by Adrian Hall-Carpenter
This article appeared in the October 2012 Falco Builders Letter.
I've had a very fortunate flying career. Not in respect of getting four stripes on my sleeve or doing well in the aviation industry (I'm in the automotive industry) but inasmuch as I've been lucky to own a good selection of my favourite aeroplanes.
I started off with a Cherokee 140 which I bought from the flying school when I had eight hours in my logbook. Once I'd qualified, I then I bought a Stampe and groundlooped my way around the grass strips of England until I learned what my feet were for. This was followed by a Super Cub, a Pilatus P-3, a Yak 52, a CAP 10 and many other lovely types.
But there was one type that had always eluded me: a Falco. I never seemed to be in the right place at the right time. It's a funny thing, but I find that aeroplanes seem to find you rather than you finding them. And this was the way it was with my Falco.
Back in 2009 I read in the LAA (our version of the EAA) magazine that a gentleman called Richard Marks had sadly died. Richard had been building a Falco and his widow Angela had commissioned my pal Dave Silsbury to finish the aircraft to flying status. I duly gave Dave a call to see if the Falco would be for sale when finished and this turned out to be the case.
Subsequently a viewing was arranged. The aeroplane was beautifully built. Richard Marks was a woodwork teacher, had previously built a wooden boat, and it was obvious that he was a master with wood. The fit and finish of the woodwork and quality of the paintwork was sublime. It was registered G-RJAM being Richard and his wife's initials.
The Falco is a most beautiful and elegant aeroplane. Why is it that the Italians have this fantastic flair for style? I have often wondered what it must have been like in the late 50's when most of us here in the UK were flying Austers, Tiger Moths, Magisters and similar. Imagine sitting around on a Sunday afternoon having tea and buns and then someone arrives in a Falco. Wallop! It must have been like a vision from the future, instantly outdating all current aircraft. Similar to someone today arriving in the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. Not for nothing are the names similar.
Meredith Scott with Richard Marks and Alan Powell in 2002
G-RJAM was particularly elegant as it had a Nustrini canopy. Whilst this does add to the looks (and possibly to the speed?) for me this was its downfall as I am 6'4" tall and there is no way I could sit comfortably in it. So that was it—thanks very much but no thanks.
Some time elapsed, the aircraft was advertised in the press, and I didn't give it another thought. Until the phone rang and it was Dave Silsbury.
"You remember the Falco?" he asked.
"Why don't you make an offer for it as no one else seems interested."
Coming from an automotive background, for me this was an opportunity not to be missed. The car dealer in me surfaced and I informed Dave that if I did make an offer, it would not fall under the heading of generous.
To cut a long story short I ended up owning a Falco. It didn't matter that I couldn't fit into it: I owned it and was one of those wonderful irrational irresponsible moments in life which come along alas all too rarely.
Dave finished the work on G-RJAM, did the initial test flights and then I arranged to collect it and fly it home to finish off the test flying at my home base.
When I turned up to collect 'AM I discovered that if I threw the cushions in the back and sat on the cockpit floor and leant forward I could just fit in, although it was a long way from comfortable. Dave gave me a couple of circuits to check me out. After all he had a whole two hours on a Falco, and I had none! I wondered how the insurance underwriter felt when he/she read the proposal form with my response to the question "Total hours on type" and saw the response Nil. Contrary to all that I had read, I felt very much at home with the sensitive flight controls which I found very similar to my recently sold CAP 10. So that was a relief.
Dave then left me to it. I checked everything really thoroughly, 'AM only having a total of two hours flight time. It's surprising how that focuses the mind. I don't think I've ever done such a detailed, methodical and meticulous pre-flight. Having been lucky enough not to have had any serious problems in the air during my 30 years of flying I didn't want to start now.
I returned to my hotel and read the excellent flight manual and booklet on flight testing produced by Sequoia. I was ready for the flight home the following day.
The dawn was crystal clear, and I set off for the airfield in high spirits. Dave had muttered something about the Marks family coming to bid farewell to the aeroplane, but I was completely unprepared for what ensued. The whole family turned up and Richards Marks' daughter Holly was duly flown by Dave as an observer on a final pre-departure test flight. At least that's what it says in the log book. Much chat ensued, coffee was consumed, hands were shaken, photos were taken and eventually everyone departed. Or so I thought.
I got on with re-fuelling, checked the oil, and checked absolutely everything else at least twice. I didn't hurry. It was one of those rare and succulent occasions when there was more than enough time. It must have taken me a couple of hours to prepare the aeroplane and myself -- I didn't want to screw up. As it was now about lunchtime and the airfield was pretty quiet, I thought it a good time to slip away quietly with a minimum of fuss. I started up, got taxi instructions to the hold, did my checks and lined up on Dunkeswell's runway 22. Just before opening the throttle, I don't know why but I looked over my left shoulder. There leaning against the fence watching me was a mature lady -- it was Angela Marks, Richards' widow. That moved me considerably so as I gathered my thoughts I resolved to do a nice neat crisp and precise farewell takeoff.
The flight home was fabulous; just breathe on the stick and the aircraft responds, very easy to keep height and heading and a true airspeed of 150 knots at 24 square flying at 1000 feet. I was home in 1 hour 40 minutes. A most enjoyable if not entirely comfortable journey.
After the euphoria of the homeward flight, the hard work really started in the form of the comprehensive flight test schedule. Here in the UK we have a simpler procedure than in the US. We only have to fly a programme of around 10 hours. 'AM required all the normal things when shaking down an aircraft, nothing untoward but very time consuming. However after delays for weather and holidays 'AM was soon fully certified for flight.
Now to sort out the graphics. Much time was spent on the internet looking at the excellent schemes on the Sequoia website together with every other photo of a Falco that I could find.
I envy you Falco owners in the US, because of the facility to have those miniscule registration letters and numbers, mostly out of the way, on the tail. Here in the UK we are obliged to have enormous registration letters right down the side of our fuselages (we even have a 13-page document from our CAA with spacing and minimum sizes for the letters etc. Just take a look at www.caa.uk/docs/33/CAP523.PDF and have a laugh.) This limits the use of those wonderful sweeping schemes that you have in the US.
Being of the opinion that the little Sequoia logos supplied with the kit are not in keeping with the size of registration letters that we are obliged to use here in the UK, I had a graphic designer copy them in a larger but still correct font. They also copied the original Falco logo. I hadn't much choice with the graphics colours as the interior of 'AM is green leather, so green was the only option. The forward end of the stripe is done with the Falco 'beak' and the original Falco logo is on the fin. A logo too many? You decide.
Having duly completed the aircraft, along comes a very nice man called David Drew who fell in love with it and made me an offer that I couldn't refuse. A deal was duly struck which included delivery to David's home airfield Nottingham.
I do believe that machines develop personalities, and I don't think 'AM was best pleased to be sold on so quickly. So on arrival at Nottingham airport 'AM demonstrated her Italian heritage by not giving me a green light to indicate gear down. There was a lovely red light to indicate 'gear in transit' but in spite of more re-cycling than a garbage dump, still no green light. All the movies I've ever seen when the hero does tower flypast to check for gear down look fun. When you do it for real there is a kind of numb helplessness as there is not much anyone can do to put your mind at rest; there is still the chance that this thing of great beauty will end up as a pile of splintered timber in the middle of the runway.
However 'AM was only doing what Italian electrics always do: teasing. The gear did not fold on landing and the lack of a green light was solely down to a failed bulb.
So what were my feelings as I handed my Falco over to David? A super aeroplane in all ways. Any changes I would make? Yes: I would fit an external canopy release handle for use in case of an accident, a test button for all the warning bulbs, a canopy with more headroom, and have a better short field performance for those of us here in Europe who do not have the luxury of a long hard runway.
I got a lift home in an RV6. I'd never been in one before. I could fit into it easily, it had a good short field performance and it was also very fast. Do I want one? No.
Why? Because it lacks soul.
And that's something that you can never say about a Falco.