Flying Impressions

Test Pilot’s Notes by Nigel Jones 

As Tony’s inspector and the nominated test pilot I had watched the Morane grow, literally, with every piece added it just got bigger and bigger. The day it arrived at Barton and the wings went on, its huge presence became apparent – it was mildly intimidating, with a climb into the cockpit that seemed as high as a circuit in lesser machines. It was now mine to take into the air for the first time in twenty five years. I believe you can count on one finger the number of pilots that had flown one of these in the UK, so no help to be had and no notes to be read.

The evening of the first flight drew a small crowd. No problem - a bit of pressure sharpens you up and for this ‘stick and rudder seat of the pants’ first flight I need to be sharp. Ground checks complete and cleared for take-off, line up, open up the throttle smoothly with lots of rudder, stick going forward lifting the tail, hold it level and it flies off, climb straight ahead to 500 feet and then right turn back over the field, level out at 1500 feet throttle back and all was good. A few minutes in the overhead at 1800 feet then back into the circuit for a landing, keeping the speed precautiously high on the approach. The flight finishes in a smooth wheeler touchdown and a nice straight roll out. 

A perfect first test flight and a quirky delight to fly.

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Test Pilot Nigel Jones (left) with owner and restorer Tony Whitehead


Pilot Kate Simms’ impressions of flying the Morane

Kate is 27 years old and has been flying for ten years - she has a rare natural talent; she is able to handle any aircraft she flies, including the Morane. Kate runs the LAC flying school at City Airport Manchester (better and still known as Barton) lacflyingschool.co.uk  

‘The Morane for me is like going back in time as it gives you a small insight into the era of the 1930s. The rugged yet awesome presence it holds with it's huge seven cylinder engine and eight foot wooden propeller is owed completely to it's dedicated and highly skilled owner who has tastefully and accurately restored it to its former glory. 

Flying the Morane can be likened to taming an animal as the engine impatiently wants you off the ground and the vast wing span ensures the take off run is minimal. The roar of its engine is a sound very few miss from the ground and creates an instant nostalgic attraction which is even endearing as it deafens it's passengers. Once airborne though it becomes much tamer, it's controls are quite responsive and is more a pleasure than a chore to handle.
The reduced ability to communicate and high speed airflow from the engine leaves you alone with the elements and a natural contented feeling that can only be found with a special aircraft such as the Morane.’

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Kate Simms in the Morane at Breighton

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Pilot Aiden Grimley’s reflections of flying the Morane

Before I got to fly the Morane-Saulnier, I flew the camera ship for some air-to-air pictures so got to see and hear it from a number of different angles. My personal favourite was looking up at that distinctive silhouette framed against a clear blue sky.

When it came to flying the Morane the first thing that hits you is the size…..that is a BIG aeroplane!

The second thing hits you as soon as you start to get into the aeroplane. The quality of finish is extraordinary! When Tony said it was a ‘nut and bolt’ restoration I thought that was just an expression! Getting into the aeroplane I realised what he meant. It was like getting in to a new aeroplane. The paint, the fittings, the screw heads. The workmanship was meticulous and first-class.

The view from the cockpit is just charming. Your eyes are met with a combination of struts, that enormous wing, the scalloped section over the cockpit, cylinder heads and that big propeller, and I know it’s shallow, but I really like the colour! What seems like acres of pale blue and silver. Soothing yet uplifting! If aeroplanes have feng shui this one has it in spades.

Although the view ahead is as limited as you might expect, taxiing is straightforward. The aeroplane steers true and easily and the view ahead can be supplemented by sticking your head out of the side so the need for weaving is reduced somewhat. None of the dancing on the rudder and brakes that you need in some tail-draggers.

For some reason I had it in my head that the tail would come up quite quickly on the take-off roll. So when it didn’t I had that moment of panic when you think you’ve done something wrong so while my eyes were scanning rapidly around the unfamiliar panel looking for clues, my ears and smell were telling me the engine was fine and by the time I’d decided it was OK the tail was up. Having a view ahead always makes for a more relaxed take-off.

Almost as soon as the tail was up the aeroplane started to levitate away from the strip. It felt strange to be flying (and climbing) at such a low airspeed, but the aeroplane was happy and stable. It took me a minute to acclimatise to the sound and speed, but once used to the new environment the aeroplane really starts to inspire confidence.

Rolling in to a turn gives you a magnificent view across the top of the downgoing wing as you look into the turn or down at the ground. Keeping in balance is easy and natural. The aeroplane doesn’t have any particular control quirks that you sometimes get in vintage aeroplanes.

There were several times during the flight when I just burst out laughing with the sheer fun of it. Steep turns are like thermalling a vintage glider. Tight, slow and just fun. I found myself rolling into and out of alternating steep turns left and right just for a laugh. Big radials have a lovely sound. Open cockpit flying makes me feel connected to the elements somehow. This aeroplane has them all. The occasional waft of warm air from a cylinder head. The smell of hot metal and combustion. The views, the sounds, the sensations were just a marvel. I didn’t want this flight to end.

Stalling is a complete non-event. The aeroplane flies happily deep into the stall. It lets you know but it never let go. The aeroplane inspired so much confidence that I had to remind myself of a quote I once read in a flying magazine (I think it was about a Piper Cub). It said ‘the aeroplane is so safe it can only just kill you’. So I held that in my mind as we headed back towards the field.

Even though it was a delight to fly, agile and predictable, the cockpit was still a long way off the ground (I normally fly a midget racer!), this is a rare and beautiful aeroplane and it isn’t mine! I really didn’t want to make a hash of the landing (or worse, prang it). So I got my head out of the ‘this is just so much fun’ mode and concentrated on the landing.

Well I say concentrated!...I was so fixated on controlling the approach gradient and the speed that I found myself nearly on the ground before I’d decided whether to do a three-pointer or a wheeler.

I thought that it would land so slowly that a three pointer would be best, but I’d long forgotten the mental picture that I’d tried to remember as we taxied out and was worried that being so high up in the cockpit I’d fluff it and drop it on (or the ground would arrive before I was ready). So I thought a wheeler would be safer. But before I’d decided the ground arrived! When the mains were down the tail felt like it was almost on the ground as well so I let it go down. Yep, you know what happened. That big wing – a few extra degrees of attack. We were back in the air again! Holding it for the second arrival I thought it was in a perfect position for a three pointer. I was wrong. Off we went again. The embarrassment of bouncing it (twice) spurred me to make a decision, I was going to hold it on the mains and wheel it. So when it touched down for the third time I moved the stick forward but the speed was so slow now I couldn’t hold the tail up and it settled into a nice three point ground roll. Such is life.

This is a beautiful aeroplane and a joy to fly. I’m deeply grateful to Tony for the opportunity to fly it. It is a great testament to his enthusiasm, skill and hard work.

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Aiden Grimley has flown aerobatics at world championship level and he is also a display pilot for the Real Aeroplane Company