Monday, 16 February 2009

The Fleet Air Arm: 100 Years of Second-Rate Service

The Royal Navy has unveiled plans to celebrate 100 dismal years of British naval aviation, it announced today.

It was in 1909 that the Sea Lords signed a landmark £35,000 contract to build a rigid airship to compete with the German dirigible programme. The result - HMA 1, known as the Mayfly - never flew, as a gust of wind blew it into an obstruction and it broke in half, thereby setting a precedent for much of what was to follow.

Highlights of the Fleet Air Arm's century of illustrious efforts include:

- the death of Lt Dunning, the first man to land a heavier-than-air craft on a seagoing warship, immediately after his achievement;
- a generation of useless, overweight naval fighters, because of their Lordship's refusal to believe that pilots could possibly read a map without carrying a navigator in the boot to do the thinking for them;
- a total inability to make a torpedo bomber stay in one piece without involving half a mile of piano wire;
- launching Hurricane fighters off merchant ships in the middle of the Atlantic with no means of recovering them;
- trying to squeeze the carrier, HMS Indefatigable, through the Panama Canal, then having the cheek to bill the Americans for all the bits it knocked off along the way;
- handing its Avengers back to the US Navy after the war, then having to borrow them again four years later because Britain's aviation industry couldn't make anything that worked;
- wasting a fortune trying to belly-flop jets onto rubber-decked carriers;
- the Fairey Gannet;
- ordering two squadrons of Phantom jets, insisting that they be completely redesigned for Rolls-Royce engines regardless of cost, then promptly decommissioning the only aircraft carriers that could carry them;
- somewhat optimistically maintaining that a Sea Harrier with a Sidewinder bolted onto each wingtip was some kind of first-rate fighter;
- taking its last Sea Harriers out of commission, leaving no fixed-wing aircraft in naval service for years to come, yet stoutly maintaining that its long-delayed new carriers will somehow be 'essential' to Britain's defence;
- fondly imagining that a carrier named after a cruise liner will in some way strike mortal terror into the nation's foes.

The Ministry of Defence joined in the celebratory mood today, saying that an "exciting" announcement would be made in the next few days concerning the next-generation Joint Strike Fighter. Aviation experts said the announcement would probably confirm that the Americans had finally given up trying to make the damned thing work.

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