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A Pilot’s View of the Mosquito

A pilot’s view of the Mosquito Mk VI FB by Jimmy Gill. First published by the Mosquito Museum Newsletter on the 50th Anniversary of the first flight of the Mosquito (by Geoffrey de Havilland at Salisbury Hall on 25 November 1940)

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Mosquito Mk VI FB

1. Initiation

When converting to the Mosquito from single-seat Merlin-engined aircraft the immediate thought was that the Mosquito was too big and too heavy to fly in similar roles and should never have been allowed. However, a few sessions in a T3 accompanied by a ‘true believer’ started the process of convincing yet another doubter. To be told that “this aircraft will do all that your singles will do – and what’s more they’ll do it on one” – and then to have it proved on the spot – not only made for a very impressive and telling start, but also set the nerve ends tingling in the right direction of excitement.

2. The Next Stage

Transfer to the Mk VI FB, however, was the ultimate experience. With the possible exception of a few bad habits – and even those evaporated during the first 50 or so hours of flying – here was the aircraft. It had all the controls necessary to make it do what the pilot wanted, at an early stage and progressively. It inspired the pilot to greater confidence in his ability to extract its full potential. On the one hand it was sufficiently docile to ease the flying of it but on the other it could impose significant penalties for laxity, abuse or blatant over-confidence. The line between these two conditions needed to be learned, recognised, and thoroughly understood at the earliest possible stage. Stick control helped to make it exceptionally manoeuvrable up to medium altitudes and particularly so at ultra-low level where good speed into wind and down sun made its unnaturally quiet approach even more difficult to detect.

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Mossies on the line

3. The Armament

A large well-tailored stick (cannily cranked to cause the pilot’s position to conform with the contour of the fuselage) bound with raw hemp was truly a man’s stick and right-hand on, was surrounded by a cluster of controls all within easy reach of fingers/thumb on the same hand – transmit button, 4 x .303 Brownings (in the nose), 8 x RPs (under-wing) with 25 lb or 60 lb heads, 4 x 500 lb bombs (in the enclosed bomb-bay) and a large hooked trigger for 4 x 20 mm cannon (in the forward fuselage) which was operated by the right fore-finger. This concentration of potential destructive power spawned a flow like an adrenalin of liquid invincibility into the blood stream. An acrid tang in the nostrils via the oxygen mask of burnt cordite fumes seeping up into the cockpit from the forward belly after the cannon had been fired served to stimulate further the sensation of absolute power. The gun-sight was adequate and simple enough to avoid attention being diverted unnecessarily from flying the aircraft. With experience, bombs and RP could be aimed very accurately at low-level merely by looking straight ahead through the flat windscreen and releasing when the relative positions looked right! This required a little practice (primitive wax pencil lines on the inside of the windscreen helped some) but the indivisible bond between pilot and aircraft allowed the skill to be acquired naturally – and for the most, quite quickly. Same seat/pilot head height in relation to windscreen/cockpit was essential for consistent accuracy in these respects. The VI was a particularly stable weapons platform and even a stoppage on an outer cannon had no adverse directional effect.

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Jimmy Gill

4. Crew/Aircraft Relationship

With the navigator positioned slightly to the rear of the pilot (9″ or so ) but physically touching, the bond between them was, and needed to be, exceedingly close. Problems arising internally from any loss of RT were virtually eliminated. This same proximity however did give rise to special difficulties in the event of emergency exit being necessary. The drill was for the navigator to move forward, turn through 90 deg facing the escape hatch and open his legs; it was then for the pilot to move to the right and get his head firmly between the navigator’s thighs. At this point the navigator released the hatch and both went out as a ‘bundle’. The drill was practised on the ground using inflated and inverted ‘L Type’ dinghies to break the fall. the navigator had generally the same field of forward vision as the pilot which reduced the use of RT between the crew and a nudge and fore-finger sign made pinpointing much easier. Affinity of ground crew to aircraft and complement was well above the average. It was as though the very character and nature ofthe aircraft produced and exuded an aura of indelible quality which automatically fused the aircraft, its crew, and the ground crew together to form an indivisible whole which inspired the performance of each contributory element to a level well above its individual ‘norm’.

5. The Later Stage

The aircraft carried with it a bad reputation on several aspects such as a severe swing to port during take-off and an unheralded stall. It seems highly probable that both were overdone, having been magnified during the process of being handed down by those, who wittingly or otherwise, had frightened themselves by attempting too much too soon. With experience a tactical take-off was easily possible – even off PSP – by turning left from the peri-track to runway with plenty of starboard engine to urge the motion and when still about 25? short of runway alignment, opening the port engine firmly and fully to check the turn. This would produce tail-up in 50-100 yards and take-off in 4-500 yards, and enabled a ‘clean’ attitude to be achieved much earlier. Similarly, a tactical landing was another worthwhile precaution at the advanced stage. On return to base, aligned with the in-use runway, into wind, 50 feet over caravan at 240 mph then hoick the aircraft into a continuous climbing turn to port, a gravity-assisted wheels-down at the apex of the turn (about 1000 feet high and 6-800 yards radius), continuing turn under reduced power, flaps while still turning at about 130 mph, bringing nose gently up still turning to cross runway threshold at about 115 mph, close any small amount of remaining engine and complete an almost three-point landing. Done well, the port main wheel would just touch whilst the starboard and tail wheels had about 6″ to go. It is significant that the aircraft could be flown safely to those limits. The main advantage of the tactical approach and landing was that from the initial point of 50 feet above the caravan the aircraft was within the airfield circuit and had sufficient speed to be landed no matter if one or both engines failed during the subsequent approach. The main undercarriage was big and accounted for considerable drag when down. One of the worst possible situations a pilot could face was the loss of an engine (especially the port) during the take-off, or, in the case of a long-winded ‘airliner’ type approach, on the approach when the undercarriage was down. In this event, to overcome the drag and stay in the air required the use of more power from the live engine (even if it had been possible to feather on the dead engine) but the more power the greater the torque and the consequential loss of directional control. By dint of very careful and judicious use of everything – rudder, aileron and live engine – it was possible to keep the aircraft flying (albeit on the ‘skew’) until the main gear and flaps were up. On 4 Squadron this flying attitude (not to be practised) was known as a ‘skunt’. Once the aircraft was clean its performance on the live engine was more than adequate to permit its recovery. If, however, it was ever necessary to do a wheels up landing in a paddle-bladed aircraft with the port engine running or wind-milling, there was a fear that, unlike the slimmer de-Havilland type, the stiffer paddle blades would not ‘banana peel’ on impact but would cause the prop-shaft to shear behind the reduction gear leaving the anti-clockwise turning port propeller (looking from the front) free to cartwheel through the cockpit.

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Mosquito Mk VI FB of IV(AC) Sqn

6. The Merlins

Whilst the loss of an engine during the take-off or landing was ever near the surface of the pilot’s mind at these critical stages, it rarely happened. The Merlins were all that one could wish for – powerful, reliable and ‘sweet as a nut’. They stood a lot of hammer and formed a vital part of this classic combination.

7. The Balance

The vices attributed to the Mk VI, real or imagined, were trifling when compared with the massive pre-eminence of its design and performance. There can remain no doubt that by any standards the Mk VI FB was a most remarkable aircraft – good pedigree, good looking, fast, long range, versatile, well armed, highly manoeuvrable, and capable of being flown to extremely tight but safe margins. The affinity between aircraft and crew was absolute and its excellence brought out the best in all; but like any true thoroughbred, it could be a bit temperamental with any whom it sensed were not in full control. From a pilot’s point of view – superb, well respected, and well loved. That more of this magnificent aircraft were not retained in an airworthy state for posterity is both deplorable and unforgivably sad.