An announcement by the Racing Committee of the Royal Aero Club that this year’s National Air Races (to be held at Baginton Aerodrome, near Coventry, on June 18th and 19th) will exclude all the slower machines has brought considerable disappointment to many would-he participants and spectators alike.
The regulations state that to be eligible an aeroplane must he capable of a level speed not lower than 130 m.p.h., which means that the majority of vintage enthusiasts who own aeroplanes of Moth calibre will have to seek alternative outlets for their interests.
In the past few years the races have been graduated according to the speeds or weights of the machines concerned, with the Grosvenor as the event for the smallest and the Norton Griffiths for the heaviest types. Those who gained places in either of these or in the Kemsley Race (for the middle-weights) participated in the challenge for the King’s Cup.
In this way justice saw to it that the major event was open to successful pilots and machines regardless of their speeds or weights, and the excellent work performed on the handicappers’ slide-rules made the winner anybody’s guess until the finishing line had been passed.
We cannot help continuing to be astonished at the consistent accuracy of the handicappers’ calculations and we feel that to them must fall the greater portion of the credit for the success of the game. Organising a large-scale meeting, or even a small one for that matter, can cause many headaches and anticipatory sleepless nights to the various individuals each of whose tasks is essential to the smooth-running of the show, but no amount of preliminary planning can ease the responsibility of those whose duty it is to forecast a lap time to within half a second — and even succeed in doing so.
We have discussed this change of “National” policy with several interested parties, both influential and the usual kind, and it seems that while we must have (and welcome) progress, it is essential first to ensure that the aeroplanes are available for it to be progress, rather than merely reducing the field to those same individuals who raced the faster types last season.
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The year 1954 is indeed a bad year for the sporting-minded, for not only are many of us now prevented from competing in the events that we have looked forward to entering each season, but within recent weeks came the announcement that the Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Co. would not be sponsoring the race that annually has borne their name.
The Goodyear Trophy Race (which the writer remembers vividly by finishing last in 1950) has been organised each May by the Wolverhampton Aero Club and has become the accepted “opener” of the season, giving enthusiasts a foresight of what aeroplanes the various pilots would be likely to fly in the later meetings. The circuit was always comparatively short and therefore put all concerned into a suitably spirited mental frame to contrast the darker and more dismal days of the immediately preceding months.
However, that. is no longer to be.
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Glasses up to the Swansea and District Flying School, who, despite consistently bad weather and possibly financial embarrassment as a result, are forging ahead again with their plans for the annual Welsh Air Derby, to be held at Fairwood Common Aerodrome one Saturday in July.
This attitude of determination to succeed at all costs is genuinely appreciated and the organisers are to be congratulated on running the only major race so far announced that will be open to our presumably-decrepit biplanes, which now seem to be disfavoured in the eyes of those who matter.
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All this leads us to our thoughts on the private flying of the future, if, indeed, there is to be any. Many people think that it is on the way out, and certainly there are fewer airworthy small aeroplanes than there were five years ago.
However, this is in direct proportion to the depth of the average pocket, which becomes shallower as post-war bubbles burst and most people have to rely on normal tax-infested incomes. Presumably, therefore, all “expensive ” hobbies have suffered similarly.
Quite apart from the direct financial aspect, it is rather important that there should be some suitable aeroplanes for our private pilots to fly, and here the situation has improved slightly during very recent months. During the immediate post-war years there were in production several Auster variants, the Percival Proctor, the Chrislea Ace, and the Miles Messenger and Gemini, and this choice proved ample for all tastes with the exception, perhaps, of those with aerobatic inclinations,
However, since then, all but the Auster family have been clear of the factories for some time and therefore anyone requiring a new aeroplane must buy a high-wing strut-braced cabin monoplane. Admittedly there is a considerable difference in performance and handling between the “light” Aiglet Trainer and the “heavy” Autocar, but the general Auster configuration does not suit. everyone.
At the other extreme we have one type available in new form, in the special Gemini 3A powered by Gipsy Major 10s. A few of these have been produced by Wolverhampton Aviation Ltd., using the basic airframe parts left in the works when Miles Aircraft came to grief in 1949, but quite naturally these, although by far the finest light aeroplanes available, are not for men of modest means.
It is not in new but in military-surplus aircraft that the position has improved. What is probably the last large batch of Tiger Moths has been released recently by the Royal Air Force and these are excellent value for money. Although most have completed two or three thousand hours apiece, many are in excellent shape and one examined last month had flown only three hours since the fitting of a new engine and all new instruments. Various companies now have these Tigers available for sale, each with recently issued C. of A., for prices in the region of two hundred pounds.
The other release is a quantity of Auster 5s, although their selling price is considerably higher. These Mark 5s, with their 130-h.p. American Lycoming engines, are a very different story from the usual 100-horse Cirrus-powered Autocrats used by most clubs and private owners. Each has a full blind-flying panel, cockpit and navigation lights and the extra urge available from “under the bonnet” gives not only a greatly improved performance, but this in turn (especially the 25-m.p.h. increase in cruising speed) results in controls that are actually crisp.
In fact, after test-flying several of these following their conversion to civil life, I am convinced that these particular Austers are really practical aeroplanes, ideally suited to the owner who is not worried by a fuel consumption of over seven gallons an hour.
The average price for these machines is about £600, with C. of A., but their cost is offset by their condition, for most have flown only a small number of hours since new at least one had only nine hours on both engine and airframe when demobilised!
So there is the picture. With scores of ex-service Tigers and Austers on the market there should be enough light aircraft to keep home and overseas requirements satisfied for a long time. All that remains is to see whether there will be any marked increase in private ownership as a result. — D. F. Ogilvy.