That Escalated Quickly…

The “Panic Buying” post on 2nd April concluded with the line:

I think I’m going to wish for a Piper Cub. J3 or L4. Either is fine

Then in “That Was Quick!” on 1 May I told you how my 1:48 scale model L4 Cub had arrived as a present (Thank you Ian). It’s now in the throes of construction:

Then on 24 May, in “Inspection Time At Last”, I wandered off on a tangent, got distracted and HEY LOOK A BUTTERFLY. Sorry, I wandered off on a tangent, got distracted and mentioned that I had come across a REAL live ex-USAAF World War 2 L4 Cub for sale. Came to the conclusion that it would be cool to own, but three aeroplanes might be a bit too much…and yet, the quote was:

I cannot promise to not go and inspect the Cub when lockdown eases!

Guess what? Lockdown eased and I didn’t go to inspect the aircraft. And then I got an email from the VPAC – Vintage Piper Aircraft Club (I’ve been a member for years).

The email was to advertise another L4 Cub for sale. So now it might be worth a wee trip to have a look. I got in touch with the owner and found out that the aircraft was based at Leeds East Airport, our old friend formerly known as RAF Church Fenton (See trip report in the Sting at ) and with the other L4 being based at Blackpool just over 2 hours away from there a road trip to view both was in order.

I packed away my L4 inspection kit: overalls, face mask, hand sanitiser, inspection mirror on a stalk, notebook and pen, torch, another torch, headtorch, spare batteries, spare pencil and midge net. The midge net was a mistake, I just grabbed the spare battery pouch from my work flying suit pocket and the midge net came along for the ride. All this stuff was packed in the authentic looking replica holdall which we bought at the D-Day Experience museum at “Dead Mans Corner” in St-Côme-du-Mont near Utah Beach. ( ).

Always knew it would be useful one day…

Road Trip Day One was driving down to a hotel near Selby, ready for an early start the next day, to the old Jet Provost hangar at Church Fenton. First impression was: WOW

The aircraft is almost museum quality (don’t tell the D-Day Experience folk or they will want it). It turns out that the aircraft had a full rebuild in 2013, after being imported from Switzerland. The paintwork, fittings, cables and perspex were almost immaculate:

Inside is evidence of a (very non standard) electrical system, powering the lights, radio, transponder and engine starter.

The aircraft has a documented history with 79th Infantry Division of the US Army, and would have come ashore on Utah Beach between 12 and 14 June 1944, about a week after D-Day. It may even have flown over, but in the early days of the Battle of Normandy most came off the beach in “Deuce and a Half” trucks and had to be reassembled in the field, so that’s more likely.

The paint scheme reflects the Normandy period, with the black and white invasion conspicuity markings on the wings and fuselage. I did read once that the hurried application of these stripes only a few days before D-Day exhausted the UK’s entire stock of white paint! There are also a couple of modern 79th Inf Div stickers:

After the war in Europe was over, a large number of these aircraft were handed over to civilian flying clubs and organisations. It was much easier to sell them in Europe rather than boxing them up and shipping them back to the US. This particular example ended up in Switzerland and even operated on skis, performing the first ever landing on a glacier whose name escapes me. There are several Swiss modifications to the aircraft, including the attachment points for the bungee cords which keep the front tips of the skis up in flight. Digging in the front of a ski high up on a mountain glacier is not to be recommended! Another Swiss mod is the line of attachment holes on the cowling for an extra heat muff wrapped round the exhaust, but the best one is the vertical speed indicator.

At some point they put in a VSI (the original didn’t have one), and this new one has markings in German! So, a Battle of Normandy veteran with a German instrument marked “Steigt” und “Sinkt” – and not marked in our usual units of feet per minute either, this one is marked in metres per second. Easy enough as 1 metre per second is roughly 200 feet per minute, so the 5 m/s mark is more or less equivalent to 1000fpm.

Using metres per second for vertical speed is quite common in the gliding world, so this might point to use as a glider tug. Maybe they used a glider instrument when they decided they wanted a VSI in the aircraft?

After a good poke around, Dick the owner offered to take me up for a quick flight. We pulled the aircraft out onto the apron, where it looked right at home next to the military hangar:

I squeezed into the front seat. For weight and balance considerations the pilot in command sits in the back, so I blocked Dick’s view of almost all the instruments. I had a good view on the quite complex fuel gauge. It’s basically a float which follows the top of the fuel down, and the wire disappears. No wire left = no fuel left. So simple.

The view was excellent, as you’d expect from a spotter plane designed to see things on the ground:

And because of the large areas of perspex the view straight down was spectacular. Piper added lots of extra window area to the L4 compared with the predominantly yellow civilian J3 Cub on which it was based. They called it “extra fenestration” – good to see that big company jargon has been around a lot longer that I thought and is not an invention of our generation!

The wheel shot also shows the upgraded brake system, always useful.

After landing it was off to the “Fenton Feeder” for a bacon roll and coffee and to swap war stories. Dick is a former RAF pilot too. I did remember to ask some questions about the aircraft. And then, hit the road over to Chorley in Lancs for my overnight accommodation ready for Blackpool Airport the next day.

The second Cub for sale lives in Hangar 42, which is the home of the Lytham St Annes Spitfire Ground Display Team and their small museum. It looked well worth a visit but I was concentrating on the Cub. No invasion markings on this one, and the code D-MF is made up. It stands for Dunkeswell Mudville Flyers, which was the flying group that previously owned the aircraft. Eagle eyed readers will spot that the Mudville Flyers cartoon logo has gone from the engine cowling. Scroll back up and check the second picture to see the Jiminy Cricket logo. Now check this one:

This L4 is very nice too, but with some “slightly tired” bits compared with the first Cub, which is a little unfair as the first one is only 7 years out of a full rebuild. Both aircraft are airworthy and ready to go, but this one has the original brakes and a 65HP engine as opposed to 90HP in the first one. Also this one has no engine driven electrical system – the radio is driven off a battery which is under the pilots seat and would need recharging every so often.

Most of the time inspecting these aircraft is spent lying on a cold hangar floor:

But it’s worth a sore back to have a good check of everything. Either Cub would do, but the first one is in very good condition. I’m going back down for a second visit to scrutinise the logbooks, look at a few things I forgot last time and then, if all is in order…

First Flight In The P47 Replica

(From the archive – this originally appeared in the Scottish Aero Club’s newsletter, back in the day when it was on real paper)

I have no idea how it must feel to make the first flight on an aircraft that you have personally built – I bought because I wanted to fly and couldn’t really see myself slaving over a hot workbench for years. In a sense it was just a new aircraft type for me, albeit very different from anything I had flown before. I found I was able to, in words of Zen Master, “Keep mind like calm water and detach from outcome” 

Which was just as well because I broke all the rules on the first flight…you know them. The rules that say 

1) If you are flying from an unfamiliar airfield for the first time, make sure it is in an aircraft with which you are familiar 

2) If you are flying an unfamiliar type for the first time, do it from a familiar airfield 

3) Get a thorough checkout is a similar aircraft type 

4) Choose a good weather day 

5) Have a definite “First Flight” test plan 


I started off by putting myself under pressure…I had owned the aircraft for 6 months before the first flight and wanted to get it ferried north from Sackville farm strip in Bedfordshire to its new base at Perth in Scotland. I had 3 days off in a row which coincided with a fairly good weather forecast, so I jumped on an easyJet 737 and flew to Luton. Chris drove me out to the strip and we prepared the aircraft, got it running, wondered why it stopped, pulled the cowlings, got it fixed, and waddled off down the grass for the first flight… 

…from an unfamiliar strip (narrow and undulating) 

…in an unfamiliar type 

…running well behind schedule 

…with bad weather entering the country from the west and due in the area by evening. 

I had refreshed myself on tailwheel aircraft at Northampton School of Flying on the Super Cub with Frank McClurg, but due (again) to the UK weather my 2 day visit was spent sitting around until the evening of the second day when the winds dropped and we managed one hour of circuits. Not really enough and probably not a suitable type either – I could see out the front for a start. But good fun anyway, I’ve always liked Cubs ever since I did my tailwheel coversion at Clacton many moons ago. But it was 2 months between the Cub flying and the time of the first P47 flight. Also I had flown off grass but always an airfield, not a strip like Sackville. We had hoped for Chris to be able to position the aircraft to Peterborough with its long straight wide hard runway but that had not happened. I had a test schedule all made up, taken from Vaughn Askue’s excellent “Flight Testing Homebuilt Aircraft” and that involved slowly working up to the first flight from a series of faster and faster taxis but the Sackville strip made that impractical, so in the end we ended up blasting off and hoping for the best. I say we because the I think aircraft did most of the work! 

“Lining up, the cowling blocks the view ahead…ready to go, remember to keep the tail down until 40mph or there will be minimal directional control. Here we go, feed in full power, didn’t expect it to be so bumpy. And noisy! Keep straight. 40mph, raise the tail, still can’t see over the nose, raise it a bit more, accelerating nicely now. Bump! Oh ****! we’ve been launched airborne by the strip. Hold it down, hold it down, keep it in the ground effect, let it accelerate. If you climb out of the ground effect at this low speed the left wing will stall first and we’ll be history. Looking for 80mph. There it is! Raise nose a little. The hedge which was whipping past in my peripheral vision drops away. ****! it’s sensitive – wobbling left and right and pitching up and down. Calm down. Small movements. Use fingertip pressure. We’re flying. WE’RE FLYING! Heartrate you can come down now. What next what next? Ah yes, gear! Flick the switch, green lights go out, cogs and torque tubes between my knees working away until the gear is up. Temperatures and pressures OK, fuel contents guage intermittent, that’ll need to be looked at, how on earth am I going to fix that. Later. Gentle turn left. Look for Chris, he should be getting airborne about now. There he is! About 400 feet or so climbing out. Check for other traffic. Great view up and behind, but can’t see much below the nose, due to the big cowling. Will have to weave the nose to check for traffic. Fighter pilot weave. Amendment to last statement delete “traffic”, insert “bogies and bandits.” **** ****! I’m flying a P47! And it’s mine! And we’ve got to get onto the ground in one piece. Head for Peterborough. Big features, look for the lake at Grafham Water, there it is, navigation complete for the moment. Where’s Chris? Look around. 5o’clock, level. OK, steep turn left, looking for the other aircraft, pass behind him and slide into loose formation on his right wing. He rebuilt the aircraft, he has flown it, but he has never seen it fly. Give him a show. Peel away to the right. Throw it around a bit. What an excellent aircraft, flies like it’s running on rails. I want one. Oh yes! Note to self…you own one! OK, then…everybody should have one. Right then where are we? There’s the lake, and there’s the A1 road running straight towards Peterborough, so the airfield should be about…there. OK. Just a quick stall to check things out, HASELL checks, and Chris is well clear heading towards the airfield. First indications of stall at 62mph, then the left wing drops a fraction. Recovers straight away. Good. Right we’ll use a minimum of 80 on the final approach, gear limiting speed is 100, let’s see what it looks like on final, wonder when I’ll lose sight of the runway? Call Peterborough on the radio, no reply, try again, no reply. Great, what to do, what to do? OK, no radio join in the overhead. Head towards the field. There’s Chris on final, playing pathfinder for me, good man. He’ll tell them I’m coming. Overhead and descend dead side, lookout, lookout! Blind transmissions on the radio. Join crosswind then turn downwind, RPM below 2000, carb heat on, speed decaying, 110, 105, 100! Gear selected down, the cogs and tubes doing their stuff until the two green lights come on and the gear is down. Turn final and the wind is straight down the concrete. That’s one less thing to worry about at least. Pity this a single seater I could do with Frank McClurg sitting here with his 10,000+ hrs on light aircraft giving me some moral support. Ah well, you’re on your own here, you bought it, you land it! 90mph down final, checking for obstructions which will soon disappear from view. Nothing to bump into. The threshold is now out of sight behind the cowling, can still see the far end. Good old heart rate is coming up again, please God don’t let me mess up now! Runway edges in the peripheral vision, close throttle, flare. TOO MUCH! Tiny burst of throttle. Gently this time, flare, flare, a little bit gusty here, check the runway edges, they seem to be the same distance away, they should do something about those weeds, now I know that summer is coming, see all those daisies and dandelions! Come on, come on, what’s the delay, must be that cruise prop with it’s residual thrust. Flare a bit more, sink a bit more, flare a bit more. We’re in the ground effect, it still wants to fly. No idea where the wheels are in relation to the ground. Stick almost fully back and BANG we’re down, we’re down and time restores to it’s normal speed. Watch the swing, whoa steady there cowboy, gentle on the pedals, the wind should help keep us straight. We are all over the place, GENTLY, gently on the pedals, remember the article that said it’ll run straight if you let it. Let it! Good job this is a long runway, brakes are not very efficient. But then there is less chance of tipping it onto its nose, so I think we can live with that one. And finally we are at a taxiing speed. Heartrate can come down now please…breathing can come down to normal too please. Turn off the runway and stop. Undo the canopy latches and duck head as it slides back. Now I can see a bit more by leaning my head from side to side. Taxi to the pumps and stop. The radio comes to life again! Wierd. Idle cut off and the engine stops. Switches off, master off. Sit there for longer than is normal. Thinking. First flight completed. I made it. WE made it. Great aircraft, everybody should have one.” 

Later in the clubhouse, Chris confessed that his radio had packed up as well, a little handheld with a LOW BATT caption! We blasted into the circuit (pattern for our US and Canadian cousins) just at the right time when nobody else was around. It got quite busy as we were paying for the fuel. I must have been on a high, because I paid for Chris’s landing fee! 

After a first flight like that, I suppose the normal procedure is to crack open a beer and relax for the rest of the day, but hell no I had a schedule to meet, had to get north before the bad weather and before my days off ran out, so I was soon blasting off again for a high speed run up the middle of England. I didn’t get the tail up enough on takeoff again, and the landing at Carlisle was a bit ropy due to the crosswind there. I couldn’t continue to Perth so the aircraft was hangared and I went to a hotel with my toothbrush, toothpaste, spare undies and socks. The Mk1 Half Scale P47 Replica Minimal Nightstop Kit. 

THEN I had that first flight beer….and later, the second flight beer!

Formations and Fly-ins

A lot of flying stories start with “There I was…”

It was sometime in June, there I was floating around on my second trip of the day patrolling over Dunkeld, waiting. The RV gang from Perth had gone to the fly-in at Easter airfield, north of Inverness and they were due back any time. I was off in Walter Mitty land again, hoping to intercept any inbounds to Perth. Defensive Counter Air, I think it’s called (DCA).

I heard “Rodderz” the RV3 on the radio and the position report sounded really close, and miracle of miracles when I dipped the wing to take a look there he was! We swooped down like a bird of prey, joined on his wing and then flew in (slightly loose) formation for a while on the way back to Perth:

The next day I took off just before Ian in his RV6 and he joined up on me for a bit:

The wide angle lenses make it look a lot further apart than it actually is, honest:

Slightly zoomed in, but Ian was nicely stable here in echelon port:

And here’s me breaking away leaving Ian to go on his merry way…

A couple of days later, another RV “same way, same day” style formation. This time to Kirriemuir for an impromptu fly-in.

Self service fly-in food, also known as an aero-picnic:

Three designs from the prolific Richard VanGrunsven (according to Wikipedia there are more RVs completed every year in the US than all the general aviation manufacturers [Piper, Cessna, Cirrus etc] combined!)…Chris’s single seat RV3 in white (“Rodderz”), then Ian’s nosewheel RV6A and in the background our tailwheel RV6:

Other aircraft types are available, but RVs are the best all rounder. It must be true because the factory says so (“Total Performance” is the slogan), everybody who has flown one says so, and it says so on the sweatshirt I bought.

The RV6 has since been replaced by the RV7, and at the recent Perth fly-in we parked beside a nice red one. Note the slightly larger tail fin:

Brenda and I had just landed after a sightseeing jaunt of an hour and a half down the coast to Alnmouth and back, taking in Holy Island and the camp site where we had spent a couple of nights the previous week. Parking next to the RV7 was deliberate. I had met the builder before we took off; Ian is the man who put the “I” in G-RVIB! He was the original builder, and wanted a photo of the two aircraft together. We had a good chat over the standard fly-in burger of cardboard bread, slightly tasteless mustard and (in this case) a marginally undercooked burger. Didn’t get food poisoning so it must have been fine. We learned the story of the “flames” paint scheme. Ian had a scheme designed on the computer, with smart 3D view colour printouts and everything, but it all changed on a whim when the paint shop guy said “How about I replace that line with some flames?”

Ian built our RV6 and his RV7, has restored a Pitts and is now considering building an RV8. I did ask if he wanted to swap and take his original aircraft back but he was having none of it. Pity, that RV7 is really smart.

Maybe we will have to build one after all…

Eindecker Build Complete!

The 1:72 scale Airfix model I bought for lockdown has finally been completed, and now rests in the “aircraft I have flown” model collection. I got glue and paint everywhere so please don’t look too closely!