295. Knackered

Friday was the schools; Saturday was the public. Both days were hosted by Mark and Phillippa Wiggin at their home, Downton Hall; the Saturday was put on to raise money for repairs to the local church, and visitors were able to walk round the beautiful gardens as well as listening to a talk by yours truly and a close-up look (and listen) at 1264.

Well over 100 people turned up, and the weather stayed fine, albeit a bit fresh. The setting is very special, and everyone had a great time. The engine started first time, and more than £1,000 was raised for the church. the only downside was the large pool of castor oil on the Wiggin’s drive, but I think we were forgiven!

There is never enough time to talk to all the people who come to these events, and I was particularly sorry not to speak to the chap who brought along a genuine 1914 RNAS watch, such as would have been issued to Grandad.

The church volunteers manned the cake stall. Sue baked a particularly delicious cake which was declared too good to cut, and was sold off separately.
Theo managed to sneak a cup of tea while I was doing the talk…


… before helping to prepare the engine for starting,
and cranking her up.
… and Mark Wiggin got into the spirit of WWI as well!

We were all done by 1400, but by the time we’d packed 1264 back into the trailer and cleared all the other stuff away, we were only fit for a trip to the pub for an evening meal, and an early bed.


294. Back to School

It’s been an exhausting week. First of all, there was the uncertainty about the engine, followed by the relief of getting it back where it should be.

At the same time, the promising initial results from the ground runs give promise of better performance this year.

That was on Wednesday.

On Thursday I popped the fuselage back in the trailer and drove the 3.5 hours back to Ludlow, where I met Theo and we rigged 1264 outside Downton Hall for the two events planned here.

Friday was taken up with visits by four groups from local primary schools. the teachers had made full use of the preparatory material I’d given them, and I was amazed at the level of knowledge and the HUGE enthusiasm they showed.

In each case, I talked for a few minutes about Grandad’s theatre of operations, about the Scout’s role, and about the main features of its design. Then two by two I showed them the features of the cockpit while Sue and Theo showed the remainder the other material we have – the painting and so on.

Finally we ran up the engine for them, and of course that was VERY popular!

Some of them had even prepared material to give to us, and they will form a precious part of our archive. We were all very impressed at the level of research that had gone into what they’d prepared. This is a random sample.



293. Action Stations!

Thanks to heroic efforts by Andy and Phil at the Shuttleworth Collection, including Saturday working, the engine was back in the airframe on Monday evening, and they got her running on Tuesday.

There’s a conflict of interests here; clearly one wants to get the rings settled in, but it’s no good running it for any length of time on the ground, or it will overheat.

You could take the cowling off, but you’d end up with a very dirty airframe!

So the preferred technique is to run it for 2-3 minutes at a time, getting half an hour or so total time.

By the end of Wednesday I’d managed to run it up to full power very briefly, and while it’s not possible to give accurate figures yet, it’s clear the engine is giving a lot more power than before.

My first emotion was one of relief; our first engagement is Friday / Saturday, and we’ve managed to achieve that. But not far behind is elation at the wonderful sound of the Le Rhone, and the promise of increased power.

The Shuttleworth has done a wonderful job, and I’m feeling very, very grateful to them. Until the bill turns up…

While I was there, I fitted my cunning safety device that will ensure that we CANNOT run it with the oil turned off.

You can see the little piece of white string connecting the handle of the oil valve to the HT lead. It’s now physically impossible to connect the ignition up until the oil is switched on!

292. Reliving the Past

Looking through the records on my GPS, I’ve discovered the ones I recorded on the flights in Greece and at the Somme.

They bring back great memories for me, and I thought you might be interested to see where I flew.

The Thassos flight. As you can see, I didn’t venture too far from the airfield in the very far from ideal conditions!
And in contrast, the route for the Somme flight was one of the most adventurous. the conditions were great, and it was a long, long way out of gliding range. But the engine never missed a beat, and the two of them were undoubtedly the highlight of my flying career. Here’s the link to the GoPro video.

291. Progress. Slow, but progress

Yesterday I spent all day making new guides for the pushrods.

You can see what they do here, complete with a graphic video.

The ones I made originally were intended for retrofitting to an already assembled engine, and weren’t ideal, so I’ve made some new ones which should be more secure and not need to be checked before each flight. The trouble is that while each one is fairly simple to make, nine of them take a long time! These need to be threaded over the pushrods before they are fitted, so it seemed a good opportunity to get the job done.

Then today Theo and I and Chill met up at Shuttleworth to get as much work done on the airframe as possible while we await the completion of the engine.

The engine itself has made a little progress since last week – our nice new pistons have been honed to fit the gudgeon pins.

These are aluminium pistons, copiers of those made by Thulin in Sweden when they manufactured them under licence, as opposed to the originals which are steel, as made for the American-built examples.

The valve gear has been fitted to each cylinder, so they just need screwing back into the crankcase. (Theoretically you can up the compression ratio by screwing them further in, but I doubt it would be a good idea. You’d need to take corresponding bits off the pushrods as well…)

I thought you might be interested in this picture of the crankshaft, taken from the front end. You can just see daylight coming through the hollow crankshaft. The carburettor goes on the far end where the daylight is.

And you can see the brass keeper for the main ballrace on which the crankcase revolves. I think it’s astonishing to think they could make such big ball bearings in 1908, and even more astonishing to think that it has survived everything we’ve thrown at it!



Once the pistons and rings are fitted, the cylinders have to be screwed in just the right amount and locked in place. then the complex cam rings and followers have to be fitted to the front of the crankshaft and the pushrods inserted. Finally the front cover plate has to go on. I suspect I’ve missed out some important stages from this list, but I’ve never reassembled a le Rhone myself.

We found that the propeller hub had picked up a little surface rust, so Shuttleworth kindly let me use their wirebrush and polishing mop to clean it up before refitting it to the propeller.

Also on the bench in Dave’s workshop is his current masterpiece – a new end for the feeder mechanism for the Spitfire cannon which will go inside the wing. You can see the original in the middle, and the new end on the right – a mirror image of the original. Dave’s machined it from solid. Amazing!

Meanwhile, Theo and Chill were retensioning the cabane rigging and refitting the refurbished tachometer and tachometer cable, complete with its new gearbox, which should make the tachometer read correctly for the first time.


The little gearbox should double the speed, with the result that the tacho should no read correctly. We hope!

Progress was slower than it otherwise might have been, owing to the glorious weather outside, and the sounds of all the Shuttleworth machines being run up and flown as part of practice week. Noisiest by far was Matt Pettit who was trying to sort out the problems with a Harvard, which involved running it at full power in very fine pitch about half a dozen times. As you may know, the Harvard is famous for the fact that under these circumstances the propeller tips go supersonic, and the resulting howl penetrated to the furthest corner of the workshop. making conversation impossible.

I also took the time to polish the copper inlet ducts, which will make the engine look as it it’s been refurbished once it’s reassembled.

Before (top) and after (bottom). Please tell me you can spot the difference!

Thankfully, as we had a final cup of tea before departure, Matt came in with his customary cherubic grin – Matt is just like a 6ft 3in schoolboy let loose in an airfield full of his favourite toys – to announce that he’d finally got to the bottom of the problem. The Harvard – a two-seat trainer – was never designed for fuel economy, and the ground running, most of which was at full power – had consumed 60 gallons of fuel!

We had a great day, but for us the tension is starting to rise.

The engineers were tinkering with the engine of the Avro 504K all day. Indeed the main reason that our engine isn’t assembled is that they’d been working on it all last week.

In a week’s time, we need to be packing the Scout up ready for her first static display of the season in Ludlow, and the engine must be installed and running.

The Shuttleworth knows this full well – I pointed it out to Chief Engineer Jean-Michel Munn today – but they only have limited resources and it’s going to be touch and go.

But we know that they will do everything they can to be ready, and we can only keep our fingers crossed…

The Shuttleworth Collection is just round the corner from the historic Cardington sheds, which housed the R100 and R101 airships in the 1930s, and today houses the amazing Airlander airship. And on my way home I spotted it outside, so stopped to take a couple of pictures.

And what does this remind you of?

289. Film Premiere!

Tuesday 11 April was a day to remember. We had travelled to London on the Monday afternoon, and bumped into film producer (and director, editor and funder!) Stephen Saunders and his wife Clare at the hotel reception. In the evening we were joined by a group of Greeks; Kavala aishow organiser and Col. Fixit Panos Georgiadis, his two sons Ioannis and Lazarus, and their friend Chrisalena Athanasiadou who helped us so much getting the travel arrangements sorted last year, and did the English subtitles for the film.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!

We ate in the Italian restaurant in St Pancras station, and the following morning arrived at the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square to get set up.

By 1130, guests had started to arrive, and quickly it became a wonderful blur, as we met again so many who had helped on the project; Keith Edwards who built the trailer, Tony Stairs, our magical magneto man, Sir Geoge White and his son Philip, a sizeable contingent from the Shuttleworth Collection, and many  others, in addition to those members of our families who could make it.

Rick and Marian
Myself and Sue. I wore Grandad’s medal for the occasion, to honour the Greeks.

At 1240 Stephen stood up on the stage to introduce his baby, and the lights lowered and we settled down to watch.

65 minutes later there was a huge round of applause, and Stephen went on stage again to thank those who had contributed to the making of the film. Panos Georgiadis presented him with a photographic memento of the Greek filming, and did the same for Sue, who so very richly deserved it. I was next, with a model of Grandad, beautifully painted and complete with RNAS uniform and cap – as made by the Kavala model aircraft club.

Then Stephen, Theo, Rick and myself answered questions from the floor before we headed to the bar across the road, where Stephen had very kindly laid on drinks and nibbles.

Yes, but what was the film like?

Well, I’m biased, but though it was simply superb – and even those who have no particular interest in the subject found it thoroughly absorbing. Sue’s brother John, who’d just flown in from Las Vegas the day before, managed to stay awake, which he regarded as the highest praise!

Stephen is working hard to get the DVDs out so that they can be offered for sale, and his agent is touting it round the TV companies.

He’s managed to include elements of Grandad’s service and the war in the Eastern  Mediterranean in addition to the build and flying of 1264, and so it’s absolutely jam-packed with information you’re unlikely to have seen or heard befire, as well as masses of original film footage that hasn’t seen the light of day for 100 years. It will be a crime against entertainment if it doesn’t get an airing.

But if you can’t wait, you can place your order now!