Over & Out.

When I had a trip round the houses in the flying club’s Cessna 152 last November, it was fun to be back in the air again but not in the 152. In the first instance, it’s quite a small cockpit and with a non-adjustable seat back, I found it all rather cramped and uncomfortable. Secondly, it’s high-wing and doesn’t afford anything like the visibility of a low-wing aircraft. So I’ve elected to continue the revalidation of my license in the club’s Piper Archer.

I thought it would be prudent to go and sit in the cockpit for 15 mins and see where everything was as we were socked in for 3 days and weren’t going anywhere. It’s just as well I did as the whole layout (and half the instruments) were completely unfamiliar. And that’s only the half of it!

Here’s the other half. One of the things I’ve got to master for the flying test is the use of VOR’s as aids to navigation. They’re beacons on the ground dotted about here and there, sending out a signal on each of their 360 radials. You can tune into a particular beacon (the frequency and morse ident is on your chart) and establish yourself on, or navigate to a radial or VOR of your choice. The matter of whether the radial you want to use is ‘to’ or ‘from’ is the tricky bit and until I got things sorted out in the old hay loft, there were some spectacular gaffs in the nav department. I think I’ve got the hang of it now but for a simple fellow like me, the various explanations I both listened to and read of how VOR’s work and how to use them, were just so much static. In the end I managed to reduce the whole manual to two words: ‘to’, and ‘reciprocal’. If I’m asked to fly to a beacon, I dial up and fly the reciprocal heading and, conversely, from a beacon, the actual heading from the beacon. Intercepting a radial has an added complication but the same rule applies. Can’t go wrong.

Staying with a flying theme, I blew through the Hillman radiator matrix with a compressed air tool. Now I know where they get the filling for Eccles cakes.

Chap ordered a couple more stainless steel manifolds which helped to defray costs at the flying club and, as I was at a bit of a loose end – I’d hoped to have the discs back by now but they’ve not yet materialised – I took myself off to see what Awkward and Leon were up to.

Awkward was cleaning the Avon’s Model A block ready for re-assembly with its new self-balancing flywheel fandango.

Leon had added a few lightening holes to his Climax-engined A7 and, in his enthusiasm had decided to polish the bodywork – a decision he was beginning to regret because if you start polishing, you’ve got to finish and it’s not hard to find something more interesting to do than polishing.

Like giving a Mini head a bit of a clean up and renewing the oil seals on the inlet valves. Once the valve spring compressor is in place, all you’ve got to do is turn the head over and the collets fall out.

Over and out then.



A Nice Surprise.

I sometimes hate my old Microsoft Surface tablet because the operating system (Windows RT) doesn’t allow me to download apps that aren’t from the rather poorly stocked Windows store. Also, the USB port has only enough power going to it to operate one accessory at a time. But, it’s brilliant for Netflix which I use all the time when I’m abroad. There’s only an occasional hiccup, for instance when a film contains various languages – Russian, Chinese, Greek etc – and you hit the subtitle button, they cleverly come up in the language of the country you’re in – which is mostly unhelpful. So, when I left the tablet on the plane, I told myself that I wasn’t that bothered if I never saw it again. Five days later the phone rang; ‘We think we may have located your tablet’. It turned out that it had been handed in at Turin. I checked the database to see where the aircraft had been – everywhere in Europe but Turin, so I don’t know how that worked. Anyway, in a village near Stansted there’s a little industrial unit full of cheery girls and stacks of valuable stuff dopes like me leave on aeroplanes. After stumping up £10 for the tea swindle, my tablet was handed over (which saved me the bother and expense of a replacement).

I missed the Ufford gathering last year and was all set this year for the Hillman’s first proper outing when, on opening the workshop door on the day of the meeting, I was greeted by a large puddle of water underneath the engine. The blinkin’ water pump had failed again. I’m toying with the idea of blanking the pump orifice off and going electric – I just can’t seem to get the pumps properly sealed. This SS Jaguar was my favourite of the day….

… and this is only the second Avon Special I’ve seen after Awkward’s.

Following a fun day out, it was back to the workshop to weld up some flanges for delivery on Monday and then to address the water pump problem.

And whilst I was at it, I thought I might as well whip the hubs off and get to work on the brake conversion. It’s always worth assembling everything with copper-slip and then applying some protective coating over the top of the exposed nuts and bolts because when it comes to taking it all apart, it pays dividends. I use a now unobtainable US Airforce spec gloop called ‘bear grease’ – I bought a can of the stuff many years ago from Vintage Engine Technology to protect the Avro’s nuts and bolts – it lasts forever.

It was good to see that the small hydraulic assist assemblies I’d designed and fabricated for the drum brakes were still in good shape and could go back on if the disc brake conversion doesn’t work out.

Just out of interest, I weighed everything I’d taken off each hub and it came to 9.4kgs. The Wilwood caliper complete with pads, its mounting bracket and nuts and bolts came to 2kgs. I’m hoping that the new disc rotors will weigh in at no more than 6kgs, then I can nod sagely about unsprung weight and so forth – providing of course, there’s no nasty surprises.

I’d Forgotten……

…. what a blue sky looked like! Instead of going straight back to the hotel at the end of my night shift – I’d only be awake again in a couple of hours or so – I took time to explore the area around Loutraki.

Going up into the hills behind the town one morning I was able to see across the Gulf of Corinth looking South towards Tripoli. (I had to do a double-take when I saw a sign to Tripoli the day I got lost in the hills. Tripoli? Surely I wasn’t that lost? No, it wasn’t the one I was thinking of).

I found a railway to photograph – an old line which had fallen into disuse. I didn’t look too closely but I think there were people living in the old station buildings.

Almost everywhere I went, there were half-finished buildings. Although Loutraki was billed as a holiday resort, the hotel where we were staying had clearly seen better days. I fell into conversation with the owner of a café that I visited a few times and he was fond of reminiscing. 30 years ago, the town was thriving – the hotels were full, the bars, restaurants and cafés were doing a roaring trade (though he had his reservations about the behaviour of the British) and all was well. Now, because of the economic problems, the picture was entirely different and it showed in the infrastructure which was sad and neglected. People were hanging on by the skin of their teeth and, according to the café owner, it seemed there was no way out of the hole that Greece had found itself in. Nevertheless, everyone I met was cheery, helpful and generous. It would be interesting to see how the Greek Islands have weathered the storm.

We left Athens as the sun rose – we had to get up at 04:00 to catch the flight – and, three hours later, as we descended over East Anglia, inbound to Stansted, I noticed something I’d never seen before.

When I got home I realised that I’d left my Surface tablet on the plane. The lost property service that Ryanair use has a simple on-line form to fill in; no number to call, no office at the airport that you can contact, nothing to reassure you that your loss is of any interest to them at all. All you can do is sit and wait for an email to say that your property’s been handed in – or no communication at all. I went onto Flight Radar and found out the registration of the aircraft and where it went to next – Karlsruhe. I rang the lost property office there – nothing had been handed in. The aircraft subsequently returned to Stansted so, fingers crossed, but I don’t hold out much hope.

On a brighter note, Learned Counsel has been going full steam ahead on the Jingle Bell hood.

The frame, although in need of a bit of tidying up, was perfectly serviceable. Now all we need is a bit of sunshine.


Αρχαία Ιστορία

….. or Archaía Istoría in the Roman script which meaning you can at least have a stab at, but when you’re trying to read a map and all you’ve got to go on is a lot of quite unfamiliar shapes, it’s easy to get lost in the hills – as of course, I did.

The day before, my fellow Magneteer and I had a few hours to spare after setting up our gear at the factory. We asked Pericles, a young Greek chap we had met last time we were in Naples, what was near to hand. Quite a lot as it happened.

The ruins of a temple – in fact several temples, the earliest of which was 9thC BC – dedicated to Hera, sister to, and scandalously to our modern sensibilities, wife of Zeus.

The view from the lighthouse at the very tip of the Perachora peninsula would have been magnificent if the skies had been clear. It was also blowing nearly 30kts so we didn’t get too close to the edges of the cliffs.

With still a little bit more time to spare, we came back around the bay to look for the Corinth Canal. I’d always thought that this was an ancient structure but I’ve since learnt (from the huge inscribed monument at the site) that, although first proposed in the 7thC BC, it was completed after many a false start, in 1893.

My picture doesn’t do justice to the walls that rise 90mts above the water – it’s a long way down.

We’re never alone in our work place. Stray dogs abound and they scavenge for food wherever there’s human activity. The factory workers seem to keep them going with the remains of their lunches. One chap I was speaking to had befriended one of the dogs as a puppy.

As it was my turn for the night shift, the following day I had a couple of hours to spare before going back to the hotel for an afternoon snooze, so I took the turning to Corinth. Corinth has had a bit of a chequered history it having been destroyed by earthquakes and latterly a great fire. Each time, the city was rebuilt in a different place – I was looking for the earliest site on the Isthmus of Corinth with the remains of its Temple to Apollo.

Corinth is approximately halfway between Athens and Sparta. Sparta – there’s a name to conjure with! My education in matters of Greek history, Greek mythology and almost everything else Greek is shamefully lacking so seeing the names of these places on sign-posts had a slightly surreal feel.

And they do like their old cars. There seems to be a scrap yard at every turn. I’ve seen the shell of a Mk X Jaguar lying in a vineyard, a couple of ‘B’ type Opel Kadett’s – one a fast back coupe and, coming out of a café tonight, I tripped over this Peugeot.

Not long before that’s ancient history.


The Great Collector popped by the other day – he was looking a bit sheepish so I knew what was afoot.

A 14hp Bean. Absolutely immaculate and it sounds very sweet with its rebuilt engine. I don’t know why but, many years ago – when in fact I was still at school – I got into conversation with a music master who lived in a house not far from our school entrance. I remember his name was Mr Durant and he claimed that his father – or grandfather, I can’t remember which, was the man behind the Star car. I recall he became very animated when I mentioned the Bean in the same breath. I’ve tried to find out if there was a connection between Bean and Star but have so far drawn a blank.

It has a very shapely radiator.

Mr Summers (of Summer Road) despite some setbacks with his new road springs being far too stiff, is still determined to have his Morris tourer ready for the summer.

And I see that Learned Counsel has endorsed my choice of brake calipers by choosing the same Wilwood brand. He’s gone for the single pot version but then his car weighs only half that of the Hillman.

And I was just going out of the door to collect the aluminium discs to make up the false brake drums when a call came through to jump on a plane to Athens for a magnetising job. The only flights available, as it was half-term and Easter, were Swissair Business Class, with a 4 hour break in Zurich. Beastly luck.

Normally, I don’t eat anything offered to me on an airline because it’s mostly tasteless pap that sticks to the roof of your mouth and, anticipating that, I stoked up on a complimentary breakfast in the Executive Lounge at Heathrow. Then on the plane, the hostess put this in front of me and I have to say, it was as good as it looks. After landing In Zurich, we sat about in the Business Lounge where again, there was a huge selection of food and drink to choose from. With not much else to do, it was difficult not to have a little something to pass the time of day.

We continued to Athens with Aegean. They served up a very good Moussaka, chicken salad and selection of Greek cheeses. I didn’t think that I’d be able to get out of the aircraft door at our destination! As we didn’t arrive until midnight – Athens is 2 hours ahead – we camped out for a night in the Holiday Inn near the airport before continuing the next day to the Fulgor cable factory on Cape Sousaki and our hotel a little bit further round the bay in Loutraki.

There’s a chance we might be able to fit in a tiny bit of sight-seeing before our cable-laying ship comes in so, more anon.


Excused Games.

Not long after returning from Norway, a slight tickle in the throat heralded the onset of an extremely painful cough. I hadn’t been to the Doc’s for years but thought it best to trundle on down to the surgery and see about some antibiotics.

Then all I had to do was look out of the window and sit it out. Thank goodness I was clever enough to invest in a subscription to Netflix. I finally got to the end of ‘Breaking Bad’, sat through days of ‘Designated Survivor’, ‘Homeland’, Person of Interest’ and, as the course of antibiotics came to an end, so too did ‘The Crown’. The alternative – regular daytime television – would have been purgatory. I promised myself I would do this and that; catch up with bits of reading, do some drawings for bits of machinery but, I didn’t.

Unlike Leon who busied himself making a new catch tank for the breather on the Climax engine…

… and continued his experiments with the Special’s brakes.

Mr Summer’s looked in to give me his Morris Minor windscreen to assemble…

And I bought a new tool bag for the Hillman – idle hands often turn to Amazon! The last canvas bag had been in service in several different cars going back 30 years and tools were beginning to escape through holes and rattle around in the back.

And while I’m upgrading the front brakes, I wondered about putting a twin carb manifold on the Morris Six. I’ve got all the bits but as I’m only getting about 22mpg at the moment, do I want to spend more money on fuel for not very much more performance? I might just rebuild one of the spare engines with a twin manifold and hold it in reserve. As I was in recovery mode, Counsel and I popped up to Redditch to see about having the discs and bells made for the Hillman. We had half an hour with the chaps at the engineers and decided they’d be made in two pieces – the bell and the disc being held together with bolts threaded into the disc. They’ll be a little bit more expensive than I’d anticipated but still a lot cheaper than not being able to stop in a real emergency. We elected to come home a different way as the traffic on the A1 and A14 was at a stand still on the way up. We came back via Warwick and looking in the car mirror, I thought I recognised the scene. I parked and dashed back up the road to get the snap.

100 years ago, I bought for £10 in a junk shop, a small coloured etching of the West Gate at Warwick. It’s absolutely charming and I’ve even reproduced it in miniature in one of my paintings – I like putting pictures on walls in paintings. I couldn’t remember the artist’s view-point in the etching – I discovered that it was across the road when I got home but, very little else had changed.

When I say I ‘dashed’ back up the road, that’s not entirely accurate – I think I’ll be off games for a while yet.

A Few Days R & R.

My phone’s battery is getting a bit tired so as soon as I’m on the aeroplane and headed home, I switch it off to conserve what’s left for getting taxi’s and so forth at the other end. I almost always end up missing a good photo.

There was a Norwegian 737 with two de-icing trucks dancing attendance on the other side of the apron though by the time my phone came back to life, it had gone. I managed this shot which would have been better but at the last moment I had to move from my window seat to make way for a cello. I wouldn’t sit next to one again – never said a word all the way home.

I was nevertheless distracted by a spot of lunch which I’d prepared at the hotel and wrapped in a BeeBee Wrap to keep fresh. BeeBee Wraps are beeswax impregnated cotton squares and used as an alternative to cling-film. It’s reusable and said to last about a year.

Traditionally, I’ve used cling film to wrap up sandwiches and there’s always a certain sogginess about them by the time I get round to lunch. Not so with these wax wraps. The claim is that food stays fresher for longer because the wrap is breathable – a claim I wouldn’t dispute.

The sky was clear as we came over the East Anglian coast and I was pleased to make out a popular spot for The Special Builder’s Breakfast Club at Southwold harbour (arrowed in green).

But the next morning the picture was slightly different – cue, travel chaos.

Those of us lucky enough to work from home, always have something on the go to keep us occupied when the rest of the country shuts down. Learned Counsel is making headway with the Mazda-engined racing car aided by his new Lidl air rivet gun. The chassis has been powder-coated and I lent him a 100m roll of plain wallpaper to cut the body panel patterns out. Wallpaper is perfect for the job as it’s stable enough to take a bit of rough handling.

I see he’s following my lead with Wilwood calipers and, I know that a bunch of washers as spacers doesn’t look very nice but for trackside adjustment (of the rake in this case) they’re the way to go.

My ‘snowed in’ occupation is a Model Airways Albatros D.Va kit. I first saw one of these kits in the late 70’s. It was a Sopwith Camel and I’ve never forgotten being completely bowled over by the level of detail. A model like this was always way out of my reach – historically they’ve been eye-wateringly expensive – but this last Christmas I bit the bullet and stumped up the folding. The kit has not disappointed – there’s a zillion parts in the engine alone! I think I’m going to cover it in a transparent Solatex of the type used for indoor flying models, paint one side and leave the other clear though I must first finish the painting of the Hillman which I’ve rather neglected of late….

… because, besides some more stainless steel manifolds to make, ‘Project W’ and some further additions to the silk finishing machine have taken up most of my time.

No rest for the virtuous then.