It’s been a truly amazing four days, and now Theo and I need to lie down in a darkened room for a while to get our breath back.
Saturday morning dawned with an inch of snow on the ground here in Ludlow, which didn’t augur too well for the rest of the day.
But we both set off, arriving at Bicester at around 0900 and hitched the trailer to the back of the Hilux to go to the WWI airfield at Stow Maries in Essex for a night photo shoot, the plan being for Theo to share the driving so that he could get used to it before driving to Greece, and I could establish what sort of average speed we could expect in order to ensure the journey was feasible in the time allowed.
We set off, and once on the motorway, we edged the speed up from the 47mph I’d dared before up to 51mph. Then after we stopped for a break I took over and we went on up until we were doing 55mph, at which the whole thing was still as solid as a rock. I must admit that this has been the part of the whole process I dread the most, but after three hours, I was starting to unwind and relax, and we ended up at Stow Maries around lunchtime.
The field was pretty much waterlogged, and it was bitterly cold, and we began to wonder why we’d bothered to come all this way. Surely no photographer was going to turn out on such a bitter day?
We needn’t have worried. Jean Munn and Dick Forsythe (of WAHT) turned up shortly afterwards, and we got ourselves into action and rigged 1264 in their hangar, and rolled her, together with the Albatros, BE2F and Sopwith Snipe onto the field as the photographers – about a hundred of them – arrived.
While re-enactors stood around the aircraft to be photographed, Jean and I trudged up the runway to assess it. John felt it was okay, but I wasn’t convinced, so once the static photography was finished, he clambered into the BE2F and went flying. But as he taxied out, the wind shifted about 30 degrees on to the other runway and after he’d gone I had a look and decided that was altogether better, so we rolled 1264 and I had a ten minute wizz round in the gathering gloom. Once night had properly fallen we started the engines of the Sopwith Snipe and then the Scout. The Bentley engine in the Snipe produces some truly spectacular flames from the exhaust if it’s mistreated exactly right, but I failed to produce anything other than clouds of black smoke from the le Rhône.
I’ve been sent some of the pictures these guys took and – particularly considering the very limited amount of light available – I’m amazed at what they achieved. Here is one by Iain Moore, and there are more from John Summerill’s Flickr page is here.
After a late pint in the pub we stayed at the Purleigh Barns B&B in Maldon which I can’t recommend highly enough, and On Sunday we put 1264 back in the trailer, and towed her to Old Warden, where we rigged her again. Phew! Darren Harbar turned up, the evening was beautiful, and Jean Munn was available to fly the Piper Cub cameraship, so I set off into the evening light for some lakes round the corner, and Jean flew in circles and I tried to keep up with him without bumping into him. The results are on Darren’s webpage here, but with a sneaky preview below to whet your appetite.
Monday was tied up with business, and we were booked in today (Tuesday) for official practice for the Shuttleworth display season. The weather came up trumps, and I was able to get a couple of practice sessions in that Dodge Bailey – my mentor – observed. He pronounced himself very happy, though I found right turns something of a trial for some reason I haven’t entirely fathomed yet. I’ve got time before our first display on 5 June to iron out the issue, which is that it seems almost impossible to turn to the right without setting up a massive sideslip. I suspect it’s something to do with making the turns under full power, since right turns are being made against the torque of the engine, but I need to go higher and try various different alternatives to see what works best.
So – in four days, we’ve nailed the trailer towing ( our average speed was 45mph, which is exactly what I’d calculated on), and the fuel consumption (errrr…. about 15mpg!), got some absolutely stunning, amazing pictures, and moved the display authorisation forward several steps.
I shall have to transcribe Dickinson’s entries for the next few days, as they are too long to publish every last word, and even cut down they will be quite lengthy, since so much happened to him.
Dickinson describes this as the most adventurous day of his life, and it’s no exaggeration. Three Henri Farmans, escorted by three others set off in the afternoon to bomb the seaplane shed at Kusa Burnu (a bay near Chanak / Cannakale). They flew across the peninsula and over the Asian mainland, then turned and dropped their bombs heading back towards the peninsula. Dickinson, with Davey as his observer, were hit by gunfire from a Turkish Eindekker and, the engine having quit, they were forced to ditch in the sea between the peninsula and Imbros. They were in the water for around half an hour before the aircraft sank, and another hour and a half before they were finally picked up as night fell by a destroyer.
Dickinson had a couple of days off to recover from his dunking, and was briefed about a possible sortie to drop leaflets on Constantinople. He also reports the CO crashing his new streamlined BE2C, serial number 8331, photographs of which were taken by Bunnie. The CO only received a scratch on the cheek, apparently.
Bunnie in 1264. Escorting gun bus on spotting trip. Started off, engine missing badly, could not make any improvement with petrol adjustment and then discovered the petrol tap leaking very badly so I came down (six minutes). I went off again and rev counter broke, but I went on brand new engine, running beautifully. I used 3 gals in 34 min. Four stays have been fitted to back bearer plate and they were a great success. The bottom two were pulled tighter than the top two and that seems to have corrected the nose heaviness a good deal. She flies hands off for quite a time now. First landing excellent, second quite fair.
Bunnie seems to have had nearly two weeks on the ground after his run in with the Eindekker. There’s no explanation of this; maybe he was off sick. But from here on in it’s clear he’s becoming more and more interested in the technical aspects of aviation instead of the operational side.
The first thing that strikes me as odd is that they seem to have repaired the leaking oil tap and changed the engine on 1264 so quickly. Did the Gunbus (the Nieuport 12) wait for him? His logbook doesn’t give times of departure, but the total time is 40 minutes, which is the sum of his times given above. And in 34 minutes they wouldn’t have got much spotting done, so perhaps the Gunbus carried on without him and he simply joined it more or less in time to escort it back across the water.
Two other things intrigue me. 3 gallons in 34 minutes is equivalent to 24lt/hr, which is about what we would expect. The other is these stays, which apparently improved the handling. I cannot imagine what these were, and wish I could contact Grandad to ask him! The picture below shows the structure in the area of the rear engine mounting plate, and there doesn’t seem to be any way of fitting any sort of additional structure.
Dickinson, meanwhile, spent the day preparing his HF 3914.
Dickinson took off at 2000 for another very, very exciting flight. The four machines left for their leaflet-dropping mission over Constantinople in perfectly clear conditions, which quickly became cloudy. (Today night flight is only ever done with blind flying instruments, but in those days they had virtually nothing; they may have had a torch to read what instruments they could, but if they lost sight of the ground, they had no visual references to fly the aircraft). By the time he got to Gallipoli it was cloudy, but he could see the moon, which gave him sufficient visual reference to keep the wings level, but after an hours’ flying he flew through some rain showers, which were very scary. Constantinople was well lit and easily visible, and he dropped his leaflets over the part of the town on the far side of the Golden Horn, going inland to drop some incendiary bombs on a munitions factory, but the visibility was so bad he had no idea where the bombs actually fell. By now he had been in the air for two and a half hours, and was heading back down the Straits in conditions that would have been nerve-wracking in the daytime. In a modern aircraft without blind instruments and in daylight, it’s very, very scary even for a few seconds. The turbulence in what had now developed into a full thunderstorm tossed the aircraft all over the place, and although he’d taken food and a Thermos of coffee with him, he couldn’t take his hands off the controls for a single instant. He was thrown up into his straps many times and the aircraft veered uncontrollably off course. For much of that time he would have been utterly lost, and in heavy rain or cloud he would have had no visual references at all.
He describes it as , ‘… two and a half hours of unadulterated terror’. that seems to me to be an understatement.
Eventually, after six and a half hours’ flying, he realised he wasn’t going to make it back to Imbros and put the HF down in the water next to a trawler who saw him coming down and picked him up. He got back to Imbros about 1100 the following morning.
He’d ditched twice in a week…
It’s well documented that the rotary engine concept was developed from an original idea from the USA for a front-engined motorcycle. I’ve just come across this video which demonstrates – more or less – how the concept works, in a 1923 version.
There is no clutch, so presumably you have to warm the thing up on the stand and jump start it when you want to ride on it!
We had an exciting day yesterday.
Theo and I set off early to get to Bicester where we rolled out the Scout to act as a backdrop of an interview with Peter Hart, the historian. As with Sir George White last week, producer Stephen Saunders asked the questions from behind the camera. Peter gave excellent, fluent answers about the origins of the Gallipoli campaign, the conditions that No. 2 Wing served under, and the importance of the Bristol Scout to aviation history. He was very complimentary about our project both on camera and off, and it will make a great contribution to the film.
After he’d finished, we rolled 1264 outside because we wanted to check the engine performance, and got Peter to hang onto the tail while we ran the engine up. He seemed very made up by that, and I don’t think we absolutely covered him with castor oil!
After they’d gone we fitted a brilliant instrument called a Tinytach to the engine to give a visual check on the original Jaeger tachometer. and in the last of the daylight the wind died back and we rolled her out in time for one flight, which I used to check the engine performance in the air using the Tinytach, and also to get some more time doing steep turns so that I was fully comfortable with them before starting on the Shuttleworth practice week. Once again, 1264’s handling was delightful, and even in steeply banked turns where I could start to feel the effect of precession forces pushing the nose down in right turns and up in left turns, there was no question of any uncertainty in handling. There was always plenty of control movement in hand, and there were no unexpected responses that might catch me out at low level.
The landing was unacceptably clumsy, but there appeared to be no ill-effects, and once Theo’s had a bit more familiarisation, it will be time to get her packed up for the first public appearance of the season at Stow Maries.
Panos (director of the Kavala Airshow) has sent some beautiful pictures of the airstrip at Prinos on Thassos.
On the centenary of Bunnie’s only chance to fire his guns in anger, we headed off to the home of Sir George White so that Stephen Saunders could record an interview with him about the origins of the British & Colonial Aeroplane Company.
Sir George is an incomparable source of information, and tells the story of his family in a compelling manner that led Stephen to suggest the possibility of a separate film altogether.
It’s a story of huge national importance, complete with family relationships, tensions and fallings out.
The first baronet (also Sir George) came from very humble working class origins, yet made an enormous fortune in the nineteenth century developing transportation links, mostly in and around the Bristol area, but elsewhere too. These involved trams, trolley buses, coaches, and trains.
His humble origins kept him in close touch with the people who worked for him, and he pioneered pensions for them (which he paid for himself), and he also endowed hospitals in France and Bristol.
When he found out about aviation, he understood immediately its military importance and set about planning an aeroplane manufacturing company that would be capable of mass manufacture. The first two British manufacturers were set up with £500 and £600 capital respectively; British & Colonial had no less than £25,000, increased to £200,000 within a couple of years. This was no get-rich-quick enterprise; like much of his other work in this decade, it was driven by philanthropism. Indeed, it took many years before the family saw any sort of return on their investment.
In 1916, Sir George died unexpectedly at the age of only 62, and was succeeded by his son Stanley. Unlike his father, Stanley was painfully shy and retiring, and hated public speaking. But he shared with his father the drive for public service; he understood his good fortune in being born to such wealth, and the responsibility of paying this back.
So he shouldered the huge responsibility of manufacturing aeroplanes for the war effort. He shouldered the even more daunting responsibility of finding work for as many of his employees as possible in 1918 when all military contracts were cancelled. And he successfully led the company through the lean interwar years, the expansion for WWII, and into the jet age until 1954.
His grandson clearly regards him as an unsung hero, and it would be very hard to disagree with him.
We took advantage of the lovely Good Friday weather to visit the grave of Frank Barnwell, designer of the Scout, and to see his house a couple of hundred yards away, which is now a hotel.
But perhaps the highlight for me was the chance to view stereoscopic glass slides through a French-made viewer housed in a beautiful mahogany cabinet. showing pictures of the first flight of the Scout prototype, and of the trials of the Bristol-Burney machine. The photographs, taken in 1912 and 1913, were the simply entrancing, and jumped out of the viewer in a way that I don’t think I’ve experienced from any other sort of still photograph ever. I would love to reproduce the pictures, which are a unique record of that period, but I’ve no idea, even today, how one would do them justice.
It was a wonderful day, and we are very grateful to Sir George for his time and trouble in assembling this and all the other relevant memorabilia for us, and to Lady Joanna for the limitless tea and cakes she kept providing!
Now I’ve got to work out how I’ve put on 9lb in the last two weeks, and, more importantly, how to shed them again…