Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Barton meet-up

Ex-Concorde guide Vic today organised a get-together for some current and past Runway Visitor Park guides at Barton Aerodrome. Regular readers of this blog will need no introduction to Barton, aviation playground for me and many others in the last decades of the last century (gosh, doesn't that make us sound old?) until Peel Holdings took over the site and it became Manchester City Airport.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

Outside the Barton control tower; Vic, Gordon, Peter, Sue, Ross, me. Peter, Ross and me are currently Concorde and Nimrod guides at the Runway Visitor Park. Vic and Gordon are ex-guides, while Sue used to be guide coordinator and in charge of visitor reception. 

First port of call was the Tower, with three AFISOs (Airfield Flight Information Service Operators) on duty. AFISOs are a sort of half-way house between Air Traffic Control and Air-Ground Radio. They can control traffic on the ground but not in the air, and the existence of the 'half way house'  AFISO service is controversial in some quarters of General Aviation where it is argued that if full ATC is not required, then Air Ground Radio is a less cumbersome and more straightforward way to handle traffic than the AFISO solution.

 Peter, Ross, Vic, and Gordon the Tower

The view to the west from the Tower. The Brian Harbit hangar to the left with the Airfield Lodge cafe beyond. Behind the Lodge can be seen the original buildings of Foxfield Farm which became the aerodrome terminal  buildings when the airfield was built on land owned by Manchester Corporation Cleansing Department for the tipping of 'night soil'. The portacabin array next to the farm buildings is from the Salford Quays development for Media City (a Peel Holdings venture) and is intended to house the flying schools and the Visitor Centre.

In the Harbit hangar, a Steen Skybolt 

....And long-time Barton member Russell's aeroplane, a Taylor Titch which boasts a supermarket trolley wheel as its tail wheel and a steam iron control dial as its throttle quadrant!

Here's the one that started it all for me, Cessna 150 G-AYGC. One summer evening in 1978 Tom Dugdale walked away from this aeroplane after I'd had a lesson of flick-entry spins with him saying "my next student has cancelled, so how do you fancy having a go on your own?". I had about 10 hours instructed flight time time in my log book so wasn't expecting a first solo just yet, but Tom knew what he was doing and it was just the confidence booster I needed! Metaphorically, I didn't come down from that flight for about two weeks! 

 This Edge 360 is a dedicated aerobatic competition machine. Note the fully symmetrical wing - same cross-section profile on the top surface as on the bottom, and flat with no dihedral or anhedral. So much for that drivel in all school 'O' Level physics textbooks claiming aeroplanes fly because of the convex upper surface profile and flat lower surface profile. This aeroplane flies superbly, so such books and such lazy authors should be consigned to the rubbish bin!   

Anyone who seriously wants to know how an aeroplane flies, and why it sometimes stops flying, should read an old but brilliant book called 'Stick & Rudder'. And then go consolidate and prove the gems of wisdom in that book by flying an aeroplane! Preferably an aerobatic aeroplane!

This rather nice Boeing Stearman lives in the Keenair hangar at Liverpool airport where our Chipmunk used to reside before it moved across to the Ravenair hangar. The new owner of this aeroplane and of the Tiger Moth from the same hangar was being checked out on the Stearman by Martin Rushbroke, Barton's top instructor who taught me aerobatics in the Chipmunk and checked me out in the Yak 52. Martin is as much a total aviation person as one can find, and an excellent instructor.

The Stearman has a Lycoming engine, but not one of those boring flat fours. This is a 9-cylinder radial! 

We retired to the Airfield Lodge (formerly Lancashire Aero Club's clubhouse) for a coffee 

After coffee we had a look around the Visitor Centre... 

...Which includes some picture of our Chippy in original (when we got it in 1979) blue, then red (above) and also in its current black livery

Outside the Visitor Centre; Peter, Vic, Sue, Ross, Gordon

Thanks to Vic for arranging this great morning out!


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A blast from the past at Manchester

Yesterday morning I was at the Runway Visitor Park at Manchester Airport walking back from our Nimrod after giving a tour, and heading for the Concorde hangar to start a Concorde Technical Tour when I noticed something unusual on the approach. It was an aeroplane at about a mile final sitting on a plume of dirty exhaust smoke; something that I hadn't seen since perhaps the 1970s.

As it got closer it looked a bit like a big Trident, but soon I could see from the wide-spaced main undercarriage and size of the aeroplane that it was a Tupolev TU-154. These used to operate regularly out of Manchester forty years ago when we knew them as 'Balkan Frighteners'. They were operated by Balkan Airlines on inclusive tour flights and as this one, OM-BYO of the Slovakian Government, crossed threshold the distinctive rising and falling whine of its turbojets as the pilot added and reduced power for an accurate touch down, so different to today's almost silent turbofans, took me back more than half a lifetime. Deafening reverse thrust slowed the aeroplane, and relieved of flight loads the wings adopted their distinctive anhedral droop (tips lower than the roots). The lovely whining turbojet sounds as she taxied back past us for the terminals behind the 'follow me' car was so evocative of Ringway as it used to be.

A real blast from the past.... when airliners had character!

(Click on the picture for a larger image)
Tupolev TU 154 OM-BYO about to touch down

Here's a nice video of the aeroplane landing and taxying in, taken from the Manchester Airport Spotting web site. Click on the link below:


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Second trainee guard session on the Churnet

This weekend the weather was about as different as possible on each day; torrential rain storms yesterday, benign warm sunshine today. My original plan had been to go to the Churnet Valley Railway yesterday and to the Foxfield Railway Steam Gala today. However, the awful weather yesterday changed my plans; I decided to stay home yesterday and go out on the bike today. But should it be Foxfield Gala, or Churnet as trainee guard? Malc and Ivan, neither of whom have been to Foxfield before, are away this weekend or we'd have gone there. I went to the Foxfield gala two years ago (click here to see that entry on the blog) so I decided to fire up the Freewind motorbike and head for Cheddleton instead.

Melvin was rostered guard, and on my arrival he welcomed me into the guard's compartment of his train.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

The Freewind parked at Cheddleton this morning

Green ring on the handbrake wheel means the brake is 'off'. The vacuum gauge (on the wall above the emergency brake handle) shows 'no vacuum', so when this picture was taken we were coupled to the locomotive (so no need for the hand brake) but it had not yet created the vacuum necessary to release the train's brakes. 

Comfy chair for the guard

At Leekbrook Junction we stopped in the loop for our class 33 diesel locomotive to run around the train for the return trip back down the valley. The signal box has been restored as a visitor attraction, but unfortunately does not operate any points or signals! So other than somewhere to shelter from the weather, it's not much use to any signalman posted here who still has to operate each point manually from the line side. Perhaps that situation will change, either with the layout as it is now, the coming into use of the line to Endon, or maybe the proposed extension northwards to Leek.

Melvin has retrieved the tail-lamp from one end of the train, and will re-locate it to the other end for this return trip. Fred the raffle ticket seller is by the train.

 33102 'Sophie' runs around her train at Leekbrook Junction

Melvin places the tail lamp on what will now be the back of the train

After several trips up and down the valley I left the train to head home the scenic way through Longsdon, Rudyard, Congleton, Withington, and Chelford. 

Probably be time soon to sit the Guard's rules test and practical (being observed doing the job) and then volunteer for the occasional guard's turn in between the signalman turns in Consall box.


Sunday, 13 July 2014

Family Fun Day, Barton

Once again, the weekend weather has been kind to us. Yesterday I was rostered signalman in Consall 'box on the Churnet Valley Railway for the Real Ale Weekend, where I had a track circuit failure which meant Howard (my main mentor during training in the box) had to trek down to the motorised point to hand-crank it (the interlocking would not let me change it from the box as it thought there was a train in the section due the faulty track circuit). Later, the fault cleared. No doubt it will recur unless S&T (Signal & Telegraph) find the cause..

But today,  Malc and I fired up the little bikes for a day out at the City Airport (AKA Barton) Fun Day.

I was on my trusty Honda C90 and Malc on his Yamaha Townmate. We went the pretty way via Ashley, Dunham, and the Warburton High Level Bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal. On previous outings we had noted a 'fireless' steam locomotive displayed beside the Cadishead bypass and this morning we stopped to have a look at it.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

The fireless locomotive at Cadishead

During its existence, the Co-operative Society Soap, Candle, and Starch Works possessed several Steam Locomotives built by Pecketts of Bristol. When the Co-Op works closed in 1968 only one of these locomotives remained. This was an unusual 'Fireless' type, works number 2155, which was originally acquired in 1955 from Pecketts. The loco was used for shunting in and around the works, its boiler (or more correctly, its 'reservoir'), being pumped up with high-pressure steam from a boiler within the factory. It ceased work in the 1960s and when the works closed it was at first placed in a local recreation ground, and later moved to its present location.

After a good look around the locomotive, we continued to Barton Airfield (today known officially as Manchester City Airport, though it will always be 'Barton' to those of us for whom it was our aviation playground from the 1970s onward). I learned to fly there with Lancashire Aero Club in the late '70s and subsequently flew from there for many years.

One of the beauties of the little bikes is that you can whizz past queues of cars and park them close to where you want to be, whereas the cars get marshalled to distant parking areas. We locked them up behind the airport museum and went exploring. I met many folk I'd not seen for ages, not all of whose names I could recall! But one I did know was fellow Concorde guide and professor of Aeronautics at Salford University Thurai; always an interesting chap with his insight of aerodynamics and his curiosity about how aeroplanes are flown. We examined a flexwing microlight aircraft, an R22 helicopter, and had a look around the airfield museum (among the exhibits were some pictures of me and our group-owned Chipmunk that was based here for many decades).

We'd brought our 'snap' in the top boxes of the bikes, and soon it was time for lunch. But where to sit? The airfield was crowded and all available seating was occupied. But Lancashire Aero Club came to our aid! On recognising me, Cliff Mort, club chairman, invited us to sit at the LAC stand.

Cliff Mort, Chairman of Lancashire Aero Club (the oldest flying club in the world and the one that taught me to fly) invited us to sit at the LAC stand to eat our lunchtime sandwiches. In the picture above, Cliff and Chris Barham (former editor of 'Trim Tab', newsletter replacement for 'The Elevator' - the LAC newsletter known to members as 'The Everlater' due to its often delayed publication date) sit opposite Malc. Later, ex-Concorde guide and Barton PPL Vic joined us. Vic is now an active support volunteer for the local Air Ambulance helicopter.

After lunch we had a walk around the site including up to the control tower balcony for a view over the airfield.

The fine weather has brought the crowds; a view from the tower balcony

Looking out across the airfield from the balcony

....And a view back the other way towards the hangars. The Luscombe and the Moraine Saulnier that I  saw at Manchester Airport last weekend are on the apron.

Bucker jungmann, and Pitts S2A

Extra, and Pitts S2A

This autogyro later gave a spirited display. The Barton control tower is the oldest existing such building anywhere.

This is a nice toy - another view of the S2A

The Extra has more power than the S2A, but we preferred the latter's display. Both were quite excellent, however - not easy to choose between them!

This brought back memories; Yak 52 and Yak 50 of the 'Aerostars' aerobatic team, who left to display at the Wilmslow Show, returning later to Barton. I used to fly and part-own a Yak 52 at Barton for a few years some time ago. It was a very capable aeroplane of phenomenal performance; the experience of flying and aerobatting it are something I treasure.

The two Vans RV8s of the 'RV8ors' aerobatic team

The Pitts S2A in knife-edge flight. Surprisingly little rudder is required for this.

The Extra taxis in after his display

The autogyro display was good. The rotor on these aircraft is not powered, but 'autorotates' due the aircaraft's forward speed. Two things are vital with autogyros - maintaining rotor RPM by keeping the rotor 'loaded', and avoiding low 'G' . 'G' loading must never, ever, be negative as that unloads the rotor so slows it, but worse it flexes it downwards so it can hit the tail. Autogyros do have a horrendous accident record, but exponents such as Ken Wallace ( link to Ken Walliswho has built and flown them for decades show that correctly flown, they are quite safe.

'The Old Buckers', two Bucker Jungmanns fly their pleasantly relaxed display of close formation gentle aviating, reminicent of the 1930s. One of the aeroplanes is flown by Peter Gaskell, who was in our Chipmunk group for many years and who I have flown with many times.

The RAF's Battle of Britaim Memorial Flight's Dakota displays. This aeroplane was also due to put in an appearance at the Wilmslow Show today, but didn't. Maybe Manchester Air Traffic Control were busy and the Dak didn't have the time in its schedule to accommodate the resultant delay to get a clearance overhead the airport to get across to Wilmslow from Barton.

A Yak 52 on Barton's hallowed turf. This was me many years ago taxying in after another exhilarating flight, except that this is 2014 not 1998 and this is one of the Aerostar Yaks. It has a 3-bladed propeller, whereas ours had a massive 2-blade wide-chord 'paddle' propeller, original fit on Yak 52s

Our Yak52, G-BWVR over Belmont many years ago

 Victor Romeo's front cockpit. The lever with the white handle is a hand rudder control; John Askew, who formed the group, was a paraplegic. Didn't stop him winning the UK Aerobatic Championship at standard level in this aeroplane, though.

Team-mate Aerostar, the Yak 50. A single seat taildragger with the same Vendeneyev 9-cylinder supercharged, geared, radial engine as the '52, of 360 hp. Sounds glorious (from outside; from the cockpit it sound like a washing machine full of spanners).

What a fabulous day! Far better than I expected, and reminiscent of Barton airshows of years ago. Well done City Airport!

We headed home on the little bikes avoiding the exit queue of cars from the airfield, riding straight out past them all (they really are wonderful, these 'Steppers' [step-throughs] as we call them). It only remained to finish off the afternoon with a nice pint of Sam Smiths bitter at the Bird in Hand at Knolls Green on the way home!


Sunday, 6 July 2014

Manchester Aviation & Transport Fair, and first training session as guard on CVR

Contrary to the forecast, the weather this weekend was superb except for some heavy showers later on Sunday. That was good, because I had something planned for both days.

Saturday 5th July
Yesterday, the Aviation & Transport Fair at Manchester Airport Runway Visitor Park (RVP) was my destination.

I fired up the C90 and headed down to the RVP, a place where I spend a great deal of time conducting Concorde and Nimrod tours. This time, instead of my guide's uniform I was in 'civvies' as I wasn't going to work, but to simply enjoy the spectacle. As I arrived and was securing the bike, the commentator was announcing the arrival of the Emirates A380, the largest passenger aircraft in the world,  from Dubai.

The Emirates Airbus A380 Super Jumbo taxis past the Concorde hangar towards the airport terminals having just landed on runway 23R

Concorde looks out through the windows of her hangar at an array of classic cars 

Inside the hangar many traders and transport-related model societies had display stands

A handful of vintage light aeroplanes were invited to fly into the event. This one (flown in by Dave Wight) was a big part of my life for almost 35 years; Chipmunk G-BCSL. I had a share in this aeroplane and flew it regularly from 1979 until quite recently. 

Another aeroplane that used to be Barton based for many years is this ex-Fred Dunkerley Miles Gemini

The sun shone, the crowds came, and the atmosphere was one of happy enjoyment. I met many people from the world of aviation who I hadn't seen for ages, wandered round the stalls inside the hangar and out in the Park. As well as the Chippy and the Gemini, a Cessna Airmaster, Moraine Saulnier, and a Luscombe Silvair all flew in for the event. All five being tail-wheeled aeroplanes of course!

This lovely afternoon was rounded off with a pint with Malc at the Bird in Hand at Knolls Green on the way home.

Sunday 6th July
Last week the railway held its 'Velocipede Rally' where human-powered vehicles operated between Oakamoor and Froghall, and I was in Consall box as signalman to ensure (in communication with Howard at Froghall) that velocipedes and steam trains didn't meet!

Velocipedes at Froghall last weekend

This morning I started something completely different. It entailed an early start as I had to be at the Churnet Valley Railway at Cheddleton for my first day of training as a train guard by 08:00. I love being signalman in Consall box but signalling turns on the railway are averaging only about one a month and I want to do volunteering on the railway on some operating days when I'm not rostered in the 'box.

Rostered guard John was my mentor today, and we started by preparing the train. By attaching a hose to the filler pipes on the coach ends we filled the water tanks which supply toilets and wash basins, visually checked for leaking axle boxes, frayed generator belts, worn brake blocks, and any other obvious faulty external items before, following a vacuum brake test, the train departed ECS (Empty Coaching Stock) for Froghall hauled by the Polish tank and diesel 33102 'Sophie' to pick up the passengers.

The normal vacuum brake reading on the gauge in the guard's compartment is 23 inches (of mercury), but the brake is effective with anything above 15 inches. The vacuum is generated by the locomotive using its ejector if it's a steam locomotive, or vacuum pump if diesel or electric.

In the guard's compartment of the train is a handle which releases the brake vacuum completely to apply the train's brakes on all coaches in an emergency, and a large handwheel which applies the park brake. This latter is applied before the locomotive is uncoupled from the train (perhaps to run-around at the start and finish of the journey) and not released until the locomotive is coupled on again.  The vacuum in the reservoirs on each coach will keep the vacuum brake applied for at least 15 minutes in the absence of a vacuum-generating locomotive, after which the vacuum may 'leak off'. Hence use of the handbrake to ensure the train doesn't move.

The guard's compartment in the ex-BR Mk2 brake of our 5-coach train.  The hand brake wheel is in the foreground with a green disc placed on it to indicate that the brake is 'off'. When it's on, a red disc is placed on it as a reminder for the guard. The emergency vacuum brake handle (which, if activated, applies the brakes on the entire train) is the red handle  on top of the vertical black pipe next to the desk. The vacuum gauge is just out of sight at the top of the picture. 

The guard is responsible for the safety of his train and passengers. He does not check tickets (TTIs, Travelling Ticket Inspectors do that). One vital job is to place the tail lamp onto the back of the rear-most coach, as shown below, and of course it has to be re-located every time the train changes running direction and the loco(s) run round. We also entertain the passengers with a commentary over the public address system, especially on the highly scenic section on the Cauldon Branch up into the Staffordshire Moorlands with its fabulous views.

This is the tail lamp, which must always be carried by the last vehicle in the train. Signalmen, station staff, etc will check each train for the presence of the tail lamp to ensure that no portion of the train has broken away and been left behind

Exactly the same as our train today, yesterday's service leaves Cheddleton for Ipstones loop

Today was a long day finishing with an ECS run from Froghall to Leekbrook to run-round (including a stop at Cheddleton to take the steam loco off the train), then back to Cheddleton where we had begun our working day early this morning. We didn't leave the train until after 18:30 after three return passenger trips Froghall to Ipstones and back, the middle journey being the Sunday Dining Train where passengers in the dining coach enjoyed a full 3-course Sunday roast lunch with wine and aperitifs. The three return journeys along the entire length of the line, plus running ECS up the valley and back, resulted in a total of 70 miles running for the day.

So, first training day completed, a session as Consall signalman next Saturday, and maybe more guard training quite soon!