Sue and I set off early via Milson, and Theo arrived shortly after us. We completed the final adjustments and spent the afternoon checking things over and over.
At about four, Gene and his young colleague Bevan, Rick and Marian, and Stephen Saunders all turned up at once. Gene and Bevan spent the next couple of hours going through the whole aircraft in very great detail, and came across a couple of things we hadn’t spotted.
Gene’s first comment was that it was a very pretty aeroplane, but he plays his cards very, very close to his chest and we had no idea whether he thought it was flyable, but eventually we were encouraged when he asked that we roll it outside for an engine run.
This went smoothly. Bevan is young and athletic and has a much simpler way of starting. Instead of dosing each cylinder individually, he takes advantage of the low compression ratio and winds it continuously for about a dozen turns while Gene works the controls to suck petrol into the cylinders. Then he finds a compression at the right height, Gene switches on, and Bevan gives it a good swing. Away went the engine, and Gene checked it out at all power settings, checked the switches, and shut down.
He and Bevan had spent the day unloading an Albatros V and a Sopwith Snipe from their container at the Shuttleworth Collection, so they headed off to find some fast food.
By the time we got back it was around 1930, and we wheeled 1264 to the far side of the airfield, following Gene in his car.
Then everything happened very quickly.
Gene hopped in, Bevan swung the propeller and the le Rhone fired up again. A short run up to check full power, and Gene throttled right back so that Bevan and Theo could remove the chocks.
Then he was away, and in a few short yards he was airborne.
As he climbed steadily away all of us were overcome and I still find myself choking up whenever I think of it.
The conditions were perfect – around 5mph wind and absolutely steady. Gene made gentle circles at an absolutely minimum angle of bank for about 5 minutes before making an absolute greaser of a landing in front of us, taxied back and turned around before shutting down. This was the first successful landing by a Bristol Scout anywhere in the world since the 1920s.
‘What did you think?’
‘It’s okay. the rudder seems a little weak. The performance doesn’t seem as good as I’d expected. The stall was a bit sudden.’
‘How about the ailerons?’
‘Not very effective but they do work.’
‘What’s the trim like?’ This was my big worry since we had no information about the centre of gravity, and unique wing section and the lifting tailplane are very unusual.
‘It seems okay.’ Phew!
At any rate, he was happy enough to have another go, and this time he stayed up for 12 minutes, including a low flyby, another landing with a taxi back and an immediate takeoff.
In the air, it looked sensational, sitting just as in the photographs, and the translucent fabric gave it a very special look.
Next time he landed, Gene slowed the engine to an astonishingly low tickover – with great clouds of black smoke from the exhaust – and suggested we try amending the wing adjustment to see if we could improve the performance at all. I agreed, and he taxied it back up to the hangars. I’d no idea it could be taxied at all without wheelbrakes or a steerable tailwheel.
He had three major suggestions.
1. Seal the cowling. The oil was going EVERYWHERE, and making it difficult to fly. Apparently Castrol R40 contains a bactericide which stings when you get it on your face or eyes, and with no windscreen poor Gene was struggling.
2. Add gap seals to the wings to try and improve the performance.
3. Add a little washout to try and improve the stall behaviour.
By now it was nearly 2100. We had a go at it but the daylight beat us.
We were back on the job as soon as the hangar doors were open, but by the time it was done, Gene and I looked at the wind and the thermals, and decided it was too risky. But for us this wasn’t a disappointing outcome. We all felt as high as the Scout from that fantastic session.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
Some interesting coincidences have come to light.
Our first flight was one day short of the 30th anniversary of Leo’s only flight in his Scout.
It is likely to be almost exactly 100 years after the completion of the original completion of 1264, which was delivered to the RNAS in August 1915.
It was the first flight of a Bristol Scout in the UK since the 1920s, when G-EAGR (the only civil registered Scout) last flew – and the only successful successful landing in the world since then.