Air A Mild Mystery

Having got over a phobia I had as a boy, that if I took too great an interest in aeroplanes this might detract from my enthusiasm for cars (earlier I had dreaded becoming a teenager, in the belief that then all I would require from life would be playing football, which proved far from the case), I pursued both interests without anxiety and contributed to motoring and aviation Journals. Thus, sometime just before the outbreak of WW2, I was anxious to discover how many, and what kind, of aeroplanes were on the Civil Register.

To ascertain this I paid a visit to either the Air Ministry or the Civil Air Board, where the records were placed at my disposal without any problems — save one. I was happily going through the lists presented to me, excited to see how many WW1 fighters were still being flown, such as Bristol Fighters and SE5s, to count up the surviving Avro 504s and to see if any of the "motor-gliders" built for the Lympne Light Aeroplane Contests of 1923/24 were still in use, when I spotted an entry for a Blackburn Lincock.

Ah, I thought, so a later RAF fighter has passed into private-owner hands. But before I could make notes about it the official who had produced the list came up and asked me to ignore that entry, placing a sheet of paper over it, without any explanation. This has puzzled me ever since. . .

The Lincock was built in 1928 by the Blackburn Company of Brough to give their designers a chance to produce a high-performance biplane in the light fighter category that was not encumbered by all the wind-drag equipment such as bomb-racks, armament, and other protruberances called for in Government contracts. What emerged was an exciting little aeroplane from the drawing board of their Major F A Burnous, aided by his chief assistant, G E Perry. They used the then-conventional wood and fabric structure, of very low drag, with a well-contrived C of G, powered with a 240hp Armstrong Siddeley Lynx seven-cylinder air-cooled radial engine driving a two-bladed wooden propeller. Four ailerons provided a high degree of roll and the tail plane was adjustable in flight for incidence variation.

Officially called the Blackburn F2, this interesting aeroplane was known as the Blackburn Lincock and registered G-EBVO. After its performance trials at Martlesham Heath, the Lincock was flown back to Brough by Sqn Ldr Jack Noakes, where at a press preview of the Blackburn Ripon II, G E Lowdell and A M Blake used it to give a most impressive display of aerobatics. The Lincock was to become famous in this field. In July 1928 Noakes flew the Lincock in the two-day King's Cup Race, entered by Robert Blackburn, and finished 10th at the Brooklands final control, having averaged 145.32mph. The Lincock's rakish appearance had been increased for the race with the fitting of helmets over the engine cylinders to improve the already good streamlining, but these caused overheating.

During 1929, at three displays, the upward rolls which Lowdell performed with the Lincock caused a sensation for those who appreciated these things, as they were a "first" in the aerobatic repertoire. For the 1930 season the plain silver finish was changed to that of black and yellow fuselage bands and the Lincock continued to excel in the display areas, flown by Blake at Stoke-on-Trent, Whitchurch and Woodley, after which it was resprayed silver and displayed with hastily painted RAF roundels in the New Types Park at the Hendon Air Display, a substitute for an all-metal Lincock which had been damaged during the previous week.

After that static indignity the Lincock was taken out to Chicago by Flt Lt Atcherley, and on its return it continued to impress at flying displays in 1931 until its C of A expired and it was dismantled, shortly after it had been flown in a display at Blackpool. The Canadian Government then showed an interest in the Lincock but insisted on metal versions to survive the climate there, and a Lincock II was built, with a 255hp geared Lynx engine and metal airscrew. Too late to go to Chicago, it was faked up with oversize wheels, a temporary prop, and no pitot-head, for exhibition at the 1929 Olympia Aero — similar ploys have been used at motor shows!

As G-AALH, the Blackburn F2A or Lincock II was completed and shipped out to Toronto where it was very successfully demonstrated (those rolls!) and reported on. But after it seemed as if in the Air Force there refused it, as had the RAF, on the grounds that it was not a first-line fighter and that there was no call for a transition between normal trainers and fighters at that time. However, Atcherley (who became Air Marshal Sir Richard Atcherley in later days) was invited to take part in the 1930 Chicago International Air Meeting, and for this purpose Robert Blackburn sold him G-EBVO for 10/(50p) as serving officers were required to fly only their own machines, not manufacturers' demonstrators. Against foreign opposition from such aeroplanes as Dewoitine 027, Breda 18 and Junkers Junior, the Lincock and its skilled pilot gave displays which brought the crowds to their feet as he performed the "falling leaf" and other "impossible" manoeuvres.

In view of the interest shown, Blackburn built five more metal Lincocks with 270hp Lynx Major engines, but as two of these went to China and two to Japan for their respective Governments they hardly affect this story. The fifth (G-ABFK) was kept as a demonstrator by Blackburn. In 1933 Sir Alan Cobham acquired Lincock II and the demonstration Lincock III for use in his National Aviation Day Displays, after which G-ABFK found a home at Brooklands with the Collage of Aeronautical Engineering, where its engine bay was extended to fit a 270hp Alfa Romeo radial engine.

All the latter development took place about the time when I was listing the private-owner aeroplanes still on the Civil Register and was told that the Blackburn Lincock was "out of bounds" to me. Was Sir Alan planning some secret weapon for the RAF or had the College something sinister up its sleeve? Probably we shall never know...

But what a very nice aeroplane the Lincock would have been for some enthusiastic and experienced private pilot. WB