Private Flying Notes

Mid-June and the National Air Races are now some way behind us, but although the racing itself was less interesting than usual, the meeting, held at Baginton Aerodrome Coventry, on the 18th and 19th, warrants some comment. From an appreciative enthusiast’s viewpoint, the display was one of the best seen, not because of any particularly outstanding acts, but because of the comprehensive range of aeroplanes present, from the spluttering Deperdussin and Bleriot to the Sabre and re-heat Canberra.

It was not the machines at either end of the age scale that caused the major attractions, for the very earliest only just manage to fly while the latest can be seen and heard (if one wants to see and hear these things) almost daily. World War 1 was represented by the familiar Sopwith Pup and Bristol Fighter in mutual combat, while the inter-war sporting years had their own part of the show labelled the Development of the Light Aeroplane, ranging from the 1925 Cirrus Moth via the Spartan Arrow, Blackburn B2, Avro Cadet, Hawker Tomtit (Neville Duke up) and ex-Amy Johnson Percival Gull to the Tipsy Trainer of 1939. It is significant that light-aircraft development should be considered to have ended then!

When one considers how quickly service-type aeroplanes disappear from active existence once they are withdrawn from normal squadron use, it was entertaining to find the Hart G-A.BMR, Swordfish (still in naval hands as NE 389) and Gladiator G-AMRK parked alongside each other, and far more so to see them in the air. Equally pleasant were the famous Hurricane G-AMAU and what appeared to be a recent resurrection in Spitfire 5 AB 510, complete with Battle of Britain-era camouflage; however, on suspicions that this might have been Air Commodore Wheeler’s civil G-AISU in wolf’s clothing have since been confirmed by the manufacturers, who have recently acquired it for prolonged preservation. The final 1939-45 representative was one of the four re-hashed Lancasters being used for the filming of the Dam-Busters, but this baffled the more observant onlookers by carrying a different serial number on the fuselage from that under the wings! Our only regret was a purely personal one, for the military machinery was incomplete without a Mosquito — and this should have been the easiest of the bunch to find, for a few are still in active use.

The racing was uninteresting mainly because the field was insufficiently varied. The Royal Aero Club blundered in the early stages of the arrangements by banning all those aeroplanes incapable of at least 130 m.p.h., with the result that the entry list was entirely mono-plane in form; while unservicability, accidents and disqualification prevented Jimmy Rash’s Falcon-Six G-AECC, Dunkerley’s untried Sparrowjet G-ADNL, the ex-Henshaw Mew Gull G-AEXF and Ron Paine’s Hawk Speed Six G-ADGP from competing in the main event — that for the King’s Cup. Also, as the final leg in front of the spectators was exactly into wind, a false impression of unusually low speeds was created.

However, although the entries were almost entirely Proctors, Messengers or Gemini, this did not detract from the standard of flying. Pat Fillingham (who has since forsaken racing) deserved better than fifth place, for his precise handling and consistent pylon turns in the sole Chipmunk certainly revealed the shortcomings of some other pilots of smaller calibre, while Tim Wood, who had temporarily exchanged the four throttles and mighty bulk of the Blackburn Universal Freighter for a Messenger, flew very accurately into the winning position. A short gap separated him from the next four, all of whom arrived at the line in a bunch just headed by M. D’Arcy, also in a Messenger.

All this leads our thoughts to a more recent series of races, held at Denham on August Bank Holiday and organised for all-comers, regardless of age, shape or speed, by the Vintage Aeroplane Club. On the previous day of this week-end meeting the programme had progressed rather slowly, but the Monday started well and on time with the Harmel Trophy Race and the flagging-away of Bill Bailey in a Hawk Trainer (Magister to you, if you’re ex-R.A.F.) belonging to Elstree Flying Club. Three more Maggies, a brace of Messengers and four Gemini leapt off in their allotted order and completed four laps of the 17-mile circuit, at the end of which A. J. Spiller came home first in one of the Messengers.

Several display acts followed, including one in which a Taylorcraft deposited, one by one, numerous articles of female clothing, the offending aircraft being firmly pursued by a police-mounted Tipsy with much ringing of handbells, before eventually the hunted machine landed, to disgorge a gloriously underclad young woman, who continued to be hunted by numerous men and a surprising number of small boys until she disappeared into the safety of the ladies’ toilet. In our ignorance of the planned proceedings we had made the mistake of strapping ourselves into another aeroplane ready for the next turn, so we were literally out of the running.

However, let us return to balance, in the form of the West London Trophy Race, which was confined to genuine vintage aeroplanes. First man away was John Galt in the Spartan Arrow, but his lack of previous racing experience resulted in his being overhauled by W/Cdr. Clem Pike in the Cirrus Moth, who had been flagged off second, before the completion of the first lap. Major W. L. Foster, in the Vintage Club’s Avro Cadet, also came adrift early in the game and retired after missing a pylon, but the other entries, comprising the Blackburn B2 Tim Wood up), a Tiger Moth from Thruxton, Freydis Leaf’s Hawk-Major (sold recently to one Howard Stirling, the designer and constructor of the pre-war Burgoyne-Stirling “Dicer”), Spiller in his Leopard Moth, Marler’s Falcon and Ron Paine’s rapid Speed Six, completed the four circuits without ado. This was quite an interesting match, for the types were well varied, and the winner could have been anyone’s guess until Miss Leaf soared home first in her Hawk at an average of 135.5 m.p.h.

Finally, the first five in each of the Hamel and West London events met for the main contest of the day — that for the Chiltern Hills Trophy. W/Cdr. Pike in the old Cirrus Moth had a handicap allowance of 9 min. 26 sec. over the second man away, Derek Wright (Denham’s C.F.I.) in a Maggie, and a start of 21 min. 25 sec. over the back-marker, Ron Paine. However, Paine soon made up for lost time and one by one overhauled the entire field, to finish just in the lead at 186.5 m.p.h., almost exactly twice the speed of Pike and the Moth, which combination averaged a very gallant 93 m.p.h.

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After publication of our last notes, in which we remarked that the Lycoming-powered Auster 58 were actually quite crisp to handle, one reader asked us, quite sensibly, why the substitution of one engine for another should make any difference to the feel of the aeroplane itself. The answer, of course, is that it makes no difference, but the appreciable increase in cruising speed (105 m.p.h. with a good “5” compared with a hard-fought-for 85 on the Autocrat) results in far better response. Also, the added weight and solidity of the military version, together with its more comprehensive equipment, all contribute in some measure to the pilot’s impression of being aboard something slightly better than a post-war toy.

David F. Ogilvy.