I learned about flying (part one)
and there were moments that demanded concentration and attention to stay safe - to preserve both aircraft and body
I preferred never to take holidays, rather to have days off at my choosing, often at short notice dictated by considerations such as the weather and my mood and feelings. Such a day - was during one summer when the weather was kind, work problems few and my mind was on flying
not just any old flying but a few hours in my legendary Falco - a machine I never ever tired of and still to this day defines what I think being on the wing is all about I had taken off from Elstree and flown up to Norfolk - my much remembered land of rivers, sightseeing and flying over places that had and to some extent still were of interest to me
at a cruising air speed of one hundred and ninety miles per hour the round trip of about two hundred and fifty miles, was but a 'local' jaunt for the quick red Falco just enough to satiate my airborne impulses for the day.
After a satisfying and delightful flight, I selected 'undercarriage down' on final approach when returning to Elstree. I immediately sensed that something was not quite right the single light, unlike the usual three indicators on more sophisticated machines, signifying the undercarriage to be down and locked, was not showing its usual green, remaining resolutely fixed on red
something was wrong
It had happened before and I rapidly confirmed the basic cause when Italian Stelio Frati had designed the Falco in the fifties as a manual alternative to electric undercarriage warning he had included small 'pop-up' indicators - one on each wing and another on the nose cowling when the undercarriage gear was down and locked each indicator stood proud of its surface. Otherwise the relevant one was flush with the relevant skin. Both wing indicators now showed the main wheels were correctly in place but the nose indicator was stuck halfway out
from my previous experience I assumed that the nose undercarriage leg was probably only jammed half extended and certainly not locked in the correct position - 'down and locked' in the proper jargon.
I could of course, have continued to land at Elstree - risking a collapse of the nose leg and blocking the single runway - or worse - ruining the propeller and maybe the engine
neither an attractive prospect and also expensive
' Alfa Charlie going around' was my call to the Elstree control tower. 'Roger' called Pete Woods from the tower 'Do you have a problem - your nose gear did not look fully extended?'
'Affirmative' I replied then asked him to telephone my maintenance base at Meppershall in Buckinghamshire - and ask them to call me on their private radio frequency.
After Pete confirmed he had made the call I thanked him and diverted to Meppershall - fortunately still with enough fuel for more than two hour's flying. Shortly, Andrew Brinkley called me and agreed to stand by while I slowly flew low over his field and he could visually inspect the nose leg from the ground.
It was as I expected Andrew and his mechanics lined up by the side of the runway whilst I did a circuit and aimed for an approach knowing the nose leg might collapse on landing, or not be extended sufficiently to keep the propeller clear of the ground
again both very expensive
My final approach was very careful and quite slow just a few knots above stalling speed. As I passed over the hedge - I switched off the engine - and fortunately the propeller stopped instead of windmilling in the slipstream
but unfortunately it had stopped in the vertical position. With two short 'blips' on the starter button I manage to manoeuvre it so the blades were horizontal and so would not strike the ground carefully keeping the gliding aircraft above stalling speed
and gently touched down - progressively and gently increasing back pressure on the stick to keep the nose wheel off the ground for as long and as possible.
Peter Hunter 2013
from Peter Hunter's too many miles