The Flying Circus
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On the road with the Bristol Scout

On the road with the Bristol Scout

We built an exact reproduction of my Grandad’s 1915 Bristol Scout in 2015, and in 2016 we took her to some amazing places – Thassos, Greece and the Somme in France, among many others. Last year we visited no less than 20 events, from tiny villages in the middle of Dartmoor to Cheshire and Cambridgeshire, and we’re back to Greece again this year.

We can do this because by happy chance the Bristol Scout is small enough to fit in a road trailer. With the elevators removed, the tailplane is just road legal. The later Scouts, the Type D, had a wider tailplane, and would not fit!

So how does it work? We designed a custom enclosed trailer, 3m high and 7.5m long.

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As you can see, the fuselage fits in the trailer facing backwards, with the back door acting as an access ramp. Side doors open up with racks for the wings and the elevators are strapped to the floor.

It’s not the best trailer to tow – there’s a lot of side area, particularly at the back, and even though there’s a substantial load on the towbar, the weight of the engine, high up and far back, promotes instability. We have to drain the fuel tank to try and keep the centre of gravity low. But with a friction-type safety tow hitch, the system works adequately behind the Toyota Hilux we use as a tow vehicle. We keep to 55mph to provide a bit of a safety margin.

It’s not been necessary to make any significant modifications to the original airframe to allow for easy dismantling, and by now we can do it more or less in our sleep!

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To fit the aircraft in the trailer, we position her as near to the trailer as we can. All the clevis pins are secured with safety pins instead of split pins for easy removal. The elevator cables are disconnected at the horns and the hinge pins removed. The elevators are strapped to the trailer floor.

Meanwhile we go round disconnecting the wings as much as possible. First you lay a blanket over the lower wing to stop the cables damaging the fabric. Then the flying and drift cables are disconnected at the outboard end by removing the clevis pins, as are the incidence wires between the struts. The aft incidence cable strainer has to be slackened off. The aileron top interconnection is a strainer and that has to be unscrewed completely. The lower aileron connections are disconnected from the torque tube inside the fuselage. It’s a long reach into the depths of the cockpit, and it helps to be at least 6ft tall.

We need two sets of steps for the next stage, one at the wingtip, one next to the fuselage, and here again, it’s a huge help to be tall! The tallest of the two riggers ascends the inboard ladder and loosens the wing pins. For some reason, these are vertical instead of horizontal, and accessing them is a bit of a stretch. I confess I’ve modified these with a sort of foldaway handle that gives one sufficient purchase to pull them out without having to tap them out from underneath. They are just loosened at this stage though.

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Next the other rigger stands on his steps and gently lifts the wingtip until the wing lifts off the struts, which are carefully removed. The big danger here is that the struts are a good fit in their sockets and if they come out suddenly the other end can jab the wing. On the other hand, don’t take too long, or the outboard rigger will get tired and drop the end of the wing!

The inboard rigger dashes back up the step ladder and removes the wing pins, after which he rests the inboard end on the landing wires and it’s very straightforward to lower the wing down, until it can be lifted away and placed in position on the trailer side door.

The lower wing is very straightforward after that. The wing pins can be removed easily as the weight is being taken by the landing wires, and it’s taken away and popped on top of the top wing on the trailer side door. Long bolts go through the wing pin holes (justifying the vertical holes!) and a wooden strongback secures them at the strut sockets.

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With the other side done, it only remains to coil the cables into the fuselage and secure them with a cable tie (genuine 1916 vintage, of course!), line the fuselage up on the ramp and use a trailer winch to haul it carefully into position (making sure the propeller is at exactly the right angle) with the tail nestled onto a carpet-lined fitting on the floor and straps holding the tail and axle down, and from the centre section to the trailer sides. The side doors need a pulley system to raise them, and an elongated chock fits exactly between the wheels and the back door of the trailer.

There’s space for Grandad’s original Royal Naval Air Service trunk in there, as well as the half propeller with bullet holes.

Rigging is the exact opposite, and for a static display both rigging and de-rigging take about 45 minutes. Getting her ready to fly will take more like a couple of hours, but because the landing cables are never adjusted, the alignment remains consistent. The flying cables will need to have the correct tension set up, but that too can be done without altering the strainers. Because they are doubled up, you untwist the first of the pair a couple of turns until you can get the clevis pin in.

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Then you get the second rigger to pull the middle down until the second clevis pin goes in. Remove the first clevis pin, let the cable untwist to its natural length, and Bob’s your uncle. Final adjustment is done by altering the twist in each cable to suit the conditions on the day, such as temperature and humidity. Only three strainers need to be tensioned and wirelocked – tow on the incidence cables and one on the top aileron interconnection. We then have a checklist that we go through and sign off before making an entry in the logbook.

It all sounds very simple, and it is. But we can’t compete with the Royal Navy, who claimed to be able to do the same exercise on HMS Vindex in 1915 in ten minutes!

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