Some Notes On Private And Sporting Flying

Author

D. F. O.

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60

At this time of the year, when the sport of aviation is almost and necessarily at a standstill, it is apt to consider in prospect the season that should be opening in a couple of months or so, although it is unlikely that there will be anything fresh in the way of new aeroplanes, with, perhaps, one exception.

This is the diminutive Miles Sparrowjet, designed and built by Messrs. F. G. Miles, Ltd., at Shoreham Aerodrome, to the specification and at the expense of Fred Dunkerley, Chairman of the Lancashire Aero Club, who has devoted much time and money to the art of air racing in the recent post-war years.

Unfortunately, this new racer, the first light jet aeroplane to fly in this country, is not entirely new, for it has been produced as a conversion from what was the sole remaining Miles Sparrowhawk, an unusually attractive sporting mount in its own right. It seems a shame that one of our all-too-few racers should have to be lost for the sake of progress, but progress we must have and this latest experiment seems to be a good example.

A few details may prove interesting. The Sparrowhawk originally appeared in 1935 to form part of that year’s King’s Cup team. It was developed very simply by Mrs. (Blossom) Miles and basically consisted of a standard Hawk-Major airframe, with two feet removed from the fuselage and the outer wings joined to it directly with the centre section omitted. It was converted from a two- to a single-seater and the normal Gipsy-Major I engine (still the sturdiest and most reliable light power unit in the world) gave way to a special high-compression version. The top speed then was not far short of 180 m.p.h.

The end of the war left us with only two Sparrowhawks intact. One of these, G-AGDL, had spent the period of hostilities as a works “hack,” with the usual glossy cream and red finish replaced by a sombre camouflage that looked quite wrong on so small an aeroplane. ‘GDL came to grief in a quite unnecessary accident, however, and was written off before gaining ground in post-war races.

The other example, G-ADNL, competed in many sporting events with considerable success until 1952, when its owner Geoffrey Alington, a Fairey test-pilot, disposed of it to Dunkerley, in whose hands it has spent the ensuing time gradually changing shape from a piston to a jet machine.

In its new form with a pair of French-designed Turbomeca Palas engines, a maximum speed of about 255 m.p.h. is anticipated, although we will have to wait until it has actually appeared and passed at least one finishing line before knowing the real answer.

This is the only recent case of a new design reaching fruition purely through the ideas of an ambitious private owner (although there are many of us who would like to see our own ideals take the air), and we can only hope that it will be as successful as it was in its earlier piston-powered form.

If the recent success of its owner in making an ostensibly standard Miles Gemini, G-AKKB, go much faster than it should is any yardstick, then the Sparrowjet should have a great future. Dunkerley, retaining the comparatively low-powered Cirrus Minor engines (although “hotted” beyond imagination), has consistently achieved speeds of 175 m.p.h. or so in closed circuit events, whereas the makers’ specification claims a maximum level figure of about 145 m.p.h. in its unadulterated form! Needless to say. in practice ‘KKB is about as non-standard as any Gemini could be (even to a crafty but hardly noticeable 4-in, lowering of the fuselage top decking), which is more than obvious when one considers that even the version with high-compression Gipsy Majors can attain nothing like 175!

The same pilot took over the only remaining Percival Mew Gull G-AEXF (test-flown for Motor Sport, April, 1952) in the middle of last season immediately after Nat Somers had flown it in the National Air Races, but it has not appeared in public since. We shudder to think what plans may be awaiting it, for it achieved over 250 m.p.h. in 1938! Perhaps Dunkerley is awaiting the availability of a suitable mach-meter?

Although the Sparrowjet is the only private jet to have taken the air in Britain (and that only on early experimental flights so far), another is under construction using a single Turbomeca engine. This is a combined effort between Nat Somers (1949 King’s Cup winner) and Hugh Kendall, who won the 1951 “Daily Express” Race by performing miracles with a Ford Ten-powered Chilton. This prototype is a long way from completion yet, but it is taking shape near Reading and we look forward to seeing it in the 1955 events alongside the Dunkerley creation and the stalwart collection of near-vintage mounts that must remain the backbone of the game.

Thinking of near-vintage machines, the writer claims to be the only pilot to have raced during the seasons 1950 to 1953 four different aeroplanes not one of which was built later than 1935. Many would say that this is a claim to keep quiet about, but it is one which holds good solely through the co-operation of our British weather, for the only occasion on which a comparatively modern (1938) design was entered the event was cancelled through low cloud.

The four machines were the Comper Swift of 1932, a 1933 Avro Cadet, and a Miles Falcon and de Havilland Moth-Major each of which came to light in 1935.

The Royal Aero Club state that this year’s National Air Races may be held at Baginton Aerodrome, near Coventry, although no further details with regard to the course or the eligibility of entrants have been released. One can only hope that the club will repeat last year’s practice of holding the races over a really short course. In this way there is great enjoyment to be derived by both competitors and spectators alike, for it is essential that those who go to watch the racing really see it, instead of merely watching a procession of aeroplanes flying overhead in their handicap order.

There are some who consider that last year’s unfortunate accident in which J. P. Crowther lost his life was a direct result of the very short course over which the events were flown. This, in fact, is quite incorrect, for that tragedy could equally well have occurred during a long, nearly straight race such as that organised until 1952 by the Daily Express.

If air racing is to appeal to the public, and to do so is a necessity for its continued survival, the events must be short and entirely within sight of those who pay to watch it. In this form the game can be of absorbing interest, but only if in this form.

One wonders why the average amateur pilot fights shy of straight-forward competitions. It is surprising how many ordinary people learn to fly at their own expense and then reveal no interest in or enthusiasm for the sporting aspect of the game. These individuals continue to potter over the local countryside achieving nothing in particular (admittedly enjoyable enough in itself) but cannot be cajoled into entering any events that other bodies trouble to organise for them. By these I am not referring to races, for these rightly are denied to the newly-licensed pilot of limited experience, but friendly rallies that may include spot-landing, navigational or other contests. The motoring world has its bands of rally drivers who have no serious aspirations towards speed events and these enthusiasts go to it in their hundreds around the country, but this spirit unhappily is lacking in the flying clubs. The obvious answer, that the percentage of sporting motorists among car owners is probably no higher than that of active sporting pilots among licence-holders, is invalid, for the majority of people who own cars do so because they require means of personal transportation at times and along routes of their own rather than someone else’s choice. The same cannot be said of amateur aviators, for even the most enthusiastic advocate of the movement must admit that light-aeroplane flying in this country, with impossible weather for the greater part of each year, serves little practical purpose as a method of travel from place to place. It serves purely for personal pleasure, therefore those who reach to the depths of their own pockets in order to get airborne must do so because they enjoy flying for flying’s sake.

That is as it should be, but it makes the original question harder than ever to answer satisfactorily. If this answer can be found, it will contribute greatly towards placing the whole of private flying on a far healthier and happier basis than it is at present. — D. F. O.