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.