out of the running. The guy at Mitsubishi, Mr. Jiro Horikoshi, wasn't so faint hearted though, with a we can do that attitude he came with the now famous Mitsubishi A6M, commonly known as the Zero.

Mitsubishi A6M Zero

Looks kind of familiar doesn't it? and it's a familiarity that has been noted on more than one occasion. The absence of the turtle deck and the staggered configuration of the tail plain being obvious similarities. It doesn't end there though, guess what its wing spar is made of? that's right, aluminium again. There's a lot of huffing and puffing over this similarity, I'm pretty convinced there's good circumstantial evidence to suggest that the similarity is more than just coincidence. but it would be a mistake to conclude that the Zero was derivative design, there was a heck of lot of transfer of design and technology between nations before and during the war. Most radial engines can be traced back as derivatives of the Gnome Radial, the cooling systems on the Daimler Benz engines were derived from the Roll Royce Kestrel, likewise the fan installation of the Hawker Sea Fury was copied directly from the FW 190, only an idiot wouldn't copy something that worked. The Zero was even lighter that the F 5/34, the airframe being constructed from an aluminium alloy only the Japanese had access to, known as T-7178.

As I mentioned, I'm personally pretty sure there was some kind of transfer on the design and it probably wasn't just one way either, Gloster was a the British company with quite bit of presence in Japan. It would be interesting to really have the resources and dig into this story and not just mull over suspicions and speculation.

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