The Cost of Flying A New Percival. Vintage Reconstruction. How to “Date” an Aeroplane. An inexpensive Cabin Machine. AGM of the A.B.A.C.
WE hear a perpetual and almost daily moan that flying is too expensive, and that only the introduction of a practical and economical light aeroplane would bring the game within the pocket of the average man and woman. However, much as all enthusiasts would like to see one or more new types available to provide a spot of variety on the market, this would in no way reduce the cost of operation, for the idea that this depends entirely upon fuel consumption is indeed a popular fallacy rampant among those whose lot it is not to bear the financial brunt.
First, let us consider the aeroplane itself, with particular reference to first cost. I should be very surprised if even the simplest of toys could be produced for fewer than twelve hundred pounds, and then only if the demand warranted manufacture on a large scale—which, alas, could never be the case. So, while second-hand Tiger Moths exist for under £300, complete with 12 months’ C.of A. and possibly over 1,000 hours to run on the engine, there can be little justification for laying a production line of any type of light aircraft.
Next, the engine that must power our new design. At present there is no power unit of suitable size and developing the required number of horses, so some benevolent soul (who would need to be a philanthropist in the beat sense) would have not only to design and build something of suitable calibre, but also put it through an extensive and expensive type-test to satisfy the requirements of those who dictate such things. After all this, it might be cleared for service with a bill of health amounting to no more than 200 hours, at the end of which a major overhaul at great cost to someone.
Should there be the odd “Doubting Thomas” who needs material figures in order to be convinced, here is the answer. Let us assume that our old friend the Gipsy Major can be overhauled after 1,500 hours for £150, then the “life” dies at the rate of two shillings per hour flown. Working to a fuel consumption of 6 g.p.h. at a cost of 2s. 6d. per gallon (in the case of a club machine eligible for tax rebate), the total petrol/overhaul rate amounts to seventeen shillings.
Now to our hypothetical “economical” unit. Perhaps the makers could renew the 200-hour life for £100, while an hourly consumption of three gallons would dispose of Is.6d. Therefore we are faced with an equivalent expenditure of seventeen shillings and sixpence per engine hour, which is slightly more than that of the Gipsy Major. In practice, numerous “trimmings” would make the total cost considerably higher in either case, but the comparison is direct and serves as a moral of some value. Admittedly the new product would increase in life as it proved itself over the years, but this would take time and could become practice only if numerous people would be prepared to accept and try it through the early stages of development.
Then there are other problems besetting our new little aeroplane, the expense of its own C.of A. type-tests would be borne by the first purchasers; there would be no ex-service spares, so these would be available only at manufacturers’ new prices; and it is unlikely that home requirements at any rate would exceed a score or so machines, while the Continent already is amply supplied with aircraft for amateurs, so we must revert to hand construction and prohibitive cost.
A shame, but undeniably true. Everyone who has any feeling for the private-flying movement would like to see something fresh at meetings, displays and clubs, but these facts are facts and should serve to silence those who feel that an answer to the present high cost lies within the new year. Anyhow, is the expense so fantastic? Many people paid £2 10s. or so per hour before World War II, so surely he current rate of £3 to £3 10s. shows a considerably smaller percentage increase than that of your food, drink, tobacco or petrol ?
New aeroplanes bring thoughts of Captain Edgar Percival, who is constructing a prototype of his first new design since he divorced himself, many moons past, from the firm bearing his name. His fame came from his sporting products of the ‘thirties, with the Vega nnd Mew Gulls as the highlights of his achievements, but today he is concerning himself with something of more practical and bread-earning intent in the form of a crop-sprayer. So far little is known of its shape, size or capacity, and in fact Percival himself has not yet made any attempt at publicity although perhaps soon we shall receive further information from the mouth or pen of the designer, who, incidentally, runs the only Percival Q6 light twin-engined transport remaining on the British register.
Since my last notes, I have heard of more ancient aircraft in the process of restoration. Another Puss Moth, G-AEOA, used until about four years ago by the Airways Aero Club at Denham but since deserted, is shortly to re-appear at Blackpool, where it will enter what should be popular service with the Blackpool and Fylde Aero Club. A Pobjoy-powered Swallow, G-ADDB, which last flew in 1939, is being acquired for £25 in five monthly instalments of £5 by one Julian Crosley, and is about to start a long surface journey from the Isle of Wight to a garage in the London area, where once again it should soon begin to look something like a Swallow.
If my eyes and ears have missed the news of anything interesting in the reconstruction line, please let me know, but I shall be more than surprised if any enthusiast has hidden away in his vintage barn a machine more noteworthy than the D.H.53 Humming Bird. Well, one of these is not just hidden in a barn, but being energetically rebuilt, even to the re-designing of several missing parts, while Alvis have sportingly manufactured a brace of new cylinders for its tiny A.B.C. Scorpion engine.
This little veteran, built in 1923 and lettered G-EBHX, will hold pride of place on the civil register, a position of honour that it will steal from the Cirrus 3 powered D.H.60 Moth G-EBLV, of 1925 brew. I know one pilot who will be knocking at the right door at the right time in an endeavour to get his hands on an aeroplane older than himself !
Mentioning registrations at random may baffle many readers, so for the benefit of those who are not clear about how the system works, I hope that this will enable you to discover for yourself the approximate age of an aeroplane when you meet it.
Apart from some very early attempts at allocating numbers to civil aircraft, the first time registrations came with the allocation of the letter “G” to all British machines, and this originally was followed after a hyphen by an “E” to represent England. Thus G-EAAA started the proverbial ball along its path, but only three or four aeroplanes of this era are with us today, for in 1928 the system was changed to cover the British Isles, with an “A” immediately following the “C” in a manner that is still in use. Therefore G-AAAA marked the first aircraft to be registered under that scheme. with the second machine G-AAAB and so on. After one completion of the alphabet, G-AABA was the next step, but in practice the third letter is the simplest guide to age.
In 1930 G-AB came into circulation (example, G-ABMH, Hawker Hart of 1931 brew) and by 1933 G-AC was the order of the day. And so the alphabet progressed through the years until the outbreak of war, when G-AF was well under way.
Very few civil aeroplanes were registered during the 1939-1945 period, with the result that a third letter “G” satisfied the requirements until well into the resumption of peacetime civil aviation. Needless to say hundreds of ex-service machines flooded the market and these absorbed registrations at an alarming rate, while recent batches of Tiger Moths and Auster 5s (the last of each) are again rattling through the letters and the G-AN series have nearly come to an end.
However, one word of warning before you set about the countryside airing your knowledge of the registration system. There are occasional catches, such as the already-mentioned service/civil conversions, when an aeroplane is allocated the letters in current issue at the time of the changeover. Also, a machine imported from abroad may have flown with a foreign registration for many years before taking on its new home identification.
Nevertheless, in most cases the letterings coincide with the date of manufacture, and if you see an aeroplane with its third letter earlier than “F” you know that you have found a genuine, honest, pre-war vintage piece of machinery; and that is what really matters !
I am sure that Doug. Bianchi will forgive me if I describe him as a well-known “bodger” of odd aeroplanes, for that is what he really is. Now he has found his own answer to those who grouse that there is no inexpensive cabin-type aeroplane available for general use, for he has modernised our ageing but ever-lasting friend the Tiger Moth. I called in to see him at White Waltham recently and found an extremely smart specimen G-ANSA complete with home-made cabin taking pride of position outside his workshops.
Bianchi had just completed this first conversion when I arrived and, in fact, it had not even taken the air, but was awaiting final clearance from the Air Registration Board prior (we hope) to the issue of its Certificate of Airworthiness. However, when all the formalities are over, he hopes to start a little production line and sell hooded Tigers for about £350 apiece, and I have a feeling that they should sell easily; if not, there is something radically amiss with the people who want aeroplanes these days. My first contact with Doug. was just after the war when he opened a two-man-and-a-boy outfit at Blackbushe, in an elderly Nissen hut with the wall knocked down at the business end to enable bits of aircraft to be dragged in and out. Soon he managed to acquire an interesting Miles Falcon G-ADFH and a Magister G-AIVE for £80 the pair, and from there he went on; before long the ex-Alec Henshaw Mew Gull G-AEXF, perhaps the best-known racing aeroplane of all time, was in his hands for extensive overhaul and modification, and now he flourishes at White Waltham with three hangars in which he and his men can do whatever people do with small aircraft.
But still he is happiest when crawling under the machines himself and his coupe Tiger is the result of an engineer’s practical common sense rather than the theoretical should-be-right stuff that so often just isn’t right. Good luck, Doug., keep at it.
I dislike having to air another grouse about the apathy of so many people connected with private and club aviation, but it seems shame that there should be such a poor representation at the annual general meeting of the Association of British Aero Clubs, held at the Waldorf Hotel on December 3rd. Group-Captain E.H.M. Miles. the chairman, together with the Association’s Council and staff. work extremely hard for the benefit of the movement, and through constant perseverance have succeeded in gaining numerous concessions from Ministries and other official bodies. If club managements cannot trouble to take a deeper interest in the organisation that cares for their interests, how can we hope for the right sort of enthusiasm to be fed into their members ?—D. F.
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