My last blog entry saw me at RNAS Yeovilton, having had to abandon the plan to take 1264 to Shuttleworth in preparation for the Navy Days airshow on Sunday 4 June.
Sunday 7 May
So I drove home on Saturday night, and spent a delightful sunny Sunday with both daughters and all four grandchildren, including the latest, just a week old.
Monday 8 May
By Monday morning both Sue and I were starting a cold, presumably caught from one of the grandchildren – but at least we now had four to blame!
Prior to the air display, I needed a couple of things – 1264 had to be inspected and check flown so that she could be issued with her annual Permit to Fly – the equivalent of a car’s MoT. I also needed to have time to re-familiarise myself with her handling before doing a display.
Time was not on our side. Theo and I were committed to giving a lunchtime talk to the employees of the Mercedes F1 car factory on the Thursday, and a week after that I was fully committed with work and other commitments until the Friday before the airshow. And of course we’d need excellent weather conditions to be able to conduct the check flight, and my cold, if it got a grip, might make me unfit to fly.
The inspection for the Permit renewal should normally be done by someone other than the owner, but because of the difficulty of finding someone who knew enough about this type of aircraft and engine, and would be available on the rare occasions when 1264 was rigged ready for flight and not packed in the trailer, I’d sought, and been given, permission to do the inspection myself (I’ve been an inspector for the LAA for more years than I care to remember.)
But before I could finalise the inspection, I’d need the paperwork from the Shuttleworth Collection detailing all the work done on the engine, including the replacement of the original steel pistons with aluminium ones.
Yeovilton is a fully active military base, and getting permission to fly a 100 year old aircraft from there was never going to be straightforward, even with the active support of its previous commander, Cdre Jock Alexander (rtd), now CEO of the Fly Navy Heritage Trust.
And finally, there was the weather. Tuesday looked suitable, and there was a faint possibility that Thursday evening and Friday morning might suffice.
The replacement trailer axle was due to arrive on Friday morning, but by the time we’d fitted it and trailed 1264 to Old Warden, the weather was likely to have deteriorated for much of the the following week.
On Monday morning, Jock said that Yeovilton had said it was too difficult to arrange for me to fly, either when the airfield was open or after it was closed. And while the Shuttleworth was working hard on the engine paperwork, it wouldn’t be ready today. So Tuesday was out, and I needed in any case to spend the day editing a brochure for the Royal Aero Club. The only remaining possibility was Thursday evening or Friday morning.
Wednesday 10 May
On Wednesday I had a work appointment in Andover, but I had time to plead with Jock, who used the considerable power of his Scots personality to persuade Yeovilton to reconsider the possibilities, and they agreed that it might be possible, but only when the airfield was closed, due to the lack of radio in 1264. In practice, this meant after 1900 on Thursday and before 0900 on Friday.
You need additional insurance to fly from a military airfield, but thankfully our existing policy included it!
Thursday 11 May
So on Thursday, Theo and I met up at the Mercedes factory in Brackley, were given a tour round the astonishing facility (800 employees making the cars, with another 400 up the road making the engines!) and gave a very well-received talk in their Silver Arrow room, surrounded by Lewis Hamilton’s overalls and one of the Championship-winning 2014 cars.
An email with the engine paperwork had arrived from the Shuttleworth at 0830, but it appeared that the use of the aluminium pistons hadn’t been cleared by the LAA’s Chief Engineer, Francis Donaldson, which meant a further delay, and 1264 needed to be fully prepared for flight; all the safety pins put in the rigging, a 100% dual inspection of all the rigging connections and petrol put in the tank, and Theo had a dinner engagement that evening, so flying on Thursday wouldn’t have been possible anyway.
There was more good news from the trailer axle manufacturers. Our axle was dispatched and would definitely arrive tomorrow, Friday, as promised – and would I mind paying the bill please?
Nevertheless, as soon as I decently could, I got on the road down to Yeovilton to try and get everything ready for a possible flight on the Friday morning between 0830 and 0900 as agreed with air traffic control.
As always, these things take longer than you think, and it was 2030 before we were all done. Partly this was due to Lt Cdr Chris Gotke, who wanted to know ALL about 1264, her systems and handling characteristics, and is very, very enthusiastic about her presence here at Yeovilton You may remember that Chris was awarded the Air Force Cross for his recovery of the two-seat Hawker Sea Fury following an in-flight failure at the airshow at Culdrose in 2014.
But I can’t say enough good things about the guys at Yeovilton, and in particular ‘Tug’ Wilson, who stayed throughout the evening until the job was done, and Louise Evans, who kept us supplied with cups of tea until the job was done. We left 1264 as ready as she could be, with the checks all done, the commutator on the engine cleaned, the rocker gear all lubricated, and I set off for Theo’s house about an hour away.
On the way back at about 2100 I had a call on my mobile from Francis Donaldson, who, knowing the time pressure I was under, called from home with some questions about the aluminium cylinders. I couldn’t answer, but he suggested that since the information originated from TVAL in New Zealand, they’d still be in the office!
However, I had Jean Munn’s mobile number, and when I got to Theo’s at getting on for 2200 we spoke, and he said Francis had had the information a couple of years ago and he promised to go through his email archive to try and find it there. Within an hour, he’d found it and sent it to Francis, and I finally went to sleep reasonably sure that I’d be able to sign off the inspection prior to the check flight.
Theo didn’t get back home until 2300, but I’d left a message on his answerphone saying that we’d need to be up at 0600 to be ready.
A final check of the weather forecast predicted a southerly, 5-10 knots. The strength looked okay, but the direction was the worst possible; exactly across the only strip of grass available.
I went to sleep with a million things wizzing about in my head.