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“And like no other sculpture in the history of art, the dead engine and dead airframe come to life at the touch of a human hand, and join their life with the pilot's own.”

349. Walking the Red Carpet

I hope all of you are aware of the magnificent documentary made by Stephen Saunders and available on DVD.


Of course I’m biased, but everyone who’s seen it thinks it’s pretty special.

So it was a particular pleasure to be invited to the premiere of Stephen’s next film commissioned by French TV and the Yesterday Channel. Called ‘War Above the Trenches’ it covers the work done by the unsung heroes of the RFC on the western front in WWI – the observation machines that flew day in, day out, photographing the enemy lines and spotting for the artillery. It’s been a long time – around a decade – in the making, but the end result is really excellent, and while 1264 has a small part in it, the camera made by Theo Willford with the assistance of Richard Chillingford – played a central part in the story, to the extent that they both got credits at the end!

it will be aired – in two parts – on the Yesterday Channel at 2000 on 12th and 19th April, so you can set them to record now!

It was great to see the team again, including some of the crew who were with us in Greece and France.


Theo and Stephen Saunders


Theo and the camera he made for the film. It doesn’t take brilliant photos, but it was a first-class film prop!

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This is a few of the ‘storyboards’ created to help the crew sort out each scene in the film.


348. The View from the Other Side

When we flew over the Somme battlefield from Albert in France, my cousin Claude Micheneau was there to help.

He keeps in regular touch, and recently he sent me an English translation of a book written by Hauptmann Heydemark, who was CO of the German squadron at Drama, opposing the RNAS at Thassos. He arrived shortly after Grandad left, but his prose is lively and the facts fascinating.

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Indeed the first chapter describes how Heydemark, who was an observer, took off soon after he arrived in an Albatros, and the synchronised guns started firing and couldn’t be stopped. What’s worse, they were not synchronised, so the bullets finally took off both propeller blades…

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Highly recommended reading, and available in paperback.


347. Bristol Aero Talks

Sue and I spent a very entertaining evening in the company of the Bristol Aero Talks group, at the invitation of Peter Coombs.

I was down to give a talk on the early life of Frank Barnwell (designer of the Scout), but was somewhat daunted to find that I was giving it to people who knew considerably more on the subject than I did, including Duncan Greenman and his wife Valerie, both archivists for the Bristol Aero industry, Chris Biggs, Bristol Aircraft historian, and Sir George White, whose grandfather was Frank Barnwell’s Managing Director!

Anyway, I ploughed on as best I could, and then showed some videos of the Scout flying. It prompted a lively question and answer session both in the room and at the bar afterwards.

It was a huge pleasure to see Sir George White again; we were lucky as they’ve just taken delivery of a retriever puppy and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to take time off from babysitting…

Among the others we met were David Bradley, who, as a young apprentice at Weybridge was involved in the rebuilding of the Vickers FB5 Gunbus that now resides in the RAF Museum at Hendon. He had to take the best bits from a couple of Gnome Monosoupape 100hp rotaries and make one airworthy, and was involved in most of its flying career, which involved any number of (by our standards) very long cross-country flights in it!

And Sue had a long talk to David Corbyn, who was involved in the testing of Concorde. and yes, he has a younger brother in politics!

Peter invited us to stay overnight, and we did so, appropriately enough, in the Alveston House Hotel, which was Frank Barnwell’s home from 1923 until his untimely death in 1938.

Over breakfast we chatted to Peter who has had an interesting career investigating air accidents with the AAIB at Farnborough.

All in all, it was a very, very pleasant evening, and we are determined to try and keep in touch with them.

346. Back together

Monday saw us at the Imperial War Museum in London to take our first and only look at Grandad’s original logbooks. My existing copy was a 1974 photocopy which was barely legible, so it was a real pleasure and privilege to see the originals.

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This is Grandad’s logbook showing his time in the Eastern Mediterranean…

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… and here are the official instructions for filling it in. Thankfully, Grandad’s entries in the ‘Remarks’ column are much fuller than one might have expected, and have given us a wonderfully clear image of his time there.

As the forecast got more and more extreme, we weren’t at all sure we’d make it back to Shuttleworth to get 1264 back together. In the end, we managed to get Tuesday and Wednesday in that enabled us to complete most of the job list.

The petrol tank is sealed and repainted.

The engine has a full set of new rings.

The starboard wheel trim is repaired.

The rear fuselage fabric is re-patched.

The tailskid is firmly bolted back.

The pulsometer is relocated lower down.

The tachometer inline gearbox is more securely located.

We’ve primed the oil system, with the exception of the pulsometer which will have to wait until the engine is run.

We’ve put the wings back on.

But by Wednesday evening, Theo said it was clear that the snow was on its way and we headed back home before we got stranded. We left 1264 looking a bit lonely in the blister hangar, but there was a dusting of snow outside and a strong blustery easterly wind that had come straight from the Arctic and cut through one with a knife. We would very much have liked to fill the petrol tank to check the fuel system, and to get some ground runs in to check the rest of the systems, fill the pulsometer and start to bed in the new rings. But that wind made it quite impossible, so we’re quite satisfied with progress.

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Back at home, I’ve got the photographs of every page of Grandad’s logbooks to tinker with so that we end up with a hi-res facsimile, and I’m making slow but steady progress with transcribing the drawings onto Solidworks. Outside, the snow has drifted sufficiently high that it’s almost impossible to get out.

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But I will have a go today. We took the decision to start again with the fabric strips on our sacrificial propeller blade, and I’ve used glue instead of dope to stick it on. The result is altogether better, and I’ve got the first coat of varnish on, but now I need some very fine emery and some better brushes…

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Nearly ready to be shot at!


345. Job Half Done

Looking at yesterday’s list, there are relatively few we can actually tick off, and we are going to have to come back again in a couple of weeks. to finish the job off.

But we’ve done the best we can, and we’ve each brought home a selection of jobs that can be progressed better at home.


Here, at least, is the repair to the rear fuselage fabric which has gone very well indeed.

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The tailskid, though it’s invisible, is just awaiting some more bolts of the right length to be ticked off.

I’ve repositioned the pulsometer a little lower to see if it will stay full all the time, and I’ve brought back the inlet piping for modification when I’ve got access to a proper torch to undo the silver solder, and Theo’s got the tacho drive gearbox to make a slightly more secure mounting for it.

And the two big jobs are going okay. last night I cleaned the petrol tank, and swilled it out half a dozen times then left it full of water overnight, and today Jean-Michel Munn resoldered as many of the the leaking rivet heads as he could find. He air tested it and found a couple more, but it’s looking under control, and when he’s got it airtight they are all set up to etch and paint with two-pack epoxy which should look a lot smarter than the previous paint which was applied in something of a hurry.

But the job which kept me awake last night – the broken piston rings – seems to have come to a satisfactory conclusion. It was generally agreed by Phil and the manufacturers of the rings that the most likely cause was too small a gap between the ends of the ring. Getting it just right is a complex dance; different manufacturers (the le Rhone was built by at least four different factories) recommended different amounts, and it’s complicated by the fact that it’s a ‘choked’ bore; the diameter is 4 thou (thousandths of an inch) smaller at the top than the bottom, to allow for the fact that in flight the top is hotter than the bottom and will expand more. You measure the gap by inserting the ring on its own into the bore and measuring the gap between the two ends – and it’s anyone’s guess whether this should be at the bottom or top or somewhere in between!

But the consensus – based on the fact that it was the topmost rings that failed in every case – was that the gap had been a bit too small, and the gap was closing right up at the top of the bore, causing the ring to bind and overheat. thankfully no other damage had occurred, so a replacement set has been ordered and will be fitted in a week or so.

We were only there for three days, but our sense of gratitude to the guys in Engineering at Shuttleworth can’t be overstated. They have a completely unique facility and breadth of experience in this very specialist field, and would be quite within their rights to guard it jealously and not let anyone in. Instead of which, they move other precious artefacts around to give us space in the wonderful warm hangar, welcome us in with cups of tea, lend us their tools, and freely give their time to advise us about the problems we face.

To all of you, but particularly Jean-Michel, Phil, Andy, Rory and Gareth, a huge, huge thank you.

One other excitement – Theo brought up the half propeller which we’re going to shoot holes in. He’s wrapped the fabric round and applied the first coats of dope, and my job now is to apply more dope to the fabric band and varnish to the rest before we see how much damage a 0.303 bullet actually does!

No photo yet – I want to preserve the surprise…

And finally, you may remember the YouTube channel called the Great War Team, who have been assembling one of the most consistently entertaining and knowledgeable accounts of WWI week by week. They came to Stow Maries and did a special episode on 1264, and i suggested that they might like to do another special on the Coastal Motor Boats that were developed from an idea originating from three junior officers including Grandad’s younger brother, Bill. Bill helped to develop them and served on them throughout the war with very great distinction – it is generally believed that he deserved a VC for his part in the Kronstadt raid, but they’d already awarded two and so he must missed out.

Anyway, their researchers took the material I provided and expanded it enormously, resulting in an excellent brief summary of their use in WWI.



344. Down and Dirty

Our maintenance week started with a fairly simple list of jobs, and this week at Shuttleworth to get them done.

  1. Repair damage to the rear fuselage fabric.
  2. Repair the slackening of the tailskid in its pivot bracket.
  3. Colour code the struts by painting narrow strips of contrasting colours on the tops of the struts, the sockets in the upper wings, and the box they live in in the trailer to ensure they don’t get muddled.
  4. Reposition the pulsometer to try and make it work at all times.
  5. Seal the minor leaks in the petrol tank
  6. Do a routine check on the engine by pulling all the cylinders
  7. Remount the tacho cable gearbox more securely.
  8. Repair the damaged wheel trim.
  9. Complete the wiring of the solar panel charger to the trailer winch battery.
  10. Dope a fabric bandage onto the freshly-made dummy propeller, ready to have holes shot in it.
  11. Clean the flies off the back of the propeller.

Monday started fine – I’d driven across to Biggleswade, the wings were off and the fuselage in the nice warm engineering hangar by lunchtime – and with Theo and Chill arriving late morning, we had the engine out by the close of play.


Theo and Chill getting up close and personal with the engine…


… and shortly afterwards, out she came.

So far, so good.

Tuesday started in a great mood, therefore, and when Ninja David took the first few cylinders off, everything looked immaculate.


Spotless piston…


… and spotless cylinder.

And while he was on with that, we managed to extract the petrol tank.


The tank came free finally.


You can see some evidence of leakage here – probably from about half a dozen rivet heads, which is what we were expecting.


The condition of the tank elsewhere was generally reasonable.


The brass oil tank looks immaculate, thank goodness. The petrol tank is bad enough to remove, but this would be a nightmare!

However, as David worked his way round the engine, he came across some broken piston rings.


Here’s one in situ…


… and we’ve ended up with five or six that need replacing.

There are one or two areas of external rust on the tank that are causing some concern, and we’ve taken the decision to have Shuttleworth etch and paint the tank with two-pack epoxy, which Andy assures us is the only paint system that is impervious to castor oil!

Otherwise, we are making good progress with the rest of the jobs.

But the two issues above cannot be resolved this week, so we’ll have done as much as we can by tomorrow night and go home early, and fix another date to reassemble.

The broken rings are a considerable disappointment and a relief; we aren’t yet sure why they broke, but at least the pistons and liners are in good condition.

Investigation into the cause is continuing; we need to be sure we’ve cracked the problem (and not the rings) before we run the engine again.

343. Digitised

I’m a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in the USA, and I’ve discovered that they are offering a year’s licence for a student version of Solidworks, the industry standard 3D CAD program.

I’ve always been fascinated by 3D CAD, and so for the past couple of months I’ve been starting to rebuild the Scout digitally, using our original drawings.

It’s a long – indeed a very long – learning process, but I’m slowly getting there and I thought you might be interested to see some of the results.

Here’s the tailplane and elevator, for example, with every part individually modelled.XD775Test2.jpg

And an example of the sort of drawings I’ll have at the end.

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It’s very, very time consuming, but I do find it rewarding, and I’m aiming to reproduce the entire aircraft. Eventually!