Erik Lund blogs about the P-51 Mustang and wonders why the British bought so many aircraft from US West Coast companies. Well, he should read back through his own blog and remember that the Liberator worked when Curtiss-San Diego built it and the problems began when Ford tried. But anyway. Lund:
It is a little hard to divine Harry Self’s intent here. March of 1940 was an exceedingly loose time; the British had a preference for making planes in California, for whatever reason. Most importantly, probably, North American was already one of the Air Ministry’s preferred customers, thanks to their Harvard order. The Air Ministry was thoroughly “inside” North American, having intervened to introduce a retractile undercarriage. I am not seeing any sign of an RAF engineer officer’s memoir entitled I Spent World War II in LA Liaising With the Aviation Industry And Getting A Really Good Tan, but there probably wouldn’t be.
Well, I don’t know about the memoir but I can identify the man. About the end of the second week of July 1942, Frank Whittle was somewhere in the LA area after five weeks of technical consultations from GE Schenectady to Curtiss, and the stress is sending him up the walls. It was probably telling a US Navy-sponsored turboprop project at an unnamed plant in the area that they were doing it wrong that brought about a crisis. Whittle is advised to take a couple of weeks’ leave, and heads for a hotel in Santa Monica for “sun, rest, etc.”
Being the chippy autodidact/engineer/test pilot he was, Whittle gets bored and anxious and stir crazy and decides to crack on with more engine development. Enter Group Captain Adams RAF, described as “in charge of the Beverly Hills office of the British Air Commission”, who asks for 24 hours and sends him to a party at the home of one Edward Hillman, Jr, who greets Whittle in his swimming trunks, presses chicken noodle soup on him, encourages him to relax, and spends the rest of the party on the phone. At least some of the phoning is to his wife, June, described as a British dancer, who needs some persuading to show up. Whittle notes that he seemed to be surrounded by film stars, and gets chucked into the swimming pool around 3 am. I read between the lines that June eventually did rock up and she had something to do with it. He stuck around for the next 10 days without remembering much, or at least much that he wanted to put in his memoir. At any rate he cheered up.
Hillman? Well, that’s less obvious than you might think. This guy, who Wikipedia considers interesting because he married Marian Nixon, who then left him for her director in We’re Rich Again. Apparently he picked a father who owned a department store in Chicago, a good decision.
As well as having inherited the controlling stake in the Cunard Line, Inverclyde had himself married a retail heiress, Olivia Sainsbury, before he met her. It certainly puts a special light on the title of We’re Rich Again. His Wikigloss says he left Cunard to the professionals because he had no business sense. Tu parles.
He also got shot with the Scots Guards during the first world war and got gangrene, recovered, and survived the German air strike on the Lancastrian during the second British evacuation from France in 1940. He sounds more interesting than Hillman, a cipher except for his wives, but I reckon June Tripp probably tells us he was also an epic pain.
Which leaves us with the question – who was this Group Captain Adams?
And the book? Well, I have this Pan Giant copy of Whittle’s memoir I basically stole from a backpacker hostel in Christchurch, New Zealand, years ago. They’ve still got my hat, if the earthquake didn’t get them, so we’re quits.