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 http://www.sigurdmartin.se/2017/09/14/oban-for-lunch/ ) 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…

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!