RCATS and the Stiffkey Whirlygig. Flying around in circles A Power Point Presentation by Fred Butcher , October 2006 With assistance from Chris Lewis of Down to Earth Computing telephone 01953 882222. Stiffkey Ordnance Survey Map. Circular tar macadam track – a WW11 relic?. - PowerPoint PPT Presentation
Text of RCATS and the Stiffkey Whirlygig
RCATS and the Stiffkey Whirlygig
Flying around in circles
A Power Point Presentation by Fred Butcher , October 2006 With assistance from Chris Lewis
of Down to Earth Computing telephone 01953 882222
Stiffkey Ordnance Survey Map
Circular tar macadam track – a WW11 relic?
Central pylon with swinging arm
Site of No 11 Light AAPC, andStiffkey marsh.
Locally, the circle has become known as The Whirlygig and that it was used during WW11 to launch ‘Queen
Bees’ as target practice aircraft!• This is unlikely as the Tiger Moth
82 is too large to take off in such a small circle
• However, DH Queen Bees had been launched from the neighbouring AA Military camp at Weybourne – and this picture shown in the Muckleburgh History room confirms it! In1938 no less!
• Note the MASSIVE RN type catapult, turned into wind for take off!
• No1 AACU RAF flew Queen Bees’s off and the RN recovered then from the sea via HMS Radstock
Other Queen Bee use
• There seem to have been two periods of use of the Queen Bee at Weybourne. The first from before the war when RN vessels standing off the sea beach practice fired at them.
• And secondly, during the early 40’s when it was expected that Rockets would replace conventional Guns and shells involving T flight of No 1 AACU RAF.
• This project was terminated in 1942 when all RAF people were posted away .and the Queen Bees disposed of.
But, talking to other people, it gradually emerged that small target aircraft had indeed been flown from The
Whirlygig for the practice firing of AA guns, by the US Army after WW11…
• Few had actually seen it or could remember other details such as when, by whom, or how often. Most who did, have either moved on or passed on…
• A mussel fisherman and his wife remembered that as children, they would hear the scream of the engine and if possible, they would rush off to see what was happening.
• They thought it to be after WW11 (with 1952/4 as the most likely period) and that American soldiers were involved who were accommodated at RAF Langham.
• Much interest was centred on the items that could be obtained from the target aircraft at the end of flight!!
• But another contact not only knew about the aircraft and had seen them. And knew them to be small American radio controlled target aircraft (RCATS) used for the training of AA Gunners
• And he wondered what would be the result of typing RCATS into an Internet Search engine…
The result of an intensive Internet search confirmed that the US Army used RCATS extensively as a training
aid for AA Gunners• The aircraft used was a
Radioplane 19, a monoplane with a wing span of almost 12ft., of metal/wood construction, weighing about 145kg, and capable of flying at more than 200mph.
• It was fitted with a 4 cyl. 2 stroke engine of about 72hp, a radio receiver and control system and basic flying controls.
• It had no undercarriage or wheels and therefore had to be catapult launched and returned to earth by parachute when the fuel was used up (or it was shot down…)
• Almost 50,000 RP 19 aircraft were made in 20 years from 1945!
The original method of launching RCATS was by catapult (often with Jato rocket assistance) the launcher
being designed and made by Radioplane and designated the A7
But a Rotary Launcher was developed which was so successful that it became the standard launch system
for RCAT’s by the US Army.
The Stiffkey Whirlygig from an1978 Ordnance Survey
•The Coastal path way is shown as a track.
•The Stiffkey Parish boundary bisects The Whirlygig
•The buildings in H layout were demolished some time ago
•The now redundant effluent plant used to service the West Camp
Radioplane A2 Rotary Launcher
• To prepare to launch an aircraft it is placed on a launch trolley, that has large wheels, then lined up on the circular track with the start position decided by the wind direction.
• The fuel state, the parachute pack, the radio guidance system and the engine are all checked and the trolley connected to the cable attached to the central pylon and another to a ground anchor.
• When all is ready, the engine is started (it runs at full throttle only) and once the restraining tether is severed the aircraft accelerates around the track and it is released to become airborne when flying speed is reached at around 85 mph – literally flying around in circles!!
• A crew of ten, including the pilot, are usually employed and
between 8 and 10 RCATS can be flown on a good day…
An RCAT model RP 19 sitting on a take off trolley with the cable to the central pylon in position as well as the
Radioplane 19 being prepared for launch by A2 Rotary Launch crew
RCATS were recovered for reuse by a 32ft. diameter parachute that lowered the aircraft down to the land or
sea when the fuel ran out or by radio command.
A rare picture of a downed and drowned RCAT recovered by a Landing craft – but not at Stiffkey!
The engines were soon found to be too fast and high revving for use in fishing boats!
A 1961 version of a Radioplane 19 is displayed at the IWM Duxford. It is a day/night reconnaissance version
and one of the last of the almost 50,000 model 19’s made over 20 years
Wing Commander Ken Wallis – of Little Nellie fame – visited The Whirlygig sometime in 1953 whilst working at The Air Ministry in London and saw RCATS and the
Launcher in action at Stiffkey!
• He remembers the raucous noise of the McCulloch engine as RCAT Sped around the track.
• And was very surprised when they were suddenly released from the trolley and climbed away on a straight heading under radio control.
• One of his autogyro’s that he still flies is fitted with the same McCulloch engine…
Actual use of the Stiffkey Whirlygig
• Apart from the one sighting by Winco Ken Wallis, there are no other records concerning the use of The Whirlygig
• However, there are many Internet records that confirm the involvement of the US Services in AA Guns and the need for extensive practice and training during the Cold War.
• The Cold war was the reason for the presence of the USAF SAC in Britain (eg Brize Norton, Upper Heyford, Lakenheath, Sculthorpe, etc) all of which maintained AA defence guns at a high state of readiness.
• The US 32nd AAA Brigade therefore made much use of the established ranges at Stiffkey and Weybourne, with drogue towing from RAF Langham, Horsham St Faith and others with specialised units accommodated at RAF Langham
US Services Command Structure 1952
From July ‘52 until October ’58 RAF Langham was operated asN0 2 CAACU by Marshall’s of Cambridge as
well as providing accommodation for some US Army units.
• US Army RCAT 50th Battery from 1951 to 1957• US Army Skysweeper AA Gun Training Unit from’53 to ‘57 • US Army E/W Radar unit attached to 39th AAA Batt. Of the 32nd
AAA Brigade• By 1957 the Cold War was declared over, the Americans
retreated to Germany and Langham, Stiffkey and Weybourne all closed down!!
• AA Guns were then being replaced by missiles!
After an immense amount of Internet searching contact was eventually established with a US soldier who
worked in a met section giving weather info to the AA Gunners at Weybourne (and was accommodated at
Langham).• BUT, the trouble is that he and his colleagues travelled each day to
Weybourne Camp from Langham and not Stiffkey!! In eighteen months of service there, he never went to Stiffkey or heard any reference to The Whirlygig…
• Richard Strisofsky confirms that RCATS were flown from Weybourne for AA gun practice and that they were launched from an A7 launcher using rockets propulsion.
• Other people in the Weybourne are have confirmed that this was so and agree that the Stiffkey Whirlgig was only in use for a comparatively short period – a maximum of 2 years is the usual estimate, based on ’52 – ’53
• But it is not certain why the Rotary launcher at Stiffkey was abandoned…
• The launching of RCATS from Weybourne continued until ’57 when the camp started to close.
• An additional complication to these activities is that the British Army also used an RCAT look alike known as the PTA (pilotless target aircraft), that was smaller and flew more slowly than the RP 19’s used by the US Army. Very little information is available about them…
One reason for the short operational life of The Whilygig may be connected with the change over from 40mm AA Guns to 75mm AA Guns by the US Army in
late ‘53• When the 32nd Brigade first
arrived to provide AA Gun training they were using guns of 40mm calibre that fitted in with the WW11 use of Stiffkey No 11 Light AAPC which specialised in the 40mm Bofors AA Gun
• When the 75mm Skysweeper gun was introduced during ‘53 - doubling the fire power per gun – the firing range requirements would have been more suited to the No 5 Heavy AAPC at Weybourne.
• For example, there is a much larger area of marsh, sands and shallows seaward from Stiffkey than at Weybourne where the pebble beach is narrow and steeply shelving with deep water close inshore.
Bofors 40mm AA gun
Skysweeper 75mm gun
Weybourne Military camp – No 11 Heavy AAPCNow the home of the Muckleburgh Collection
The Stiffkey Whirlygig – A Summary
• We know The Whirlygig is a Radioplane A2 Rotary Launcher• We know that it was constructed in 1952, presumably by the US
Army• We know that it was a Cold War and not a WW11artifact• We know that it was used for a period of time in 1953 and 54 and
was closed down in 1955.• We assume it was used only by the US personnel but do not know
if it was a part of the Stiffkey and/or Weybourne AA Practice Camp commands.
• We do not know why it was taken out of use but the increased firepower of the guns might be one reason and another might be the need to close Stiffkey camp.
• The circle is sufficiently unusual to warrant a notice board describing its purpose – and it might be unique to the UK!
• Any additional information would be welcomed.
Radioplane’s star employee!!
• In June 1945 an Army photographic team under the command of Capt Reagan, visited the Radioplane factory to photograph ‘women at war work’.
• Norma Jeane was pictured fitting a propeller to an RP 8and the photographer took a great interest in her…
• Her picture was soon circulating in nearby Hollywood (no doubt encouraged by Denny) and a screen test soon followed.
• The world subsequently came to know her as Marilyn Monroe!!
And that’s The End of flying around in circles with