Ex ZS-LEV she was damaged beyond economical repair in 1991 following an in-flight separation of most of one propeller blade, forced landing and subsequent fire (Pilot J Colburn). Rebuilt between 1992-2012 as ZU-ASI, using some parts from ZS-CLU and ZS-CDR. Owned by Supercub Partnership (Ian and Alan Hanes) and based at Baragwanath. First flight was 24 May 2012 by test pilot and co-owner Ian Hanes.
There is a rich history behind our Tiger Moth, and I suppose that this nostalgia adds to the effect of flying such a romantic aircraft. There really is something special about open cockpit flying that harks back to the origins of flight and ‘real’ aviation.
Life began for the aircraft that we affectionately call ‘Tiggy’ under service for the Royal Air Force with Constructor’s Number 84412 or RAF Serial Number T8100. She began service later on when she was sold to South African Air Force on 21st April 1941, with the serial number 2140. On arrival the aircraft was issued with SAAF serial 2140 to No. 4 Air School in Benoni sometime between October and December 1942.
Clearly military life was not for her, so she took up residence at Baragwanath Airfield. She was sold by the South African Air Force as 1146 to the Johannesburg Light Plane Club, based at ‘Bara’ and registered ZS-BSF. During this period she was used as a basic trainer and for glider towing up to 4th August 1962 when a cracked crankcase stopped her from flying. Her engine number 87354 was removed.
Later, Roy Watson and Arthur Meechin bought her in dismantled state in June 1965. Roy then rebuilt her under Arthur’s guidance before he attended university. Arthur was in fact a de Havilland trained engineer, and he provided vital insight in the building process, having been a foreman on the construction of the original Comet Racers.
Finally, with a new engine and a lick of blue and silver paint, the Tiger took to the skies on 20th February 1966 with Arthur as test pilot. Incidentally, the engine fitted during the rebuild was ex-Dragonfly, ZS-CTR, engine number 81478, originally tested on 27th September 1938.
Roy and Arthur then operated her until Arthur’s untimely death in 1974. Roy took over Arthur’s share and continued flying, including participating in air races, aerobatic contests and sport flying.
She was re-registered in the vintage aircraft category on 12 January 1979 to benefit from ease of maintenance privileges as ZS-UKW. After much airborne activity, the deterioration of fabric necessitated a rebuild and the Tiger was flown to Grand Central on 6th April 1989 for stripping. The rebuild was done at Roy’s home and a new yellow and blue colour scheme was incorporated.
She took to the skies once again on 14 June 2001 and after my brother and I had obtained our Private Pilots Licenses, we began our conversions.
This all began at Rand Airport where it was kept for a brief period amongst some DC-3s and DC-4s inside Phoebus Apollo’s hangar. Later on a space opened up in Andrew Torr’s hanger on the same airfield. Incidentally, he owned the only flying South African Spitfire for a while.
I found the Tiger quite difficult. It is inherently unstable, so flying needs constant adjustment all the time and reading what is happening with the wind in order to compensate is essential. My first three lessons were from the front where we did some initial upper air work, followed by wheel landings. We used the Panorama Flight Park just outside Rand because it’s got a nice grass runway and not much traffic. It also meant that we could get a lot of flying into each session by doing low-level (300 ft) circuits and lots of landings.
The wheel-landings were quite different to anything that I had been used to because you keep the power on throughout the descent and landing. When the wheels touch you push the stick a bit forward to keep the tail up, and then it’s round again for the next one. Bobby Ewing was my instructor and we had to use the gosport speaking tubes to communicate, which worked brilliantly. Later, we moved onto three pointers, which I found quite difficult because the tail always wanted to catch up with the nose!
My first session from the rear seat was quite a different experience. The wind was quite something compared with the front, and juggling radio calls, what Bobby was saying, what the tower was saying and actually flying took some time to come to grips with. You can also see bugger-all from the back so I had to lean far out of the left-hand side just to see the runway on final approach. You can also feel what is happening with the aircraft a lot easier than in the front. The three pointers were initially a bit nerving because you kind of have to guess where the centre line of the runway is because you can’t see it.
Flying is strange, I remember after about three hours of dual something just seeming to click in place and it felt like I was flying the aircraft, and not the other way around. My approaches were good, my landings a lot more gentle and I was relaxed in the cockpit (which isn’t an easy thing when the wind is trying to blow you out of it). It was graceful and gentle, and by stretching my head out of the Tiger I could see most of the runway, until the tail came down. It was brilliant and I suddenly felt like I could actually fly, and was not some guy kidding himself into thinking that he could. Shortly afterwards I got my conversion and I have been enjoying the Tiger ever since.
There is a bug that goes along with flying, something that drives you to spend all your money, and all of your weekends trying to imitate the birds. It is in those moments when you make yourself comfortable behind the controls, strap in, and slip away from the bonds of the earth that allow you to climb away from the torments and stresses of life, and be free to yourself. It is something that compels us all to fly and when we’re on the ground, we yearn to be back up in the air. It is an elation that poets write about, but only pilots can understand.
Those moments are what get me through the working hours, and as the weekend approaches, I become as restless as a child. Before I know, it’s Sunday and I’m pushing open the hangar doors to reveal that hallowed object inside. The Tiger Moth is resting quietly, but there seems to be an aura of excitement surrounding it, a sentiment that reveals the joy of someone about to play with his favourite toy.
I think that it is important to stop and think every once and a while about how privileged and lucky we, as pilots, are to be able to indulge into one of the greatest joys that life has to offer. Flying the Tiger was a gift bestowed by my father, and something that I will cherish forever.
ZS-FZF is a 1942 Australian built de Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth. It was obtained as a bundle of parts in Mozambique by Bob Hay, who sold the remainder of the parts to the Streckers, thereby unintentionally starting their famous business. It was built by Bob under Bok Strecker’s supervision and Bob used it to teach himself aerobatics in the early 1970s.
He crashed his Pitts S-1 Special ZS-FUN following an engine failure during an aerobatic demonstration for a camera shoot during the Great American Air Circus. He was one of the top billed pilots but had now destroyed his mount. The forced landing in between two rows of T Hangers at Baragwanath went well until he came across a ditch which has been dug the day before to add electricity to the hangers. The small wheels were the same diameter as the ditch. He escaped with some minor cuts but a very broken Pitts. Not wanting to let the organisers of the air show down, he agreed to take his Tiger Moth to Welkom for the display.
The display was changed and started at a significantly greater height than he normally would have used, so much so that near the end he felt he still had enough height to do one more manoeuvre. Although he now goes cold at the very thought thereof, he initiated a “falling leaf” (a series of incipient spins which alternate in direction as soon as the one stops).”This will look good!”. The last planned fall developed into a spin. He was just able to stop the rotation and get some airflow reattached to the wings when he ran out of altitude. God blesses some people, and that day he choose Bob. Bob hit the Welkom dam in a nose high pitch attitude but with significant downward vertical speed, and some forward speed. Imagine your chances of unintentionally landing in the only soft spot for probably many miles in each direction – in the middle of winter!
Brian Zeederburg claims he started swimming out to the crash scene in the dam at the same time of the big splash. Bob was knocked unconscious by the compass as the shoulder harness gave way, but was immediately revived by the freezing water. He had by now lost his glasses and could not see much, except brown water with green seaweed. He battled to release the remainder of the harness that was attempting to drown him after allowing him to imprint his last heading permanently on his forehead.
Bob escaped the cockpit (luckily he was alone) and started swimming out to sea, as Brian attempted to call him to shore. Although we make light of Bob’s injuries, they were severe. He and the Tiger were brought to shore by Brian Zeederburg and others in poor shape. While treating Bob in the local hospital, the attending nurse was having a really hard time getting rid of some seaweed in his forehead. Luckily Brian was also there, and noticed her problem. Looking over her shoulder he was immediately able to diagnose the problem – “leave that alone, it’s the stitches from last weekend’s flying accident”.
Having broken his only two aircraft in two successive weekends, he lacked a mount for the impending aerobatic championships later that month. A true test of friendship was undertaken when he was loaned ZS-BUC the world’s oldest Bucker Jungmann for the event.
Back to the Tiger Moth. He painstakingly rebuilt it over the next 16 or so years, resulting in a truly spectacular restoration. It has recognition lights, leading edge slats, flares, brass fire extinguisher and a Morse Lamp. He even had the “pram hood” which covered the rear cockpit with a roof so that the pilot could experience instrument conditions. (I am still dying to try this, but with no artificial horizon it could be interesting). Until recently it also had its original fuel tank, but it became a maintenance nightmare and was reluctantly replaced with a more modern larger unit.
This has to be the world’s most authentic flying Tiger Moth.
At the time of writing she is now owned by John Oliver Gerondeanos.
12th August is my “other” birthday. Today I am 37 years old! On this day back in 1972, I nearly bought a piece of Rand Mines Properties permanently. Lucky to have survived. So I celebrate it as my “other” birthday.
Mine is a classic tale of an accident waiting for a place to happen. Over confident! Head-strong! Arrogance! Infallibility! Immortal! Know it all, (as Christopher would say)! What else?
Johannesburg Light Plane Club, JLPC’s annual air show. True to tradition, it was always scheduled for the windiest day of the year, and the 12th August 1972 was no exception.
The wind was 25 kts gusting 30 – 35 out of 310 deg. Runway in use was 03.
20 000 people pitch up to see the show and there is no show! The “Star Air Race” is a non-event. Fewer than half the aircraft take off and most elect to land at other airfields due to the wind. No Skydivers! No gliders! No balloon popping! No Hot-air Balloon!
Nick Turvey does some aerobatics in the Zlin 226. And then he goes up again in the Pawnee to demonstrate how crop dusting is done. The bravest of the brave demo pilots of Placo, NAC and Comair display a couple of aircraft and that’s it! The air force is not due until 15:00 hrs. It is now only 13:00hrs. A long time to keep people interested.
Now I had developed a little air-show routine. Snoopy versus The Red Baron. Peter Nicholas’s mother had made up some “Snoopy” outfits for me. I built some “dog kennels” which were rigged up with “popping” balloons, pyro-technics and smoke bombs. All the special effects were controlled by someone inside the “kennel” who had a “firing control board” which was battery powered. I, of course, was the “Red Baron” (what else could I be?)
“Snoopy” was armed with a Blunderbuss which I made out of some 50mm PVC Tubing, a plywood stock which held the battery and a firing control board. Inside the tubing I put the smoke bombs.
Now the script called for the “Red Baron”, (me in my Tiger Moth), to attack Snoopy. To make it more dramatic, I had a wing-walker, Hilton Hume, who would walk out to the inter-plane strut, armed with a 38 Special which was loaded with blanks. The blanks had lots of “black” powder in them to make a really big bang and a “big” puff of smoke. We would do a low-level pass shooting at Snoopy and the “controller” inside the “kennel” would fire off the charges fixed to the kennel and on the ground; popping balloons and making lots of smoke and noise. Snoopy would retaliate by firing his blunderbuss at us. It worked! And I was in demand at small air shows from Brits to Matsapa. We did it for the thrill… no money!… Just give us bread and water and fuel and we put on the show.
Now for the JLPC Air-show, because the crowd would be spread out along both sides of the runway, I had 3 more suits made and built 3 extra “dog kennels”. The plan was to spread these out along the runway and, in effect, do 4 shows in one. Fly down the west side of the runway shooting up “2” Snoopies; turn 180, fly down the east side and repeat the show. 4 Passes were planned! The problem was that the Tiger was so slow, the impact would be lost if only one aircraft was used, so I conned Gerrit van den Bosch and Scully Levin into flying their Tigers in the show as well. Surprisingly, it was not difficult at all to find “wing-walkers”, but to find suitable Snoopies was another matter. They had to be “clowns” to entertain the crowd whilst we got airborne.
The crowd was becoming restless and bored. We “have” to do “something”! The “Show must go on!”
Now I could hear a little voice yelling at me saying… “Don’t do this! This is not clever!” So I did what every “hot-shot” pilot does… “I turned the volume down so I could not hear the voice any more”. Scully was not too happy either, and against his better judgement, I persuaded him to fly. Gerrit just followed!
We take off on 03 and form up over the mine dump to the north west of the field. I am leading with Scully at No.2 followed by Gerrit. I turn back to the airfield and once we were on a long final approach, indicate to Hilton to climb out onto the wing. He moves out to the inter-plane strut, 38 Special in hand and we run-in to the target which were the 2 “dog kennels” along the east side of the runway. The turbulence was frightening! I am fighting to keep the aircraft on track, the buffeting is snatching the controls from my hand, I have nearly full right rudder in to counter the drag of the wing walker! I have never experienced anything quite like this before. Scully told me afterwards that his gut tightened up so much it ached!
We do the first run! It was not pleasant! I call Hilton back towards the cockpit and then I turn to the right, into wind which helps keep me inside the perimeter of the airfield. I do the run down the west side and the turbulence is even worse! I decided to do the run down the east side and then that would be quits for the day. No way am I going to do this 3 more times!!!
I passed over the last Snoopy and begin a turn to the right, downwind! The drag from the wing-walker is too great to counter, so I straighten out and motion to Hilton to get back inside. He does not climb into the cockpit but sits on the longeron with one foot on the wing and one on the seat. I now continue the turn and in so doing look back to see where Scully and Gerrit are. They are still behind me, but I now notice that the wind has blown me past my turning pont and I am now 150 – 200 meters behind the crowd line! I now make the 2nd biggest mistake of the day; (the first “biggest mistake” was to take off). I pull the turn tighter!
Hilton is still out in the airstream. I felt the aircraft shudder and instantly that little voice shouts out… “Don’t tighten the turn you d@@s”… But too late! The left wing drops. Hilton dives head-first into the cockpit and I boot in full right rudder and stick forward. The aircraft slewed to the right and the wing picked up and for a moment I thought…“We’re OK!” The Tiger is at least straight and level!
Now to the north and east sides of the “old” Baragwanath, there was a Bluegum tree plantation. What I did not realise is that Bluegums grow even on windy days. The problem was that I was only 40 – 50 feet above the trees, which were themselves about 60 foot tall. They grew so quickly that one of them climbed up and hit us dead centre of the right wing. The aircraft slewed around through 180 degrees and pitched the nose vertically down. We collected about 4 or 5 more trees and bought a prime piece of Rand Mines Property.
Hilton broke a couple of ribs against the compass bowl and he had a beautiful impression of the airspeed indicator on his forehead. He was out of the plane in an instant and standing next to my cockpit. I could smell fuel and was beginning to panic that I couldn’t get out. Then I remembered to pull the pin of the Sutton harness and promptly disappeared into the bowels of the Tiger. I clambered up and jumped over the side between the 2 wings. I was still trapped! I couldn’t see over the top of the wing. Then I heard a voice coming from somewhere near my knees. A hand reached under the leading edge of the wing and pulled me out into the open. I had bruised my knee!
I learned from that! A valuable lesson! But I would strongly discourage anyone from “trying that at home”!
My log book shows that my total number of landings is = Total Take Offs (-) 1
I just don’t know how to rectify that!
Further reading about ZS-CDJ can be found on The de Havilland Aircraft Association of South Africa website here.
Although built in 1946, the earliest record we have of our C140 is from 1960, with an airframe logbook that has her registered under Serial number 10243. The pilot who owned the aircraft during that period only started filling in the aircraft To/From column of the logbook from 1962, the first entry being from Lompoc to Santa Monica for maintenance, so I presume that Lompoc in California was the home base. The aircraft was registered as N73035 and painted in the military paint scheme similar to that of the Bulldogs. A United States flag adorns the tail fin with Columbia AFB, although we are not sure how that fits in to her life story. Perhaps she was a military trainer back in her youth?
The 140 continued to fly in the California region up until 2006, when she was put up for sale, imported to South Africa through Jeff Sharman, registered as ZU-ECP, and restored by Kevin Hopper at Krugersdorp. Our syndicate was formed, and the 140 took over some new owners in a new country. She won best restoration at the EAA Sun ‘n Fun meeting at Rustenburg during 2007, and she remains the cutest, cleanest little 140 you will ever find.
Her original 85hp engine was upgraded with the relevant STCs during 2011, and she visited yet another country as the photo aircraft for the International Tiger Moth Botswana Safari. Over the last few years, we have continued to enjoy formation flying and weekend jaunts with what we call, out 140, and she remains a favorite toy amongst her pilots.
First Impressions of the 140
Friday rolls over into the weekend, and before I know it, I’m packing up our old Land Rover with all of the flying paraphernalia that have marked the onset of my Saturday and Sunday afternoons for some time now. There’s the flying suit patched up with cloth badges from various air shows and a pair of Royal Air Force Wings to make me feel more like an iconic aviator. There’s the age-worn toolbox filled to the brim with things that I ‘might need’ when I get to the airfield, a flask of coffee, a few beers for afterwards, maps and the hangar keys…I’m ready.
I head out to Baragwaneth along that horrific dirt road that winds itself through the dusty veld and find myself at the silvery steel hangar doors, locked tightly shut. I leave my old life behind to create a new one. This landscape embraces a new and paradoxical consciousness. It is a rich blend of romantic nostalgia in which I find myself as both a barnstormer of old and a myriad of procedures and precision calculations. Somehow this responsible revisit to childhood imagination is what flying is all about. Responsibility with enjoyment.
Once the door has been opened, in the depth of shadows, crouched, waiting, lies the aircraft. I drain the fuel and carry out the pre-flight checks which once seemed difficult and foreign as a student pilot but have now become the trappings of the familiar, the comfortable.
I wheel out the aircraft, which seems somewhat out of place on the ground. It is my newest toy, a sparkling Cessna 140. It came to us from the Colorado in the United States, and when I say new, but it’s actually over forty years old, but it looks like a brand new pin. The red and white of an American Flag with the words, ‘Colorado AFB’ are stamped on the tail, a small piece from its past life. The underbelly is painted grey and the empennage is an ice white, which reminds me of a Great White Shark, although no ferocity resides within the heart of this docile machine. On the nose, wingtips and tailplane, a contrasting blood red mark the fabric and aluminum.
It is truly a thing of beauty.
In the 140’s cowling nestles a neatly proportioned 85 hp Continental. It is a powerplant that, considering its meager capacity is eager to tear through the air. Inside I can smell the odor of new blue leather that trims the seating. The cockpit is just the right size, a cozy fit which will produce hours of airborne enjoyment.
On take off, the tail comes up with only a gentle persuasion from the control column. There is not much torque to work against so a swing to the right isn’t really an issue. I use my toes with gentle movements on the rudder pedal, though, and as the speed builds up to about 50kts, the wheels leave the earth. Free of the ground, the airspeed builds up relatively quickly for an aircraft which is considered to be underpowered.
Landing, however, takes a bit of getting used to. If I get it wrong, it feels like a galloping goose. I don’t know if you’ve seen a duck taking flight from a still lake. Well, it flaps like hell and its wadded feet leg press the water, making a series of ever-larger towards the sky. It’s the same in this taildragger, but instead of climbing, it’s on the descent. If the speed is wrong or if I’m too high or too low on short finals, I end up bouncing. It starts with a little hop, but then the aircraft tries to fly again, so, nose up and tail down, the plane finds that it can’t get airborne so it finds the ground again. Then, with more speed and more momentum, the bounce happens again, this time, higher, and if I don’t do something about it, I’ll be in big trouble.
I’ve found that it’s best to either go around, and put my dignity in my back pocket, or, if I catch it in time, open up the throttle. This gets a bit more airflow over the control surfaces and usually the aircraft glides onto the runway and I am left with said dignity still in my back pocket.
The golden rule: land when nobody is watching because inevitably the moment you set yourself up for a smooth impressive landing that will astound everyone else on the airfield, the aircraft will prove you wrong and take your head out of the clouds.
The 140 is sleek and smooth, so it doesn’t loose speed as quickly as you might hope. Therefore, I’ve found that it’s a good idea to throttle back early and get closer to my approach speed of about 65 kts as soon as possible – and leave the flaps where they are, it’s far more rewarding to fly without them. Then it’s a case of using the control column and therefore the aircraft’s attitude to keep the airspeed consistent and the throttle adjustments to produce a smooth glide path.
In a three-pointer, that hallowed, slick landing when the wheels all touch together, I close the throttle altogether on short finals until the airspeed bleeds off. To keep the craft airborne, I progressively lift the nose once I near the threshold and use the arc of larger movements on the rudder as slipstream is reduced. While I am a few inches from the ground, the nose gets higher and higher until (and this is if I get it right) the wheels touch without the smallest rattle or bump.
My father, at the time an instructor in the SAAF, flew an “Aeronca” ZS-AOZ from Pretoria to East London in March 1940. I found out from Ray on Avcom that it became 1478 in SAAF service and I believe it was based at East London for a few years. This was a pre-war Aeronca 50 Chief that did not survive the war, but Rob Belling coincidentally did a painting of it and this was posted on Avcom www.avcom.co.za
Flying this aircraft on 21st March, 1940, my father landed at Cradock and recalled meeting two pre-teen boys on bicycles, sons of the local doctor, one of whom became the father of my wife many years later. They recall seeing this little silver aircraft at about that time, and the two old boys speaking together agreed that they had indeed met that day! The 21st of March is my birthday (also many years later) so it is one of those strange coincidences.
The older Ron Wheeldon (Mk1) went on to amass in excess of 30 000 flying hours (mainly on Vikings, Dakotas and Viscounts) in his flying career which finally ended with 44 Squadron in 1984, when, having just received the Chief of the Defence Force’s, he was retired for turning 65. I thought it would be a good idea to get him flying again and bought an Aeronca Chief “project” in the USA in order to replicate ZS-AOZ. It turned out that, as a 11AC Chief, it is a different aircraft really to the pre-war Chiefs, although they do look quite similar, the lower cowling being the real giveaway.
Unfortunately Mk1 passed on at the end of 2004 and the planned restoration had not progressed. I then spent some time trying to sell it, but none of the “buyers” was actually prepared to pay for it. Then Chris van Hoof went and restored his Chief and it appeared that the estimable Theuns Van Vuuren, having done that aircraft, could equally repair mine.
So it is that N9004E, tossed on its back by a windstorm in Arizona in 1971, and having had no less than 4 potential restorers in the years since – none of whom went on with it – has finally been x-rayed, carefully repaired and now recovered by Theuns in silver. Theuns has begun final assembly in hangar 22 at Barra and she finally looks like an aircraft again. As usual, the budget is ancient history and the cost of the rebuild will probably exceed the market value by a large margin, this including the acquisition of a C-85 to replace the original A-65 motor, but I look forward to many years’ happy flying in this special aircraft – I understand that Chris LOVES his!
The Aeroncas have never had the iconic appeal of the Piper J-3 Cub, but it does seem that they are better performers for the same power and the Chief is an attractive machine.
FROM ISSUE 16 OF THE BARAGWANATH BAROMETER
A few issues ago the existence of my Chief at Barra was discussed in the Barometer and it is possibly time for an update for those who are interested. Theuns Van Vuuren has been working hard on getting her finished in the opening weeks of 2013 and the good news is that progress is now very swift and it looks like she might take to the air in the first half of the year. Apparently many in the USA call Aeroncas “airknockers” which sound suitably odd to appeal to me.
This has been a comprehensive rebuild, starting with the NDT inspection of the bare airframe, rebuild of the wing structure (one new spar, several new ribs), new lift struts, new windscreen, complete re-cover, upgrade to C-85 Continental, new floor boards, new trim tab, new tail wheel and a whole lot of refurbishing. It was great helping Theuns fit the new windscreen which really went a long way toward making it look like an aircraft again.
As the first flight slowly draws into view, it has been interesting finding out more about these relatively little known aircraft, apparently there are presently only 4 in South Africa (so half of them Are at Bara!). They are part of the crop of 65 hp affordable tail draggers which were made available immediately after World War 2 and mainly powered by the ubiquitous Continental A-65. The Chief in 1946 was a refinement of the pre-war Chief and aimed at giving car like comfort and seating in an aircraft. There were a number of pre-war Chiefs in South Africa which were used in the SAAF and one distinction the Chief can claim is that it was the first light aircraft to fly non-stop from Los Angeles to New York City. Nevertheless, the tandem Champ was always the more popular (like the Piper J-3 Cub was more popular than the side by side J-4) outselling the Chief by about 8 to 1 and has been developed into the Citabria and Bellanca Decathlon and Scout, while the Chief, structurally virtually identical, did not prosper, going out of production in 1949.
As a J-3 Cub owner, I have been fascinated as to why the Cub has become the icon of this genus of aircraft. Certainly, it is pleasant to fly and it is great to fly with the door open on a summer’s evening wafting along at 300’ agl, but flying the Cub any distance is trying to say the least. It is slow and the maximum baggage capacity is 20 lbs, if both crew are fairly light, if not…well, toothbrush and spare underwear is about capacity. The Chief has a 70 lb baggage allowance and comes standard with an 8 gallon auxiliary tank. It is comfortable with reasonable leg room and cruises at a respectable 83 knots, at least 10 knots faster than the J-3. On the other hand it is quite claustrophobic with its car doors and lack of upward vision. I suppose the Chief, the J-4, The Taylorcraft and the Luscombe are really victims of the success of the Cessna 150 with its nosewheel and all metal construction which made it a better practical aircraft than they could ever be. With “practical” sewn up, all that was left was “charm”, and somehow the Cub has always had that je ne sais quoi which has made it more charming.
The charm of the Chief, now, is that it is different.
Elsewhere I posted a photograph of a flying wing design, ZS-UEC. Regrettably, I do not have any good quality photos of this aircraft. We always treated it as a bit of a joke.
I cannot tell you much about the aircraft or of its owner other than he was a Hollander. In fact, I no longer remember his name!
We seldom saw him at the airfield but when he did show-up he was always assured of a lot of curious spectators. For the purpose of this story I am going to give him the name of Jan which rings a bell for me.
I believe the ‘Flying Wing’ was a Japanese design. It was not kept at Baragee and the reason for this will become clear as the story unfolds…
Some time in early 2001, my business partner, Brian Roach told me about an Aviat (formerly Christen) Eagle II project that was on the market. The fuselage had been imported complete from Aviat in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The complete wing kit and most of the instruments were also on hand although the ribs needed to be made and the wing assembled. The spars were already machined. The complete undercarriage and wheels plus fuel tank were also in the kit. There was no engine, propeller, canopy or covering materials. The builder had not been able to finish it due to work pressures and was wanting to sell it for what he had spent on it at the time. R50,000.00 – was the asking price!
Now I had renewed my licence a little more than 2 years before that and I had not even sat in anything like an Eagle or a Pitts for nearly 19 years! I also was not up-to-date with the market value of such an aircraft. I thought about this offer for approx 1,4 milliseconds and said… “buy it!”
It turned out that the seller was none other than John Glaum who managed a sugar estate in Swaziland. He was an “old” acquaintance from early EAA days. Lindsay, John’s wife was the local flying instructor at Matsapa Airport. Brian took the truck and trailer and fetched the aircraft from the Glaums.
What a complete difference to the Pitts Special “kit” this was! And the drawings and manuals were simply superb. Frank Christensen who designed the Eagle was the first “kit” supplier who showed the world “how it should be done!” He was a legend in the home-building movement. Before he came along, so-called kits were of a very low standard and left the home-builder to do a lot of interpretation of the drawings and instructions. Not a good scenario! Frank changed all of that! He raised the bar 50 notches and set the whole home-building movement on the path that it is today, a path that RV and others have built upon!
From the very beginning, we decided that we:
Wanted the aircraft completed as quickly as possible.
Wanted it built to the highest standard of workmanship throughout.
Did not have the time to do this ourselves as we were busy running a business.
Would hire someone to do the work. We would do the paying!
As luck would have it, we bumped into Peter Eich one day and he told us that an old acquaintance, Horst Szimansky, was arriving in South Africa for his annual 6 monthly stay. Now I have known Horst for over 30 years. He built Nick Turvey’s Pitts ZS-ZAP in the early 1970s. He was an experienced aircraft builder coming as he did from a background of building gliders for Schemp-Hirth in Germany. You see, Horst hated the European winters so he spent 6 months of the year in Germany during the northern summer building gliders and 6 months here during our summer, usually helping Peter Eich repairing the local gliders. Peter told us that he did not really have much work for Horst and that if we wanted him we should grab Horst before anyone else did.
Now I have always regarded Horst as a bit of an “aviation Gypsey!” Horst would go wherever there was sunshine and aeroplanes that needed fixing. He did not care too much about his accommodation, what he would eat – nothing! “Just give him bread and water, put a guitar in his hand”; (sorry, I got carried away there for a moment. Thought I was writing a song!); put a bed in a corner, make sure he had enough money to play his beloved “ponies” and he would work!
And what a master-craftsman he was (is)!!! But Oh! So fussy!!! He would sometimes bring me to tears with things that would “upset” him!
So! That was the arrangement! We put him up in a B&B in Edenvale, let him use one of the company bakkies, and for 6 months at a time the aircraft was put together. Then he would disappear for 6 months, (he would usually let us know a day or 2 before hand), and then back the following summer. But Horst would work from 07:00 to 18:00, non-stop, day after day. He didn’t like help! And didn’t like to be interrupted!
One day he walked into my office and announces “Ze drawings zey are wrong, ja!” I am stunned! “What???” I replied. “what do you mean wrong?” Horst was doing the initial rigging of the aircraft at the time. “I have set up ze aircraft exzactly according to ze drawings, ja! And I hefe measured from ze fin post to ze winngg tip on bose zides and ze drawings are not akuraate!”
“Holy mackerel!” I am thinking to myself. “How could this have happened?” We checked every measurement 10 times whilst assembling the wings and the fuselage came from Aviat. Maybe the fuselage was damaged somehow. “Show me!” I said, and followed Horst to the workshop. Horst first spends a good hour showing me that he has levelled and plumbed the fuselage and wings properly and clamped everything down so that nothing can move. I am really worried that this is a major disaster now. Then he picks up the tape measure and measures from the fin post to the wing tip on both sides. There was a 1,5 mm discrepancy!
One comma Five mm difference!!! On bended knees and with tears in my eyes I ask you – 1,5mm!!!
“You zee!” he says, “zay hefe made a mistake! You must phone ze factory and tell zem to correct ze drawings! I vant to know exzactly vot ze korrekt dimension is! I am not going any furzer until I hefe zis informations.” I look at him and can see that he is absolutely serious! “For 1,5mm difference, you want me to phone Aviat and tell them they’re wrong?” “Jawohl!” he says. “Horst!” I splutter, “halve the difference between the 2 dimensions and I will be more than happy. I am not phoning Aviat for that!”
He looks at me in absolute shock! “But you do realize, ja, zat ze aeroplane might not fly purfectly, ja!”
“Horst, I won’t hold you responsible!” I said. “Just carry on!” Well!, for a week he would not speak to me. I had forced him to lower his standards!
Sometime later, after he had covered the wings, he again walks into my office and I can see he is fuming with anger.
“Ve hefe saboteurs in zis place!” he says. “What are you talking about?” I gasp. “I hefe to recover ze Top Ving. Somevon has destroyed ze fabric on ze Top Ving” he informs me.
“Oh my god!” I think. “Why is this happening to me?” We have a fairly good relationship with our staff; who would want to damage the Eagle? Off we go to the workshop and sure enough, there is hole about 10 mm in diameter through the fabric close to the wing tip of the Top Wing. It looked like someone had taken a pencil, pen or nail and just poked a hole through the fabric. “Bastards!” I said, “who would do that?”
“Saboteurs!” says Horst, “now I vill hefe to recover ze ving!” “Horst”, I said, “you don’t have to recover the wing; just put a small patch on it. We haven’t started to dope it yet! No one will notice a small patch on the top of the Top Wing”.
“Nein!” he says, “zat is not acceptable!”
“You’re not going to recover the whole wing for that” I insisted. “I tell you what; put another patch the same size on the opposite side wing and then the aircraft will fly level. It won’t be a problem! But you’re not going to recover it!”
Another week of sulking and silence from Horst for forcing him to lower his standards yet again! The drama we went through!
A couple of days after this episode, Mike McAuley came to see the damage caused by the “saboteurs”. Mike does something neither Horst nor I had done, he looks under the wing and announces that … “the hole goes right through the wing”. “Oh no!” I said. “Please don’t tell Horst that. I cannot bear another week of sulking and silence”. I get down under the wing and look at the hole from the underside. “I can site through the 2 holes and there directly above in the roof sheeting is a neat round hole. “The saboteur came from above and outside” I said. “There is a bullet hole in the roof!”
A quick search of the floor under the wing and sure enough, we find a 9 mm slug which had penetrated the roof and the wing of the Eagle.
And that is why the Eagle has 2 patches on the Top Wing!
Our factory in Wynberg is about 500 m from Alexandra Township, and on a Saturday afternoon, when the soccer matches are on, whenever the favourite team scores a goal, you can hear the AK47s and pistols being fired in celebration. We probably have 50 holes through the factory roof. Now you know why I hope the 2010 Soccer World Cup falls flat on its face!
About this time, Jonathon Radford, who was dating one of my daughters at the time, came to work on the Eagle. He assisted Horst with the covering, fitting of the Canopy and he did the painting, instrument and radio installation by himself. He helped with the engine installation and did the final rigging of the aircraft before flight.
It is a super aeroplane!
1st flight: At 15:30hrs, 03 August 2003 at Lanseria. Duration: 35 mins Pilot :- Brian Roach (he was far more current on tail-draggers than I was).
2nd flight: 10 August 2003.
3rd Flight: 17 August 2003 (now that was an experience not to be repeated, and we didn’t!!! Lanseria ATC!!! Tell you about that in a few year’s time when I have calmed down!)
Brian Zeederberg flew it on 11 January 2004.
My first flight: 18 April 2004 I had been getting in a bit of tail-dragger time with Mike McAuley in his Super Cub and Bob Hay in his Tiger Moth. When I felt that I ready, I went for it!
First allow me to introduce to you the main role-players in this project.
By the way, the registration “GDO” pays tribute to the product that paid for it… Garage Door Operators! That’s what we make.
Footnote: John and Lindsay Glaum
About 6 months after we acquired the Eagle from them, John and Lindsay were found murdered on their estate in Swaziland. Sometime previously, before the Glaums took over the estate, the previous manager had problems with one of his workers. He caught the man stealing and had him arrested and subsequently jailed for a couple of years.
In the interim, the Glaums took over the estate. The fired worker, now released from jail, went back to the estate to take revenge on the manager who had fired him. Unknown to this moron, there was now a new manager at the estate, John Glaum. He broke into their house and murdered them … the wrong people! There was a slightly positive ending to this tragedy, the moron’s mother turned him over to the police and he went back to jail.
RIP John and Lindsay.
What follows is a selection of photographs that cover the assembly and first flights of Aviat Eagle II ZU-GDO