381. And Now for Something Completely Different

In 1991 I fell in love with the Falcon XP, a radical two-seat canard machine capable of nearly 100mph on a measly 52hp Rotax 503 two-stroke.

In 1999 four of us bought her and I flew her back to Manchester from Dunkeswell in Devon.

Falcon nosewheel down.jpg
The canard configuration (so named because it’s supposed to resemble the plan view of a duck)  has several advantages over the conventional layout. Because both wings are generating lift, it’s much more efficient. Because the pilot is between the wings, the view is unusually good.
Falcon nosewheel up.jpg
The Falcon XP is even cleaner with its retractable nosewheel. The pilot’s semi-reclining position is very comfortable and also lo-drag, though the original canopy was too close for comfort for anyone over 6ft tall. Both photos courtesy Paul Tomlin.

But although she was a spectacular machine to fly, she was definitely accident-prone. Within a month she was blown over in a storm and damaged.

On landing at Cranfield for the LAA Rally in 2002 the undercarriage broke – for reasons which remain obscure today – and she needed repair again. And in 2004 the engine failed on base leg into the LAA Rally at Kemble, and although I managed to get her into a field okay, a small stone jammed in between the nosewheel and its fork, and she groundlooped. At this point she was an insurance write-off, and the syndicate was disbanded.

Falcon Accident2.jpg
This field contains the spring which is the source of the river Thames!

But one of the members, Mike Hadland, bought the remains and has painstakingly restored her, incorporating a two-piece canopy that makes entry and exit slightly less daunting and allows the pilot in the front seat to reach the instrument panel in flight.

And yesterday I was asked to do the initial test flight. It was a wonderful experience and a privilege.

Falcon Canopy.jpg
This is the new two-part canopy we were testing. In the background you can see the trailer, a truck body mounted on a caravan chassis, that has been fully modified to allow the aircraft to be trailered to site and very fancy electrically-operated jigs fitted to allow her to be rigged single handed.
Falcon cockpit.jpg
The cockpit is a tight fit, requiring the use of an ‘articulated’ stick. It is hinged in the middle so that only the handle rotates sideways to work the ailerons. the rudder pedals are connected to the tip draggers on the wingtips. They only go outwards, creating drag. But they operate on an enormous lever arm, and are extremely effective. And you can press both pedals together to act as airbrakes.

The testing went very smoothly. there’s a lot more headroom in the front seat than before, and the whole thing worked flawlessly.

A canard flies somewhat differently to a normal machine. Takeoff is generally longer than for a conventional machine. It won’t stall in the normal sense. it’s designed so that the front wing (the canard) stalls first, allowing the nose to drop before the main wing loses lift. As a result you can apply full power, pull the stick back, and she will ‘nod’ upwards at around 200 feet per minute.  I was getting around 85mph maximum speed, which with a machine weighing the best part of half a ton and only 52hp is quite amazing!

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The view from the cockpit, complete with buzzard coming for a closer look.

It was a very special event, and after a 14 year wait it deserved a celebration cake, provided by Mike’s friend Malcolm (or at least Malcolm’s wife Lois!)

Falcon cakae.jpg

And I think Mike himself was pretty chuffed too!

Falcon Cake cutting.jpg

As soon as he receives his Permit to Fly, he’ll be able to check it out for himself.

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