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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Scout was on display at Milson, and many friends from Ludlow came to have a look; others flew in – including Rick, who arrived in style in his Doodlebug.
Also there were a family with a horse and trap which seemed very period!
On Saturday we dismantled 1264 and put her in the trailer to take her all the way across the country to the Shuttleworth Collection. Rick drove, keeping constant 47mph all the way once we got onto the motorway, and I cowered in the corner in the passenger seat, barely daring to breathe.
We got there without any problem, and Theo turned up at more or less the same moment, so we set about rigging her, amid lots of interest from the museum-goers. Overnight she was parked in VERY distinguished company, including the Edwardian aircraft and other distinguished company.
Sunday was the day of the Shuttleworth WWI commemoration event. As a non-flying exhibit, we were located on the tarmac in a corner which allowed us to have all our display boards easily accessible, and we were absolutely inundated with people interested to know all about the project and wishing us well for the future.
Among the visitors was Keith Skilling, who we’d last met at Masterton on the other side of the world, where he’d flown a masterly display in the Corsair. He was over here to fly another Corsair at the Flying Legends display next weekend, but it was fantastic to see him again and catch up on his news.
The flying display was opened by the Vulcan, which put on a very spirited show, and I was able to get a number of pictures of it with the Bristol Scout – the connection being the Vulcan’s Bristol Olympus engines.
Unfortunately the strong crosswind precluded the WWI aircraft from flying, and this meant it wasn’t practical to achieve my all-time perfect line-up; the Bristol Boxkite, Scout, Monoplane, Fighter and Blenheim. Still, that’s something to look forward to next year, when we hope the Scout may be able to participate in the flying display.
Also there was Andy Craddock from South Wales, whose 35% scale model of the Bristol Scout is coming along very nicely indeed,
and it was great fun to be able to photograph the two together.
The following morning Theo and I dismantled 1264 again (we are getting pretty slick at this now!) but took the opportunity to discuss the engine controls with Jean Munn, Dodge Bailey, and Andy and Phil from the Shuttleworth team. We decided to reposition the fine control valve closer to the engine so that the engine would respond faster when the valve was closed. I’d originally discounted this idea because the pushrod would have been very close to your left foot, and the one might have interfered with the other, but that was before I knew which way up the valve should go…
This time the solution seemed obvious and mounting it on the front of the rear engine mount proved to be extremely simple; I could even re-use the mounting brackets.
We also dismantled the bloctube and Phil dug out all his other ones for comparison. The outcome of this was a decision to adjust the position of the jet in the bloctube with a small spacer to allow the air slide to close completely – something it can’t currently do. We hope this will help the bloctube to close completely when the control is shut.
We managed to achieve a great deal of this in the morning, and then spent the afternoon packing the aircraft in the trailer. After that I towed it to Bicester without any problems at all.
We needed to get a few bits of machining done so I popped in to see Ian Harris, who – as always – was very helpful, and Theo went to see Paul Grellier who found us a suitable piece of 3/8in tube for the fine control pushrod. By the end of the day we had everything we’d need to complete the work required, and we were all set to take Wednesday off and go down on Thursday, stay over, and be ready for the first flight on Friday evening or Saturday morning.
But overnight, Gene DeMarco got in touch to say that Thursday and Friday were more convenient for him, so the morning saw a hurried consultation with the weather gods, who seemed to think the Thursday evening would be suitable, then a hurried phone call to Theo who managed to rearrange his appointments, with Rick and Stephen Saunders the film producer, all of whom were okay with the changes. And so Theo and I have spent the day at Bicester and tonight 1264 is sat in the hangar at Bicester, fully rigged, all wirelocked and ready to fly, changes made to the engine controls, and tomorrow we just have to run the engine to see how it works and let the rigging shake itself down, readjust the rigging if necessary, and by then Gene should be there to see if we can get air under the wheels…
Ok, my turn to say a couple of thank you’s.
It’s been a huge privilege to be a part of this project, I’ve felt like I’ve been part of a little bit of history – connecting back with our Grandad’s exciting past while doing what I love – building. And what a delightful thing to have created! So many people at the events where she’s been on display have expressed their delight at our creation too. And the excitement of flying it is yet to come!
I wouldn’t have missed this project for anything.
So three thank you’s:
– to my partner Marian who, like Sue has been both patient with my lack of any spare time for jobs at home and in fact positively encouraging me not to miss out on anything Bristol Scout. Brilliant. Thanks Love.
– to David. Without his tireless energy, enthusiasm and grim determination in the face of countless setbacks the Scout would never have happened. How does he manage to juggle so many balls at once? Chairman of this, Chairman of that, inspector of planes as well as part time at his work, he still finds time to research all the numerous problems we’ve encountered with the plane and find solutions. Then he spends so many days on his own in the hangar when I’m at work and Theo is too far away to help.
And his contacts. He seems to know everyone and finds the right person for everything – from an engine to an airfield to a test pilot.
But he still finds time to keep you lot informed and amused on this blog.
Thanks Bro. You’re a Star!
– and finally. Thanks Grandad for keeping those bits from your war experience. I’ve often wondered why you never mentioned them to us. Perhaps you stole them without permission and didn’t like to admit it? We’ll never know. Anyway it was a life changing thing that you did!
Yesterday I heard from Gene DeMarco to say he’d be here on 6th July, and Francis Donaldson has indicated that we should have the Permit to Test by then. Rick has emailed to say that the minor glitches with the engine controls are fixed, and the compass has been removed, which means therefore that in just over a week’s time we should be in a position, weather permitting, to get air under 1264’s wheels.
I’m not a nervous person, and I know we’ve built her to the highest standard. But we have SO much invested in her, and she’s the only one in the world, and I must admit to some sleepless nights thinking about those early flights.
And in this period of relative inactivity, it seems like a good time to say some thank yous to those who’ve helped to make this project through to completion.
Any list of this type is necessarily incomplete, and if your name isn’t included specifically here, please don’t think we aren’t grateful, because we are.
Leo Opdyke, who built the first Bristol Scout since 1916 and his machine provided our initial inspiration and persuaded us that our idea of rebuilding Granddad’s aeroplane was feasible. His research meant that we had an excellent head start in gathering the necessary information.
Derek Staha, who freely gave us high-quality scans of the original Bristol drawings that had ended up in the US.
Sir George White, who preserved Leo’s machine and photographed the parts list.
Alan Haseldine, our welder.
Ian Harris, who made the tanks and side shields.
Steve Moon, who made the cowlings.
Scott Powell and the team at Light Aero Spares, who have been extremely helpful in finding us some pretty unusual parts.
Keith and Kevin Edwards, who built our amazing trailer.
Chris and Pat Jones, who provided accommodation at the airfield, use of all his workshop facilities and tools, advice, a helping hand whenever it was needed and endless, endless cups of tea,
Dave Garrett, who stepped in at short notice to get the trailer to and from Bicester when we were completely stuck for tow vehicles.
Dodge Bailey, Chief Test Pilot of the Shuttleworth Collection, for his advice and – probably – test flying.
I know Rick and Theo will have their own list of thank yous to make, and they will make them elsewhere, but for me, there’s one gigantic thank you I still want to make.
This list is necessarily incomplete and partial, and most men would have felt obliged to say thank you to their wives, even if their contribution had been a grudging acceptance of their husband’s long-term absence in the workshop, and the diminution of their savings. But Sue has been an active enthusiastic partner in the project from day one.
She has undertake a great deal of the research, coming up with all sorts of exciting leads relating to instruments, photographs – indeed anything to do with the Bristol Scout. It’s Sue who insisted on my starting this blog and who has pestered me to make regular entries, Sue who runs the Facebook and Twitter pages, Sue who has been in touch with the Ludlow Ledger and the BBC, Sue who has kept me going with her enthusiasm through the dark times and who wanted to lend me money when things got a bit tight.
The three of us, Theo Rick and myself, are the ones who get the credit for 1264, but in fact Sue is the fourth member of the team. Her contribution is at least as great as any of the rest of us.
Sunday 21 June.
The forecast for today was overcast all day. In fact it turned out to be a great deal better than that, and it was a perfect day for an aviation event. Yesterday’s weather had precluded the arrival of the Bristol Blenheim from Duxford. This was an event of truly historical significance for Bicester, which operated Blenheims for many years, and this was the first time one had landed here for 70 years.
Another lump in the throat as those impossibly soft Bristol Mercury engines whispered onto the grass.
Then we took it upon ourselves to roll the Scout out and park it alongside the Blenheim. This was our historic moment; the first and last Bristol designs by Frank Barnwell.
After that, the White’s two lovely Bristol cars – the 400 and the 404 – were parked in front of the two aircraft, and for us and Sir George this was a real moment to treasure.
Later, just before the Blenheim started up and taxied out, we ran the engine again, and wheeled 1264 back to its display spot, where we spent the rest of a sunny afternoon watching brilliant displays by the Blenheim, a couple of Spitfires, the WWI Display team (very slick, and a commendably tight routine) and waited for the Vulcan, which in the end got delayed and couldn’t make it.
We had 1264 packed away in the trailer and the trailer parked up within an hour and a half, and were home by around 2130, more or less voiceless and legless, but it had been a truly memorable weekend.
Saturday 21 June.
The forecast was decidedly iffy, with rain in the morning, showers throughout the day, and the possibility of thunderstorms in the evening.
The hangar in which 1264 was stored overnight was full of the most beautiful vintage gliders, none of whom was prepared to come out if there was any chance of rain, so they were moved to one side and we rolled 1264 out into a very light drizzle, alongside the BE2f belonging to the WWI Aviation Heritage Trust.
We were directed to a spot right next to the VIP tent, which was a real privilege. Soon afterwards, the distinctive electric blue Bristol 400 car belonging to Sir George White pulled up alongside, and he and his wife Joanna got out, looking very smart despite the rather muddy, damp conditions.
We spoke to Steve Slater who was to do the commentary about timings and so on, and set up the table to sell copies of the parts list. Sir George started a production line to sign some of them, with us builders following suit behind.
At about 1230, we hauled the Scout over the crowd line to airside, and Steve began the introductions. All three of us got the chance to say our bit, and then Sir George gave a wonderful short speech and proceeded to sign the propeller.
I felt a lump appearing unbidden in my throat, and when we’d all posed for loads and loads of photographs, we turned the aircraft into wind and started her up. As always, she performed faultlessly for the crowd, and we got another great round of applause.
Thereafter, it was a question of dodging the showers for the rest of the day. The weather meant that a good deal of the flying display was cancelled, and the numbers of people about thinned considerably throughout the afternoon. Nevertheless, a good deal of interest was shown, and we had family and friends who’d come specially, so it was great to catch up with them.
Then about 1600 we could see a particularly large, dark cloud approaching, so all the aircraft were hurriedly wheeled into the hangar. We just made it before the big downpour, and were huddled in alongside the BE2f and all of the WWI Display team aircraft.
We got a chance to talk to the owner and pilot of one of their Fokker Dr1s, Peter Bond, who’d contacted us ages ago about the possibility of building a Bristol Scout. He’s currently on with a Sopwith Camel, apparently, but he was a great guy and it’s such a pleasure to meet like-minded people who know what it takes to complete a project like this!