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In a Moon's Course ....

Spitfires to Prestwick: 15th March 1942

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Despite a ‘bookful’ of flight simulations of the Air Transport Auxiliary (see In a Moon’s Course) I continue to be fascinated by the flights from this brief era of aviation. In part it is the aspect that these pilots flew advanced (for the period) aircraft with minimal training and sometimes little prior experience in the type. It is also that these VFR flights were often made in borderline weather conditions without recourse to instrument flying or radio assistance.

This flight story (not in the book) illustrates these points well. On 15th March 1942 five ATA pilots (Davy, Rogers, Critchley, Scott and Porter) were assigned a ‘priority order’ job of delivering Spitfires a relatively short distance - from the ATA Ferry Pool at Kirkbride, near Carlisle to Prestwick, Scotland, locations that are a little over 100 km. apart. Several of the pilots had little time in Spitfires. The urgency was that aircraft were then to be loaded on to a carrier waiting in the Clyde. Weather conditions were not good (a ceiling of 200 ft. at the outset) but they were forecast to improve, so the pilots made the call to head out.

E. C. Cheesman, in his book Brief Glory describes what happened. North-west of Kirkbride was the Solway Firth and via the Nith Valley or further east, the Langholm Valley, was access to easier terrain to Prestwick. The alternative was to go around the coastal route but the cloud was ‘on the deck’ over the sea. The far side of the Firth was invisible on take-off.

No-one made it to Prestwick that day. Pilots Scott and Porter crashed in bad weather into hillsides, fatally; Alexander Scott near Thornhill and Ronald Porter near Laurieston. Pilot Rogers force-landed at Wigtown, to the west, trying the coastal route. Pilot Critchley reversed course in the valley and tried again by the coastal route, making it as far as West Freugh aerodrome near Wigtown, flying at 120 mph with flaps down at 150-200 ft., just below the cloud ceiling. Pilot Davy also trying the coastal route almost crashed over the Mull of Galloway but made it back to Kirkbride.

None were foolish or ‘daredevil’ pilots. They were all motivated by the need to get aircraft delivered in critical war-time conditions and the only aid they had really, the Met forecast, did not prove reliable for the rapid weather changes that can occur in hill terrain.

It is not easy, I think, to simulate the rapidity of changing weather conditions they must have experienced. However, you can get a feel for the challenge in any small aircraft, not necessarily a Spitfire, with the following route and settings in FSX. I suggest using a virtual cockpit with less than full forward field of view of ground ahead. I used the Spartan Executive.

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Route (approximate): EGNC BAGPO Dumfries SANQUHAR KOMOK EGPK but follow the road directions). (Map route from Plan G-3)

After take-off, head 292 degrees. Intercept either the M6(A74M) or the inner reaches of the Solway Firth visually. From there you want to follow carefully the A75 west to Dumfries then head north on the A76 through Thornhill to Sanquhar. After Sanquhar, following the road through higher ground, you will come to two distinct ‘roundabouts’ a few miles apart. At the second turn west to follow the A70 to the coast. Turning north there, the lights of the runways at Prestwick should be visible.

In FSX set weather visibility to 2 miles completely overcast and follow the route suggested at about 1000 ft. as closely as you can, keeping the roads on the left side.

There are 28 more ATA flights (most under better weather conditions) in my ebook In a Moon’s Course available at most on-line ebook stores, including Amazon, Kobo, W.H. Smith and Barnes & Noble. Direct links to the appropriate bookstore pages are available through the site. Price is $4.99 or equivalent local currency.

Allan Jones
[email protected]

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Updated 06-25-2013 at 12:58 PM by allanj12

Aviation History & Flight Simulation