Just when you least expect a Vampire – there’s one, over there!

Well, well, whatever next! Just when you think you have seen it all……

I was invited to attend a rather splendid wedding in Newport, R.I. this year, and decided to make a weekend of it. To cut a long story short, I remembered that there was an aviation museum nearby, so a visit there would make the trip even more enjoyable. ‘The Quonset Air Museum – Rhode Island’s Home of Aviation Heritage’ is located in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, on three acres of what was the Naval Air Station Quonset Point. As you can imagine, the collection has a heavy naval aviation flavour, with classics such as a Grumman F6F Hellcat, Lockheed P2V Neptune and Grumman F-14A Tomcat. If you visit (and I would urge you to do so), don’t expect the pristine surroundings of the Smithsonian. This is an actively growing collection, relies on volunteer help and has to contend with being housed in a building dating from 1945 (and one that was built to wartime standards, of course). The result is a mixture of fully restored to externally stored (and ‘as is’) exhibits, but it is still a fascinating place.

Just as I was checking off all the classic USN airframes (Douglas A4M Skyhawk, McDonnell-Douglas F4A Phantom II, etc) I saw a gleam of polished duralumin off in the distance. There it was, a genuine, flyable DH Vampire T.55 in Swiss Air Force markings. I realized that I was looking at one of the aircraft, ‘U-1213’ now NX935HW, sold at the famous Sion sale in January 1991, when many of the 53 surplus Swiss single and twin-seat jet aircraft stored on base were auctioned off, including 27 Vampires of various marks. This lead to Vampires and Venoms being scattered all over the world; aircraft sold through Sion are now in South Africa, New Zealand, Norway, U.K., Sweden and the U.S.A.

The origins of the Vampire go back to WW2; it causes a few raised eyebrows when I mention that the prototype DH 100 Vampire Mk 1 first flew on 30 September 1943. Unfortunately, production was delayed mainly due to the fact that the Halford H.1 centrifugal jet engine had to be sent to the U.S.A. to replace the engine in the prototype Lockheed P-80 which had been blown up during ground testing. The Vampire is a strange marriage of technologies, having  moulded plywood ‘sandwich’ construction for the fuselage (skinned with aluminium), and metal wings and tailbooms.  After the war, Vampires quickly replaced Spitfires in many RAF squadrons, and a night fighter version was schemed, the NF.10, to bridge the gap between the withdrawal of the last Mosquito NF.38 and the arrival in service of the Meteor NF.11. It was quickly seen that by removing the radar along with other equipment  changes, a two-seat trainer could be produced. The first Vampire T.11 went to the RAF, of course, but the Swiss Air Force ultimately operated 39 of the T.55 equivalent, 30 of which were built by Flugzeugwerk Emmen, Switzerland, from 1953 onwards. Although capable of carrying the full gun armament of four 20mm Hispano cannon, the T.55 usually carried only two, along with bombs or unguided rockets if needed. The DH Goblin 35B engine delivered 3,500lbs of thrust, pushing the T.55 to 538mph. An interesting aside is that each Goblin engine was usually collected from De Havilland by a Swiss Air Force transport aircraft – a Junkers 52 !

2 comments on “Just when you least expect a Vampire – there’s one, over there!”

  1. And you posted about garlic only a few days ago 😉


    • I detect a distinct ‘vampire streak’ in the blog of late. Either I am unconciously courting the current fad, or I will have to change my name to Van Helsing!


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