World's Slowest Falco
by Tim Painter
This article appeared in the March 2004 issue of the Falco Builders Letter.
Ray the midwife starts the engine, ready to cut to cord.
21 years ago! That is when I first laid eyes on a Falco. It was at Elstree airport, home of the famous Ellstree film studios. Peter Hunter was the proud owner showing her off to the assembled crowd; at the front was a Mister Alfred Scott (who?) and at the back was me. Just a lad really, just finished an Evans Volksplane and looking on in awe at the beauty of it. No not Scoti, the Falco! I was hooked on a long and twisting journey to the first flight.
G-BVDP was built in a small (35 foot) garage in Felixstowe U.K and then moved to Framlingham air field. This is one of many WW2 airfields in East Anglia built to service the bombers of the USAF. The main runway is no longer there, but we have the taxiway to the dispersal sites as a runway and the hangar stands on a round concrete 'pan handle.' Just think, the Sally B [The UK's last remaining airworthy B17] may have been on this very site.
The control tower is still there now housing a moving exhibition bearing testament to many wartime experiences including the untimely death of Joseph Kennedy Jr on an experimental mission.
Now it is 19/11/03 0900hrs and one very nervous builder is fussing over his creation cleaning the screen for the third time. Well the test pilot is not due for another three hours, just enough time to check the oil and fuel again, another wax polish and another 20 minutes closer to the final proof. The moment when all the talk has been talked and the truth will be tested, the first flight!
Quite a lonely time, that first hour. Then my 'mid wife' Ray turned up to restore some order to to the random fiddling. How about sweeping the stones (rocks in Americanese) off the runway? That should keep me occupied for some considerable time.
Time passes faster now that I have a useful job. And Philip O'Donoghue the test pilot turns up. Another wave of jitters for me. I talk to Phil, jiberish comes out. Ray interprets. I think all builders should have a midwife for the first flight. I go back to sweeping stones. Phil has done his home work, test notes printed, weight and balance sheet done, speeds memorised. So I fuss with shoulder straps and am politely told "O.K You can leave me now." I can't sweep stones anymore, my hands are shaking too much.
Strangely, Phil is strapped in, calmly doing the pre-start checks, not a hint of nerves.
My heart rate is now over 90 bpm, and I am pacing up and down the taxiway.
The engine bursts in to life. 100 bpm and I am pacing round in circles.
Phil taxis to end of runway and makes the first high speed taxi test.
I am not pacing now. I am in shock. My baby has up to this time has been treated so gently, with the greatest care and now look! Nose wheel off. Bang, nose wheel down.
One main off, then down again, the other main off and on. Then the chirping of tyres. Yes, the brakes seem to work. Phil taxis back, grins at me and then does it all again! How much can I take? Then it happened, Phil called on the radio: delta papa was happy and ready to go. 110 bpm I just stand there at about the lift-off point waiting for what seemed an hour while the checks and vital actions were completed.
Strobe lights on. Here we go! The small speck at the end of the runway became a blur of red flashing past me. A swirl of dust and that peculiar Doppler shift in the engine note, and she was up and away. I just stood there like a golfer following through, my baby disappearing to a small speck in the sky. What a great moment. The heart rate drops a little, and you become aware of your surroundings again and notice that there are several other people around, Joe with his video camera shouting "I got it, I got it."
The relief is short-lived. The midwife calls "Come on Tim. Jump in the car." We were off now 5 miles to ex-USAF Bentwarters, a mile of tarmac and wider than the length of the runway we hade just left "first landing"
Here we go again. Heart rate 100 bpm.
Seven flights later, nerves settled and everybody is happy, including the test pilot!