Pioneers in Aviation: The Rolls in Rolls-Royce

Charles Stewart Rolls
Charles Rolls, the co-founder of Rolls-Royce.

Rolls Royce has always been a double sided company, the luxury cars, and the aero engines. Set up by Charles Stewart Rolls, and Frederick Henry Royce, Rolls-Royce Limited was incorporated on march 1906. Starting out as a luxury car manufacturer, they quickly developed a reputation for superior engineering quality. They reportedly developed the “best car in the world”. Henry Royce had already been running an electrical and mechanical business since 1884, and built his first car, the Royce 10 in his manchester factory in 1904. He met C.S.Rolls, an owner of a car dealership, and he was impressed with the quality of the cars. A set of cars (branded rolls-royce) were made, and sold exclusively by C.S.Rolls. This started their partnership. Rolls-Royce Limited set up its first factory in Derby, after an offer of cheap electricity from the city council.

Rolls Royce Racing
Charles Rolls, sits in the back of the 20-horsepower Rolls Royce during the 1905 TT race.

Rolls could be described as a pioneer aviator. As an accomplished balloonist, he made over 170 balloon ascents. He was also a founding member of the Royal Aero Club in 1903, and was the second person in Britain to be licenced to fly by them. That same year he won the Gordon Bennett Medal for the longest single flight time. By 1907 though, he started getting interested in flying, and tried to get his then partner, Royce, to design an aero engine. With Royce not convinced, Rolls, in 1909 bought one of six Wright Flyer’s built by the short brothers. He made more than 200 flights, one of which, on the 2 June 1910, he became the first person to make a non-stop double crossing of the English channel by plane. For this 95 minute flight, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Aero Club.

Rolls flying
Rolls in the plane he flew across the channel twice in.

On 12th July 1910, Rolls was killed in an air crash at Hengistbury Airfield, Southbourne, Bournemouth. He was 32 when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a display. He was the 11th person to die in an aeronautical accident, and the first ever Briton. A statue of him is in St Peter’s school which was built on the site of Hengistbury Airfield.

Death of Charles Stewart Rolls
Photograph on the front page of the Illustrated London News, 16 July 1910, showing the wreckage of the plane crash which killed Rolls

Edward Powles – Fastest Piston Pilot

Edward Powles is a fairly unknown pilot that held two rather impressive records during his time as a Spitfire pilot. He wasn’t the usual build for an RAF pilot, at 6 foot 4 inches and weighing 180lb, but joined the RAF as an apprentice during World War 2. He trained as a photo-reconnaissance pilot, and remained in service well after the war. He was trained in and mainly used twin engine aircraft. In January of 1950 he was surprised to be ordered to RAF Finningley to complete a refresher course on the Supermarine Spitfire PR14. Then on to RAF Leuchars in Scotland for familiarisation training on the Spitfire PR19, training in high and low altitude sorties.

Ted Powles
Taller than the average pilot, Ted was known as a competent and skilled pilot.

In the next august during the Malayan emergency he was posted to RAF Tengah in Singapore. His job consisted of photo-reconnaissance and ground attack missions in the Spitfire FR18, as part of Operation Firedog. This was the campaign against communist insurgents hiding in the Malayan jungle. Later in 1950 he transferred to 81 (PR) Squadron at RAF Seletar, continuing to fly medium level reconnaissance sorties over the Malayan jungle. Then just before Christmas of 1950 the CO told Powles he had been selected to take a flight of two PR19’s from RAF Seletar to RAF Kai Tak in Hong Kong on 1st Jan 1951. Powles and the other pilot, Flight Sergeant Padden, flew PS852 and PS854 fitted with split pairs of F52 cameras with 36in lenses. At this point they were not told what their duties would be, and told to await further instructions.

colour of PS852 on the ground


PS852 on the ground

They spent a few weeks flying sorties, assisting flights of Vampire jets being ferried into Sek Kong for Tourane. Then Powles was asked to take some aerial photographs of a number of Chinese islands in the local area by a photographic interpreter, presumably with authorisation from a higher authority. Powles would fly 63 sorties over Chinese territory during the course of 1951. During their time, the flight had photographed sites along the Chinese coastline up to 400 nautical miles to the south-west of Hong Kong, and up to 160 nautical miles to the north-east, as well as sites up to 100 nautical miles from the coast, sometimes as far as the island of Hainan. During the course of these flights, Powles set two notable records.

The PS854 likely flown by Powles, see how close his head is to the glass.

During a meteorological test flight on the 5 February 1952, Powles reached 51,550 feet in PS852, the highest altitude ever recorded for a piston-engined aircraft. He then got a cockpit pressure warning, this was partly down to the fact he was near the equator. He put his Spitfire in a shallow dive, and during the descent the aircraft quickly got into compressibility, although he didn’t know it. This locked up the controls and the plane started to dive uncontrollably, attaining 690 mph (Mach 0.96) the highest speed ever recorded for a piston-engined aircraft. He talks about putting both feet on the instrument panel and pulled back the stick with no avail. He also states he saw a mist over the wings. With very few options left, he actually pushed the stick forward, which helped to get him out of the dive. As a pilot he was experienced enough to wait until he got into denser air at lower altitudes. This gradually slowed him down, and he regained control at around 1,2000 ft over the ocean. He also put the prop in the correct pitch, which saw him through.

PS854 Photographed by Powles
PS854 Photographed by Powles, flying at 1800 ft near Aberdeen fishing village in Hong Kong

After their flight had finished, both Spitfires were left at Kai Tak and became part of the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force. He had always thought he went supersonic, but at the time he didn’t know about compressibility. In the 1990’s he was able to show his figures to the Air and Space Museum, and they were able to establish that he went the 0.96 Mach, or 715mph.



A Trip to Bolt Tail

During our summer holiday this year, we visited Hope Cove. A lovely little village in south Devon, close to Salcombe. This tiny village, with barely a village shop used to be heavily fishing based. It also at one point in history developed a reputation for plundering wrecked ships, and smuggling.

The View Of Hope Cove
The View of Hope Cove from Bolt Tail

The reason Hope Cove is such a favourite for beach lovers is the calmness of the waters inside the cove. South Devon is known for some harsh waters and high winds on occasion, but the Cove has a lovely shelter in the form of Bolt Tail. Located to the southwest, it’s a large headland that at one point had some sort of fort located on it.

Starting at the famous lifeboat house, the south west coastal path goes up the side of the hill through a nice wooded area. It is a gentle climb, with lovely views the whole way up. Then when you get out of the woods, for the final accent, you can see why there was a fort built there.

Approaching Bolt Tail
Climbing up to Bolt Tail

Although it looks imposing, there is an easy path to get up to the top as you can see, and no iron age soldiers shooting arrows at us while we tried to walk up. From this angle you can see the earthworks built by the settlers. The straight earthwork/wall blocking off one side of the settlement (with the other three being cliffs) is known as a promontory fort. Luckily there are nice entrances now so we didnt have to scale the walls.

The wall/earthwork
The wall/earthwork protecting the settlement

As there is not much left inside Bolt Tail, and it was horrendously windy at the top, we moved on further along the coast. Its a surprisingly good walk, well signposted, and lovely views all the way around. We picked a nice day, so if it was wet, I would imagine the wind would be scary. Looking back you can see why the place was made as a fort.

Bolt Tail
The view of Bolt Tail from the top.

Along the way there were many many sheep, making all manner of sounds, sometimes they didn’t even sound like sheep! As my girlfriend said “they sound like a human pretending to be a sheep” which sounded about right. They are crazy animals as well, they were not scared to go right up to the edge of the cliffs. Much braver than we were.

There were many sheep on this trip

As it was still sunny, and we felt energetic, we continued up the hill. We eventually ended up at Bolberry down. A National Trust park, designed to be nice and flat, lots of paths around the top of the cliff, and easy access for disabled people or those with difficulty up hills. If we were to continue on, we would have passed RAF Bolt Head, an RAF base during WW2. Then right at the south of Salcombe, where the Kingsbridge Estuary hits the sea is Bolt Head. Maybe we will come back that way some day. For now, we wandered back to Hope Cove for a cream tea and a watch of the sunset.

Which Way?

Interfacing a PIC and a 16×2 LCD

So in a recent project I had to implement a 16×2 LCD  on a PIC16F1827, but the system will work on most PIC microcontrollers, with slight changes to the code. For this project I am using MPLAB X v3.40, a free development environment, and a PICKIT 3, which can be bought at a number of stores online.

Setting up the MPLAB project

  1. Start off by loading up MPLAB X, if you don’t have it already, install it from the Microchip website
  2. Start a new project, by going to File->New Project… or by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Nnew project
  3. The project we want is a standalone project, it should be chosen by default. Next choose the device we want, write in the box PIC16F1827 there should only be one. We want to use the PicKit 3 for the programmer. I am using XC8 as the compiler, this is available from the Microchip to9 stawebsite. Finally choose the name of the project, and where you want to keep it. Then click finish.
  4. It wont look like mush at the moment, but under Projects on the right, there should now be your newly created project, with a drop down, and a set of folders. Something like this: 
  5. To start the project, we need a main.c. So right click on Source Files, go to New->C Main File… then in the Dialog, change the name to main. After pressing okay, it should look like this: 

Connecting the LCD

LCDs have what is known as a parallel connection. This means that we send data 8 bits at a time, rather than serial where it is one at a time. The datasheet for the PIC is found on the microchip website here. The pinout is found on page 4.

PIC pinout

Register Select (RS) pin, this decides which of the two registers that is getting written to. Either the instruction register (what the screen does) or the data register (what is shown on the screen). This is connected to A4 on the PIC.

Read/Write (RW) pin, this decides whether you are writing to or reading from the LCD. This is connected to pin A3.

Enable (E) pin, is to tell the LCD when data needs to be transferred. Pulsing this pin will write or read to the registers the data on the data pins. This is connected to pin  A2.

These pins are defined at the top of the code, to make life easier for us later on.

#define LCD_RS LATAbits.LATA4   //LCD Command/Data Control
#define LCD_RW LATAbits.LATA3   //LCD Read/Write Select
#define LCD_E LATAbits.LATA2    //LCD Enable Line

Data Pins (D0-D7), are the pins that transfer the information between the LCD and the PIC. These are connected to pins B0-B7. So B0 is connected to D0, and so on until B7 is connected to D7.

Vdd and Vss are connected to 5v and GND respectively.

Contrast (Vo) is connected to a 10k pot between the 5v  and  GND.

If the LCD you are using has connections for a backlight, follow the datasheet for instructions, on mine I connect it t0 5v and GND.

The Code

Below is the function I create to send data to the LCD.

#define LCD_CMD 0
#define LCD_TXT 1 

void LCD_DATA (unsigned char data, int type)
    __delay_ms(100);   // short delay

    LATB = 0x00;       // reset the register to 0
    LATB = data;       // set B output to the data we want to send
    __delay_ms(1);     // short delay for data to set

    if (type == LCD_CMD)
        LCD_RS = 0;    // command mode
        LCD_RS = 1;    // character/data mode

    LCD_RW = 0;        // start the pulse
    __delay_ms(1);     // small delay
    LCD_E = 1;         // enable LCD data line
    __delay_ms(1);     // small delay
    LCD_E = 0;         // disable LCD data line

Calling this function in the main, like follows will send data to the LCD. Notice the #define at the top, these are declaring LCD_CMD and LCD_TXT. Basically, when the type is LCD_CMD the LCD is sent into command mode, by setting the RS pin. Equally, sending LCD_TXT will clear the RS pin, putting the LCD in character mode.

The information on the data pins will then get written to the LCD, by clearing RW. To actually tell the LCD that it needs to be sent new instructions the enable pin needs to be pulsed. Once this happens, the screen should be updated with the new information.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <xc.h>

#define _XTAL_FREQ 500000

#define LCD_RS LATAbits.LATA4   //LCD Command/Data Control
#define LCD_RW LATAbits.LATA3   //LCD Read/Write Select
#define LCD_E LATAbits.LATA2    //LCD Enable Line

#define LCD_CMD 0
#define LCD_TXT 1 

void LCD_DATA (unsigned char data, int type)
    __delay_ms(100);   // short delay

    LATB = 0x00;       // reset the register to 0
    LATB = data;       // set B output to the data we want to send
    __delay_ms(1);     // short delay for data to set

    if (type == LCD_CMD)
        LCD_RS = 0;    // command mode
        LCD_RS = 1;    // character/data mode

    LCD_RW = 0;        // start the pulse
    __delay_ms(1);     // small delay
    LCD_E = 1;         // enable LCD data line
    __delay_ms(1);     // small delay
    LCD_E = 0;         // disable LCD data line

int main(int argc, char** argv) {
    // write "hello world!" on the first line
    LCD_DATA('h', LCD_TXT);
    LCD_DATA('e', LCD_TXT);
    LCD_DATA('l', LCD_TXT);
    LCD_DATA('l', LCD_TXT);
    LCD_DATA('o', LCD_TXT);
    LCD_DATA(' ', LCD_TXT);
    LCD_DATA('w', LCD_TXT);
    LCD_DATA('o', LCD_TXT);
    LCD_DATA('r', LCD_TXT);
    LCD_DATA('l', LCD_TXT);
    LCD_DATA('d', LCD_TXT);
    LCD_DATA('!', LCD_TXT);
    while (1)
 return (EXIT_SUCCESS);

Route Planning in C# – Setting up a Project

So after watching this video by Computerphile, I got inspired to make my own PC map solver. In the video they use Python, but I prefer C#, even if it takes a bit longer to set up and make. This Section is basically how I set up the system to import an image, turn it into a Bitmap, and then output the image to a file. Currently it is very rudimentary, and doesn’t do any mapping, but in the coming weeks, it will be improving with different algorithms and systems to integrate it into my university final year project.

This will be written similar to a tutorial, but some prior knowledge of Visual Studio and C# would be beneficial. As well as this, it is always good to read around the subject and watch videos. Experience with systems is what makes you a better engineer! For this tutorial I am using Visual Studio 2015.

  1. Open up Visual Studio, and start a new project by going to File->new->Project.
  2. On the left hand side under Visual C# choose Windows. And pick Windows Forms Application. Change the name to Route Planner (or whatever you want to call it) and pick the location you want to save the project to. Then Click OK.New project
  3. With the nice new form in front of you, drag the bottom left hand corner of the box, until it is about 750 x 450 pixels, this can be changed in the properties tab.
  4. In the properties tab, change the text value to Route Planner. The form should now have a title of Route Planner
  5. On the left hand side of the screens should be the Toolbox tab. In there find a Label. Drag this onto the form, I placed it in the bottom left corner. This will be the label we use to give us feedback on what is going on in the system.
  6. While the Label is still highlighted, go to the Properties tab, and change the name to lbl1. I also changed the text to lbl1, but this isn’t necessary.
  7. As with the label, drag a PictureBox onto the form. Make it as big as you want, it can always be changed later, but this is where the map is going to be shown as an output.
  8. in the top corner of the PictureBox is a small triangle, click on it, and change the size mode to zoom. This means that the image will be zoomed in to fit the box, as some of the images we will be using are small.
  9. While the PictureBox is still highlighted, change the name to pbMap.
  10. The box should now look similar to this:picturebox zoom mode
  11. This is the basic bit done, now to make it do something, we need an event. To start, we will set it up to do everything as soon as the program loads, in a later tutorial it will be triggered by buttons. But for now double click on the form. This should take you to a new page called form1.cs.
  12. There will now be a function in there called Form_Load() anything put in this function will be triggered as soon as the form loads up.The first look at code

The code posted below currently loads in an image, converts it to Bitmap, and then converts back to .png to save it again (under a different name).

final code

So what is going on here:

  • Firstly a new Bitmap variable is created, named startMap.
  • An image is loaded from a set filename is loaded into startMap.
  • For this project I used this image, yes it is very small:

  • The issue with leaving it at this point is that the image, although saved in a Bitmap, it’s not really one. The colours of each individual pixel are indexed in the .png format, meaning we cannot directly manipulate them, in the way we would a Bitmap. In Bitmap images, the colours are in ARGB format, meaning each colour has it’s own value, and can therefore be accessed.
  • To get the image in this format, a new Bitmap variable is created called routeMap, with the same width and height as startMap.
  • Using the Graphics class, the image from startMap is drawn onto routeMap in the new Bitmap format.
  • The pictureBox we created earlier is now used, by making it the same image as routeMap.
  • The label we created is also used, by updating the user that the file has been saved.
  • To prove it is the same image, routeMap is saved a .png file, and can be found in the directory that it is set to.

When run, and a map is named “normal.png” in the correct file directory (you can change this). The window should look something like this: Tutorial1 output

Notice how the image seems blurred, this is due to the picturebox zooming the image to fit the box. The blurring is anti-aliasing, and although slightly annoying demonstrates the image.


Pioneers in Aviation: William Boeing

William Boeing was an aviator with a different upbringing than what you would imagine, nothing to do with engineering or even military. Aiming to profit from the Northwest timber industry from an early age, yet he went on to create one of the biggest aerospace companies ever known, one known in almost all households.

William Boeing

Born October 1st 1881 in Detroit, Michigan to a wealthy mining engineer Wilhelm Böing and Marie M. Ortmann. From Germany and Austria. Boeing Sr had made his fortune through timber and mineral rights near Lake Superior in North America. Up until 1899 young Boeing was educated in Vevey, Switzerland, when he returned he changed his name to William Boeing. Studying at Yale University, Boeing left before graduating in 1903. Starting a new life in Grays Harbour, Washington, he aimed to profit from the lands that he had inherited from his father, who had died of Influenza in 1890. He learned the logging business on his own, eventually buying more timber land and adding more wealth to the approximately $1 million estate left to him (around £26.8 in today’s money) by his parents. This included expeditions to Alaska. One of the main reasons for his success was due to him shipping lumber to the east coast using the Panama Canal.

In 1908 he moved to Seattle, to establish the Greenwood Timber company. He started off by living in an apartment hotel, but after just a year he got elected as a member of the Highlands, a brand-new, exclusive residential suburb. During this time, Boeing was interested in boats, and often experimented with boat designs. So much so in 1910 he bought the Heath shipyard on the Duwamish River. This was so he could build a yacht, named the Taconite, after the mineral that made his father’s fortune. His love of aircraft came from a trip while in Seattle in 1909, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition was a world’s fair publicizing development in the Pacific Northwest. Boeing was visiting as he had interests in the area. While there he saw a manned flight, and he became fascinated.

The Taconite, the 125ft teak yaght built by Boeing

In 1910 Boeing attended an aviation meet in Los Angeles, where he tried to get a ride on a boxy biplane, he didn’t succeed. This didn’t deter him though, he took flying lessons at the Glenn L. Martin Fling School in Los Angeles, and even purchased one of his planes, a Martin TA Hydroaeroplane. James Floyd Smith, a Martin pilot travelled to Seattle to assemble Boeing’s plane and teach him how to fly it. Smith assembled the plane in a tent hanger on the shore of Lake Union, and so Boeing became a pilot. At some point, Boeing’s test pilot broke the plane enough for it to be unusable. Martin informed Boeing that the parts would take months to become available, obviously this was an inconvenience. In 1915, Boeing was introduced to Navy Lieutenant G. Conrad Westervelt, and they soon became close friends. When a mutual friend brought a Curtis-type hydroplane to Seattle later that year, they took turns flying it over lake washington. After just a few trips, Boeing and Westervelt felt that they could build a better airplane. Boeing decided to buy an old boat works on the Duwamish river in Seattle for his factory and set up shop, he was now in the aircraft business.

Boeing Plant
The Boeing Plant on the Duwamish River around 1917

Together with Westervelt they built and flew the B&W seaplane. This was an amphibious biplane that had outstanding performance compared to it’s competitors. This sealed the deal for him, and Westervelt. Together they founded Pacific Aero Products Co in 1916. Their first plane, basically the B&W Seaplane was named the Boeing Model 1. At this time, the world was in the middle of World War 1, and on April 8th 1917, the United States joined the fight. Suddenly there was a need for defence manufacturers. A month later, The name was changed from Pacific Aero Products, to the Boeing Airplane Company. The United States Navy ordered 50 planes from Boeing. When the war ended, the need for military aircraft dwindled, and Boeing started concentrating on the lucrative supply of commercial aircraft. He secured mass contracts to supply airmail, and also created a passenger airline that would later go on to become United Airlines.

B&W Seaplane
The B&W Seaplane, sitting on the water

In 1934 the Boeing company had become massive considering the time. It had an airmail business, commercial airline, manufacturing of planes and many other branches of interest. This sparked controversy in the US government, and he was accused of monopolistic practices. That year the Air Mail Act forced airplane companies to separate flight operations from the manufacturing of planes. At this point Boeing separated himself from the company, and divested himself of ownership. The company was then split into three sections. The United Aircraft Corporation a manufacturing arm, based in the east, Now United TechnologiesUnited Airlines which handled flight operations, and still functions as such, and Boeing Airplane Company which was manufacturing based in the west, this went on to become the Boeing Company that we all know today. By 1937 he had started spending most of his time breeding horses, and the new Boeing Company would not become truly successful until World War 2.

Boeing spent the remainder of his life in property development, and the breeding of thoroughbred horses. He was said to be worried about the tensions in the Pacific Northwest due to WW2. This led him to purchase a 650 acre farm east of Seattle. He called it “Aldarra”. He would go on to die September 28th, 1956 at the age of 74 (a year before the release of the release of the 707). He died of a heart attack while on his yacht. His estate was eventually sold off and turned into a golf course in 2001, but parts still remain today, including Boeing’s main home, and two smaller houses. His house in the Highlands was also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also a creek running near his house in the Highlands was renamed Boeing Creek after him.

Boeing Creek
The Creek named after Boeing, running near his house in the Highlands

Current Sensing: High Side vs. Low Side

Occasionally, you will be designing an electronic project, and there will be a need to to measure the current being drawn by a particular section, or  even the whole thing. When designing, prototyping, or even testing the design you can use a calibrated multimeter. In the field though, or inside a real product, how can you monitor current.

A very popular way is to use a very low value power resistor in series with the load you want to measure. As current flows through it it will induce an e.m.f (voltage) across the resistor. This resistor voltage can then be measured by an ADC in a microcontroller. The value will be linearly proportional to the current running through it. Using Ohm’s law you can deduce that the voltage across the the resistor is equal to the currentresistance. As the resistor may be slightly off, the device might need calibration.

An issue with this though, you want the minimum voltage drop possible across the resistor. This reduces power loss, and minimises the effect you will have on the load. For this reason a very small resistor needs to be used. There are plenty of resistors out there for this purpose, known as shunt or sense resistors. This tiny voltage could be as small as 0.1v, or maybe even lower, way too small for a standard ADC to pick up reliably. For this reason There is a need for an amplifier, to multiply this voltage by 20 or 50 times. This enables the swing to be measured across the range of the ADC. So if you have a 5v ADC, and the maximum voltage across the resistor will be 0.1v, the amplifier will need to have a gain of 50. There are two main categories of current sensors like this, High side and Low side.


The above image shows the basic configuration of these two types of measurement. The difference is based off on the location of the sense resistor. Low side sensing is between load and ground, with high side sensing between power and the load. It shouldn’t make much difference, the voltage across the Sense resistor will always be the same.

One reason for not using the the low side method is for the fact it is based off the ground reference. If anything between the power and the high side of the load is shorted, the current sensor wont pick it up. It is just one thing thing that you can’t then implement into your design.

Also be careful when choosing the amplifier and the resistors you intend to use. There are many amplifiers on the market designed for this specific purpose. The TSC101 is an amplifier I recently included in a project, for this exact purpose. A high side current sensor, with a precision trimmed preset gain of either 20, 50, or 100. Adding in a laser precision trimmed power resistor to this, and there is an output for a microcontroller, a very simple current sensing application. for less than £2 in your application.

Pioneers in Aviation: Donald Wills Douglas, Sr

Donald Wills Douglas, Sr was a real aviation Pioneer, from actually viewing the trials of the Wright Flyer, to creating the Douglas Cloudster, and creating the company that would eventually go up against Boeing, building some of the most famous aircraft in the world, even parts of the Saturn V! You could say he has some experience in the world of aviation.

Born April 6th 1892 in Brooklyn New York, the son of an assistant cashier at the National Park Bank. Being an early enthusiast of aviation, in autumn 1908 at the age of 16, he convinced his mother to take him to see the Fort Myer trials of the Wright Flyer. Graduating in 1909, he enrolled in the United States Naval Academy. There are stories of Douglas building model airplanes out of rubber bands and motors in his dormitory at Annapolis. Then flying them on the grounds of the academy’s armory. In 1912 he resigned from the academy to pursue his dream of a career in aeronautical engineering. Applying to jobs at Grover Loening and Glenn Curtiss, and being rejected, he ended up enrolling in MIT. He received a Bachelors of Science in Aeronautical Engineering in 1914. He was the first person to ever receive this degree because he completed the 4 year course in half that time.

Donald W Douglas
Donald W Douglas, Sr holding a prototype of the DC-8 Circa 1955

In 1915 after a year working as an assistant to a professor at MIT, Douglas joined the Connecticut Aircraft Company, and was part of the team that designed the DN-1, the Navy’s first Dirigible (also known as an airship). That august, he left to start working for the Glenn Martin Company, where he was the Chief Engineer, at the young age of 23. During his time there he designed the Martin S seaplane. Not long after that, Douglas left when Glenn Martin merged with the Wright Company. He became the Chief Civilian Aeronautical engineer, of the Aviation section of the US Army Signal Corps. Then a short time after that he moved back to the new Glenn L. Martin Company, as the Chief Engineer, designing the Martin MB-1 bomber in his time there.

Glen Martin MB-1
Glen Martin MB-1 designed by Donald Wills Douglas, Sr

In March of 1920 he gave up his job, which was paying $10,000 a year ($125,000 in today’s money) and moved to California where he had met his wife Charlotte Marguerite Ogg. There he started his own aircraft company, the Davis-Douglas Company. The Davis was from David Davis a millionaire, and his financing partner, who payed $40,000 into the company. The aim of the company was to develop an aircraft that could fly from coast to coast non-stop. This aircraft was called the Douglas Cloudster, and unfortunately failed in its challenge. Although it didn’t achieve the challenge, it was the first airplane that could carry a payload greater than it’s own weight. The failure was too much for Davis, who left the partnership, and in 1921 Douglas founded the Douglas Aircraft Company.

The Douglas Cloudster
The Douglas Cloudster made by the Davis-Douglas company

Douglas was now regarded as a great engineer and a bold entrepreneur. Even though his Cloudster had failed, his new company, the Douglas Aircraft Company was a bit hit. In 1922 he employed 68 people, but with the increase in sales due to WW2, and the increase in passenger planes, the Douglas Aircraft Company became the 4th largest company in the United States. A year and a half before Pearl Harbour, he was already writing about how it “was the hour of destiny for American aviation”. Until 1957 Douglas was President of the Company, until he passed that position over to his son when he retired, and became the Chairman. In 1967 Douglas Aircraft Company Merged with McDonnell Aircraft to form McDonnell Douglas. This company would then go on to merge with Boeing in 1997.

Donald W Douglas, Sr
Donald W Douglas, Sr standing next to a new DC-7

Donald Wills Douglas, Sr died aged 88 on February 2nd, 1981. He is widely regarded as a great engineer and businessman, with plenty of awards to his name, and is listed as 7th in Flying’s magazines 51 heroes of aviation.

The Abandoned Buran Launch Site

So on my recent search for history on the Buran Shuttle, I came across this blog post. Although I had to use the Wayback machine to see it, it shows some great shots of the place where the Buran Shuttle used to launch.



The images show the way that the test site has been left to rust away. Although still obviously a launch site, the stone is breaking, and the machines obviously havn’t been used in a long time.


As you can see, there is still rubbish piled up, remains of old vehicles, and random scrap metal everywhere. Almost like everyone just up and left. If you have read any of my other posts on the Buran, you will know that is basically what happened. Around 1993, the USSR crumbled and the Buran shuttle programme was left behind. This is why this launch site is still like this, and why urban explorers can go out and take pictures.

On top of this, they found a few other things, including an actual Buran shuttle. Although not a working version, more of a prototype, this shuttle shows how it probably would have looked back in the day. I believe this is the version found at the Gagarin museum in the Baikonur Cosmodrome, close to the launch site found in these pictures. This one is on display to the public, and was refurbished in 2007.


The last thing that they found was a large machine. More specifically, the machine used to transport the Shuttle to the launch site. A colossal platform, that could move the shuttle and the solid rocket boosters needed for the flight. Unfortunately it was only ever used once in 1988, the only BUran flight ever. So it hasn’t seen much action. It was different to the USA’s Crawler-transporter because it was pulled by 5 diesel trains.



The Abandoned Buran Wind Tunnel Test


40km Southeast of Moscow in the back corner of Zhukovsky International Airport, there is an an interesting remnant of the space race just left to rot. These are a set of 15 pictures taken by Aleksander Markin on this Flickr album. It shows a 1/3rd scale model of the Buran Orbiter. According to Markin, the replica is made almost entirely out of wood, and was used as a wind tunnel test when developing the aerodynamics.

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When the Buran shuttle program fell into disarray, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, these prototypes and test were just left behind in the change. In the intervening years, they have been left the rot. Many shuttles and tests have been found by urban explorers, but many are still out there. In another recent post I talk about a similar Buran prototype left to rot away in an impressive warehouse. You can find that post here.