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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.”

330. Pulsometer

Yesterday was the first time I’d actually managed to get the pulsometer working in flight.

2017-10-09 Pulsometer.jpgWe’d primed it carefully and left it switched off when we started it. When we ground ran it, one or two bubbles of air came through, and we could see that at slow revs it was starting to empty but more or less stayed full once we were up at full rpm.

So when I flew I took off with it switched off, but switched it on once I was clear of the circuit, and lo and behold, the level remained constant.

Result? Well, not really. I tried hard and failed to see any regular fluctuation in the level to indicate that the pump was working.

Thereafter I forgot to switch it off, and by the time I got back it had emptied again.

It’s clearly not the most useful piece of kit in the cockpit, but it seems a shame for it to remain empty, so I think we may reposition it below the level of the oil pump so that at least it remains full of oil under all circumstances, and we can see if it provides more useful information in the longer term.

The current position is based on a factory drawing, but clearly if it didn’t work there it’s very likely that engineers in the field would have repositioned it so that it did, and it’s not very likely that this information would have got back to the drawing office in Filton!


329. Back home

Sunday was a day of rest, flying a new Rans aircraft from Shobdon to Milson and helping erect a new bed for my grandson, but on Monday I was back in the Hilux cab again to take 1264 to her natural home at the Shuttleworth Collection.

I had planned to be there by 1100, but was about half an hour late, by which time I’d had a phone call from Theo, and I found him and Chil sat in the cafe tapping their watches.

We set to immediately to get her rigged and signed up for flight, and after a short lunch break we rolled her out onto the grass to carry out a short engine run to assess the security of the cowling which has at some point come into brief contact with the rocker gear on the engine.

The engine run went fine, and neither hand pressure with the engine off nor the stress of running at full power appeared to move it at all, so we decided to fly her as the weather was starting to improve, and I’d been complaining for a couple of weeks that I’d had no chance all year to make a pleasure flight.

The 20 minute flight was, as always, delightful, and I tried steep turns in both directions to see if I could co-ordinate them better. I couldn’t, and came to the conclusion that precession wasn’t a major factor in the whole business, and that the twitchiness of the rudder was actually the major culprit, and I simply needed to feel the seat of my pants a bit more carefully.

I also did a couple of vols plané – glides with the engine shut down – and timed them at around 850ft/min – which is very comparable to the 700ft/min I get from my Escapade microlight, with the engine ticking over, and therefore providing some residual thrust.

I also tried a timed climb, and the result – about 650ft/min at between 45-50kt – was somewhat less than I was expecting. But I have a feeling that we might actually do better going a bit faster, and next time I’m going to see if I can get some figures at different speeds.

The landing wasn’t the smoothest, but it was a westerly which creates quite a bit of turbulence over the trees of the Swiss Garden and the hangars, and I managed to get her down in one piece, which is the important thing!

So she is now sat in No. 1 hangar with her WWI contemporaries, looking thoroughly at home, and I’m hoping we can get her back in the air once or twice more before the end of November.

Since Thursday morning I’ve driven 530 miles, over 400 of which were towing the trailer at about 16mpg. No wonder flying is considered so expensive!

328. Salisbury Cathedral

This last weekend saw us at Salisbury Cathedral to commemorate the end of the Battle of Passchendaele at the invitation of SSAFA, the oldest Forces’ charity.

As last year, we were there for two days in the company of a pop-up trench system, and joined this year by a replica WWI tank and an archaeologist specialising in WWI. And as last year, we were kept on our feet for the entire time, even though this year we were joined by Sue, who was as busy as Theo and I telling the story with barely a break for a bite of lunch.

On Friday we entertained countless parties of schoolchildren, all of whom seemed to be interested in what we had to say and enjoyed themselves.

On Saturday it was the turn of the general public, and they too thoroughly enjoyed the story we had to tell.

Colin Lee.jpg

Thank you to Colin Lee for this picture which gives a pretty good idea of the fabulous backdrop to the event and what it was like all weekend!

As always, we met any number of interesting people with their own interesting stories. Among them was a relative of Richard Bell-Davies, who won the VC with No. 2 Wing before Grandad joined it for rescuing a colleague who’d crash-landed on Ottoman territory. Bell-Davies landed alongside under Turkish fire and took off with his colleague stuffed into the unoccupied spare seat of his Nieuport 10. Bell-Davies would have been there with 1264 and it’s possible he may have flown her.

We also met William Verdon-Smith whose grandfather was a nephew of Sir George White (founder of the Bristol Aeroplane Company) and who was chairman of it from 1927 to 1955.

And later on in the day we met Mike Palmer who is a lifelong model engineer, and who, among many other achievements, has built a working 1/4 scale model of the Bentley BR2 rotary engine, a video of which you can see here. We are hoping to go and see the thing in the flesh at some point – it looks absolutely awesome!

We tried out an electric winch to get the fuselage in and out of the trailer and this was a great success, though I’d like to find a way of replacing the long battery cables between the mechanical switch and the winch motor with a remote system, and we’re hoping to rig up a pair of snatch blocks to allow us to use it to raise and lower the very heavy side doors.

On our way back a warning light came on the dashboard of the trusty Hilux to indicate the need to replace the timing belt as it passed 90,000 miles. This means I’ve done 70,000 miles in less than two years, much of which is in connection wit 1264, so I decided to have a look and see just how much we’ve done so far in 2017, and it’s a bit scary!

Starting in January I had a week with Theo working on the airframe. Since then between us we’ve done three flying displays, nine static displays, five talks and four other events. That’s a total of 21 events in total, varying in length from an evening to a week.

And we’re not finished yet…

327. Camera and ‘Action’!

Theo clearly had a good time at Stow Maries. here’s the rest of his story.

‘On Monday 25th September I arrived at Stow Maries, just in time to miss lunch. Oh well, such is life. When I found Stephen to report in, with him were Tony and Pia Bianchi. Tony is a legend among both aircraft restorers and as a maker of flying scenes for movies. Meeting them was a real pleasure for me and I had several interesting conversation as well as spending two evenings in their company.

‘Having hoped to get started on fitting the camera on the BE2 I could only watch as it was being used for outside filming. The second camera crew were re-enacting a mad dash by the pilot and ground crew to move the plane whilst the airfield was being shelled. I managed to mess up the continuity by suggesting the propeller was in the wrong position for starting after they had already filmed it from one angle. However it seems that the editor can sort these things out. He was on set and it turned out he was the same editor who had created the film about our Scout. So I had some interesting conversations with him as well.

‘While we were doing this scene, behind us the first camera crew was filming a scene of the pilots going into the briefing room. At Stow the set is the genuine room used one hundred years ago.

‘At the end of this the planes were hangared; some of the Stow-based planes had been used as back drop. The BE2 was then rigged in the hangar with blue screen around it, ready for the morning filming. However producer Stephen Saunders, the Bianchis and I adjourned to the Prince of Wales for the evening.

‘Next day I was back at the airfield in time for breakfast. I then wandered back to the car to start work, just in time to meet up with my assistant, Chil. We started work on mounting the camera. Around us the boom camera and lighting crew were setting up and the blue screen team were finishing off. We managed to get the replica camera mounted without any damage to the aircraft.


IMG_0830.jpg‘I had to use a cable tie in one position, as it was the only fixing which would thread through the fabric lacing. This later appeared in the shot and we had to use make up to disguise it. As we were finished before everyone else, Chil and I wandered off to see what the first crew were up to. They were at the other end of the flight line filming a ‘shot down Eindekker’. However as it was now lunch time we never saw this completed.


‘After lunch we were back in the hanger ready to shoot the scene where the Eindekker is shot down by the observer in the front seat of the BE. He was using a 0.303″ rifle to do this. I assumed this actually happened as the research for this film has been very good. Judging by the problems the actor was having wielding the rifle this must have been some feat during the war. All this took some time as the boom camera had to be constantly repositioned. I was watching the filming from behind the director, Hamish, as he had a monitor screen showing everything the camera was looking at. After this the camera was used to make it look like the plane was manoeuvring to get the Eindekker.

‘That was it for the day, so Chil and I adjourned to the Prince of Wales where we were joined by the Bianchis and later Stephen to have yet another pleasant evening.

‘Next day, with a different duo of actors playing the aircrew we started off filming more ‘flying footage’. As I was the only pilot with WW1 aircraft flying experience on set, this is where I became the aviation consultant. With a non-pilot in the cockpit, you have to tell them the most obvious things – the most important being where to hold the stick so the elevators are in the right position.

IMG_0881.jpg‘After this we got around to film the camera sequences. So now I had to explain to the actor how to operate the camera. Luckily I had a bright one and he grasped most things first time. After a few shots, Hamish decided that if you did not know how a WW1 camera worked you would wonder what was going on, so we altered how it was done.

‘I must admit that it was a better scene afterwards.

‘We then shot the scene described in the previous blog as not being with the C type camera. In one take the actor totally fumbled the action and both Hamish and I said ‘That’s it!’ By mistake he had got exactly what was required. It was then decided to alter the length of the camera boom to get some overhead cockpit shots. This took some time. Then the lighting for the cockpit was poor so more time was lost trying to sort this out.

IMG_0846.jpg‘When we got back to filming, the poor actor had been in the cockpit for nearly four hours, so make-up had to climb on the plane to sort him out again. A few more ‘flying’ shots were taken with the gofer rocking the wings and nearly banging the upper wing against the ceiling. I pointed out that the moving of the control surfaces that Hamish had asked for were unrealistic. He politely pointed out that they were making a film and editing would sort it out. So I shut up after that. By half past six we had all had enough for the day so the wrap was called. As Chil and I had thought two days would be more than enough to shoot our scene that was the end of filming for us.

IMG_0897.jpg‘As there was another camera scene to shoot outside, I briefed Stow’s Ed as to how to remove the camera. I made my farewells and left for home. All in all it had been a very interesting two days and both Chil and I were glad to have had a part in the process of film making.’

326. ‘War above the Trenches’ – the view from the ground

Theo has sent this dispatch from the trenches.

Historical Accuracy and Filming

‘When I agreed to make a camera for Stephens’s new film, I have to admit I knew nothing about the subject. So first and foremost came research. Yet again the internet came to the rescue with articles, and more importantly, pictures on the subject.

‘I quickly realised that the early cameras were made of wood and therefore would be easy to make a replica of. However there where hand held ones and aircraft mounted ones.

‘An email to Stephen to ask for the script of the action he wanted this camera for should resolve the issue of the type needed. He has based his script on the transcripts of actual flyers of WW1. So when I read the two scenes he wanted to make, I realised he had one scene based on the C-type camera, mounted on the plane and operated by the pilot. The other was hand held and operated by the observer. However this scene was crucial to make the effect he wanted. With the aircraft we were going to use being a BE2, it would be impossible to position the film camera to get a good shot of the observer using the replica camera. In fact I found out that they could only use the camera to any affect, during the war, by cutting a hole in the floor of the aircraft. Then siting through the hole and quickly moving the camera over the hole and taking the picture. An extremely difficult procedure in the confined space of a BE2 front cockpit.

‘I am not going to describe the scenes, as you can wait to see them in the finished film. However we decided to make the C-type aircraft mounted camera and alter its operation slightly to achieve the other scene. So please any of you who understands WW1 aerial photography please remember we are making a film with what is available to us in the present. This camera being mounted on the side of the pilot’s cockpit was very easy to film and get the required shots.

‘Making this camera was an interesting exercise, as I had no dimensions and scaled it off a photo and a measurement from the BE2 we were going to use. BE2c withC-type camera 1916 copy.jpgIMG_1018.JPG

‘ I also had to simplify the external fittings but decided that as the shoots would be quick this would not be noticed. Some brass fittings found by Chil came in very useful to create these fittings. Even so it all took a lot of head scratching and more time thinking about it than building it. The end product looked okay (see photos in previous blog) and Stephen and team were happy with it.

‘More about the actual filming to follow.’


325. Meanwhile, back on the film set

Theo has been busy all week on the set of ‘Above the Trenches’ having made a replica C type camera, fitting it to the BE2e and making sure it does its stuff according to the story line.

With him is Richard Chillingford (Chill) and I can do no better than pass on what he says.

The set.jpg

‘The set inside No 2 hanger at Stow Maries.  Standing on the right was the Editor and sitting with his back to him is the Director.  Standing on the left was the record keeper, every take and every scene detailed.  Guy standing in the blue shirt was a gofer, he kept us going with a constant supply of drinks, each to our individual preferences as well as sourcing rolls of blue tape, extra blue screens and dozens of other bits and pieces.  Lowest of the low but just as essential as the Director (although I didn’t mention that at the time).
‘We started out being referred to as “Techies” when our services were required by the Director.  By the end of the second day Theo was “my Aviation Consultant”.   I was still a Techie…
‘A great experience, interesting, informative and eye-opening at times.  So glad I’m not an actor, techie suits me much better.’
Last minute adjustments.jpg

Last minute adjustments to the mounting bracket

Attaching the frame.jpg

Attaching the frame. No screws are used in the mounting of this bracket!

It Fits.jpg

Finally – it fits.

Camera Mounted.jpg

Looking good!

Pilot instruction.jpg

Teaching the pilot how it works…

Pilot getting in.jpg

… and how to get in and out safely. The blue in the background is what is known, weirdly, as green screen.


324. … and author?

I’ve written a book about the Bristol Scout which combines four separate strands – the story of the Barnwell brothers, who were so crucial to the development of British aviation, the design and service of Frank Barnwell’s design, the Bristol Scout, Grandad’s flying career, and the recreation of his favourite machine from 2002 to 2016.

And recently I’ve been given a contract by specialist aviation publishers Fonthill, and I hope it will see the light of day in early 2018. There’s a great deal of work to be done first, and I’m not counting my chickens, but it is certainly looking promising at the moment.

I’ll keep you posted…