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Aircraft (full size)

Aircraft are technically fascinating and a great way to see the world and feel free


Whilst I had made and loved model aircraft since an early age, I only realised that I could pilot a plane myself in my mid 30s. After a lot of research and a couple of test flight, I realised I wanted to build my own aircraft and learn to fly in that. The following is the story of my flying hobby, with my latest aircraft, a Corby Starlet, at the bottom of this page.   1. Avid Speedwing G-BUFV This American kit aircraft looked like a good place to start. I didn't have a pilot's license, but I knew I could build this and learn to fly in it and save some training costs. It went together well and I completed it in 10 months. A friend took it for the first flight, and after it got its Permit to Fly I was able to learn in it. This was a great little aircraft. I built it from a kit in 1992. I learned to fly in it in 1993, at Liverpool Airport. After that I kept it near Holywell and then briefly at Chirk in North Wales, until the Rotax 582 engine came to a sudden stop. After an uneventful forced landing near Wrexham, I found that the engine had seized. Disassembly showed it was wrecked, and unhappy that it had only lasted 183 hours from new I decided not to repair it. Having seen a BMW R100 engine in a microlight, I asked and was allowed to convert one for my Avid, using the Rotax reduction gearbox which was undamaged. It took more time to convert the engine and fit it to the aircraft (about 1000 hours) than the original build of the aircraft (about 800 hours). It worked OK, but the 2-cylinder 4-stroke boxer engine vibrated more than the Rotax 2-cylinder 2-stroke in-line engine. The fuel burn was very good (12 litres per hour compared with the Rotax 20 litres per hour) but the performance was, if anything, a little poorer despite the nominal 80HP output (the Rotax was 64 HP). After flying the 25 hours needed to prove it and to get its Permit to Fly back, I sold it. I believe it still belongs to the buyer in Northern Ireland, although at one stage it suffered a forced landing in shallow water. Would I have another? Yes, but I'd re-rig the wings to make the nose lower in flight, and have a Jabiru or similar engine in it.  2. Zenair Zodiac 601HD G-BYPR  I went to see this aircraft in 2006. I had decided to get a metal aircraft with a "real" aircraft engine. The Zenair fitted the bill, and I bought it off a syndicate in Scotland. It was built in 2000, and had done about 160 hours. The engine is old, having previously been in a certificated light aircraft for over 2400 hours. However it flew well and I bought it. This is how it looked when I bought it. Task number one was to do "differences training", the name for learning how to handle an aircraft with something fundamentally different from the aircraft you've flown before. In this case, the tail wheel arrangement is the difference, as this type handles differently during takeoff and landing to a nose wheel aircraft like the Avid. An LAA (Light Aircraft Association) tutor taught me the ropes in Yearby, North Yorkshire, and I was then able to bring it back to Cheshire. Here I am flying it with my tutor over North Yorkshire. I made a number of modifications to it. First was the addition of a spinner (for appearance), and fitting an aileron trim tab (as it tended to roll to the right when a passenger was on board). The Zenair trim tab kit didn't work as received - the pushrod fouled the aileron horn, and the horn had to be modified - Then we found that the elevators had been filled with expanding polyurethane foam. Quite why is a mystery, but what isn't unknown is that it was a silly idea. The extra weight risked the elevator fluttering, especially as it was collecting water. The aircraft was grounded and the foam removed. Here you can see the upper skin lifted up to reveal the foam. I cut it out, re-protected the inner surface, and rivetted it back up. Other problems with wiring led to a jammed started motor (repaired), weak starting (new battery fitted), poor radio transmission (radio overhauled by manufacturer), poor steering (tail springs renewed), and failed GPS screen (new one bought). Other work done has been     Fitted wing pants     Painting red wing tips, rudder, wheel pants, spinner     Completely rewired     Instrument panel cut out and replaced with removable one     Improved brakes     Re-upholstered interior     New canopy seals     Safety locks on canopy latches So it then looked like this: As anticipated, when these minor issues had been sorted out, it was a stable and reliable flywer. Tailwheel handling was easy. The ailerons were quite heavy due to the unusual Zenair system to use the upper wing skin as a bending hinge, which felt poor. Later, the arrival of aircraft number 3 meant this one had to go, and I sold it in April 2011. Its new home wa in Worcestershire. This is it parked after I ferried it there.    Whilst I’ve not seen it since, I’ve heard that it suffered a landing accident due to a failed rudder pedal which made it veer off the landing strip into a ploughed field. Fortunately no-one was hurt,  damage was done to the landing gear. It was repaired and sold again, and is now flying again. 3. Corby Starlet G-CCXO I took a fancy to the Corby Starlet in 2009. I decided to build one and registered a build project. However before I'd got started, a fairly new one came up for sale. It was great luck, as there are only 5 on the UK register. However it was finished in a 1960s style, with open cockpit and semi- cowled engine. This is how it looked: (No, that's not me.) (No, that's not me, either.) I decided to buy it and save myself a lot of work. However I wanted it in modern style, such as this superb Starlet - I flew my Starlet and found it would only do 85 knots flat out straight and level, due to the drag of the open cockpit and poor aerodynamics of the cowl, landing gear and fairings.. G-ILSE can exceed 130 knots on a similar engine with only about 10HP more. So the wing came off and the fuselage went home for the transformation of a new cowl, new cockpit canopy, faired landing gear and wheel pants, complete re-wire, new (to me) carburettor recommended by my inspector, new colour scheme and many minor improvements to fairings and cockpit ergonomics. Here it was in my workshop (aka my garage) in 2010, approaching completion: The wing was still at Sleap aerodrome - Unfortunately there followed a misunderstanding with the somewhat cantankerous owner of the hangar I was in, which meant that the re-spraying has been put back a little. The wing was replaced and a new home found in another hangar at Sleap, and then the red paintwork was completed. Here it is outside that hangar, with the Zenair in the background which had to live out of doors due to the shortage of hangar space at Sleap. That suffered a problem when high winds removed the PVC hangar covering, but then-owner Mike did a good job of getting it repaired with a tautliner type of high quality covering. Unfortunately a problem appeared when first running the engine at Sleap which initially looked like a fault in one of the twin Leburg ignition units. I had accidentally damaged one during my refurbishment work, but thought I'd resolved it by replacing a timing sensor. However whilst the static timing looked OK, it ran really badly on the "damaged" ignition. This meant a delay until Stormamps, the company now supporting Leburg units, could check it out. However they found it was OK. I went round in circles looking for the problem, but my helpful inspector came to my rescue and found the problem in some faulty (brand new) spark plugs and a badly mal-adjusted carburettor. The original carburettor had been exchanged with a similar one from my previous inspector, but it turned out to be a poor one. Apart from the initial poor adjustment, it was also badly worn and caused a number of problems which could have caused a forced landing. So it was scrapped and a new one obtained a couple of years later. More on that later, but at that time the aircraft was ready for its test flight, and looked like this - Initial taxi trials found the handbrake was quite ineffective, and tightening it caused the parking brake to fail to release. The handbrake wasn't allowing the master cylinder to fully release and vent the fluid, so a new actuator with longer throw was needed. I received the Permit to Test Fly in July 2011. The requirement was to do 5 hours to prove the engine reliability, and I hoped to be able to fly it to Sywell that year. I then found it was directionally unstable when the tail wheel was down despite all efforts to learn how to control it. However I was convinced it was my ham-fisted control as that was the only explanation that others could offer, so I progressed…… Alas it all went pear-shaped on 25th July 2011. I got a Permit to Test Fly from 15/7/11 to 14/8/11.  I still was finding that it was difficult to control on hard surfaces. This was said to be normal for the type, and I had taken advice from several pilots who are very experienced in the type on how to deal with this. No-one could see any issues with the mechanical arrangement, although that turned out to be completely wrong. On the day of the accident I decided to do more taxi trials and to leave the first flight to the following day. I entered runway 36 which was the active. I found the same behaviour as previously, and decided to try the grass runway next to runway 23 as one of the other pilots had advised me that it would be easier to control on grass. I found that this was the case, and I ran the length of the grass runway about 10 to 15 times. These runs had taken the speed from nil to about 40 kts on several occasions, when the tail had lifted and the aircraft had probably risen a few inches into the air. However as engine temperatures were building up due to the low airspeed, and it was getting into late afternoon, I decided it was correct to delay the first flight until the following day.  I returned to runway 23 (hard) to taxi back to the hangar. After about 100m the aircraft swung to the left. I was mindful of the advice I had been given, which was to “correct gently”, and did so, and at the same time reduced the power to idle. This had happened a few times before, leading to oscillations but eventual return to control or stopping. Unfortunately this time the swing built up very quickly and the aircraft turned 90° to the left. The speed was probably only 10-15 knots, and the engine was idling. It was enough to make the aircraft roll right and the starboard wing tip touched the ground. After a few seconds the starboard undercarriage leg (the undercarriage is in 2 parts with a separate leg on each side) failed and folded backwards. The movement caused the aircraft to pitch onto its nose. This caused the propeller to break. Here you can see photos of the aircraft after we dragged it off the hard runway onto the grass runway. This caused the undercarraige leg to fold forwards.   Here you can see the cause of the problem - the undercarraige beam has been split. That was the end of flying aspirations for the Starlet for a couple of years - repairs can take a surprising amount of time.   4. Rans S6-116 G-BXCU Following the disaster to the Starlet I felt the need to keep flying. It's very frustrating watching people fly overhead when you are grounded! So I went to inspect a number of aircraft for sale (Rans S6 microlight, Kitfox) and of course had flown in a number of others (Europa, Jodel, spam cans, Slingsby, etc) and took some for a test flight (Tecnam Echo, Jabiru UL and Rans S6-116). There's no perfect aircraft, and balancing size, purchase and insurance cost, operating cost, flying characteristics, ability to fold the wings, engine type and so on, the clear winner for me was the Rans S6-116. I found a super example in BXCU, a credit to the previous owners. These aircraft have a sort-of "toy aeroplane" look to them, the covering being laced into place. However their performance, rugged reliability, excellent flying characteristics, ease of maintenance, and good pilot and passenger visibility, makes them an economical delight to fly. The 116 version  has shorter wingspan than the microlight one, but the penalty in terms of stall speed is minimal in practical terms. The advantages are crisper controls and faster cruise speed. The engine is a Rotax 912UL, now considered by many to be the most reliable engine available in the 80HP range. They look complicated with water cooled cylinder heads, but they work beautifully and if looked after have solid reliability. I flew this for a couple of years until the Starlet was repaired. Once the Starlet was flying properly, I decided that as the passenger seat was usually empty, it was not needed, so with reluctance I sold it. 3 (part 2). Corby Starlet G-CCXO Repairing the Starlet wasn’t straightforward. I was very disheartened, Fortunately my inspector said that he could repair the damage for me. Eventually we agreed that he would repair the damaged woodwork and check the engine for crankshaft damage, and I’d to the rest. Bob did a great job of his side of the deal, and I got the aircraft back in early 2012. The remaining work took a long time as I suffered a major illness in 2013, and eventually it flew again in May 2014, which was its first flight in its new guise. An important factor of course was understanding the cause of the directional instability. To cut a long story short, I realised that the problem was simply the tail springs, ie the springs which connect the horns on the elevator to the horns on the tailwheel carrier. Previously the springs (as fitted when I bought it) had been too weak and had not been pre-tensioned. It’s quite possible that when I replaced the rudder after my initial phase of refurbishment work before the accident I had failed to replace it exactly as it had been when I bought it, as its previous owner (a very experience tailwheel pilot) had reported no problems. However I’d found it a problem even before I took it apart for refurbishment, so I had blamed my problems after the refurbishment on my own inexperience rather than on a physical problem with the aircraft. Well my inexperience was undoubtedly contributory, but the change in the aircraft’s ground handling after a further modification was amazing.. The airfraft had originally been fitted with a tiny tail wheel from (I think) a child’s scooter. It was only about 3” diameter. In  2012, my wife and I went on holiday to New Zealand, where I met Starlet owners Don and Dave Wilkinson, who each have a Starlet. These have flown literally thousands of hours without a major incident. The difference in their tailwheels compared to mine were very clear - This is a large, ~5” diameter wheel from Aircraft Spruce, controlled by bungee cords in one (above) ad with springs in the other. Don and Dave agreed that the ground behaviour is sensitive, but not a problem. However they emphasised the need for the connection between rudder and tailwheel to be pre-tensioned. Indeed when i got home I read the plans and found that John Corby had specified 10lb of tension. So I bought some suitably specified springs and a new tailwheel, and made a new tailwheel yoke to the design on the plan, and checked the tension was correct. What a transformation! The aircraft now handles wonderfully. It took me a while to build confidence, and initially I only flew it off grass. Whilst it is more lively on tarmac, it’s not a problem, and in fact it’s the nicest aircraft to handle on the ground (and in the air!) that I’ve ever flown. Thanks, guys, I owe you. I’ve now (October 2017) flown 125 hours in CCXO. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, the two worst problems having been the carburettor and the crankshaft oil seal. Carburettor Initially the aircraft had a fixed jet Stromberg CD150 carb on it, My previous inspector at the time recommended an adjustable jet one to make it easier to get the mixture exactly correct. He swapped the existing one for one from a Tipsy Nipper he was working on. Alas it had many problems, starting with an overflowing float chamber (found to be due to the float chamber not being vented). This was repaired before the engine could run, but later problems developed with the mixture going rich due to the adjuster slipping, and engine stoppages (fortunately all on the ground) due to the general poor condition of the carb (even though I had replaced the diaphragm, fuel valve, and float). Eventually I gave up trying to correct it and fortunately Barry Smith, a guru in VW engines, was abe to sell me an unused Solex CD150, which worked perfectly after I calibrated its needle. Crankshaft oil seal The engine is a Great Planes VW conversion (1834cc) and has their “Force 1” bearing and crankcase oil seal on what was originally not the power take-off end of the engine. This is a normal arrangement for aircraft conversions. However when flying to Llanbedr in North Wales in November 2014, the windscreen started to collect liquid droplets, and soon I could hardly see forwards. Fortunately I was only 10 miles from Llanbedr and made a priority landing. The front bearing has 2 oil seals, one of which can only be changed by removing the engine and separating its two crankcase halves. That would have meant trailering the aircraft home. So a second solution, to replace only the outer seal, was tried. This only required pulling off the prop driver. To give it a chance, the root cause had to be found, as it’s rare for these seals to fail. The most likely cause was excessive crankcase pressure. I had run a vent line from the oil breather to below the aircraft, and my inspector suspected that it might have been the problem. So the line was temporarily removed for the flight home.This went well, and the seal hasn’t leaked at all since. The breather tube was replaced with a shorter, larger diameter one, going to a collection bottle, and it keeps any vented oil mist from oiling the engine bay in general. Peformance Was it worth all the effort? Most definitely, yes. Everyone who flies a Corby Starlet is full of praise for the little machine. It only has room for my 80kg 1.75 m frame and full fuel and 5kg of luggage, and its range is only about 2 to 2.5 hours on its 32litre fuel tank, but what a delight it is. Photo - Steve Grimshaw Photo - Steve Grimshaw Photo - Bob Fletcher With its new Hercules propellor, performance figures are as follows - Typical performance: RPM knots Idle    38 (stall) 2200 60 2500 70 2700 85 3000  100 3200  115 3300  124 (maximum straight and level) --- 138 (VNE, never exceed speed, only attainable in a dive) Last three photos - Kerry Hodson. Thanks to all those who have sent me pictures of XO when I’m in the driving seat! Thanks to Trevor for hangarage and friendship when I was hangared at Breidden (above 3 pictures). Thanks to Shropshire Aero Club and Sleap Aerodrome where XO is currently kept. Thanks to Ian Aikman who build the aircraft originally. Thanks to Nigel Robbins who was the second owner and sold it to me. Thanks to the excellent LAA (Light Aircraft Association (http://www.lightaircraftassociation.co.uk/), who keep the skies open to amateur and future professional pilots in the UK and protect us against over-zealous CAA and EASA restrictions. We recreational pilots owe their Office and Engineering departments many thanks. And most of all, thanks, John Corby for a great aircraft design, and thanks Bob Hallam for all your help and support in getting it flying! Stuart Ord November 2017  
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Aircraft (full size)

Aircraft are technically

fascinating and a great way

to see the world and feel free

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