Miserable end for a Rallye
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)