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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.”

320. Problems, Problems…

Some of you will know that there is something going on at The Vintage Aviator Limited, which has shut up shop while an internal investigation is going on. There seems to be no indication of the nature of the problem, but we’ve had nothing but wonderful support and help from them, and hope that things return to normal as soon as possible.

And today there are news reports of problems with the Battle of Britain Memorial flight’s Merlin engines. This seems even more surprising, given the number of Merlin engines operating today and their generally excellent serviceability record.

Let’s hope they can be resolved without too much difficulty. It would be a tragedy if they were grounded for any length of time.

319. Flying on the Ground

Over the Bank Holiday weekend (Saturday and Sunday 26/27 August) we will be at the Three Counties showground in Malvern, Worcs, for the Run for the Hills event organised by the Morgan car factory for their owners.

The link is that Great Britain’s first air ace, Albert Ball, downed his first enemy aircraft in Bristol Scout no. 5312 which looked very similar to 1264, and in 1917 he took delivery of a special bodied Grand Prix Morgan three wheeler, which he described as ‘The nearest thing to flying on the ground.’Albert Ball and Racing Morgan.jpg

Poor Albert was killed in combat shortly afterwards.

We hope to be there together with a similar type of car and some of Albert Ball’s relatives, which will make for a very interesting weekend. Although it’s a static display, we are also hoping to run the engine periodically.

But it’s clear that Albert wasn’t the only petrolhead.

By an amazing coincidence, I’ve been emailed by Ian Easton who is building a model of the Bristol Scout in California, but is also a collector of vintage bikes. I sent him this photograph of my grandfather on his own method of flying on the ground – an Indian motorcycle.Bremner Francis (Bunnie), Indian motorbike c1920.jpg

Well, Ian’s done a bit of digging and come up with this, which is a 1914 Indian Big Twin of 1000cc. Ian says Grandad had the sports handlebars and gearbox, with the clutch and gearchange on the tank. The number plate indicates that it was first registered in Cambridge, which would tie in with Grandad’s university career – he was at Trinity College, graduating in July 1914, so it’s possible it was some sort of reward for getting his degree.

Indian Bike.jpg

The photograph comes from here, thanks very much.

Ian is continuing to dig, so we will await the outcome with baited breath!


318 Shuttleworth Edwardian Day

What a great weekend!

The team congregated at Shuttleworth on Saturday lunchtime to get 1264 rigged for the Sunday show, but since we weren’t sure about hangarage space we chewed the fat before the boys popped out to watch Stu Goldspink decide whether to take the Hurricane up to East Kirkby for a display.

A spectacular thunderstorm with lots of lightening and dramatic cloud formations passed through, but Stu decided to give it a go, and we helped him fuel up and start up before bringing the trailer round and rigging 1264 in our allocated space in no. 6 hangar.

Meanwhile Sue headed off to the Swiss Gardens and in the crystal clear post-storm light of the late afternoon took some simply stunning pictures on her mobile phone.


With that done, we found our rooms in the College garden suite, and headed off to the pub for a leisurely meal.

The weather on Sunday morning matched the forecast – sunny, with a light breeze straight up the main runway.

We arrived to find 1264 already parked on the grass, and we set up the display information and the table with all the bits, including the Guinness cake Sue had made to offer with every DVD sold!

I’d gathered that the LAA magazine had been delivered, including the article by Clive Davidson. As always, all four of us were kept busy; I needed to fill the petrol tank, and check the oil, and I also found time to prime the pulsometer in the hope that it would finally tell us that the oil was being delivered to the engine.

Halfway through the morning, I was amazed and utterly delighted to see my brother Rick and his wife Marian approaching. They’d only decided to come at the very last minute, and it absolutely made my day. They helped out on the stand, and Rick was able to see the Scout being displayed – something he hadn’t seen since October 2015.

Around midday all the WWI aircraft were moved to the end of the runway before the show started at 1400.

It was opened by my old friend Pete Davies, who did amazing things with his very sophisticated autogiro, and we could then relax for an hour or so and watch the show before going across to 1264 ready for our slot just after 1700.

All the pilots of the early WWI aircraft were eyeing up the strengthening wind which was also somewhat gusty. Immediately before us, the two BE2es were scheduled to display. In the end, only one would start, and Jean-Michel Munn took off, though his engine was clearly misfiring, with a good deal of smoke coming from the exhaust, and an uneven note to it.

vlcsnap-2017-08-11-21h28m17s765.pngWe fired up while he was displaying, and I waited for a nice steady breeze after he landed before launching.

I held about 40kt in the climb out, giving – with all that additional power from the  engine – an impressive climb.

vlcsnap-2017-08-11-21h24m50s841.pngAs expected, it was pretty bumpy up there, but 1264 continues to give me more and more confidence every time I fly, and I was able to give a very satisfactory display, even managing to taxi all the way back to the hangars this time!

There were two minor disappointments; I’d forgotten to wave to the crowd on my final pass, and I’d forgotten to switch on the pulsometer, so I still don’t know if it works!

But it was a good show, the organisers were very happy with it generally and our display, and we arrived home late at night, tired and very happy, with 1264 put safely on static display in no. 1 hangar.


317. Back Home

On 1 Aug we had been invited at fairly short notice to come to the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Queen Street, Bristol. The Academy is an art gallery, and their current exhibition is all about air, which seemed appropriate.

But on the this particular day they were hosting a workshop run by My Future My Choice, an organisation trying to inspire children through the use of  mechanical models which they can build and then test out. Their workshop was focusing on model aircraft, and one of them is a model of the Bristol Scout.

I’d set off from home at 0600 with the trailer in tow and arrived about 0830. The front of the academy has a very convenient space which had thoughtfully been coned off for us, and i could simply drive in and when Theo turned up we could set up straight away.


Sir George White (l) arrived to inspect progress, and it was great to see him again. Also in the picture is Polly Barnes with the Bristol Scout kit for children to make.


Being on the pavement on a busy street, we were soon surrounded by a combination of people who had come specially to see us and those who were just walking past. One person had been going past on the bus, and returned to see what was going on!

The BBC is located a couple of blocks away and we did a short piece for the lunchtime TV news, and a longer piece for Laura Rawlings on her radio show.


Meanwhile inside the Academy the workshop had a good time building models of the Scout with a stream of children, who also came out to ask about the real thing.


By 1530 I was getting itchy feet, as I had to trailer the aircraft across to Biggleswade before going on down to the farthest corner of Kent for work.

But all went smoothly, and 1264 is parked in the Shuttleworth Collection ready for Sunday’s Edwardian Air Display, and I got to Ashford around 2200, tired, but happy.

316. Stow Show

It’s been a busy couple of weeks; I returned from ten days working the in the US (Boston MA, Green Bay WI, Dallas, TX and Corona CA) on the Thursday evening, then set off as early as possible on the Friday morning to collect the trailer from Bicester and head to Stow Maries for the Airshow.

We arrived in good time to get 1264 erected, hoping to get a flight in, since I needed a practice display in order to be permitted to carry out the actual display flights on the Saturday and Sunday.

But the wind wasn’t suitable, and so we headed off to the pub, and thence to our favourite B&B, whose name I won’t divulge in case you get to book it before I do when we go again!

The weather was looking decidedly iffy on both days, but we got to the airfield well before 0900 in the hope that a practice might be possible. In the event, the wind wasn’t quite as strong as forecast, and straight down the runway, so with Flight Display Director Terry Dann’s permission, off I went and flew around for a few minutes. Everything went fine, and the engine was sounding great and giving even more power than last time. last time I’d flown there I’d tipped 1264 on her nose, and so I was a little nervous when it came time to land, but the conditions were straightforward, and so was the landing.

During the morning, in between meeting all sorts of great people (including Michael Miller, who was over from Australia and particularly wanted to see 1264), we met up with the Great War Team. If you haven’t come across their YouTube Channel yet, then do so now. It’s one of the best ways of digesting the incredible complexities of the Great War, in 10-15 minute videos. Fronted by Indy Neidell, an established historian, each episode is carefully researched and beautifully illustrated with original footage. There are weekly ‘diary’ videos describing the progress of the war around the world, with additional specials covering particular subjects in greater detail, and sessions where viewers’ questions are answered.

They were in the UK visiting a number of sites, including the Tank Museum at Bovington and Stow Maries. I had previously spoken to the producer Flo Wittig, and they had said they’d like to do a special on 1264.

They were busy filming other stuff, but we agreed to film the majority of the episode on Sunday morning. Nevertheless, they filmed 1264’s display slot in the early afternoon, and I hope the video will be useful for them.

The display went absolutely fine, and that engine just gets better and better. I’d like to do another timed climb to see if there is any measurable improvement since May – I’m pretty sure there will be.

In the evening we retired to the Prince of Wales pub again, as did the original pilots in 1918, where we had a rowdy evening with Dick Forsythe, Jean-Michel Munn, the Abery twins and many more.

Sunday morning was film time, and I did the interview with Indy, who enjoyed the opportunity to sit in 1264’s cockpit.unnamed.jpg

Unfortunately the wind had swung round to the west overnight, and this made takeoff too dangerous, as it would have meant taking off towards the crowd, so we had to sit it out.

Then a shower came through ,and we were just packing up when the shower moved through, the wind died and the sun came out, enabling the other WWI aircraft – the BE2 and the Snipe – to give spirited displays. it was a great shame not to be able to join them ,but in some ways I wasn’t too sorry, as we had to tow the trailer all the way home to Ludlow, and we didn’t get back until 2200 as it was.

I’ll try and get more pictures if they come through, but we took none ourselves.

In the meantime, check out the Great War YouTube channel, and in particular on the 26th August, which is the date slated for our special!

315. Busy, Busy,

August was going to be a relatively quiet month, with the Shuttleworth Edwardian Day on the 6th being the only fixture.

But all of a sudden, it’s starting to fill up, with possible events in Bristol on the 1st, Odiham on the 24th and Malvern on the 26th / 27th, followed in rapid succession by the LAA Rally at Sywell on 1st Sep.

Goodness knows how many miles we’ll have travelled this summer, and we’re always fired up by the enthusiasm with which we’re received but we’ll certainly be glad of a chance to put our feet up…

314. … and on

The Larkhill event was pretty much done by 1430, and we started to dismantle her again, then headed off to Yeovilton. Unfortunately this involved the A303 on a summer Friday afternoon, and while we managed to avoid some of the queues, it was still a VERY long, slow haul.

It being a military base, we had to go through plenty of security, but we managed to get our passes and dropped the trailer at our spot, before heading back to Theo’s house for the night.

Theo’s brother Noel was with us for the weekend, and it was a huge pleasure to see him again and catch up with all his news. He’d become an integral part of the team in Greece, and we’d missed him since.

We were told we had to be on site before 0730 on the Saturday morning, since the road would be closed after that, and this meant us getting up at 0500 in order to be on time. But Stephen Saunders drove down from Stafford, and arrived at almost exactly the same moment, having set off at 0300!

Once on site, things went very smoothly. we had a spot inside a hangar near to the flight line, next to an engine-less Swordfish. We had expected everyone to be outside all day, and that we would have a quiet day, but – except when the very noisy jets were displaying – were were on our feet all day.

Once again, we met any number of interesting people; Peter Cowlan’s grandfather was an airframe fitter on HMS Ark Royal in 1916, and may have been involved in the refurbishment of 1264 after Grandad went home.


And another interesting meeting was with Hugh Thomas and Polly Barnes, who supplied us with a cardboard model of a Bristol Scout ages ago. They use model aircraft to inspire children, and had a space at the back of the hangar where children were making model gliders and trying them out in the space.




But Hugh had also made up a Bristol Scout, marked 1264, and fitted it with an electric motor to fly round the pole.

1-P1100755.JPGI was very impressed with the way they engaged with the children. when he got a moment, Hugh popped across with his model to be photographed alongside the real thing.


We then went back to their display area, hooked it up to the pole in the middle, and set it off, where it flew very successfully.


But we weren’t finished with interesting meetings yet. When someone took a particular interest in the seat, it transpired that he’d built the thing! This was Jonathan Coates, whose Somerset firm made the seat in 2014, and who likely made the original seat in 1915…1-P1100770.JPG

The weather was great, Stephen sold lots of DVDs – indeed, if you haven’t done so, it might be worth getting your order in – and we were absolutely exhausted by the end of the day, after packing 1264 back in the trailer again.

On Sunday, I drove back up to Yeovilton, hitched up the trailer, drove it back to Bicester, and thence home to Ludlow. The remainder of this week and next I’m in the USA, earning money to help pay for our expensive toy, and then as soon as I’m back, we’re off to Stow Maries in Essex for the ‘Stow Maries at War’ weekend on the 22/23 July, where we hope to be flying in the display on both days, weather permitting.

Hope to see you there!