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40. Friendship


It’s been a tough week, on the whole.

Theo and I had booked the last week to complete the wings and ailerons, and to look at manufacture of the fuselage longerons – the pieces of timber that run from the back to the front of the fuselage.

Because we’d already built two wings, the assembly of the other two was relatively straightforward, involving assembly of the ribs onto the spars, fitting the internal bracing wires and fitting the leading and trailing edge tubes. One leading edge had to be manufactured, and a couple had to be painted. We’d reckoned on a day for each wing, and – thanks in part to Theo’s pre-assembly of one wing, we achieved this, though it was pretty late in the evening when we finished the gluing! The glue has to set overnight, of course; hence the importance of being able to get a wing build complete in the early evening, and then it took about an hour and a half to glue all the joints, disassembling each joint in turn in order to glue it, before clamping it up and moving onto the next joint. We didn’t have enough clamps to do a complete wing, so we used Spanish windlasses as well.

Gluing the lower wing together. Up to this point, you can disassemble a wing at any time. Past this stage, it’s definitely become a wing – in this case, the lower starboard wing – and you have to make sure it’s square and flat, with all the ribs correctly positioned. It’s amazing how a minor error at one point can have huge consequences somewhere completely unexpected.

We both felt very old and tired after these two days, and my sleep pattern had been affected, but we’ve known each other for thirty years, and been building aeroplanes together for almost as long, and Theo is a rock under these circumstances. When I got tired and emotional, he just kept the pace going, and his progress spurred me on and reinvigorated me, so that I was soon back on track. In particular, the leading edge which I’d made didn’t seem to fit, and although we checked the measurements of the wing and found them correct, and then checked the measurements on the leading edge and found them correct, when you put the two together, they clearly were wrong. It remains one of life’s little mysteries, but in the end we came up with a relatively simple solution to the problem and carried on.

Because he lives here on his own, Theo’s living room has become the repository for the completed wings, and each time we finished another one, the sofa had to be moved another few inches nearer the television to make room for it. Thankfully, there’s still sufficient distance between the sofa and the TV for Theo to be able to focus on it!

Just in case you thought we were enjoying ourselves…
These little brass screws are used to attach the leading edge and trailing edge tubes to the wing ribs.
There’s a little metal strap (called a clip) the has to be cut out ( ours were water jet cut, which made this a LOT easier), bent around the tube, making sure it’s not bent exactly in the middle – otherwise the two screws would meet in the middle – and silver soldered to the tube in exactly the right place. It’s surprising how many times we’ve got the positions wrong, and they’ve had to be repositioned.
Then the flux used in the silver soldering process has to be removed (it’s acidic, and would eat away the steel if left in place). This has to be done carefully with emery, and is very fiddly.
Then the whole thing has to be painted with etch primer and left to dry overnight.
Then, with the tube carefully positioned, you use a 1.6mm drill to make a pilot hole in the wood, and a countersink bit to recess the hole in the clip so that the head of the screw sits flush with the surface.
And then you use a screwdriver to insert the screw. A hand screwdriver is the only way, because the 1/2″ x no. 2 screws (B&Q’s finest) are so delicate and it’s very easy to shear them off.
There are ten full ribs, nine half ribs and seven spar ends per wing, with four wings. And there are three full ribs and two half ribs in the centre section.
By my calculation, that makes a grand total of 152 clips and 268 screws – plus the ones in the tailplane and the fuselage!

By Wednesday, it was time to start looking at the ailerons. Aileron means ‘little wing’ in French, and they are the little wings ate the ends of the main wings by which you control the aircraft in roll – i.e. they rock the wings from side to side.

At the time the Scout was designed, ailerons were still not universally used, many preferring to stick with the system developed by the Wright brothers called wing warping in which the entire wing was twisted – one side up and the other down – to provide roll control. You would have thought that this would provide more positive control, but those who’ve tried both will assure you that it doesn’t, and the flexible wings weren’t a huge help as speeds increased.

So ailerons were becoming standard, but were still something of a novelty when the Scout was introduced, and gave it a distinct advantage over its main competitor, the Sopwith Tabloid.

All forms of roll control on aircraft of that period were notoriously ineffective, but the Scout, with its short wingspan and large ailerons on all four wings, could well prove the exception. Indeed, the description by Sub Lt Geoffrey Moore, who flew the first machine delivered tot he RNAS, indicates that there was plenty of control. He said that ‘I could loop it, do a half roll off the top of a loop, a stall turn and a slow roll and that most impressive of manoeuvres, a flick roll, which cannot be done with modern aircraft. Flying horizontally, you could roll three times in about as many seconds, and also do the very sensational spinning nosedive not possible in modern machines. With the nose pointing to earth, you could spin slowly looking completely out of control and pull out only a few hundred feet above ground level.

‘I would also glide this machine upside down, hanging in my harness. The engine would not run upside down as it was gravity fed.’

Will I  be trying any of these manoeuvres on ours? Probably not, but the report certainly inspires confidence.

But it’s time to get our noses back to the grindstone.

As always, when planning these things, one’s mind concentrates on the assembly, and forgets the business of making the bits – and even though we’d pretty much made most of the bits, there were the trailing edges to bend and silver solder, and part-made ribs to finish off and some spar caps and internal bracing pieces to make from scratch.

This took up all of Thursday and most of Friday.

Then everything had to be fitted together, and because there are very few right angles or flat surfaces, it’s a question of holding everything together in mid air with a combination of hands, teeth and clamps until finally it looks something like an aileron, after which you carefully nudge and adjust everything until it’s square where it needs to be square, and flat where it needs to be flat. By Friday night, we’d got the first aileron in this state, despite having to rethink the location of the fittings on the rear spar.

By this stage, I found my nerves getting the better of me, but once again it was Theo who quietly fixed the problem and eased my mind, leaving me relaxed and ready for the final push.

On Saturday morning our inspector, Mike Smart turned up.

Theo (l) with inspector Mike Smart

He’s the one who will have to sign off the workmanship before we can go flying, and although we’re not really at a stage where he can sign any of the bits off, we felt it was important to let him see what we were doing, and make sure he was happy with progress so far. And indeed he was. In fact, he took time to complement Theo’s wire splicing, which is a very rare skill these days. Mike has worked on a number of vintage aircraft in his professional capacity, so his approval was very valuable to us.

After that, we set to with new enthusiasm, and by Saturday night we’d got two ailerons complete and glued, with the other two pretty much ready for gluing on Sunday.

On Sunday we finished off the two remaining ailerons and took the bits outside for a photoshoot.

A week’s work. The lower wings now have ailerons attached to them

And a close up of the ailerons

So it’s been a tough old week, but we’ve achieved what we set out to achieve, and – perhaps more important than that – our friendship has been strengthened and deepened by being put to the test.

It’s what friends are for.


  1. Great to see such tangible progress. A good read again and a brilliant project. Congrats on getting those wings done in such short order.

  2. I think the compass you are looking for is called a “pattern 200”. At least the one you show in your photo sure looks like one and that is what was used in the Tabloid. I’m using a P06 hand bearing compass to replicate one myself.


    • Ah! That sounds really interesting. I’ll certainly look it up. Are you building a complete aircraft?

      • Rob Waring permalink

        Yes, well sort of. I built a representation of a Tabloid SS3. Representation in that the structure is made from aluminum tube. You should join the Aerodrome forum… there are a lot of folks there who would enjoy your project.


    • If we get desperate, we’ve got a WWII P45 compass which my grandad acquired when he was involved in instrument acquisitions during WWII. It was intended to go in a boat, but this would do okay!

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