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Days Of Wings And Engines - part 2

Days Of Wings And Engines - part 2

By PeterHunter

Days of Wings and Engines - part two

Peter Hunter

… so - I became a proud holder of a Private Pilot’s Licence and an aircraft owner virtually simultaneously, as explained at the end of Part 1. As it was virtually my only pastime then, I threw money at it and rapidly gained hours and experience - adding a multi-engine licence plus ratings for night flying and instrument meteorological conditions.
In completing all the requirements for my licence in thirty two hours I still had to log a total of forty before it could be issued and as I had paid for the course in advance I used up the remainder by ‘checking-out’ on the other aircraft operated by the club.
It meant that having done the require forty hours - I was not only qualified to fly the little two seat Piper Colt I had trained on, but also the four seat Cherokee, a Cessna 150 and the Piper Comanche. I was particularly proud of the latter as it had retractable undercarriage and a variable pitch propeller - more powerful too, what the Americans describe as a ‘complex’ airplane…
… not a bad package for £200…
I spent so much time at the flying club that when the owner joined the army and was assigned six-month overseas, he asked me to run the club for him… I assumed it was for my availability and not any ability…
Soon tiring of the stodgy Piper Colt I changed it for a two-seater low-wing machine, British designed and built - called a Beagle Pup. It looked stylish and was strong and aerobatic...
… I loved it…
Before I flew as a pilot I vividly imagined the sensations of piloting - to be freedom, sensitivity of the controls, and a fluidity of movement coupled with feelings of elation… … unfortunately the reality fell far short of the fantasy…
Most light aircraft - Cessnas, Pipers and the like, are mainly controlled by a wheel-like device mounted on a control column - instead of the ‘joy’ sticks commonly portrayed - and fell desperately short of my imaginings… Although I got great pleasure from flying most aircraft, only those with ‘proper’ control sticks most nearly approached my desires - especially a semi-aerobatic machine like my Beagle Pup…
… but the true aerial freedom of my dreams eluded me…
… until I heard about the Falco…
I think it was the June 1979 issue of Pilot magazine. The then editor, James Gilbert wrote an overwhelmingly enthusiastic, almost awe-inspiring piece about an aircraft he described as the legendary Falco - using descriptions such as ‘flying the Falco is like your first time driving a Ferrari - a complete disdain of lesser vehicles that leaves you feeling a fool for not knowing that light aircraft could e so good’…
… without ever knowing me or meeting me, James Gilbert had changed my life.
What followed was an odyssey of more than twenty years - a journey so costly, so involved - a love affair with an inorganic machine that, when it ended I wanted never fly again, either as pilot or as passenger in some ‘lesser vehicle’ - an experience that has left me satiated and emotionally wrung out like a used flannel…
Only eighty factory built Falcos were made when production ended in 1960…
… designed by Italian genius Stelio Frati, it was constructed entirely of wood as an aid to post-war Italian industry to cope with a shortage of aluminium. It was a side-by-side two-seater with retractable undercarriage and a variable pitch propeller. As beautiful as an aircraft, or any machine ever could look - it was also very efficient…
… at the end of my racing days mine would nudge 220 miles per hour on only 160 brake horse power...
Inspired by Gilbert’s writing I just had to find one.
By pure co-incidence - soon after the article in Pilot magazine the actual aircraft Gilbert had flown in and reviewed turned up at Elstree, my local airfield. Rushing into the control tower I found the owner chatting to Pete Woods, our resident controller. Mike Shields the owner showed me over the Falco and I discovered it was for sale. It was an obvious move to buy it, but I needed time to organise the amount he asked.
Before I could complete the purchase - in fact within a week the aircraft was destroyed in a hanger fire at its base airfield…
It took me a year to locate another one - on a tiny airfield nestling in a pine forest a few miles from the river Rhine in Germany’s Black Forest. It was not ideal, but I made an offer on the spot, making it conditional on the aircraft being flown over to England for inspection by my engineer at his Stanstead base.
As the German owner would not comply with my condition, the sale eventually fell through and I was back to square one… no Falco. The next one I discovered was based at a small airfield in the midlands. It was owned by an ex-Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot who was retiring from flying. Obviously he was trying to sell it - but still he swore it was the best handling machine he had ever flown - including the Spitfire…
… who was I to disagree - particularly after my test fight in it…
Unfortunately the aircraft was not in the greatest of condition, so after a few flights for the sheer joy - I decided to spend some money and have the Falco overhauled and modernised…
… at the same time it would be re-registered as G-FALC instead or its original G-AROT - the 'ROT' bit I thought rather inappropriate for an old wooden aircraft. It took a year - a year of decisions and expense. The cost of the work came to twice what I had paid for the entire aircraft, but it was the waiting, not the expense that I minded most…
… at the end of the work, pristine in its new colour… Ferrari red… with new radios and airways specification, navigation equipment - I thought it the most beautiful mechanical thing I had ever seen - and it flew even better than the imaginary aircraft of my dreams…
… to me it was the ultimate legend…my obsession for my remaining twenty years flying...

End

© Peter Hunter 2012

Read more of Peter' Hunter's writing on Kindle - latest … too late…
the tallyman…

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About The Author
PeterHunter
PeterHunter
About This Story
Audience:
All Audiences
Posted:
2 Apr, 2012
Genre:
Supernatural / Paranormal
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