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79. Magneto

02/11/2013

Two of Granddad’s original pieces have been well and truly incorporated into the aircraft now. They are the stick and the rudder bar. The third item is the magneto, but since we can’t mount it until the engine is in place, there hasn’t been a lot of point in touching it.

Until now.

So, first of all, a little history. The magneto that would have been fitted to 1264 would have been a British one (Lucas?), but they had a reputation for unreliability so Granddad, while he was at Thasos with some French pilots, managed to get his hands on a Bosch one, which was regarded as more reliable, but, being German, was harder to come by. Apparently the French had better unofficial contacts with their Continental cousins.

Unlike modern engines, the magneto is mounted externally with an external gear drive off the rotating crankcase and so it wasn’t too difficult to remove it, and it was interchangeable with all rotary engines, so Granddad transferred it to each aircraft he flew, and when he came home with dysentery, he had it removed and mounted on a piece of old propeller hub as a memento. It’s fitted up with a pair of copper wires so that when you spin the gear wheel, it generates a spark. In fact, the wires run under the mounting, and when we found it in his workshop after he died, I picked it up with a hand underneath and spun the wheel, which gave me such a belt I dropped it!

Granddad's Bosch magneto mounted on a piece of propeller and still capable of making good sparks.

Granddad’s Bosch magneto mounted on a piece of propeller and still capable of making good sparks.

Anyway, we are starting to think about fitting the engine in the spring, and one job we know we will need to do is to get the coils rewound, since the varnish used to insulate the copper wires will long since have broken down.

I spoke to Jean Munn at the Shuttleworth, and he unconditionally recommended Tony Stairs in Hendon. ‘Wouldn’t use anybody else’, he said. With that sort of advice the decision was pretty straightforward, and I rang Tony to get the magneto booked in for surgery, reckoning that it would be a good opportunity to drop it in in person, and go and see the RAF Museum’s superb collection of WWI aircraft as well.

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