• Fly & Deliver: A Flight For Joy

    ATA Flying From Hamble Ferry Pool

    Of the 20,000 or so Spitfires produced during WWII, just over half were built in Castle Bromwich, Birmingham after the main plant in Southampton was bombed. Many Spitfires were still made in the Southampton area in a process known as 'dispersed manufacturing' - small assembly sites that were less vulnerable to attack by the Luftwaffe. The Hamble Ferry Pool's job largely was to move these new aircraft rapidly to nearby maintenance units such as those at Eastleigh, Little Rissington and Brize Norton for weapon installation and onward delivery to squadrons.

    So the Hamble flights were mainly over short distances, but they often required high precision flying. The Southampton area and the delivery airfields were surrounded by barrage balloons to provide protection from bombing. The balloons were positioned at varying levels up to 5000 feet or higher as deterrents to precision bombing. Closer to the ground the only visible part would be the securing cable, ready to snare any unwary aircraft. Pilots needed to learn (and re-learn) the current 'balloon lanes' for departure and arrival, similar to the use of DPs and STARS today, in a sense. But it was VFR flying all the way with no GPS, autopilot or ATC radar guidance. Each ATA pilot would receive a MET brief and a 'Map & Signals' brief prior to departure, the latter in part to ensure they had available the current safe routes through the barrage.

    E.C. Cheeseman, an ATA veteran who wrote the first 'history' of the ATA in 1946 (2) said of the Hamble pilots, "When the balloons were up all day there were many occasions on which the girls had to fly through the barrage to get to their destinations, but during this time no major accidents occurred and hundreds of urgently needed fighters were delivered to their air force squadrons".

    In fact, over 308,000 aircraft movements were made in WWII by the ATA. Behind the scenes, it was a crucial part of the air war for Britain and a unique period of aviation history.

    The Flight

    I don't know specifically that Joy Lofthouse flew a Spitfire delivery from Hamble to Brize Norton, but it is in the log books of other pilots and would be a regular delivery. The route was selected to give the sense of 'balloon lanes' while also providing landmarks usable in an FSX landscape. I used the default FSX set-up without the use of more realistic add-on scenery or airports for this flight.

    Route: Hamble to Brize Norton

    The waypoints below wouldn't be known in WWII; they are simply to give you a plotted route to follow.

    EGHI 20VOR HANKY INLAK D063D FI09 EGVA OM08 EGVN

    You can use any aircraft you prefer really, just avoid using the autopilot and GPS. Map, compass and hand-flying with basic engine controls and flight instruments were the rule for ATA pilots (plus a healthy knowledge of the landscape and railway lines of Britain). Stay out of the clouds and below 5000 feet AGL, they were told. I suggest that you make the weather on your simulator as tough or easy as you like but set the winds so you can depart on runway 02 at Southampton International (there is no longer an airfield at Hamble).

    Passing Popham>     Turning and Following the M4

    On take-off, within 2 nm turn slightly right to a heading of 50°, holding it for about 7-8 nm (down the balloon lane). Turn 350° north, first passing over Popham airfield and Hungerford. On reaching the M4, which should be the biggest east-west road you pass over, turn west and follow the motorway approximately, passing to the south of Swindon (which would also have a barrage defense) until Lyneham airfield is just ahead.

    The turn north at Lyneham>     Crossing the Cleveland Lakes Reserve

    Then turn north again crossing the Cleveland Lakes Nature Reserve and when the Cotswold airport (formerly RAF Kemble) is on your left turn back east. When directly over RAF Fairford turn to 50° (entering the balloon lane for arrival), cross the Whelford Pool Nature Reserve to the village of Southrop where you turn on to final into Brize Norton, landing on runway 08.

    On Final at Brize Norton

    Hand in your aircraft; head over to the 'office' and find out where you are heading next - and what in. Try to avoid a 'chit' for delivering one of the Tiger Moths sitting in line over there; you know they are trainers bound for St. Athan in South Wales and rain is in the forecast!

    Check your system map (or Plan G track, if you use that software) to see how close your actual flight stayed to the planned route.

    References

    1. www.haddenhamairfieldhistory.co.uk/junegummer.htm
    2. Brief Glory, The Story of the Air Transport Auxiliary, author E.C. Cheeseman, re-published by the Maidenhead Heritage Trust, see maidenheadheritage.org.uk

    Book: In a Moon's Course

    Allan Jones is the author of In a Moon's Course, an ebook about flight simulation of the ATA history with 28 flights to try yourself. It is available at FS Pilot Shop at $4.99.


    8 Comments
    1. allanj12's Avatar
      allanj12 -
      Mea Culpa. The link to Cheeseman’s book ‘Brief Glory’ (and other ATA materials) is now via the Maidenhead Heritage Trust website at http://maidenheadheritage.org.uk/shop/ not the ATAmuseum site.
    1. avallillo's Avatar
      avallillo -
      This is an excellent article! The women of the ATA, like their American sisters the WASPs, were both ahead of their time and also there at exactly the right time -- when they were needed most. More's the pity then, that they had to hand in their flight bags for aprons after the war.

      I wonder if the WWII barrage balloons could be created in either FSX or Xplane, using some sort of scenery object. Of course, there are hot air balloons in FS, perhaps those could be made to float at the prototypical height so as to provide some visual effects?

      Anyway, well done Allan!

      Tony Vallillo
    1. allanj12's Avatar
      allanj12 -
      Hi Tony, thank you for your kind words. I, too, had thought about the idea of ‘balloon lane’ add-ons when I wrote the article (and previously when I wrote the ebook, as there is a flight through a balloon barrage in a Halifax bomber included there) but I have no skills in scenery design - never mind ‘interactive scenery’, where the aircraft could snare a cable!

      You are right to also mention the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) who gave similar dedicated service in the USA in World War II and were also only recognized belatedly. They all served well and deserve our thanks.
    1. keefpee's Avatar
      keefpee -
      Very good article, I had never considered the problem of balloon free lanes, & my father, who joined ATA at the end of 1943 never mentioned anything about them. He did though know by sight most of the church spires & navigated using them!
      I have loaned his logbook to the Maidenhead museum.
      Keith
    1. allanj12's Avatar
      allanj12 -
      Hi Keith; in the later stages of the war the bombing casualties in the UK were largely due to the V1 and V2 rockets. The barrages would be ‘down’ more often, I suspect, and so less significant for the ATA pilots. The Hamble ATA operated from September 1940 onwards. As Cheeseman recorded, they would have far more experience of the barrage balloons being up earlier on in the war.

      I sent my book with other 'sims' to the ATA Museum at Maidenhead when it was published, as they have a Spitfire simulator there. One day I hope to visit the museum and see some of the log books like your father’s. I'm glad you liked the article.
    1. keefpee's Avatar
      keefpee -
      Back in 2015 I had a special short flip in the simulator, its very good and a nice cockpit structure. Managed a good landing....
      Keith
    1. allanj12's Avatar
      allanj12 -
      Another ATA pilot passes way - Margot Duhalde died yesterday, age 97. From Chile, she answered the call in WWII, arriving by sea into Liverpool speaking no English. She was arrested as a suspected spy for a few days. Once that was sorted out, she soon joined the ATA, flying 900 aircraft, 70 different types, in the four years she was in the ATA. Amazing flying experiences in challenging times…
    1. amcclymont's Avatar
      amcclymont -
      This is fascinating, thank you. My mother was in the ATS (not ATA), and manned anti-aircraft guns defending Southampton and Portsmouth. She operated the predictor, into which you dialed estimated height, airspeed, wind speed, etc, to compute deflection. She also put up and took down these barrage balloons. She died in 2007.
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