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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.”

292. Reliving the Past

Looking through the records on my GPS, I’ve discovered the ones I recorded on the flights in Greece and at the Somme.

They bring back great memories for me, and I thought you might be interested to see where I flew.

The Thassos flight. As you can see, I didn’t venture too far from the airfield in the very far from ideal conditions!

And in contrast, the route for the Somme flight was one of the most adventurous. the conditions were great, and it was a long, long way out of gliding range. But the engine never missed a beat, and the two of them were undoubtedly the highlight of my flying career. Here’s the link to the GoPro video.

291. Progress. Slow, but progress

Yesterday I spent all day making new guides for the pushrods.

You can see what they do here, complete with a graphic video.

The ones I made originally were intended for retrofitting to an already assembled engine, and weren’t ideal, so I’ve made some new ones which should be more secure and not need to be checked before each flight. The trouble is that while each one is fairly simple to make, nine of them take a long time! These need to be threaded over the pushrods before they are fitted, so it seemed a good opportunity to get the job done.

Then today Theo and I and Chill met up at Shuttleworth to get as much work done on the airframe as possible while we await the completion of the engine.

The engine itself has made a little progress since last week – our nice new pistons have been honed to fit the gudgeon pins.

These are aluminium pistons, copiers of those made by Thulin in Sweden when they manufactured them under licence, as opposed to the originals which are steel, as made for the American-built examples.

The valve gear has been fitted to each cylinder, so they just need screwing back into the crankcase. (Theoretically you can up the compression ratio by screwing them further in, but I doubt it would be a good idea. You’d need to take corresponding bits off the pushrods as well…)

I thought you might be interested in this picture of the crankshaft, taken from the front end. You can just see daylight coming through the hollow crankshaft. The carburettor goes on the far end where the daylight is.

And you can see the brass keeper for the main ballrace on which the crankcase revolves. I think it’s astonishing to think they could make such big ball bearings in 1908, and even more astonishing to think that it has survived everything we’ve thrown at it!

 

 

Once the pistons and rings are fitted, the cylinders have to be screwed in just the right amount and locked in place. then the complex cam rings and followers have to be fitted to the front of the crankshaft and the pushrods inserted. Finally the front cover plate has to go on. I suspect I’ve missed out some important stages from this list, but I’ve never reassembled a le Rhone myself.

We found that the propeller hub had picked up a little surface rust, so Shuttleworth kindly let me use their wirebrush and polishing mop to clean it up before refitting it to the propeller.

Also on the bench in Dave’s workshop is his current masterpiece – a new end for the feeder mechanism for the Spitfire cannon which will go inside the wing. You can see the original in the middle, and the new end on the right – a mirror image of the original. Dave’s machined it from solid. Amazing!

Meanwhile, Theo and Chill were retensioning the cabane rigging and refitting the refurbished tachometer and tachometer cable, complete with its new gearbox, which should make the tachometer read correctly for the first time.

 

The little gearbox should double the speed, with the result that the tacho should no read correctly. We hope!

Progress was slower than it otherwise might have been, owing to the glorious weather outside, and the sounds of all the Shuttleworth machines being run up and flown as part of practice week. Noisiest by far was Matt Pettit who was trying to sort out the problems with a Harvard, which involved running it at full power in very fine pitch about half a dozen times. As you may know, the Harvard is famous for the fact that under these circumstances the propeller tips go supersonic, and the resulting howl penetrated to the furthest corner of the workshop. making conversation impossible.

I also took the time to polish the copper inlet ducts, which will make the engine look as it it’s been refurbished once it’s reassembled.

Before (top) and after (bottom). Please tell me you can spot the difference!

Thankfully, as we had a final cup of tea before departure, Matt came in with his customary cherubic grin – Matt is just like a 6ft 3in schoolboy let loose in an airfield full of his favourite toys – to announce that he’d finally got to the bottom of the problem. The Harvard – a two-seat trainer – was never designed for fuel economy, and the ground running, most of which was at full power – had consumed 60 gallons of fuel!

We had a great day, but for us the tension is starting to rise.

The engineers were tinkering with the engine of the Avro 504K all day. Indeed the main reason that our engine isn’t assembled is that they’d been working on it all last week.

In a week’s time, we need to be packing the Scout up ready for her first static display of the season in Ludlow, and the engine must be installed and running.

The Shuttleworth knows this full well – I pointed it out to Chief Engineer Jean-Michel Munn today – but they only have limited resources and it’s going to be touch and go.

But we know that they will do everything they can to be ready, and we can only keep our fingers crossed…

The Shuttleworth Collection is just round the corner from the historic Cardington sheds, which housed the R100 and R101 airships in the 1930s, and today houses the amazing Airlander airship. And on my way home I spotted it outside, so stopped to take a couple of pictures.

And what does this remind you of?

290. Diary Update.

If you haven’t done so, check out the diary. Lots of new stuff in it today!

289. Film Premiere!

Tuesday 11 April was a day to remember. We had travelled to London on the Monday afternoon, and bumped into film producer (and director, editor and funder!) Stephen Saunders and his wife Clare at the hotel reception. In the evening we were joined by a group of Greeks; Kavala aishow organiser and Col. Fixit Panos Georgiadis, his two sons Ioannis and Lazarus, and their friend Chrisalena Athanasiadou who helped us so much getting the travel arrangements sorted last year, and did the English subtitles for the film.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!

We ate in the Italian restaurant in St Pancras station, and the following morning arrived at the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square to get set up.

By 1130, guests had started to arrive, and quickly it became a wonderful blur, as we met again so many who had helped on the project; Keith Edwards who built the trailer, Tony Stairs, our magical magneto man, Sir Geoge White and his son Philip, a sizeable contingent from the Shuttleworth Collection, and many  others, in addition to those members of our families who could make it.

Rick and Marian

Myself and Sue. I wore Grandad’s medal for the occasion, to honour the Greeks.

At 1240 Stephen stood up on the stage to introduce his baby, and the lights lowered and we settled down to watch.

65 minutes later there was a huge round of applause, and Stephen went on stage again to thank those who had contributed to the making of the film. Panos Georgiadis presented him with a photographic memento of the Greek filming, and did the same for Sue, who so very richly deserved it. I was next, with a model of Grandad, beautifully painted and complete with RNAS uniform and cap – as made by the Kavala model aircraft club.

Then Stephen, Theo, Rick and myself answered questions from the floor before we headed to the bar across the road, where Stephen had very kindly laid on drinks and nibbles.

Yes, but what was the film like?

Well, I’m biased, but though it was simply superb – and even those who have no particular interest in the subject found it thoroughly absorbing. Sue’s brother John, who’d just flown in from Las Vegas the day before, managed to stay awake, which he regarded as the highest praise!

Stephen is working hard to get the DVDs out so that they can be offered for sale, and his agent is touting it round the TV companies.

He’s managed to include elements of Grandad’s service and the war in the Eastern  Mediterranean in addition to the build and flying of 1264, and so it’s absolutely jam-packed with information you’re unlikely to have seen or heard befire, as well as masses of original film footage that hasn’t seen the light of day for 100 years. It will be a crime against entertainment if it doesn’t get an airing.

But if you can’t wait, you can place your order now!

288. Coming together

Yesterday was absolutely exhausting. I drove three legs of three and a half hours each from Ludlow to Henstridge to Old Warden and back home, loading the trailer with Theo’s help at Henstridge (2 hours) and unloading the fuselage at Old Warden (another hour). But the fuselage is in the right place so that the engine can be refitted as soon as it’s reassembled.

As you can see, 1264 is sat between some VERY illustrious neighbours!

Phil also gave us the old cylinder liners, and for those who are into engineering porn, here are some details.

Here they all are. My wife has suggested we should run a competition for the most creative use for them. My initial thought was door chimes, but as they don’t make any significant sound at all, I’m sure someone can come up with something better!

This is an original cast iron liner. It’s only 1.5mm (1/16in) thick, as is the steel cylinder wall, so removing it has to be done very, very gently. The Shuttleworth technique is to tap it to fracture it, and as you see it comes out quite neatly.

There were three that looked quite different; these are made of nodular cast iron which is far more ductile, and were a pain to remove. Some brave soul had to cut almost all the way through the liner with a Dremel or something similar, and then a drift had to be very, very carefully driven between liner and cylinder to peel it away. Thank goodness the cut didn’t go all the way through!

It’s interesting that it’s the ductile iron liner bores that have been damaged the most – here’s one.

Here’s the worst of the cast liners by comparison. Bear in mind that was run for half an hour at full power with just the residual oil on the cylinder walls – the oil supply was switched off. Even more remarkable then, that most of them were completely undamaged, but since they were on the outer limit for bore, we decided to replace the lot.

So a very productive day, generally.

The one cloud on the horizon, (apart from the bill, of course…) is that because about half a dozen Collection machines have thrown little technical issues, our engine rebuild may not be completed quite as quickly as we’d hoped.

But it should cause any major hiccups as far as we can see.

287. Engine Innards

I managed to get to the Shuttleworth Collection today, and found substantial progress on the engine. The cylinders are back from relining, and Phil is delighted with the standard of work. the cylinders and liners are so thin that you can squeeze the sides together with your hands by 0.004in (4 thou, in engineer’s speak). This might not sound masses, but the bottoms need to be larger than the tops by exactly that amount.

That’s the reason the cylinder have to be fixed in a special jig to hold them rigid, otherwise the pressure of the honing tool would distort the cylinder wall and wreck the whole operation.

Because of that taper (or choke), the bores have to be honed by hand, and apparently they are accurate to two tenths of a thou. All nine cylinders, all round, and all the way up the bore – an even taper. It’s an astonishing achievement. we await the bill…

The holes in the pistons for the gudgeon pins (wrist pins, if you’re American) are slightly undersize and have gone away to be honed, but should be back in a day or so.

So here are some pictures of those gorgeous cylinders, and the state of reassembly of the rest of the engine.

The crankcase assembled, waiting for the pistons, rings and cylinders.

This is how the conrods connect to the crankshaft – curved pads on the big ends fit into concentric grooves in two discs on the crank.

The clean, clean cylinder on the outside…

… and the beautiful bore on the inside. You can see the exhaust valve on the right of the picture which opens into fresh air.

And finally, a close-up of the finish on the cylinder bores. the cylinder wall is 1.5mm (1/16in) thick, with a cast iron liner about the same thickness. No wonder it’s a bit flexible!

 

 

 

286. Fame at Last

We were honoured to be asked to be guests of honour at the Vintage Aircraft Club’s Annual dinner.

Unfortunately Sue and I were both too unwell to travel, but Theo stepped up to the plate and did us proud. By all accounts he was a great success, and here he is in print to prove it!