You can have a serious love affair with some aircraft. Some aircraft are real performers but not easy to fly, and some feel good but are pretty limited in what they can do. The Scottish Aviation Bulldog, once the RAF's basic trainer, is a real performer that flies beautifully.
(G-AXIG, photographed by me on a chilly morning at Compton Abbas in Dorset.)
I had started visiting Compton Abbas to fly the Tiger Moths that were based there (see "The Tale of the Tiger") In those days, Compton Abbas was owned by Alan Curtis who had a lot of aviation interests, including getting the Cranfield A1, a British aerobatic machine, off the drawing board and into the air. The airfield was managed by the diminutive blond Sue, whose husband Mike would take time off flying airliners to do a bit of instructing. Alan's brother, John, was also an instructor. I think it is true to say that I have never encountered a more good-natured flying operation before or since.
After having got the Tiger flying under my belt, I turned my attention to the other interesting machine that was based there. In the early nineteen seventies, the RAF had swapped its venerable de Havilland Chipmunks for the Scottish Aviation Bulldog. The Bulldog had not been the first choice of the RAF - they had originally had something a bit more Gucci in their sights, but the Bulldog was British and that won the day. However, the Bulldog won a lot of fans after it entered service.
Alan Curtis had acquired the second prototype Bulldog after Scottish had decided that they no longer needed it, and it differed from the service machine in not having had to be brought up to service standard, which added a lot more weight (and that huge radio they brought out of store and stuck behind the seats added even more...). So, here was a machine, just the size of a Beagle Pup (on which airframe it was based), with a 200HP engine and a constant speed propellor. I had quite a few hours on the Pup from my flying at Biggin, so translating to the Bulldog did not take long. Aerobatics was the next stage, and Mike was the instructor who was mainly responsible for teaching me to perform passable manouevres in this machine.
On a nice sunny morning, but with a stiff wind coming from the west, I signed out India Golf to take it into clear airspace for an aerobatics session. I usually headed off to the south west, where I was unlikely to get in the way of any traffic, and practice the simpler manouevres that were to be found in Neil Williams's textbook "Aerobatics", which to many fliers was the bible of its day. Today was no exception, and a short while later I was over my chosen area.
The nice thing about the constant speed propellor is that you don't have to mess around with the throttle when passing through the vertical. For many manouevres you could simply set fine pitch, set desired manifold pressure, and pole away. On that day I did just that. I also turned down the volume on the radio as there is nothing more distracting to hear a hairy-chested voice booming "Compton Tower, this is..." when you are half way round a slow roll and trying to do it tidily.
So, for a good thirty minutes I looped and rolled to my heart's content. Then I thought I would pay a visit to the usual scenic parts of the coast before returning. On turning south I noticed that I was now a lot further east than I had been when starting my session, but did not think much of this at the time. After my usual steep turns over the cliffs and Corfe Castle, I restored the volume to the radio and returned to Compton.
I parked India Golf and went into reception. I signed in again and noticed that John was giving me a rather considered stare.
"Did you have your radio on throughout your detail, Dave?" he asked.
"Um, I did, but I turned the volume down for part of the trip - wanted a bit of peace and quiet for my aero session."
"That explains it," said John, nodding slowly.
"Um, explains what?" I asked cautiously.
"Well, the Army telephoned us while you were up and we tried to get in touch with you. They had a Herc with a load of paratroopers ready to do a practice drop and they couldn't carry it out because some aircraft, they assumed it was from here, was doing aeros over their drop zone. They waited for a while and then went home."
I closed my eyes and a sinking feeling hit my stomach. Yes, the parachute symbol was on the map and I always avoided it, but today that wind...
"I didn't allow for the wind, John; it must have blown me back into their drop zone. Oh, Hell!"
"Well, something to watch out for in future," said John. He could see I was mortified and a bollocking would not have added any more pain to that which I was already feeling.
I can only hope that the bods in the Herc cockpit enjoyed the performance because I have never given the Army another one. For a while I wondered whether I would get a bill for their aborted sortie. Thankfully not; I would still be paying just for the fuel they used...
India Golf is still around, but now resplendent in Swedish Air Force colours. Its owner must be a very happy man.