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…

Happy New Year 1945

More WW2 L-Bird photos from the Life Magazine archives, these ones taken by John Florea and William Vandevert in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge (late December ’44 into early January ’45).

Thick snow on the ground hampered wheeled transport, luckily the liaison aircraft had the ability to swap wheels for skis:

Maintenance in the field, no fancy workshop facilities in this treeline. Notice the chap on the left in use as a mandraulic jack. In the Scottish Aero Club we refer to it as the “flabtraulic jack” – we are not in our first flush of youth or at fighting weight any more..!

Hand propping the engine. Lots of care required to avoid slipping and getting run over by an aircraft without brakes:

A group of tank destroyers from above, probably the M36..?

Burning Belgian village from the air:

Hard to tell, but these could be knocked out German Panthers…

A farm on fire, note the shell craters in the background with soil kicked up onto the snow:

More tank destroyers at rest, possibly the same unit as the previous photo but taken from a different angle…

Fast forward 77 years to the Cub’s first flight of 2022, seen here over Wolfhill (pic by Brenda). It was a lovely clear winter’s day with some lingering fog patches and light winds. Perfect for sedately chugging over the countryside at 600 feet:

We didn’t go far. We didn’t go high and we didn’t go fast. Just tootled off to the northeast for an hour looking at things and taking the occasional photograph.

By the time we got airborne all the fog patches had cleared, leaving the low winter sun to throw long shadows across the fields:

Bimbling along in a Cub is very relaxing, especially at low level. You can wave at people and sometimes they even wave back! It wasn’t too cold, and the window was open for most of the flight. A good start to the flying year…35 minutes in the work helicopter last week does not count!

Happy New Year 1945 / 2022 !

The Bleak Midwinter

It’s late December, and the weather is rubbish. Red dots everywhere on Skydemon. The cloudbase is down, visibility is down:

…and the wind is up. Not very good flying weather:

Time to think back and reflect on the summer, when it was clear and sunny with light winds and hot and bright and…well, you get the picture. Here we are on a long range photo-reconnaissance mission into Northumbria:

“Enemy” aircraft on the scope as we approach the Fife coast…Warthog 13 and 14 very wisely stayed away from the mighty RV:

As did Pirate 21, a Hawk from 100 Sqn which was about 10,000 feet above us in the impossibly blue sky as we passed Holy Island on the way down the coast:

The target for the mission. Near Alnwick there is a farm where combine harvesters go to die. John Manners Ltd dismantles them for parts and scrap. There must be a couple of hundred machines hidden away between the trees, not visible from the road but a good landmark for any passing aircraft:

Summer weather is not always clear skies. Fair weather cumulus clouds can sometimes kick off into cumulonimbus storm clouds, very dramatic with the blue background and the sunshine:

Cloudsurfing is great fun. Dodging in and around (Legal bit – whilst always adhering to the specified separation minima as laid down in etc etc). In both these pictures the other side of the aircraft was completely clear of cloud.

Summer was also when I was asked to bring the L4 Cub and do a flypast for a classic car meet called the Scottish Torque Show which was held near Dunfermline in aid of the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund (RAFBF). The show even had its very own NOTAM for a Spitfire display by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight but the rest of us just did gentle flypasts (Legal bit – whilst always adhering to the specified separation minima as laid down in etc etc). I thought it would look boring to have a Cub gently tootling past hundreds of feet up but feedback after the event said that it was appreciated, especially as it was a real WW2 Cub in D-Day invasion stripes.

For this important mission I needed a navigator, and paramedic Darren from work was volunteered. Here we are pretending to do some quick planning at the aircraft…

It took took longer for my navigator to get into the aircraft than it did to plan the flight. Getting into the front seat of the Cub is a bit of contortion act:

But once in, it was up and away to the show. We had a 5 minute slot starting at 25 past the hour, and had to orbit once or twice outside the Edinburgh zone to kill time. Then when we called up for zone entry to the show, the controller had no idea that it was happening, despite the NOTAM and the fact that all the details had been passed to Edinburgh ATC beforehand. It required a bit of explanation on our part, and flicking back and forth between the Edinburgh frequency and the show frequency. We made it work somehow. As we flew past Darren managed the photo below. It was not a massive event, but great fun to take part, and all in a good cause.

After the flypast we went to Kingsmuir. Darren did most of the flying. Here is the Cub version of the RV grin:

Also seen on the “World’s Coolest Co-pilot” last year:

Several others were issued with their RV grins as well. Another work colleague and her daughters. RV grin:

More of an “Oooh there’s my old school” than an RV grin but it still counts:

RV grin:

Summer was also the time when we demolished the old garage:

…and started work on a newer, bigger version:

The new garage (WORKSHOP!) is now complete and we have been fitting out the inside with insulation, tools, workbenches etc.

More info on the workshop and why it is a workshop will be forthcoming next year, but for the moment…

…Happy Christmas to any readers. You know who you are. And now that we are past the winter solstice…summer is coming!

Offshore And Underwater

During the summer the levels of quite a number of the lochs and reservoirs in Scotland went down noticeably. Here you can see the white band of rock and sand revealed by the drop:

Imagine the discussion in the work helicopter as we were on the way to the scene of a car crash in the Highlands. Inspecting the 1:50,000 map it looked like there was nowhere to land; the scene was on a narrow road sandwiched between a steep wooded slope and a reservoir. It was looking as if I would have to set down about a mile away – the paramedics would then be grumpy with me all day as they don’t like trudging long distances with all their life-saving kit.

Once in the overhead we were able to confirm that there was no option to land nearby, not even the road itself. However as one of us put it – the tide was out:

So we landed about 75 yards offshore and about 30 feet below the normal water level. This is a screen shot of our GPS after the engines were shut down:

A lot closer than a mile, and yet the paramedics were still grumpy with me as they had to carry their kit uphill over the rocks to the bank and onwards to the patient. I can’t win.

Later that week the weather broke and showers started popping up. Here we are passing Edinburgh Airport northbound after dropping a patient at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary:

A little rain, but it was a start. It is now December and there has been quite a lot of rain, Storm Arwen and all that. Luckily there haven’t been any more car crashes on that road so we haven’t been back to check…

Autumn Photo Flight

A gentle local photo trip in the Cub to see the glorious autumn colours. It’s amazing how far you don’t get when you have to stop and circle around something interesting, positioning the aircraft to get the optimum angle of the sun, or just trying to see what it looks like from the other side…

This time we never got further than 10 miles from the airfield. I know the Cub can go long distances; I’ve done it myself, taking 4 hours with a fuel stop to fly up from Yorkshire into a strong headwind, and the Norwegians have flown their Cubs from Oslo Kjeller all the way to Normandy for the D-Day 75th anniversary. But the aircraft seems to be just as happy loafing around the local area on a sunny day. Here’s the smallest pub in Perthshire:

Apparently one of the small sheds in the picture is kitted out like a pub. No idea if it’s licensed, probably not, but it makes a change from storing the lawn mower!

Here’s the bridge over the River Tay at Dunkeld:

And slightly further north, the Tay, the Perth-Inverness railway line and the A9 road all squeezed into a narrow gap between the hills:

The gravel pit west of Blairgowrie:

Our favourite confluence where the Isla meets the Tay. Once again for some reason the Isla is the much muddier river:

And the two fields near home that I dream of turning into an airstrip. There used to be a Relief Landing Ground (RLG) for the wartime training school near here, so there is a precedent…

This last photo was taken with the door folded down and the window folded up. No perspex in the way to deteriorate the image, and a wide open field of view. There are disadvantages; it is slightly noisier and a LOT colder.

They say art is born from suffering, but it’s easier just to wrap up warm: hat, gloves, Buff (other neck warmers are available) and extra layers.

As we used to say in the military, any fool can be uncomfortable. But this is a 1943 aircraft. Vintage flying isn’t supposed to be comfortable. It’s part of the fun!

The Unwinnable Race

A little local flight to celebrate getting a new parking slot in the hangar:

The new space is nearer to the doors, and in the front. It’s a lot easier to get the aircraft out as I don’t have to move a heavy Cessna 182 out of the way first. The aircraft behind is a Tiger Moth, and the owner knows how to treat vintage aircraft so there are no worries about other people moving the Cub. It just makes it easier to go flying…

Perth from above. It was about this point that I spotted a train pulling out of the station…time to give chase! It was moving quite slowly towards the tunnel under Craigend, and we managed to catch up and beat it to the other end. But then it just pulled away…no way the Cub could win that race:

A 30kt groundspeed Cub versus a 125MPH train. I blame the headwind!

The Edges Of The Day

An early morning flight and a late evening flight in the Cub.

For once I managed to get up early on a non-work day and get to the airfield. We were the second aircraft to depart, after a flexwing microlight. There was still quite a lot of low cloud around:

There were some patches of full coverage, and the shadow of the aircraft had its very own circular rainbow:

The solid cover didn’t last long under the sun, and it soon started to break up:

…leaving Perthshire farmland basking in the sunshine. The farmers are taking advantage of the dry weather to get the crops in:

Three stages of harvesting in this next picture. At the bottom, crop ready for harvesting. Top right has been cut but with the straw lying in rows, and top left the straw has been baled:

A lone tree in a sea of crop:

The dark patch top right is oil seed rape, the rest probably wheat or barley:

Along the edges of the Highlands the low cloud was slower to clear. The south facing part of Birnam Hill was in glorious sunshine but the north facing bit was still enveloped in fog from the valley of the Tay:

Later, Brenda and I went for an evening bimble about 90 minutes before sunset, again in the Cub, seen here AFTER the flight:

Brenda had the camera and produced this lovely shot. The long shadows of the trees look like giants:

There’s nothing better than tootling around in the smooth air of the early morning or late evening. Summer Cubbing – can’t beat it!

Photos From The Archive – July 1944

In July 1944, staff photographer Frank Scherschel from Life Magazine was on assignment in Europe. He was in France covering the Battle of Normandy with the US Army and during the battle of St-Lô was able to get airborne in an L-Bird to get some aerial pictures.

Reproduced here, they can be found with millions of others in the Life Magazine Archives – I found them via Facebook and have asked Life for permission to reproduce with no reply…so this post could disappear at any time – get ’em while they’re hot!

History does not recall whether Frank flew in a Cub like ours (L4), or one of the other types. Here is a typical field location with an L4 taking off and a Stinson L5 parked. The 46 code on our aircraft represents the 79th Infantry Division. The 44 on the L5 signifies the 30th “Old Hickory” Infantry Division, which “spearheaded the St-Lô breakthrough of Operation Cobra” (according to Wikipedia!) – this was the start of the breakout from the Normandy beachhead, which up until this time had been about 80 miles wide and only about 25 miles deep.

Most L-Bird fields were just fields like this. Narrow and short, but they managed:

A typical view of US troops from above – M3 Halftrack, jeeps and a couple of motorbikes. This is La Perrine, between St-Jean de Daye and Pont Hébert, to the north of St-Lô:

…and here’s the location today, courtesy of Google Earth. There have been some changes, but it’s still recognisable as the same place:

Another small hamlet with church, which didn’t fare so well:

A ruined industrial building:

A Norman château which has seen some fighting, although some of the buildings seem intact:

Another which wasn’t as lucky:

Typical bocage countryside. Excellent defenders territory, but for the attackers, once they took one hedge, the next one was only 75 yards away. It was a slow and laborious process to make headway, and if adjacent units were slower to advance it left your flanks exposed. The Germans, being masters of the counter-attack, were quick to exploit any advantage, as many allied units found out to their cost:

A supply convoy making its way forward through the fields:

An armoured unit spread over several fields. From above it looks quite simple, but from ground level it could be a claustrophobic nightmare of small fields, tall hedges, sunken roads and confusion:

The aftermath of an artillery strike:

The enemy…knocked out and abandoned Tiger and Panther tanks, and what might be a StuG 111 assault gun, probably of the Panzer Lehr Division, and possibly near the village of Le Dézert after a failed counterattack on 10 July against the 9th and 30th Infantry Divisions. The boundaries between units are always weak points ripe for exploitation in an attack. In this case 30 of Panzer Lehr‘s tanks were knocked out by US M10 tank destroyers and the remainder withdrew over the Vire canal:

The same field from another angle. Note the other vehicles tucked into the hedgerows and sadly bottom right an innocent herd of cows killed in the action:

Excellent photographs showing why the Piper Cub and other L-Birds are such good photo platforms. It’s more peaceful today, but it is a privilege to own and fly a piece of history:

If you do get sucked into browsing the Life archives, don’t blame me…you may be in there a while!

Aladdin’s Cave

When the Cub’s elevator was damaged a new part from the US would have been rather expensive, so the jungle telegraph sprang into action. RV Chris mentioned the situation to Tim at Insch airfield who told me that Neil at Fordoun has a stock of Cub parts at his hangar. I had asked Neil for advice last year when there was a choice of two Cubs, so I already had his number. I gave him a call and arranged a visit.

You know those clickbait links which say things like “Your jaw will drop” and “Try not to gasp when you see…” ? well, in this case it was true, Neil’s hangar is a veritable treasure trove of stuff. There are several aircraft undergoing restoration including a Beagle Pup:

Racks of parts next to some wings, a couple of jeep projects and an old army 4-ton truck:

Restored Cub wings being recovered:

And a whole stack of spare Cub parts, one of which was the required elevator:

Neil calls them “new, old” parts, meaning they were made years ago but have never been used. Unfortunately this one came with no paperwork from a container load of spares bought from the Italian military, but also in the stack of parts was an already covered one (painted yellow) which came with paperwork. A quick repaint and it was ready to go:

And then it was a case of waiting for the paperwork to come through – see previous post for the “NARCed off” experience.

Finally it was time. Pull the aircraft out of the hangar…

…into the sunshine:

And go flying. Lovely summer views out of the open windows:

A closer look at some local bridges. Or choke points as the Cub would probably call them. Raining artillery fire down on these could cause a major headache for the enemy’s transport system:

It’s altogether more peaceful these days. It’s lovely to fly with the windows open, inspecting anything that takes your fancy as you proceed sedately across the countryside at 80mph:

I can see my old house from up here! And some controversial new development next to the woods in the centre. Apparently Blairgowrie really really needs Starbucks, Home Bargains and Lidl…

Planning arguments aside, the Cub flies again at last! Big thumbs up to the jungle telegraph, Chris, Tim and Neil with his Aladdin’s cave of parts…

Independence Day

July 4th. It would have been nice to go flying in the Cub today. It’s a nice warm day with fair-weather cumulus clouds and very little wind – perfect Cub weather.

The aircraft has been with the engineers for its annual:

…which also included the repair of the right elevator, which got crumpled when I stupidly left the aircraft alone and it rolled into a shipping container:

Sadly there are delays in the paperwork. The aircraft went in to the engineers on April 28th, and has been back in the aero club hangar for a few weeks now. I could jump in and go flying as it’s all fixed and inspected, but because the paperwork is not yet completed, that would be illegal. It is a pain in the butt (n.b. use of “butt” in deference to our stateside friends who are celebrating today).

The paperwork delay is due to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA – Campaign Against Aviation) who have had the application papers for several weeks now. They have to issue a NARC – National Airworthiness Review Certificate…without this highly technical and expensive piece of A4 paper the laws of physics do not apply and the aircraft is unable to fly, so we just have to wait patiently. As usual this year, the delays are being blamed on BREXIT and COVID. Very convenient excuses.

In contrast, The RV is a”Permit to Fly” aircraft, and in the time since the Cub NARC application was submitted, it has been taken apart, cleaned, lubed, inspected, repaired as required and been half put back together again.

Once it’s reassembled there is a short test flight to fly and a form to send off to the Light Aircraft Association (LAA). Last year I got my renewed permit paperwork back within 36 hours – and that was with all the engineering staff working from home! We’ll soon have the RV grin back:

At least we’ll have something to fly while waiting for the Cub NARC.

I’m sure this is where the term “NARCed off” comes from! The CAA could learn a lot from the LAA.