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.

384. Back to School

Even though we were headed for one of our local schools, it was an early start on Monday morning, as we needed to be heading through their gates at 0730.

But the team were up and ready on time, and the gates were open when we got there.

We had the whole of year 7 in three classes; each session lasted just under a couple of hours, and I gave a brief introduction to the scale of WWI in the classroom, with some local connections, before we headed out to the playing field where 1264 was parked. Each class split into four, and were told about a different aspect of the aircraft and my Grandad’s service.

20181112_085331 (800x600).jpg

The weather forecast was a bit iffy, but thankfully held off for the day. It was very cold, however, and I was grateful for my leather coat, which I was certainly not going to offer to the children, even though they were shivering like crazy.

At the end of each session we started the engine, and it was a relief to hear it roar into life first pull every time.

The children were very interested, and asked some very good, intelligent questions. They had also produced some wonderful pieces of work on the subject of WWI, as you can see.

20181112_110755 (800x600).jpg

20181112_130130 (800x600).jpg20181112_130100 (800x600).jpg


383.Oop North

It’s been a long, long year, and event no. 18 was in Wrexham on Saturday, which is the furthest north we’ve travelled so far.

But the arrangements ran very smoothly; we were together in a marquee with Steve Williams, who does a brilliant presentation on all sorts of details about trench warfare, some of which is enough to make your stomach turn!

20181110_111819 (800x600).jpg

We were crowded out all day as usual, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Various relatives from this end of the country came to see us, and all in all it was a great pleasure to be there.

20181110_110631 (800x600).jpg

On Sunday we attended the Armistice Day commemoration and service in Ludlow, and while we had been slightly disappointed not to be involved in any of the events to mark the actual day itself, in the end it was a much-needed break between this and our next event.



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!

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.