Air

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

An aerial cyclecar

With the new Micro-light flying having attained the BBC “Nationwide” programme on TV (and, of course, the recent pages of Motor Sport!), I have just remembered that when road-testing a T-type MG Midget for this paper I overtook, along the fen-roads of Northamptonshire, a sort of “aerial-cyclecar”, which I knew to be a BAC Drone, Whether it was in some kind of trouble or just very slow, I do not know — if its pilot is alive and has his log-book, the date was December 20th, 1936…

There had been, mostly abortive, attempts at very simple, low-powered aeroplanes long before this. We have discussed previously the Lympne Light ‘Plane Contests, for up-to-750 c.c. machines in 1923 and those with engines of up to 1,000 c.c. in 1924 (see Motor Sport, July 1981, p. 918) and how, although some of these tiny machines achieved quite impressive performances, they required skilled pilots to fly them safely and suffered from too-frequent forced-landings because the converted motorcycle engines that powered them disliked full-throttle work for any length of time.

The BAC Drone appeared much later, in 1932, inspired by the resumption of interest in gliding, as a powered-version of glider made by the British Aircraft Company of Maidstone, of which Mr. C. H. Lowe-Wylde, who had demonstrated towed take-off with a glider along the Brooklands Finishing-straight during a Brooklands Motor Race Meeting, was the designer and Managing Director. This Mk. VII glider was provided with a 600 c.c. air cooled, flat-twin Douglas motorcycle engine driving a pusher propeller. Called the BAC Planette, the machine was publicised at Hanworth Air Park (home of Bertelli’s Aston Martin cars) early in 1933, when the pioneer aviator, Claude Grahame-White, flew one with his cap reversed on his head, as in the pre-1914 flying days. Later in 1933 Lowe-Wylde was killed flying a Planette and the famous Austrian glider-pilot, Robert Kronfeld, took over production of a revised Planette, the Drone, made at Hanworth, the power-unit of which was a 750 c.c. Douglas Sprite, developing some 23 b.h.p. With its simple glider-type fuselage, a high monoplane wing with a span of 39 8″ which the pilot of this single-seater sat in front of, gaining a good view, the engine mounted behind and well above the wing on a pedestal, and a simple fixed undercart, the Drone was the epitome of the low-powered aeroplane of the 1930s, It weighed 390 lb. empty, 640 lb. laden, and had a top speed of 70 m.p.h. under good conditions, which is presumably how I was able to overtake one that was battling with a headwind in that T-Type MG. The Drone climbed at 380 ft. / min, near ground level, stalled at a safe 22 m.p.h., would cruise at 60 m.p.h. for 300 miles on a tankful of petrol, and could apparently be coaxed up to 12,500 feet.

There were many people who disparaged such ultra-lights. They considered that nothing less than 60 h.p., as possessed by the original Cirrus-DH Moth that pre-dated the Drone by nine years, was any use to a serious aviator; apart from which, the Moth was easier to store, its biplane wings, apart from the fact that they could be folded-back, having a span nearly ten feet less than that of the Drone’s wing. C. G. Grey, the outspoken Editor of The Aeroplane, frequently expressed his dislike of little aeroplanes whose engines had only two cylinders. He used to call them “pop-bottles”, when scathingly referring to them…

Be that as it may, Drones could be hired for 19/- (95p) an hour from the Leicester and Ely Flying Clubs (I expect the one I saw 47 years ago was from the latter) and after instruction costing less than a “fiver” a pilot’s restriced A-licence was issued. Moreover, in 1936 Col. The Master of Semphill (later Lord Semphill) flew a Super Drone from Croydon to Berlin, setting an International distance-record for single-seater aeroplanes of under 200 kg. empty weight. Although this long stint may not have compared with E. O. Llewellyn’s 23-day flight from England to Johannesburg in an Aeronca, H. L. Brook’s England to the Cape in a Praga Baby, or the great and couragous one from England to Australia in nine days by C. A. Butler in 1931 in a Cowper Swift, the outward flip to Germany, against a headwind, took Semphill 11 hours, so those have done long spells in vintage cars should have some respect for the Master’s endurance. Coming back, with a gale behind him, the Super Drone took only nine hours. The petrol consumed cost a mere 25/- (£1.25) for the trip to Berlin, and afterwards G-ADUA was duly exhibited at Selfridge’s. At least 28 Drones were built and Scott’s Flying Circus used one.

The Drone was by no means the only “cyclecar of the air” that took to the skies before the war. The theme persists, for one of my daughters had a flight from Booker aerodrome not all that long ago in a Falke motor-glider with Volkswagen auxiliary-power, and I have seen Mavrogordato, son of the 1914 GP Opel owner, racing one at Shobden. If I could do so, and had to, I think I would rather fly a Drone or a Falke then a modem Micro-light. — W.B.