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We have seen that nose art has a long and distinguished history on military (and sometimes civil) aircraft, the British Overseas Airways Corporation's 'Speedbird' symbol was universally recognized, as was the 'Flying Tigers' sharkmouth on their P-40s. The rule of thumb seems to be that individual pilots place special art work on the nose first, along the fuselage second and on the tail last! This, of course, does not take into account the almost mandatory adornment of company symbols on the tails of airliners (and all over the rest of the aircraft, too) and that military units, like United States Navy jet squadrons carried distinctive tail markings.

Here is a splendid example of artwork at the opposite end of a civil aircraft – tail art, no less. This painting of a rhinoceros adorns a smartly turned-out example of the rare Auster J5R Alpine. During the 1950s a whole multitude of Auster variants were produced almost by a process of ‘mix and match’. In this case, you took the fuselage of an Auster Aiglet Trainer, which had been re-stressed to take the pounding of Service training - the type was used by the Pakistani Air Force - the wings from a J-1 Autocrat, added a De Havilland Gipsy Major 10 engine (130hp) driving a Fairey Reed A679 two-bladed metal propeller, stirred it all about and, voila~ a J5R Alpine. Only six of this variant were built, plus four others with lower-powered Gipsy Major 1 engines, as the J5Q Alpine.

This close up, taken from an unusual angle, allows some design details, typical of a Rearsby-built Auster, to be seen. If you look at the extreme left of the picture, you can just make out the start of a vertical strip of aluminium (painted red, of course), this is the trim tab, which compensates for any slight tendency for the aircraft to drift slightly away - left or right - when the rudder is neutral (assuming you are in 'no wind' conditions, of course. All you do is simply 'tweak' that strip slightly in the opposite direction to the yaw, and you are not having to try to correct with the rudder pedal all the time. The bad news is that it is only adjustable on the ground. (Magic isn't it, that something so small should have such an effect). You can also see the bracing wires above the tailplanes - there are others below too, which take up aerodynamic loads. The aircraft would have been originally covered in high quality Irish linen fabric - although modern alternatives are quite acceptable - secured to the ribs by 'No 1 Aircraft Cord, well beeswaxed' with stitches being no more than 1 1/2 inches apart for the first 5 inches, then wider after that! To prevent chaffing of the linen against the ribs, a layer of tape was glued to the each rib before the fabric was put on. Those lines you can see on the elevators and rudder are the tapes attached to the ribs. The fabric was 'tautened' by applying red 'dope', and then given two coats of aluminium undercoat to protect against UV damage to the fabric, before finish painting. A long process, which required several different skills. All this has been superceded on some Austers by the use of modern Cenconite skinning, which is tautened by the application of heat from a calibrated clothing iron!

If you look up the length of the fuselage, you can see a strange tube-like device. This is the venturi which is used to generate a vacuum, which in turn is used to 'power' several of the instruments. The vacuum is created by forcing air through a 'convergent/divergent' nozzle, and is an an alternative to vacuum created at the engine inlet manifold (which can be 'tapped', at this point). As an aside, I remember owning a 1953 Ford whose windshield wipers were powered by vacuum, and when you ascended a steep hill in rain, they practically came to a stop, just when you needed a clear windshield!

You can just make out the Pitot tube under the port wing, that vital arbiter of airspeed, and the two little rounded 'bumps' on the top surface of the wing are the glass gauges of the wing-root fuel tanks, a feature of the J5 models. One last, classic design element; if you look under the rudder, you can just make out that the tailwheel is connected to the aircraft by a 'quarter elliptic' leaf spring, harking back to the earliest days of automotive engineering.

G-ANXC was built in 1953, and had a hard life crop spraying in the hands of Crop Culture (Aerial) Ltd out of Bembridge Airport on the Isle of Wight until it was exported in 1959. It is now in the capable stewardship of Richard Webber and The Alpine Group of Blandford Forum, and a jolly good job they make of looking after this smart lady.

Oh, and the lovely rhino of the starboard side of this 1953 gem? Well the aircraft was sold onto the Kenyan Register as 5Y-UBD, until her return to the U.K. in 1983 – hence the rhino - and I am sorry I can't show you the OTHER side of the rudder, because that is adorned with an elephant! All in all a really great example of a 1950s classic, taken not long after the sun had risen, at the Great Vintage Flying Weekend, Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

Originally posted to Kossack Air Force on Wed May 08, 2013 at 09:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Aviation & Pilots.

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