Aircraft Engine Development
By the time that flying began at Point Cook in 1914, aeroplane engines had evolved from one-off designs into factory-produced units of up to 80 horsepower. Configurations of these engines varied, but one of the most common during World War I was the rotary engine, which had the entire crankcase of the engine fixed to the propeller, and the crankshaft attached to the aircraft itself. Although providing excellent cooling, this arrangement had many drawbacks, and by the birth of the RAAF in 1921, in-line and radial engines had become the most common for aircraft. The RAAF's first fighter aircraft, the SE5a, was fitted with a liquid-cooled V8 engine of 200hp, and had a top speed of 202 km/h.
In the lead-up to World War II, the piston engine was developed at a rapid rate. Air racing in Europe and the USA resulted in high power outputs, and endurance flights across the world improved the reliability of engine designs. With war on the horizon, a new generation of engines and aircraft were in development, and fighters such as the Spitfire and Kittyhawk were capable of speeds in excess of 600 km/h, a vast leap from the fighters of World War I. Possibly one of the most famous engines of this period was the Rolls-Royce Merlin, an advanced V12 engine that was producing up to 2200 hp by the end of the war, and in RAAF Service powered the Spitfire, Mustang, Mosquito and Lincoln, among other types. In parallel with in-line engines, the radial engine also progressed, and the two 1400hp 14-cylinder Wright Cyclones of the Douglas Boston gave the aircraft a top speed of 480 km/h, quite considerable for a bomber aircraft.
But in 1939, a development occurred in Germany that would make all of these advances obsolete for military aviation. Just three days before the outbreak of World War II, the first jet aircraft flew, and by the end of the war, both sides had developed the first generation of jet fighter. One of the RAAF's earliest jets was the De Havilland Vampire, and although relatively underpowered, it was capable of a top speed of over 880 km/h, far in excess of the fastest propeller-driven aircraft. In 1955, only eight years after the Vampire entered service, the Australian-built Avon Sabre became the RAAF's first aircraft capable of breaking sound barrier (Mach 1), albeit in a dive. By 1964, the RAAF had received its first Mach 2 fighter, the Dassault Mirage III, whose Atar engine was fitted with an afterburner to increase thrust.
For all-out speed, the jet engine seemed to be the answer to an aircraft designer's dreams. However, for less glamorous tasks such as training and transport, another type of engine was developed. Using jet-engine technology combined with the low-speed efficiency of the propeller, the turboprop engine was developed soon after World War II, and evolved into the turboshaft, as fitted to helicopters such as the ubiquitous UH-1 Iroquois. These engines used a turbine to drive either rotors or propellers, and replaced all but a few of the piston engines in RAAF service.
Since the earliest days of military flying, pilots and crews have been presented with increasingly complex information regarding their aircraft and the mission at hand. The trainee pilot flying a Bristol Boxkite at Point Cook in 1914 could not in his wildest dreams imagine the multi-function displays and cathode ray tube instrumentation fitted to today's F/A-18 Hornet fighter. In fact, these early pioneers had nothing other than their own senses to guide them, giving rise to the phrase 'flying by the seat of your pants'. It was for this reason that it was suggested that a good horseman would become a good pilot, as they would be well in touch with the behaviour of their steed.
As aircraft rapidly developed during World War I, aircraft cockpits began to fill with all manner of controls and instruments. Early radios also began to appear in aircraft, replacing hand-written notes dropped to friendly forces on the ground. But it was not until the onset of World War II that avionics (aviation electronics) began to develop into the essential equipment that it has become today. Radios became standard equipment, and some aircraft were even fitted with radar, allowing detection of targets on the ground, at sea and in the air. Cockpits became more and more cluttered, leading the British to develop a standardised 'Blind Flying' panel, grouping six essential instruments into a set pattern, ensuring that flying at night or in bad weather was made as easy as possible.
Following World War II, avionics development kept pace with other fields such as aerodynamics and propulsion. Radar soon spawned electronic counter-measures, which were designed to confuse enemy radars and allow attacking aircraft safer passage. Navigational aids allowed pilots to follow 'highways' in the sky, ensuring accuracy and safety for civilian and military flying. Pilots soon became systems operators for ever more complex systems, fitted into increasingly smaller cockpits.
It was not until the late 1970s that the layout and user friendliness of these systems was considered of great importance to flight performance. Soon, 'TV screen' displays replaced large numbers of analogue gauges, and head-up displays (HUDs) projected flight information directly in front of the pilot's view, allowing greater situational awareness and higher effectiveness.
Today's most advanced aircraft are more akin to flying computers, and are packed solid with 'black boxes' to control nearly all functions of the aircraft, including the connection between the pilot's hands and the flight controls themselves.
At the beginning of World War I, the aeroplane was viewed by the world's generals and admirals as a mere curiosity. However, it was soon seen to be a very effective observation platform, and could provide the commander in the field with vital information on the movements and disposition of his enemy. Very soon, preventing these observation flights became vital, and the fighter aircraft was born.
Initially, pilots and their observers would carry rifles and pistols aboard their aircraft, but heavier weapons were required to inflict significant damage on the fragile aircraft of the era. The machine gun was selected as the weapon of choice, and fighter aircraft were designed around their new armament, which progressively increased in its effectiveness and weight. Fighters became heavier, requiring more powerful engines, which in turn increased the speed of the aircraft, beginning the cycle for more powerful weapons to defeat these faster targets. By the end of World War I, fighter aircraft such as the SE5a carried two 0.303" (7.7mm) machine guns and were capable of speeds in excess of 320 km/h (200 mph). Barely 20 years later, fighters such as the Spitfire and Hurricane carried eight such guns (Browning 0.303"), at twice the speed of the biplanes of World War I.
As World War II progressed, fighters began carrying heavier calibre machine guns, such as the Browning 0.5" (12.5mm) machine gun, and early aircraft cannons like the Hispano 20mm. These weapons were designed to take down large bomber aircraft with a minimum of bullets fired, and were very effective against other fighters or ground targets. These weapons typified the standard weapons carried by fighter aircraft through to the late 1950s.
Immediately following the end of World War II, great technical advances took place as a result of advanced research carried out by a number of countries. For fighter aircraft, the most significant development was in the field of guided weapons. Air-to-air missiles went from science fiction to operational service, replacing the gun as the primary weapon, and threatened to replace the fighter itself by the mid-1960s. During this period, two developments of a World War II German aircraft cannon, the Mauser MG213, were in RAAF service. The Australian version of the Sabre was fitted with two 30mm ADEN cannons from Britain, and the Mirage carried two of the French 30mm DEFA cannons. These weapons utilised a revolver design to increase the rate of fire, a system pioneered by the Mauser MG213.
American experience in the Vietnam War guaranteed the future of the gun for modern fighter aircraft. The original versions of the F-4 Phantom were not fitted with an internal gun, and there were many occasions where this would have allowed greater success during this conflict. The F-4E was redesigned to include the new General Electric M61 Vulcan 20mm six-barrel cannon, a weapon that was and is fitted as standard to the F-111, F/A-18 and many other modern US fighters. In RAAF service, the gun pack as displayed was fitted in the bomb bay of the F-111, but was replaced in the 1980s by a precision targeting system called Pave Tack. The Vulcan is still fitted to the RAAF's F/A-18 fleet.
Aircrews carry a wide variety of survival equipment in the event of a crash or forced landing. Some of these items are to provide for the comfort and survival of the crew, and others are for use when forced down in hostile territory. In aircraft fitted with ejection seats, the majority of this equipment is carried in the Personal Survival Pack (PSP), located in the base of the seat. Items such as first aid kits, drinking water, signal flares, life rafts and emergency flying rations are typically carried on all aircraft, and provide for the survival of the crew until rescue can be coordinated.
For operations in enemy territory, aircrew carry small compasses, maps and personal weapons to enable escape and evasion from enemy forces.
For an aircraft crew forced down, communications equipment is vital to enable long-term survival. Since World War II, technology has enabled the development of smaller and more effective survival radios to allow communication with potential rescuers or other members of the crew.
The objects in this display show a range of survival equipment ranging from World War II to the present day.