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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?