Skip to content

“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.”

169. Dash to the Finishing Post

Tomorrow is the day of the final inspection.

In truth, life is never quite as simple as that, and we already know of half a dozen things that need to be done, and I’ve no doubt – indeed, I very much hope – that the three wise men will add to that list so that we can be as confident as possible that everything is perfect when it finally leaves the ground.

I headed straight for Bicester, and one of the many people who came to admire 1264 immediately pointed out that the rudder cable strainers hadn’t been wire locked. This was something we should have done before covering the fuselage, and it was extremely annoying (though not entirely surprising) to find that we’d missed it. It also means it’s going to require the services of a highly trained midget or a chimpanzee with 6ft arms to sort it out. But never mind, eh?

I fitted the propeller complete with locking plate that Ian and I completed yesterday, and everything there is now ready to go.

2015-05-26 Propeller fixing

Theo then turned up, having come from Dorset via Swansea to pick up our tacho cable, and started to fit it – another job which would have been several orders of magnitude easier before the fuselage fabric was fitted. When he got to the tacho end, he was not a little p***ed off to find that it didn’t fit; the thought that the whole journey, and the need to be on the road at 0600 had been a waste of time did not amuse him.

But we turned our minds to ways in which it might be fixed, and found that the inner was actually quite stretchy, which meant that it was actually a perfect fit after all! Theo connected it up, I swung the propeller, and the needle on the tacho twitched. Very satisfactory.

Meanwhile I was starting work on fitting the rubber tubes to connect up the air speed indicator to the pitot head on the port front wing strut, and you won’t be surprised to learn that once again this is something we would have done better to have finished before the f******* fabric was fitted!

Still, finally it was done, and while it will need a bit of finishing off later on, it will do for tomorrow.

Before leaving, I took some photos – the first with everything in place; propeller, cowlings, side shields, the lot. And felt really satisfied that it looked so like the photos from 100 years ago.

2015-05-26 Scout 1266

2015-05-26 Scout final completion 004

168. Making Tracks

This last week has seen truly astonishing progress, and for most of it I’ve been in Venice.

Dave Garrett had volunteered to take the trailer south to Bicester behind his LandRover Discovery, and could only do so this weekend. Saturday was ruled out because the single-track road was due to be closed for road works, so I’d left ultimata with three or four people, saying the work had to be completed by then, before disappearing off to Venice, partly for work and partly for pleasure.

The net result has been huge, huge progress. Ian Harris has worked on the side shields continuously  – almost without sleeping – and has done a stunning job.

Rick, despite a very heavy workload, has completed the two finishing-off jobs in the cockpit and as well as the inspection hatches in the cockpit floor.

Steve Moon completed the cowling on Thursday, and Theo collected it from Southampton, then left Dorset with it on the Saturday morning in time to be at Milson for 0900.

While at Venice, I’d not been totally idle. I’d sorted out a good deal for insurance with Jennings Brokers, and made progress about the details of the Flywheel event, but nothing like everybody else, and by Saturday afternoon when we got back we found Rick and Theo fitting the cowling, Ian fitting the side shields, and there really wasn’t room for me as well.

We all went out to the pub for a meal, and then Rick and Thoe and I headed back to the airfield to finish off the last jobs and get everything packed into the trailer ready for the morning. We finally got away about 1230am.

The next morning I’d got to the airfield in good time to have the trailer on the drive ready for Dave to hitch up. We added some more weight to the front of the trailer just to be on the safe side, then headed off  in a convoy; Chris in front, Dave in the middle and me bringing up the rear to pick up any pieces that fell off.

The local lanes are something of a challenge with the trailer...

The local lanes are something of a challenge with the trailer…

Chris peeled off at Kidderminster with everything going smoothly, and Dave and I carried on, gradually increasing speed until by the time we got to the motorway we were doing a steady 50mph. At this the trailer seemed absolutely steady, and even the passing of artics couldn’t disturb its tranquility. It was so VERY different to last week!

2015-05-24 Bristol Scout going to Bicester 005


It took two of us about three hours to rig it; with three or four it would be proportionately quicker.

We’d checked the wing alignment and were trying to work out what still needed to be done before Wednesday when who should walk in through the door, but Jean Munn and Rob Millinship, who’d just suffered an engine failure as they came over the hedge in the BE2! Both were complementary about the Scout and Jean had some very useful comments about a number of features – in particular, the VERY tight cowling which will, he says, require VERY careful ground running in order not to overheat it.

Of course, he’s going to be back on Wednesday for the full, formal inspection, and we’ll have a clipboard with us to record everything he says, but in the meantime it was great to see Jean, and a real pleasure to meet Rob, who is something of a legend among aircraft builders; particularly for the standard of finish on 1264 which is, as we keep telling people, not intended to be Concours d’Elegance material. It’s supposed to represent how it would have been in service in 1916 in the Eastern Mediterranean. If he though he could have made it an order of magnitude neater and better, he was polite enough not to say so!

Jean Munn (L) and Rob Millinship discuss the Scout's tight cowling.

Jean Munn (L) and Rob Millinship discuss the Scout’s tight cowling.

And of course we had one huge moral advantage over him; our engine still worked!

We’re working from home tomorrow, but Theo and I will be back at Bicester on Tuesday to finish of the various bits and make sure everything’s in order for Wednesday. In the meantime, it was a great pleasure to be able to leave it in the company of its big brother, the BE2e.

2015-05-24 Bristol Scout at Bicester 005



167 … and more progress

Suddenly things are starting to move with bewildering speed.

By the weekend we should have all the final bits of aeroplane; cowling, side shields, tacho cable and pitot tube hose, and they should – at least mostly – be attached to the airframe.

On Sunday we take it to Bicester in the trailer, which, please God, will behave itself.

Hangarage at Bicester is sorted; insurance is (more or less) sorted; filming is (more or less) sorted. We’ll need to contact the gliding club when we get there so that they can give instructions on how to get access to the airfield and open the gate for us, but that shouldn’t be too hard.

And on Wednesday, we’ll have not one, but THREE experts coming to inspect the thing before deciding whether anybody will be allowed to fly it. Mike Smartt is our Light Aircraft Association (LAA) inspector and has to sign off the final inspection stages. Francis Donaldson is the LAA’s Chief Engineer and will come as well, partly because it’s such an unusual machine and partly because it’s one of his personal interests. And because neither Mike nor Francis is particularly current on rotary engines, Francis has asked that Jean Munn, Chief Engineer at the Shuttleworth Collection, comes too. So it’s going to be a busy morning on Wednesday. We’ll need to run the engine for them and go through all the checks and inspections we’ve done so far.

But if – and it’s a BIG if – they fail to come up with any show-stopping faults, we might actually have 1264 signed off for first flight by the time Gene gets here.

Wouldn’t that be something!

166. Progress on all fronts

It’s been a satisfactory day. I’m away for a week on business / holiday, so I’ve been very keen to get things tied up for the last week of May which is when it has to be finally inspected and (we hope!) the paperwork can be issued allowing its first flights to take place – all before Gene DeMarco arrives in early June.

The trough which fits under the bottom of the fuselage is something of an excrescence, and in practice most were removed in service, but we had one made up, and I’ve been trying to fit it. Unfortunately the drawing is wrong, and we would have done better to make it on the job, but it has been possible to fit it after a fashion, and it will do for the moment.

I’ve also made plywood reinforcements for the fuselage fabric near the front lower wing spar attachments, so that the aileron cables can run through without damaging the fabric.

But undoubtedly the best news is that a friend has volunteered to tow the trailer to Bicester behind his Land Rover Discovery – the one with all the gadgets, including a towball that automatically adjusts its height to optimise the tow. We’ve picked on Sunday 24th as the day, although it’s possible the single track road outside the airfield might be closed for road works…

The modifications we agreed on for the trailer to try and make it tow right were to lower the towhitch by bolting it to the underside of the towbar instead of the top. This raises the towbar at the front and makes the chassis horizontal so that the weight is distributed evenly on both axles (instead of favouring the front, as before). We’ve bolted the spare wheel to the front to increase the noseweight and have a couple of other weights that can be secured inside the trailer at the front if more weight is needed. Our friend says we’ll just take it slowly, with a note on the back saying maximum speed 30mph if that’s the best we can do!

Equally heartening was the presence of Ian Harris at the airfield, who made great progress with the side shields, and seems absolutely determined to have them finished by the end of the week. He even rang me at 2100 to ask a question about the drawing, and was still working on them then!

In fact, the outstanding items are the cowling, and Theo is chasing that up on Monday, the tacho cable, which is on order and arriving at the end of the week, and the rubber hose for the pitot tubes which has arrived today and will get fitted next time we rig the aircraft at Bicester.

All in all, while it’s not possible to state that I’m feeling in control of the situation, but the total panic has certainly receded…

165. Disaster! And recovery

It’s been a dramatic week.

The plan had been for the Scout to be present at the 18 Squadron Families Day at RAF Odiham on Friday (today) which was particularly special as it was their centenary, and the Scout was one of the first aircraft they had on strength. We didn’t make it, and here’s why.

I’d spent much of the time since the last post fitting out the trailer to make sure the aircraft was completely secure inside. On Tuesday evening Rick called in and we hitched it up to my car to take it to the weighbridge and give it a road trial.

Once we’d negotiated the single-track roads adjacent to the airfield – quite an exercise with a trailer 8ft wide and 25ft long – it became immediately apparent that it was a complete dog to handle. We carried on at 30-40mph, slowing whenever the back started to wag, but the weighbridge was closed by the time we made it there. On the way back, we decided to add some noseweight, and threw in an old central heating boiler, which should have improved the situation. In fact, the next time it wagged, it rapidly got completely out of control, and we ended up jackknifing, with my car in the ditch facing backwards and the trailer slewed across the road.

Naturally enough, everyone’s chief concern was for the trailer and its contents, and a quick check showed that – remarkably – neither had a scratch. I was completely okay too, but my car, although driveable, is probably beyond economic repair.

So we came to the conclusion that the car was too light and hired a van to get it to the church on time. It was pouring with rain, the tow height was no higher than the car’s, and when we finally raised the tow height, the trailer light connector on the van didn’t work, so we had – very, very reluctantly – to abandon the mission.

We’ve managed to get some expert advice from a local trailer manufacturer and it’s given us a substantial idea of why it didn’t work, and we now have a plan to modify the trailer to improve the situation. But the aircraft needs to be at Bicester in ten days’ time to be ready for final inspection before its first flight, and we are looking into hiring a lorry that will take the entire trailer down – safely – in time.

This depends on three things being completed.

The cowlings, which were ordered last July, promised for March and still haven’t turned up.

The side shields, which were also promised for March and aren’t done yet (but are still promised in the next ten days).

And the tacho cable, which should -just about – be ready.

If we miss this window for flight testing, it may be another year before we get another opportunity with such an experienced test pilot, and it’s a long wait to the next centenary!

Exciting, isn’t it?

164. Trailer Day

Yesterday and today we spent getting the trailer fitted out. The wings racks have to be fitted to the side doors, the tail support and chocks fitted to the floor. The chocks are the most important load-carrying bit and’ we’re proud of those. They are permanently braced against the break in the floor structure in front, and the rear door at the back. Closing the rear door just presses the chocks against the tyre, providing a little gentle compression. Then tie-down straps to between the axle and U-bolts in the floor hold the fuselage down and stop it vibrating sideways.

Wings on racks on side doors. It's easy to lift them off for fitting to the aircraft.

Wings on racks on side doors. It’s easy to lift them off for fitting to the aircraft.

The side doors fold up

The side doors fold up

Then the other side. Now you see it...

Then the other side. Now you see it…

... now you don't. The back door lifts up.

… now you don’t. The back door lifts up.

And this is the closed-up trailer. It's a snug fit under the hangar!

And this is the closed-up trailer. It’s a snug fit under the hangar!

There are a good many other things to go in – step ladders, trestles, tools, etc., but we are confident they’ll fit in okay.

The first operational test was to check that it fitted inside the hangar door, and it does with at least 50mm to spare!

Second operational test was to see if my car could tow it, using the drive at Milson as the ultimate test of horsepower. It passed with flying colours.

Third operational test was to see if the aircraft all fitted in as planned, and – as you can see – it did.


There are still some details to sort out; the steel section from which the trailer is made is perforated, and we’ve got to seal the floor, but we think maybe DPC will do the trick.

And we’ve got to check it on a weighbridge to make sure it’s legal behind my car.

And we don’t know how such a slab-sided beast will handle.

But for now, we’re pretty comfortable with what we’ve achieved.

163. Paternal Seal of Approval

Today we ran the engine a couple more times, for the benefit of Dad, who came along to give his seal of approval. Rick having been in the cockpit yesterday, it was my turn and then Theo’s.

I have to say that it was one of the most visceral experiences of my life, being in charge of such a living, breathing monster. The engine may be the same horsepower as my modern aircraft, but that gigantic propeller gives a simply astonishing amount of thrust. Stood by the side of the cockpit, it’s almost impossible to keep ones footing, even if you’re leaning forward at about 30 degrees. The noise is indescribable – there’s no possibility of communicating, even if you shout directly into someone’s ear, and the vibration and all-pervading smell of castor oil make it utterly immersive. You shouldn’t run a rotary on the ground for more than five minutes, and we kept it shorter than that, but it was a never-to-be forgotten moment.

I shall be needing a long shower tonight to get the castor oil out of everything!

Theo Willford with (in order) Ian, David and Rick Bremner

Theo Willford with (in order) Ian, David and Rick Bremner

Once again, the engine started as sweet as you like, first time every time and we are starting to get more familiar with the way the engine runs, and actually it’s giving us a lot of confidence. There are a couple of things we need to sort out, but in general we feel pretty confident about the whole business. We are looking forward to running it next time with the cowling on, and reducing the amount of oil being sprayed all over our beautiful pristine fabric, which is already starting to look lived in.

This afternoon we removed the wings and started work on the trailer to ensure everything fitted in as planned. The wings are already snugly located in the side doors, and tomorrow we’re going to get the fuselage snugged down.Then all we have to do is see if my car will tow it…


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 820 other followers