Several readers of this blog quite justifiably complain that I moan too much.
I agree, and I apologise. It’s partly due to being a grumpy old man (it comes with the territory) and partly due to the appalling state of the picture buying market, with some users (or thieves, as we like to call them) feigning astonishment that pictures have to be paid for.
So to please you all (and me) here is a cheerful mystery with a happy ending (and I’ve added a link to another wonderful, heart-warming story at the end of this blog). I have always maintained that fotoLibra’s contributors, as well as being gifted, talented, artistic and creative, are a really pleasant bunch of people. It’s a joy to work with you all.
This was brought home to me again this week when prolific fotoLibra contributor Geoff France uploaded an historic image of a Folland Gnat (that’s an aircraft, for the benefit of Jacqui Norman). Here it is:
Our Aviation Guru, Colin Smedley, checks and edits all aviation images uploaded to fotoLibra and he queried the serial number of the plane. This is what he asked:
Can you get someone to look at the large image and tell me what the aircraft’s serial number is please? It is on the rear fuselage near the tailplane and looks like XS10?.
We looked, and looked, and looked, but could we see a number? No, we couldn’t. We told Colin:
We’ve downloaded this image of a Folland Gnat but can’t see a serial number near the tailplane.
This has got to be the greatest fotoLibra mystery of all time! [well — a pardonable exaggeration …]
Fact: From the keywords we know the picture was taken in 1974 in Telford town centre where the Gnat was part of an RAF display.
Fact: We can see from the picture the display was in a car park.
Fact: The aircraft is painted in the colour scheme of “The Red Arrows”.
Fact: RAF Cosford is not far from Telford.
Fact: In 1973 a batch of redundant Gnats was delivered to RAF Cosford for instructional duties.
Fact: Some of these aircraft were in “The Red Arrows” paint scheme. It seems reasonable to assume from the evidence that the Gnat pictured was one of this batch.
Fact: Some of this batch delivered to RAF Cosford had serial numbers in the XR9?? and XS1?? ranges.
Fact: In the small image displayed on the fotoLibra image page there are what appear to be some digits on the side of the Gnat. These appear in the bottom of the vertical stroke of the letter R in the FotoLibra watermark. One of these digits looks to me to be an S or a 9.
Fact: In the large image you sent to me there is no trace of a serial number.
So in the RAF jargon of the time, WHIH? (pronounced WHee-ee? – What the Hell Is Happening?)
So we asked the photographer if he could help, and he replied:
Unfortunately I only have this photo and no other details than I put in the keywords. Cosford is the most likely source – Shawbury is the only other local RAF Base. There is a number on the side but magnifying does not help. There is also a badge just behind the air intake which seems fairly clear.
I can try to scan it again at a higher resolution. I could also email the original scan to you if you want to try putting it through Photoshop.
And then the answer came — from Colin:
I opened the big image in Photoshop, increased the contrast and transferred it to my special image enhancing software. Red Arrows Gnat serials were always difficult to make out in monochrome as they were painted in blue on the red basic colour. Anyway out of the morass of grain I could just make out what looked like “69”.
I went back to the complete image for another look and there were the clues I had missed before jumping off the screen at me. The Gnat’s nose appeared too short and there was no nose-tip landing light! This has to be a picture of XM693!!
XM693 was the first prototype Gnat T.1. It had a short nose because it was converted from an uncompleted single-seat F.1 airframe, It was never fitted with the nose light that equipped all production machines. After a brief flight test career, which included the 1960 SBAC Show (where I photographed it), it was given to RAF St Athan Boy Entrants School where it was used as an instructional airframe until 1968. It then went to the RAF Exhibition Flight who painted it in Red Arrows colours and dragged it around shows and fetes all over the country for the next ten years or so.
There we have it – the answer was under my nose all the time.
Now we have to find out what Colin’s special image enhancing software is, and why he’s keeping it to himself.
This is a wonderful example of the attention to metadata detail that characterises fotoLibra, and I don’t for a minute expect that anyone would get that level of care from a microstock agency.
It’s real exchanges like this with real people that make working at fotoLibra so enjoyable. If you have been with us a while you may remember this orchid exchange from some years back — and if you don’t, please read it; it is an absolute classic.