Our comment column on historic aviation by the chief executive of the UK’s Light Aircraft Association
It is said that every aeroplane has a story. Recently, two aircraft have highlighted that they can tell absorbing tales of the people around them, as much as of the machines themselves.
Many who went to certain major events last year, including the Shuttleworth Fly Navy show and the Royal International Air Tattoo, will have seen the delectable 1915 Bristol Scout reproduction. However, the story behind the Scout’s creation is as interesting as that of the aircraft. As we recounted in our August 2016 issue, it dates back to 1915, when Flt Sub Lt F. D. H. ‘Bunny’ Bremner, RNAS flew an example from an airfield on the Greek island of Thasos during the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign. After ‘Bunny’s’ death in 1983, his grandsons David and Rick Bremner found the control column, rudder bar and magneto from his aircraft while clearing out his workshop.
A plan matured to construct a reproduction around the original parts and in 2010 the duo, along with fellow aircraft builder Theo Willford, began work. During 2015, the aircraft became the only flying specimen of the type in the world, but that was only the start of an epic adventure. David Bremner had set himself the goal of flying the aircraft from the same Greek island as his grandfather, a century on.
The emotive family story is now the subject of a documentary film by Stephen Saunders, which made its premiere in early April and is set to be seen on TV screens later in the year. Having been at the first viewing, I can testify that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Look out for a review in next month’s Aeroplane.
“Many ‘Beagle Originals’, the firm’s original employees, arrived at the 50th anniversary celebration from Shoreham with their photographs and recollections”
Of course an aircraft doesn’t need a century of history to tell a tale. The recent roll-out of prototype Beagle Pup G-AVDF after more than four decades of neglect was carefully timed for 8 April, marking to the day the 50th anniversary of its maiden flight at Shoreham in 1967 in the hands of test pilot ‘Pee Wee’ Judge.
There were high hopes for the Pup, developed by British Executive and General Aviation Limited, or Beagle — formed in 1960 by the merger of Auster Aircraft of Rearsby and F. G. Miles Ltd of Shoreham. The trim design looked to be a winner, more spacious than its competitors, and more of a ‘pilot’s aeroplane’. However, the new company was already in financial trouble. Despite having more than 250 Pups on order, production ceased in 1969 after just 152 were built.
G-AVDF last flew in May 1969, acting as a trial mule for the more powerful Bulldog. It was then stored in a dismantled state at Shoreham and Brooklands, before being acquired in 1992 by David Collings. After two aborted restoration attempts, it was stored for 17 years in his shed.
In May 2015, David, along with aviation historian Anne Hughes, formed the Beagle Pup Prototype Club to oversee the aircraft’s restoration, which is being carried out at Turweston aerodrome by Simon Owen and Alan Turney of ATSO Engineering. As the first prototype, G-AVDF is very different to production Pups and there are no plans available. A solution was provided by Mike Maddock of Performance Engineered Solutions who used state-ofthe- art optical scanning to create 3D images of the airframe, later used to reverse-engineer key components such as the wing spars.
The project has brought together volunteers of all ages. John Dickin, Peter Briggs and Diane Pollard — all former workers at Beagle — have given invaluable advice and support, while teenage trainee engineer Michael Allen has won a Transport Trust award for his work on G-AVDF. The Allens are keeping it in the family too; when the aircraft is complete, the final paintwork will be finished by Michael’s grandfather Mick Allen.
The 50th anniversary celebration at Turweston on 8 April saw 20 Beagle Pups and nine Bulldogs present, the largest recorded gathering for over 12 years. In addition many ‘Beagle Originals’, the firm’s original employees, arrived from Shoreham with their photographs and recollections. It was a memorable party.