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“And like no other sculpture in the history of art, the dead engine and dead airframe come to life at the touch of a human hand, and join their life with the pilot's own.”

190. Shuttleworth

After Stow Maries, we towed the trailer to Shuttleworth, because we wanted to get their ideas on (a) how to seal the engine compartment to keep that oil off the fuselage side, and (b) to set up the plugs to give reliable running.

In between, we’ve all had to do some work and keep in touch with our families, but the plan this week is to do this work tomorrow (Wednesday)  and then tow the trailer to Sywell on Thursday in time for the LAA Rally.

But as so often in this blog, it’s the trailer and tow vehicle that steal the limelight. We headed off for Gloucester so that I could do an annual inspection on a microlight, and while I was doing that, Rick took the Discovery to a local LandRover place to find out why the yellow warning light was on warning about the suspension. They confirmed that it would be the compressor that powers the air suspension – it’s a known item that needs regular replacement, and so with their diagnosis we set off for Shuttleworth.

The car generally behaved okay, although it’s hard work to drive when it’s wallowing along on very soft suspension with none of the fancy control systems working, and on the way there we phoned a local garage in Biggleswade who confirmed they should be able to do the work.

We called in there to book the car in, and they said they wouldn’t need it until the morning, giving us just enough time to pop into Shuttleworth and drop all the tools off befre they shut up shop for the day.

Then tomorrow morning we’ll deliver the car to the garage, they’ll give us a lift back to Shuttleworth, we’ll solve the oil problem on the Scout and set the plugs up right, fix the map holder in place and clean off all the old oil ready for the Rally and so on. The only problem is, what will we do with ourselves in the afternoon?

189. Stow Maries

Stow Maries is a magical place. Set in one of the most rural parts of Essex, it’s a collection of buildings that have remained unaltered since they were put up in 1916 to form one of the cahin of home defence aerodromes to protect the UK against attack by Zeppellins and German bombers.

The buildings themselves are nothing remarkable, but as you drive into the airfield, there’s a very strong sense of the presence of those airmen in their BE2s, taking off, often at night, and trying to locate the unseen enemy with nothing more than the Mark 1 eyeball to help them.

Theo and I arrived with the trailer on Friday evening, met with the twins, Ed and Ant, and put it in the hangar for the night, then met up with Rick and Marian and Sue at the Purleigh Barns B&B, where Richard and Tilly made us feel immediately at home, and happily allowed Rick and Marian to camp on the lawn.

We rigged up on the Saturday morning and were soon joined by the aircraft of the WWI Aviation Heritage Trust; a BE2e, and the newly acquired Sopwith Snipe and Albatros DVA, together with a 7/8 scale SE5A and a static Sopwith Pup replica.

Scout, SE5A, Sopwith Snipe and Albatros DVA in the picture. The BE2 is behind the Albatros.

Scout, SE5A, Sopwith Snipe and Albatros DVA in the picture. The BE2 is behind the Albatros.

 

It was a fine lineup, and although the wind was to strong to allow any flying on the Saturday there was a huge turn out – 200 vintage bikers and coachloads of visitors, all of whom were well informed and very interested in all the aircraft.

Bevan Dewes, Gene deMarco’s young Kiwi protegé, was there to fly the BE2, and had managed to wangle a flypast of the Bristol Blenheim, flanked by a couple of Spitfires, which was much appreciated by all those there.

 

Bristol Blenheim flanked by two Spitfires

Bristol Blenheim flanked by two Spitfires

We all started our engines in turn, and everyone had a great day out.

With Bevan Davies in the cockpit, John Munn gives instruction on starting the Albatros, while Rick andTheo watch and learn!

With Bevan Dewes in the cockpit, John Munn gives instruction on starting the Albatros, while Rick and Theo watch and learn!

 

David gave the Scout a really vigorous swing!

David gave the Scout a really vigorous swing!

On Saturday night, we ate at the Purleigh Bell Inn, where we had a really great meal, and the proprietors, Julian and Kirsten, took a great interest in the Scout and promised to come and have a look the following morning.The Sunday promised calm fine weather, and so it proved. Young Bevan from New Zealand got the BE2 out first, its V8 RAF1A engine producing only around 80hp like ours, and it’s a lovely soft sound from those enormous cylinders. It made stately progress round the countryside. there was something very special to see it flying past the Stow Maries water tower for the first time in 99 years.

BE2e flying above the water tower at Stow Maries

BE2e flying above the water tower at Stow Maries

Soon after that, John Munn got the Sopwith Snipe readied, and in fact Rick got to swing the mighty 230hp BR2 radial engine into life. Although it’s so very much bigger than our puny little 80hp, the starting technique is much the same, and it’s still possible for one man to pull it over successfully. The sound of the Bentley is quite different – there’s  an authoritative bark to it, and in the air it’s very nippy.

The crowds started to build again, and later in the morning, the BE2 and Albatros circled the airfield with a Piper Cub housing a cameraman for air-to-air photography.

Bevan Davies, the young Kiwi who flew the BE2, being interviewed by Dick Forsuthe, chairman of the trustees of the WHAT which operates the BE2, the Albatros and the Snipe

Bevan Dewes, the young Kiwi who flew the BE2, being interviewed by Dick Forsuthe, chairman of the trustees of the WHAT which operates the BE2, the Albatros and the Snipe

I explored the small museum they have there, and discovered a propeller which had been hit by 0.303 bullets from a Vickers machine gun mounted on a Sopwith Camel with the synchronising gear mistimed. The effect must be pretty much identical to 1264 when the gun was fired at any time.

P1060123 (800x600)And just as I was leaving, a wonderful lady introduced herself to me. She said we both had grandfathers to be proud of, but in truth hers was far, far more distinguished. she is the granddaughter of none other than Horace Short, who, with his four brothers, set up the first aeroplane factory in Great Britain, and went on to become one of the most distinguished aircraft manufacturers in the world, specialising in seaplanes. It was a real privilege to meet you, Madam!

The granddaughter of Horace Short

The granddaughter of Horace Short

 

188. Off to Stow

We’ve promised to have the Scout at the Stow Maries Fly-In this weekend. It’s promising to be a great weekend with loads of interesting aircraft. A shame that the Scout won’t be among them, just yet.

So tomorrow we’re off to Bicester to pack it back into the trailer and trundle slowly across country to Essex.

We hope to see you there!

187 – … and suddenly everything happens all at once!

Yesterday was a really momentous day in the life of 1264.

Yesterday 1264 flew.

And before you remind me that she flew a month ago, and privately write me off as going quite definitely senile, let me explain. Only then you can write me off!

Gene’s flights a month ago were an enormous step forward, and demonstrated that the aircraft was well under control as rigged. Yesterday Dodge Bailey took the controls for the first time (Gene now being back in New Zealand) and the flight testing began in earnest.

We had hoped to get two or three hours of good weather in the early morning of Tuesday, so on Monday I’d travelled down to check everything over and get the various instruments ready for Dodge to make proper calibrated tests. The only change to the airframe was to amend the gap seals between the upper wings and centre section so that they were a bit more airworthy. Rick came down in the evening, and we both spent an hour or two checking and rechecking everything we could think of.

On Tuesday morning, my alarm went off at 0500, and I got to the airfield at 0550. Rick and I managed to get the enormous hangar doors pushed open and the Scout rolled out. dodge turned up just before 0600, and we had a cup of tea and went through the plans for the first flight, and made sure all the instrumentation was the way Dodge wanted.

Dodge getting familiar with the layout of the office.

Dodge getting familiar with the layout of the office.

The weather was absolutely perfect – there was no discernable wind, and a high cirrostratus meant that we were unlikely to get much thermal activity.  Dodge got way in fine style, and was soon up at 2000ft – higher than 1264 had ever been. His focus of attention on this first flight was to calibrate the air speed indicator, which means heading into wind, setting the speed at a particular figure and seeing what the GPS says. Then when you’ve tried of each of the speeds you want (Dodge did 40, 50, 60, 70 & 80 knots), you turn round downwind and do the same thing. By taking an average of the two groundspeeds, you can factor out the windspeed. In fact, on that first run, the two numbers were astonishingly similar, and showed that the airspeed indicator was reading slightly low.

If you’d been attending classes regularly, you’ll remember that we checked the instrument against a calibrated one a little while ago and found that this too indicated that it was a bit slow. So why bother doing the same thing in the air? Because errors can creep in at the measuring point – the two little tubes sticking out in front of the port wing strut.

It’s very complex, and it would have been much simpler if from the outset we’d taken to measuring the angle of attack of the wing instead of its speed. but that’s another story, and not for now!

One of the main unknowns – particularly in the case of the Scout – is the longitudinal stability and how far it’s possible to move the centre of gravity (or CG for short). When you design an aeroplane, you try to arrange that the wings are positioned right where the centre of gravity is, for the same reason that you lift a tree branch from its balance point.

If you don’t,  the branch will tip up, and so it is with an aircraft. As with the branch, it’s usually possible to put up with a small degree of latitude in the position, and for an aircraft we need to be able to cope with variations in pilot weight, fuel load, etc., so we spent much of the rest of the time filling and emptying the petrol tank and strapping bits of lead flashing to the front and back of the fuselage in order to check that there was sufficient control in all phases of flight.

In between all this, Dodge tried out some stalls, steep turns and long climbs in order to prove that the handling was normal and that the engine cooling was satisfactory.

By the end of the day, we had virtually completed ALL of the work required to allow completion of the flight test report, which was several miles further down the process than i had expected to be, and Dodge seemed to be reasonably confident that we should be capable of flying it without any nasty surprises in store.

In his summary, he said that it performed much as he would expect an aircraft of this vintage. He said the roll rate was as good, or possibly better than the later Sopwith Pup and SE5A which are often held up as aircraft with fine handling characteristics. the stall is safe and predictable, and in the steep turns he was able to detect – in mild form because of the relatively low-powered engine – the Coriolis (gyroscopic) effects which caused so many problems to pilots in WWI.

In essence, when you sharply rotate the nose of the plane upwards, it causes it also to want to turn to the right. The most common time you come across this is not in level flight, but in steep turns. So when you turn steeply to the left, you are pulling the nose upwards, and the Coriolis force to the right tends to make the nose rise. This is inherently safe, and because you have already applied left rudder to initiate the turn, you simply apply more left rudder to keep it going round in a level turn.

But in a right turn, it tends to make the nose drop, and you have to switch from applying right rudder to initiate the turn to left rudder to counteract the Coriolis forces, and if you aren’t expecting it, this can cause problems.

Landing and takeoff presented no particular problems, though Dodge confirmed that there was no crosswind capability at all. You have to land exactly into wind.

We also demonstrated that the CG was perfectly safe with the CG well forward. this was to check that Rick, who only weighs 70kg, would be able to fly it with full tanks, and this too proved quite satisfactory.

So far, so very, very good.

But there were a couple of outstanding issues that raised their heads during the day that will need to be resolved before we fly again.

The effect of 30 minutes' flying

The effect of 30 minutes’ flying

The first is all that oil. Everyone expects a rotary engine to throw out lots of oil, but 1264 produces far more of it than most. You may remember that we spent a while fitting a seal between the firewall and the cowling, and I was very disappointed to note that things seemed not a jot better, as you can see. At this rate, the fuselage will need recovering in a couple of months, and while we were never very happy with it to start with, this is certainly an unacceptable rate of deterioration.

The second is the plugs. The engine ran very sweetly for Gene, but of much of today the engine sounded distinctly uneven, and by the time we got to the afternoon, it clearly wasn’t right. We took all the plugs out and cleaned them, and it was even worse; in fact one plug wasn’t firing at all. After a hurried conversation with Jean Munn at the Shuttleworth (where would we be without them?) we removed the lot and Rick and I drove them up to Old Warden where Andy and Phil tested them , cleaned them (properly!) and retested them. We dashed back to Bicester, refitted the plugs, and when we started it, we got a full 1100 rpm. we waved Dodge off, and he set off to complete the final 40 minutes flight, including the 5 minute climb. The climb was completed satisfactorily but by the end the engine was sounding uneven again, and after 20 minutes he returned.

But all isn’t gloom and doom. As always, we come back with loads of good advice from the Shuttleworth, and Andy and Phil recommended switching to a different type of plug, with four electrodes instead of two. they also recommended removing the plugs after every day’s flying and cleaning them. Today I’ve been in touch with the Green Spark Plug company and was delighted to find they had sufficient of the new type of plug for two complete sets. So the order has been placed, and we will have to work out how to swap the connecting caps over from the old plugs when they arrive.

And having got home about midnight I couldn’t sleep, so at 0430 this morning I took a look at the manual for the le Rhone engine to investigate a theory about the source of all that oil.

Before we’d left, we’d topped the oil tank up to where it had started, and confirmed that it’s pumping through the correct amount  about 5lt/hr. But I couldn’t understand how the whole of the firewall was covered in a thick film of oil. the oil from the exhaust valves will mostly go downwards, with some being sprayed round the inside of the cowling, but there didn’t seem to be any way it could end up all over the firewall, and particularly such fresh oil.

The only possible explanation was that the main crankshaft bearing oil seal wasn’t working, or was missing altogether.

I had been concerned that if there was a lip seal, it might be necessary to dismantle the entire engine to get at it, so I was mighty relieved to find that it’s actually a felt ring which is contacted by the bush in the front mounting plate.

2015-08-12 Felt seal (531x800)

We’d assembled the engine onto the mounting plate, of course, and hadn’t (in our ignorance) checked this particular feature, so we don’t know quite what’s in there, and my bet is that it might be missing altogether. Replacing it will require extracting the engine from the airframe, but this is pretty straightforward, and I’ve done a deal with Jean Munn to do the work at old warden under the supervision of himself, Andy and Phil. We’ll also take the opportunity to get a second opinion on the design of the lip seal to see if we can improve things. But my bet is that the felt seal should pretty much do the trick…

 

 

186. … and goes on…

Last Friday was soaking wet. The weekend and the first half of the week was soaking wet.

But Thursday and Friday this week have been absolutely beautiful, but we couldn’t fly the Scout because Dodge Bailey isn’t available.

Next week I’m working more or less all week, and so the next available opportunity is the week beginning 10 August, and we have to hope for some similar weather then. We will be looking to really push on with the test programme – even – if possible – to get it completed, because we are all very, very keen to have a go ourselves.

But amid all the frustration of waiting, there’s been one very encouraging step forward.

I contacted Paschalis Palavouzis, who we first came into contact with a couple of years ago. Paschalis is the historian who’s an expert on WWI aviation in the Greek islands, and when I told him about our first flight and asked him about the exact locations of the two airfields Granddad flew from, he came up with the information. Thasos aerodrome is still open ground, located next to the beach on the north western end of the island. You can see it on Google earth here. In the centre you can see a short gravel strip used by the local microlight club, with whom Paschalis has contacts.

I explained that we’d need around a 500m square of smooth area to fly from, and Paschalis is absolutely determined to clear an area to allow us to fly from Thasos aerodrome once again. it’s a huge step forward in trying to recreate Granddad’s flying, and has got us all spurred on to get the flight testing complete and start organising the trip to Greece!

185. The Waiting Begins

Getting the Scout into the air requires an empty, dry airfield that faces in any direction, at least two and preferably more ground crew, a test pilot, petrol, oil, a serviceable aircraft, a very light wind, no rain, daylight, and a valid Permit to Test.

Which is why test flying is a slow, laborious business, and we have to sit patiently and try not to get too frustrated.

On Sunday we had all the various factors lined up but Gene just couldn’t get away in time, and so 1264 stayed in the hangar and I drove all the way back home.

The next available window is Friday, when the forecast began to look ideal, and Dodge Bailey might have been available, but last night when I checked the weather forecast had changed from dry to soaking wet. Today it’s back to a little bit wet, and so the only thing is to keep hoping for the best and try not to imagine what it’s going to be like when we can hop in and go flying.

But it ain’t easy!

 

184. Taking Flight

Thursday

Sue and I set off early via Milson, and Theo arrived shortly after us. We completed the final adjustments and spent the afternoon checking things over and over.

At about four, Gene and his young colleague Bevan, Rick and Marian, and Stephen Saunders all turned up at once. Gene and Bevan spent the next couple of hours going through the whole aircraft in very great detail, and came across a couple of things we hadn’t spotted.

Gene’s first comment was that it was a very pretty aeroplane, but he plays his cards very, very close to his chest and we had no idea whether he thought it was flyable, but eventually we were encouraged when he asked that we roll it outside for an engine run.

This went smoothly. Bevan is young and athletic and has a much simpler way of starting. Instead of dosing each cylinder individually, he takes advantage of the low compression ratio and winds it continuously for about a dozen turns while Gene works the controls to suck petrol into the cylinders. Then he finds a compression at the right height, Gene switches on, and Bevan gives it a good swing. Away went the engine, and Gene checked it out at all power settings, checked the switches, and shut down.

He and Bevan had spent the day unloading an Albatros V and a Sopwith Snipe from their container at the Shuttleworth Collection, so they headed off to find some fast food.

Take a good long look at the clean fuselage fabric. It's the last time you'll see it in that state.

Take a good long look at the clean fuselage fabric. It’s the last time you’ll see it in that state.

By the time we got back it was around 1930, and we wheeled 1264 to the far side of the airfield, following Gene in his car.

Then everything happened very quickly.

Gene hopped in, Bevan swung the propeller and the le Rhone fired up again. A short run up to check full power, and Gene throttled right back so that Bevan and Theo could remove the chocks.

Then he was away, and in a few short yards he was airborne.

As he climbed steadily away all of us were overcome and I still find myself choking up whenever I think of it.

The conditions were perfect – around 5mph wind and absolutely steady. Gene made gentle circles at an absolutely minimum angle of bank for about 5 minutes before making an absolute greaser of a landing in front of us, taxied back and turned around before shutting down. This was the first successful landing by a Bristol Scout anywhere in the world since the 1920s.

‘What did you think?’

‘It’s okay. the rudder seems a little weak. The performance doesn’t seem as good as I’d expected. The stall was a bit sudden.’

‘How about the ailerons?’

‘Not very effective but they do work.’

‘What’s the trim like?’ This was my big worry since we had no information about the centre of gravity, and  unique wing section and the lifting tailplane are very unusual.

‘It seems okay.’ Phew!

At any rate, he was happy enough to have another go, and this time he stayed up for 12 minutes, including a low flyby, another landing with a taxi back and an immediate takeoff.

In the air, it looked sensational, sitting just as in the photographs, and the translucent fabric gave it a very special look.

Next time he landed, Gene slowed the engine to an astonishingly low tickover – with great clouds of black smoke from the exhaust – and suggested we try amending the wing adjustment to see if we could improve the performance at all. I agreed, and he taxied it back up to the hangars. I’d no idea it could be taxied at all without wheelbrakes or a steerable tailwheel.

He had three major suggestions.

1. Seal the cowling. The oil was going EVERYWHERE, and making it difficult to fly. Apparently Castrol R40 contains a bactericide which stings when you get it on your face or eyes, and with no windscreen poor Gene was struggling.

Look at the oil streaks on our lovely clean machine!

Look at the oil streaks on our lovely clean machine!

2. Add gap seals to the wings to try and improve the performance.

3. Add a little washout to try and improve the stall behaviour.

By now it was nearly 2100. We had a go at it but the daylight beat us.

Friday

We were back on the job as soon as the hangar doors were open, but by the time it was done, Gene and I looked at the wind and the thermals, and decided it was too risky. But for us this wasn’t a disappointing outcome. We all felt as high as the Scout from that fantastic session.

Wow. Wow. Wow.

Gene DeMarco

Gene DeMarco

2015-07-09 First Landing P1050803 cropped P1050805 croppedP1050806 cropped

 

PS.

Some interesting coincidences have come to light.

Our first flight was one day short of the 30th anniversary of Leo’s only flight in his Scout.

It is likely to be almost exactly 100 years after the completion of the original completion of 1264, which was delivered to the RNAS in August 1915.

It was the first flight of a Bristol Scout in the UK since the 1920s, when G-EAGR (the only civil registered Scout) last flew – and the only successful successful landing in the world since then.

 

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