The May 2015 issue of Fortean Times (a periodical I warmly recommend) has a fascinating article by Daniel Wilson about a type of radio interference known as oscillation, which afflicted radio broadcasting in the 1920s and 1930s, about which, I'm ashamed to say, I previously knew nothing at all.1 What's fascinating about oscillation is not the technical aspects, but rather the social ones, because it was a type of interference that listeners could create as well as experience as they were trying to tune in to a particular radio station, interfering not only with their own wireless set but any others nearby trying to listen to the same frequency. This led to oscillators becoming a social pest: they were told off by the press, by the government, and by other members of the public. They were even hunted down by radio detector vans (the start of a great British tradition). While many oscillations were accidental, a consequence of domesticating a technology which wasn't quite ready to be domesticated yet, it seems that others were intentional -- it was done to annoy other listeners, or at least that was the suspicion. (The trolls are always with us.)
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  1. Reading it I was put in mind of an equally fascinating Fortean Times article about something else from my period I knew nothing about, A Victim's bizarre account of persecution by ventriloquist stalkers, Crook Frightfulness (1935). Turns out Wilson wrote that too. 


Getty Images has just announced an embed function, which makes it possible to very easily use images from their collections in blogs and other social media, while simultaneously maintaining Getty Images' rights and -- this is the really nice bit -- avoiding the use of unsightly watermarks. This is rightly being greeted with enthusiasm (though not so much by photographers), and I'll try to use it myself where possible. Even a quick search turns up many great historical images, some familiar, most not. (Basic tip -- to filter out stock photos, restrict your search to editorial images.)

But there are problems, too. Above is an example of a embed from Getty Images. It's from a lithograph by W. Walton of Day & Haghe, lithographers to the Queen, depicting 'Ariel, the first carriage of the Aerial Transit Company', and printed on 26 March 1843 by Ackermann & Co., Strand, London. But the only part of all that which is given in the Getty Images metadata is the title; the rest came from the Library of Congress's copy, which moreover has no usage restrictions at all (since it's long out of copyright) and shows the uncropped lithograph (admittedly, probably less desirable for a blog post). The only other information offered by Getty Images is that the date it was created was 1 January 1900, which is ludicrously incorrect.

We can't expect Getty Images to thoroughly research every image they hold, and an aeroplane flying over Egypt in the mid-19th century is kind of weird to begin with. But the problem of poor or incorrect Getty Images metadata is actually quite common.
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Press interest in airships, January-April 1913

'Everybody's Doing It' was the name of a popular revue which opened in the West End in February 1912; the music and lyrics (including a near-eponymous song) were co-written by Irving Berlin. It was also the Manchester Guardian's stab at a contemporary pop cultural reference to describe just how widespread the phantom airship scare had become by the start of March 1913. There are more concrete ways to express this than ragtime. Geography is one; chronology is another.

The graph above shows two things. (After relying on Plot for many years, I've switched to DataGraph, which is not free but is more powerful and much easier to use.) The blue bars represent the number of British periodicals (mostly daily newspapers, London and provincial) which mentioned mystery airships on each day in January-April 1913, while the red bars represent the number which mentioned airships, whether mysterious or non-mysterious (for example, the activities of German or British military dirigibles). It doesn't matter whether a newspaper mentioned scareships once as a humorous aside or devoted half a page to a topic, both are counted equally here. Three phases can immediately be distinguished. (I must admit to having fudged the data a little bit: I've assumed that every issue of the Aeroplane would have mentioned airships, as I don't have access to copies to check. Flight certainly did.) The first, from the start of January through the third week of February, is characterised by a relatively low level of press interest in airships, in which references to mystery airships predominate (though not so much towards the end of this period). The second phase is clearly the peak of the phantom airship scare, the last week of February and the first week of March, when more than two or three times the usual number of periodicals talked about airships, overwhelmingly the mysterious kind. The third phase extends from the second week of March until the end of April. There are far fewer mentions of scareships here, even compared to the first phase. But interestingly, the amount of attention paid to airships in general remains very high: several times that of the first period, and not too far short of that in the second, peak period.
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Dr Beachcombing of Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog kindly dropped me a line to alert me to his post about Public Service Broadcasting, a British music duo who draw on old propaganda and information films for inspiration and samples. A number of these are from the Second World War period, including 'Spitfire', 'London Can Take It', 'Dig For Victory', and 'Lit Up'. My favourite is the one above, 'If War Should Come'. Based on the 1939 GPO film of the same name, despite/because of the remixing and the electronica it is nicely evocative of the shadow of the bomber.
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Weddings Parties Anything, "A Tale They Won't Believe":

I have previously explained the relationship of this song to aviation history (well, it's pretty slender, to be honest), here.

Though the Weddoes split up a decade back, they're embarking on a reunion tour around Australia, which is very exciting news -- particularly since I'll be seeing them at the good old Corner Hotel in April! They're also playing, oddly enough, one show in London, on 25 April. They're sensational live, so why not mark Anzac Day in true Aussie style (i.e., rocking your socks off and, optionally, getting simultaneously smashed)? All the details are here.

Chonk on!


Long-time reader, second-time commenter Ian Evans was in the Royal Observer Corps in York at the end of the 1950s. Here he describes how the ROC, in addition to retaining something like its planespotting functions during the Second World War, took on the job of measuring the Third:

When I joined the ROC (1958) it was still pretty much an RAF auxiliary, officers with handlebar moustaches and all. We spotted, reported and plotted aircraft in a very similar manner to our WW2 predecessors, though things had been simplified and speeded up, with special procedures for fast low flying aircraft (Rats). The nuclear reporting role was just being introduced, the observer posts were given “bunkers”, a small underground room with bunks and stores, airlock and reinforced tunnel to the surface, a nuclear burst recorder (a souped-up pinhole camera), a pressure recorder to measure the blast strength, a Geiger counter to measure the fallout, and individual dosimeters (we were rather cynical about these).

The operating theory was that there would be sufficient political warning for the observers to man their posts, they would wait for the noise to stop, surface, extract the recording paper from their recorders, read off the bearing and altitude of the burst and the peak overpressure. This would then be phoned in to Group HQ where we would plot the (hopefully several) bearings, and get the position of the detonation. Then, using the reported overpressures, plus sets of tables and nomograms we woud evaluate the bomb power and report back to…..anyone still alive. After that the posts would report radiation levels at regular intervals until…

Which is quite a terrifying job description (luckily they didn't have to do risk assessments in those days!)

But, of course, there was plenty of terror to go around. Long-time reader and commenter CK pointed out a 1982 BBC documentary called "Nuclear War: A Guide to Armageddon" (written and produced by Mick Jackson, director of Threads) about the effects of a nuclear war and how civilians should prepare for it.

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WE ARE ALWAYS pleased to learn of a new post on Professor Palmer's most interesting blog, the Avia-Corner. It is the first place one would turn in order to learn about the often murky world of Soviet aviation. However, his latest rant -- there is unfortunately no other word for it -- caught us by surprise, for it is aimed squarely at Airminded itself. It seems that the good professor has taken exception to our previous post, which happened to refer to one of his in what was by no means an unfriendly spirit. As the reaction is out of all proportion to the supposed offence, the suspicion occurs that it is officially inspired. The possible motivations for this scarcely need explaining, but a reply must here be given.
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It's always interesting to see echoes of the golden age of aviation in today's pop culture. At the Avia-Corner, Scott Palmer ends an update on the search for Amelia Earhart with a related music video: Amelia Earhart versus the Dancing Bear, by The Handsome Family. Well, I'll see his 'aviatrix lost at sea, never to be found' and raise him the 'mother proud of [a] little boy'.

This aviatrix is Amy Johnson; I've written about her in relation to this song -- The Golden Age of Aviation by the Lucksmiths -- before. But I like it so much, it deserves a second airing.
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[Update: due to my misunderstanding of a key word, this post is fundamentally misconceived. Exercise due caution!]

Hello everybody, I seem to have got here at last, it's been a long long time but here I am and jolly glad I am to be here at last. I bring [inaudible] from the people of England to the people of Australia and I shall be very, very happy if this flight of mine can bring together people so far apart, but so near together in -- in good feeling, fellowship and friendship, and everything except violence mileage! If you could get aeroplanes to bring you together that would be so much better.

I'm fairly certain the above words were spoken by aviatrix Amy Johnson, on the occasion of her pioneering solo flight from Britain to Australia in May 1930 -- the first by a woman and the first of several record-breaking flights by her. I've transcribed them from a sample at the start of a song called The Golden Age of Aviation, by The Lucksmiths, one of my favourite bands. (For any Londoners reading, their next gig is very nearby, so go see them if you get the chance -- particularly if you like very witty and somewhat wistful indie pop.) The words would seem to fit the context of a speech to a throng of gawking Australians, and the voice sounds very much like Johnson's in the clips on this BBC Humber Culture site about her.

If it is Amy Johnson, then she is espousing a liberal, internationalist view of aviation -- that by allowing easy travel around the world, it can help people from different countries to know and understand each other. By 1934, her views had become rather darker:

The science of aviation has progressed so extensively in recent years that even in thick cloud and fog pilots can fly blind to their objective, drop their bombs, and return unseen. How are we to stop them? We cannot.
Our Government tells us that we have a certain measure of home defence. We have aircraft guns [sic]; searchlights which work on the 'grid' pattern, i.e. in squares, in order to give the least possible chance of escape to any enemy aircraft; fast interceptor fighters. What use are all these if the enemy is invisible, as he would be in the kind of weather which usually prevails in this country? ...
We have only one way of defence -- reprisals in kind. In the new techniques required in aerial tactics the best way to defend is to attack. We must be equipped with numerous squadrons of large, high-speed, long-range bombing machines. These might be flown by pilots experienced in long-distance, all-weather flying, as they may have to fly 'blind' to their objective and back.1

She was born in Hull, where her father was a fish merchant -- I wonder if she experienced any of that city's Zeppelin raids?

Johnson died in the line of duty -- she was a ferry pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary and baled out over the Thames Estuary on 4 January 1941 and apparently drowned: 'an aviatrix lost at sea, never to be found'.

The novelty wore off
When the pilots still wore goggles
But your eyes look skywards
And your mind still boggles
Through frequent flyers' disappointments and disasters
The golden age of aviation never lost its lustre

  1. Daily Mail, 5 April 1934; quoted in Philip Noel Baker, "A national air force no defence", in Challenge to Death (London: Constable & Co., 1934), 198.