Tales from the North - updated!
FIRE! FIRE! - 29/1/14
The plane came zooming in out of the sun when no-one was expecting it and FIRE!! FIRE!! someone shouted.
Well, what tosh would you expect me to write at this time of year, when we have had cold and rain for months and the workshop has been frozen and I just don’t feel like getting all that cold. Also, the flying strip is sodden and full of cowpats and hoof holes and little puddles of ice and slush. So, flying has been off the agenda for me as well as the rest of the world, and I seem this year to be more sensitive to the cold so I don’t feel like enquiring after the health of brass monkeys.
A news item caught my eye, and that set off a train of thought - a fire crew on one of the Shetland Isles hit the headlines because half the crew were unable to continue with their duties. Two of them had grown beards, and so their smoke/breathing masks would no longer fit correctly putting them at risk of smoke inhalation. The other two were miffed because they had to do extra work, like 24/7. Being an Island community they couldn’t just drive a truck over from the mainland as the sea was a bit deep and the waves would sink the truck. This is a problem unique to island communities which the rest of the civilised world has difficulty grasping. For example, how many of our problems would be solved if the Thames actually flowed round the M25 instead of through the middle of London. It would give quite a different slant to Prime Minister’s Question Time. And how would Jeremy Paxman look in waders, with or without a beard? Perhaps he could emigrate to that Shetland Isle and mediate on the beard-growing dispute. Island communities are quite small and they don’t all multi-task so recruiting spare fire fighters isn’t so easy.
But why on earth would pillars of their local and remote communities ever want to change the habits of a lifetime and suddenly grow beards? Ask Jeremy Paxman? NO! Just look in the local paper.
Every year around this time Shetlanders indulge in a Fire Festival called UP HELLY AA. The nights are now just noticeably shorter and the summer is on its way. I have written before about the amazing way the Sun’s rising and setting changes in Orkney. Well, Shetland is further north still and just a few degrees below the Arctic Circle and the change from winter gloom to simmer Dim as they call it is even more remarkable.
Shetland and Orkney were once owned by Norway, and were swapped to Scotland for a princess. I am not sure who got the best of the bargain, or if this was the origin of devolution or independence, and it may be best not to enquire too deeply. However, it does explain their torch procession through the capital Lerwick where they march in Viking garb of leather tunics, Viking helmets with ox horns poking out through the sides, oxhide shields, and huge Viking cutlasses sharpened to cleave poor little Shetland ponies clean in half. They all grow huge tickly Viking beards and carry huge torches smothered in pitch cloth which burn for hours. Perhaps you can see where this story is coming from?
The procession, and all the planning leading up to it, is led by the Jarl. He is the Head Guizer, he has to be elected to this committee for 15 years, and only one Guizer is elected to the committee each year. So they have to be careful with the torches and the cutlasses and who they put on the Viking longship they make every year. This is dragged through the streets of Lerwick surrounded by whooping Vikings with cutlasses, torches, and lots of strong liquor in case they have to try firebreathing until it gets to the harbour where it is set on fire. Then they all move on to various parties they throw in halls around Lerwick, and they all have a very good time.
Those two fire fighters had made it on to the committee and were growing Viking beards. That had stopped their helmets fitting correctly, and that had caused a fall-out with their bosses and their local community. It is like ripples in a pond. I didn’t find out how that story ended, but I bet the ripples are still travelling.
Another story from the Northern Isles also caught my eye. When we were in Orkney, wheelie bins didn’t exist, at least not for mere mortals. We had to take our black plastic bags up to the end of our track and dump them so the bin wagon could pick them up in the fullness of time. The crows and seagulls are pretty smart, and had ripped the bags to shreds in minutes, and the wind blew everything all over the landscape. But things have obviously changed. Orkney has suddenly developed a surfeit of wheelie bins, almost 10,000 of them, at a cost of some £200,000. And they have some of the highest council tax rates in Britain. They don’t know what to do with them. Well, I have some ideas. They could tie them together and float them across the Pentland Firth and make a pontoon so people could pass happily and safely between Orkney and John O'Groats. And maybe the Chief Jarl could stand at one end and charge a groat for each successful passage? Perhaps they could tie some of them together and put the responsible counsellors in with some honey and not much money and cut them adrift? They might make it to Norway, with a following wind, in exchange for another princess? The first one apparently died on the journey from Norway.
Try a different idea. Why don’t we have an UP HELI/PLANE AAARRGGHH ? We could meet at the flying strip, say, sunset or a bit later. We would have our favourite models, the ones we are currently advertising for sale and no-one has answered our ads. We would approach the strip from different angles, dressed in costumes of our choice but probably white tutus and pointy white hats, and at some pre-arranged signal we would douse our models in glo fuel and apply a suitable match. We could stand around looking a bit like Guizers, and then retire to a suitable hostelry to put the flames out and quench our thirsts.
We could leave the Jarl to put his own flames out, and buy us a round. And all agree --- Don’t do this at Home!!
And if Jarl or Jeremy ask where I live, tell them I just went on holiday.
Aeroholics Anonymouse - 19/11/13
The top letter in November’s issue of RCM&E was from Steve Hartley in Cumbria where he confesses to being an Aeroholic. Well, aren’t we all? And are we proud of it or do we follow the excellent example of people like Alex Whittacker and creep off and hide and do “Shedly Things”? I love that expression, and am getting very good at it. But maybe doing shedly things is a secret description of an Aeroholic? Today I even had my new electric heater on, two bars, as it was a bit nippy.
It appears that Steve has recently started in this hobby, and is still, perhaps, in the “Madly, Passionately In Love” phase. Long may this remain. Patricia and I are still Madly Passionately in Love, after many years, with honeymoons at least once a year. I am still there with my modelling, and hope to remain there for many years yet. He mentions progressing from smaller to larger, from slower to faster, from rubber bands to big glow engines. And so he should!
But he mentions spending “Our money” on his addiction, and I hear an alarm bell. Another one! There are so many smug answers to this point that I think we will quietly gloss over the suggestion that spending decisions are best shared with our other half “for the greater benefit”. Then we can go back to shedly matters and the advice that mending broken planes is a skill best acquired early on in ones career as an aeroholic simply because that is when accidents seem most likely to happen, and that is when we most want to go out and commit aviation. Steve’s spare room, he admits, is a junk yard of tools and spare parts. Well, put some spare parts together and see what you get. I have several boxes of spare parts which I regularly cannibalise to build and repair planes. Which suggests that this aeroholic still crashes his toys.
Steve doesn’t mention his Club members holding him back, or offering severe counselling about buying bigger and better. Sadly there is no postcode with his letter, and I see the BMFA have recently upgraded their website and it seems we can no longer search for “Cumbria” but have to search for a postcode when we look for a Club. So I hope Steve has joined a Club, and I hope the members are all holding him back from going too fast too quick, and from spending too much of “our money” on his addiction. Yes, my advice is strongly to join a club and take what guidance it offered. My friends at Hexham MFC have been invaluable. They have a Thunder Tiger Ready trainer in ABS plastic, and it is a super plane, and fairly crashproof, as I have demonstrated. Try one, Steve, and keep it till you pass your A and B. And then you can get what you want. BUT DON’T get too competitive, too big, too fast too soon, or you might rue the day. It is really strange, now that I have passed my A Cert, I am really wondering what I should fly next? Should it be the Vulcan? Or the Lancaster? Or the Spitfire? Or all three at once? Or should I be sensible and get another trainer? Maybe I will get a large bar of really dark chocolate and have a serious migraine.
We have been adopted by a neighbour’s cat. There are several other cats in the home where it came from, four dogs, some children and a Husband, and I guess poor moggie had an identity crisis and found it better to camp out on our doorstep till his charms worked and he got his entry visa. He is a ginger tom (the official name is “Red Tabby“) so much like the cat in Shrek, so adorable. We think he is quite old, and sometimes he shows it. But most of the day he spends asleep on the sofa. When advised to move so we can sit down he states quite clearly that that is NOT in the script. When shown the door he growls and spits. It is quite true, dogs may have owners, but cats have Staff, and Staff need to know their place and do as they are told. But he is still so adorable, and I imagine he will live out his days with us. He arrived in the Summer, and staked out his ownership of his new family by bringing numerous mostly dead mostly half-eaten mice and rabbits, laying them carefully on the doorstep where we would be sure to trip up on them. Strange way to cement your friendship. I can’t quite see how it would be in my interests to leave a sack of balsa debris at the door of the Club Chairman as some sort of peace offering. Did I spell that correctly? So, he got bowls of food left outside in the summer, and then the summer changed to proper summer and he was allowed inside for a warm-up, and since the summer has now really arrived he sleeps on the sofa and has stopped shivering. And he is one handsome cat.
OOPS!! - 10/9/13
The Nats are outstandingly good value for money, and well worth a visit at some time in one’s life. Now that I live on the same planet as the Nats I have visited twice, and have loved every minute. Here is an opportunity to feel and touch all sorts of goodies for sale, to try the weight and suitability of items that have been on your wish-list for years, without the nagging doubts that the wonderful pictures on the web with lurid and mouth-watering descriptions are not quite a real-life event, perhaps more an out-of-body experience. (Even an out-of-pocket experience?). Forget about the boxes of unstarted kits on the rafters in the garage. They were from a previous century. You really must have something new, and you can always sell those old kits to some other poor creature. And anyway, you are a smart flyer now, and you must keep up appearances with other club members. I suppose it is a bit like an Aero Fashion Catwalk.
And for the Man who has Everything, there is the opportunity to watch those who can do everything show you how much you need to improve. The scale tents show the most intimate details achievable on chosen models, and they leave me gasping for breath. If I can get a model to fly, that is an achievement in itself. Adding scale detail is a barrier I have not yet attempted, though I am getting slowly drawn in to that arena. It is always good to find out how other modellers have tackled some problem and what sort of result they have achieved. I saw a novel way of fitting undercarriage nacelle doors on a Lancaster, and then remembered I had seen the same thing years ago in a magazine. So, what goes around comes around, and still the result is beautiful.
I have long admired radial engines, and the model engines that we can buy. The three-cylinder Saito seems a bit of a cheat, but the five-cylinder job seems a bit more realistic, and more expensive. A big engine for a big model, and a big bank balance. Now we can get a beautiful seven-cylinder 35cc (2.10cu.i) Evolution model with a diameter of 18.5 cm or just 7” which brings realism to many of the models we have hanging up in our sheds. All you need is about £1,000 to include the exhaust collector ring. I want one!! And if BIG is what you want, there is a seven-cylinder 77cc and a nine-cylinder 99cc glow, and a seven-cylinder 260cc petrol radial. Horizon Hobby sell them, but I didn’t hear them run. I would love to see a review of one of these beautiful engines, and to hear comment from owners. Does anyone want to sell me one?
The flying displays remind me yet again that I still have lots to learn about simple control of an aircraft. Yes, I can do loops and rolls and Cubans, but so far without much finesse, and not always with the outcome I was hoping for. Sometimes definitely not! But the OOPS!!es are getting fewer. Here are guys who can position a plane exactly where they want it at this second, and know exactly where they want that plane ten seconds from now, and ten seconds from then, and so on. Can I ever get that good? Never having OOPS!!es?
But there were some, and very surprising ones. A beautiful new and expensive yellow jet, flown by one of our most experienced flyers, delighted the crowd till it decided to go out of control (away from the spectators) and spiral at high speed in to the ground where it sat under a fierce and growing fireball and cloud of black smoke. I don’t know – and don’t need to know – what went wrong. It was a sad end to a good model and hours of hard work dedicated to our hobby.
Another OOPS!! was if anything more spectacular and probably more avoidable. Two large Corsairs with big growly Moki radials drove straight in to each other while taxying and chopped each other to bits with their big four bladed props. Think of eight scimitars whirling around held by four people in a fight and you can imagine the damage done. Thousands of pounds disintegrating in front of our very eyes, and half a Display Team out of action. To that point in the day, it seemed, one side of the runway had been used to taxi up ready to take-off, and the other side for the dash for freedom. These monsters were using the same bit of tarmac and taxying slowly directly towards each other. And it seemed they didn’t have brakes. And we could all see the accident unfold. And it was painful to watch, but not as painful, I am sure, as it was for the owners of those beautiful models. At least we were able to hear the throaty growl of those same Mokis in an earlier display.
Have you ever been told how to start a petrol motor? Use a chicken stick, or a heavy leather glove? Kneel to one side of the prop? Not quite what we saw on the flight line there, where such things appeared not to be necessary, but at least we saw no fingers being strimmed, and no first-aiders rushing to render help. I was interested to see one brave man staring in to the whirling blur of a Moki radial at full roar with his nose a few inches away from the hub nut. I don’t know what he was trying to discover, but I doubt if it was a cosmetic nose job. But at least we can be confident that these guys have been doing this for years and have a lot of experience and can fly well. But DON’T do these things at your own patch if you value your membership.
It is all too easy to appear smug when talking about other people‘s mistakes, yet overlooking your own. I crashed yet another model the other day. It was my little Thunder Tiger Ready Trainer made out of plastic, and a lovely plane to fly. I had had 3 flights that day with no problems, and all with soft landings although I had once over-run the end of the strip and stopped in thick grass. Our farmer doesn’t like us cutting too much of his silage crop so we have a strip little bigger than a Cricket pitch and models are apt to disappear in thick grass if we land away from the strip. It is said by some learned Members of the club that it is good discipline to be able to land on a small strip. Yes, but it helps if said strip is big enough to see! I did my official pre-flight check and found the wings correctly fitted, the engine still in place, both wheels turning, and so on, so off we go for a happy time. I soon realised that I needed a little extra trim for the elevator. Odd! Then I found that the throttle wouldn’t close to idle, so a landing would have to be fast at quarter throttle and something would probably break. I had to do my A-Cert the following week with this model so I definitely didn’t want that! So I flew higher and played around for a while to empty the tank so I could drift sedately down to Mother Earth. By this time I was using full elevator to keep the plane in trim, and half throttle was the least I could get. Another gentle turn to port, and suddenly the little plane spiralled towards Australia at ever increasing speed. So that was the end of that plane, and my A-Cert. Looking at the many bits, and thinking about this sad end, I concluded that the hiccup in the grass had caused the centre bulkhead holding the wheels to move slightly. The servo tray was glued to this, so 3 servos were mobile explaining the changes in trim and throttle response. The wing is also bolted on to this bulkhead so I am surprised that I didn’t notice anything amiss before I took off. The moral is Double-check everything before you fly.
Last time I was at the Nats was 2011 and I bought an Ibis. This is a trainer type machine looking a bit like a Piper, with big long wings with struts, and a big tail. This has had a number of repairs in the last 2 years, and during that time the Perspex windows have been replaced with the plastic wrappings from a bottle of Ardbeg Single Malt whisky. This was my default plane for my A-Cert. Cramlington and District MFC had an Open Day on 7th and 8th September, so I presented this advert to my private drinking habits to the examiners on a very blustery day. While putting the wings on my model the examiner came across and suggested that I might come back another less blustery day while holding firmly on to his hat. I demurred, and we agreed that the test would go ahead. Preliminaries complete, the model was taken out to the middle of the strip by an assistant, and I realised it was such a big strip that I could hardly see the model, let alone see the control surfaces wiggle the correct way. So, signal chocks away! Light the blue touch paper, and my trusty SC 120 pulled this 82” wingspan floaty monster up in to a 15 - 20 mph gust and battle commenced! Flying upwind required quite a lot of loud pedal, and flying downwind didn’t take very long at all. Manoevres completed, the dead stick landing was more like a hover to ground in that wind, graced with a perfect three-point landing. And one of the questions asked was -- “At what wind speed do you stop all flying?” Answer -- “When your bottle runs out!” Actually, at 25kt, which is around Force 6 on the Beaufort wind scale when white horses are blown off the tops of waves, whole trees begin to move, and umbrellas get blown inside - out. Smaller boats should be in harbour and larger boats should have shortened canvas and battened down all hatches. Only idiots fly models in this weather, as for a 1/6 scale model this represents hurricane force winds. After I had passed my test the wind dropped, of course, and other intrepid aeronauts brought their planes out to play. And they were good! Something to aim at for next year when I might try my B-Cert. So, now I can concentrate more on enjoying my flying, while making sure that all servo trays are secure before I attempt flight.
And if flying doesn’t always float your boat, I see today that a 50lb, four feet long, Swordfish has been caught in the River Tyne. Not the WWII fighter, I mean the fish with the Pinochio pointy nose. Yes, there are many amazing bonuses to living in the North East. You should try it!
G – George - 12/8/13
Lots has happened since I last wrote this blog, and all those lots have kept me from allowing the Muses to blossom as the apple trees, the thistles, the dandelions have blossomed, and all those other things that get in the way which have stopped me writing such as painting the garden gate, torrential rain, howling winds, and blistering heat. What has happened to our weather these last few months?
We have reviewed the anniversary of the Dam Busters raid, rewatched the telly documentaries and the great film, and we have wondered how we would have reacted if we had had to fly such missions. There has been a documentary about the Mosquito, the wooden wonder which was built despite being rubbished by everyone who knew all there was to know about running a War. But De Havilland knew better, backed their hunch, and built a plane which was an outstanding success in every field it was deployed in to. An outstanding bomber, it could carry as much ordnance as a B-17 at twice its speed, it could outrun almost any fighter, it encountered, it could mark targets accurately, and it could also take reconnaissance photos better than anything else. It could successfully mount a very powerful anti-submarine cannon without shaking to bits. It was so successful that it was exported to all parts of the globe where its one vice was exposed. It fell to bits when the wood glues decomposed in those humid tropical conditions. Well, you can’t win them all. And that is why there are so few Mosquitos in Museums around the World, and only two flying. I gather that is being sorted as we write, and I look forward to seeing a real Mozzie with real throbbing Merlins zooming overhead. I see there is now a French copy at three quarter scale which will soon be doing the rounds of various shows.
We were able to get to the Sunderland Air Show recently, still the only free Air Show in Britain and an outstanding success. Well worth a visit despite being in the middle of what one Noble Lord recently described as a “Desolate Area”! Well, with some of the best scenery in Britain and without being as crowded as that Noble Lord’s back yard, and having excellent job prospects, the North East is a beautiful area to live in, with plenty of flying of all sorts to indulge in. In fact, just across the valley from our own site is a farmer who regularly has small planes landing in his back yard, and one of our own members used to have his own pilot licence.
There were two stars of the Sunderland show. First, with six Merlins throbbing in unison was the BBMF with a Lancaster, a Spitfire, and a Hurricane. The Lancaster came in from the sea to simulate a dam-busting attack, but really he was a couple of hundred feet too high. Now, if he had come in below the top of the pier lighthouse we might have been impressed. As it was, his four Merlins still made our ears ring! They came back the following day, as did that great beast the Vulcan. The good news here is that this beast may yet fly again. If they can find another million pounds they can add a further two years to its flying life and extend it to 2015. If not, it stops where it gets parked in November. Lets hope there are still some deep pockets to help the many smaller donations to this cause.
I needed some repairs to a couple of engines, and sent it off to Peter Vidgeon in Surrey. We exchanged very informative emails as he worked on them. Very quickly he had mastered the problems and sorted both engines till they ran well. Excellent service and very reasonable price. He advertises in the BMFA classified site, and if you need his help you can reach him at email@example.com You won’t regret it.
It is almost time again for the Nats. I might be able to get there this year!
Same Yet - 24/5/13
It was in a previous Millenium that I first heard this expression, watching a “Look North” presenter talking about a signwriter repainting a pub sign for a landlord in North Yorkshire. The man asked what he was supposed to paint, and the publican said “Mek it t’Same Yet”. And the signwriter made it the “Same Yet Inn”, and that is how it is still named today. Or so I am led to believe. “Same Yet” means in local dialect “The Same Again” and the inn sign should have been painted “The Crown Inn” or “The Ugly Cow” or whatever it was originally, but “Same Yet” sounds ok to me. Just imagine if he had said “Paint it the same again, Sam”. He might have got an Oscar for that line!
Looking out of my window earlier today I was surprised to see the garage drifting in and out of visibility as a shower of sleety snow howled through the gap between it and the house, and “Same Yet” immediately came to mind, along with a comment on this blog from my dear friend Flytilbroke. I had recently written about the snow that had stopped our flying and he had said that near Ben Nevis where he lived they had not been so badly troubled. Well, maybe so, but today’s weather forecast shows severe winds around Fort William with some snow, and road closures a possibility. I hope you and Dot keep well, Bob, and lets hope the weather improves soon. This is now mid May and still we have “Same Yet” snow and wind. Are we never going to get a break? I saw an ad on the BMFA Classifieds, someone selling off a shedful of models he had made all winter because the weather was so awful. I think he must have had a heated shed, because I was not prepared to stay outside in my shed for most of last (or is it still this?) winter He obviously hadn’t been able to go out and fly them to death. Perhaps he needs a little help from his friends? He lives not too far away, so perhaps I could go round and chat with him, give him a helping hand?
And we moved 400 miles from Orkney to get away from weather like this!
Well, it isn’t all quite as bad as that. It has not all been “t’Same Yet”. A couple of weeks ago we did have some decent weather. I was able to get a couple of days good flying. The strip was firm, and with some drying wind the quagmire of mud on the way in to our strip had set in to hard ruts capable of ripping the bottom off our cars. One brave man had brought a spade and took the tops off the biggest ruts and had driven right up to our strip (and flattened some ruts in the process) and had some excellent flying in a strengthening wind. Even the big pond of mud at the second gate was firm and supportive. And one kind member had even mowed the grass for the first time.
My own flying was good, but I had a strange experience with one plane. After initial checks I started the engine and it ran a bit rich. I leaned it out a bit till it was good, then set off. Suddenly it ran rich and was barely able to keep airborne. I managed a quick circuit before the engine cut. On further inspection I was very surprised to find that the retaining bolt holding the throttle barrel in place had disappeared, so there was no control of mixture at all. The barrel was held in just by the throttle wire and moved in and out at will. How it had worked loose I have no idea. I can’t remember loosening it or removing the barrel for inspection or cleaning. And it isn’t a simple bolt. It has a chamfered tip, so replacement isn’t easy. However, I did find a suitable bolt, and put it in an electric drill and filed a suitable shape to the tip. It now holds the throttle barrel in place, with a tiny bit of threadlok to keep it happy. And the engine now runs perfectly. So, the moral is, as always, check everything before you commit aviation.
Another few days have gone by, and the weather hasn’t improved much, but I was able to get in a few flights, and that was when I first heard my first cuckoo of Spring. So, it’s official! Spring has definitely sprung now the cuckoos are here, or maybe this one got the wrong ticket and booked with Aeroflot by mistake. Cuckoo or not, we have rain.
Sadly, I think after this new dose of good weather the strip will now be fairly muddy with poor access. So, if we can’t fly, lets look at the weather. Fortunately, the weather presenters we see are some of the best around. They are invariably well-dressed (not like this new breed of TV presenters who can’t remember where they left their ties), they have the best diction on TV, and the ladies are among the prettiest. Even when they prophesy doom and gloom they manage to keep a smile to encourage us, perhaps hopefully searching for a change which may enable us to brave the hurricane without. And, in my experience, they seem to be pretty accurate, so at least we know when not to charge our batteries up.
No battery charging today, now near the end of May. We have had several nasty hail storms, with snow prophesied for Bob and Dot. Patricia bought pansies and put them out where they would catch the sun. What sun? Now they have been flattened by the hail.
Arctic Tern? - 17/4/13
It is now early April. Looking out of our window to the surrounding hills, I can barely see the line between skyline and cloud base because it is snowing --- again!! These hills are still covered with lots of snow drifts in gullies and around hedges. The stone walls are just visible with heavy drifts on the windward side. This winter we have been snowed in three times with drifts against the garage door and snow piled high on the track past our gate effectively blocking our exit till the Farmer was able to drive his tractor up to his sheep in nearby fields.
Our flying site is some 17 miles away past the reservoir over the moor where snow was even thicker, and the field itself would be under a thick carpet of snow, inaccessible without a track-laying Land Rover type vehicle, and a plane equipped with skis. I didn’t have any of these things and I really don’t like getting freezing cold, so I have been flying on just two occasions since Christmas when the weather lost the official plot for a few days and became almost tolerable.
Last year I searched out a number of novels on my occasional visits to charity shops so I had enough reading material to sink my nose into when the bad weather arrived. I did have a winter build project but even with two fires running full pelt, the workshop was definitely NOT suitable for any lengthy work so I read the novels and watched the icicles form and reform on the windows.
Several novels and several days later I have just managed a trip to our strip and found the farmer there had his own difficulties getting onto his field. There was a quagmire of tractor tracks in oozy mud at the lower gate, and a snow drift over another puddle of mud in front of the second gate to our bit of heaven. But, the strip itself was fairly dry with a good breeze to dry it out further and some good flying for all my troubles.
This was a special issue Siberian breeze with questionable chill-factors and from the opposite direction from our usual Atlantic breezes, so flying had to be back-to-front with approaches over the barbed wire fence and all the nightmares ensuing from dead-stick landings. The other side of the fence was where the tractors had been playing! The ruts were about 6” deep and would rip the wheels off anything landing short. I find I get cold quite quickly these days, so it wasn’t long before I was squelching towards the car with an aeroplane under one arm and a trolley with my fuel and kit snapping at my heels.
I asked the farmer how he had got on with lambing - “Not good” was the short reply, with far more lambs being born in barns than outside, and still lots being lost. I have seen our local farmer driving past our window at home several times with his Land Rover piled with dead sheep carcases. I haven’t dared ask him how many he has lost, and how much each one cost him in feed. He farms many acres of barren moorland.
It is interesting to compare our ARTF views on building models with our ARTE views on 'Almost Ready to Eat' food. In both disciplines everything is carefully and very attractively labelled and then packaged. The important bits are laid out primed for immediate consumption and ultimate enjoyment. Quick preparation time and tasty satisfaction are, of course, guaranteed. And for those expert flyers there is the joy of repeated tastes of the same meal time and time again. For others less expert, there is the joy of a quick snack before the enchantment of yet more preparation of yet another menu.
I think I am probably a 'Fish’chips' model eater, or perhaps an 'Egg Foo Yong Fried Rice' sort of guy, but I am sure I am at last getting better. But do we ever ask ourselves who makes our kits, or ready meals? Do we dwell at length on how green or sustainable our activities are? Perhaps not. Farmers are having a very difficult time these days but someone has to dish up our ARTEs. And you don’t see our farmer on a bike. The hills are too steep!
Today I am suffering from wind. No surprise in that, but this is not that sort of wind for which syrup of figs is recommended. No, this is a strong wind storming in off the Atlantic and heading back towards the Arctic and at last it feels distinctly warm. The thermometer is registering double figures, as is my anemometer so flying is off for several days. They say the wind might calm by the weekend without really specifying which weekend they mean. Suffice to say, we will probably get some flying in some time this year. The Geese seem to have left for northern latitudes. Maybe the Swallows will arrive soon? Maybe those masters of the airwaves, the Arctic Terns, will soon be seen flitting around our coasts? Summer on the way? Arctic turn-around? Perhaps to travel hopefully is better than to arrive, especially if we travel towards another summer like we had last year!
Carburettor Bread - 27/3/13
Although Patricia has NEVER expressed the slightest interest in flying my planes she has always encouraged me, and comforted me when the occasion required, in my aspirations to be a truly great aeronaut. That illusion is still as far away as ever, and Patricia still cannot stand the mess and dust of my workshop, and she absolutely loathes the delicious smell of burning castor oil which I find so alluring --- and the stink of petrol makes her sick!
So I really thought my boat had come in (or should that read – my plane had landed?) when she told me we would be having carburettor bread, cheese, and real home-made soup when my brother came for lunch. His wife is Irish, and Patricia is half Irish, and we all get on well together. Now would this carburettor bread have a bouquet of ethanol with just a hint of castor, mere methanol and synth, or was it to be just a soupsant of Esso and racing two-stroke?
Well, the great day arrived, and so did my brother and his wife, and we had bread and cheese and soup and it was all delicious and the bread smelt just-baked and was full of holes, suitable for people who watch calories. But no obvious connection with carburettors. Well, I am not very good at puzzles and it would be no surprise if the connection did escape me. Maybe I will puzzle it all out later.
Our club has a Thunder Tiger Ready 3 trainer. It is made of plastic, is light and strong, and flies very well. If you get one, check the contents carefully to see that there are no problems with the plastic mouldings. I have heard that sometimes the ailerons don’t come out right. I bought one, and have had endless fun with it, when our patch has been free of snow and mud, and the sheep have been shooed away. Well, relatively endless, in a manner of speaking.
Construction is easy if you trial-fit everything first so you know where all the bits fit and what the instructions actually mean you to do. It helps to mark with a soft pencil where the bulkheads will fit as it is not easy to manoeuvre them in to the correct positions when dry, and very messy with lots of epoxy or cyano around. Since the engine (and front wheel mount) has to be built on to the firewall bulkhead BEFORE gluing in, you must drill this correctly for your engine with self-tapping screws as you won’t be able to put nuts on the rear bolts afterwards. The rear bulkhead similarly needs to be positioned accurately as this determines the landing gear symmetry. It helps to get the wing joiner right or you will have no dihedral and flying will be a problem. There appear to be no replacement landing gear legs available, so if you break one you will need to replace with wire from your spare parts drawer and permanently epoxy this in to place. Not easy!. If you used Loctite to secure the landing gear bolts you will have a problem removing them.
The wings secure to the plane with a single plastic bolt. It would be worth buying a spare packet of bolts when you buy the plane. No matter how hard you tighten this bolt it does not stop the wing from swivelling around it. I drilled a pilot hole through the wing in the midline 2cm back from the LE angled 45-degrees forward so it went through the cockpit roof, then enlarged it and glued a dowel through so it doesn’t rotate so much. A second dowel at the back will stabilise the wing further.
In the event of an unplanned arrival it is possible to repair quite serious cracks and dents with the sheets of ABS, they graciously provide for this very purpose. You can also use a hair drier to soften the plastic to unbend dents and folds. And if you want to know just how I found that out, well --- you can guess! Most other planes would have ended up in a bin bag! I am now more confident of landings that before, and was practising flat spins and rolls as recommended for the 'B' Cert, and I got a bit flustered when things didn’t go as planned. I have had little stick time over the winter, and have not made it up on the simulator, silly me! So, before we get snowed in yet again, I must get some simulator time!
I have one other plane that has tried to die several times and has been resurrected so far successfully. It is a Protech Ibis, 2100 mm wingspan, weighing about 4 kg, with lots of wing and a nice big rudder. Perhaps a bit like a Piper Cub. It has an SC 1.20 FS at the sharp end, and flies gentle circuits with easy turns, and tends to weathercock in to the prevailing wind which limits its usability on our patch. Press the loud pedal and touch nothing else, and it takes itself off in just a few feet and slowly climbs away. Touch the levers and it responds happily, with rudder assisting the turns. I think it would easily fly with a .91 FS which may slow it down a bit for landings. I bought that 18 months ago, which makes it my longest-lived plane. Perhaps I should retire it before something nasty happens to it.
I have mentioned before that Patricia is a bit dyslexic and sometimes gets words a bit muddled. This is sometimes a problem, and sometimes produces quite hilarious results and causes us lots of laughs. On this occasion carburettor bread turned out to be quite harmless Ciabatta bread, so perhaps we will try this recipe when my brother next turns up.
“Wine with your soup?” “No, I’ll just try some castor straight”
VRA-VRA-VROOM - 5/2/13
If you have never seen a Vulcan flying, you have never lived. If you have never felt your chest crushed by the awe-inspiring roar of those four jets on full power, you have missed one of life’s great events. Have you looked in to that enormous bomb bay? Is your name written in there? Have you watched those wings waggle like a fighter as it curtseys gracefully over you before turning away in a full-power turn? Well, if you don’t make a chance this year it may well be too late.
I see in Flight magazine that Vulcan XH558 may be retiring from flying at the end of this year. There appear to be two problems. One is, as always, the horrifying cost of keeping this glorious plane in the air. The other is that the airframe and many of its components are at the end of their permitted fatigue lives and cannot be replaced, at least within realistic budgets. The wings are a major problem, and need huge rebuilds.
So it looks as if XH558 will be retired to static and taxiing display somewhere at the end of this year, possibly next, and we will be left to rely on our memories and whatever DVDs we can retrieve. For me, I have many childhood memories as I grew up close to RAF Finningley (now Doncaster Robin Hood Airport). I last saw XH558 at Sunderland Air Display creeping in through a sea fret as it began its display. I hope to see it again this year. It will be a sad farewell.
My sister is a Vulcan fanatic. She sent me a most interesting book for Christmas entitled “Vulcan Test Pilot” by Tony Blackman and it tells the story of a man who flew 105 of the 136 Vulcans built, his experience spanning the length of the Vulcan’s working life. When it was designed just 7 years after Avro’s Lancaster bomber no-one had any idea whether a Delta would fly, particularly something that size. Now they know, and he found out just how easy and difficult that process was.
I had no idea that Vulcans became progressively unstable as they approached Mach 1 and had to have gyros and stabilisers fitted to the fin and elevators to keep the plane stable. And when he was finding all these quirks out there were no black boxes to record any anomalies. It all had to be handed on verbally --- if you were still alive! And they also became progressively uncontrollable if they were taken in to a dive too close to Mach 1. One almost went supersonic! Apparently there was insufficient elevator travel for safe control at high speeds. Early on, the leading edge was found to be prone to buckling if overstressed by loops and rolls (one Vulcan crashed at an air display when the leading edge disintegrated), so such activities were discouraged. Additionally, the airflow over the wings caused severe buffeting as speeds increased meaning the plane could never achieve its design potential and was very nearly scrapped. A change to the wing shape from true delta to the lovely flowing lines we see today rescued the design so we can still see it flying.
And one of the reasons why XH558 is still flying is that their wings were strengthened so that they could take Blue Streak missiles, and strengthened again so they could fly so low under enemy radar where turbulence was much greater than at their design altitude of 60,000 ft. It was, apparently, precisely that low-altitude turbulence that caused the Valiant to succumb so early to wing fatigue.
Roly Falk was test pilot for Avro when the Vulcan was developing. A dapper man, he almost always flew in a pinstripe suit, believing his plane should be at least as clean as his car. He also often took up BigWigs in the co-pilot seat to impress them with sales talk, so perhaps the pinstripes were essential.
There is an entire chapter on accidents to Vulcans, often with very unfortunate endings, which he reviews in a clear and objective manner, without allowing his own emotions to get in the way. He knew those men who died, he had flown those planes that crashed. It reminds me of the final scene in The Dam Busters where a horrified Barnes Wallace asks Guy Gibson “--- 56 men not coming back??---” and Guy Gibson says “---I have a few letters to write”. And I think of politicians wrapped up in smooth words and cotton wool saying “We have lessons to learn”. I wonder.
We all know that the Barnato Boys were a very rich set of men who drove Blower Bentleys around race courses in Britain and Europe, and had themselves a very happy time. Woolf Barnato made and lost fortunes mining diamonds and gold in Africa, and was also a major financier of W. O. Bentley, both his road and airplane engines. Well, if there were Bentley Boys, there must have been some Bentley Girls, but I know little about them.
Woolf Barnato had a Daughter, Diana Barnato Walker, who had just as much spirit as her illustrious Father, and became famous in quite a different way. Although she was given a Bentley on her 21st Birthday, she made her claim to fame driving Rolls-Royces. Big ones! 27 litres big! She was one of that special group, the Air Transport Auxiliary, who flew planes from the factories where they were assembled and test-flown to the bases where “The Few” flew them off to fight the War from which so many failed to return, and of those survivors barely a dwindling handful still live on.
In today’s world where it is illegal to discriminate on grounds of sex it is quite difficult to return to 1940 and find that women were barred from so many activities where we now expect them to co-operate equally with men. There has been a lot of water under a lot of bridges in the last 70 years. The then Editor of “The Aeroplane” spoke for many when he said that “women insist on wanting to do jobs which they are quite incapable of doing. The menace is the woman who thinks she ought to be flying a high-speed bomber when she really has not the intelligence to scrub the floor of a hospital properly, or who wants to nose around as an Air Raid Warden and yet can’t cook her husband’s dinner”.
HHMMM!! I wonder who would dare to say such a thing on the flight line of our clubs today without fear of a lynching. Well, actually, there are sadly no ladies in our club yet, but I still doubt if any member thinks that way now. But then things were very different. Women left their kitchen sinks and lino floors and flocked in droves to the munitions factories to work beside men for a lot less money. They took to tractors and ran farms as land girls. They dug for victory! They cut down beech trees and turned them in to DH Mosquitos. In Canada Elsie MacGill - the Queen of the Hurricanes - ran a factory with over 4,500 workers making Hurricanes, more than half being women.
And there was the Air Transport Auxiliary, formed on the day war broke out. There were plenty of civilian aircrew who could not sign up for active service who would be needed to fly mail and supplies around, and also to deliver those much-needed planes. They were nicknamed “Ancient and Tattered Airmen”, and some were missing arms, legs, or eyes, but they could fly! And they accepted women! One such was Pauline Gower, aged 29 and with over 2,000 hours credited. She rather strongly disagreed with the Editor of “The Aeroplane” and gathered a group of like-minded girls around her as the ATA spread their wings. Initially they ferried Tiger Moth trainers around. There was a grandmother, a ballet dancer, an architect, an actress, an ice-hockey champion and a typist. Multi-taskers all! The cockpits were open and it was winter. Rosy cheeks and a bad hair day! But still The editor and his cronies prevailed and they couldn’t fly Spitfires till after The Battle of Britain! Eventually they flew anything that had wings and an engine, but they were NOT allowed to use guns or radio so were sometimes shot at by their own ack-ack (Amy Johnson was thought to have been shot down and killed by friendly fire) and had to navigate with basic maps and a compass in sun, wind, fog, and snow. Americans and women from other nations crossed the seas to join the ATA, and in 1943 they were at last given equal pay with their male colleagues, the first Government employees to be so honoured, and in 1944 they were allowed to fly across the channel.
And it was that Barnato Girl who did it! She flew a Spitfire to Brussels closely following her second husband in another Spitfire. Her first husband was one of “The Few” who never came back, and her second husband was killed some eighteen months later. One of the most glamorous and wealthy women of that era devoted a great part of her life to ferrying planes about so that their men - her man - could fly them. Years later she was able to say she never crashed - never even scratched one. And, of course, it was good for the boys to have some glamour around in those very tense times. One enterprising C.O. made sure she had to stay a bit longer by removing the spark plugs from her aircraft. It was a while before she found out how to start the engine! All-woman, she left anything under the bonnet to someone else! She flew 80 types of aircraft, and delivered 260 Spitfires. Yet there was one place she, nor any other ATA pilot ever flew to, and that was an aircraft carrier. No Thanks, the senior service rather agreed with that editor. Maybe there was something about 'The Ark' that was a bit protective and old-fashioned!
Open cockpit or closed, planes of that era were cold, and Diana felt the cold as much as the rest, so she swapped a gold watch for a fleece-lined jacket which she kept for the rest of her life. But it wasn’t RAF Issue. It was a bit more stylish. She was, after all, Diana Barnato
Page on twenty years, and Diana was the first British woman to break the sound barrier, in a Lightning, at over 1200mph, setting a world speed record for a woman pilot. Page on another 50 years, and the last time we flew off Orkney a woman was in full control of the flight deck. But I wonder how long before we have a female member of our club? Patricia tells me that in China they are making an enormous aqueduct requiring huge concrete sections to be lifted in to place by the biggest crane in the world. And who is driving it? A pretty 25 year old lass!
Wartime Bloopers - 22/10/12
In my last article I wrote about WD40 as being “War Department 40” and was immediately corrected by Malcolm and Ollie, so I must buy some humble pie and share it with them and all of you. I am sure I read recently in a copy of Flypast magazine, in the “Letters” section someone wrote about WD40 as “War Department 40”, and I thought that sounded good. However, Wikipedia states something different, and Ollie and Malcolm are correct. WD stands for Water Displacement, 40th formula. It was invented by one Norm Larsen in 1953 and it was the 40th formula he had used to find a protective spray to protect metal surfaces from water and rust. It was used to protect the Atlas rockets among other things from the nasty effects of the weather, and, perhaps supersonic travel. The original formula is, apparently, not patented so its secret is supposedly secure. It contains a non-volatile viscous water-displacing oil carried in a volatile hydrocarbon spray. The spray evaporates and leaves the oil to protect the surface and any crevices it has crept in to.Come to think of it, isn’t that exactly what our aero fuel does? It contains a lot of oil dissolved in methanol which evaporates leaving the insides of our engines coated with protective oil. Pity there are other by-products of combustion which can cause our engines to rot if we don’t flush them out after use.
I am not the only one to create wartime bloopers. There are legion examples. Recently there were some programmes on telly reviewing the Spitfire (again!), the Bomber Boys, and the ATA. Just think, that glorious beast the Supermarine Spitfire was almost called the Shrew! I can imagine the German High Command being ordered to find and read a little-known literary work by one ShakespeareW to find out about Taming that Shrew. They would have been little wiser. Otto Daimler apparently called his first car after his daughter Mercedes. Good she wasn’t called Mary or Regina. And what if Rolls and Royce had been called Laurel and Hardy, or Gardin and Spayde?I was interested to learn that our earlier WW2 Bombers were actually designed as day-time bombers. The rationale was that they could see the target, but they could also be seen, and so many were shot down that they rarely dropped their bombs within five miles of the target area. The Hampden had single manual .303 guns, rather like pea-shooters against the well armed ME 109s. They were a failure and were eventually withdrawn to mine-laying and torpedo duties. Maybe not surprisingly our glorious leaders had already made the same blooper in the Great War just 25 years before and had to change tactics.
Later bombers were better suited to night raids and were eventually more successful but hardly any more accurate. It is regretful that perhaps one of the biggest bloops was in failing to recognise the huge effort of Bomber Command and their appalling losses till just recently.Some months ago I heard of a part-finished Piper Cub for sale, and I was interested. I then found out that it was constructed out of aluminium tubes and sheet of various dimensions, glued together with araldite or bolted with tiny bolts. It was partly covered with Solartex, and it was cheap!!
I could say the salesman saw me coming! This model was certainly different, and certainly had some challenges, and would keep me busy in the workshop for a while. You could say it was exquisitely engineered. The various lengths of aluminium tube were cut to length and shaped exactly to fit, and the wing ribs were cut and shaped out of thin aluminium sheet. It all fitted together like a Rubik Cube, and with some of its frustrations and complexity But I didn’t realise just how difficult this might turn out to be. This kit must have been several years old, and the glue was beginning to crack in places and the 'special glue' was of course all gone. It looked like JB Weld so I reinforced those joints which appeared to be a bit mobile and put Loctite on all the bolts I could see. There were plenty I couldn’t get at in the wings and tail feathers which had been covered before I took ownership. The wing joiners were missing so I used some spare thick undercarriage wire for this, and added a third for good measure as they didn’t inspire me with much confidence.The wings fitted perfectly, so I araldited the joiners in place with the wings bolted in place, and -- guess what? The wings came away exactly as I had hoped when I undid the bolts! That was a relief! The engine was a simple fit, and the fun really started when I revved it up. I found various bits of tube were coming loose and falling off as the glue joints failed the vibration test. Worse, those nuts and bolts in the wings and tail feathers which had NOT been loctited now decided to cry foul, and they were difficult to get at to repair. Covering with solartex was difficult as the cloth would not stick permanently to the aluminium. I had to extend the cloth to wrap round and stick on to itself.
The great day arrived, actually several great days arrived, and it was a pig to fly. The engine wasn’t right one day, the wheels collapsed on another day, the rims just disintegrated, then the grass had grown too long and it wouldn’t lift off, but finally it flew after demonstrating superb ground looping expertise, did a giddy circuit, and bent its landing gear on impact somewhere fairly close to its ground looping practice site. I had previously ascertained that the landing gear was an integral part of the construction and unbending it was going to be a nightmare. It also bent the wing tips, and all that lovely aluminium tubing has to be straightened and reglued and recovered. For the same money and a lot less effort I could have bought a little trainer and had hours of fun. There has to be a moral in there somewhere!There is a guy who comes over from Sweden each year to the Nats with yards of aluminium weld wire and demonstrates his aluminium welding techniques to anyone who will watch. Now, if you want to get hold of an aluminium Piper Cub, why not talk to him first? You will find him at firstname.lastname@example.org Enjoy!
Patricia reminds me that SHE had already told me to get a nice easy plane to fly. She was, and always will be, right, and I love her to bits.
The Colditz Cock - 30/8/12
I had had a rather unfortunate day at the field with an engine that stopped running just a few seconds after my plane had left Terra Firma. It stalled and plunged rapidly towards that same Terra Firma, and found out just how firm-er that Terra was! After all the soaking we have had recently, and after the farmer had cut the grass for hay, the model received a very bloody nose and was returned to the car for investigations at a later date.Watching telly later that evening I was interested to see a program about the glider that was nearly used to escape from Colditz in 1945. The presenter was the same guy who proved so conclusively that Barnes Wallace actually got it right when he built the Dam-Busters bomb. This presenter used computers with millions of gigabytes to show that the sketches Barnes Wallace drew on the backs of old envelopes were correct. Well, that shows as far as I can see how useful computers are, and that Barnes Wallace was an extraordinary genius. And the history books had already told us that! Same for the guys who built the Colditz Cock. The man behind the idea, Tony Rolt, was not even an airman. He realised that the roof of the chapel at Colditz was not visible to the guards and would make a good launch platform for a small glider. Two others, Bill Goldfinch and Jack Best, found a book conveniently left in the Library all about designing aircraft, so they and a team called “The Twelve Apostles” made a glider out of stolen bits of wood and wire snitched from odd places, in an attic overlooking the chapel, behind a false wall where the glider was prefabricated. Little did they realise that this glider where all the bits were prefabricated by different people in different places would one day spawn such a massive industry we now recognise as ARTF.
The end result looked a bit like a Piper Cub, and the runway was to be tables laid out on the chapel roof. Launch power was to be a bathtub full of concrete attached to a winch, and dropped out of a window at the appropriate time. Prison sleeping bags provided the coverings, and they were doped with porridge to proof the cloth. There was room for two, sitting back-to-back. Fortunately, the glider was never used, and it subsequently disappeared (the Russians eventually finished up owning Colditz). But the original plans were preserved and a 1/3 replica was built and flown from the chapel roof in 1993.A full-size replica was flown from RAF Odiham in 2000. The replica used in this TV show was full-size but unmanned, and radio-controlled. After a few cliff-hanging (I think that should be roof-hanging) moments the launch was successful, and the landing was as eventful as some of my finer achievements. The glider made the journey across the river Mulde and broke up on impact with the Terra Firma mentioned above. Everyone could go home fairly satisfied and with a fairly full black bag, and I felt that if they could do that on telly, then my own achievement earlier that day was about OK.
Those two wars were grim affairs, and war still leaves an horrific mark on peoples lives. War influences so much of our daily activities. My favourite planes are all warbirds, a Spitfire, a Lancaster, and a Vulcan. Every day I use items directly descended from military activity of some sort, this computer for one. WD 40 is another, as that stands for War Department 40.One spin-off I have been thinking about recently is disability from various causes (one of which would be getting locked up for years in a concentration camp), and we are about to begin the Paralympic Games. I was struck recently by a letter in RCM&E from Andrew Cross who is disabled and finds difficulty in flying model planes. I must confess that I had never given disability a thought till I read that letter, and I started wondering just how disability-friendly our sport, and our local field is.
How on earth could someone in a wheelchair get through six inches of mud and cow pats, open two heavy gates, and drive 300 mtr through grass a foot high to get to our strip? Answer, with great difficulty! But that person could easily come to our evening in the gym flying little models and have great fun.I asked the BMFA for their views on the subject, and got an instant response in the form of a PDF file defining exactly what our response as individuals and as a Club should be. It is available on their website, and is well worth a read for us all, particularly for club officials, and particularly if improvements to premises are anticipated.
Andrew has persevered through considerable difficulties with a non-functioning left arm, and has at last found a club who have taken him under their wing and helped him along. They are the Halesowen Flyers. He has learnt how to build models one-handedly, sometimes using his chin to hold down the odd transfer while he smooths it out, and to fly and land them.Like me, he also has learnt skills in repairing models, and he is now doing really well and is about to gain his 'B' Cert. I raise my hat to him, and I would be interested to hear of any other people who have triumphed through adversity to fly models, or from clubs who have disabled members, or from suppliers who deal in equipment suitable for disabled model flying. He has two exciting models in process, one of which will have a full sound system.
Now, why didn’t I think of that?
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by Tim Mackey