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73. Old Rhinebeck – Sunday

12/10/2013

Having spent the whole of Saturday watching the models fly and seeing the airshow, I had to come back again on the Sunday to do a bit more digging around the hangars and taking to people. I spent loads of time chatting to the volunteers who look after the aircraft, discussing how to start and run an 80hp le Rhône, after which they rolled out the Sopwith Camel in order to get that started for the first time in about a year. This has a 160hp Gnôme, and the starting procedure involves at least three fire extinguishers – two outside and one in the cockpit!

The man in the cockpit was Brian Coughlin, a serial WWI aircraft builder with at least two Fokker DVIIIs completed and flying, and he’s currently working on a replica Sopwith Pup. I was able to spend a good deal of time chatting to Brian, who was very helpful and down-to-earth, and it was a pleasure to meet him.

Meanwhile I was very pleased to find that Brian Perkins’ Scout model had won first prize for the best WWI model. The fact that it was finished as a civilian aircraft from 1919 was apparently not important! The range of other aircraft there is simply staggering; how about the Siemens-Schuckert DIII with a very complex geared rotary engine that gave a phenomenal rate of climb, but was very unreliable, or the accurate reproduction of the Santos-Dumont Demoiselle, that is absolutely tiny and looks impossibly fragile.

The Siemens-Schuckert used a complex rotary engine with the engine rotating one way and the propeller the other, in an effort to reduce the inertia forces that made high-powered rotaries difficult to handle. It had a fantastic climb performance, but was hopelessly unreliable.

The Siemens-Schuckert used a complex rotary engine with the engine rotating one way and the propeller the other, in an effort to reduce the inertia forces that made high-powered rotaries difficult to handle. It had a fantastic climb performance, but was hopelessly unreliable.

Reproduction of the Santos Dumont Demoiselle, which was designed by the diminutive Brazilian Santos-Dumont, and the plans distributed for free. No-one else was light enough to get airborne in it, but this may be a blessing in disguise, when you look at the fragility of the structure!

Reproduction of the Santos Dumont Demoiselle, which was designed by the diminutive Brazilian Santos-Dumont, and the plans distributed for free. No-one else was light enough to get airborne in it, but this may be a blessing in disguise, when you look at the fragility of the structure!

The flying show had to be cancelled due to strong winds, unfortunately, but this meant I could spend more time looking over the aircraft, and I was even allowed to scramble into the cockpit of the Caudron to have a look at the controls and the oil pump to get a feel for how they all go together. This was very instructive, and I was indebted to Mike DiGiacomo for letting me scramble around.

One important lesson I learned today was the importance of keeping the airframe clean. I’m told that once castor oil has dried, it’s possible (but difficult) to get it off with acetone. Burnt castor oil tends to collect all over the front of the airframe and is almost impossible to remove. All of which explains why the Shuttleworth rotary-engined aircraft are descended on by an army of rag-wielding volunteers as soon as the engine stops!

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