Condor Moments

I haven’t made many sensible decisions in my life, especially to do with money, but joining the group that runs G-AWFP is definitely one of them.

Words and images: Colin Goodwin

She’s sacrificed a chunk of her garden for my workshop, there’s a cowling in the kitchen and I never have any money. She likes flying, has done her navigation and meteorology exams, and stumped up for a large chunk of the cost of my recent IMC rating.

Yes, I think Mrs Goodwin is the perfect aviation spouse. She’s only had a sense of humour failure twice. Once was when we were temporarily embedded in cloud in southern France (which she helped get us out of without drama) and the other occasion when we flew her cousin down to Goodwood and then for a lap of the Isle of Wight in a rented Piper Archer. The bill came to over �400. It was the poor value for money that upset her and I couldn’t raise a case for the defence.

I could cope with hiring club aircraft if I was happy to do only a dozen or so hours a year but I have a target of fifty hours a year: not just for the sensible reason of keeping in practice, but because I love flying and want to do as much of it as possible. So far I’ve stuck to that number. A few years running a Luscombe really raised my batting average and it’s only time spent building my RV that has kept my hours slightly lower in the Rollason Condor that I now fly.

One of the sensible decisions

I haven’t made many sensible decisions in my life, especially to do with money, but joining the group that runs G-AWFP is definitely one of them. Foxtrot Papa has been a resident at White Waltham for over twenty years and is one of those aircraft that regularly appears on the club noticeboard with a share for sale. Shares came up a couple of times while I was learning to fly and when Luscombing, and I’d always made a mental note of it.

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Then a couple of years ago, when even more money was coming out of my wallet and flying across the Atlantic into the Van’s Aircraft company’s account, the Luscombe had to go. A share in the Condor seemed the obvious way to keep flying regularly yet not spend a fortune in the process. And more to the point, an aircraft that wouldn’t cost me much money to not fly. That was the snag with keeping the Luscombe: I could cut down the number of hours I flew it but there were still the insurance and parking to pay.

My share in the Condor cost �1,300, which in flying terms is peanuts, as is the monthly charge of �45. The wet rate is now �60 per hour, but was a bit less when I started out in the group in 2010. Forgetting the cost of the share, a quick tap on the calculator reveals that it costs me �3,540 to do 50 hours a year in the machine. If anyone has a hangared two-seat aircraft based within 30 miles of London that can beat that I’d be surprised.

There are now ten members in the group, up from nine when I joined. The man in charge is David Taylor and a better chap to run a group you couldn’t find. “Our Condor was run by the Blackbush Flying Club until it folded in 1978,” explains Taylor. “One of the instructors bought G-AWFP and set up a group with about half a dozen members. I joined in 1993 after the aircraft was moved to White Waltham [in 1989]. The wings needed re-covering and the best way to cover the cost of that was to increase the number of members to ten.”

Once I’d handed over my 1,300 quid, I enlisted the services of pal Nigel Rhind to help me learn to fly the Condor. Nigel taught me aerobatics in a Pitts and therefore has a proven record with dim students. He was also once a member of the Blackbush Flying Club Group (as it is still called) and knows the Condor well. I was determined to do as many hours in the aircraft under instruction as it would take for me to be comfortable and competent. The thought of damaging an aircraft that has been happily flying since 1968 and which eight other people enjoy flying terrified me.

Very different from the Luscombe

Both the Luscombe (mine had had its A65 replaced) and Condor are fitted with a Continental 0-200, but there the similarity ends. Firstly, the Condor’s wood-and-fabric airframe provides a much quieter and smoother ride than the Luscombe’s metal structure. Second, the handling in the air is a lot sweeter, with responsive ailerons. (Ironically the handling feels quite similar to a RV-7’s, but with only half the power.)

Taking off and landing took a bit of adjustment because the Condor sits very flat on the ground and there’s little pitch change as you pull back on the stick and ease her off the ground at about 60mph. She’s very easy to taxi because, unlike my old Luscombe, she has effective brakes. What’s not so good is the arrangement whereby you push hard on the rudder pedal to apply the appropriate brake. To brake both wheels you have to pull back on the hand lever. The only tricky part - and I’ve learned this the hard way - is that if you are landing or taking off in a heavy crosswind, you can find yourself applying so much rudder that you inadvertedly apply brake as well.

She’s not going to a win a concours event, our Condor. She could do with a repaint and the coaming above the panel has a covering of gaffer tape that doesn’t look particularly attractive. There’s an old-fashioned blind-flying panel, but I don’t have any faith in the artificial horizon and am not convinced by the turn coordinator either. There’s a Nav/Com unit fitted so VOR tracking is possible. The fuel capacity is fifteen gallons and although you could probably go three hours before spluttering to a halt, I like to be on the ground and filling up after no more than two hours flying.

We use an online booking system called Goboko and it’s brilliant. A piece of cake to use, even from an iPhone. I’ve only met a few of our members, which proves how well the group is run and how friendly it is. You can tell that they’re all the right types because of the considerate way that the aircraft is always left. Much to my embarrassment I’ve several times left the mags on, or the master switch, and on a couple of occasions committed the heinous crime of going home with the fuel card in my pocket.

In two years I don’t think I’ve ever had a time when I haven’t been able to go flying when I’ve wanted to. I’m lucky in that I can and do fly during the week. Unlike many groups most of our members fly the Condor regularly, though ironically David Taylor is one of the less frequent users because he also flies a Jodel.

It’s a great help that most of us have the same philosophy and the same approach to flying. The joy of the Condor is simple trips around the countryside taking in new airfields and strips, picking up a cuppa along the way. “A typical good day flying Foxtrot Papa for me is a sunny day with perhaps some cumulus to provide definition and a fair forecast,” says member Philip Holdsworth, “and flying somewhere for lunch and maybe call in somewhere else for tea. White Waltham to Sandown on the Isle of Wight and then back via Popham.”

Group trustee David Taylor has the same philosophy. Taylor used to fly a lot with fellow member Eric Hockaday, who is no longer a member but fulfils the important role of group treasurer and is to whom we all send our cheques after each flight. “Eric and I would string together a nice tour visiting several strips in particular areas. For example we’d spend a day touring East Anglia dropping in to strips and airfields that took our fancy.”

Long trips in the Condor can be a bit tiring because it’s not a hands-off aircraft (unlike the Luscombe, which would fly straight and level for ages once you’d got it trimmed) but it’s the lack of range that puts me off. A recent flight to Bolt Head just west of Salcombe was a memorable trip. The viz was a bit poor, but a stop for sandwiches at Compton Abbas plus a few gallons of UL91 saw it clear up and then we had a lovely flight along the coast to Salcombe. It’s a great strip aircraft, the Condor, but not a great short-strip machine. Still, we had no problem getting in and out of the technically demanding Eastbach Farm airstrip near Ross-on-Wye on a classic Condor trip to the Wye valley for a barbecue with friends.

We’ve got a Mercedes 280SL that’s much more thirsty than Foxtrot Papa. A good tip this: always have a thirsty car in your fleet to make your flying seem like an economy. The Editor has a Jaguar XJ-SC with a gas-guzzling V12 engine that is the perfect companion to his more frugal Cub.

Not that none of us is adventurous. Fellow member David Horton, who’s one of the most regular fliers, decided to fly with a pal to Berlin Templehof to visit the amazing airport before it closed in October 2008. Unfortunately the weather that August was pretty poor so David and co-pilot Martyn managed to only get as far as the M�hne Dam before making the wise decision to turn back for Blighty before they got stuck on the ground for days on end. Still, it was a great adventure and numerous interesting airfields across Belgium and Germany got into FP’s log book.

Professionally maintained

Our Condor is possibly one of the few aircraft in the LAA fleet that is professionally maintained. We don’t even do a fifty-hour check ourselves and instead send the aircraft up to Steve Gilbert up at Enstone. It means a bit of to and froing for the member who volunteers to take and collect it, but it works out well. Paying for a simple job may sound lazy and poor use of funds, but I’m much happier with this arrangement. It’s one thing fettling your own aircraft, but I wouldn’t be comfortable working on a machine that another nine people fly - even with an inspector peering over my shoulder checking out my work (which wouldn’t be required on a 50hr check anyway).

Currently our white-and-blue friend is up at Bicester having her windscreen and side screens replaced. This will make a huge difference cosmetically and practically too, when landing into the sun. She could really do with a re-paint, too, and that’ll probably be done in the relatively near future.

One day my RV-7 will be finished and flying. My time with the Condor will be up and it will be time to put a piece of paper up on the club notice board advertising a share for sale. Anyone who is on a tight budget, who wants to fly a machine that handles sweetly, but that won’t do more than 100mph would be nuts not to investigate further. Foxtrot Papa isn’t the most glamorous flying machine at White Waltham but it’s probably the cheapest to fly - certainly the cheapest two-seater. And it’s not the most perfect aeroplane, either, but it is operated by a perfect group.