Fifty Years of Pilot
James Allan looks back
In Pilot fifty years ago
This issue of Pilot hit the newsstands in the same week as Stanley Kubrick’s epic film 2001: A Space Odyssey was released. The film has earned for itself the name of being the greatest incomprehensible movie ever produced. The magazine contains just one thing that still remains to me an unsolved mystery. Why on earth did Pilot get involved in sponsoring a competition to design a homebuilt aircraft to be called the Pilot Sprite? Editor Brian Healey was full of enthusiasm for the project but scathing in his comments about PFA’S apparent lack of interest. Not a venture I see the magazine ever repeating!
The Beagle Pup 100 was flown from Shoreham and air tested by the Editor. He loved its car-like comfort and roominess, and rated it to be the quietest light aeroplane he had ever flown, a real sporty tourer with none of the stodginess of many American aircraft. He could see its excellent aerobatic performance might make it competitive against Zlins and Yaks. ‘It’s great, it’s terrific, it really is a winner and it’s British.’ Trevor Prytherch gave the 100 hp
Sud Aviation Rallye Club good marks for all round visibility and excellent handling although he had some reservation about its unusual leadingedge slats. Rallyes of various types numbering over 3,300 aircraft remained in production in France until 1984 by which time a licencebuilt Polish version known as the Koliber was already in production. All in all, the Rallye was heading for a distinctly more successful commercial career than the poor Pup.
Another piece in this issue deals rather sarcastically with what its writer calls ‘a grand aeronautical joke, nursed by the Royal Aeronautical Society and funded by one Henry Kremer, industrialist and apparently connoisseur of queer ways to unload excess money - the most exquisite and tantalising culde-sac in the history of flight’. What was he talking about? Man powered flight. In 1968, when this Pilot article appeared that idea was certainly open to ridicule, yet just nine years later the Gossamer
Condor 2 would fly a figure of eight distance of 2,172 metres and win the first £50,000 Kremer prize. The second Kremer prize of £100,000 went in 1979 to the same pilot/cyclist, Bryan Allen, flying Gossamer Albatross a distance of 35.82 km from England to France. So who was the joke on then?
Forty years ago
The then editor of Pilot, James Gilbert, wrote the air test article for this issue himself, describing his impressions of the newly introduced Cessna Chancellor
414A twin and it was he who also took the photograph of the Chancellor flying over Yorkshire which features on this month’s cover. A versatile man was our James. He found the Cessna 414A to be a versatile machine too, with its extended wings, vast baggage area and a pressurisation system capable of maintaining a cabin altitude of just 8,500 ft while the aircraft is flying at 24,000 ft. Handling was immaculate, though not light because the Chancellor is a three ton aircraft.
The ‘big twin’ theme was continued in an article about business flying in America today, where readers could find details of not just piston-engine twins like the new Partenavia P68 but a whole range of biz-jets including the Cessna Citation,
HS-125 and Falcon 50. There were even rumours that Boeing might be planning to enter this market. A table of corporate aircraft fleets in USA showed that the most expensive of these fleets (worth $17.2 m) was owned by the Coca-cola company.
Mike Jerram had been given a tricky job to do this month; to review a book called Skywriting by Editor James Gilbert. It is, Mike told readers, an anthology of tantalising morsels of the best aviation writing, from balloon flight to moon landings and, as I have a copy of that book on my own bookshelf, I can confirm that Mike’s assessment remains correct, even forty years later. 'Pilot Notes' included the story of an expensive oil leak from
an aircraft. A Biman Bangladesh Airlines Boeing 707 taking off from Luton Airport discharged hydraulic fluid from a fractured undercarriage pipe. The oil stripped the paint off several hundred new cars parked outside Vauxhall’s Luton plant requiring the company to respray them. Notes also included a photo of a motorbike that it was claimed could be folded down to carry in a light aircraft. The Italian made Italjet Pack-a-way was a 50 cc two-stroke motorbike that cost a mere £295 plus VAT.
Thirty years ago
Pilot for May 1988 was a 68-page publication but only a few of these pages (apart for a two-page advert spread for the ‘sensational’ Porsche 911 Carrera) were in colour. Despite that, even in the black and white pages the words still held a lot of colour. Pilot’s chopper expert Mike Dible wrote up a flight test of the Schweizer
300C alternative to a Robinson and he reckoned that its payload/ range made it a better buy than the less expensive R22.
The ' Pilot Profile' this month was of the then reigning world aerobatic champion Nigel Lamb. It was written by Mike Jerram and included more colour, including photos from Nigel’s time as a pilot with the Rhodesian Air Force and with the Marlboro Aerobatic team.
Airtour International were advertising a new book called
Going Foreign VFR, written by one James Allan (who had also compiled the early ‘Airbrained’ Quiz that appeared in this issue).
'Pilot Notes' introduced readers to a new Airmet service being introduced this month by the Met Office. This enabled pilots to access weather forecasts by expensive premium charge phone
numbers for either southern or northern England or for Scotland. The CAA commented that if pilots thought Airmet was too expensive (which we certainly did) they should blame BT and not the CAA.
In this month’s air touring article Maurice Brett described a real marathon cross-country. Flying a forty-year-old Aeronca Champ as part of a team of six pilots he crossed the United States from coast to coast and back again following the route known as the
Oregon Trail that was used by the pioneers in their covered wagons 150 years earlier. The trip involved 126 hours flying, burning 526 US gallons of fuel, covered 7,500 miles and included landing at eighty airfields (only one of which charged any landing fee) and the whole venture was financed by the Canadian Club whiskey company. Asked if he would do it again, Maurice gave a two-word answer: “Yes, please!”
Twenty years ago
The cover of this issue of Pilot shows the impressive Russian MIG25
Foxbat and the reason that machine is there is that intrepid Pilot journalist Maxi Gainza had written a gripping article describing his experiences in
flying to the edge of space (actually to 27 km, just shy of 90,000 ft) in this incredible Soviet cold-war aircraft. Few, if any, readers have experienced a flight like the one Maxi so eloquently describes here. After the eyeball squashing acceleration of the take-off came the climb and then the sky turned into a mesmerising ocean while Maxi strained to catch sight of the first star to shine at him in broad daylight. The horizon became a fuzzy band of baby-blue with just a hint of a curve. ‘Elation was not the word: I was too calm. Perhaps a mountaineer feels this way atop Everest, only I was three times higher and hadn’t strained my lungs and limbs for it. A Promethean fire had carried me this far.’ After landing and a celebration party someone asked Maxi “Do you realise that today you were the fastest and highest human being on earth?” and, if you forget his pilot Vladimir Loginovski, the questioner was probably right.
There was an educative article about Paramotoring in this issue, emphasising that a powered paraglider may simply be described as a plane you can get into the boot of your car but you require some serious training before you attempt to fly one because their operation is rather more of an art than a science. Following that, Bob Grimstead describes in some detail another piloting skill that is more of an art than a science; prop-swinging.
To round things off this month with a holiday you can keep author John Stainer company on his flight through France and Spain to Portugal in a vintage Cessna 140. An interesting trip, with the usual weather problems and seemingly great surprise by the pilots that refuellers in Portugal cannot understand English, even when shouted at them. How uncooperative! They also post a warning about women customs officers at Biarritz who subjected them to the most thorough examination experienced in twenty years of continental touring including visits to East European states that were still under Communist control.