Fifteen centimetres

Fifteen Centmetres

The car salesman looked at me very strangely. ‘A nut case?’ he was thinking. He didn’t want to offend a probable customer so he suppressed his reactions.

“Look,” I had said to him after he had started on his usual spiel, “I don’t want a supercharged V8 four wheel drive automatic with cruise control and GPS, nor a Porsche. I want a wagon that is 15 centimetres (6 inches) shorter, over all, than my old Nissan.

“Er, well, 15 centimetres shorter. I don’t know… I’ll have to look at the specification sheet. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to consider our special offer on a new, last year’s model Falcon?”

“15 centimetres shorter than the Nissan,” I insisted.

My little saga had started years before. It had become clear that if I intended to continue building big model sailplanes, I would have to find some means of getting to the flying field with them. Ordinary thermal soarers were no problem, even an F3B contest model with the wing in three pieces, could go in the boot of almost any car.

Scale sailplanes created difficulties. My Kirby Kite at quarter scale had a wing span of just over 3.5 metres (11.6 ft). The wing divided on the centre line. When we let half the rear seat down the Kite fitted into the car. It meant that our two daughters would have to squash together in the back but that was all right. They were grown up now and didn’t want to come playing with Dad’s toys any more. Nor, after a few experiences, did Jean, so that was all right too. Other people have the same problem. Their solutions differ. One at least fell for the sales talk and bought a Porsche. Then he had to build a new back end onto it. It spoiled the lines a bit.

It spoiled the lines a bit.

By now I had a larger model glider, my PWS 101, 4.75 metres (15.5 ft) as well as the Kite. I changed to a station wagon. With the back seat fully down and the front one reclined, a 2.5 metre section of wing could just go in, between the tail gate and the windscreen. There was even room for a tool box and a winch in the back.

I wasn’t satisfied. I couldn’t take both models at once. I like to have two with me. (If one gets broken, I bring out the other to bust that as well.) My answer was to install a roof rack and make a nice big box. With one glider on the roof there was still room inside the car for the other. I happened to have some suitable plywood, from an old packing crate. The people who owned the house before us had left some brown varnish behind. That was just what I needed to finish off. The box had nice little latches all round and padded cradles within. Getting the thing up onto the rack was not easy for one person. Jean didn’t mind helping with that so long as she wasn’t expected to come to the flying field as well. “There would always be someone else there to help with getting it down, wouldn’t there?” she said, “And to put it up again after flying.” Well, there was nearly always someone. If I was alone, it was just possible to clamber up and get the model out with the box still on the rack. I was younger then.

DIY Funerals, anyone?

The box served well enough for a year or two. If it was too far aft on the rack, I couldn’t open the tail gate of the wagon and if it was too far forward it cast a threatening gloom over the front seats. I had some funny looks from ordinary citizens when I parked one day near the crematorium. I very nearly painted a big sign on the box: “DIY Funerals, Phone 1234567, Dead Cheap.” What prevented me was the thought that there might be some customers. Instead I put a few model-flying stickers on. No one took any notice of them. People still stared.

Now there was another difficulty. I was getting more ambitious about the models and they were getting bigger still. I was running out of storage space for them at home too because I didn’t always crash them. (The old Kite survives to this day, it is thirty years old. I gave it away to a friend but it still flies. The PWS, the Helios, the two Weihes, same story. Others… ASW 24, Cirrus 2… well I still have some of them, but not quite all. Nobody’s perfect.)

I had some experience with trailers, especially those required for carrying and storing full-sized sailplanes. With these the problem was not so much getting the glider to the club site for flying, as getting back again after landing out. I had actually built and helped to build four full-scale trailers. The first was a wooden one to carry the Ka 6E that a group of us at Dunstable had bought back in 1966 – 7.

What took him so long?

The three of us put this trailer together in a Mews flat in London. The downstairs living room, which had once been the stables, was big enough after we shoved the furniture aside. We nearly finished the trailer in a couple of weekends. It looked like a big, slabsided wooden fuselage. The third member of our group (who needed the space to live in with his wife and three children) was left with only a few details to attend to on his own. I never understood why it took him so many more weekends. He only had to put the wheels on, fit the towbar, make the interior fittings to carry the bits of glider, skin it all with glassfibre, paint it and tow it to Poppenhausen in Germany and back with the Ka 6E inside. It was a good, weatherproof and light trailer and as far as I know is still extant.

Three other trailers I built in Australia all by myself, for a Kestrel 17, a Standard Libelle, and an LS -3. These all had welded steel frames and aluminium cladding ‘pop – riveted’ on. They are still in use (not by me). The LS – 3 trailer even has a lift up roof with home- made gas struts.

By this time I had had enough of building trailers. I had resolved never to do it again, not even a small one. So I approached the idea of a trailer for my models with caution and decided at last to get someone else to make one for me. A friend who worked for a light engineering firm arranged for it to be built by the men there as a ‘fill in’ between other jobs. I sketched what I wanted. Three metres long not counting the towbar, 1.7 metres (5.6 ft) wide, with the wheels set neatly into the chassis. There were big doors at the back and a small one at the side. The frame was welded up in 2.5 cm (1 inch) square steel tubing, with heavier material for the chassis. I left the other details to the experts. It did not in fact take them very long and they did an excellent job, wiring and all. When the basic shell was finished and covered in lightweight steel sheeting, I fitted out the interior myself with broad shelves and a grid of vertical and horizontal aluminium bars, padded with foam rubber, to take wings and tailplanes. Octopus clips (rubber bungees with hooks) are by far the most effective, adaptable and cheap means of holding the bits in place for travelling. There was space at the front for a spare wheel, several small models could lie athwartships, a tool box and a winch. I could carry six quarter scale sailplanes.

Room for six!

If necessary the internal frame of the trailer could be adapted to take a tug model with room still for two or three sailplanes. The trailer was easy to push around by hand, towed beautifully, and looked smart too.

Quite smart

Problem solved? When I got the new trailer home, I proudly wheeled it into our long double garage and carefully put the car away, nose to tail. I closed the garage door. Well, not quite. Try putting nose to nose. With the trailer as far in as it would go, and the car very gently eased forward, the doors failed to close by…. 15 centimetres.

We could, I suppose, have had the garage extended. Well, actually, we had already done that a few years before. It was easier, and cheaper, to buy a new car just fifteen centimetres shorter than the Nissan. We hung a big rubber spider on a string to tell us when the car was in far enough. When the spider touches the windscreen, stop! I have lived happily with my trailer ever after. But is it going to be long enough for my next project? I will watch this space.

Happily ever after?

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