382. You’ve seen the DVD. Now read the book…

At long last, the book is set to be published. If you get your order in before publication, there’s a 30% discount!

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.
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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!)

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And I think Mike himself was pretty chuffed too!

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As soon as he receives his Permit to Fly, he’ll be able to check it out for himself.

380. Shuttleworth Race Day

Leighton Buzzard on the Saturday and Shuttleworth on the Sunday. Thankfully it’s only about an hour between the two, so it wasn’t as tough as it might have been.

TVAS volunteer Julian Harcourt helped rig, and we rolled her into no. 1 hangar into the space vacated by the other WWI aircraft who were flying that day, alongside the stunning Albatros DVa that has only recently been assembled after its long journey from the TVAL factory in Wellington, NZ.20181007_131312.jpg

Race day is traditionally shared with an amazing array of vintage cars, many of which are fire-breathing monsters.


As always, the day passed in a blur of new and old faces, and was over all too soon. We got glimpses of the flying action, but didn’t see the cars on the airfield at all to our considerable disappointment.

Phil Jackson showed us his part-finished artwork of 1264. We can’t wait to see the finished thing!
We made a note of next year’s fixtures…
… and commentator John Gilder helped put 1264 to bed until the next show in Wrexham on 10 Nov. We hope to see you there!


379. Leighton Buzzard

It’s a long haul from west to east, but at least we got a few days at home in between. Leighton Buzzard was a pretty tight squeeze all round; the traffic in the town was more or less gridlocked, and the car park for the trailer overnight was cosy but adequate.

Theo had caught a throat infection during the week and cried off; just as well, as the forecast for the day looked pretty much wet all day.

So we retired to the Swan Hotel which was about 20 yards from the car park on one side and 50 yards from our spot in the high street on the other. Wetherspoons it might have been, but the building was very old and full of character, and the food was cheap and wholesome. and we got to meet up with Rob Butler again, which was a great pleasure.

The walls of the hotel all reminded you of Leighton Buzzard’s aviation heritage; the local car factory called Morgans (no, not the three wheelers; another Morgan!) were required to manufacture the Vickers Vimy bomber at the end of the war, and the fuselages and wings were trundled up the high street right over where we would be on the morrow to the nearby field where they were assembled and flown off to the RAF.

The Vimy bombers first flew on the 30th November 1917. It was designed as a night bomber capable of attacking targets in Germany.
Two famous aviators for the Vimy commercial were John Alcock and Arthur Whitton Brown. They flew a modified version to complete the first non-stop transatlantic flight. (Incidentally, Alcock served in the RNAS in the Eastern Mediterranean at the same time as Grandad, but from the island of Mudros).

We had breakfast as early as possible in the morning in order to be rigged before the rain started, and managed to do so. Just.

20181006_091545.jpgAnd the rest of the day was spent ducking in under the tarpaulins to show people round 1264. You might have thought it would put a damper on their enthusiasm, but it didn’t seem so. With just the three of us there, we were pretty much at full stretch all day, and as always we met loads of interesting people. The photographs weren’t quite as stunning, though…

These photos were taken by John Shellcross, whose father serviced aircraft for the RFC in WWI.
Cheer up, Chill!
Thankfully, there was a Costa on our doorstep, so to speak!


378. Holsworthy

The Holsworthy event was to mark the end of WWI and we were rigged in a marquee at the entrance.

We stayed at the White Hart overnight, up a vertiginous set of stairs.


After a leisurely breakfast ( the show didn’t start until 1400) we made our way up to Stanhope Park to get our stall set out.

The workers were hard at it, rigging…
… and polishing…
… while the officers supervised outside in the sun.
There was a wonderful Blackadder play in the next door tent…
… and the cast came to see us, 
 and the mayor, 
 and the Town Clerk, 
and just about everyone else, 
including the Hummingbirds, who did a brilliant close harmony set on the stage.
And after it was all over, the marks in the grass showed how heavy the traffic had been around the aircraft!

On the Sunday we packed up and went our separate ways, though not for long. We’ll meet again at Leighton Buzzard for their Living History day on Saturday, followed by the Shuttleworth Race Day (static only) on the Sunday.

See you there?


377. Chagford

We have had a wonderful time in the village of Chagford, blessed by continuous autumnal sunshine. We had expected two days of peace and quiet in this remote location with a third as a day off, but were inundated with visitors on all three days.

The setting was idyllic…
… as was the view and the weather.
Stephen Saunders came to see us

The main purpose of our visit was to support the showing of Stephen Saunders’ film Bristol Scout – Rebuilding History and it was great to see him again.

The film was shown on the Tuesday night in the church, and if the numbers were a little disappointing, we weren’t downhearted as sales of the DVD were correspondingly high!


Mike Moullin was an enthusiastic visitor. His father learned to fly at Larkhill in the VERY early days and went to war in 1914 but was shot down shortly afterwards and spent the next four years in a POW camp.

On the Wednesday night Stephen showed his other recent film, War above the Trenches, which was commissioned for Channel 4. This, however, was the cinema version, and a distinct improvement in our eyes! Theo and Chill get a credit at the end as ‘Camera Prop’, for having made the replica camera that featured prominently.

We were booked to be there for the Tuesday and Wednesday, but since we were heading down to the Cornish border on the Friday and the weather was perfect, we simply stayed where we were, and a steady trickle of visitors came to see us.

We were just starting to dismantle 1264 when a family turned up and proved to be the most enthusiastic of the lot. Father is a Sicilian acupuncturist, mother is an English musician, and their two delightful children couldn’t be torn away from 1264. Dylan, the oldest, dressed up in the leather coat and sat in the cockpit, soaking up the atmosphere, while younger brother Dante looked on.


We were only just packed up in time for a delightful meal at the Three Crowns, next door to our hotel the Globe, run by Mary, who is also the driving force behind the amazing film festival. We were so sorry to leave; Mary and indeed the whole village could not have been more hospitable.

On Friday morning we headed off to Holsworthy on the Cornish border, where Stanhope Park was the scene of terrific activity preparing for their WWI event. We are situated at the entrance to the event in a marquee, and staying in the White Hart in the centre of the town.

In the evening we drove the short distance to Bude, where we had a delightful meal in the Olive Tree on the waterfront.20180928_191141s.jpg



376. Westward Ho!

It’s been an anxious week trying to ensure 1264 was on her feet and fit, at least for static exhibit, in time for the trip to Devon.

But first thing on Monday morning Sue and I set off for Old Warden to load the fuselage into the trailer.

Needless to say, when we got there we were distracted by other wonderful aeroplanes. Doing slow and rather noisy circuits was this wonderful Aeronca C3 – the 1930s version of a microlight.


Then into the engineering hangar, where WAHT’s latest acquisition, the stunningly decorated Albatros DVa is in the final stages of being erected.



Jean-Michel Munn will be flying it next season and says he is looking forward to shooting me down!

1264 was back on her wheels with a very smart-looking tailskid, so we rolled her into the sunshine and back in the trailer.


We set off on the long, long haul to Dartmoor, meeting up with Theo and Chill at Sedgemoor services for a cup of tea. They’d been to Stroud to pick up the propeller.

By the time we got to Chagford it was quite dark, and the fuel tank was quite empty, and while we’d been warned that the roads were narrow, the humpbacked bridge we came across was definitely too challenging!20180924_202432s.jpg

Thankfully Chagford film festival, in the person of Dean Gardner, was there to help us reverse about quarter of a mile down the windy single track road until we came to a spot we could turn round, and he escorted us back to the road we should have taken. Chagford is a tiny village and even this took a good deal of negotiating, including persuading any number of women drivers to reverse…

The entrance to Chagford house was about a foot wider than the trailer, but finally, finally we were successfully parked.


This was the view from our window in the Globe Inn the following morning, and after a hearty breakfast we were able to examine the trailer for damage (miraculously there was none!) and our new propeller, which is possibly even better than the last, with spectacular woodgrain, 20180925_102722s.jpg

and Sir George’s signature of course (for which very many thanks).


There was one more bit of jeopardy to negotiate. The fuel warning light had been flashing for ages last night and the nearest petrol station was ten miles away on the A30, so I headed off with as light a foot as I could manage, and reckoned there was about 5lt left in the tank when I made it!

Even here in the wilds of Dartmoor there was a continuous stream of visitors, and when the local school finished, a delightful horde of children came and saw us. We were very glad that Noel Willford had joined us to help keep some semblance of control.

They wanted to sit in the cockpit, and when told that wasn’t practical, were happy enough when I did, and was able to explain the operation of the controls.

They more or less cleared out our new stock of fridge magnets, and left happy. What a wonderful bunch!

In the evening we met up with Stephen Saunders, who introduced our film before it was shown in the church to a small but discerning audience.

It was another late night!