There have been a number of consequences of our attendance at the LAA Rally.
The first is the Justin Adams and Lynn Williams have taken an interest in the project. Lynn Williams, as I said, is the designer of the Flitzer biplane series, and is very well-read about aviation history. He’s also a considerable aviation artist, so his input has been very enlightening.
Justin Adams works with Lynn to produce models of the Flitzer range in X-Plane. If you haven’t come across it, X-Plane is a serious flight simulator program which, unlike others, calculates the characteristics of an aircraft from first principles, and is thus a pretty good predictor of how an aircraft will actually behave in the air.
Justin has taken the Scout under his wing and produced the first accurate modelling of the Scout in X-Plane, and says he is absolutely delighted with its performance and handling. I’m hoping to have a go at it shortly. It certainly looks the part!
I’ve also had a CD full of images from historian Vic Flintham relating to RNAS pilots J Starke Brown and Horace Buss, who were flying at Imbros. The pictures are mostly ones I haven’t seen before, and although there aren’t any of 1264, they most definitely add to the overall picture of life at Imbros at the time.
And we’ve received the replica Lewis gun. It’s mostly made of wood, but the overall impression is absolutely excellent, and it’s going to look great mounted on the side of the fuselage. It was made by Relics, who specialise in film replicas of weapons, and this certainly fits the bill.
Despite getting to Sywell before the gates were open, we spent the entire day talking to interested people. It’s hard now to remember all the wonderfully interesting people we came across, but Vic Flintham, a historian, said he might have pictures taken at Imbros during Granddad’s time there, and a lovely Lithuanian couple spent a long time going through the details of construction as they were going through the same process with a Sopwith Camel.
And Geoffrey New, an ex-Vulcan and commercial pilot, has a stand with the bits from the very first airliner – an Avro 504L which was a three-seat conversion of the wartime training aircraft. The machine was found absolutely intact, including the pilot’s goggles and helmet, and he is restoring to flying condition. On the stand he had the 110hp le Rhone engine and a number of parts being restored or rebuilt as necessary.
And there were the plane spotters. We had a large publicity display detailing the origins of the project and you might have thought that the unusual engine and spectacular propeller might have elicited some sort of reaction, but these guys were only interested in one thing; G-FDHB. Once it was recorded in their little notebook, they wandered off, oblivious to everything else. Sue was cruel; she made them read the whole of the display before she would tell them the registration!
About midday Rick and Marian joined us on the stand so that we could take turns to look round the rest of the stands and meet other people we knew.
The day flew by; Sue went to the Pilot’s Lounge at regular intervals for tea and burgers, and sometimes we got a couple of minutes free to eat them.
The film crew from the Rally did an interview and were filmed in their turn by Jack Morrow.
In no time at all, the day was over, and we headed over to one of the hangars done out for the evening do. There had been a certain amount of hinting about prizes during the day (‘Will anyone be at the prizegiving this evening?’) but we were absolutely delighted to be awarded the Albert Codling Trophy for the best part-built project.
After that we retired to the hotel bar where Geoffrey New regaled us with stories of flying the Vulcan, and of being hijacked when he was captain of a Boeing 727 on an internal flight in the Yemen. Wonderful stuff!
The Sunday was more of the same; more wonderful people, more telling of the story and demonstrating the primitive safety belt. Robin Morton, another expert in veteran aircraft, said that apparently Avros decided that a seat belt was a good idea, after so many pilots were thrown out of the aircraft by turbulence, but pilots were averse to being fully restrained, so they introduced an elasticated one!
Just as the show was coming to an end, we were approached by Lynn Williams, designer of the fabulous Flitzer range of aircraft, and one of the unsung heroes of the homebuilt aircraft movement in the UK. He’s also the brother of the legendary Neil Williams, who was the best aerobatic pilot of his day, and once saved his own life during a practice for an aerobatic competition when the wing spar of his Zlin cracked, and the wing started to fold up. Neil turned the aircraft upside down so that the wing snapped back into place, He glided down, and – flipped it upright again just as he landed. He did this so precisely that his wingtip gouged a 30 yard mark in the grass, but he landed the aircraft on its belly and it was able to be repaired!
Lynn was very complimentary about the Scout, and introduced us to Justin Adams, an expatriate X-Plane enthusiast, who promised to model the Scout in X-Plane, which should give us a reasonable estimate of an acceptable range for the centre of gravity – something we have no information about so far. And of course we should be able to try flying it ourselves on a computer to get used to it before we do the real thing…
We were concerned that dismantling and getting it home would take forever, and we weren’t allowed to start until the show closed at 1615, but in the event it all went very smoothly.
We were interrupted once by an ear-shattering noise, which proved to be caused by the four Merlin engines of the BBMF Lancaster doing a low fly-by at high power. Awesome!
First day of the Rally, and we got there well ahead of the opening time to finish off the last of the rigging and get all the publicity material ready.
Then, just before the punters arrived, Rupert Wasey of Hercules propellers popped his head round the corner from the adjacent marquee with the propeller, finally finished. Well, we had to fit it of course, and Jack had his camera at the ready. It only took a moment to fasten the bolts enough to hold it securely in place, but I have to admit I felt a great lump in the throat as we did so. It’s quite astonishing how the propeller adds the finishing touch to the whole thing and brings it alive.
That done, I deserted Theo and Sue and headed off with Jack and his assistant Izzy to Hendon in north London. We were going to Tony Stairs, who had finished the rewind and servicing of Granddad’s Bosch magneto. When we arrived, another chap was also collecting magnetos – these for a 1923 Delage racing car that he was in the process of restoring. On the floor were a couple of magnetos for a Griffon-engined Spitfire, so our little Bosch seemed quite mundane by comparison. Tony does all his work in the shed at the bottom of the garden, and it’s so small Jack had real difficulty fitting the camera inside!
Back at Sywell, the magneto – which looks simply immaculate, having been lovingly painted and polished in addition to all the laborious (and much more important) work of rewinding the coil and checking the rest of the internals – was admired and photographed before being bolted into place on the engine where it looked quite at home.
The rest of the day – indeed much of the rest of the Rally – was a blur as we talked ourselves hoarse going through the details of the project with the many, many people who were good enough to show an interest. All of them, without exception, had to stroke that astonishing propeller with its satin lacquer finish and genuine original Bristol logo. They all admired the markings stamped into the propeller boss, just like the Shuttleworth original. Rupert had even taken the trouble to source some original metal letter stamps so that the markings are in the original sized letters in the original serif font.
We also took pains to show everyone the filler cap – an original Rotherham’s no. 3 – which Ian Harris had sourced for the oil tank and we made sure to point out that this was likely to be the last opportunity to see his magnificent workmanship on it, since it would shortly be completely boxed in for ever.
In the process, we came across countless numbers of like-minded people who are involved with early aviation; either building or researching. Vic Flintham is an historian who approached us saying that he had photographs of Imbros during the period of Granddad’s service there, and were we interested? Geoffrey New owns the very first airliner, a post-war Avro 504L converted from a two-seat trainer to a passenger plane capable of taking a pilot and two passengers.
So it was no wonder that the three of us – Theo, Sue and myself – look a little worn down in this picture at the end of the day!
Theo came north with the flying surfaces in order to check that they still fitted now they were covered in fabric. They did, but it wasn’t straightforward; we had to spend a good deal of time removing dope from the boltholes, and the fabric seemed to have affected the alignment in mysterious ways. Nevertheless, it all went together, and on the Wednesday we managed to get the leather cockpit padding roll fitted, which makes a big difference to the visual appearance.
It was sunny, so we rolled it outside with everything assembled and take photos of each other looking very pleased with ourselves, and I said how important it was to do this in case if fell off the trailer.
We also took delivery of said trailer – or at least the flatbed part of it. This was absolutely essential if we were going to get to the LAA Rally at Sywell in time, and it arrived in the nick of time looking very smart.
We put the wings in Theo’s trailer and got the fuselage satisfactorily fixed to the flatbed and wrapped in tarpaulins, after which we retired home for a meal.
We’d planned to leave first thing Thursday morning but were delayed by last-minute discussions with the insurers. We finally got away about an hour late, and headed off to Sywell. The first mile was the bit we most dreaded, having to thread our way down the single-track road from the airfield. As we left, I texted the film cameraman who was heading out from London to film our arrival at Sywell.
In fact, the problem came about an hour later, when we went over a bump in the road and I checked my mirror to see the fuselage rocking uncertainly on the trailer. I was able to pull up immediately, and Theo scouted ahead for a more permanent place to pull up, happily finding the ideal spot about 100 yards round the next bend!
We investigated and found to our horror that the wheel hub had broken, freeing up the inner ends of a whole lot of wheel spokes. The wheel had come within an ace of collapsing altogether, and if that had happened, the whole fuselage would have ended up in the road, engine and all…
There was a moment of extreme depression as we tried to work out how on earth we were going to move it at all without risking the full collapse, but gradually a plan started to form itself. We headed into Worcester to the nearest DIY store and bought four lengths of good solid timber, with a box of long screws. Jack, the cameraman, texted to ask how we were getting on. I told him that we were probably going to have to turn round and go home and that he might as well do the same, but as I did so we realised that if our plan to replace the wheels with wooden chocks worked, it might be possible to carry on to the Rally, provided we could get help to lift the fuselage off the trailer. I quickly texted Jack again to change my mind, and we rang the organisers who assured us that many hands would be available and would make light work of it.
Back at the aircraft, we set to with the saw, screwdriver and bottlejack I had in the boot of the car, and in no time at all we’d replaced both wheels with a – though I say it myself – very natty and secure set of chocks under the axle.
‘No time at all’ is of course something of a euphemism, and it was around 1700 when we finally rolled through the gates to start the rather precarious business of getting the fuselage off the trailer. As we did so, Jack was on hand to record the event, together with our no doubt relieved faces!
The unloading process went very smoothly, and by around 2000 we had the aircraft all but rigged and felt able to totter off to our hotel for a meal and a shower, both much-needed.
In the run-up to the LAA Rally we’ve been working to try and make it look as complete as possible, and today Rick finished the instrument panel and got it fitted to the aircraft. Here he is trying it out for size.
The original drawing showed a relatively uncluttered display but the very large map holder seems to squeeze everything into the edges. The map holder is made to the dimensions on the drawing, and we know it’s right because it matches the folds in Granddad’s original map.
One thing that’s immediately apparent once the cockpit surround is in place is that actually reading the instruments is strictly for midgets, but the Air Speed Indicator (the only modern instrument) and the tacho are the only essential ones and they are the easiest to see.
As well as finishing off most of the fabric covering on the flying surfaces this week, Theo’s taken a look at the wheels.
Almost all WWI aircraft wheels were based on motor cycle wheels with spokes. They were fairly strong, relatively cheap and were easily replaceable. But for aircraft use all those spokes created loads of drag, and so they were covered with fabric. I understand that in those days you could get tyres with little wire loops in the sidewalls to which you could lace the fabric cover.
The Scout didn’t use that system. The drawing says that the motorcycle tyres – ‘heavy motor cycle smooth tread – were wired on. We’re not quite sure what that means, but ours, as bought from the Vintage Motor Cycle club, are beaded tyres, which means that the inside edge of the tyre has a bead which sits inside a groove in the rim.
The instructions for the fabric are; ‘Covering as used on Bristol Monoplane (that must have been the Coandă monoplane, not the M1C) wheels. Side covers sewn to fabric strip round rim.’
We’ve struggled to understand this, but thought perhaps a strip was laid inside the rim underneath the inner tube, which then stuck out each side, to which the main cover was hand sewn.
The trouble with this is that the tyre bead won’t sit as securely in its groove, with the risk that if there’s any sort of drift on landing the tyre will come off, and very likely tip the whole aircraft on its nose…
(Beaded or clincher tyres were famously insecure, and came off at the slightest provocation.)
Other people use Superseam cement to glue the fabric direct onto the rim, but ours seem very small for that and in any case the paint is dissolved by the acetone of the cement, so that idea was kicked into touch.
Another cunning plan used by others is to use a ply ring (about 25mm wide) round the outside to which the fabric is glued. Holes are drilled in the ply so that the two – inside and outside – can be stitched together through the wheel spokes using standard ribstitching techniques. The knots in the ribstitching won’t be entirely authentic, but will replace the hand stitching that was on the originals, and the covers can easily be removed and replaced if they get damaged, and that’s the cunning plan we’re working on now.
We’ll let you know how things progress.
This week has seen the completion of most of the work on the flying surfaces. We’ve managed to re-cover one wing, finish off all the ribstitching, apply rib and edge tapes throughout. There are still inspection openings to be fitted to the wings, and they’ll need a couple of final coats of dope to be applied, but we’re going to leave that until we see what (if anything) can be done with the wrinkles in the fabric.
But when Theo brings the wings up to the fuselage on Bank Holiday Monday ready for the LAA Rally the weekend after, it’s likely to be the last time they’ll be down in Dorset, and poor Theo’s going to be suffering withdrawal symptoms.
I checked the photographic record, and we first started cutting timber in November 2009, so Theo’s had bits of Bristol Scout here for nearly five years, and the house is going to feel very empty; in particular, the space behind his sofa that has housed the wings for so long.
There will still be plenty of work needed, but he’ll be coming up to Shropshire for it, and in the meantime he’s going to be getting plenty of time in on his own aircraft to keep his flying skills honed for the date we get to fly the Scout…
We finished up the last bits in perfect time on Saturday afternoon, leaving time for us to pop up to Spetisbury Rings, the ancient hill fort just above the village, where Theo’s stepchildren had organised Music and Merriment, a one-and-a-half day music festival raising money for the local hospice in memory of their mother. It was an astonishing feat of organisation for two people, and – with the co-operation of the weather gods – a HUGE success.
It was a wonderful way to round off a successful week.