Probus Hears About Birds & Planes


The president of the Basingstoke Ladies’ Probus Club, Mrs Val Hayter was the guest of honour at the meeting on Tuesday 11 February.

The speaker was member Stephen Thair and his subject was “Birds and Planes”


What’s the connection between birds and planes? Quite a lot actually as retired solicitor Stephen Thair, a resident of Old Basing, and a member of the Probus Club of Basingstoke, outlined to Probus Club members how he has made a study of this over many years. He combined his dual interests of bird watching and aviation and easily makes the connection between these two flying objects – one ornithological and the other aeronautical.

Align these with extensive travel for holidays in exotic climes and working for some years in Papua New Guinea with a trusty camera readily to hand means he has a plethora of both bird and plane photographs.

Many types of sea birds have an aircraft named after them. Gannets, for instance, some with 6-foot wingspans, are famed for diving into the sea at great speed. In the 1950s the Fairey Aviation Company built an anti-submarine plane with contra-rotating twin propellers which gave it both high power and economy of use if one engine was switched off. They later built an airborne early warning version. The name of this plane was, of course, the Gannet. Fairey also built a naval fighter with a crew of two fitted with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine that was called the Fulmar.

Gulls abound throughout the world and in recognition of their flight capabilities, the Percival Aircraft Company constructed their Gull series of high-performance light aircraft in the 1930s, including the Vega Gull aircraft. The Mew Gull was a racing aircraft which flew from the UK to South Africa and back in 4 1/2 days, a record that stood for seventy years.

Some gliders can be seen at Lasham airfield that have gull shaped wings but probably the most famous plane that had this design, although with an inverted gull wing, was the WW2 German Stuka Dive Bomber. There was also a US Navy fighter called the Corsair that had the same wing configuration.

The male Blackbird with its yellow beak is part of the Thrush family and its aeronautical namesake is the American Lockheed Company’s Blackbird SR 71A spy plane which could fly at Mach 3+ and attain an altitude of 85,000 feet. This was necessary for its reconnaissance role before the advent of satellites. This plane was so successful that it is rumoured that it was targeted by 1,000 missiles without being hit. Those readers of a certain age will remember that that was not the case when Francis Gary Powers, in 1960, was shot down in his U2 spy plane over Russia. The name U2 being chosen to create an impression of a utility aircraft rather than the high altitude spy plane it actually was.

Britain only has one type of Kingfisher with striking blue and green plumage although throughout the world there are 86 species. The Museum of the Revolution in Havana Cuba houses a Vought Kingfisher aircraft which made a forced landing on a beach in 1958 while being used against Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries. They captured the aircraft and used it against the government forces that had previously operated it.

52 50 Vought OS2U Kingfisher - Museo de la Revolucion (4)
The Vought Kingfisher aircraft in the Havanna museum

Papua New Guinea, on the other hand, has 39 varieties of Birds of Paradise, the males of which have distinctive coloured plumage. Papua New Guineans traditionally use the Bird of paradise feathers in their headdress, partly as a demonstration of their prowess with a bow and arrow.

My beautiful picture
Bird of Paradise plumage in the headdress of Papua New Guineans

The world-famous RAF Red Arrows display team use a training aircraft, the BAE Hawk, to great effect. Stephen commented, “Their previous mount, the Folland Gnat was named after an insect, as were many other planes, but that could be the subject for another talk on another occasion”.