Mis­er­able end for a Ral­lye

Pilot - - PILOT -

I re­mem­ber hear­ing sto­ries of how, af­ter the end of WWII, the ma­jor­ity of Spitfire air­craft were de­stroyed to re­claim and re­cy­cle their alu­minium parts. Had the sal­vage en­gi­neers had a crys­tal ball and an­tic­i­pated the 2017 cost of an air­wor­thy Spitfire, they may have acted dif­fer­ently. Yet, in Septem­ber 2017, his­tory seemed to re­peat it­self, not with a Su­per­ma­rine Spitfire but with a French MS Ral­lye 880B air­craft.

The aero­plane sud­denly ap­peared un­der the air­craft for sale sec­tion of UK ebay for a sum of £3,750. This had to be a scam as, hav­ing pre­vi­ously owned a Ral­lye with its re­li­able and sought af­ter R-R O-200 en­gine, a cost of be­low £12,000 raised my con­cerns, but also in­ter­est. A call to the owner re­vealed that it had last been flown in De­cem­ber 2016 when the pre­vi­ous owner passed away. From the pho­tos, the aero­plane ap­peared to be in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion and the panel fit showed a full nine in­stru­ment panel with VOR, glides­lope, Narco transpon­der and ra­dio. I agreed to pay a de­posit via Pay­pal, pro­tect­ing me should this in­deed turn out to be a scam, and set a date to visit the plane at its home farm strip in Wales. Check­ing the pa­per­work on G-INFO web­site showed that the Ral­lye’s Cer­tifi­cate of Air­wor­thi­ness had ex­pired in 2008, which con­flicted with the owner’s story that it had been flown up un­til nine months be­fore.

On ar­rival at the airstrip the hangar doors were opened to re­veal the beau­ti­ful Ral­lye in her white paint with gold and green go-faster strips on her fuse­lage. Fuel was present in the wing tanks and clean oil in the en­gine. Turn­ing on the master switch lit up the panel, and the fuel pump ticked and pumped fuel into the en­gine. A few primes and a turn of the key and hey presto! the en­gine fired into life. A few hours of ad­mir­ing the aero­plane’s panel, paint­work and leather up­hol­stery all in­di­cated that this was a well-loved air­craft. Why, there­fore, was there no record of a C of A or an­nual in­spec­tion for over nine years?

Ev­i­dently the el­derly owner was an en­gi­neer who felt able to keep the en­gine in work­ing con­di­tion with­out the need to pay the CAA many thou­sands of pounds for its an­nual pa­per chase. With the tacho in­di­cat­ing about 100 hours since the last per­mit, it ap­pears the owner was happy to bim­ble around the lo­cal open fields and coast­line for ten hours per year with­out the need to jump through the of­fi­cial hoops re­quired by the law. Be­ing a law-abid­ing cit­i­zen, how­ever, with a de­sire to fly with friends and fam­ily, I needed to get the aero­plane back on the of­fi­cial fly­ing reg­is­ter. A few calls and vis­its to main­te­nance firms of all shapes and sizes re­vealed that none was pre­pared to take on the aero­plane af­ter a ten-year lag in the CAA records. The mags would need to be sent away along with the prop. The pa­per chase to bring the ADS up to date would cost a small for­tune, mak­ing the Ral­lye a very ex­pen­sive pur­chase.

So the so­lu­tion ap­peared to be sim­ple: get this lovely fly­ing ma­chine back in the air via a trans­fer onto the LAA reg­is­ter, just like the Chip­munks, Bull­dogs, Tiger Moths and many other an­cient air­craft have done in re­cent years. But alas, that is not pos­si­ble as some­one, some­where is still hold­ing onto the type cer­tifi­cate for the Ral­lye air­craft which pre­vents a trans­fer onto the LAA reg­is­ter.

I re­mem­ber see­ing a re­port many years ago on an all metal tan­dem air­craft called a Varga Kachina that was be­ing flown on a per­mit to fly. When one came up for sale some years later on a C of A, I con­tacted the CAA to ask if I could trans­fer it to an LAA per­mit, to be told in no un­cer­tain terms “No”. But there was one in the UK fly­ing on a per­mit, so why not an iden­ti­cal one built at the same time in the same fac­tory? Aha, that one was put on a CAA per­mit and not an LAA per­mit so can­not now be changed. But it’s the same plane! Yes, but it was not orig­i­nally put on an LAA per­mit to fly...

Hav­ing learned to fly in a PA-28 and C152 and then pur­chas­ing my beloved Ral­lye, the Ral­lye has to be one of the safest air­craft ever built, even if it is French! The lead­ing edge slats that au­to­mat­i­cally de­ploy and re­tract on take­off and land­ing make it im­pos­si­ble to stall. In­deed I was told that if I ever en­coun­tered IMC con­di­tions and pan­icked, just pull back the throt­tle and hold the stick fully back and the plane would de­scend like a parachute with­out stalling, hence the nick­name ‘the tin parachute’.

So how does the Ral­lye story end? A call is made to a well-re­spected sal­vage firm that will col­lect and dis­as­sem­ble the air­craft so its en­gine and in­stru­ments can be then placed into LAA air­craft, and the wings, tail, canopy etc be sold as donor parts for other age­ing Ral­lye air­craft.

In telling this story I am not con­don­ing the ac­tions of the el­derly, now de­ceased, owner who flew the aero­plane il­le­gally for nine years. How­ever, I do have some sym­pa­thy with him for want­ing to keep the air­craft in the air where it be­longs but be­ing un­able or un­will­ing to pay the £4,000-plus an­nual cost of keep­ing the C of A pa­per­work in or­der just to get air­borne for ten hours a year. The aero­plane was in far bet­ter con­di­tion, kept snug it its won­der­ful hangar, than my old Ral­lye that lived out­doors on the grass at El­stree Aero­drome, yet she is now con­demned, like so many Spit­fires, to the scrapheap.

When will com­mon sense kick in with the Euro­pean and UK avi­a­tion of­fi­cials, to al­low air­craft such as the Ral­lye, that is no longer man­u­fac­tured or sup­ported, to be au­to­mat­i­cally trans­ferred onto the LAA per­mit sys­tem and kept in the air where they be­long? Frank Wal­ters by email PPLA (300 hours ac­quired over fif­teen years)

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