Stranger Things

Almost time for the annual on the Cub so it was a bit of a frenzy getting some flying in before it went offline for a few weeks:

Actually, not really a frenzy. That kind of implies non-stop back to back flights from sunrise to sunset. Unfortunately the state of the world at the moment means that the price of Avgas has shot up and is now over £2.60 per litre. Filling the small tank of the Cub is not so bad, but stay tuned for when I filled the RV for a day trip to Northern Ireland…

Chugging along in the Cub we came across this strange feature near the old disused airfield at Kinnell. It looks like an old railway cutting has been sealed up and turned into a long thin lake:

It’s even on the Ordnance Survey map. Maybe it’s a fishing pond?

Cub frenzy complete, I decided to give the aircraft a bit of a clean. It does not fly fast enough to blow the fine hangar dust off, and I can only reach part of the upper wing surface when standing on the ground:

With the help of the step ladder I was able to clean all the top surface with these chemical free baby wipes. Actually touching the surface is a great way to ensure that all the fabric and internal ribs are in good condition. If something is broken inside it probably won’t feel right…

A lovely clean shiny aircraft ready to visit the engineers:

A day later in the maintenance hangar…

By then I was back to work, busily shuttling patients around Scotland for the ambulance service. More opportunities to see strange things from the air. Near Kilmalcolm we saw these concrete structures in a field:

It turns out that this is the site of an anti-aircraft battery from WW2. There are several of these dotted around the periphery of Glasgow. One even serves as the foundations for a uniquely shaped house. Zooming in you can see the four distinctive gun positions and the control/admin block:

Later that same day we came across a submarine getting a helping hand back into the base at Faslane. In this zoomed in picture the tow line is just visible running from the tug on the right to the bow of the sub. Not sure if it’s standard procedure or if it was limping home:

I’ve just heard that the Cub’s annual is being signed off tomorrow. There was a problem with the auxiliary fuel tank in the wing not feeding properly. Rerouting the line slightly has removed the potential for airlock and it should be fine again.

The auxiliary tank almost doubles the range of the Cub. Good for long distance travelling…such as Normandy 2024 for the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Less than two years to go!

Big “shout out” to Bob of ACS Engineering, seen here shyly hiding behind the wing, who did most of the actual grunt work on the aircraft:

Good to go for another 50 hours / six months!


Monday 6th June 2022. D-Day. What better way to mark the occasion than to go flying in a Normandy veteran Cub? A nice day with gentle winds, good visibility and light traffic at the airfield…

The Cub was the only aircraft in the circuit so we did some touch-and-goes before heading off to the north, as logged on the Skydemon vertical trace:

We flew over some friends at Abernyte:

…and had a general tootle about, just enjoying the views:

This tower on Kinpurney Hill near Newtyle is the remains of an observatory which was built in 1766:

It sits within the site of an unfinished iron-age hill fort, with some earthworks still visible near the triangulation point.

As well as commemorating D-Day and doing some amateur aerial archaeology, there was another reason for the flight. A recent birthday present needed to be tested for suitability for Cub operations. My brother gave me a nice lambswool scarf from County Donegal, and it turned out to be perfect for keeping the neck warm while flying around with the windows open:

Top birthday present. Thanks Bro!

Coffee and Cake

After about twelve months of searching, I managed to get hold of a genuine World War 2 era US aeronautical first aid kit container. Ebay is wonderful! It even came with some 80 year old medical supplies: a pair of rusty scissors, tourniquet kit and Australian shell dressing. These have now been replaced by more modern contents. It looks great:

To celebrate, I decided to nip over to Fife Airport in Glenrothes for coffee. It’s only about a 25 minute flight. After pulling the aircraft out into the light…

…and taxying over the freshly cut, still slightly damp grass:

…we ambled over to Fife airfield in lovely sunshine. The parking area for aircraft is just over the fence from the car park and I spent some time chatting with one of the enthusiasts who regularly sit there watching the aeroplanes. The Cub did look lovely with the shiny wings:

Eventually I was able to get to the main building to pay the landing fee and order coffee and cake. Very nice it was too…

After refuelling the pilot it was time to go. The aircraft did not need fuel but if it had, Fife have a self service system visible in the background:

There were some weird plantations on the way back…

Compare the picture above with the next one, taken a few weeks later. The field are greener and drier, and the yellow oil seed rape crops are ripening nicely…

The weather did have some surprises up its sleeve…this forecast is for one of my days off:

But we went flying anyway before the wind got too strong. It was straight down the runway so no real problem.

Spring weather in Scotland – it’s all part of the adventure.

Spring RV6

As the snows melted I noted that the RV was about 5 hours from my 25 hour inspection and about 10 hours from an oil change so I decided to burn up those hours while I waited for a box of oil and a new oil filter to arrive, and then do both oil change and inspection at the same time. It’s easier and simpler as the cowlings only have to come off once.

Drifting along in the Cub at low level is great fun but the RV has an excellent rate of climb and it’s nice to zoom up to 5000ft or more to zip along well above most of the normal general aviation traffic which seems to congregate around 2000ft – maybe they teach it that way these days?

Random high level pictures in no particular order. Here we are over Pitlochry looking south towards Dunkeld:

…and now we are looking south from Stanley towards Perth. Probably in the descent toward the airfield so not as high as the last one:

In the climb over Fife, up to 7000ft:

Less than one mile laterally and 10,400ft vertically from a British Airways Airbus on its descent into Aberdeen:

7000ft over Melrose in the Borders…

One cool thing I have noticed…if you are looking out the right of our RV6, overhead Crail in the East Neuk of Fife, with 2400 RPM set, doing 140 knots at 6000ft, in a left turn passing through 090 degrees at about 30 degrees angle of bank, and you take a photo, then go home and zoom in…

…it’s the flag of Ukraine! Слава Україні !

Snowy Flights

Even over the winter I have tried to fly the aircraft at least once a week to keep everything warmed up and exercised. Landing the Cub in some of the winds we have had has been “interesting” – sometimes feeling a bit like this Cub at Dala-Järna in Sweden:

Of course there have been some days when it has been impossible…

And some nice days. On the days with the winter showers around it has usually been windy (see above)…

But the clear still days after a dump of snow are lovely. Here’s a helicopter picture just to prove that there is some work in amongst all the play. We are parked at the Glen Clova Hotel for a forestry accident:

It was one of those clear calm mornings after an overnight snowfall when I dragged the Cub out for a flight. The snow wasn’t too thick on the grass:

…and thin enough to be perfectly safe on the taxiway and runway. We just taxied a little slower than normal just in case:

Once airborne we made our way to our favourite bridge and river confluence at Kinclaven:

Looking down the Tay towards Perth the snowy landscape really highlighted the route of the old disused railway line:

The whole of Perthshire had been hit by the overnight dusting of snow:

Insert standard “low winter sun makes for good photographs” here. Reflections and shadows and clear air and lovely countryside:

Note we were flying around with the window open. It makes the photographs a little better and it wasn’t really too cold, although I did have my trouser bottoms tucked into my socks to reduce the drafts up my legs:

Back to base for a portrait in the snow. And a refuel before the price of Avgas went up. Again.

Winter Cubbing. The only thing better is Summer Cubbing. Can’t wait!

Flight to The Alps

A bit of an adventure in the RV6 – the Alps and back in one day!

Actually it wasn’t the Alps, just the mountains near Fort William. The day started when I got to the airfield and already the RVs were gathering. The 111 Sqn coloured RV8 was in from Oban and Rodderz the RV3 was getting ready to head for lunch at Kirkbride:

It was lovely and smooth as we headed towards fort William at 5000ft. Here you can just make out Loch Linnhe appearing behind the high ground:

Right turn round Ben Nevis…

…and eastbound across the Cairngorm plateau. The tops here are about 3000ft:

The glaciated valleys and passes are not very deep. The highest point on the Lairig Ghru (the pass between Braemar and Aviemore) is about 2735 feet above sea level at the Pools of Dee. These aren’t actually the source of the River Dee, but the cool thing is that because of the altitude, they can freeze over even in the middle of summer.

After the hills it was a gentle descent to Montrose on the east coast, before heading back to Perth for tea and medals…

I still think they look like the Alps:

Here’s somebody who flew in the real Alps. Video courtesy of “VFR Tours”…

One for the list…

Ken Wakefield: 1928 – 2022

It is only within the last two years that I finally got my own L4 Cub but I have been a member of the Vintage Piper Aircraft Club for over 25 years. I recently received this sad email:

With much regret that we report that Ken Wakefield, the world renowned reference historian and expert on US liaison aircraft passed away last month after a short stay in hospital. Ken was involved with the VPAC from its very beginning — member number 004 after the club’s founders.

Ken was born in Bristol, the family home being close to the former Whitchurch aerodrome and this must have kindled his interest in aviation. When, in 1944, the American First Army based Piper L-4s on a nearby airstrip, it had a huge influence on the sixteen-year old West Country lad. “One day I’m going to own one of those”, he pledged. This marked the beginning of Ken’s association with the Piper Cub and other US Liaison “L-Bird” aircraft. 38 years later he achieved that ambition. His knowledge of US liaison / observation aircraft was legendary and he devoted much of his time researching and writing books on the subject. Any restorer, before starting his project, begins today by reading the ‘books of Ken’ and he was always happy to help. With extreme kindness, he encouraged youngsters, gave advise to hundreds of pilots and through his meticulous research and publications connected families of veterans with the past.

Ken had a distinguished career as an airline pilot which began flying charter flights to Johannesburg as a DC-3 co-pilot, retiring as a senior captain with British Airways on Lockheed TriStars. He was also a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society and holder of the Master Pilot Award of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators.

We have lost a true gentleman, Godfather to the L-Birds and a true friend to so many.

(via Richard Keech, Vintage Piper Aircraft Club)

Like any self respecting Cub enthusiast, I have two of Ken’s books:

Both are well thumbed. I lost my original “Fighting Grasshoppers” somewhere along the way, and recently replaced it at some expense. I didn’t pay the £100 or so that I just saw on Amazon, maybe half that – they are now quite rare to find.

When I heard of Ken’s death, I dug out his books for another look through. A piece of paper fluttered out from between the pages of “The Fighting Grasshoppers”. Turning it over, it was a photograph of Ken, the same photo used on the back flap of the dust cover:

I replied to Richard and the VPAC wondering if Ken did this with all his books and got this reply:

Well, your question prompted me to check my copy of “Lightplanes at War” and look what I found inserted in page 115. I’ve seen it before, but never thought where it had come from so maybe Ken was in the habit of popping in the odd photo. The photo on Pg115 shows Brixham Harbour in 1944 and the hand-written note on the loose photo tells that it shows the same in 2004.

Mike Mothershaw, another senior VPAC member, wrote:

Richard passed your question on to me and the straight answer is, not sure. It might well have been one of those nice little touches he did when the books were first published, the sort of thing Ken would do. Obviously, that’s some time ago now.
I’ve got three of his books sitting on my shelf and, just like you, I couldn’t help but pick them up and thumb through the them again. Later, I did a search using the author’s name and was surprised to see not only did Ken write a number of books on the L-Birds in some depth, but also wrote several on Luftwaffe operations during the war, and there are also three volumes he wrote on The Blitz (‘then and now’). A busy chap!
Some of Ken’s books are now hard to find, one of them appeared on Amazon a while ago with a three figure price tag prompting him to declare he wished he’d put a case of them to one side !
Back to the question of photos, I’m expecting to see Ken’s daughter and son-in-law in a few weeks time so I’ll ask them the question.

I may also be able to answer the question…during research on Amazon I ended up ordering “Lightplanes At War” – when it arrives we will have to see if anything flutters out. Thanks Ken.

Here Be Dragons

Every so often work reminds me that other helicopter jobs are available, and that I have no desire to do them! Here we are in the middle of nowhere, over the sea at low level, wearing immersion suits and with the liferaft fitted to the aircraft:

It can be quite tedious overwater when you are out of sight of land. A reminder that I have no desire to fly offshore to oil and gas rigs. Life in a rubber suit does not appeal. Out west there was not a lot to look at apart from the instruments and the odd stray fishing boat…

The moving map display is not much help either. Pretty soon after this picture was taken we fell off the end of the map into “here be dragons” territory:

The day had started with a good forecast. We had been trying for several weeks to get out to Barra Hospital in the Hebrides to tick off my night currency requirement…Barra is one of our landing sites that needs a day visit within the previous 12 months to qualify the pilot for a night visit. This is due to distance from the mainland, terrain near the landing site, weather considerations and fuel availability. We used to have a stock of fuel drums at the hospital, together with an electric pump, but the shed they were stored in was damaged in a storm and the roof fell in, letting water everywhere and increasing the risk of contamination. The replacement of the EC135 by the H145 on the Scottish Ambulance contract removed the need for fuel as the 145 carries a lot more fuel. The Barra refuel option was discontinued, but we still have drums of fuel at Tiree and Islay.

We fly a 135, so we needed to leave the mainland with as much fuel as possible. First stop was Oban where there is an ambulance fuel trailer parked next to the helipads at Oban Airport. This is paramedic Rich’s view out of the aircraft as we pass the Oyster Inn ( we’ve been here before…see ) and the Connel Bridge at the Falls of Lora on the way in to land:

After a quick refuel (in the rain!) we headed up the Sound of Mull for the crossing to Barra. Another photo from Rich in the back as we approach Tobermory, the capital of Mull:

It was at this point that we got a request from ambulance control…as we were out and about on training could we give them a hand and actually move a patient? There was a request for a Stornoway to Glasgow transfer. One patient and one bag going to the mainland for enhanced care at one of the larger hospitals. We did a few calculations and confirmed that we could reach Stornoway with the fuel we had on board. Then we could refuel and load the patient and get going. Our simple training trip was turning into a bit of an epic!

Castlebay is the main settlement on Barra. We could not work out why it is called that! The hospital is just out of sight to the left:

Then it was northbound up the east coast of the Outer Hebrides, passing Benbecula Airport which would have been available for a refuel if we had needed it. This is Eilean Glas lighthouse on Scalpay, a small island off Harris:

Final approach into Stornoway:

Refuelling on the apron. At the same time the paramedics were in the ambulance talking to the patient. Multi tasking in action…

Then it was off to Glasgow. The trip from Oban via Barra to Stornoway had taken 1 hour 40 minutes, but Stornoway to Glasgow took just 50 minutes, due to the tailwind.

I took the next shot on the way to Barra. Notice top left of the screen where it says SPD 103 – that is the groundspeed. Bottom left is the wind indicator, showing that we were headed into a 25 knot headwind at the time. We were at low level to get out of the teeth of the gale:

Compare with this next screen. Now the wind indicator is showing a 45 knot tailwind and the groundspeed readout now shows SPD 171. We were now at 4000 feet to get as much advantage of the tailwind as possible.

Interestingly, by a mere fluke in both cases we are about 34 miles from the next waypoint, top right where it says DST 34.1 or 34.8. Comparing the TTG figures top left of each screen shows a 20 minute time to go (TTG 20) into wind and TTG 12 with the wind behind us. An eight minute difference over just 34 miles due to the wind. Groundspeed 1-0-1.

The return trip didn’t take long at all. Some great views which made it all worthwhile in the end. Here we are approaching the Isle of Skye:

Training completed, a patient transferred and loads of flying. Another great day out, even if it was in an uncomfortable rubber suit.

The Not So Bleak Midwinter

I previously did a bit of whinging about low cloud, high winds and poor visibility. But sometimes the weather clears and flying on a clear winter’s day can be amazing: clear, cold and crisp, with long shadows and low sun making for some nice photos, even from a dodgy old iPhone like mine…

Low lingering fog at Scone Palace:

Further upstream, the Tay valley at Dunkeld filled with low fog and cloud…

Fog all cleared on the Tay near Kinclaven:

The River Isla near Alyth:

Notice how the low sun highlights even the smallest bumps in the terrain:

Same day after lunch. Switching to the RV6 means faster, higher and further than the Cub. This view is looking south towards the top end of Glen Isla:

North of Blairgowrie the low sun highlighting meltwater channels from the end of the last ice age:

The River Ericht on its way to Blairgowrie flowing through the deep gorge past Craighall Castle:

Back over the mountains again. Looking west towards the afternoon sun. I think we are somewhere to the south of Glenshee:

So winter isn’t all cold and wet and windy. Thus far there have been quite a few flyable days, but a few years ago it did manage to snow INSIDE the hangar at Perth during the “Beast from the East” – just have to hope for the best…