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J W Dunne projects

steelpillow

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Two unknown aircraft projects discovered.
Some rumours fleshed out or burst.

Today I visited the Science Museum archives at Wroughton, where they are busy processing the newly-acquired personal archive material of the British Army's first aeroplane designer and father of the tailless swept wing, J. W. Dunne. I was allowed to see several boxes full of small test models and a good many rolls of drawings and other notes.

Key highlights:

D.2. This triplane glider (never built) had a span of 18 ft and a length of 13 ft 6 in, its plan designed on a 4 ft 6 in grid. Control lines ran forward from the Dunne-Huntington style control surfaces, though there is no sign of a pilot's seat in the sketches.

D.9. Never completed, this was a multi-bay sesquiplane of equal chord but unequal span. The stressing drawings are signed by CRF - the Charles Richard Fairey of future fame. (The idea that the D.9 was the James monoplane, as claimed by some more recent historians, is visibly nonsensical).

1923 Monoplane. We all thought he gave up aircraft design in 1913. Not only do his Syndicate drawings run on as late as May 1914 but one picks up again four years after the Syndicate finally dissolved in 1919. It is dated April 1923 and shows a wing much like the earlier monoplanes with their curious twisted and downturned tips, but tapered rather than constant-chord. Significantly, this was just about the time that GTR Hill consulted him over what would become the Pterodactyl glider. Coincidence? Either way, you read of this machine here for the first time.

D.12. He began again in earnest in 1941, in an attempt to help the war effort. He alluded to the project in his posthumous autobiographical account of his prophetic dreams but gave no details. For two years he experimented with three models of recognisably Dunne/Hill extraction, working towards a "D.12" design - both his notes and the models survive. Partial drawings of two full-size machines exist, several of a ca. 66 ft span wing of which one shows a scrap view of a "bubble canopy" cockpit (undated but the bubble canopy is the giveaway). It is probably a fast, high-altitude unarmed reconnaissance type, or possibly a light bomber. The other design is more complete and evidently a smaller craft, perhaps a fighter. It is very Northrop/Lippisch in style. In a hurry with browned and faded drawings, I could not determine whether it is has a pusher prop or just possibly a jet engine. Which if either of these projects was the D.12 will have to wait 'til my next visit.

British Legion Arrowplane. A balsa toy chuck-glider, painted silver. Made by members (i.e. soldiers disabled by battle wounds) of the British Legion, it is a high-aspect-ratio tapered and lightly swept flying wing. In its box, complete with instruction sheet. No mention of Dunne there. He was himself an invalid ex-soldier. Was that why he kept one, or did he have a hand in the design?

Sorry no photos - copyright and all that. One day, the full story from these archives will be told.
 

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Excellent Work Steelpillow,

many thanks,and please keep on.
 

steelpillow

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Forgot to add about the main collection of models:

Almost all are paper, with a pin as a nose weight (if any). A few have balsa wood accessories such as stub fuselages. Most are around 4" span but they vary between about 2" to 6". (the 1941 models mentioned above are larger, perhaps 9" span, I didn't measure any.)

The periods below are derived from a written account of this period that Dunne sent to the Museum in London, as well as other text sources.

Mid 1904 period. Models include Rogallo deltas, seabird shaped M-wings and a folding bat wing. These are confirmed to exist for the first time and support his written account of this period.

Late 1904 on. A rubber-powered tailless swept wing with tractor propeller, I think new to us. Wire frame with rubber motor still attached, blue tissue wings and propeller blade (other blade is missing). Many classic Dunne variations, including some biplanes, the odd D-H triplane, and other tailed types from late 1904 on (Is one a canard? It can be hard to tell when the nose weight is missing). The individual size, the quantity and variety of models again support written accounts.
 

hesham

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Thank you Steelpillow,

and we spoke about those designs before,but I found a comment,mentioned the Dunne
idea for a tailless concept,imaged by R.E. Poulton.

https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1943/1943%20-%201228.html
https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1943/1943%20-%201229.html
 

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steelpillow

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Thank you hesham. While the Germans got on with building operational tailless and flying wing types and the Americans encouraged Northrop with some experimental prototypes, the British sat around talking about it, setting up a Tailless Aircraft Advisory Committee to generate proposals and sending their one real expert, GTR Hill (of Pterodactyl fame), off to Canada so he couldn't join in. So Dunne was not working in a vacuum. The Museum tell me that there is some correspondence with the TAAC in Dunne's papers. I do hope they process it through soon so I can read it!
 

steelpillow

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Another visit to the archives, another day of revelations.

Many minor corrections to history, confusions resolved and gaps filled in. You'll have to wait for the book for those.

The big news is Dunne's return to aeronautics at the end of 1940. He crashed in with a vengeance. First on his list was Lord Beaverbrook. That dragged in a couple of Ministries. Then he touched base with some old buddies - Fairey, de Havilland, Handley Page and for good measure a relative of someone he met at a cocktail party, one F.G. Miles - and I mean the men themselves, not their companies. Responses varied from "Fascinating ... wait a minute ... sorry we're too flat out already to take on anything else" to "Yes, I've been playing with your ideas". Out of all this a formal project gelled for him to send drawings for a made-to-measure 6 ft model to the National Physics Laboratory for them to stick in their wind tunnels. The correspondence, the design notebooks, the models flown across grand halls in his brother-in-law's castle home to be caught by the drapes, the study drawings, it's all there. He was still in touch with DH the man in 1946, commenting on the possibilities opened up by the Vampire's wing-root intakes.

How much of a coincidence can it be that, just around the time Dunne was giving up through crippling illness, the Tailless Aircraft Advisory Committee was formed? Can it be that all those British tailless wonders and flying wings of the early postwar years owed their existence to his brief return to the fray? Hey, I am not even half way through his aviation material yet. Watch this space!
 

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steelpillow said:
How much of a coincidence can it be that, just around the time Dunne was giving up through crippling illness, the Tailless Aircraft Advisory Committee was formed?

On the whole I would tend to think that it was just a coincidence. There had been plenty of discussion, and speculative designs, around the benefits of flying wings in the immediate pre-war and early war years. Several designers were playing with flying-wing or near flying-wing designs so timing-wise I see no obvious reason that there would have been a link.
 

avion ancien

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That's fascinating, steelpillow. Do you know the provenance of the collection acquired by the Science Museum?

It's disappointing - and perhaps of some concern - that whilst the Science Museum allowed you access to the Dunne collection, it refused to allow you to photograph the items in it. Perhaps even more so that it claimed copyright as its basis and justification to do so. Too often copyright is claimed in circumstances where there is no legal basis or justification for it and in an endeavour to maximise the commercial potential of that for which it's claimed. I take the view that it's reprehensible for private individuals and commercial organisations to claim copyright where none exists and when they either do or should know that. It is worrying when 'not for profit' public bodies, such as national museums, do so. But maybe it's indicative of the times and the society in which we live nowadays?
 

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This appears to be policy with the Science Museum as I ran into the same issue some time ago when requesting copies of Supermarine S6 drawings in their archive. They had to obtain clearance from BAe Systems Intellectual Property Rights dept. The same drawings can be copied without hassle from the RAF Museum, as I discovered later.
However a more recent request to the Science Museum for copies of a variety of drawings, mostly by non-UK constructors, was carried out without any similar delays/problems.
 

steelpillow

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On the matter of provenance I have absolutely no doubt that the archive is a hundred percent genuine. His family have told me its story and that is fully corroborated by the internal and external evidence I have so far unearthed. The reams and reams of original correspondence, personally signed by many famous historical figures from HG Wells to Geoffrey de Havilland Sr. and liberally sprinkled with originals of letters I have seen copies of in archives elsewhere - puts it beyond doubt.

Photography is not forbidden - I took photos of most of the models and some of the drawings for my research - but I am forbidden to publish them to the Internet - or anywhere else - without permission of the Museum. Dunne's own writings remain his family's copyright for a few more years yet. So sorry, no piccies and no extensive quotations. I am also arranging for a bunch of document copies, again strictly for my research, but can't say yet whether these will be photocopies or scans. At least some of the key historical record will thus be backed up! Oddly, I was allowed to photograph the models and drawings without a murmur but when it came to written documents the mood changed and I had to give a polite lecture on research purposes and fair use.

The British Library have a nasty trick of claiming copyright on any reproduction of material in their possession. I think they must manage it by embedding a watermark in the digital file so they can claim copyright on the watermarked edition, or something like that. In the UK, our museums and libraries are seriously underfunded and they have to try and keep afloat any way they can. The same applies to many scientific journal publishers, who charge for downloads and stuff. I agree that it is a sickening burden on the seeker of knowledge who is forced to pay for transport to and from the institute in question, in order to see what is supposedly freely available in the public domain. But there, if people cared that much they'd vote in a government prepared to increase the grants not cut them. So much for democracy.
 

avion ancien

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steelpillow said:
On the matter of provenance I have absolutely no doubt that the archive is a hundred percent genuine.

Sorry, steelpillow, obviously I've given the wrong impression. I wasn't questioning the provenance of the collection. Simply I was curious to know from where it came and how it had come into the hands of the Science Museum. From what you say, it appears to have been a gift or a bequest from Dunne's family.

Continuing briefly on the copyright issue, this seems to be common to public bodies. I've encountered the same with the National Archives who claim copyright, and thus are demanding reproduction fees (calculated by a Byzantine method), for photographs the copyright of which - if they are still in copyright - must belong elsewhere unless it has been assigned to it (no evidence of which has been adduced).

And before I get sent to the 'naughty stair' for encouraging thread creep, there's one well known aviation museum who now won't even tell you what's in its collection!
 

steelpillow

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No need to apologise, these things are important. Yes, Dunne's effects passed to his wife Cecily and from her to their daughter Rosemary. She lived until only a few years ago and her things, this lot amongst them, passed on down the family to someone who did not want to keep it all but equally did not want to see it thrown away. A relative on Cecily's side had the rare joy of clearing out the cluttered, run-down and, sadly, burgled cottage and brokering the deal with the Museum. By a pure coincidence I had gone back to the Museum on an unrelated matter (having been studying the files on their D.8 model earlier in the day) and I bumped into the keeper concerned while the deal was still being closed. I have been hopping up and down for months while the stuff wound its way through the transportation, preservation and storage process.

Another well-known aviation archive will not sanction any reproduction of their contents. I had to redraw several of Dunne's sketches for myself, but that is hardly adequate provenance. All we need is a little electrical fault and half the nation's unique historical aviation records will vanish in a puff of smoke!
 

avion ancien

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steelpillow said:
Another well-known aviation archive will not sanction any reproduction of their contents. I had to redraw several of Dunne's sketches for myself

Doesn't that just show how plain daft are the rules promulgated by some of these organisations? You can't photograph or scan the drawing or image but you can make a transcript or draw a copy.

And whilst on the subject of matters daft, the museum which won't tell me what's in its collection justifies this policy, I understand, by saying that to do so might facilitate thefts from it. I haven't yet discovered whether visitors to this museum are told that, for the same reason, they are not permitted to view the artefacts in the collection or, if they are, that they must submit to brain washing at the exit. Maybe it also confiscates all cameras, mobile telephones, notebooks, writing implements and suchlike at the entrance? And no, it's not the museum at Hawkinge. It's a far more prominent collection than that.
 

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And another, admittedly privately funded and in dire need of cash, charges £25 per hour for research in their archive plus reproduction fees. Considering that you probably have limited idea in advance whether they hold anything of relevance (its tricky to explain upfront precisely what you are seeking in many cases, its a matter of reading, correlating and interpreting) that is a bit steep.
 

steelpillow

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avion ancien said:
the museum which won't tell me what's in its collection justifies this policy, I understand, by saying that to do so might facilitate thefts from it.
Is this a public, private or charitable museum? Under what charter or charters did it receive its collection of objects? Under whose legal authority does it keep those objects from public knowledge? You might like to suggest to it that you are entitled to see its inventory under the Freedom of Information Act, and that failure to make that available will result in a formal request under the Act. It would be interesting to see what reply you get. For a start, I would like to know whether there are any Dunne-related objects or documents in there.
 

steelpillow

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A brief look at Dunne's life, providing some background to this thread:
http://www.steelpillow.com/blocki/misc/dunne.html
 

Apteryx

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steelpillow said:
A brief look at Dunne's life, providing some background to this thread:
http://www.steelpillow.com/blocki/misc/dunne.html
Truly a renaissance man! Mr. Dunne's friendship with HG Wells makes me wonder if there's any connection between his designs and the great flying wings that appear in the 1935 movie Things to Come.
 

steelpillow

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Apteryx said:
steelpillow said:
A brief look at Dunne's life, providing some background to this thread:
http://www.steelpillow.com/blocki/misc/dunne.html
Truly a renaissance man! Mr. Dunne's friendship with HG Wells makes me wonder if there's any connection between his designs and the great flying wings that appear in the 1935 movie Things to Come.
There must have been, but I don't know how close it was. Wells wrote the screenplay, it'll be worth watching the credits closely for any artistic design/direction. Here is what I can say at the moment.
The smaller one-man craft, flown by the first protagonist we meet of the new order, is essentially a Pterodactyl updated as a low-wing monoplane, echoing the emerging fashion. It could almost be a promotional model of the Handley Page Manx which would be built four years later in 1939 (but would not fly until even later).
The larger invasion craft was not strictly a flying wing but a twin-fuselage tailless type. Since no large, multi-engine Dunne designs up to this point are known, we can be less certain of its inspiration. It featured a straight centre section and swept outer wings, reminiscent of the Pterodactyl's straight centre-section leading edge.
Whichever artistic designer came up with them both was certainly well into the Dunne/Hill heritage as well as current trends in high-performance aircraft design.
Dunne himself kept a printed sheet with stills of these models from the film and a kind of "how about that" note (I forget what exactly, but have ordered a copy) scrawled on it. However I have not (yet?] seen any evidence that he was consulted beforehand.
 
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Not meaning to poop the party, but while I am delighted to hear more of J. W. Dunne and applaud the research efforts of steelpillow without reservation, I suspect Renaissance Men didn't just do lots of things - they did lots of important things and did them very well. I'm not sure Dunne did important things or did them well.
Dunne's biplanes were lovely and picturesque but there was a whole raft of equally radical designs (tailless or otherwise) of greater age and plausibility, while his ideas about time were (frankly) barmy and had exactly nowt to do with Einstein.
Sorry to be so unenchanted with Dunne in general ... but Barnes Wallis or Jack Northrop he surely wasn't.
All best, 'Wingknut'.
 

steelpillow

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Wingknut said:
...there was a whole raft of equally radical designs (tailless or otherwise) of greater age and plausibility.
Really? Sure, there are plenty of older and equally radical designs - but more plausible? Given that Dunne's key discoveries were made in 1904 and his first real powered machine received the first ever affidavit for controlled and stable flight, affirmed on behalf of the Aeronautical Society by none other than Orville Wright in 1910, I would be interested to see your evidence for your own rather surprising claim. I would hate to think that you are merely speaking from ignorance and prejudice.
 

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I do think that Wingknut has a point. There is no doubt at all that Dunne carried out a great deal of valuable pioneering work but in the post WW1 world he was working well outside the mainstream or progressive sides of research and his influence was increasingly marginal. It is hard to attach the term Renaissance Man to his contribution, which is not a criticism, merely an observation. It is, after all, hard stay at the cutting edge of any technology. To be honest I feel that Barnes Wallis suffered from this too.
 

steelpillow

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That is fair comment at a technical level. But Dunne's contributions to aviation were as much behind the scenes, where today only archivists care to tread: he rose to high status in the Aeronautical Society, as all of Fellow, Committee member and leading activist. He contributed equally to the Aero Club's activities. What I have seen of his personal correspondence so far has opened the possibility that he remained influential at a more political level right up until his health finally stopped him in 1943. A man to whom a frantic Ministry in wartime writes to apologise, whose 1943 design closely foreshadows the lines of the DH.108, and who was still corresponding personally with Geoffrey de Havilland Sr. over the finer points of tailless jet aircraft in 1946, cannot casually be dismissed as "well outside the mainstream" of aeronautical developments. I prefer to keep an open mind and a research schedule for the remaining archives.

Many of Renaissance Man's most lauded achievements were at the time confined to personal correspondence and private notebooks - to the world, most of them were just talented artists or philosophers. I have barely started in on Dunne's notebooks: we shall have to wait and see.
 

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True, he had the ear of many but in terms of both theoretical and practical research in the post-WW1 world he was no longer a key player. Published research from the NPL, RAE and in RAeC papers do not appear to reference his work, at least not in any of those that I have read, but perhaps your research in the archives will prove otherwise. A number of interesting ideas, came forward in during WW2, but few could be taken forward; time, people and manufacturing priorities restricted that. If Dunne did propose new aircraft types then they would have had to take their place in the queue and be ranked alongside all the others, like, for example, Mayo's Composite ideas (see my thread on that subject)
I would not hold up the DH108 as a good example of where Dunne contributed. Even in an era of high attrition in advanced aircraft a 3-for-3 crash and fatality rate points to serious design issues.
Dunne stands out as one of the (few) pioneers pre-WW1 who approached aircraft design from a sound technical standpoint, and those who followed his progress and understood the thinking behind his work no doubt benefitted from it considerably. But devoid of a position with any of the major manufacturers or research establishments post-war he was certainly outside of the mainstream.
 

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The DH.108 suffered from aileron flutter. It was a mechanical issue arising due to the forces experienced at transonic speeds and nothing to do with the aerodynamic design. The fix on later craft was a more robust control system and stiffer wings.
 

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Instability in pitch leading the structural failure, then uncertain but loss of wing, then inverted spin following a stall. A little more than aileron flutter
 

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Schneiderman said:
Instability in pitch leading the structural failure, then uncertain but loss of wing, then inverted spin following a stall. A little more than aileron flutter
It seems you have yet to learn how transonic flight conditions can induce aileron flutter and hence divergent pitch oscillation and on to structural failure. Such divergent oscillation was often described as an "instability", especially before it was understood to be distinct from any conventional aerodynamic instability.

Eric "Winkle" Brown survived his encounter with the DH.108 because on a hunch he lowered the seat to the minimum, so that when the oscillations banged his head against the canopy he didn't break his neck (as Geoffrey DH Junior had done before him) and was able to recover the aircraft by cutting the throttle, taking his hands off the controls and letting its inherent stability re-establish itself. If you don't care to believe me, at least try to believe him.

If you have further questions on this, drop me a PM as we are getting off-topic.
 

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Yes, yes I am well aware of all that. The point to bear in mind is that if you want to make a case for Dunne's positive contribution to post WW2 tailless aircraft research the DH108 hardly makes a compelling case. Perhaps your research will uncover better examples
 

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Schneiderman said:
Yes, yes I am well aware of all that. The point to bear in mind is that if you want to make a case for Dunne's positive contribution to post WW2 tailless aircraft research the DH108 hardly makes a compelling case. Perhaps your research will uncover better examples
On the contrary, it is hard to think of a more compelling case. Three of Brown's colleagues were prepared to give their lives in order to gather that supremely significant test data. Imagine the motivation of that third pilot, climbing into a twice-killer cockpit to gather more of it. DH struggled with his own conscience before letting him, but the compelling importance of the machine won the day. Yes, it was that compelling.
 

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I think that this line is getting too heated. A lot of people had important input and test pilots put their lives on the line to prove or disprove various aspects. We need to remain level headed and not give into what is obviously our passions
 

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My latest visit has uncovered a deal more correspondence on Dunne' WWII effort to get his new ideas recognised. In the effort to set the record straight and update everybody on his work, he writes long letters which include a wealth of historical detail and clear up many old confusions.

There is one rather extraordinary letter from Dunne to Peter Masefield, editor of The Aeroplane magazine. He explains how he is working in secret on a new design and asks that, as a propaganda smokescreen, he be treated as some pedantic old has-been whose designs never amounted to anything. Writing at the end of 1941 he knew that both Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf were working on tailless designs and he did not want them to know that he himself was back in the game, for the Germans had a great deal of respect for his work.

Back in 1913 a very significant attempt had indeed been made to tempt him over to Lohner, but I don't know how his reputation had fared since. Whatever the reality behind his paranoia, The Aeroplane would have duly complied with his request. This may go some way to explaining the myth of his insignificance, still circulating today and seen in comments on this very thread.

By the way, for those interested in "Winkle" Brown's account of the DH.108 Swallow, it is given in:
Eric Brown; "An ill-fated 'Swallow': But a harbinger of summer", Air Enthusiast Ten, Pilot Press, 1979, Pages 1-7.
 
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Or he actually had become insignificant and was playing up his importance to Masefield by vague statements about top secret work. ::)
 

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jcf said:
Or he actually had become insignificant and was playing up his importance to Masefield by vague statements about top secret work.
I trust that possibility is covered by my qualifier as to "Whatever the reality behind his paranoia".

More interestingly, today I visited the National Archives at Kew to leaf through the records of the little-know Tailless Aircraft Advisory Committee, many of them marked SECRET. As ever, what little we know (chiefly from Sturtivant's British Research and Development Aircraft) is sometimes misleading or even wrong. For example Saro and de Havilland did not decline to take part, they were not invited to start with because they were not at the time involved. but the SBAC did canvass their opinions, and they wished the venture well. Once the "swept-wing Vampire" was underway after the war, DH were invited and did come on board - to great effect.

The scope of the TAAC's work covered many things - RAE and NPL research, all the known tailless projects around the world, along with laminar-flow (aka "low-drag") and in due course delta wings and jet power. It was they who sent a party out to Göttingen in 1945, to interview the Hortens and other researchers there. By 1948 the tailless remit had run its course and the high-speed swept-wing work was expanded to include tailed types: that meant the end of the TAAC and the birth of its replacement.
 

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The 14th November 1941 edition of The Aeroplane included an article entitled ‘Tailless Evolution’ of which about half the text is Dunne’s account of his early flights, originally written in 1933. I would suggest that the correspondence between Dunne and Masefield (just a journalist in the technical department at this date, not editor) was probably initiated while the article was being prepared.
C.G.Grey had a letter published in the 28th November edition querying the claim for flights of the D4 in 1908 made by the (unnamed) author of the article, and the editor wrote asking for further details from readers. There is nothing in the correspondence page of any of the following editions to suggest that Dunne replied.
There are also two follow-up articles in the 8th December edition, one for and the other against the benefits of tailless aircraft.
 

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Schneiderman said:
The 14th November 1941 edition of The Aeroplane included an article entitled ‘Tailless Evolution’ of which about half the text is Dunne’s account of his early flights, originally written in 1933. I would suggest that the correspondence between Dunne and Masefield (just a journalist in the technical department at this date, not editor) was probably initiated while the article was being prepared.
C.G.Grey had a letter published in the 28th November edition querying the claim for flights of the D4 in 1908 made by the (unnamed) author of the article, and the editor wrote asking for further details from readers. There is nothing in the correspondence page of any of the following editions to suggest that Dunne replied.
There are also two follow-up articles in the 8th December edition, one for and the other against the benefits of tailless aircraft.

Dunne certainly wrote on 2 December, to comment on some mistakes made by Grey. I intend to go and have a read through the relevant back numbers at some point. Perhaps Masefield was a sub-editor or Dunne was mistaken.

What was Dunne's account "originally written in 1933"? His standard account was written in 1913. Was it originally published in The Aeroplane or elsewhere?
 

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Sorry, my statement was a bit misleading. What I should have said was, published in 1933. Apparently it was included in Dallas Brett's book "History of British Aviation 1908 - 1914" but reading Dunne's words I imagine it was taken from notes he wrote at the time of the flights.
Editor of Aeroplane in 1941 was Edwin Shepherd, who took over in 1939 when C.G.Grey 'retired'.
 

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Schneiderman said:
Sorry, my statement was a bit misleading. What I should have said was, published in 1933. Apparently it was included in Dallas Brett's book "History of British Aviation 1908 - 1914" but reading Dunne's words I imagine it was taken from notes he wrote at the time of the flights.
Brett's book was culled entirely from the pages of Flight and comprised mainly news items. He reproduces Dunne's account of the first formally witnessed flight of a stable aeroplane, the D.5, in front of Orville Wright (who was also representing the Aeronautical Society) in 1910. I can find no other personal account by Dunne in it to verify your description of "early flights" (plural), although there are errors in the Indexes so I may have missed something. Dunne did give other accounts elsewhere, both published and to be found only in archives. Perhaps some of these were also reproduced. Anyway, we'll see when I get to the journal in question.
 

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