Airborne lifeboat at the Museum of the Broads. Notice
the unusual Saildrive engine it used on a stand in front,
and also the Norfolk punt on display beneath. Click on
the photo for a larger image
This airborne lifeboat is one of the Museum of the Broads’ great treasures. Note the Saildrive engine on a stand just in front of the boat – I gather many of these were volunteered by yachtsmen for use in the the airborne lifeboats, which couldn’t use anything else.
These boats were designed to save the lives of bomber aircraft crew – if a crew ditched in the sea and could be found, a bomber aircraft would drop one of these in the hope that the men below would be able to climb into the boat and sail or motor it home. In practice they saved many lives and made something of a hero out of the the inventor.
After the war, along with many other bits of war surplus equipment they were often bought for small sums and and converted into something more conventional – in this case they often became fully rigged sailing boats, and were frequently used for racing. You can’t keep a good Uffa Fox hull down, can you?
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Poster showing lifeboat equipment. Click on the photo
for a larger image
Uffa Fox’s Airborne Lifeboat rigged for sailing – image
from Wikipedia Commons via Ian Dunster
Keith Muscott recently wrote this entertaining short history of Uffa Fox’s Airborne Lifeboat for members of the excellent Yahoogroup Openboat, and has been kind enough to give me permission to publish it here. Many thanks Keith!
‘Uffa Fox became obsessed with the notion of a ‘droppable’ lifeboat following the capture of his stepson Bobbie Sach after a ditching. His first idea was a folding boat that could be dropped straight from a low-flying aircraft. He soon realized the impracticality of this, and moved on to consider parachuting it into the oggin. It was to be made of small panels of plywood, which would be opened up by the parachutes as the whole parcel descended. Legend has it that he dropped the first model from a top floor window and converted the drinkers in the Duke of York to teetotalism when they saw it float down. Folding plywood panels were soon discarded in the light of experience.
‘That idea was dropped in favour of carrying the complete craft in the belly of a plane, which was to be an American Hudson (already in use for air-sea rescue). Subsequently they discovered that the bomb door jacks took up too much room for the boat to be carried in the bomb bay, so it was back to the drawing board to design a boat which was streamlined enough to hang outside like a torpedo without completely ruining the air flow. Uffa secured the go-ahead from Lord Brabazon, who subsequently got a rocket from those above for allowing himself to cave in so quickly under the influence of Fox’s silver tongue.
‘Uffa designed the final version one-eighth full-size, 1.5 ins to the foot, and ran off dozens of copies so that many draughtsmen could work on it simultaneously. The lines were lofted then the builders set to work: three weeks in all from pencil lines to waterlines. The hull was built with traditional diagonal planking – two layers of opposing diagonals, one straight planks fore and aft separating them, if I remember correctly. There would probably have been oiled silk or some such material between layers.
‘The test pilot in the Hudson would only fly the first test with the boat attached if Uffa went along too Continue reading “Uffa Fox’s great and lasting memorial – the Airborne Lifeboat”