Air: Flying the Miles Falcon

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by David F Ogilvey

The Miles family’s first attempt at producing an enelosed cabin monoplane, the M3 Falcon, appeared in 1935 as a development of the successful Hawk open two-seater. Using the ubiquitous 130-hp Gipsy Major 1 engine, this was a four-seater low-wing monoplane fitted with the neat trousered undercarriage that proved such a popular feature of the era.

Although a successful aeroplane, borne out by the fact that the prototype established an England to Australia class record in its first year, no amount of optimism could expect 130 hp to lift four people and a sturdy aircraft with ease, so the logical step was taken by the fitting of a 200-hp Gipsy Six. This greatly enhanced the performance to the extent of a maximum speed not far short of 180 mph, while the basic design theme was subsequently developed into the series of low-wing cabin monoplanes that included the Nighthawk, Mentor, Whitney Straight and Monarch.

In common with nearly all civil light aeroplanes, the Falcons were impressed as communications “hacks” within the RAF during the War, but despite the harsh treatment to which all service aircraft are subjected, some specimens survived and at least four are extant today. The two earliest of these, G-ADFH and G-ADLI, are original Gipsy-Major variants, whereas the others, G-ADTD, which lives at Thruxton in the care of Geoffrey Maxim, and G-AECC, a successful racing mount with S/Ldr James Rush as owner-pilot, are Falcon Sixes.

We are concerned here primarily with the first, G-ADFH, which in pre-war days was owned by Geoffrey Alington, who more recently has raced a Sparrowhawk, also from the Miles stable. During its period of military service, ‘DFH suffered several accidents and at least once was dropped from a lorry, but somehow it continued to appear with fresh leases of life until finally demobilised in 1946, when it was acquired by TC Sparrow, of Bournemouth.

A considerable time spent untended in the open at Christchurch found this machine in a rather tired condition, but in April 1950, Douglas Bianchi came to the rescue to the tune of £40, after which he towed his acquisition to Blackbushe, where a fresh C of A was issued two months later. It was during this period of ownership that I was able to accustom myself to the type, and many pleasant hours were completed before ‘DFH was disposed of to one RA Drean, who for a reason presumably known to himself has it in many pieces over a hangar floor at Redhill.

Although of very attractive design, the Falcon’s appeal is not confined to external appearance, for the cockpit, which is entered through a large door that hinges upwards from the fuselage top centre line, reveals a very capacious cabin. As ‘DFH is now a three-seater with accommodation for one in front and two on a bench-type seat behind, the pilot’s position is perhaps more comfortable and roomy than that of any other light aeroplane, certainly it is the best that I have experienced.

Internal layout is fairly comprehensive and very neat. The large instrument panel contains an airspeed indicator, sensitive altimeter, rev-counter, turn and slip indicator, and the all-important oil-pressure gauge, while the fuel gauges are outside on the wings above the two 161/2-gallon tanks.

The array of movable items includes an unusually large throttle lever in the customary left-hand position, under which is an up/down flap selector and hand-pump ; this latter, however, is too similar in both size and shape to the throttle and the two can easily be confused, to the concern of any passengers aboard !

A mixture control protrudes from the combing and a four-position (port, both, starboard, off) fuel cock occupies a not very accessible spot by the left rudder pedal. Two small levers in front of the stick-type control column to the left and right are the elevator trim and rudder bias respectively, while a touch of presumably unintentional humour is provided by an ashtray and “No Smoking” warning.

Starting is by hand-swinging of the propeller, which in the case of ‘DFH is a rather heavy metal affair that causes considerable vibration when the engine is idling. However, the running is smooth enough above 1,000 rpm, so there is no cause for alarm when taxying, during which varying amounts of differential braking can be obtained by the usual Miles notched hand-lever.

Before taking off the elevator trim should be just forward of neutral, the rudder bias fully back and the flap selector closed. It is important at this point to choose either the port or starboard tank, for the position marked “both” serves no apparent use other than to cause an air-lock in the lines, and a subsequenit forced landing!

Full power can he applied in one burst and the tail comes up almost at once, but during the initial stages of the run the rudder seems rather spongy and slight snaking can result if due care is not taken. However, the controls soon adopt a pleasantly positive action and at the comfortable climbing speed of 75 mph everything feels quite as it should, although the rate of ascent at full load is far from spectacular.

Stalling characteristics alone are sufficient to warrant the Falcon’s reputation of being a gentleman’s aeroplane; with everything (ie, flaps and three people) up, there is a warning in the form of slight but unmistakable pitching before the nose falls away gently at 48 the wings remain level and the recovery is immediate, while with full flap the symptoms are even more pronounced, with the nose wallowing well above the horizon and a general feeling of flying through cotton wool before the stall occurs; under these provoked conditions there is a tendency for one wing to drop, but sufficient rudder response remains to remedy this.

It is on the cruise that the true colours are most apparent and at 1,950 rpm the asi needle settles at a very creditable 110 mph; when one considers that the fuel capacity of 33 gallons allows a duration of nearly five hours there is little more that one could require.

The flying controls are very responsive at all speeds and are well balanced, but in comrnon with most light aircraft the ailerons could be a trifle lighter to perfect the harmonisation. As fore-and-aft and directional loads can be relieved by trimming (to be able to adjust the rudder bias whilst airborne is an unusual feature in a machine of this size/weight group), it is possible to fly with hands and feet off, so the long flights of which the machine is capable are no undue strain on the pilot.

As is to be expected, the C of A is in the non-aerobatic category, but despite this there is plenty of enjoyment to be had; rate of roll into a steep turn is remarkably snappy and a usefully small radius of turn can be maintained under comfortable conditions. Full throttle, of course, should be applied for this, the result of which in straight and level flight is 2,300 rpm and 138 ias—apparently lower than the pre-war figure.

The hand-operated flap system (replaced by power operation on later Miles designs) has much to commend it and is especially valuable in the event of very bad visibility or a forced landing; any amount can be selected but it must not be lowered in the entirety at speeds in excess of 75 mph.

On the approach, which is steeper than one might anticipate if a glide is made with full flap, the always excellent forward view can he fully appreciated. The most satisfactory speed to cross the fence is 70 ias, from which a very pronounced check is necessary in order to carry out a three-pointer; there is little tendency to float or balloon, as the portion of flap that crosses the centre-section opens in the reverse manner to that normally accepted and therefore causes drag only.

The landing itself presents no problem, but there is a pronounced inclination to swing one way or the other when the tail-wheel makes contact with terra firma, even under conditions of no wind, however, this is possibly an idiosyncracy of ‘DFH and not inherent in the design.

The qualities of the Falcon add up to a very sensible and practical aeroplane having a commendable range and cruising speed, unquestionable comfort and first-class handling characteristics; presumably the Messenger can be counted as the nearest approach to a post-war successor, but as in so many comparisons between old and new, I prefer the elderly Falcon on each score.

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