Adventures with G-AKDN - Chapter 6

KDN being reassembled at Saskatoon Airport.

It was very exciting, to open up that container and see KDN sitting in there, undamaged, and safe and sound on the ramp at Saskatoon Airport. Many friends wanted a quick peek at what we had, but we needed to get busy. We had another 5-hour adventure unloading it but were soon secure in a rented hangar. We would spend another week putting it back together, with Tom Coates coaching. We finished assembly just in time to make an appearance at the Canada Remembers Air Show held at Saskatoon airport. KDN received a lot of attention and questions. It looked so different from all the standard RCAF yellow, bubble canopy Chipmunks. With its strange looking UK registration, civilian aerobatic style paint job, and original deHavilland Canada designed canopy, it had a lot of people scratching their heads. Most people understandably thought it was a UK built Chipmunk.

On an early test flight, I was on approach to land with full flap. At about 500 feet I heard and felt a loud bang on the right wing. I looked around and saw the right hand flap had retracted. I immediately thought the flap handle had come unlocked and retracted the flaps. I was surprised to look down and see the handle was still in full flap position. Looking left, I was stunned to see I still had full left flap! Everyone, including me, thought a split flap configuration would cause an uncontrolled roll. But here I was, with what should have been an emergency, and the airplane continued to handle normally and I completed an uneventful landing. We found the right flap cable that makes multiple turns had broken at a pulley. An easy fix, but was very surprising to learn, that with one failed flap, the airplane did not roll over as we, and many other people expected. This was a very good demonstration of what a superb handling aircraft the Chipmunk is and gave me enormous faith in it.

We flew KDN for the rest of the summer, learning how to fly it well. There is a saying that, the Chipmunk is easy to fly, but hard to fly well. I agree. I found it much like the Pitts. It did everything you asked of it with the controls. So if you were rough, or over controlled, it flew rough and was all over the sky. If you were smooth and precise, it followed your every move, and was a delight to fly. The trick was to relax, and not force it. We mastered it in a short time.

We needed more time to master its Gipsy Major engine peculiarities. It would shake and burp for no real reason and give us mini heart attacks every time it did. But we learned how to operate it and over the years, it has proven itself over thousands of miles of Canadian wilderness. It has always got us home. We have had to do much more preventative maintenance on the engine than any other type of engine we have flown, but that is part of the cost and charm of owning a vintage aircraft.

Although designed in Downsview, Ontario, Canada, the Chipmunk could have been designed on the other side of the world, where they drive on the other side of the road. The engine turns the opposite direction from North American engines. This makes the aircraft swing to the right on take-off, opposite to the direction we are used to. This creates much amusement to the audience as they watch new pilots trying to fly it. Many of the controls are also backwards. Lean the fuel mixture, by moving the control forward. We normally lean aircraft by pulling the control knob back. Fly with carburetor heat on - we fly with it off. The master switch for electric power is a giant light switch, but down is on and up is off – opposite to our switches. I experienced a dead battery more then once because of this. And the engine is installed in the airframe upside down! Similar to the Tiger Moth, this configuration gets the propeller up high, out of harm’s way, which is good, but also positions the cylinder valve covers facing down. This is unusual, but we soon learned the art of keeping oil in the engine instead of all over the airframe. There are many unusual maintenance tasks necessary to maintain these old but reliable engines. Over time we have fallen under the Gipsy spell. We drag home any spare parts we find to add to our collection which is our treasure trove.

The snow started flying so we stopped. KDN didn’t like spending its first -40 degree winter in Canada, stored in my unheated hangar. Come springtime, we opened the door to find a yellow, white and black shadow on the floor underneath the airplane. Most of the paint on the bottom of the airplane had just fallen off!

to be continued...

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