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FEATURE – Flying the Miles Magister

Photo: Dave Unwin flying the Miles Magister. PHOTO BY KEITH WILSON

 

Magical Maggie

Few modern-day pilots have sampled the Miles Magister, a classic wartime trainer. FlyPast’s Dave Unwin describes a flight in the famous ‘Maggie’.

As I walked out to the bright yellow aircraft on a beautiful summer’s day in 2012 at Old Warden, Bedfordshire, I was very much looking forward to the forthcoming flight.

I’ve always liked open cockpit monoplanes, and with its tandem seats the Miles Magister is my idea of a real fun flying machine. Furthermore, its rarity and good looks always draw a crowd, and it boasts a unique claim to fame, being the first monoplane primary trainer operated by the RAF.

I’d last flown this ‘Maggie’ (N3788 G-AKPF) back in 2004, when I accompanied the then owner Peter Holloway to Woburn Abbey for the de Havilland Moth Club International Rally – we were allowed in because it has a de Havilland engine.

After such a long gap, I anticipated that he might want to jump in the back for a quick flip round the patch, but he simply said: “Get in and get on with it.” When I reminded him that it’d been eight years since I’d last flown the Magister, he asked me if I remembered what it flew like. When I nodded, he simply said: “Well, it hasn’t changed much.” (Peter has now sold the aircraft and since April 2017 it has been registered to David Bramwell).

Walkaround

As I began the pre-flight checks I thought how much more modern looking the Magister is than its contemporary the Tiger Moth. Besides the obvious difference in being a monoplane, it has brakes, flaps and a tailwheel. One of the few facets that the two types have in common is that they are both powered by the same engine – the 130hp (97kW) DH Gipsy Major I. It is fed from a pair of tanks in the centre-section with a combined capacity of 95 litres, and turns a two-blade fixed pitch wooden prop.

Large, pneumatically-actuated split flaps cover about 40% of the trailing edge. As delivered from the factory, the flaps originally consisted of five segments, the fifth being mounted under the belly. Having flaps running aileron-to-aileron was clearly too much of a good thing – the drag must’ve been eye-watering – and most Maggies had the belly flap deleted.

There is a trim tab on the port elevator and a length of cord doped on the rudder’s trailing edge. As befits a primary trainer, the Magister boasts a usefully wide wheel track. The Bendix drum brakes are of the infamously pernickety ‘fly-off’ type, and as their steel operating cables are mounted on a wooden airframe, the biting point is never consistent. They are affected by several variables including temperature and humidity – and for all I know barometric pressure, diurnal variation and possibly even the phases of the moon! I’m not a fan, particularly as the disproportionately large pneumatic tailwheel only castors.

Access to either cockpit is from the starboard wing root. Unusually, the Maggie can be soloed from either cockpit – although pilots above a certain weight must fly from the front.  The wingroot walkway is sensibly sized, and below each cockpit’s small fold-down door is a non-slip footstep. There is also a generously-sized baggage bay aft of the rear cockpit that is accessed by a door on the starboard side. The windscreens look curious, as the rear one is simply a big curved piece of Perspex that appears rather ahead of its time, while the front’s seems to be more befitting its era, a three-pane unit, with a mirror on its left. Its frame is actually the exposed part of a clever steel-tube crash-pylon incorporated into the structure.

Controls

The rudder pedals adjust, although not easily. Seating position is altered by selective use of cushions only. When I last flew the Maggie it had lovely, newly made and correct for the period Sutton harnesses. However, Suttons are expensive items these days, so Peter had reluctantly decided to fit the later, stronger Z-type.

The controls also have their idiosyncrasies: while the throttle/mixture quadrant is nicely situated on the left cockpit sidewall with the flap selector and indicator mounted directly underneath, operation of these is distinctly non-standard. Mixture rich is back not forwards (the lever is actually wire-locked in place) while the flap lever is pushed forward for down and back for up.

Furthermore, although when selecting flaps up it is important that the lever is moved back to the neutral position, it is imperative that when selected down the lever is left in the down position. This is because the flaps are powered pneumatically, the ‘suck’ being provided by tapping off the inlet manifold…

The rest of this article is in the August issue available on sale in the UK now and in other countries from next month. It can be ordered direct from www.flypast.com or in leading newsagents. Alternatively, you can download a digital edition from www.pocketmags.com – simply search ‘FlyPast’.

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