If rough seas hold danger for mariners, cloud can be equally hazardous to airmen. The development of meteorology and aircraft sophistication seem to have progressed in tandem, with airmen increasingly spending large portions of their training understanding the weather and the effects it could have on their aircraft. Tonight we are looking at a cloud atlas produced for the RAF in 1950, albeit a reprint of a wartime publication:This book was property of West Leeds High School Combined Cadet Force, as evidenced by the stamp on the cover:Inside the book different cloud types are illustrated, with notes for aviators set out alongside them:The page on the left shows there are ten types of cloud and rates them as to their use or danger to the airmen. The book illustrates cloud types from both above and below in the views most likely to be seen by pilots:These individual articles give much greater detail as to the effects of the cloud on different aircraft types. The back of the book includes a number of diagrams indicating how different weather fronts interact to produce different sorts of cloud:Brian Soper flew on Lancasters during the war and explained the problems of flying through cloud:
I remember several trips where we thought we would never get out of cloud, climbing up sometimes over ten to twelve thousand feet, occasionally breaking through to find another layer above. It was like flying through dense fog knowing a hundred others were somewhere very close. On one such trip we also had an intercom failure which could not be traced. Without intercom on the Lanc, the noise of the engines made it impossible to communicate. For a time the navigator had to pass courses to the pilot on paper. The problem was eventually solved; we did at last come out above the cloud and climbed to our normal height, 20 — 20,000 feet. On a good night we could make 23,000ft.
Clouds were normally a good place to hide form enemy aircraft, but not always as Goronwy Edwards relates:
I wish to lay claim to a unique experience – that of an air combat fought in the middle of a cloud, and at ranges varying from ten to twenty-five yards.
On 22nd June 1940, as the pilot of a Hudson aircraft of Coastal Command, I was escorting one of our naval cruisers off the coast of Norway when I intercepted a German flying boat which was shadowing the ship. I engaged it immediately, but it escaped into the cloud layer a few hundred feet above.
The Dornier was an unusual design of aircraft, its two engines being mounted in tandem, one pulling, the other pushing. And the two gunners’ cockpits were open, so that the gunners wore helmets and black leather protective clothing against the cold.
I followed into the cloud in the hope that it would break cover on top, where I could have another go at it, and for the first few seconds was busy checking the blind-flying and engine instruments, to trim the aircraft before engaging the automatic pilot to maintain a steady rate of climb. Satisfied that all was in order, I was reaching out to engage the autopilot when something made me look ahead through the windscreen.
I had the shock of my life to see the Dornier about 30 yards ahead of me, and slightly off to one side. In a one in a billion chance, I’d followed directly in his track!
The white fog of the cloud softened everything, so the aircraft seemed twice its size, and incredibly sinister. And the midships gunner saw me at the same time as I saw him. Clad in his black leathers and goggles, he looked like an executioner as he went for his gun and swung the muzzle towards my head.