The Years of Freedom

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Last Month, under this heading, I described a home-made car which was used on the roads of England in the nineteen-twenties without its builder losing his licence because of the horrified reactions of bureaucracy.

It seems that private flying enjoyed considerable freedom in those days, too. Judging, that is, by an account of a home-made monoplane, built at a total cost of just over £17, which appeared in Motor Sport during 1930. Certainly the owner-builder, a Mr. S. L. Buckle, did not allow his aeronautical enthusiasms to be restricted by rules and red tape.

He made a start after finding that lots of obsolete aeroplane parts were available locally. Some dozen wings were acquired free, plus two centre sections, a couple of rudders, ditto elevators and a tailplane, all these being for Sopwith Snipes. The problem of not being qualified to stress a cantilever monoplane was overcome by making a high-wing, strut-braced machine. Snipe top wings and centre-section gave a span of 30 ft. 10 in. and the remaining wings provided strainers, bolts, wire, etc.

The fuselage was constructed with cross-wire bracing, to make the best use of the freely available parts and because no jigs, drawings or stressing were contemplated. Spruce longerons from a D.H.10 were lengthened somewhat to 19 ft. overall, and a rectangular steel-angle frame formed the engine bearers. The engine problem was solved when a 45 h.p. 6-cylinder radial Anzani presented itself for sale at £4. It lacked magneto and carburetter, but the former was obtained for an additional £1, and a carburetter from an Armstrong Siddeley car was adapted for use on the aero-engine, with advice from Zenith as to the best jets and choke. For a propeller the sum of a shilling changed hands outside the ancient aeroplane sheds at Brooklands and the builder was on his way home with one that had originally been on a Gnome engine in a Short tractor biplane. This was chopped down until engine speed rose from 950 r.p.m. to 1,300 r.p.m., another 100 r.p.m. being obtained after the tips had been rounded off, giving a diameter of 6 ft. 6 in.

The undercarriage was a heavy but strong one from a Sopwith Camel, attached to the fuselage with fish-plates. Elastic served as shock-absorption, and a bit of car leaf-spring acted as the tail-skid. The rudder post was just a length of steel tube and the tail-plane was held to a positive incidence of 1 deg. by long stirrup bolts. There were still joy-riding firms in those days, one of which supplied the dope for the fabric with which wing and fuselage had been covered. An Avro four-gallon centre-section tank was lined, the c. of g. calculated by balancing the fuselage on a pole with someone in the pilot’s seat, and the centre-section set up to give the wing an incidence of 4 deg. An old Avro joy-stick was pressed into further service, coupled to the elevator via a countershaft and crossed wires. The ailerons were cable-operated.

At this juncture, a friendly farmer having provided a field, a brave pilot named J. S. Tanner appeared and offered to test-fly this aeroplane, which had cost exactly £17s., inclusive of a tachometer (22s. 6d.), an air-speed indicator (10s. 6d.) and an oil-gauge (4s.). He was confronted with an 800 lb. aeroplane having an overall length of 22 ft., a wing loading of 5 1/3 lb./sq. in., and a power loading of 17¾ lb./ sq. in.

The proud owner taxied briskly up and down, then the pilot climbed in, opened up, and did a 300-yard-straight flight about 10 ft. up. After which he did two more straight flights, then began circuits, banking almost vertically, we are told. By the winter of what I assume was 1929, this inexpensive aeroplane had flown some 3½ hours. It had a stalling speed of 33 m.p.h. It does not appear to have carried any registration letters. Happy, nostalgic days!—W. B.

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