The Chippie Blog
JANUARY - FINALLY! After almost 6 months of down-time, WG430 was fired back to life by Nando Mendoza on 17th January for a series of engine runs to check for leaks and smooth running. All went well, and in fact the engine started on the first attempt! On 19th January, I took WG430 up for the first hour of engine "break-in" flights. This flight was conducted at a constant high RPM and with mineral oil to seat the new pistons and cylinders. A record was taken each 10 minutes to show engine oil pressure, temperature and EGT for each of the 4 cylinders. There average oil pressure was 45psi, oil temperature was 70c given the OAT of approximately 8c at 2,000ft. EGT averages for cruise flight were - Number 1: 707c/1305f Number 2: 740c/1364f Number 3: 705c/1301f Number 4: 812c/1494f. Overall, the flight went well. The engine produced good power and WG430 handled fantastically well. There was some roughness observed between 10 and 20 minutes of flight, and then intermittently afterwards. After consultation, this was expected to be a little air seeping into the intake manifold as a result of the new nuts being heated and loosening a little during the flight. The nuts were re-torqued and a second flight will be made at normal cruise RPM to validate the findings.
Events confirmed for WG430 in 2023 are March Air Base Airshow (weekend of 22nd April) and EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh (week of 24th July). More events to be confirmed soon.
OCTOBER/NOVEMBER - The latest news from West Coast Air Creations is that the new pistons, rings, cylinders and cylinder heads are now installed. The propellor was also overhauled and painted, and so this has been fitted too. Some painting has been conducted on the undercarriage legs and the cowling due to paint deterioration. I have made the decision to install an EGT gauge and probes for all four cylinder heads so that I can keep an eye on the health of the engine in future. I will also have a volt/amp gauge installed, along with a rebuilt voltage regulator. I was not planning to do so much maintenance work to WG430 this year, but circumstances have forced my hand. However, I'm so thankful that we have had the opportunity to do a top overhaul, prop overhaul and the other work to ensure the safe future of my historic Chipmunk. I am hoping to be airborne before the end of this year and airshows/events have already been identified to try and make 2023 a great year to show off this great piece of RAF history to thousands of enthusiasts.
AUGUST/SEPT - A repost from a Chipmunk Group website: "Here is a quick recap of a recent Chipmunk event - “Operation Stupid, but not so stupid”! After discovering that my Gipsy Major had been infiltrated by a certain notorious Mr Williams back in 2005, opinions were sought to try and explain the number 4 cylinder and piston scoring, and questions were asked regarding the possibility of overhaul. This led to me sending said piston and cylinder to Chris Harrison in Australia for assessment. A video/photo chat allowed a check of the other three cylinders. Unfortunately, the verdict was not good. To quote Chris, “you appear to have four flower pot cylinders and four ashtray pistons!” I was hopeful that the cylinder heads could be overhauled, and so shipped these to Chris too. Another quote, “…the worst I’ve seen and that pitted valve was really close to failing!” By this time, I had also discovered the immense cost of shipping engine parts across the oceans. Even with my generous airline employee discounts, the costs were significant. Luckily, Chris was able to offer four overhauled and assembled cylinders and heads with appropriate hardware (pistons were sourced through Connie Clark in California). However, I started to wonder how much it would cost to ship four complete top end (or bottom end for a GM) units back to me in America. Not cheap, me thinks!! But wait! I’m an airline pilot by trade, meaning I can fly for virtually free, and I have 3 days free between work trips. Hmmmm. And that’s how “Operation Stupid, but not so stupid” came about.
The plan: finish my 6 hour work flight from Costa Rica to Los Angeles Airport. Change out of my uniform and walk to the international terminal. Catch a 15 hour Qantas flight to Melbourne (hope to get an open business class seat to allow some sleep!) Get a hire car, remember to drive on the other side of the road, and drive 2 hours to meet Chris. Buy 2 large suitcases. Pick up the shiny cylinders and heads, have dinner, sleep, drive back to Melbourne Airport and catch the Qantas flight back to LAX the next afternoon.. to be back in time to put my uniform on and fly to Honolulu for work! Good game, good game!!!
What actually happened: well, all of the above, quite successfully. Plus.. I was able to take the carburetor from WP833 down for minor repairs in a suitcase loaned to me by Richard Wilsher, meaning I only had to buy one suitcase in Australia. Also, Chris was so efficient, that we even had time for a quick local flight in his beautiful Auster before dinner!!
Thanks so much to Chris Harrison for making this crazy plan work and for the meticulous work to help put my Chipmunk back in the air, and to Ariana for helping to carefully pack the cases so that the precious cargo remained free of damage during its journey. 16,000 miles, 4 cylinders, 4 heads, 3 days, 3 flybys in the Auster, 2 suitcases, 2 trips across the dateline, 1 fixed carburetor, 1 sushi dinner, 1 still employed airline pilot, 1 happy Charlie deHavilland and a fun story too!
JUNE/JULY - Before grounding WG430 for its annual inspection, I was able to allow another Chipmunk pilot the chance to fly. KLM pilot Piet Luijken was on a night stop in the LA area and so we flew together. After Piet flew a few fun rolls and loops we headed to Flabob Airport for a couple of touch & go’s before handing the aircraft over to West Coast Air Creations for inspections.
WG430 had flown 111 hours since the last inspection was completed. The thorough inspections showed very little issues with WG430, however the number 4 cylinder would not give a compression test in range and so further investigation was required. Unfortunately, after removing the cylinder, several scoring marks were found on the cylinder wall and on the piston. A full inspection of the bearings and valves was carried out before the damaged parts were sent to a specialist in Australia for repair. The propeller was also removed and overhauled, which revealed a small crack on the backplate, and so a replacement was located. It is hoped that WG430 will be back in the air in August.
MAY - This month saw WG430 accompany WP833 north from California towards Canada for the recreation of some legs flown as part of Operation Northern Venture 25 years ago. Here is the day by day blog of the journey.
Leaving Flabob (KRIR) at sunrise for our first leg of formation flying towards Canada was spectacular. It was clear and the air smooth as we made our way towards our first planned fuel stop in Bakersfield, California. Unfortunately, as we approached the mountains northwest of Edwards Air Base, we could see morning fog stretching out into the valley ahead. Richard, as lead in WP833, made the decision to divert to General Fox Airfield (KWJF) to allow the fog to burn off before proceeding. A formation overhead break to landing in the 28kt gusting winds and 40 degree crosswind made for a challenging first stop. After fueling and checking the weather ahead, we got airborne again, this time with WG430 leading the two-ship. Some gusty winds across the mountains led to smooth conditions as we flew over the central California valley towards Reedley (O32) for a quick fuel stop before continuing on to the beautiful Columbia Airport (O22) in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. This presented an opportunity to land on the grass runway and make our way to the picnic grounds for lunch. Well nourished, we set off for our final leg and ultimate planned destination for day one, Lincoln Regional (KLHM), where we would meet up with another Chipmunk owner, Dan Flom and his wife Susanne.
On landing, these three former RAF Chipmunks were united for the first time in California. In order of age:
1950 WB684 - Formerly with the RAF display team the Skylarks.
1951 WG430 - AEF1, former BBMF and Royal Navy loan aircraft.
1952 WP833 - One of two RAF Chipmunks to fly around the world.
Day one stats: 316nm - 5hrs 21mins flying time.
After some great hospitality from Dan and Susi (plus the dogs), we met at Lincoln Airport to fly a formation photoshoot with photographer Mark Loper. It was a gusty morning, making the formation with Bonanza N11WP challenging. Unfortunately, WB684 was unserviceable and so couldn’t join the formation. However, Dan flew in the back of WP833 with Richard and Susi flew in the Bonanza with the photographer. The photographs came out really well and might find their way into a magazine in the near future. Some sample photos are in the Photographs section of this website. Soon after, Richard and I departed in formation for our next leg. We had not flown more than 20 minutes when Richard reported he could not fully control the engine speed. He was unable to reduce power less than around 1500RPM, which would make landing a challenge. He reported that the throttle seemed stiff and so we returned to Lincoln for an emergency landing. On short final, Richard cut the magnetos and stopped the engine enabling him to make a controlled touchdown and exit the runway. An inspection of the rear cockpit showed the problem. A pizza box had slipped its rope and slid down onto the rear throttle! After that excitement, we decided to reposition both aircraft to Auburn Airport (KAUN) and spend another night with Dan and Susi. This time, Susi got to fly in the back of WP833.
Day two stats: 12nm - 1hr 19mins flying time!
After a good breakfast, we departed Auburn and received clearance to transit through Beale airspace towards our first fuel stop at a gusty Red Bluff (KRBL). The next leg saw us fly in the rising terrain towards the active volcano Mount Shasta, which was absolutely spectacular as it rose over 14,000 feet from the valley floor. We cut our way through the mountains, following Interstate 5 before landing at Weed Airport (O46). With a name like that, we couldn’t pass up the chance of landing and adding the airport to our logbooks! The views from the ramp area in Weed were absolutely amazing. We were able to get some great shots of both Chipmunks with the snow covered top of Mount Shasta in the background. The airport manager recommended we fly and stay in Ashland, Oregon for the night, and so we were soon airborne again for our final leg of day three. Just to the south of Ashland and in line with the runway approach is a large solitary rock, named Pilot Rock, perhaps for obvious reasons. I was able to take a few good shots of WP833 as it passed Pilot Rock before we landed at the airport nestled in the green hills of Oregon.
Day three stats: 214nm - 3hrs 04mins flying time.
Because of work commitments, I decided that Ashland was as far north as I could go with Richard. The next morning, we started early and did a final overhead break with Richard departing north for his adventure, and WG430 heading back towards Pilot Rock for the return journey to Southern California. Once again, the views around Mount Shasta and some of the older remains of former volcanoes was spectacular. With Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon as a backing track in my headphones, I thoroughly enjoyed this flight. A good tailwind pushed me on towards a lunch stop at Nancy’s Cafe, Willows Airport (KWLW). The next stop was to meet up with old friends at Tracy Airport (KTCY), where one of those friends, Julius Frank, met me in the air in his C172 for a short dogfight! Unfortunately, after fueling, my old problem of a flat battery returned, meaning a longer stay while I charged the batteries. The next leg was flown without radio to preserve some battery power, as I assumed the issue was a generator problem again. Landing at Bakersfield (L45), I was met by the friendly people at Aircraft Service & Parts, who offered a hangar and battery charge for the night.
Day four stats: 463nm - 5hrs 17mins flying time.
A strong tailwind allowed a non-stop flight to Thermal Airport (KTRM) the next morning. The route took me back over the mountains that had been so gusty on day one of our journey but were smooth today. Crossing over Victorville Airport (KVCV) and the hundreds of airliners parked there awaiting their fate after the recent Covid-19 pandemic, reminded me what a privilege it is to be able to keep this historic aircraft flying.
Day five stats: 174nm - 2hrs 01mins flying time.
April - Some currency landings were conducted and planning began for the next adventure for WG430. Richard (WP833) will be leaving for Canada in May to recreate the Canadian section of the RAF Northern Venture trip, flying the exact legs his aircraft flew 25 years ago. I am planning to join Richard in formation on his positioning flight from Riverside to the Canadian border at the beginning of May. Unfortunately, my work schedule does not allow me to do any more than this, but it will be a fun way to give Richard a proper send-off for this wonderful trip. Check out https://wp833-llc.aero/home/northern-venture-25/ for more details. I will plan to do a blog during the trip.
As a strange coincidence, I was made aware of a photo of the original participants of Operation Northern Venture, standing next to a Chipmunk somewhere in the UK. Which Chipmunk? WG430! See the photo posted in the Photographs section.
March - I was able to display WG430 at Flabob Airport alongside a 40's era Globe Swift and a 50's Cessna 170 taildragger. Of course, we parked up alongside the C47's, DC3, Beech 18 and SNJ to make a nice line up. I was privileged to take Alaska Airlines pilot Zach Allen up for his first experience in the Chipmunk.
February - The new (old!) oil pressure line and gauge has been fitted and is working great! It was fun to take another airline Captain flying in WG430 this month. Stefan Moeller is an A350 Training Captain, based in Munich. We flew the Chipmunk as part of a video series he has produced to help promote interest in this classic aircraft. I was also able to fly Gerry Heath, whose father was in the RAF.
Near the end of February, Richard (WP833) and I spent a long day practicing formation flying, including joins, breaks, trail and some short routines. We began the day at Chiraco Summit in some very gusty conditions, which we used to ensure we were proficient flying formation in these conditions.
January - This year will mark the 71st flying year of WG430! After searching many sources for an original RAF replacement oil pressure gauge and line, I managed to track one down in the UK. The gauge was removed from a former RAF Chipmunk that was having a Lycoming conversion completed. Peter Strorey kindly shipped the whole pressure system to me and this will be installed at the beginning of February in Flabob. I have a temporary fix to ensure WG430 is able to be run and flown, albeit close to the airport to be conservative. January saw a handful of maintenance flights, simply to keep systems warm and lubricated.
December - Another British passenger got to relive their Air Experience Flight in WG430! James Lipman, a talented local car photographer, got to fly the Chipmunk and then allowed me to fly his wonderful RV6! I was also able to fly with 'Stork' Meyer during his road trip from Chicago. Stork would like to be a future Chipmunk owner and so he was able to fly WG430 and get some front seat experience as well as some technical operation information. Stork is currently flying his Sonex in the Chicago area.
The following day, Richard and I had planned to do some formation flying practice at Chiraco Summit Airport. Unfortunately, during an echelon turn over the airfield as number 2, I noticed the windscreen was covered in oil and the oil pressure had dropped to zero. We executed a 'knock it off' as trained by the people at Cable Airfield, and I assumed lead and immediately commenced an emergency landing at idle power. On landing, the whole right side of the aircraft was covered in oil. An inspection revealed that the oil pressure gauge tube from the capillary mounted on the firewall had broken. In 11 minutes of flying, I had lost around 7 quarts of oil. Luckily, the Gipsy Major is rumored to be able to run on a cup full of oil, and I seemed to be able to prove it today! After a flight back to Thermal in the back of WP833 to retrieve some tools and a cap for the leaking connection, I was able to safely fly back to Thermal. The temporary repair required some degree of 'McGyver', as the cap we installed was found to be slightly too long and leaked drops of oil when engine run tests were performed. However, thanks to a helpful truck driver, we used the cut end of a neoprene glove to make the seal tight. (See Photographs section for a couple of photos)
After landing, a new compression connection was fitted. However, the copper tube that had failed was found to be an add-on from a previous owner. As a result, I was able to source a New Old Stock oil pressure gauge from a UK based pilot, who had removed the gauge from his Chipmunk when upgrading the engine to a Lycoming. The new gauge will be fitted in the new year by the experts at West Coast Air Creations. Happy New Year!
Annual stats for WG430 are: 80 hours flying time, 22 different airfields visited, 16 different passengers, a trip to Oshkosh (almost!), a formation flying course, an EAA video, 40 quarts of oil, 565 gallons of fuel, 2 new piston rings, 2 new magnetos, i generator overhaul and 1 emergency landing!
November - Once again, I was able to join up with WP833 and head to Cable Airport to complete my training for a FAST (Formation and Safety) Card. Over two days, Richard and I spent time in the classroom and 6 hours in the air learning how to safely fly as formation pilots. The instructors (Jon Lawrence, Steve Watkins and Zack Rothe) patiently helped us to meet the standards required to take the flight test. Our flight examiner was Dan Wotring, an experienced warbird pilot and C-47 check pilot! Dan is also wonderful to fly with and made the whole experience very satisfying. I am glad to report that both Richard and myself successfully completed our FAST training and we will now continue to hone our skills and, perhaps, work on some basic formation routines for display.
It was great to finally be able to take EAA Chapter 1116 Chairman and Citabria pilot Frank Brabec flying in WG430. Frank first got into flying to pursue a dream of flying warbirds, and so WG430 was his first! We celebrated with a couple of "victory rolls" over the Salton Sea! The occasion was an EAA meeting and presentation given by an inspirational young pilot, Elizabeth Witte. Elizabeth is recovering well from a plane crash she experienced as a 16 year-old while training for her pilots license. Elizabeth hopes to fly in WG430 in the very near future. Just a few days later, another Chapter member, Doug Hey, was able to fly with me in the Chipmunk as I checked for leaks following a routine oil change and filter cleaning.
October - My Dad passed away this month, which required a trip to the UK. An opportunity presented itself to reacquaint myself with the Chipmunk that started it all for me, WD373. Exactly 35 years and 4 months after I first flew in the back of WD373 as an Air Cadet, I sat in the front and flew this wonderful machine again. Owner Sam Kidd had helped to make this flight a reality and in the back was Steve Morrell, who graciously allowed me to do all of the flying to ensure that this was a significant and enjoyable flight.
On 28th October, I was able to fly Scott Corley in WG430. Scott is a current airline pilot who first flew as a youngster in a de Havilland Tiger Moth with his father. Coincidentally and appropriately, today was the 90th anniversary of the first flight of the dH Tiger Moth.
September - The guys at Poplar Grove have finished the magneto installation! Some engine runs demonstrated smooth running and starts were rapid. The electrical issue is suspected to be a loose generator wire. Both batteries have been charged and load tested, and both were found to be in good condition. An oil change will be completed before I collect the aircraft. The ferry flight back to California is expected to take place mid-September.
* RETURN FLIGHT TO CALIFORNIA *
Day One: Poplar Grove (Illinois) - Fairfield Municipal (Iowa) - St Joseph (Missouri)
3 hrs 42 mins flying time, 316nm
After flying to Chicago on a red-eye passenger flight and landing in the early hours, I made my way to a hotel half way between Chicago and Poplar Grove for some sleep before I collected WG430. The guys at Poplar Grove Airmotive did a fantastic job, had all of the paperer ready to go and had cleaned the Chipmunk too. I did a few engine runs before I set off, and then left just after 1pm local time. The flight to Iowa was smooth and clear, and was a good 2 hour test of the new magnetos. They ran like sewing machines! In Fairfield (KFFL), I had the option to land on their lovely grass strip and so took that. The winds had picked up after I fueled up and left for Missouri, and so I departed using the main runway instead of taking the crosswind. The flight to St Joseph (KSTJ) was bumpy but very picturesque. The approach saw me fly over the Missouri River and right up to the border of Kansas. The helpful people at the FBO washed my windscreen and helped me tie down for the evening. They loaned me a crew car to get into town, and a good sleep greeted me after dinner.
Day Two: St Joseph (Missouri) - Hutchinson (Kansas) - Meade (Kansas) - Dalhart (Texas) - Tucumcari (New Mexico) - Santa Fe (New Mexico)
8 hrs 53 mins flying time, 627nm
What an epic day of flying! I started very early to make sure I maximized the daylight available today. Just after 7am and as the sun was rising, I got airborne from St Joseph and turned into Kansas for a very smooth flight to Hutchinson (KHUT). After chatting to the Cirrus people at the FBO, I turned quickly and headed towards the runway. Unfortunately, the large amount of military training traffic kept me idling on the ground for a long while. In this time, the winds had started to rise in intensity again. My planned destination was Liberal, Kansas. However, surface winds were gusting to 38 knots and so I rapidly searched around for lighter winds using Foreflight. By total coincidence, off to my left was a small strip, Harold Krier Field (K58).. the same Harold Krier whose Super Chipmunk we had stopped to see at Antique Airfield Iowa on the way to Oshkosh. As good as this stop would have been for the story, the crosswinds were just too high to make a safe landing. Meade (KMEJ) looked to be the best option, with winds of 190/16kts gusting to 23kts. It was quite hard to taxi to the fuel pump in this winds and there was literally nobody at the airfield to help. I took some time to start replanning my day, expecting to push on until the winds got too high before stopping for the night.
It appeared that if I routed further south, the surface winds reduced, and so I flew the next 2 hour leg to Dalhart (KDHT), which saw me enter the third state for today. Once again, the winds were very strong and gusty, albeit aligned quite well with the runway. I considered stopping for the night here, but after looking at Foreflight again, I found that if I routed much further south towards Tucumcari, the winds died down considerably. I decided to fly this extra leg before I found a hotel for the night. However, after landing at Tucumcari (KTCC), I once again found myself alone with nobody present at the FBO. My phone signal was poor and so researching hotels and transportation left me with another option. If I left immediately, I'd have enough daylight to make it to Santa Fe. When this fact arose, I didn't hesitate and got back into WG430 for one more leg of this already fatiguing day. The scenery around New Mexico is spectacular, and I picked quite a direct route to Santa Fe to ensure I landed before sunset. However, this meant that I needed to climb over some high terrain and so I picked 10,500ft for this leg. The winds picked up and gave me a rough ride as I made my way over the eastern Rockies, but a gorgeous sunset greeted me as I touched down in Santa Fe after my almost 9 hour flying day. This was a very satisfying day!
Day Three: Santa Fe (New Mexico)
0 hrs 00 mins flying time, 0nm
After such a good day yesterday, I decided to "rinse & repeat" with an early start. The Chipmunk was fueled, oiled and ready for another good day. Just as the sun began to appear over the horizon, I strapped myself into WG430 and pushed the starter button. Nothing! I tried again. Nothing!! The battery was flat. The generator problem had reappeared. It was obvious that the generator was not adequately charging the batteries, and that it was only the existing battery charge that was allowing me to keep flying. I borrowed a crew car from the FBO and went to get some supplies.. a battery charger and long extension cord. I decided to fully charge the batteries to enable me to make it home to California, where I would then have the people at West Coast Air Creations service the generator at a later date. After plugging in the charger, I went to explore Santa Fe and relax for the day.
Day Four: Santa Fe (New Mexico) - Gallup (New Mexico) - Payson (Arizona) - Blythe (California) - Thermal (California)
6 hrs 18 mins flying time, 522nm
With fully charged batteries, I tried another dawn start, and this time the engine turned and fired! To preserve battery life, I decided to fly the remainder of my flight using minimal radio, and so I picked a route that presented mostly free airspace. And what a route! As the sun rose behind me, the long shadows and orange glow of the mesas and rock formations below me presented a view that was one of the most stunning I have ever seen. For as far as I could see, I became surrounded by incredible views that reminded me of old Wild West movies. For almost 2 hours, I saw no sign of civilization, and instead listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival through my Bose bluetooth headphones. This was one of the most memorable experiences I have had in aviation, but the small town of Gallup (KGUP) soon came into view. As I fueled up, several small black clouds began to appear and so I carefully picked a route to avoid them towards Winslow, Arizona.
The small storms made the flight a little bumpy, but I also picked up a good tailwind. Part way to Winslow (KINW), I realized that I could make it to Payson (KPJB) if I could keep the tailwind. I turned southwest, and kept my fingers crossed. Landing in Payson before 10am meant that I could make it home in good time, with just one more fuel stop. I decided to have breakfast, but the fuel pump and restaurant at Payson are far away from each other. As I taxied towards the restaurant after fueling, I saw more black storm clouds building and so made a quick decision to get airborne and keep going. The flight to Blythe (KBLH) was much smoother and finally saw me cross into my home state of California, bordering the snake like Colorado River that flows from the Hoover Dam. A quick fuel up and microwave pastry had me heading to my final destination of Thermal just after noon. I kept the canopy open and flew at 3,000ft to enjoy the scenery of the desert as I made my way to the banks of the Salton Sea in the Coachella Valley after my successful 6 hour flying day.
Two days later, I flew to Flabob to leave WG430 with the mechanics and have the faulty generator repaired. My flying friend Richard loaned me his Chipmunk to make my return trip. WP833 is a historic aircraft, which was one of two that flew around the world as part of Operation Northern Venture in 1997. The aircraft was flown in part by Squadron Leader Bill Purchase during this trip. Bill sadly passed away this month, which made this solo flight quite memorable.
August - The new Slick magneto conversion harness has been made up by Moth Aircraft Company, and is on its way to Poplar Grove Airmotive in Illinois. I am hoping to collect WG430 sometime in September and fly back to California.
I received some fantastic photos of WG430 at RAF Manston from David White. David was a former Air Training Corps cadet and got to fly in WG430 as part of an Air Experience Flight. Interestingly, the elephant emblem had yet to be painted onto the fuselage. David very kindly allowed me to post these photos here. Check out the "photographs" tab above.
July (EAA OSHKOSH!) - Wow! What a month July turned out to be for WG430. My work schedule unexpectedly opened up enough to allow me to attend the EAA AirVenture Show at Oshkosh. Even better, I had the time to fly WG430 to the show and join other Chipmunks to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the DHC-1. Even better than this, Richard Wilsher in WP833 would be flying alongside me for the 1,600nm journey from California to Wisconsin. And, to top it off, I was offered the chance to fly in a formation of Chipmunks during the main airshow!
I conducted an oil change, tightened manifold nuts, cleaned the plugs and checked tyre pressures before leaving. I also removed the control column in the back cockpit as a safety precaution because I would be carrying my travel bag, tools, pillow, camping gear and spare oil in the back seat.
Our journey began at sunrise on 22nd July. Richard and I elected to meet up at Blythe (KBLH) as early as possible. Unfortunately, the carburetor flooding device cable had snapped, requiring a quick field repair in the hangar before I left. I finally got airborne at 6:36am and flew 1 hour to Blythe, waiting for a parachute drop before I landed. After a short stop for fuel, I led our formation of 2 RAF Chipmunks and set off across the California border into Arizona towards Payson (KPJB), 173nm away. The scenery was stunning, with many of the old canyon cracks visible in the brown desert as we flew. In the cockpit, the flight suit pockets came in handy as a store for breakfast, which consisted of granola bars and trail mix. I also took along a small day hike Camelbak backpack, which carries almost 3 liters of water. It fit snuggly next to me and allowed me to keep hydrated as we flew. The flight to Payson was just over 2 hours.
Richard had brought pizza slices with him, and so we topped up our own fuel supply as we filled the Chipmunks with fuel. The local air ambulance helicopter crews were particularly interested in the two RAF trainers sitting on their ramp. Thirty minutes after landing, we were off again, this time towards Grants Milan, New Mexico (KGNT). We were receiving flight following as we flew, and the controller was the first to advise us of some storms that were developing near Grants Milan. As we got closer, we used Foreflight to check this out. A very large thunderstorm, with tops to FL500, had developed between us and our planned destination, and so we elected to divert to St Johns, Arizona (KSJN) to refuel and replan. The elevation of St Johns is 5,736ft above sea-level and so density altitude was very high. The winds were also quite strong for our landing, but the people at St Johns Airport took great care of us.
Our revised plan was to fly north towards Gallup (KGUP) and see if we could find a suitable gap in the weather to press on towards the east. If we couldn't get through, we decided that Gallup would be our final destination that evening. As we flew north towards Gallup, Richard spotted a bright area between the storm clouds, with sunlight reflecting behind it. The terrain around this area was generally around 9,000ft, and so we were cautious to have an out if this gap turned out to be a "suckers gap". It wasn't, and we were soon heading towards clear air, just to the north of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Richard and I chatted on the radio about stopping at Double Eagle (KAEG), but we decided we had enough safe fuel reserve to press on towards Santa Fe, New Mexico (KSAF). The amazing rock formations around this area were spectacular, and we couldn't resist leaving our track to explore some of the colorful peaks. We landed at Santa Fe after a 2 hour 10 minute flight, and tied down the two aircraft for the night at Signature Flight Support. A well earned celebratory beer was consumed by Richard and I in Santa Fe!
Day one stats:
Airports KTRM, KBLH, KPJB, KSJN, KSAF.
States: California, Arizona, New Mexico.
Flight time: 6 hours 49 mins.
We were up before sunrise the next morning (23rd July). The hotel shuttle took us to the airport, along with a Skywest crew, who were interested in our journey. It was a little chilly when we got to our two aircraft, which meant that climb performance would be slightly better given that the airport elevation was 6,348ft above sea level. Richard wanted to do a quick oil leak check as he had discovered he was using a little more oil than normal. All was well with WP833, and so we loaded up and headed east towards the last peaks of the Rockies. We climbed in formation to 10,500ft and aimed at a lower part of the mountains to pass through into the flatter lands east of this incredible mountain range. The air was smooth and the views were stunning. The terrain quickly turned from brown mountainous to flat and green. Once we crossed the last peak, we turned more north-easterly and set course for our first fuel stop of Raton, New Mexico (KRTN). We flew past a ridge of morning sunlit mountains, with peaks to almost 12,000ft. This was another opportunity for some video and photos. It was simply breathtaking.
After a very quick fuel stop, and a chance to grab some cookies, we were off again towards our next stop at Scott Municipal, Kansas (KTQK). On the way, we flew over some huge flat green mesas and steep canyons. Neither of us could resist a few low passes over the barren tops.. although low still meant we were at 5,000ft as we enjoyed the view of the ground rushing past just below us. During this leg, Richard decided to do some aileron rolls for fun, and I managed to get a great photo of him upside down off of my left wing. See the photos section. It was particularly gusty at Scott Municipal. A Cirrus SR22 pilot and his passengers bound for Oshkosh stopped to take a look at our two aircraft as we fueled up. Pretty soon we were on our way to the next airport, at Concordia, Kansas (KCNK). We were looking forward to using Concordias grass runways, but they were showing as closed for construction. Up until this leg, the air had been relatively smooth, but things got a little choppy as we flew. The landing at Concordia was quick, and we were soon ready to set off for our final two stops for the day.
During the run-up in Concordia, the magneto check produced some rough running from the right magneto. Suspecting a fouled spark plug, I tried a few lean run-ups to try and clear the issue. This didn't get the results I wanted, but the left magneto was running smooth. After some conversation with Richard, I decided to take-off and try to clear the problem over the airfield by getting cylinder temperatures up as high as possible. In the air, there was a bit of roughness, but not enough to concern me about the safety of a flight with so many diversion possibilities and an aircraft following right next to me. I elected to turn and head for our next fuel stop at Lamoni, Iowa (KLWD), with Richard following next to me. After about 1.5 hours of flight, the engine was producing good power and the roughness was intermittent. However, it was about this time that the radio showed a "Low Volts" message. Wondering if the radio would soon die, I let Richard know that I would yaw my rudder in the event of radio failure, so that he could take the lead and do the rest of the radio calls for the both of us. Shortly after this conversation, the radio quit.
Luckily, Richard and I had recently attended a FAST Formation Training class, where we learned hand signals during formation. This proved to be incredibly useful during this radio failure, and meant we arrived at Lamoni in a tight formation. Thanks Dan, Jon and Steve at Aviator Flight Training, Cable Airport!! After landing, it became quite obvious that there were no maintenance facilities on the field, and there were not many options in regards to hotels. A check of the magneto plug wires didn't show any obvious issue and so we decided to make a short hop to Antique Air, Iowa (IA27), where we knew we could find accommodation and some maintenance expertise. Richard and I briefed our formation flight, with me being non-radio and him being lead and navigating to this small grass strip. Unfortunately, when I tried to start, my battery was flat. Ah ha! At least I know why the radio failed! A local pilot, who had come to see the unusual visiting aircraft, helped with a battery charge to enable us to proceed. Once again, our previous formation training was very useful during this flight, and we were soon safely at our final destination for today, at the amazing airfield, museum and headquarters or the Antique Airplane Association.
Day two stats:
Airports KSAF, KRTN, KTQK, KCNK, KLWD, IA27.
States: New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa.
Flight time: 8 hours 37 mins.
A wonderful evening at Bubba Q's BBQ, recommended by our host Brent Taylor, led to a good sleep and an early start at the airfield. The reason for visiting Brent and this airfield was to take photos of our two Chipmunks along with a very historic Super Chipmunk in the museum collection; N6311V of former National Aerobatic Champion (1965-1968) Harold Krier. After towing the aircraft onto the airfield, we were able to get some great photos of these three DHC-1 aircraft. We also got a great tour of the museum and Richard got to take Brent's grandson for a quick flight. Today was a 90 squared day! This is what the locals call a day that's 90 degrees F and 90% humidity. It was very draining and nobody seemed in a mood to do too much, except enjoy this wonderful airfield. However, I took the chance to check the spark plugs and leads. Two of the plugs were slightly oily, and so these were changed as a precaution. A recommendation from Brent led me to call Steve Thomas at Poplar Grove Airmotive, in Illinois. This maintenance shop came highly recommended and had the tools to help diagnose and fix the problem with WG430. I was comfortable flying close formation with Richard for the 2 hour flight, with him managing the radio and navigation for both of us and communicating with pre-briefed hand signals. We looked at some contingency options along the route and faced another problem. We didn't quite have enough fuel left in the tanks to make Poplar Grove without stopping.
A plan! In true "Great Escape" fashion (maybe it was the influence of Steve McQueen who had been to the airfield in the past?), Richard strapped two 5-gallon fuel cans into his back seat and flew to a local airfield to get fuel. After returning, we topped off both aircraft and placed my battery on charge overnight. There was nothing left to do except head back to Bubba Q's!
Before the sun rose in Iowa, Richard and I were wiping the dew from our windscreens and packing the back cockpits with our bags and equipment. The grass was wet, and so we elected to use the downhill runway for departure considering the calm winds. I removed the battery charger, but elected not to use the battery to start the engine, to allow for the possibility of needing a fuel stop and one chance to start as we flew the 187nm to Poplar Grove. Chipmunk pilots are used to starting the engine by hand-swinging the propellor, and so Richard did this and my engine began to warm up while he started his Chipmunk. I checked the magneto drop, and it was the same as before. I had calculated an abort point on the runway and also had an option planned in the vent the engine stopped producing power. However, none of that was needed, and shortly after 7am, we lifted off and set course for Poplar Grove, Illinois (C77).
To say that this was a picturesque flight would be an understatement. The sun was just rising, and the temperatures in the cockpit were cool, with a slight breeze blowing from the partly open canopy. Once again, I flew formation on Richard, who became the lead, radio and navigation pilot for the both of us. We crossed over the Mississippi River and across the town of Rockford, Illinois, before lining up for a formation arrival onto the excellent grass runways at Poplar Grove. This flight was the longest of our journey to this point, being 2.5 hours from start to stop for WG430.
Day three (flying) stats:
Airports IA27, C77.
States: Iowa, Illinois.
Flight time: 2 hours 27 mins.
The people at Poplar Grove Airmotive lived up to their high recommendations and were quickly woking on a diagnosis. It didn't take too long to find the problem. The right magneto had worked the points ring loose and had started to score the brass casing around it. The ring around the contact points brushes had also worn enough that the points were barely opening and closing. This meant that the spark was not being produced consistently to the spark plugs, hence the rough running. Unfortunately, the damage inside the magneto was enough that the journey to Oshkosh was over for WG430. After flying almost 1,500nm, the mechanics grounded the Chipmunk just 100nm short of Oshkosh! A bad cell in the battery is suspected as the problem with the electrical system.
Replacement parts for these old warbirds are hard to come by. Most parts are expensive and are in used condition. It was because of this that I decided to follow many other Chipmunk owners and replace the old BTH magnetos with more modern Slick magnetos. This requires a conversion kit, made by Moth Aircraft Company in California and two new magnetos. Poplar Grove were willing to take on the job and so I left WG430 in their capable hands and set off by road to Oshkosh. I plan to return to C77 when the work is complete, and fly back to California. However, I will not be returning until WG430 has landed at Oshkosh, even though the thousands of aircraft, vendors and spectators will have left.
Flight time: 14 hours 53 mins.
June - June proved to be a busy month for WG430. Friend and recently hired airline pilot Jaimie Rousseau flew the Chipmunk around the Salton Sea and got to perform her first aileron roll to celebrate her new career.
Several days of formation flying training were carried out at Cable Airport in WG430 with instructors from Aviator Flight Training in June. This was excellent training towards a FAST (Formation & Safety Team) certification for Steve and Richard (the owner of WP833). Nine training flights were conducted in both 2 ship, and 3 ship formations. The flying was extremely challenging but very fun and rewarding. During one flight, we were joined in formation by a T6, flown by the formation examiner Daniel, which made for some exciting photos and experiences. Unfortunately, work commitments and an annual inspection due for WP833 meant that the course was not completed. This will be on the agenda again soon. Instructors Jon Lawrence and Steve Watkins flew in WG430 for this training.
Longtime friend, airline Captain, safety manager and ex US Navy veteran Don Olsen also flew WG430 in June. We flew to Flabob Airport to use the grass runway for some circuit training and then flew back to the Thermal area for general handling, aileron rolls and pattern work.
Plans are being made to fly WG430 to the EAA AirVenture event at Oshkosh in July to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the de Havilland Chipmunk.
May - The new piston rings were installed and a test flight was made to seat the new rings by owner Steve Randall. The engine ran very strong and smooth, but more high power flights will be required to properly seat the rings in the cylinder. To this end, WG430 was able to join Chipmunk WP833 in a formation flight around the Riverside area, ending with a formation flypast during the Flabob Low & Slow Fly-In event on 15th May. WG430 was flown by Chipmunk mechanic Nando Mendoza, with Steve Randall in the back seat. After the flight, WG430 and WP833 formed part of the static display for a great crowd of aviation enthusiasts to photograph and enjoy these two historic aircraft.
22nd May - 75th Anniversary of the DHC-1. WG430 participated in the global celebration of the 75th anniversary of the deHavilland Chipmunk at Flabob Airport in Southern California. Gatherings took place in the UK, New Zealand, South Africa and other places. Photographers and videographers were present at Flabob, including representatives from the EAA. Three Chipmunk examples were on show, two British and one Canadian. Some close formation takeoffs, passes and landings were flown in WG430 with Richard Wilsher flying the lead Chipmunk WP833 with Jeff "Stork" Meyer in the rear seat. Sonex pilot Doug Smith was in the back seat of WG430 for these flights. This was a fun day of flying and a fitting tribute to this wonderful aircraft. See the 'Photographs" section for some great shots taken by Ian Glover (@charge_seven on Instagram). Following the celebrations, WG430 was flown back to Thermal by Doug Smith and Steve Randall.
Jan to April - A new year will hopefully allow some opportunities to display WG430, and to allow people the opportunity to fly. During maintenance, small cracks were found in the engine mount. This required the removal of the engine and repairs were made. Some corrosion was also found in a flap bracket, which required a fabricated repair. New tailplane brackets were sourced from another Chipmunk owner Karl Moore in Australia and were fitted to replace brackets that were close to fatigue life limits. Some improvements were made to the tailwheel assembly and the transponder was moved to an easier to reach area just below the forward instrument panel. A test flight was performed by Richard Wilsher and Nando Mendoza in April, which led to a compression check on all cylinders. Unfortunately, the number 4 cylinder compression was found be low, and so the cylinder was removed and new piston rings installed, sourced from Skytrade in the UK.
Remainder of 2020 - 2020 was not quite the year that anyone expected! I have taken the opportunity to get the annual inspection going early, as an engine removal is required to comply with a manufacturer directive. For the next few months, work will be carried out by West Coast Air Creations at Flabob Airfield. WG430 should be airborne again in 2021, and hopefully with some opportunity to display.
August & September - WG430 visited Flabob Airport for some back-seat currency training, with thanks to safety pilot Richard Wilsher. No other organized events are planned for the remainder of 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
As COVID conditions slowly eased, I had the privilege of flying Gerry Heath in WG430 during September. Gerry is a fellow Brit and resident in the Palm Springs area. He flew a Chipmunk at age 14 at Cambridge Airport while with the Air Training Corps. Gerry's father are up in my home town of Southampton, and worked at the Supermarine plant there during WW2 working on Spitfires! Gerry did most of the flying and it was very cool to be a part of this nostalgic flight.
July - The majority of July has been spent researching the history of WG430, with help from Rod Brown, who was one of the authors of "DHC-1 Chipmunk, The Poor Man's Spitfire". Rod had some great photos of my Chipmunk from the 1950's and 1960's, and also a data sheet that the late Geoff Ambrose (Air Britain) compiled. Using these resources, the history page was completely updated. A subscription e-mail bar was also added to the homepage to allow updates to be communicated. WG430 featured in the July 2020 edition of EAA Sport Aviation magazine, as part of an article written about Nando & Hualdo Mendoza at West Coast Air Creations.
June - WG430 has been flying a fair amount of local currency flights in June. These flights also allowed a check of the work carried out to the cylinder head and exhaust repairs. Daisy Garcia, a local student and Ninety-Nines member, used WG430 for her graduation photos. One of these is posted in the "photographs" section. I also celebrated 34 years since my first flight in Chipmunk WD373, and so decided to take a GoPro along and "victory roll" WG430 over the Salton Sea. I also received some photos of WG430 from Rod Brown in the UK. He had flown my Chipmunk back in 2005 with then owner Mike Williams. They did a photoshoot around Missouri, with Rod flying WG430 and Mike flying a Tiger Moth. I have posted a photo on this site with Rod's permission.
April & May - **UPDATE** Unfortunately, the El Centro and March AFB airshows have both been canceled due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, I'll be able to display WG430 at future airshows once this health issue has stabilized. In the meantime, I am continuing to maintain my currency by regularly flying WG430, which has also helped to keep the engine and systems well lubricated and the battery healthy.
March - During a routine daily check, a small crack was discovered in one of the cylinders. On further inspection, the crack is in an area that cannot be repaired and so a replacement Gipsy Major Series 8 cylinder has been sourced from a parts supplier in the UK. This will be installed as soon as possible but this unexpected issue may prevent me from flying WG430 to the El Centro Airshow on 13/14 March. My Chipmunk will stay grounded until repairs have been made.
The replacement cylinder head has turned up from the UK! The guys from West Coast Air Creations came by and removed the old cylinder head and fitted the new one. After a conversation with the mechanic and after review of the existing hardware, I decided to source all new washers, nuts and gaskets for the intake & exhaust manifold. I flew our Grumman over to Santa Paula to collect the new hardware, in an attempt to try and have repairs made in time for the El Centro airshow. All was going well, but unfortunately we found a small crack in the exhaust, which was probably caused by the vibration after the crack developed and the exhaust manifold stud came loose. The exhaust was taken to Flabob for welding and repair. At the same time, I elected to have another small crack repaired, one that originally appeared on the spinner during last years ferry flight but had not previously warranted removal and repair. WG430 should be ready to fly before the end of March, but the exhaust and intake nuts will be monitored closely for the first 10 hours of flight. I'm sad that, despite a great effort by all involved, I will be unable to attend the El Centro airshow, but I do plan to attend the March AFB airshow later this month.
February - Much of this month was spent practicing formation flying with a second Chipmunk (WP833) to allow safe arrivals and departures at some upcoming airshows. The runways at San Bernadino and Thermal were utilized for formation take-off and landing practice. These flights proved to be very valuable and will allow the airshow public to safely see two Chipmunks in formation, just as they would have been flown during their RAF days. WG430 should be available for static viewing at both the El Centro Air Display, which will be celebrating the home-based Blue Angels, and the March Air Base Airshow. Public displays are also planned at some local EAA Chapter meetings in March. Photos will be posted on this site.
January - Welcome to the new 20's, and what a great start! After almost 6 months of hard work, WG430 was finally ready for test flying and collection today. It was a gorgeous day in Riverside, California, and after a good engine run up, I took to the sky again in this wonderful Chipmunk. It was as if I never left! WG430 flew beautifully, and the radios, ADS-B and transponder worked great. About 20 minutes into my flight, the engine began running a little rough, and basic airborne troubleshooting would not clear it, so I decided to head back in to Flabob. I landed on the grass runway as there was traffic on the hard runway. The reason for the roughness was obvious, and something I should've expected. The number 4 cylinder had been honed to clear some surface scratches from a ring that had some carbon deposits on it. This resulted in the rings not quite seating correctly and some oil making its way into the cylinder and fouling the plugs. After a clean up, I departed for the new hangar I have for WG430 at Thermal, California. I will expect the rough running at the end of every flight during the next few hours as the rings find their place in the slightly wider cylinder. The solution is a quick clean of the two spark plugs and more flying!
During the extensive maintenance check, the following Technical News Sheet items were checked and complied with. This work required a large amount of labor and care from the experts at West Coast Air Creations. This was the most extensive and thorough check of WG430 since leaving the RAF in 1996, and the mechanics found this Chipmunk is excellent condition, with no fatigue or corrosion issues. TNS 3, 71, 72, 80, 106, 110, 111, 116, 117, 121, 122, 123, 131, 132, 138, 139, 141, 42, 145, 150, 151, 152, 154, 156, 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 162, 164, 165, 166, 167, 168, 170, 171, 175, 176, 177, 178, 180, 181, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 189, 190, 193, 194, 197, 198, 199, 200, 201, 205, 208 & 209.
WG430 was displayed at the monthly EAA Chapter 1116 meeting at Thermal Airfield at the beginning of the month, and joined almost sixty visiting aircraft for the second annual EAA fly-in at Bermuda Dunes Airport near the end of the month. The weather was perfect at Bermuda Dunes, and the event was very enjoyable. WG430 was parked in a classic aircraft line alongside a Yak 52, Navion, Ercoupe, and a Stearman. Many people were interested to learn the history of WG430, and Dan Stiel took some great photographs (one is shown in the gallery on this site). Graham Kehily sent a copy of his Air Cadet logbook, showing a flight in WG430 back in November 1980 at RAF Manston. I was able to find the aircraft log page from that day and send a copy back to Graham.
December - The guys at West Coast Air Creations are finishing up WG430. The last item on the list is to install some inspection holes into the fabric, per an existing TNS (Technical News Sheet). A full list of the work completed will be posted here soon. I hope to collect WG430 during December and return to my mission of sharing this wonderful aircraft with others at some upcoming aviation events. Charlie Foinette contacted me, after finding this website. He had recently discovered his first flight certificate (copy posted in the photographs section) flown from RAF Manston in 1992 in WG430! Charles gave me permission to post the copy, thanks Charles. I was able to find the daily log from the RAF Form 700 and send a copy to him. I also found the daily log entry covering his last flight in WG430 from 1995. Connecting with those who have flown WG430 has been a thrilling bonus to my ownership of this Chipmunk.
July - November - WG430 is at Flabob Airfield from July to November for annual inspection, AD compliance, avionics upgrade, required strut/undercarriage x-rays, TNS compliance, life component replacement, fatigue check, ADS compliance and a bunch of other work! WG430 turned 68 years old on 19th October, and this extensive maintenance will ensure she will be safe to fly for many years to come. Highlights from the maintenance will be a new radio and ADS transponder, new wing bolts, wing, tail and undercarriage removal & inspection, starter isolator switch and new spinner parts. The work is being done by the meticulous guys at West Coast Air Creations. Once finished, WG430 will be flown to a new hangar at Thermal Aviation in TRM. Adrian Pilbeam from the UK sent me a copy of his logbook, with his first flight sticker from AEF1 RAF Manston, showing WG430 as his first experience flight. I was able to find the corresponding aircraft logbook entry and sent it to him to complete his records! I'm so glad that almost all of the original RAF records stayed with WG430. - With WG430 down for maintenance, I accepted a very kind offer from Richard Wilshire to fly his very historic Chipmunk, WP833. This aircraft was one of the two that completed the RAF "Chipmunks Around the World" expedition in 1996. At the beginning of September, I visited Flabob Airport to check out the installation of the radio, ADS transponder, GPS antenna and headset jacks. The guys at West Coast Air Creations did a fantastic job and the installation looks great!
June - The first display of June was due to be at the Corona Airport Historic Aircraft Day. Unfortunately, low clouds through the Banning pass and at the airfield prevented WG430 from attending. Corona will be having another event in July and I hope to display the Chipmunk then. The existing Direction Indicator became inoperative and so a replacement Mark 1A DI from another Chipmunk was sourced. WG430 never had a fire extinguisher when I took ownership and so a modern Halon extinguisher was installed using the original RAF bracket. Adam Cowell from the RAF Manston Aircraft Museum was able to find a couple of photos of WG430 at RAF Manston back in the 1990's. One is posted in the Photographs section. I hope to visit the museum during one of my trips to the UK, sometime in the future. There was a lot of interest generated when WG430 was put on display at the EAA Chapter 1116 meeting in Thermal. I purchased the TRIG VHF radio, intercom and ADS-B/Transponder kit for WG430. These will be discreetly installed by West Coast Air Creations later this year. A formation flight was arranged with another Alaska Airlines captain, and my god friend, Matt Graber. Matt's son, Kadin, sat in the back seat of WG430 for the flight. We ended up with some great air-to-air photos (see Photos section.) Unfortunately, after landing, we found the right magneto p-lead broken. Luckily, my habit of conducting a dead-cut check before shutdown identified the issue before the next prop swing. The magneto will be repaired at the shop in Flabob before any further displays are attended. At the end of June, I flew WG430 to the classic aircraft experts West Coast Air Creations at Flabob Airport. The magneto repair, annual condition check, AD check, TNS compliance check, review of major systems and a VHF radio/intercom/transponder/ADS-B installation will be done by the guys. I expect the Chipmunk to be down for most of July. It will be great to see the end result.
May - A full oil change and service was completed shortly after the ferry flight. No issues were found and WG430 was quickly back into the air. Andrea finally got to fly the Chipmunk and experienced her first aileron roll! It was great to fly WG430 into Palm Springs International Airport and support the local Coachella Valley Chapter of the 99's and members of the Youth Aviation Explorers as they took a tour of the control tower. The GPS tray table was removed from the front cockpit, as was the DC converter unit used to power it. A VHF radio and ADS-B transponder will be installed later this year, although I am still deciding which units to install so that I can keep the cockpits looking as original as possible. WG430 joined four other de Havilland Chipmunks at the Flabob Airport Historic Aircraft Display. As I was away on vacation, my friend and Chipmunk pilot Richard Wilsher flew WG430 to and from Flabob. Some great photographs were taken by Ian Glover and some can be found in the Photographs section of this website. Local young adults Kylie and Brendon used WG430 as a backdrop for their prom photos. Both of the original P8 floor compasses were removed and fully serviced during May. The 22nd May marked the 73rd anniversary of the first DHC-1 flight. I decided to mark the event by flying WG430 around the Thermal Airport area and conducted a tour for line operatives from Signature Aviation.
April - The ferry flight of WG430 from Pennsylvania to California has begun! *Check Photographs page for pics!* It's close to a 2,500 mile flight, with several barriers in the way, namely The Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. I have 10 days before I have to be back to work, and so it's fingers crossed as I board my redeye flight from Palm Springs (CA) to Newark (NJ).
DELAY DAY: I spent today preparing for the flight. George Taylor at Van Sant completed a full oil change, plug service and rocker cover refill. He also installed the repaired spinner and it looks great! I removed the temporary intercom and wiring as I will not need this and it's just extra wires in the way. A new intercom will be properly installed once I get to California. I also realized that I needed to adjust the rudder pedals and add a seat cushion to get me into the proper position for flying. I ran WG430 up and everything looked good. I topped off the tanks and secured my Chippy outside, ready for a sunrise departure tomorrow morning.
FLYING DAY ONE: The Uber dropped me at 6:30am, just before sunrise. Apart from the two airport cats and a family of deer on the runway, I was the only person around. Van Sant Airfield is an amazing, historic and very pretty airfield.. especially at this time of the morning. I prepared WG430 and checked the weather at my planned first fuel stop, Reedsville Pennsylvania (KRVL) - calm winds, fog and overcast clouds at 100 feet! Everything 50 miles west of Van Sant was fogged in. There was nothing left to do, except snooze in one of the rocking chairs with an airport cat curled up in my lap, and wait. I was woken by the arrival of Dannie, the airport Managers wife, who offered coffee. About an hour later, the weather at RVL had improved to 4 miles visibility and clouds at 4,000 feet, so I fired up WG430 and taxied out to the grass runway 07. It had been a while since I'd flown the Chipmunk but, thanks to Azhars help, it felt much more familiar. I took off and turned to the west to begin my flight. It was a silky smooth flight and Pennsylvania looked very green and beautiful below. I landed at RVL about 1.5 hours later and fueled up. I was soon back in the air and headed to Morgantown, West Virginia (KMGW). The long ice-age formed fingers of the northern Appalachian Mountains were covered in lush forest, passing just below me as I flew along at 4,500 feet. I soon landed at MGW, and knew I was too tired to continue. I also knew that tomorrow will be weathered in by approaching storms. Luckily, there was hangar space available at a corporate hangar and so WG430 was put to bed, followed by me shortly afterwards.
DELAY DAY: This was always going to be a ground day, due to the weather. However, it was not a wasted day. I noticed a screw missing from the newly installed propeller spinner yesterday, along with what appeared to be stress cracks. If anyone in Pennsylvania was hit by a screw from above yesterday, I'm sorry! My mission today was to check the cracks and either replace the screw or remove the spinner for the remainder of the flight. Fate has a weird way of intervening, and as I got to the hangar, I met a local maintenance IA who loved the Chipmunk. I showed Tim the spinner and we quickly found another two screws missing. Luckily, the cracks were found to be only paint cracks, which can be easily repaired and repainted later. The original British screws are hard to find and so there was a bit of a 'mix and match' of spinner screws. Tim offered to help out - and what a help he was! Instead of just replacing screws, he and another mechanic, Kipp, offered to remove all of the imperial nut bolts and rivet in replacement standard nut bolts to take new standard spinner screws. They spent a couple of careful hours working on this, using 'Rosie The Riveter' techniques! Soon, the spinner was attached with a full set of new spinner screws. Now, I don't have to worry about any more screws coming out during flight! What a fun and productive rainy day. Thanks to Tim and Kipp of Skymark Aviation in Morgantown for their excellent and thorough work. My start tomorrow will be delayed because I (stupidly) left my passport at the hotel in Pennsylvania, so I have to wait for it to turn up before I can leave. I hope to get through Kentucky tomorrow, after the morning showers have passed.
FLYING DAY TWO: The delay for my passport was a blessing, as the early morning weather at Morgantown was low overcast clouds and low visibility. The forecast showed the clouds would lift around 11am and the weather along my route was already improving. I'd be paralleling a weak cold front and so I expected a bumpy ride today. As I departed, the cloud base was not as high as I expected and so I settled into a 2,500ft cruise as the tree covered rolling foothills of the Appalachians passed close below. The bumps were present, especially as I flew over the many pretty valleys in this area. Soon enough, the clouds lifted, but I decided to stay low and admire the view. I crossed the Ohio River at Ravenswood, and clipped the corner of Ohio before entering Kentucky. The approach into Ashland (KDWU) was clear, albeit a little windy. After fueling up and adding some oil, I got back into WG430 and took off for my planned next stop at Mount Sterling, KY. Passing over such lush green land reminded me of the English county of Kent, where WG430 spent the final years of RAF life. However, thirty miles out, I listened to the automatic weather recording and started to think about other things. A gusty crosswind was blowing at Mount Sterling, out of my personal limits. I checked my fuel and began to check for airports in the area with runways into the unforecast wind. Luckily, I found Danville, KY (KDVK) a few miles ahead, with a long runway into wind. The approach was gusty but worked out great. I considered ending my flying for today, but if I flew for one more hour, I'd be in another state. It seemed like a good incentive to continue and so I headed into the air again. Just south of Nashville, Tennessee is a busy airport called Murfreesboro (KMBT), the training airport for students at Middle Tennessee State University. My speed on the approach is slow, and so I watched as the long line of students, in their DA40 aircraft, waited for me to get on the ground. After securing the Chipmunk, I headed for a hotel, food and beer! By chance, one of our flight attendants at my airline grew up in Murfreesboro and so she sent me some local recommendations for good Tennessee food. This was a good day.
FLYING DAY THREE: I decided to start reasonably early. Wherever I land, people come out to look at WG430 and ask questions. It's great to be able to show off a little piece of UK history. As I prepared for my flight at Murfreesboro, one person seemed particularly knowledgeable. Gary had been following my progress on social media, as he is also a Chipmunk owner! Gary is currently rebuilding a DHC-1 and so took many photos of WG430 for reference. The next stop was a little shorter, but I simply wanted to land there. Muscle Shoals, Alabama is a historic mecca for recording artists. People like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin and Lynryd Skynyrd have recorded there. In fact, a line in Sweet Home Alabama says "In Muscle Shoals they have the Swampers..", a homage to studio writers of so many hits. I landed, enjoyed a Moon Pie, and headed out again, happy that I'd stopped there. Onto my next state, of Mississippi. Unlike most American school kids, we were never taught how to spell the name of this state, and a spell checker almost always corrects for me. I struggle to remember how many ss's or ii's or pp's there are, but having flown over this pretty state, I know that there are more trees here than any of the previous few states I'd crossed. Invariably, I'm always on the lookout for potential landing spots, in the event the engine decides to quit, but Mississippi has some dense areas of forest and so I was glad my tusty Gypsy Major engine kept firing. As I flew the approach over Grenada Lakes, I selected full flap. A few moments later, the flap violently retracted, which startled me a bit. I'm aware that this can happen, but it was the first time for me. I pulled the large flap lever again and full flap was locked in. A bit of a bouncy landing took place at Grenada (KGNF) but I was ready to fuel up and keep going. The news wasn't good, as the airport fuel truck was in town being repaired and so no fuel was available. The nearest available fuel was at Winona (5A6), just 15 minutes south. It was a warm day and so I decided this would be the flight to throw my hot flight suit into the small cargo compartment. Just before takeoff, I also decided this would be my first flight with the canopy open, and the breeze was wonderful. At Winona, I was able to fuel up and replenish the oil. I also got a welcome drink from the nice people at Heath Aviation. I expected my next flight to be the last, as the winds were beginning to whip up along the route. The approach to Vicksburg, Mississippi was very cool, as I flew alongside the Mississippi River and saw a large paddle-wheel river boat chugging along. Unfortunately, there was nowhere for me to hangar WG430 for the night and I was conscious of overnight gusty winds. The tie down spots just didn't seem enough, so I called the FBO at the next nearest large airport and jumped back in to land at my next state, Louisiana. The landing at Alexandria (KAEX) was gusty and a strong wind was blowing straight down the mile-long runway. It made for a very short landing and a long taxi to the hangar. Thankfully, Million Air was able to make room for WG430 next to a few corporate aircraft and I slept better knowing the doors would keep the weather out.
DELAY DAY: After making such good progress yesterday, today was disappointing. I had planned a later start, as I wanted a cold front to pass through my two landing airports of Nacogdoches, Texas (KOCH) and Waco, TX (KACT). I don't mind flying through the front, because it looked pretty weak and it did not have any significant rain associated with it. However, there was a pretty strong gust front ahead of the cold front and so I wanted to time my departure from Alexandria just before the gust front hit and reach my destination as it passed through, allowing calmer winds on landing. When I planned this all out, everything pointed to a departure from Alexandria of 2pm. As I was getting the Chippie ready in the hangar, I felt the humidity rise considerably. A quick check of ForeFlight showed that some moisture was ahead of the front and it was lifting into a line of storms, right in my way! The forecasters got it wrong, but the only guarantee with weather forecasting is that nothing is guaranteed, so I'll give them a break! I decided to sit at the Million Air FBO at Alexandria, to see if the storms would become scattered. They did not, and in fact they increased into some heavy rain along the front line. The line of storms were only 15 miles wide and so I was tempted to see if I could find a way through them, staying visual with the ground underneath. But I then remembered the experience that Azhar and I had when we flew back in January. We flew underneath a rain shower and the airspeed indicators suddenly fell to zero! The rain water had got into the pitot lines and blocked the airflow to the instrument. This required taking the system to pieces and blowing compressed air into the lines, something I do not wish to do during this ferry flight. With this in mind, I decided to write-off today's flying and try again tomorrow. My plan is to start early and see how far across Texas I can get.
FLYING DAY FOUR: The first part of my fun ferry flight is complete, as I say hello to Austin, Texas! With the unexpected delay day yesterday and poor weather expected this weekend, I decided to find shelter for WG430 to allow me to fly my next airline trip and then return next week to complete my flight to California. Leaving Alexandria this morning, the sky was dark with some moisture loaded clouds, ready to downpour at any moment. My plan was to take the lowest and shortest route through the line of heavy clouds, hoping to break into clear air on the other side. Unfortunately, there was a large amount of active military airspace surrounding Alexandria and so my route was finally determined by the uncontrolled corridors available to me. The tower controller helped by estimating the bases at around 2500ft, and so off I flew. So, the Chippie got a little wash, but not enough to repeat the pitot issues of before. It wasn’t long before the sky cleared and I crossed the Toledo Bend Reservoir, where the Texas Highway crosses, marking my entry into the great state of Texas! Sometimes the weather deals a good hand and sometimes it doesn’t.. but today I received an unexpected tailwind; apology accepted Mother Nature!! A planned quick fuel stop at Lufkin, Texas (KLFK) led to some home made cherry pie and a great chat with some of the local police and airport “bums”! A kind person allowed me to top off my brake fluid reservoir too; this is a great little airport, just how they should be. Soon enough, I was off again and crossing over Bryan, TX, home of Texas A&M University. This is where I saw my first oil drilling rig, the first of thousands to come! By this time, the air was smooth and the visibility unlimited, making this leg very enjoyable. The approach into Austin Executive (KEDC) presented a 90 degree crosswind, and ended with a very satisfying one and a half wheel landing! I feel totally at home in my Chipmunk now, and I've once again found my flying feet! After securing my Chippie into yet another fancy jet hangar, I admired another piece of Brit engineering in the FBO; a Rolls Royce Olympus engine, from a Concorde jet. A quick Uber ride to Austin International and I was on my way home, but itching to get back and complete my journey.
FLYING DAY FIVE: It's a week later and I'm back at Austin Executive Airport, just before sunrise. High pressure dominates my planned route, which is different to the last week full of rain and storms. I'm keen to get airborne but a dirty spark plug uses up some time at the holding point. Finally, I'm back in the air and heading west. The town of Austin passes by my left side and I fly over endless green areas dotted with lakes and trees. My first stop presents a surprise, a grass strip in good shape. It's too good of an opportunity to miss and so I touch down on the grass at Junction, Texas (KJCT). After a coffee and cookie, I'm once again following Interstate 10 to my next fuel stop. It was on this leg that the little handheld GPS I'm using decided to die. Luckily, I brought maps, although they were not really needed as following a large freeway is quite easy! A very large pipeline construction passes below me, going off into the distance for many miles. Slowly, the terrain begins to rise and the bumps begin also. Many wind farms pass either side of me and so I know this is going to be a windy area. I land at Fort Stockton, Texas (KFST), fitting in with a military Beech Jet doing training. This place was deserted, but luckily, the self service fuel was available. Two Cessna aircraft arrive for fuel, one heading west and one heading east. The westbound Cessna is a C182, and his next stop is Deming, New Mexico. I wished I could fly straight to Deming but I don't have the range. I need to take a little dogleg and find the only available fuel stop between FST and New Mexico, an old B17 training airfield called Van Horn (KVHN). This leg was also bumpy and the temperatures in the cockpit are high, but I am soon on the ground at VHN, elevation 4,000 feet. The airfield is not manned but a telephone call to the local grocery store has somebody out and fueling the Chipmunk within 10 minutes! I'm keen to get back in the air, so I add some oil and get airborne again. The jagged mountains have really begun to rise, and I pass a large white "v" painted on the mountain next to the town as I climb to 6,500 feet. My GPS is working again but I decide to continue with my map reading, as I am still basically following I-10. The mountains and turbulence rise considerably as I reach the large border town of El Paso. I route north of the International Airport as I cannot get high enough to fly over their airspace. I am fatigued and decide to land at Las Cruces, New Mexico (KLRU). The FBO is welcoming and friendly, and I drink some water and eat some food before feeling good enough to do one more leg. This leg is an easy one, as I am following the same freeway for about 30 minutes to get to Deming, NM (KDMN), the same airport the Cessna was heading to earlier today. As I touch down, a Grumman Cheetah lands behind me, with exactly the same paint scheme as our Cheetah. I show off WG430 as normal, but I am interested in looking at the Cheetah too. The very kind people at DMN loan me a crew car for the night and find a space in the hangar for the Chipmunk. Tomorrow is supposed to be very gusty and so I may have another delay day. I must be back at work on Monday and so I'm hoping to finish the delivery by Sunday. There is a chance I can fly one or two legs tomorrow morning before the winds pick up.
DELAY DAY: I woke up at 5am and checked the weather. Unfortunately, the winds across the mountains ahead at my cruising altitude are already at 30 knots. Today will be a day to explore - I plan to visit the local museum and then go out to City Of Rocks State Park. I'll plan to leave Deming at sunrise tomorrow, hopefully to complete my delivery before Sunday evening.
FLYING DAY SIX: It was still dark outside when I arrived to open the hangar at Deming, New Mexico (KDMN) this morning. My plan was to be airborne as dawn broke to give me the best chance of avoiding expected gusty winds through the mountains of Arizona. WG430 got a fuel tickle, and started first time, again. I was soon in the air and headed towards my first planned fuel stop at Cochise County (P33). This flight was spectacular as I watched the morning colors change across the high desert and jagged mountains. There was some turbulence, but not too much. I landed just behind a Cessna and taxied to the fuel pumps. Today is Easter Sunday, and my own Easter miracle took place! The FBO at P33 was closed today - no fuel available. However, the Cessna pilot was a local and had pre-arranged fuel during the short time he was at the airport, the same time I happened to be there! So, I gratefully fueled up and got back into the air. The next leg took me around some 9,000 foot mountains, and the valleys I followed were bumpy. Similar to Friday, my main route followed Interstate 10 and so I kept the GPS off for most of the flight. As I rounded the last large peak, the city of Tucson, Arizona came into view. I flew over the massive aircraft graveyard at Davis Monthan Air Base, and then made my approach into Marana, AZ (KAVQ). There was a lot of ramp and taxiway construction going on here. In fact, the runway I wanted to use was closed, so I got to try my crosswind techniques. Finding the taxi route to the fuel pumps took another 15 minutes but I eventually parked next to some old Navy jets being scrapped. It was surreal to park my 68 year old aircraft next to some much younger ones, bound for scrap metal. Fuel and oil complete, I was keen to keep going and headed for Gila Bend, AZ (E63), and equally keen to stay south of the skydiving mecca at Eloy. Another gusty landing, fuel up, pee break and oil check.. and I was back in the air again, making good time with my ultra short stops. There are some jagged mountains just before the California border, and those produced the most turbulence today, but I didn’t care, as I knew my Chipmunk was strong and I could see the last state ahead. Crossing the Colorado River marked the first time WG430 entered California airspace and its new home. Winds were calm at Blythe, California (KBLH) and it was time for another quick turnaround. I noticed a Chipmunk patch on the wall of the FBO left by another CA Chipmunk pilot, and I couldn’t resist texting a photo to him! Of course, the last leg always throws something at you... and Chippie did not want to start. Soon enough, the battery was dead and nobody at the FBO was comfortable hand-propping. Luckily, Allen at the airport had a battery charger and volunteered to hold the clips on the battery terminal while I started her up. It worked great, and he closed the battery compartment using a coin while I idled. One hour later, I saw the Salton Sea, a massive dead lake just to the east of my final destination. I picked up the ASOS for Thermal Airport (KTRM) and heard winds were straight down the runway, albeit strong winds. And that was that.. WG430 had not missed a beat in 6 solid days of flying, some 32 hours in all. We had traveled from east to west, 2,300nm flying over 12 states and landing at 22 airports. It was quite a journey.. and now it’s time for me to go back to work, and then return.. to do my first oil change! Cheers.
March - What a great day at Thermal Airport! Richard Wilsher brought his very historic Chipmunk WP833 to our EAA meeting. My wife Andrea got to see a Chipmunk up close for the first time.. and got to sit in the rear seat.. and got taken for a flight around the local area! Richards Chipmunk is very unique, as it was used by the RAF to complete a northern route around the world in 1997. Richard has worked hard to keep WP833 faithful to that amazing journey of almost 17,000 miles. As the only other 'stock' RAF Chipmunk in Southern California (that we know about), it will be fantastic to get WP833 and WG430 together for some formation flights in the future, See the Photographs section for a couple of my shots from the day.
February - The FAA are requiring all aircraft operated in controlled airspace to be ADS-B Out equipped by January 2020. The original VHF radio in WG430 is currently unusable and cannot be repaired and so these two avionics issues will require some equipment installation sometime this year. Several avionics experts have been consulted to ensure compliance with the regulations but without affecting the originality of the aircraft. Work will most probably be carried out in California after the upcoming ferry flight, as many east coast avionics shops are too busy with ADS work to assist. The most likely installation I will select is also the most discrete, which is the TRIG TY91 VHF Radio and TRIG TT22 ADS-B Out compliant transponder. Watch this space!
January - I returned to Van Sant to continue polishing up my tailwheel skills with Azhar. I also wanted to explore the possibility of having a VHF radio and ADS transponder installed during the downtime this winter. My day job is flying Airbus airliners and so my "stick & rudder" skills have deteriorated over the years. Over the next few days, Azhar helped me become comfortable with the various aspects of flying a Chipmunk, including the bizarre starting procedure and tricky braking system. By the end of this trip to Van Sant, I had flown several hours with Azhar and also squeezed in a solo flight. I had produced a checklist, specific for WG430 and I'd managed to ship the old RAF documents back to California. Hangar space was arranged at Van Sant and the mechanic who had carried out the most work on WG430 was asked to check a small brake fluid leak and also help with a small crack that had appeared in the spinner. All logbooks were brought up to-date from various sources to arrive at the most accurate times I could establish: 12,248:21 total, 435:21 SMOH.
November - 26th Nov 2018... I bought a de Havilland Chipmunk! I have a possible delivery window for the 2,100 mile flight from Van Sant (PA) to Thermal (CA). Van Sant is a wonderful and very historic airfield that reminds me of the place I spent the most time building hours, Old Sarum Airfield in England. WG430 is in great original shape and looks very similar (RAF Training Raspberry Ripple) to the first aircraft I flew in 1986. I'm heading down nostalgia lane! The first day of my delivery window brought rain, the second day brought gusty crosswinds. The third day showed the results of rain the previous night and turned the grass strip into a mud bath! The fourth day looked good to fly and so one of the previous owners (Pete) and I took WG430 for a test flight. I had always heard the comparisons between the Chipmunk handling and a Supermarine Spitfire. I was very fortunate to fly a Spitfire earlier in 2018 and so I could now compare. The roll characteristics were almost identical, in that both the Chipmunk and Spitfire are incredibly harmonized in roll. In pitch, the Spitfire is much more "pitchy" but both aircraft do feel very similar, which is heaping praise on just how nice the Chipmunk is to fly. The weekend weather offered a potential window but more rain was forecast and so WG430 was moved to a hard runway airfield temporarily. For the next couple of days, I flew with an amazing and very experienced tailwheel instructor, Azhar Hussain (who reportedly has more Stearman time than any other current pilot!) We had a slight issue with the ASI, which was easily fixed the following day. Unfortunately, the weekend window did not appear and weather down route was looking awful and so I decided to leave WG430 at Van Sant for the winter and return in the Spring.