391. Going National

Well, the book has been reviewed in splendid style in the Daily Mail. there are a few errors in the text, but it would be churlish to begrudge such lavish space in a national newspaper.

Now all I need is my own copy of the book, but I’m assured a stock will be arriving tomorrow, ready for the book signing at the Shuttleworth Collection on their Engineering Weekend on 28/29 December. See you there!


390. A Stitch in Time

It’s been another bruising, tiring week in Dorset.

The plan was to get all the fabric attached to the flying surfaces and the ribstitching done, since a good deal of the ribstitching is a two-man job.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that. There are 11 surfaces; four wings, four ailerons, two elevators and a tailplane that my true love gave to me…

The previous week we’d also applied Waxoyl (which is based on lanolin, which they’d used originally) to the internal steel stuff. We’d used it originally and were delighted to find no deterioration in four years.

The actual flying fabric mustn’t touch metal at all, otherwise the metal will rust, and chafe through the fabric, so the leading and trailing edges had been re-wrapped wrapped with fabric, and the wood contact surfaces had had 1/2in tape glued to them – again, to stop any risk of chafing.

So this week, before we closed the frame off, they were very carefully examined, since you won’t be seeing them again for another ten years, with any luck.

The tail surfaces are closed off with hand stitching; Sue did the elevators as you saw here, and this week Theo’s brother Noel did the honours on the tailplane.


The wings and ailerons are closed by gluing the fabric to the structure (originally they used loads of carpet tacks, but they weren’t expecting their handiwork to last more than a few months). Getting the fabric to lie nicely against the surface you’re gluing to is time-consuming; inevitably it has to be led over a curve first, and the surface itself has cutouts and obstructions like aileron hinges. So it takes a while to work out how to cut the fabric to provide full cover, and the glue itself (called Super Seam) is not easy to work with.  Inevitably you end up with a short temper and fingertips entirely encased in glue!

The next phase is ironing, which we also covered in the previous entry, and it’s generally rather satisfactory. It also enables you to iron out most of the mistakes you made at the gluing stage…

At this point, we tried applying dope to the elevators, and were horrified to find a ‘bloom’ appearing. It’s hard to see here, but the conditions were sufficiently damp that the clear dope picked up some moisture while drying and ended up with whitish stripes.Elevator bloom.JPG

It was possible to remove them with liberal amounts of thinners in warm dry conditions, but we were very concerned that this would put paid to any further doping during the winter. we invested in a hired heater, and thankfully all went well after that, but it caused both of us a sleepless night, I can tell you.

We applied two coats of dope; the first is thinned 50:50 with thinners in order to ensure it penetrated the pretty tight weave of the fabric. we used a small 3 in roller and this seemed to apply just enough fabric to penetrate without causing drips on the inside. Theo had a couple of fancy face masks he’d acquired from somewhere and they proved invaluable in keeping us conscious despite the atmosphere thick with thinners. The second coat was full strength, and we used it to stick 1/2 in tapes to each of the ribs. These are needed for the ribstitching as you’ll see.

Ribstitching took place in the living room, and is a very long-winded process. The purpose is to positively secure the fabric to the frame, and involves using thick waxed thread (minimum breaking strength 14lb) to tie a series of loop round each rib at 2 1/2 in intervals. the tape we stuck on earlier makes sure the thread doesn’t simply pull through the fabric. Each loop has to be secured with a seine knot, which is the one fishermen use for making and repairing their nets.

First of all, you have to mark off the 2 1/2 in intervals down each rib, on both sides, ensuring that matching holes are opposite each other. then you start stitching with a giant needle, long enough to reach right through from top to bottom of the wing.

You push the needle through the first hole and then have to fidget carefully until the tip of the needle lines up with the hole on the other side. And once you get into the middle of the wing and can’t peer over the top, you need someone else to guide you.

Sometimes the holes line up with the internal bracing wires or other internal structure; if you’re not careful, the aileron cable, which is lying slack inside the wing, ends up on the wrong side of the stitches.

A seine knot is fiendishly simple, the operative word being ‘fiendish’. I’ve never heard Theo swear as much, nor he me. And it is a long, long process. The last two wings were done on Friday, and took the two of us 12 hours, only to find the aileron cables were on the wrong side of some stitches, so we had to redo those ones, which took another couple of hours.

But, finally it was done, and on Saturday we could concentrate on doping the ailerons and tail surfaces, and the stitching was finished on Sunday. Phew!





388. Stripping Off

That was Friday. On Sunday afternoon I set off for Dorset with the trailer in tow. Without the engine, it tows far better!

Having parked it up in a farmyard overnight, on Monday morning we backed the trailer into Theo’s drive. we were delighted to find there’s just enough room to fit the trailer in his garden and still get his car on the drive. This means we can leave the trailer where it is all winter. Hooray!

First on the menu was the wings, so they came off the racks and into the workshop two at a time. We were joined by Mark Smallwood, who’s starting on the ambitious project of building not one, but two Sopwith Snipes – both powered by the 230hp Bentley BR2 rotary, one being single seat, the other being a two-seat trainer version.

He recorded the first skin coming off, and it was surprisingly hard work.

When we checked through all the old tins of dope in the trailer, there was a surprise in store. The lid had obviously leaked on one, letting air in and the dope had gone off, resulting in a small lump of solid dope in the bottom.

20181126_153345.jpgAs you can see, it’s a lot smaller than the tin, and yet perfectly symmetrical!


Poor Chill had hoped to be with us by Monday lunchtime but the fanbelt on his car failed near Bedford and he arrived just as Theo was dishing up dinner!

Inside the wing looked more or less immaculate – just as we’d left it four years before. The only obvious deterioration was the leading and trailing edges, where the fabric wrapping showed signs of rust leaching through. P1120844.jpg

Amazingly, there was more or less nothing visible when it was stripped off, but we ordered some more etch primer and applied it to the tubes just in case. And vowed never to leave her out in the rain again!

Meanwhile Theo and Chill were hard at work in the kitchen making up the new skins…

… after which they adopted the living room for trying them on the wing structure.

You can see how the wings stack up behind the sofa when they’re not needed. The wall is about 20mm longer than the wings!

And so the days passed. The tail surfaces and centre section were taken off the fuselage and stripped, and some fittings inside the centre section which had never been satisfactory were remade.

By Friday we had all the flying surfaces ready for covering, and the skins made for everything except the tailplane. The elevators require the final seam to be hand sewn, and they are back in Ludlow for Sue and I to do this week. Theo will be working on the inboard ends of the wings which were never finished in accordance with the original drawings.

And on Sunday I’ll be heading off down to Dorset again when we hope to have the first coats of dope applied to the flying surfaces and the new skin made for the fuselage. The majority of the dope, plus the colouring and UV blocker are on their way from the US and won’t be her until February, so there will be another couple of weeks of work in March to complete that a well as the markings and re-assembly.

And meanwhile, don’t forget to come to the engineering weekend at Shuttleworth on 28/29th December when we will be in the shop and happy to sign copies of the book which is now available from Fonthills, Amazon, and all the rest.


387. Stripping Down

And now, the hard work really starts!

On the day after the Cheltenham show I undid as many of the engine attachments as I could so that it could be removed. Rotary engines were designed for quick removal and I found that after removing the propeller (one nut) and the cowling (seven bolts) then removing the magneto and three bolts for the rear engine mount I could uncouple the Tampier (carburettor) from the crankshaft and loosen the two large crankshaft nuts that hold the engine in place. It’s theoretically possible to slide the engine out complete.

But when Theo came on Friday we found it was a bit tight in the front engine mount so we ended up unbolting the oil pump from the front mounting plate and taking the engine out together with the front plate. With it slung from the roof of the hangar we managed to persuade the front plate off the crankshaft and the engine was settled back into the beautiful crate in which it travelled from new Zealand. 20181123_103943.jpg20181123_110544.jpg


All tucked away for the winter!

386.End of Season High

Our final (20th) event of the season has been at Cheltenham racecourse, where the final day of their three-day event was to commemorate the 100 year Armistice.

I’d never been there before, but there is a family connection; Grandad and his father and an uncle all attended Cheltenham College.

The parade ground was filled with soldiers, sailors and airmen who marched in accompanied by a military wind band for a short service of commemoration and a one-minute silence.

Meanwhile on a covered area overlooking the ring we were placed alongside a motor ambulance and Rolls Royce armoured car, with a field hospital inside.

The beautiful Rolls Royce Armoured Car. Built on an original Rolls Royce chassis, it looked as if the superstructure (one hesitates to call it ‘bodywork’) was built from scratch. there is a connection with 1264, since these served with the RNAS at Gallipoli at the same time as her.

We arrived on the Saturday night and had to wait a while until the merry crowds had dissipated after their post-race celebrations had finished, before we could get access and rig, so that we were ready for the Sunday morning. we stayed overnight in the jockey’s accommodation which was basic but adequate; the rooms could take up to four people, but we splashed out and had two rooms!

P1120818.jpgAs usual, we were busy from the moment we manned the display, and we were very grateful for the free coffees Sue managed to blag from the Costa shop adjacent.

After the commemoration we were treated to a display by the Great War Display team, which we heard but barely saw since it was on the far side of the grandstand.

Visitors watching the Great War Display Team display, with the camera shots being displayed on the large screen in the background.

The commentary was by Ben Dunnell, editor of Aeroplane Monthly magazine, and apparently he suffered from the same problem; the overhanging roof in front of his room entirely obscured his view!

Of the many visitors we had today, the highest profile were the Princess Royal and her husband Vice Admiral Tim Lawrence, both of whom showed an intelligent interest in the project. I was at school with Vice Admiral Lawrence a very long time ago and his family had one of our Jack Russell puppies, so I was able to catch up on a bit of  family news as well.

Theo talking to Vice Adm. Lawrence and the Princess Royal looking in the cockpit


James Witchell Tim Lawrence Princess Anne DSB SAB.jpg
This photograph by James Witchell is rather special, since it includes Sue as well.

There was coverage on ITV here. we get  short, but very accurate mention 2 minutes 13 into what was a live broadcast.

And don’t forget that  the documentary is being broadcast on PBS America (Freeview channel 94) tomorrow night at 2100. Here’s a link to their trailer on Twitter.

So, it’s been a very exhausting, very satisfactory season that we will remember for a very long time.

Next week, the hard work really  starts, as we strip out the engine and the petrol tank, ready to start the recovering process for next year’s season…




385. Fame, but no Fortune

Our final event for 2018 (our 20th) will be at Cheltenham Racecourse next Sunday 18 Nov.

The racing will be covered by ITV, and in between they’ll show pieces about the various WWI commemorations dotted around the course. HRH Princess Anne will be there, we believe, and we’ve had to go through masses of security checks. So if you’re in the area, go to the races and come and say hello. if you’re not, settle down in front of the TV and watch out for us.

But that’s not our only appearance on UK TV. The TV documentary made by Steve Saunders, and which so many of you have kindly bought in DVD format, will be shown the following night (Monday 20 November) at 2100 on PBS America. We’d not come across it before, but it’s the equivalent of BBC Worldwide, which sells BBC programming commercially. PBS is the publicly funded TV channel in the US as I’m sure you know, and this is their commercial arm.

And you can find it on Freeview channel 94. Everyone’s entitled to 15 minutes of fame, according to Andy Warhol. There’s four of us, so we get an hour.