Sunday, 28 July 2013

Old school

When not simming, I have been known to appreciate things of the slightly steampunky persuasion.  So I guess this was inevitable...
The Longest Flight In The World.... EVER!!!

Having tore things up in Kitty Hawk in 1903, I jumped into my time machine and skipped forward a half dozen years to 1909.  Louis Bleriot was all set to complete his record breaking crossing of the English Channel.  Outrageous, I say!  Can't let a bally Frenchie have that glory now, can we?  Once one of 'em figures out he can fly across the channel, they'll all be at it!  We'll be over-run... over-run, I say!

So I did the only decent, British thing to do.  I conked sim-Bleriot on the noggin and pinched his flying machine.  England Expects, and all that, donchya know.

More seriously, I had so much fun in the Wright Flyer that I started looking around for other freeware aircraft from the dawn of aviation.  There's not much in the way of pre-WWI aircraft out there, but there are a few, including a half decent Bleriot XI.

Instrumentation was non-existent.  Controls were basic but thankfully the primary flight functions of roll, pitch and yaw were all covered.  Rather than mess about trying to slew the plane to a suitable farmer's field, I took off from Calais airfield, adding a couple of miles to the journey.

Planes of this era really, really did not want to fly.  The Bleriot XI took constant control input to keep it on course and level, lacking any modern niceties like trim controls or autopilot.  The "cockpit" seat, little more than a bucket really, had terrible visibility - the view forward partially obscured by the engine and the view to either side totally obscured by the wings.  There was however an unobstructed view looking straight down, something I didn't want to do too often.  Cruising speed was between 40-45kn.  In real life, Bleriot flew at 250ft, I varied between 500ft and so-low-isn't-the-sea-spray-refreshing heights.

Bleriot flew without a compass but was able to set his course by following the route of a friendly French Navy destroyer (which carried his undoubtedly nervous wife aboard). Not having a spare warship handy, I settled for tracking the flight using Plan-G open on a second monitor.

The crossing was uneventful, apart from a couple of lapses in concentration that nearly led to some wet toes.  When I finally reached the English coast, and the Not The Least Bit White Cliffs Of Dover (heres hoping FTX England remedies that!) I ran into the same problem Bleriot historically did - neither of us had scouted a landing site properly, and both were faced with a sheer cliff face that we'd struggle to climb over.  We both turned west and followed the coastline, looking for a way inland.

Bleriot fortunately had a compatriot waving a French tricolore to show him a safe place to head inland.  I gained enough altitude to at least peek further inland, only to see modern urban development had rendered a safe landing inland problematic at best.  Instead I angled for a strip of green land right on the Dover seafront, open but sloping slightly upwards.

The landing itself was in fact quite anticlimactic.

Bleriot made it another 700 yards just over that hill to an open and gently sloping meadow.  A quick check both on Google Maps and in FSX confirmed there was no way I could have landed there, due to a century or more of changes.  My actual landing site, between Townwall St (pictured) and Marine Drive, is today in fact a Premier Inn.  The flying machine came to rest in what looks like the hotel bar's beer garden.

I don't think I could have planned it any better if I'd tried.


  1. I think it boils down to whether the plane has any in-built stability, and perhaps with it's flat wing, mess of structural wires and a small tail surface that may have made things slightly hairy.

    It's perhaps good that they were able to model this, though I wonder how accurate that was!.. maybe in real life it was even more of a handful. More crash avoidance than flying.

    Have you read H.G.Wells "War In The Air"? It was written about this sort of time and extrapolates forward into the role that Air Ships might have played. He leans very much on the plane not being much of a step up from a bicycle, with the main protagonist being an cycle shop mechanic.

  2. The Bleriot XI, like quite a few aircraft of its time, didn't have ailerons as we know them today. It actually induced roll by warping the whole wing slightly by pulling them with the control wires. A whole different sort of "fly-by-wire". I can't see how it could have been particularly stable. But it was of course revolutionary for its time, when you compare it to the Wright Flyer and other pre-1910 aircraft.

    I'm not sure if I have read War In The Air, though I have read a lot of Victorian "next war" and "future airship" stories. Wells like a lot of contemporaries foresaw the importance of future airpower, but no-one was quite sure whether it would be in the form of aerostats (lighter than air), aerodynes (i.e. planes) or aeronefs (heavier than air vehicles kept aloft by non aerodynamic means, like Marvel's fictional SHIELD Helicarrier.)

  3. Warping the wing is a perfectly acceptable way of providing control but tends not to be used these days for a number of engineering reasons, but I wouldn't attribute it's lack of stability. It was a relatively common way of doing it once, like you say.

    I don't think a lot was understood about the effects of things such as prop wash or having a rudder too low in respect to the wing. It was very trial and error until the windtunnel was invented.

    But creating stability is quite simple, you just add a little dihedral (or polyhedral) to the wings rather than have them straight. Also hanging the mass under the wing can add to this essentially giving you a self righting structure. Of course during the war years the likes of Fokker made his planes instable as a way to giving them the edge. If you reduce stability then it's more able to perform aerobatics and outperform the competition.

  4. Actually wing warping is the subject of some state-of-the-art aeronautical research, using modern materials and fly by wire to change the shape of the wing for different flight characteristics, like a swing-wing on steroids.

    While perhaps a not inherently unstable method of flight control, I can see old style wing-warping having a medium to long term effect similar to using a whammy bar on a guitar. Would the wing always return to exactly the same shape? Or would continued use strain the joints and material of the flimsy wooden frame and gradually pull things out of true?

  5. Hysteresis eh!.. I would have thought it would be more likely to weaken the glued joints but in truth I have no idea how his wings where fastened together. But over fairly longish wings you'd think that the flex would be evenly distributed and wooded spar structures do seem to be inherently twistable.

    I imagine that the canvas might wrinkle a little.

    Also consider you'd have a similar cable arrangement under the wing to pull it t'other way, so provided you didn't just bank in circles all day it shouldn't introduce a constant warp.

  6. Do you do requests, either here or on that Youtube...

    How about a de Havilland Dragon Rapide? (classic)