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302. …and Older

16/05/2017

Friday 12 May

Theo is an owl, not a lark, and I was surprised and delighted to see him at 0600 for a quick breakfast. The plan was to put the final signatures on the inspection form while towing 1264 across to the grass strip on the far side of the airfield and receiving a briefing from air traffic control, ready for takeoff prompt at 0830. I knew I had to be back on the deck by 0900 so that they could commence the day’s flying programme.

With that out of the way we would remove the damaged axle from the trailer ready to fit the new one when it arrived, and I could then take 1264 up to Old Warden and the Shuttleworth Collection.

Things wen reasonably smoothly, but towing 1264 is a slow business, and it was past 0830 before we got to the grass strip. I only had a moment or two to assess the wind, which was, as forecast, exactly across the strip from the south.  Nevertheless, the width was sufficient to get off in my view, and I took note of the runway lights along the edge of the tarmac which would instantly wreck 1264 if we came into contact.

This is the grass strip, on the north side of the main east-west runway. It’s about 500m long and 100m wide, with a drainage ditch at the eastern end, and various runway lights and signboards at the western end. there are runway edge lights at about 50m intervals.

By the time we were lined up at the eastern end of the strip near the hangars and the engine primed, it was 0845. Theo swung, and the le Rhone fired instantly. I did a very quick power check – 1150rpm – and waved the chocks away.

We were off in a flash, and climbing out. It was clear the performance was massively improved, but no sooner had I checked my altimeter and watch to start a timed climb than we were in cloud!

I throttled back and turned to stay within the airfield boundary. Handling was unaltered, and I checked the stall (entirely benign) and dived to maximum speed (95kt) to check all was in order. It was.

It would have been nice to have checked the maximum level speed, but I was very, very aware of the clock ticking away, and the need not to rush the landing, which would be the trickiest part of the whole flight. Nevertheless, I was able to note the engine speed, which was 1200rpm -at least 150rpm more than ever before.

With only 100m to land, it was essential that we didn’t roll onto the tarmac, which would undoubtedly result in a ground loop.

So I needed to get the wheels down as close as possible to the northern edge, and going as slowly as possible.

I decided not to use the eastern end of the strip to land on, since it would have meant coming in very low over the hangars and parked helicopters, and a very expensive insurance claim if anything went wrong, but could see a reasonably clear approach over a field at the western end.

My first trial was a little on the fast side, so I released the blip switch and with a single bounce was back in the air for another go, the clock meanwhile ticking ever nearer to 0900.

The next attempt was much better, and as I crossed the taxiway the speed bled back to about 45kt, and she touched about 10-20m in, and rolled to a stop almost immediately.

The time was 0851.

My GPS track log.

Theo and the RANS ground crew drove across, we hitched up the tow and we were clear of the runways with a minute or two to spare!

Chris Gotke arrived, having dropped his daughter off early to school so that he could watch the flight from the control tower (thank you, Carlotta!) and was stunned by 1264’s manoeuvrability and performance. Jock Alexander and Louise Evans had watched from the takeoff point, and Louise had video’d it.

 

I love this picture by Louise Evans of 1264 with the Yeovilton memorial church in the background.

 

There are some excellent pictures by Focus 82 Photography on his FaceBook page too.

We retired to the crew room for a cup of tea, and started to dismantle 1264 and take the wheels off the trailer axle ready to receive the new one when it arrived.

This it did, on schedule, and at last it seemed that the drama might be over and 1264 would go to the ball. Wrong.

When the axle was unwrapped, it became apparent that it was the wrong one. The hubs were the wrong sort, and the dimensions were wrong.

I rang the manufacturer, Peak Dynamics, and we went through the discrepancies. their salesman, Paul Prosser, checked and rechecked. The old axle had a serial number on the plate which I’d photographed and sent to him, and he’d manufactured it to the specifications against that serial. Where had the discrepancy occurred? There was no explanation then and we will probably never have one, but without a second’s hesitation Paul offered to make a new one and have it delivered by Wednesday.

As with everyone else I’ve dealt with in this extraordinary week, his willingness to put himself out in order to make things happen out was quite overwhelming.

But we would clearly need to make yet another adjustment to the plan, and so Theo suggested that we swap cars so that he could tow 1264 to Old Warden while I was away on business.

And as if things couldn’t get better, ‘Tug’ Wilson and Howard Read, the Royal Navy Historic Flight engineers who had already put themselves out so much for us, volunteered to fit the new new axle when it arrived, and let us keep the trailer in their hangar.

It only remained for us to go through the familiar routine of packing 1264 away in the her trailer again, and Theo and I could go home and relax.

Assuming the axle change goes okay, and Theo has no issues towing the trailer to Old Warden, we should just need fine weather on the 2-4 June so that I can re-familiarise myself with 2264 and practice the display.

What could possibly go wrong?

Saturday 13 May

With the adrenaline out of my system, the cold finally took charge, and I spent the entire afternoon asleep, recovering enough to write up the blog in the evening.

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