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Flying the Kittyhawk
Kittyhawk "HS-B" ET574, found mummified in the Egyptian Western Desert, 2012.
Eddie Edwards was a distinguished Canadian ace who flew with the Desert Air Force (predominantly as a wing-mate of 3SQN in 239 Wing).
The following extract is quoted from the book "Kittyhawk Pilot" (1983), by Michael Lavigne and Jim ("Stocky" or "Eddie") Edwards.
It compares the handling qualities of the various Marks of Kittyhawk.
During the 14 months that Jim Edwards would serve with 94 Squadron and 260 Squadron in the Western Desert and Tunisia, he would fly all three types of Kittyhawk in combat and come to know them well. His logbook would record 195 operational sorties in North Africa; 69 of them in Kittyhawk Is, 51 in Kittyhawk IIs and 75 in Kittyhawk IIIs. Jim Edwards wrote after the war:
In my estimation, the Kittyhawk Mk.I was not an easy aircraft to fly properly and, as a result, we lost a good number of pilots while training. Some Hurricane pilots just flatly refused to fly it, preferring to go back to the Hurricane squadrons. In the first few months after conversion to Kittyhawks, all the squadrons lost heavily to the 109s. It didn't seem to matter whether they were sprogs, sergeant pilots or Battle of Britain veterans. The 109s still hacked them down.
Our pilots seemed to be at a great disadvantage trying to learn how to fly the aircraft while carrying out operational sorties. I'm certain that's the reason why many of our experienced pilots were shot down. This was coupled with the rapid turnover of C.O.s and Flight Commanders. The changes left little stability within the squadrons, and the rapid changing of faces in the mess tent made most feel like strangers to one another. There were few exceptions.
There appeared to be no shortage of Kittyhawk replacements or pilots to fill the holes. Some were Canadians from the Commonwealth Training Plan.
As each of the 260SQN pilots gained experience, they learned their own method of handling the new machines as they arrived.
I found that one had to have a very strong right arm to control the Kittyhawk I during most manoeuvres...
In dive-bombing, the aircraft would pick up speed very quickly in the dive, but it had a great tendency to roll to the right. One could trim this out reasonably well with the left hand, but even then, when one pulled up, it wanted to roll to the left quite violently. So I learned to trim out about half-way in a dive and hold the control stick central by bracing my arm against my leg and the cockpit wall. I found out I had more control this way and didn't have to take off so much trim when pulling out and the speed was reduced. It was also distracting to have one's left hand on the trim all the time, when it should be on the throttle.
With the instability of the Kittyhawk I in the lateral plane at changing speeds, Jim remembers,
...in a dog-fight with violent changes of speed, it was all one could do to fly the aircraft. To avoid being shot down, one needed their head on a swivel - to look down into the cockpit, even for a split second, with the 109's in the air, was sure death. Since the Kittyhawk would fish-tail and skid violently if not flown smoothly, there was little chance of hitting anything, so I had the mercury ball portion of a turn-and-bank instrument placed right below my gunsight. That way I could see it all the time without staring at it - it took all the guesswork out of flying smoothly. In Stanford Tuck's "Fly for Your Life", he says he always looked down in the cockpit at this instrument to insure the ball was centred before firing. In every aircraft I flew on operations to the end of the war, I had my groundcrew install this instrument below the gunsight.
The Kittyhawk Mk.II (F series) with Packard-Merlin engine was a definite improvement in lateral stability over the Kitty I.
While the Americans called the machine the 'Warhawk', the men on 260 Squadron named it the 'Goshawk'.
260 Squadron flew the Kitty IIs from 1 September '42 to 17 December '42, when the squadron received Kitty IIIs. There were many models and a series of improvements and we flew them to the end of the Tunisian campaign. Eventually, with the Mk.III , the Kittyhawk became a good, stable fighting aircraft although it never did have enough power or climbing ability compared to the Me.109s or Spitfires.
All Kittyhawks I flew had 6 x .50 guns, excellent for strafing or blowing up a target. However, one very annoying feature was the gun stoppages in the desert. In ground strafing one could count on firing all the ammo without problems, but when it came to dog-fighting and excessive `G' forces came into play, the guns most always packed up after a few bursts, leaving the fighter in a most perilous position. The 109s never appeared to have any problems with the nose cannon - that big gaping hole in the centre of a white spinner with black puffs of smoke emitting from it.
The cruising speed of the Kittyhawk II was reasonably fast and equal to the Spit.V and the Mk.III was comparable to the Spit.IX. However, the Kittyhawk didn't jump when the throttle was advanced to full power and it didn't climb worth a damn like the Spitfire. It would turn inside the 109 but not as easily as the Spitfire.
When the squadron's "tame" [captured] ME109 flew with the Kittyhawk, we found it was necessary to throttle back to approximately 72% power to stay in formation. The ME109s definitely flew at higher cruising speeds when operating with two or four aircraft.
Patient historical detective-work some decades after the event proved that Eddie Edwards had
been the Kittyhawk pilot who shot down Otto Schulz, one of Germany's top desert aces,
who counted amongst his victories 3SQN's "Tiny" Cameron and Nicky Barr .
(Both of whom lived to fly another day.)
For an illustrated biography of the flying career of Eddie Edwards, see http://www.acesofww2.com/Canada/aces/edwards/#.Ua5wZnfHaL0
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