- A.N. Other
- Naval Aviation, Naval technology
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Melbourne II
- December 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
By Midshipman S.R. Gidley, RAN
MIDN Gidley grew up on Sydney’s North Shore but in 2011 moved to Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains. After completing secondary education at Sydney’s Shore School in 2007 he was accepted into the Australian Defence Force and later undertook training as an Army pilot. Unable to complete his pilot training in 2010 he transferred to the RAN as a direct entry Seaman Officer. His interests include recreational flying, vehicle modification and motorsport and he also enjoys competitive sailing and skiing.
For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return – Leonardo da Vinci
The development of aircraft propulsion through history had a significant impact on the Aviation Squadrons of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), especially regarding the military integration of the gas turbine engine in both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. The development of aircraft propulsion in the mid 20th century had a profound impact on all world aviation as the gas turbine engine was introduced as an efficient and viable alternative to conventional reciprocating piston engines. This engine development entered the RAN in the form of the Sea Vampire in 19541, and continuous engine research and development brought with it new aircraft with new capabilities that helped to bring Australia on to the world stage with its aviation capability. In 1953 the RAN’s first helicopter entered service, and again, history shows the benefits of employing gas turbines as the power source to all of the RAN’s helicopters.
History of the Gas Turbine
Jet propulsion was first devised more than two thousand years ago, but was not used effectively until the 13th century in China, when gunpowder rockets were used as fireworks. Air breathing gas turbine engine development incorporating the Brayton Cycle commenced in the mid 1930s. After the resolution of countless issues relating to safety, reliability and weight, the first jet propelled aircraft, Ernst Heinkel’s He 178, flew in 19392.
During World War II great advances were made in improvements to aircraft engine performance. Continued development made by the He 178 led to early operational gas turbine engines including the Caproni Campini N1 and the Japanese Tsu-11. While neither of these engines provided efficient propulsion alternatives for piston driven aircraft, they paved the way for military versions of gas turbine engines. Research breakthroughs towards the end of the war eventually led to the world’s first jet engine fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 2623. The arrival of the Me 262 into mass production marked the entry of the jet engine as an efficient and effective means of aircraft propulsion for the future.
Jet Powered Fixed Wing
The first gas turbine aircraft flown by the RAN was the de Havilland Vampire Mk T.224. The first Sea Vampire was received on 18 June 1954 by 723 Squadron and most were used as training aircraft. Australia predominantly used variants of the Vampire aircraft in the RAAF, however the RAN flew the Vampire through 723 and 724 squadrons. Soon after acquiring of the Vampire, the RAN gained a number of de Havilland Sea Venom FAW53 aircraft. These new aircraft were comparable to the Vampire and performed a similar role. Later in their service life the Sea Venoms were used predominantly in a training role which included aircrew instruction, simulated airborne attack and the training of Direction Officers at the Pilot Branch, and also for towing targets using a Delmar Target Towing System for air-to-air training5. The Sea Venom became the RAN’s first jet propelled airborne anti-surface capability.
The Australian carrier, HMAS Melbourne, equipped with Sea Venom aircraft established itself in Australia and overseas in the Pacific, the United Kingdom, and South East Asia as an efficient operational platform. 808 Squadron became known as a formidable fighter unit in its participation in the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) exercises, and a later deployment gave 805 squadron the opportunity to perform operations from a carrier as an all weather night fighting unit. These new jet aircraft proved superior to the existing piston powered capability as they could be flown further and for longer to complete their mission. However the design of the aircraft to accommodate the higher top speed required a higher velocity on final approach, which in turn required frequent maintenance to both the aircraft and the landing platform when operating from a carrier.