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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.”

267. The Honeymoon’s Over

It’s been a tense week. We’ve been looking to get some air to air video, and this means getting us, the Scout, the camera ship, the camera ship pilot, camera and cameraman all together at a suitable spot to fly from in weather conditions suitable for flying the Scout.

We had this week available, and in the end it was only on Friday evening that all these things came together.

First of all, we needed to be sure the Scout was repaired and fit to fly, and the Shuttleworth Collection were clearly the people to do that.

So on Tuesday we trailered her from Dorset to Biggleswade and rigged her, and left her in the capable hands of Andy and Phil, with Jean Munn to give her a thorough looking over. thankfully on Thursday Jean rang to say they’d found nothing new caused by the accident, though a pre-existing cable would need to be changed in order to comply with the regulations.

By Friday morning, they’d got her all ready to go, and I flew in in my Escapade and got the logbook entries filled in and signed off.

My Escapade G-IMNY

My Escapade G-IMNY

Gradually everyone else turned up, and we completed some other filming details while we waited for the day to cool off and the wind to steady up before trying to fly 1264.

A Piper super Cub - the ultimate go-anywhere aeroplane.

A Piper Super Cub – the ultimate go-anywhere aeroplane.

We had proposed using a Piper Cub as the camera ship, since its speed range is suitable, but we wanted to get shots looking upwards at the Scout, and the cub’s high wing would clearly be a problem, so the Cub’s pilot suggested swapping to a DH Chipmunk instead. We had no idea that one was available – or indeed suitable – so this was an absolutely inspired suggestion.

A Chipmunk like the one used for the shoot.

A Chipmunk like the one used for the shoot.

It was 1845 by the time we took off, and we pottered around for half an hour, the Chippie moving around at the cameraman’s instruction, and the cameraman sat in the front seat, pointing the very large camera out of the part-opened canopy.

The weather by now was so calm that we were sharing the Old Warden airspace with a hot air balloon so the flight was a delight, but as I turned to land, the engine speed dropped significantly, and died on final approach. The landing was uneventful, but when we tried to start the engine again it was clear that most of the cylinders had lost compression, and it wasn’t fit to fly.

But we’ve got all the filming requirements complete which is fantastic achievement, and it’s just like 1264 to wait until we’d achieved that milestone before going u/s!

So – on Tuesday when they are back in work, they’ll try to find some time to see if they can identify the problem and we’ll await their call with some trepidation. Phil says the most likely cause is that our use of pure Castor oil instead of Castrol R40 may have caused the piston rings to gum up, and if that’s the case it’s not a massive problem to take the cylinders off and free them up, so there is a chance that it may not be too serious, but until we’ve had that phone call, we are feeling rather nervous…

 

266. All at Sea

It’s a little off topic, but this piece on the BBC website entitled ‘Spitfires of the Sea‘ mentions three junior officers who came up with the concept of the Coastal Motor Boat in 1916. One of them was Bunnie’s brother, Bill.

the Coastal Motor Boat was designed to be fast enough to jump the torpedo booms that protected the German fleet in harbour, and launch torpedoes. Because the boat went much faster than the torpedoes, they were launched facing forward over the stern, and then the boat veered off and the torpedo carried on.

The Coastal Motor Boat was designed to be fast enough to jump the torpedo booms that protected the German fleet in harbour, and launch torpedoes. Because the boat went much faster than the torpedoes, they were launched facing forward over the stern, and then the boat veered off and the torpedo carried on.

Bill devised the concept and served on them throughout WWI, being decorated for actions at Ostend and Zeebrugge, and at the Kronstadt raid, where he sunk his target, was injured 11 times, blown up and picked imprisoned by the Bolsheviks for six months. He deserved the VC, but they’d already awarded so many they couldn’t give him one.

You can see more of Bill’s details here, and for the full, amazing story of the raid itself, read the book Operation Kronstadt.

This shows Bunnie (l), Bill (c) and their father, on the boat back from Denmark after Bill was  freed in Feb 1920. We have masses of correspondence relating to the negotiations for his release.

This shows Bunnie (l), Bill (c) and their father, on the boat back from Denmark after Bill was freed in Feb 1920. We have masses of correspondence relating to the negotiations for his release.

 

And if you’re going to Duxford for the Air Show on 10/11 Sep, you will (I hope) see the Scout flying, and you can go and see the only remaining Coastal Motor Boat in the museum!

 

265. Here and There

You might have thought that with the building done, the cost of owning and operating the Scout would decrease. And it has, but I still need to earn a penny or two to pay for it, so I’m currently in the USA on business.

But before I went, I had a phone call from Central Wheel Components to say that our wheel was repaired and ready for collection. I dashed over to collect it, and was very proud that I was able to refit the tyre by myself.

2016-08-14 Beaded Tyre

A beaded tyre is quite different to a modern one, the rim being hooked so that it grabs the bead moulded into the tyre outer. They are regarded with considerable suspicion; here is what’s on the website of vintage tyre specialists Longstone Tyres, who supplied our inner tubes.

‘Beaded edge tyres or clincher tires are an unreliable technology, which is why they stopped using Clincher rims and Beaded edge tyres. Please bear in mind that in period beaded edge tyres (clincher tires) regularly punctured and came off the clincher wheel rim.

‘For example; in the French 1908 Grand Prix run over 769.88 km which is only 478.38 miles one of the reasons that Christian Lautenschlager won in his 140hp Mercedes which was using beaded edge tyres (or clincher tires) was because he only had 22 punctures.’

Despite this, our tyre had remained attached to the rim despite all the bending, and was clearly good to use again. I posted the inner tube into the outer, and started fitting the outer to the rim at the valve. Because there is no steel cord inside, the whole exercise can be done with your bare hands, and inflating the tyre forces the beads into the rim.

Then I met up with Theo on my way to Heathrow and left all the bits with him.

While I’ve been away, he’s managed to refit the wheel using manpower from the Newton Peveril flying club and had the cowling repaired and refitted it, and so we’re virtually ready to fly again.

And I’ve taken a diversion from my work to fly to Seattle to see their excellent aviation museum adjacent to the Boeing factory.

The whole museum is a delight, with some very interesting aircraft there, but my attention was almost entirely focussed on a single aircraft – the Caproni CA20.

This amazing machine was designed and built in 1914 – exactly contemporaneous with the Scout prototype. It was intended from the outset to be a fighting machine, and the monoplane layout was used to keep the speed as high as possible. And to get round the lack of synchronising gear, a Lewis gun was mounted on the top of an extended kingpost, with a simple mechanism to allow it to be trained by the pilot.

The Italian government were only interested in bombers, however, and the prototype languished in the back of the works. It was flown, and converted from wing warping to ailerons. But it ended up in Count Caproni’s estate, housed in a monastery, whence it was recovered by the Seattle museum after 85 years, entirely untouched. It’s the only aircraft with its original covering still in place, and for that reason I was particularly keen to study it close up.

2016-08-12 CA20

As you can see, although it looks as if it’s covered in clear doped fabric, it looks nothing like ours. It’s not in the slightest translucent, and it has a light fawn colour which doesn’t seem to be the same as the colour of the base fabric, judging by the edges of raw fabric visible in places.

2016-08-12 CA20 fabric

I have contacted the museum curator to see if they can shed any light on the fabric and dope used, and we shall wait to see what that brings.

Come what may, it was a fantastic day, and the CA20 is endlessly fascinating, with its unique low-drag spinner, monoplane layout and very modern look. The rest of the museum was splendidly laid out, with a great number of very interesting aircraft to see, and I spent a happy day exploring.

In the entrance is this beautiful replica Rumpler Taube which was used in large numbers by the Germans in the early days of the war.

In the entrance is this beautiful replica Rumpler Taube which was used in large numbers by the Germans in the early days of the war.

270. 1264’s Fate?

If you thought things had gone a little quiet in the UK after last week’s excitement, I can report that Paschalis Palavouzis has been very busy in Greece and has come up with a very likely explanation of the eventual fate of 1264.

The information we have so far is that Grandad’s last flight in her was on 9 June 1916, two weeks after he’d flown her to Thassos. All the time there, the engine had been running roughly.

The main reference book, “Royal Navy Aircraft Serials and Units, 1911 – 1919” by Ray Sturtivant and Gordon Page, ‘1264’ was transferred “to Malta 6.16 for recovering but lost on return to Thasos when ship sunk; deleted 8.16“.

But Paschalis knew that all aviation assets in the Aegean were being overseen by HMS Ark Royal, moored in Mudros Bay on Lemnos Island, and by studying her logbook and Weekly Operations Reports, it seemed likely that 1264 was received by HMS Ark Royal some time between 23 June and 14 July, and refurbishment work was started.

This photograph of HMS Ark royal's hangar deck was taken in July 1916, and so the Bristol Scout fuselage hiding in the shade of the Short seaplane is very likely 1264.

This photograph of HMS Ark Royal’s hangar deck was taken in July 1916, and so the Bristol Scout fuselage hiding in the shade of the Short seaplane is very likely 1264. It’s possible one wing is propped up on the side, with the tailplane next to it on the deck.

By 28 July, the Weekly

Here's an enlargement of the fuselage.  The more I look at it, the more puzzling it seems.  First of all, is it a Bristol Scout? Well, yes. The only alternative might be a Nieuport 11, but the Nieuport didn’t have a centre section – the two top wing halves joined on the centre line. Some things are clear; the undercarriage and engine have been removed, and the fuselage supported on trestles. You can see the firewall, with a strip on the port side missing, and the petrol tank. The petrol tank seems to have two filler caps, unless the cap has been removed from the neck and left on top. Aft of the petrol tank, the ply cover and oil tank seem to have been removed under the centre section. The oil tank frequently leaked, so this is not unexpected, but you have to remove the centre section and cabane struts first, but the centre section appears to be in place. It looks as if the instrument panel is still in place – also odd if the ply cover has been removed – but behind that is an odd shape; at first glance the dark curve looks like the back of the seat, but close comparison with ours seems to indicate it isn’t. Perhaps it’s something temporarily propped in the cockpit. But the most obvious anomaly is the centre section, with that very odd black square symmetrically placed in the middle. 1264 didn’t have a trailing edge cutout – we have photographic evidence for this. It isn’t a part-completed fabric repair – there’s a rib on the centre line which can’t be seen, and the edges of the square don’t match any other internal structure. Could it be a shadow from some structure overhead? Well, no. The shadows of the derrick have much more fuzzy edges. The only other possibility I can come up with is that this is actually something completely different, such as the tailplane of the Short seaplane.  What do you think?

Here’s an enlargement of the fuselage.
The more I look at it, the more puzzling it seems.
First of all, is it a Bristol Scout? Well, yes. The only alternative might be a Nieuport 11, but the Nieuport didn’t have a centre section – the two top wing halves joined on the centre line.
Some things are clear; the undercarriage and engine have been removed, and the fuselage supported on trestles. You can see the firewall, with a strip on the port side missing, and the petrol tank.
The petrol tank seems to have two filler caps, unless the cap has been removed from the neck and left on top.
Aft of the petrol tank, the ply cover and oil tank seem to have been removed under the centre section. The oil tank frequently leaked, so this is not unexpected, but you have to remove the centre section and cabane struts first, but the centre section appears to be in place.
It looks as if the instrument panel is still in place – also odd if the ply cover has been removed – but behind that is an odd shape; at first glance the dark curve looks like the back of the seat, but close comparison with ours seems to indicate it isn’t. Perhaps it’s something temporarily propped in the cockpit.
But the most obvious anomaly is the centre section, with that very odd black square symmetrically placed in the middle. 1264 didn’t have a trailing edge cutout – we have photographic evidence for this. It isn’t a part-completed fabric repair – there’s a rib on the centre line which can’t be seen, and the edges of the square don’t match any other internal structure. Could it be a shadow from some structure overhead? Well, no. The shadows of the derrick have much more fuzzy edges. The only other possibility I can come up with is that this is actually something completely different, such as the tailplane of the Short seaplane.
What do you think?

Operations Report states that ‘By combining portions of Le Rhone engines which are awaiting spares and by borrowing ball races from the French Aviation Section at Salonika it is hoped to have another Scout which has been rebuilt in HMS Ark Royal ready for duty in two days’ and that ‘a Bristol Scout has been practically rebuilt & will be ready for transport to Thasos by the next ferry.’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

HMS Clacton, armed boarding steamer. Photo supplied by Tony Henwood.

On 2 August, 1264 was transferred onto HMS Clacton for ferrying back to Thassos, but about 12 hours later, she was torpedoed while coming alongside HMS Grafton just off the port of Stavros.

An amazing photo supplied by Trevor Judson, showing the sinking HMS Clacton. She was just coming alongside HMS Grafton to transfer stores when the torpedo hit the bows. the captain immediately went full astern to try and beach her, but she sank too within five minutes - too soon to complete the manoeuvre. Five crew members were lost.

An amazing photo supplied by Trevor Judson, showing the sinking HMS Clacton. She was just coming alongside HMS Grafton to transfer stores when the torpedo hit the bows. the captain immediately went full astern to try and beach her, but she sank too within five minutes – too soon to complete the manoeuvre. Five crew members were lost.

Paschalis adds that she was sunk by Kapitänleutnant Gustav Sieß, captain of U-73, who was a very successful U-boat commander who later won the Blue Max.

Salvage operations began immediately. ‘On 3rd August H.M.S. “Clacton” proceeding from Mudros to Thasos was torpedoed by a submarine in the Gulf of Ruphani having onboard 18 Ratings, a Bristol Scout which had been completely rebuilt in Ark Royal and a large quantity of stores for Thasos.’ By 13 August the weekly report says ‘The Bristol Scout was raised and sent to Thasos on Sunday, 6th August“.

From there the information is a good deal more speculative. The following Weekly Report says that had 2 machines not erected, a Nieuport 2 seater (possibly 8919) and ‘1 Bristol Scout lost en route for Thasos’, but that’s the last reference he’s been able to find. He thinks it likely that every usable part was stripped from the airframe and the remainder was shipped back to HMS Ark Royal for disposal – apparently they were often burned on the island of Ispatho island (known as Koukonisi nowadays) in Mudros bay. Could we find a nameplate there? If we could, we could justifiably claim that 1264 was an original machine, rather than a replica. But the chances of finding it would appear to be vanishingly small…

269. Thassos revisited

When we were on Thassos, a local photographer took lots of pictures. His name is Vasilis Tziatas, and he concentrates on the creative aspect of photography. He’s posted some on his  Facebook page, and sent me copies.

These are my favourites.

BillyTz 20160623 WWI Plain Prinos-128 BillyTz 20160623 WWI Plain Prinos-114 BillyTz 20160623 WWI Plain Prinos-97

Eliott Bell, cameraman

Eliott Bell, cameraman

BillyTz WWI Plain Prinos-54 BillyTz 20160623 WWI Plain Prinos-39

Saturday 30 July. Stow Maries.

We were back up to Stow Maries by 0900 and rigged 1264 once again, but this time we prepared her for flight.

Jean Munn turned up to fly the WAHT Sopwith Snipe, and we caught up with him and his news.

There was one job needing to be done before we considered flying, and that was to replace the axle bungees, which were looking a bit slack.

2016-07-30 bungees

This proved an interesting exercise; as you can see from the photos both bungees were damaged, and one of them had actually been cut into several pieces. The reason was clear.

2016-08-01 Bungee drawing

The drawing shows the bungee being wound onto the chassis in three layers of four turns each, the trunnions being exactly the right width for four turns. Separating each layer are two semicircular pieces of aluminium to allow one layer to slide smoothly over the other so that all turns end up taking the same load. The ends of the aluminium had been chafing on the bungee and had actually cut right through it!

We decided to replace the aluminium strips as we rebuilt it – partly because this was what was on the drawing, and partly because we weren’t at all sure we’d be able to get the three layers to lie flat and evenly tensioned without them. We also wondered if they had had an unusual amount of wear in the trailer, though we wouldn’t know for sure unless we had a GoPro camera mounted in the trailer while we were driving along!

During my preflight inspection, I also noted that the braiding on the tailskid bungee was very frayed, but we decided it was okay to fly, as long as we didn’t taxi her at all, and we’d order more bungee to replace it before flying again.

It was quite hard to concentrate on the job in hand, with an airshow going on in the background; Rob Gauld-Galliers in the Albatros, Jean-Michel Munn in the Sopwith Snipe, and various other machines as well.

At the end of the airshow the wind was poorly aligned with the runways and a bit strong, so I went on a fruitless search for a replacement trailer tyre. When I got back, the wind had dropped and was reasonably aligned with the main runway, so we towed her out and started her up.

We’d parked next to a 7/8 scale SE5A all afternoon and its pilot, John G, had taken off just beforehand, with a plan to do a little formation flying once I’d got confidence in my right turns.

Takeoff was normal, and I climbed out and practiced my turns in both directions. I reckon I’ve now got the hang of it. The trick with right hand turns is to apply right stick and rudder to get the angle of roll you want, but don’t alter the rudder until you start pulling back on the stick. All perfectly logical, of course, but if you alter the rudder before pulling back, you end up in a large sideslip, and of course if you leave it until after you’ve pulled the stick back, you end up in a large sideslip!

That sorted, I looked around for the SE5A, and then began one of the most enjoyable flights I’ve had. For around 20 minutes, we chased each other round the sky; sometimes he was on my tail, sometimes the other way around, and he was kind enough to turn on his smoke system from time to time when I had him lined up in my sights!

Dog fight at Stow

It was magical, and while we were doing this I was keeping an eye on the windsock which was moving around a good bit, making it hard to decide which runway to use.

Eventually I thought I should call it a day, and decided to use the same direction I’d taken off from. The wind, although variable, was very light, so I hoped it would be okay. I’ve got into the habit of flaring too late recently, so this time I made a positive effort to flare before the wheels touched, and the result was a horrible balloon, and I stalled in from around 6ft up and bounced. But she stayed straight, and I thought we’d got away with it, until the tail started swinging left, faster and faster, and with a horrible inevitability the left wheel gave way, and 1264 tipped gently on her nose.

Bristol Scout 1264 crash landed after fitting a le Rhone engine

Just like Granddad.

And no, there are no photos to demonstrate!

Thankfully the airfield was very quiet, and we were right on the edge of the runway, so we weren’t causing any serious blockage. I tried to get out of the cockpit and found it pretty much impossible. With half a dozen people there, they tried rotating the aircraft back on an even keel, but there wasn’t enough to get hold of. Eventually I stepped down using the cabane struts as a ladder, and with the aircraft lightened, we were able to get her tail back down and make a preliminary assessment of the damage.

Usually the main victim of an event like this is our beautiful propeller, but although the tip had driven maybe six inches into the ground, when we cleaned it off, there wasn’t even the tiniest scratch to the lacquer. Amazing! The cowling had been gently pushed back into contact with a couple of rocker gears, but had barely contacted them, which meant that meant that the engine was extremely unlikely to have suffered any damage.

2016-07-31 Cowling

Next on the list of at-risk items is the wingtip, but here again the tip skid had done its work and the wing itself was untouched.

The chassis appeared completely unmarked. Even the beaded tyre – normally reckoned to be very vulnerable – was intact although the rim resembled a strictly non-European banana, and the specially made hub – which we’d reinforced after the last near-disaster – was pristine.

2016-07-31 wheel

After the event, Theo said the wind at the time of the landing was right across the runway, with a significant tailwind factor. I should have reassessed the windsock on finals and gone around if I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t. It would likely to have been better to have landed on the other runway.

With the help of the staff at Stow, we managed to get her back to the apron with the help of a trolley under the broken wheel, then derigged and back in the trailer. Getting the fuselage into the trailer was a challenge, but once again Theo came up with the goods and suggested using a beam lifted by four people with a strop round the axle where the damaged wheel had been. It all went very smoothly, and we even had in the trailer a purpose-built axle stand left over from the last wheel failure in 2014 which served perfectly to support it in the trailer!

We drove back to Theo’s on the Sunday, and left the trailer at his place.

Today I dismantled the damaged wheel, found the tyre and inner tube in prime condition, and got the wheel in for rebuilding using a spare rim we had already purchased. Theo spoke to Steve Moon, the cowling man, and he confirmed that repair would be possible.

And Jean Munn rang to commiserate and offered constructive suggestions for other checks we can make to the airframe to ensure there’s no further unexpected damage to 1264 which we shall certainly carry out before flying her again. He also said that everyone who flies a WWI aircraft will suffer a ground loop, which made me feel better, though I certainly hope that having got mine out of the way I can avoid it hereafter!

Both of them will be ready in around a couple of weeks, so we are hopeful to be back up and running before the end of the flying season. Once again, 1264 is proving to be resilient and lucky.

 

Friday 29 July. On the Road yet again…

By moving the trailer to Falmouth, we’d shaved around ten miles off what would be the longest journey of the week – from the far tip of Cornwall to Essex, and we were on the road by 0745 to avoid parking charges.

We retraced our route of a couple of days before, stopping at Exeter for breakfast, and heading back down the A303 for the third time in four days. Our fears about the A303 in holiday season at the start of the weekend proved unfounded, and we made great time as far as the fleet services on the M3.

But the M25 proved our undoing. We got on it at around 1500, and – thanks to about three different holdups – got off it five and a half hours later at around 2030, after which it started to rain. Oh – and halfway round, in one of the stationary bits, an adjacent lorry driver pointed out that one of the trailer tyres was knackered, so we pulled over and changed it for the spare.

We got to Stow Maries aerodrome near Maldon in Essex and unhitched the trailer, then headed off to our accommodation, which was a pub. By now it was 2100 – more than thirteen hours after setting out – and they’d stopped serving food some while before, and the karaoke was going full blast right underneath our rooms. It was a fitting end to a very, very trying day.

Theo had done most of the driving, having been in the hot seat for the first leg to Exeter and the last bit round London. He retained his cool and his sense of humour and was far more observant than I was, and without him I don’t know where I would have been. I wasn’t feeling brilliant, and I’d have made a great many more stupid decisions.

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