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Airborne Lifeboats


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The initial use of airborne lifeboats under Lockheed Hudsons  is well documented but less so is the use of the Fairey Barracuda. In my research of the Hudson I came across a couple of pictures of lifeboats under Barracudas. It would make sense to have a carrier borne ASR unit.

This one looks like the Uffa Fox design used under the Hudson but there are stays with something (folded?) at the bows and there is an aft stay. The grabrails are smaller than the usual Mk I lifeboat and the rocket drogue may not be fitted in the bow.

 

50735427951_c529548af3_b.jpg

 

Points of interest are the easily visible 8M, the just visible ROYAL NAVY and the invisible serial. Censored or just too murky to see?

 

This one is a different Barracuda with a different boat. It appears to be clinker built, suggesting perhaps a naval origin. The Uffa Fox design had a smooth hull - two layers of mahogany with a waterproof fabric membrane in between them.  Any codes or serial in this one is cropped out.

 

50735534882_fa27c61274_k.jpg[/url]

 

The interest is because we have made an airborne lifeboat to go with the Hudson DK Decals and it is of interest if it can be slung under a Barracuda also - it would certainly make a different model. Here's a note to @Hornet133 as he is interested., having reviewed our conversion.

 

A few questions - is there any information on the RN trials of airborne lifeboats? Who, when and where? Can anyone identify the Barracudas? Is that a usually shipborne boat in the second picture?

Maybe @Jamie @ Sovereign Hobbies might know, being interested in air and sea matters.

 

 

 

 

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Hi Ed. This looks interesting but I've never seen anything on this. The way documentation is archived would mean that I might have happened across orders instructing that lifeboats were to be carried or such like but any surviving documentation on trials would be filed separately from any trials of, for instance, sea going camouflage. I will have a look through the file titles but am not immediately clear on what the box file might be called that any records of this might be stuffed in with. It would still need someone to go to Kew to look through the file of course!

 

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Ed

I've had a quick dive into

"Barracuda from the Cockpit" by Robert McCandless and

"The Fairey Barracuda" by Matthew Willis.

 

There were a number of Barracudas used for trialling airborne lifeboats from 1945 to 1950, but they don't ever appear to have been used for anything more than trials.

 

Your first photo appears in "Barracuda from the Cockpit" on p132 and the serial is given as MX727. "Fleet Air Arm Aircraft 1939 to 1945" gives that as being with operational squadrons until 7/45 then flown from Eastleigh to Abbotsinch on 25/8/45 and then as an aircraft of 777 squadron on HMS Pretoria Castle as 8M on 26/8/45. Last entry shows it back at Gosport on 30/8/45. "Squadrons and Units of the Fleet Air Arm"  notes that 777 reformed from B flight of 778 squadron in May 1945 as a Carrier Trials Unit on Pretoria Castle. But its aircraft were not allocated a code, so where the 8M comes from I don't know. The squadron conducted trials on aircraft and carrier equipment rather than the aircraft themselves. It used Ayr as a shore base until 9/45 before moving south to Ford and then Gosport before disbanding on 3 Jan 1946. There is a side artwork view of this aircraft on page 142.

 

"The Fairey Barracuda" has a few paras about tests in May 1945 by an TAG/ would be Observer from 798B squadron (a typo for 778 B I believe since 798 never had Barracudas). He visited Eastleigh one day specifically to pick up another aircraft to carry out a dropping test with an airborne lifeboat in the Solent. The trials are reported to have been successful and the boat was placed in limited production. Someone else reported that the airborne lifeboat for the Barracuda was still around in 1952.

 

The latter book has a series of photos of an uncoded Barracuda Mk.II MX613 used for test drops in 1945 and a photo of the boat on its three parachutes after dropping, with the bouyancy bags fore and aft inflated. The author notes that the lifeboat was normally carried by Warwicks and Hudsons. I'm not clear if that means it was the same boat type or not, given the text in the book talking about putting it into "limited production". why the need for limited production if it was already in use on other types? Unless of course the Admiralty had to order its own stocks instead of borrowing from the RAF. On second thoughts the lifeboat looks narrower across the gunwhales than those used by the RAF, possibly to fit the narrower Barracuda fuselage. Taken with the IWM photos below, maybe it was a new type.

 

One of those photos appears in the first book and attributes it to its time at the A&AEE Boscombe Down. "Fleet Air Arm Aircraft 1939 to 1945" has MX613 delivered to C Squadron A&AEE during the week ending 11/1/45 "....('Uffa Fox' lifeboat)..." then delivered Eastleigh 19-22/6/45.

 

C squadron handled all naval aircraft related matters and was the home of Lt Cdr Eric "Winkle" Brown. His "Wings of the Navy" also has a photo of MX613 from a different angle while at A&AEE.

 

There is a series of photos over at the IWM Collections of the Navy's 17'9" airborne lifeboat being tested in July 1945 at Lee-on-Solent.

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160877

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205187627

 

As for the second photo it is not one I have seen before. Clearly a Barracuda III due to the radome and taken while it was being prepped for flight (note the undercarriage locks with the big circular board still in place and no crew aboard) while aboard a British carrier (steel deck). My guess would be that it was taken aboard Pretoria Castle sometime in 1945.

 

The Barracuda was used for a lot of dropping trials in 1945. Much photographed were the trials with pods for dropping parachutists.

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rossm:- MX727 is a Mk.II equipped with the Yagi aerials of ASV Mk.II above the wings. The aircraft in the second photo is a Mk.III equipped with the later 3cm ASV Mk.XI radar in the radome under the aft fuselage.

 

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The post by EwenS with the Barracuda and the underwing pods. In the Warpaint book, "Fairey Barracuda" the same photo has the caption..."The mysterious "spy" Barracuda II P9795/G with two "cuda" floats to carry agents

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7 hours ago, expositor said:

Anyone know how the boat is slung

There is a midships lift point on the boat. In the Hudson this is attached via a cable to the central bomb shackle. I would guess it was the same in the first Barracuda picture. It is unclear what the function of the forward trapeze arrangement is in this picture. it may be an additional support or it may be carrying the full load, hence the stay on the stern of the boat. It is unclear exactly what sort of boat it is in the second picture and there isn't enough of the boat visible to see the support system. In the absence of evidence I would suggest the same  bomb shackle and cable through the bomb doors as the first one. Any further information is most welcome.

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Lifeboat drop by Barracuda...https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160874

Same photos as OP with captions...http://www.navtechlife.com/Airborne Lifeboats.htm

Video of a drop...https://film.iwmcollections.org.uk/record/6927/media_id/5912

Mk/1A lifeboat with drawing showing attachment points...http://magazine.ipmsnsw.com/34-4/uffa/uffa p1.htm

Edited by fubar57
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Hi Guys,

 

I am the author of the ipmsnsw article listed above. Ed Russell sent a review copy of the Red Roo Airborne Lifeboat conversion (RRR72179) to IPMS (NSW). I did a review (also in issue 34-4 of our publication 'in Miniature' listed above) and quickly did an additional article emphasising some of the points that the modeller needed to look at to make the RAAF Airborne Lifeboat Hudson A16-214 (per the article linked by @fubar57 above).

 

One of the major problems that I ran into was that I could not find anything which clearly said what the differences were between the Uffa Fox designed Mk.I. Mk.Ia, and Mk.II lifeboats (if you looked at 3 different websites you could get 3 widely differing answers).  So I can edit and correct the text, could someone advise if they have the info for -

 

a) the lengths of the Mk.I. Mk.Ia, and Mk.II lifeboats (and also for completeness the post war Mk.III used with Lancasters).

b) what is the exact difference between the Mk.I and Ia lifeboats ( could find nothing which actually told me).

c) there is a preserved lifeboat at the RAF Museum which they claim to be a Mk.Ia and photos of it online show a clinker built hull construction. Is that what makes a Ia different to a Mk.I.  Many boats were I believe built at small boat building operations around the UK and not by Uffa Fox.

 

We now know that the boats underneath the Barracudas are 17' 9" clinker built naval cutters, so I will need to amend the text on that point.

 

For those interested in RAAF subjects, the full back archive of the IPMS (NSW) magazine articles are available for download at ipmsnsw.com/magazine.

 

Steve Mackenzie

Editor 'in Miniature'

IPMS (NSW) magazine.

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Forgive me, Steve, but how do you know that the Barracuda boats are "17'9" clinker built naval cutters"?

 

I'm not convinced that the second photo in the original post shows clinker- certainly the seams are visible, but it still appears smooth.

 

bob

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The trapeze is presumably there not to hold the boat up but to ensure that when dropped the nose went first to ensure a clean separation.  This would be akin to the problem on the Spitfire belly tank which initially would slide aft and wipe off the tailwheel.  The Spitfire solution was to fit small hooks behind the tank so that the tail of the tank hit these and the nose dropped: the Barracuda has this built-in trapeze to do the job.

 

 

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2 minutes ago, Graham Boak said:

The trapeze is presumably there not to hold the boat up but to ensure that when dropped the nose went first to ensure a clean separation.

That would certainly work and I agree with you in principle.  However, the boat in the video is dropped cleanly apparently without this aid. The rear stay also assists this separation.

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On 19/12/2020 at 07:05, Ed Russell said:

there are stays with something (folded?) at the bows

Hi Ed, I don't think there's any stays at the bow, enlarging the photo I'm pretty sure it's substantial oil leakage from the notoriously leaky Merlin engine.

The upper "stay" is oil from under the gunwhale rubbing strip that has run back and downwards

The lower "stay" is oil from the bottom of the radiator cooling flap that has been taken in the slipstream to the mid bow and has then run back

The oil flow is interrupted by a diagonal metal strap (lifting reinforcement?), it runs up and down the forward edge of the strap and continues along the gunwhale rubbing strip at the top, and aft behind the strap at the turn of the bilge. 

There's another streak directly aft of where the oil streaks meet the strap and below the observers window, presumably as the oil has been blown over the strap is has separated from the hull until it impinges the hull again in the slipstream below the forward edge of the observers blister window.

 

3 hours ago, Ed Russell said:

A carvel built boat with seams like that would not win any competitions! It's difficult to say but I think the planks overlap. The 17 ft 9 in comes from the IWM caption to Barracuda pictures.

They're neither carvel nor clinker, they're hot moulded mahogany ply. Steve @Hornet133 is close when he says diagonal planking in his article, but they're not planks as such, more like thick veneers. The Inside is double diagonal laid veneers, and the outide is horizontal strips (which is what you can see in the photo above) There may have been a layer of canvas / Madapolan between the veneer layers. Construction is the same as that used for the DeHavilland Mosquito, The veneers are glued and laid up over two half moulds (port & Stbd), with outer half moulds closed over them. The moulds are then placed in an autoclave to cure under heat and pressure. Once out of the autoclave the thin steamed frames are added inside, and the halves joined around the keel and bulkheads. Uffa Fox designed quite a few boats using this construction method, which is both light and strong, and he had a close relationship with Fairey Marine who used this construction method extensively -  I have an Uffa Fox designed Fairey Marine hot moulded Firefly dinghy in my garage, it's post war, but the construction method is the same. The hot moulding  process produces light, strong monocoque shell with a smooth outer surface, which can be seen in most of the photos to be found of these airborne lifeboats. The horizontal strips that can be seen in the above photo may be due to the hull being varnished instead of painted. 

Whilst googling for photo's I came across this blog which has quite a few links to other pages with info on airborne lifeboats https://intheboatshed.net/tag/airborne-lifeboat/

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Just catching up on the discussion.

 

”Stays” at bow.

I don’t think that there are any. Firstly from looking at all the photos I have of Barras with lifeboats, that first photo is the only one that appears to have that feature on the starboard side. None of them, including the second photo, have a “stay” on the port side. For me, if it was somehow connected to the release of the boat there should be one each side to stop a twisting effect when dropped.

 

As to what it actually is, no amount of staring at it is giving me any clues.

 

Length of boat

I’ve been back to the artwork I have for “8M” and done some measuring. We know the Barra fuselage length, 39’9”. The boat looks to start and stop in the right place on the drawing when compared to the photos/film. I’m coming out at a figure of 17’ to 17’3”. Allowing for scaling issues and my poor measuring I’m satisfied that the real thing would be 17’9”.

 

If the real thing was 24’ long, then on the drawing I have, it would have to start where it does and extend all the way back to a point in line with the beginning of the Royal Navy titles when viewed from the port side.

 

I hope this helps everyone.

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Thanks @Dave Swindell and @EwenS Some really good observation there which backs up and adds to earlier info - just what we were looking for.

I have a Barracuda somewhere so we might scale down our Mk I lifeboat and add a few decals  to do a Barracuda one. (Put in your order now for delivery in the middle of next year 😀)

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On 19/12/2020 at 12:56, EwenS said:

There is a series of photos over at the IWM Collections of the Navy's 17'9" airborne lifeboat being tested in July 1945 at Lee-on-Solent.

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205160877

I'm pretty sure this photo is the same lifeboat (same boat, not just type, one photo just before the drop, one just after) as that shown in the first photo in this thread.

The oil staining on the bow is clearly visible in the same pattern as the "stays" in the airborne shot, though a little bit "washed out"  now, presumably the after effects of "splashdown"

The rear stay and it's purpose is now clear, it's one of two (one each side) supporting triangular horizontal fins/stabilisers/air tail sticking out at the stern of the boat. This can be made out if you enlarge the aerial photo once you know what you're looking for.

The second photo of the boat under the 'cuda on deck doesn't appear to have this air tail, but in all other visible respects appears to be the same, it may even be the same boat modified.

I'd like to revise my opinion that this boat was varnished and this is why we see the stripwood exterior, on further consideration I suspect it's actually painted and the strips are visible due to the paint cracking along the joint lines.

The other photo's in the series show:-

No oil staining on the port bow, due to the prop wash impinging on  the stbd side but blowing clear to port

The diagonal strip which stops the oil flow has a vertical strip running down from its top, it's present on both sides, and is reinforcement for attaching the forward parachute suspension strops. It's not clear whether there was a similar arrangement towards the stern for the aft suspension strops, the might be, but then again it could be a different arrangement due to the excessive tumblehome in this region

This boat has rectangular ports either side of the bow for rocket lines instead of the round ones seen on the larger boats.

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On 23/12/2020 at 06:11, Hornet133 said:

Many boats were I believe built at small boat building operations around the UK and not by Uffa Fox.

 

We now know that the boats underneath the Barracudas are 17' 9" clinker built naval cutters, so I will need to amend the text on that point.

Hi Steve, as per my post earlier, the airborne lifeboats were built to Uffa Fox's designs by Fairey Marine using hot moulded ply construction, they weren't clinker built or adapted naval cutters, and the construction method required large specialist equipment (autoclaves) that wouldn't be found at small traditional boatbuilders.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi,

I've tried to summarize my notes about airborne lifeboats. I hope that you can add / correct something :

 

Fairey Barracuda carried 17.9ft airborne lifeboat

 

Lockheed Hudson ASR III aircraft carried Mark 1 Uffa Fox 24ft (?) long Airborne Lifeboat
Mark IA - 23ft long

 

Vickers Warwick ASR I carried 27ft airborne lifeboat

 

Avro Lancaster ASR III carried some different boat types (SARO 3 ?)

 

Avro Shackleton carried SARO 3 airborne lifeboat (30ft long)

 

Boeing B-17 carried A-1 airborne lifeboat

 

Boeing B-29 carried A-3 airborne lifeboat

 

If someone can share with me some materials (especially some drawings / photos which can help with build those boats... :) )

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On 12/22/2020 at 11:44 PM, Ed Russell said:

There is a midships lift point on the boat. In the Hudson this is attached via a cable to the central bomb shackle. I would guess it was the same in the first Barracuda picture. It is unclear what the function of the forward trapeze arrangement is in this picture. it may be an additional support or it may be carrying the full load, hence the stay on the stern of the boat. It is unclear exactly what sort of boat it is in the second picture and there isn't enough of the boat visible to see the support system. In the absence of evidence I would suggest the same  bomb shackle and cable through the bomb doors as the first one. Any further information is most welcome.

Ed, sorry for the delay.  So you're saying the boat is secured from inside the Barra? 

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I am saying there is an absence of evidence for how it is secured. A couple of posts above refute the 'trapeze' thought, there is no visible external sling or cable so it seems most likely that it was like the Hudson - secured to the bomb carrying point.

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Yes, but how does the winch cable get tightened up and over the boat's gunwale?   There's room around ordnance to cinch up the sling; not so easy with a boat that covers a large area of the fuselage bottom, no?

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