Supermarine Walrus

The only aircraft I actively disliked….

So wrote ATA pilot Mary Wilkins (later Ellis).  She went on “It flapped about all over the sky. On land it was like a penguin but apparently it was good on the sea. It had a mind of its own.

Supermarine Walrus – no other aircraft like it.

The Walrus amphibian, designed by Supermarine, first flew in 1933 and remained in production to 1944.  It is remembered as an air-sea rescue aircraft and for being the least favourite plane of ATA pilots, who ferried it 1482 times.  Many were built by Saunders Roe at East Cowes IOW and flown out of Somerton airfield, the size of a postage stamp, which made take-off ‘difficult’.  It had a ‘pusher’ airscrew, a maximum range of 600 miles and a cruising speed of 95mph.

Lettice Curtis wrote that there was no other aircraft like it.  On the ground it waddled along like a duck. Once it was airborne, it climbed away swinging gently fore and aft in a pendulous motion.  Diana Barnato Walker said it got airborne when it felt like it, then wallowed along and flew more like a boat than an aircraft.  It had an undercarriage warning horn which sounded every time the selector lever was moved to remind the pilot to check it was in the correct position for a land or a water arrival.

The Museum knows of only 3  accidents involving a Walrus.  Anne Walker (later Duncan) took off from Somerton airfield at Cowes in a crosswind, a hazardous performance with all that double wing.  She swung, finishing up at the end of the take-off run in a haystack.  She was knocked out and the whole caboosh went up in flames.  Luckily a baker’s boy was cycling along the lane beside the aerodrome boundary.  He pulled Anne out of the conflagration, then rescued his bike plus some of the singed stuff. (Mary Ellis – A Spitfire Girl’)

Philippa Bennett (based at Hamble) ferried the Walrus 41 times between July 1942 and November 1945 (her logbooks can be viewed on this website She once forgot to pump the wheels down. She made a really beautiful gentle landing – but on the two underwing floats. The aircraft was undamaged!  A male pilot from another ferry pool was over the tree-lined Severn gorge near Ironbridge when he had a complete engine failure. Rather than crash into the tops of trees, he landed on the water, threw out an anchor and waded ashore.  The accident report commended the pilot and stated ‘the aircraft was slightly damaged when the tide receded’. (In Shropshire? – Ed.)

Detail from ‘Morning on the Tarmac’ (IWM),  a 1941 painting by Eric Ravilious, one of Britain’s best 20th century artists who became an official war artist.  Ravilious died on 2 Sept 1942 when the search and rescue a/c he had joined failed to return from a search and rescue mission off Iceland.

ATA pilots were forbidden from landing on water.  However Capt. Arnold Watson’s diary (available to read on this website) has this entry for 10 November 1942.  Read what ATA’s expert thought!

I’d not flown a Walrus amphibian before. I found it rather more tricky than the Grumman Goose since it is more top heavy & the rudder is abnormally sensitive on land power on. Admittedly we were completely cross wind on the runway, which made it worse.

On the Solent, waves about two feet high light wind, we made four landings & take-offs. The landing was easier under these good conditions than on land. Even power off at 65 knots approach – as for a force landing. The angle of descent is not steep, since there are no flaps, no undercart & no constant speed airscrews. The hold off is normal & the touch-down must be in a level attitude – or only slightly nose up – not 3 pointer. After touching, the stick must be held firmly back. The water drag produces rapid deceleration.

The take-off on water requires a special technique & more run to get up speed than on land. To start ailerons are put hard over to the right, the elevator is given a steady backward pressure all the time she is accelerating.

At about 100 feet, the engine was cut on take-off, & a landing straight ahead was made with no great difficulty on water. My instructor was pleased by this, & the fact that I had quickly got used to operation on water, & was prepared to send me solo.

The last time I flew a “pusher” was the Douglas Engine (17 h.p.) Kronfeld Drone at Brooklands about 1934 or 1935!

Bristol Blenheim

“A nice twin to fly, BUT…..”

In these words Diana Barnato Walker describes the Blenheim, which ATA ferried 8569 times, with a peak annual rate of 3512 in 1941-42.  Diana goes on:  ‘BUT its single-engine safety speed (115-120mph) was above its final approach speed of 90mph, which meant that if one engine packed up on finals and you were under the safety speed, then you simply went in – bang!  This happened to my friend Bobby Lowenstein (a millionaire Belgian killed at White Waltham on 29 March 1943)’.  Note: 4 other ATA pilots including an American and a Pole were killed in Blenheim accidents.

Diana devised the “Barnato Bomb Approach”, her way of pulling both engines right back, then gliding in from a great height; in this way with no power needed on finals, you wouldn’t drop a wing and stall in if an engine suddenly stopped on you.

On 12 December 1943 Diana flew a Blenheim IV from Cosford to Stoney Cross in the New Forest, one of 8569 delivered by ATA.  The delivery chit was marked “N.E.A.” meaning “Not Essentially Airworthy” or fit for one flight only.  The aircraft V6527 was destined to be used as a target on a bombing range!

Lettice Curtis is rather more formal in her description of the Blenheim, which had carried out the first wartime  reconnaissance over Germany on 3 September 1939 and dropped the first bombs of the war on a German target the following day.   This is an extract from Lettice’s book ‘The Forgotten Pilots’.

There was nothing complicated about the Blenheim, the most memorable thing being the quite remarkable inconvenience of the cockpit layout.  The majority of Blenheims had two position airscrews – pitch change being effected by pulling or pushing a knob.  The pitch change controls were sited on a panel behind the pilot’s seat, adjacent to a couple of similar knobs which operated the ‘idle cut-out’, the means of stopping the engines by cutting off the fuel.  Inevitably accidents occurred from time to time when pilots stopped the engines instead of changing pitch. The carburettor air controls and the handles by which the engine cowling gills were wound closed for takeoff and open for taxi-ing were also behind the pilot.  The plunger type controls which operated undercarriage, flaps and an hydraulic selector were crowded into a metal box between the two cockpit seats, on which one invariably skinned one’s knuckles and for good measure, the engine doping pumps and starter magneto switches were in the engine nacelle, the main ignition switches on the pilot’s instrument panel and the engine starter buttons in the cabin roof. Once one had got used to all this, it was pleasant and simple aircraft to fly.’

From Ferry Pilots Notes – Teach Yourself to Fly a Blenheim.