374. Accident Further Update

As I left the airfield I was approached by Dutchman Wim Becker, who’d come for the Flying Proms. He said he’d photographed the accident and has very kindly let me have the full sequence, which is pretty unusual, I think you’ll agree!

You’ll see the wheel leave the axle more or less immediately and rolling on all by itself. the aircraft continues for about 25 yards on a wheel and an axle, and even the tip skid on the port side remains clear of the ground. It’s only at the last moment that the undercarriage digs in and the aircraft spins round and tips up. It’s clear the reason she didn’t go right over is because she came to rest balanced on the broken propeller.

Repairs are progressing, but it hasn’t been possible to check out the engine yet. Hopefully this week…


373. Speculation

From July 1915 onwards, the Royal Flying Corps produced twice weekly summaries of the action in the air over the Western Front, and these have been brought together in a wonderful publication which makes for very informative and entertaining reading.

I have been leafing through to find entries relating to Bristol Scouts, and it’s particularly pleasing that the very first entry for 25-27 July 1915, describes Capt. Lanoe Hawker’s action in Bristol scout no. 1611 that brought down three German machines and won him a VC.

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But the Bristol Scouts are in the thick of the action, particularly considering how few were available (only about 20 had been delivered at this time, so fewer than that would have been airworthy at any one time).

Here are the other entries I’ve found.

July 1915

  1. Lt Bell Irving was attacked by an EA
  2. Hawker and Capt. Spratt both engaged EAs. Capt. Spratt managed to get home despite having had the starboard centre section strut shot away!

August 1915

  1. Hawker again!
  2. Flt Sub Lt Bessington RNAS in a Bristol Scout from Dover made two bombing attacks on a damaged Zeppelin which was being towed back to Ostend by a German ship. On the first he dropped four 20lb bombs and on the second he tried a couple of bombs and a dozen hand grenades.
  3. Capt Read engaged an EA
  4. Lt Scholefield engaged an EA.

September 1915

  1. Capt. Thompson chased an EA.
  2. The indomitable Capt. Hawker shot down a German scout.
  3. Capt Morgan forced down an Albatros.
  4. Capt. Thompson engaged three EA in one flight. His gun was mounted on the top wing.

(21. Capt Thompson, this time on a Maurice Farman armed only with a rifle, attacked an EA and forced it back over the lines. It’s hard to believe that such primitive machines were still in use more than a year into the war.)

October 1915

  1. 2nd Lt Medlicott drove four machines back over the lines.
  2. Capt. Gordon Bell (the only ace to score all his victories on a Brsitol Scout) engaged an Albatros and an LVG.
  3. Capt. Kinnear engaged and EA.
  4. Capt. Grenfell engaged an Aviatik, but experienced some difficulty coming out of a dive following the EA.

Around this time a Bristol Scout was attacked by friendly anti-aircraft fire on returning to his airfield. After landing he saw the crew of the anti-aircraft gun running up to him to try and claim souvenirs of their ‘hit’!

  1. Lt Glen attacked an observation balloon with 5 incendiary bombs.

November 1915

  1. Lt. Medlicott brought down an LVG out of control. Capt. Bell engaged a Fokker and an Aviatik.
  2. Lt. Morton chased an LVG but had engine trouble and had to return.
  3. Capt Bell engaged two EA in successive flights. Capt. Mills engaged an EA.
  4. Capt Bell engaged an EA. Lt. Morton engaged an EA.
  5. Capt Bell (again) brought down an LVG.

December 1915

  1. Capt. Porter engaged an EA.
  2. Capt Mitchell engaged an EA.
  3. Capt. Read engaged a couple of EA, and was hit in the engine and petrol tank.
  4. Capt Kinnear engaged 2 EA.
  5. Capt Mitchell engaged three EA, two of them at 12,000ft.
  6. Lt Cave engaged 2 EA. Lt Woodhouse engaged 2 EA.
  7. Capt Cunningham engaged 2 EA.

January 1916

  1. Capt Crowe engaged and Aviatik and one other. His engine was hit and he glided successfully back to the Allied lines.
  2. Capt Lawrence engaged an EA.
  3. Capt Wynne-Eaton engaged an Albatros which was hit and had to glide back to the German lines.
  4. A mid-air collision between a Bristol scout and a Vickers FB caused significant damage to the Vickers but both landed safely.

March 1916.

  1. Capt Wynne-Eaton engaged 2 EA.
  2. Capt. Allcock engaged 2 Albatros and forced down one. Capt Egerton in a Bristol Scout approached a BE2c to warn him that one wheel had fallen off. They collided in midair and both machines were destroyed, and both pilots injured.

From here on, the reports are more highly summarised, simply recording the numbers of engagements and the results, and rarely identifies the aircraft type.

And by this time the RFC had recognised the need for a dedicated air superiority machine, and the Nieuport 11 and DH2 had been produced as a result, designed from the start with armament. These were organised into dedicated fighter squadrons, whereas the Bristol had been issued in ones and twos to each squadron of observation aircraft such as the BE2c.

Nonetheless, some Bristol Scout entries still appear.

April 1916.

  1. Lt Read and Lt Lord Doune engaged an EA.

May 1916.

  1. 2nd Lt Albert Ball brought down an EA –probably destroyed. 2nd LT Mowatt did not return from patrol.
  2. Capt James reported important troop movements, flying as low as 500ft over enemy lines. Perhaps the first documented use in its Scouting rôle!
  3. Capt Boulton engaged an EA.


It’s an incomplete record – Charles Gordon Bell scored 5 victories in Scouts 4688 and 4675 between 19 September and 30 November 1915, none of which seem to have been recorded.

Most of the combats were broken off because of a jammed gun; apparently there are 120 different ways for a Lewis gun to jam. Hence the vital importance of having the butt within easy reach of the cockpit – and of bringing along a hammer!

And, given that there was no standard mount for a machine gun, it’s intriguing to speculate how many of these Scouts fired through the propeller like 1264. My guess is that quite a few did. We know of two definite exceptions – Lanoe Hawker’s initial combat with an obliquely mounted Lewis gun, and Capt Thompson’s machine on 18 September which was mounted on the top wing.

But the top wing mounting was impossible to reach in flight – the pull-down mounts such as the Foster were only developed later on – so gun jams would have been impossible to fix and one could only fire a single drum (47 rounds).

None had synchronised guns; the technology at this stage was only available to the Germans.

We have demonstrated that the damage caused by a 0.303 round is very limited. And it’s interesting that a year later, in 1917, the pilots of 45 squadron – which was equipped with Sopwith 1 1/2 strutters – regularly turned off the synchronising because it would double the rate of fire and therefore the chances of a hit. They used to make it home okay with up to 20 holes in the propeller!

So perhaps firing through the propeller was more commonly used than is currently thought.

Finally, it’s interesting that RNAS Bristol Scouts were used for bombing as early as July 2015. Were they mounted under the forward fuselage like 1264? I don’t suppose we shall ever know.

372. Accident Update

The insurance company are being super-helpful and repairs are progressing as fast as they can. Hercules propellers have already got the new timber (American Black Walnut again, you’ll be glad to know) and Shuttleworth are all set to give the rest of the airframe the once-over.

The puzzle is what caused the wheel to detach in the first place, and here there is still some uncertainty. The axle is a piece of 1.5in tube, and for each wheel there are two bushes which slide on and are retained by a 2BA (about 3/16in) aircraft quality bolt.

The bungee suspension is wrapped around the axle, and it’s possible for the axle to rotate 20° until an eyebolt contacts the wooden undercarriage. So I took an adjustable spanner with plastic jaw covers and rotated the axle back to the proper position. It was very easy to achieve with light to medium hand force. The picture below (taken using the other wheel hub after the event) shows the whole set-up.

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The witness marks on the plastic jaw covers show that the forces were very light, and I can say without doubt that there wasn’t a mark on the bolt or nut after I’d finished.

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Two hours later, either during the flight or on landing, the bolt for the outer bush on the port wheel fell out and the wheel came off. It was recovered complete with the bush and refitted to the axle. there was no damage to the axle or bush, and even the bolt holes were unmarked, as you can see.

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If we suppose that the nut came off, we’d also have to suppose that the bolt raised itself 2in before falling clear, which seems pretty unlikely. So the only remaining possibility that the head of the bolt came off, allowing the shank and nut to fall clear.

Bolts are made from medium strength steel, which means that the normal failure mode is ductile – in other words it bends before it breaks. That didn’t happen here, and so we have to suppose some form of brittle fracture. The bolt was removed in February to work on the wheel covers, and was free of corrosion – even the plating was intact. There’s no significant load on the bolt, and it seems unlikely that there was sufficient vibration to have caused fatigue.

But unless a metal detectorist can find the offending parts, presumably somewhere in the circuit at Old Warden, we are unlikely to get any more evidence to move things on.

In the meantime, all we can do is use two bolts instead of one to provide redundancy.

371. Wheels go Wild at Warden

It’s been a busy, busy fortnight. Since the last time I was home ten days ago I’ve been to Blandford Forum, Bovington, Lymington, Barnstaple, Ruislip, Heathrow, Singapore, Blandford and Old Warden.

The plan was to meet up with John Hurrell who flies the BAe Anson at Old Warden and many other places, and indeed flies a huge variety of other aircraft at a huge variety of places too. John is a Display Authorisation Evaluator (DAE) so that he could watch me doing a practice display and renew my display authorisation.

So I arrived at Old Warden late on Thursday having landed at Heathrow  about 6 hours late, driven to Blandford to pick up the trailer and head straight back up the M3 and on round to Old Warden, arriving reasonably late at night.

Question: Why was an Apache attack helicopter was crossing the M3 at around 1000ft more or less at the junction with the M25?

This morning I rigged 1264, filled her with fuel, pumped up the tyres, rotated the axle back to its proper position, and rigged her for flight with the very competent assistance of Julian Harcourt.

John Hurrell turned up just as we completed the rig, and at 1700, with the assistance of Jean-Michel Munn, we towed her across to runway 25 which was exactly into wind. The wind was turbulent and we spent some time consulting the runes to see if we felt it was within limits or whether it might improve later.

In the end, I decided to go for it, and the takeoff and display was perfectly okay, though the low level turbulence meant that I kept pretty high for the display, and I decided not to go away for a longer flight on completion.

I decided to land back on 25, and the turbulence was quite acceptable on approach. I touched once, bounced and landed pretty smoothly thereafter, and was very disappointed to find an increasing tendency to veer left. That strongish wind should at least helped to keep her straight. Eventually it developed into a proper groundloop, and she ended up partly on her nose.

I was able to get out unaided however, and when I looked around for the cause, I was astonished to find the left wheel completely missing! I couldn’t find it anywhere, but a few seconds later, Jean-Michel turned up with it in the passenger seat of his car…

And it was only then that I got to know the full story. The wheel had in fact departed the axle about  3-4 seconds after I’d landed. It had carried on ahead of me as I slowed down. I’ve found the tracks in the grass and 1264 travelled about 25 yards after the undercarriage contacted the ground. the wheel travelled around 130 yards all on its own!

And what of the damage to 1264? Well, once again she seems to lead a charmed life.

Of course there’ll need to be a full investigation, but so far as we can tell, the damage is limited to the propeller, both ends of which are smashed,

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the starboard wheel, which is bent,

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and the tailskid, which is broken.

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Even the wingtip skids are intact!

So what caused the wheel to fall off? Well, it’s held on by a 2BA bolt which goes through the axle and wheel bush. The bolt holes are completely unmarked, so – extraordinary as it sounds – it seems most likely that the bolt fell off during the flight, and the wheel simply came off as it started to rotate.

As for the reason, the only explanation I can give is that I had used that bolt earlier in the day to rotate the axle back to its proper orientation. It was very easy, requiring only gentle force, and I’d used an adjustable spanner with plastic faces to do the work, applying purchase to the head and tail of the bolt. But there was no indication of yield, and indeed the bolt and nut were completely unmarked afterwards because I checked, so I’m completely mystified as to why it should have happened.

Still, it’s all eminently fixable, and 1264 will be back in the air as soon as we can get everything fixed. And if they aren’t fixed by the time of your remaining static shows, the damage will certainly provide a good talking point!

And with that sorted, it was off to the pub for comfort food.

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So tomorrow will be an easy day at the end of which I’ve got a ticket of the Shuttleworth Flying Proms, which are a highlight of their season. So very much looking forward to it. And so very much looking forward to getting home on Sunday…


369. Yanks

I had half a day to spare before my flight left Los Angeles for Dallas, and I used it to visit the Yanks Museum at Chino airport.

You will no doubt have heard of the Planes of Fame Museum located on the same airport. It’s a well run museum with some very rare and beautiful machines, most of which are kept in flying condition and flown regularly.

But for me, The Yanks museum is very special. The volunteers are all hard at work, and happy to stop for a while and natter. Most American air museums have little in the way of WWI stuff, primarily because very few American-designed machines flew in WWI.

But Yanks has excellent examples of the two best-known.

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The Curtiss JN-4 Jenny was a very commonly-used basic trainer, and in fact Grandad flew one while he was at Chingford. He describes how they were reputed to have terrible spin characteristics, until an experienced pilot came down and showed them it wasn’t true.
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And they have an uncovered example hanging overhead.

The other WWI American design that was produced in considerable numbers was the Thomas Morse Scout, and they have an example of that too.

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There is a significant connection with the Bristol Scout. In 1917, an example of the Bristol machine was sent to the US and evaluated for manufacture under licence as a trainer. The Thomas Morse company was set to work to redraw the original drawings using feet and inches instead of millimetres and an order for 1,000 was on the verge of being placed, when it was decided to go for the Thomas Morse company’s own design. This example is in immaculate condition, complete with 80hp le Rhone engine.

They also have some very rare oddities. How about this?

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It’s the HUM-1 which was the first tandem-rotor helicopter certified in the US for commercial use dating from 1953. A 200hp Franklin in-line engine gave it a top speed of 105mph and a payload of 900lb. Only two were ever built.

And this?

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It’s the Waco CG4A (Hadrian) glider, which was the workhorse for most of the airborne operations of WWII, and capable of carrying 13 troops, a jeep, or a 75mm Howitzer. More than 13,900 were built.

But wander outside to the boneyard and anyone with any feeling for the romance of aviation will, I guarantee, be spellbound. These examples were taken on my smartphone, but I hope you get the idea.20180731_135401 (600x800).jpg20180731_135412 (600x800).jpg20180731_135854 (800x600).jpg20180731_135805 (800x600).jpg20180731_140312 (800x600).jpg20180731_140041 (581x800).jpg

368. California

We put 1264 to bed on the Sunday night and stayed with Theo overnight. Then Sue and I headed off to Ruislip, where I put her on the Tube to go to Euston and from there home. Meanwhile I headed off to Heathrow to catch the evening flight to Boston. From there I worked on successive days in Franklin, MA, Pulaski, NY and Marinette, with no time to visit Oshkosh for Airventure, unfortunately.

On Saturday I planned to fly to Los Angeles early in the morning, in order to arrive at 1130. I arrived at 1130, but it was PM instead of AM, so I didn’t get to my hotel until 0130.

On Monday evening after work, I finally met up with Ian and Barbra Easton. Ian is working on a stunning 35% scale model of a Bristol Scout and we’ve been in touch for many years. and it was only a few months ago that I discovered he lived only about half an hour from my workplace!

They treated me royally, and we nattered for hours.

20180730_195107 (600x800).jpgThe Scout is in Ian’s mancave together with a squadron of other aircraft he’s deigned and built himself, and many restored motorcycles, all of which are roadworthy. Oh, and a roadworthy Triumph TR6.

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They are in the UK regularly, but we’ve never yet managed to meet up. fingers crossed, we’ll manage it soon…