Restoration of Luton Minor LA4, G-AYDY

Some thoughts on the project by the restorer and owner of Wicko GM1 G-AFJB.
Joe Dible.

Some Background Information

On completion of the Wicko to flight I was asked whether I should restore another aeroplane to which I gave a definite answer……………NO!

Already the Wicko had consumed a fortune in time, effort, tears and we wont mention the money, and the thought of doing another aeroplane was, I firmly believed, not an option. Besides there were continuous improvements and modifications to the Wicko that required more work.

There was finding the correct propeller for a start, as the original had proved too fine and the engine revs on "take off" were close to the limit. This alone took no less than four changes to arrive at satisfactory diameter and pitch that both satisfied a reasonable take-off performance and moderate cruise. The Wicko does like to cruise quite fast otherwise there is a tendency to drop the tail with corresponding creep behind the wrong side of the drag curve.

Getting a VHF radio to work in a non bonded wooden airframe driven by a non suppressed over revving Gipsy was a major struggle and the fitting of aerial in the aft end of the fuz simply did not do it.

But eventually work it did. And anyway old aeroplanes require constant TLC if they are to continue to fly and surely they must.

I had been offered some "splendid bargain" suitable projects to restore but did not take the bait besides which funds were running scarce. Then it was that a rather unique Luton Minor LA4 became available as the owner wanted it out of his garage, so that he could work on a rather larger airframe.

Even a Luton in a simple average car garage is a tight fit and at 25’ long may need some serious mods to said garage and not to mention the family four door saloon now parked outside. (Most owners of interesting old aeroplanes take more care of their machines than they do of their cars!)

I say "unique" Luton Minor as indeed they have been built, and continue to be built, in some numbers around the world but this one was the work of Bill Goldfinch, held as guest of the German government in Second World War in Colditz Castle.
These prisoners had been sent to Colditz as this was were the "Bad Boys" were collected especially those who had shown a tendency to escape internment and return to "His Majesty’s" armed services.

And so it was that Bill Goldfinch built a two-seat glider in the roof of the castle using locally sourced materials and homemade tools. Bed boards, floorboards, door fittings, all were used in the construction of the “Colditz Cock”. The machine was covered in bed sheets, tightened by a mixture of flour and water, infact anything that shrank as it dried.

Bill’s inspiration for this incredible "escape plan" came from articles he had read in "Practical Mechanics" detailing the home construction of the Flying Flea and lading to the Luton Minor.

This machine was to be of one flight, launched through an opening in the roof and propelled by dropping a bath filled with masonry and pulling the glider forward into the air, hopefully, whist it’s crew flew out over the walls and landing in a grass area outside the castle whereupon it’s occupants would make a "home run".

The castle was liberated before the machine could be used and only one photograph is known to exist of the original “Cock” taken by an American soldier after liberating the castle. However using more modern materials a version of the glider was constructed for a TV company and successfully flown although only with a pilot on board to prove that that the concept would have flown. No doubt ‘Health and Safety’ had some words of wisdom about the passenger!

The Luton Minor

I had been lead to believe that the Luton was in good nick and required little work to renew the permit and fly. As it was being offered for a reasonable price, and so I went for it, unseen.

It took some time to physically get my hands on the aeroplane and finally it arrived on a trailer were it stayed for a considerable length of time, deteriorating.
Eventually it was taken in doors but not before considerable damage had been done.

Somewhat desperate to do something positive with the aircraft before it became the centre piece of a "Guy Fawkes" celebration, I removed the machine to another workshop in the Southampton area, but not before I had commenced a considerable re-build of the VW engine and upped the volume to 1830 cc with new manifold, carburettor and dual electronic ignition system.

The independent wheel brakes, which were operated from two handles fitted on either side of the joystick, rather crude and difficult to operate, were changed to a neat heel operated system mounted to the rear and inboard of the rudder bar. Further ground handling performance will be improved by the fitting of a 'Scott' type steerable tail wheel spring loaded to the rudder
Hopefully the Luton’s poor taxing performance in any sort of breeze will be enhanced and will allow the aircraft to taxi from A to B without going via C.

The main gear gap between the front and rear member has been covered in which makes for a rather smarter looking main undercarriage. A new instrument panel has been made up and although it would have been nice to keep up the vintage appearance it really proved impossible as some of the original gauges had deteriorated to scrap status.

Further the dual split electronic ignition had to be fitted with "switchery" for the two batteries, generator charging controls, gauges and circuit breakers all three of them, but as we now have buckets of DC available, supply to VHF and GPS is an option.

In spite of all the "worthwhile" modifications every effort has been made to keep the weight down and under control. To that end the finish has been kept to a minimum, the fabric merely rubbed down and lightly over sprayed. Neat new cowlings hug the VW engine, changing the nose profile, and a very smart red trim line now adorns the edges of the airframe which is surely going to make "Luton Minor LA4 G–AYDY" the smartest Luton flying.

The competition is on!

Luton Minor G-AYDY on the trailer before extensive renovation and looking sad and neglected. That cowling is just awful!

First run of restored Luton Minor LA4 G-AYDY of new VW 1830 cc engine with new manifolds, carburetor, carb heat and electronic ignition. No prizes to find the essential flight missing bit which is now close! The rev counter failed and only showed 25% of actual rpm. Start was only achieved using full choke and full throttle so can hardly be called a single pilot operation. A bit of adjustment clearly needed.