Europa #435 G-RODO Build Journal - the move
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I'd not previously been really aware of the Europa as for various reasons I had not attended the PFA*
Rally for a couple of years. I guess it had slipped under my radar as "another of those fibre-glass things" which didn't suit UK grass-strip conditions. I got onto the subscription list for the factory newsletter, and when I heard about the formation of a builders' club, I joined that too, although I knew it might be some time before I'd be able to become a builder. I was learning more about the whole business of aircraft home-building and realising just how big a project it could be, in all senses. I did a lot of reading, and found the following two books particularly helpful.
[* The Popular Flying Association (PFA) became the Light Aircraft Association (LAA) on 2008-01-01.]
Of course, with my bad experience of the over-inflated advertising for the Kitfox causing a lot of disappointment when meeting the actual machine, I was not going to be seduced purely by hype. In 1995 we booked a holiday in Scarborough, and during that arranged a visit to the Europa factory at Kirkbymoorside. We were impressed by the standard of organisation and the obvious commitment to the design. The highlight, of course, was a demo flight with Ivan Shaw in G-KITS, the tri-gear demonstrator. The cloudbase was a bit low, limiting what could be done, but after we got up to a reasonable altitude, Ivan said "I'll just show you the roll rate" and I got as far as saying "Uh, OK then .." before the fields were sliding across above my head. This slightly unexpected and rapid change of attitude somewhat disorientated the Full English Breakfast I'd had earlier, and after the roll I quickly grasped the invitation to take control as an antidote to queasiness. In contrast to the C172 I was used to flying, the controls were light and responsive - it was the closest thing I'd experienced to "you think it, and it does it", but despite that it showed good stability, and generally impressed me all-round. Like almost everyone else, it seems, I got out of the aeroplane saying "I want one of THESE!". I could certainly detect no gap here betweeen the advertising and the actual experience.
My employer, BT, was going through a period of downsizing and was offering good packages to those prepared to take early retirement. The terms were more favourable for those over 50. Wilma & I thought hard about it for some time, and when I passed that birthday, we decided I could make time for aeroplane homebuilding by giving up the day job. The lump sum payment part of the deal conveniently matched the capital outlay on the aircraft.
I'd attended some Europa Club events and at the AGM prior to my retirement was persuaded to become Club Membership Secretary. This was not entirely an altruistic decision, as I thought that being in touch with so many other builders could be useful to my own project. I had plenty of experience of database work (using my favourite Mac application FileMaker Pro) which made the administration fairly easy to set up, starting with an import of Ron Swinden's dBase files. The job was not too demanding at first, but gradually grew as the Club increased in size and in the scope of its activities. The database system has expanded from its original 3 linked files (people, payments, subs rates) to 30 files, with multiple relationships, and scripts to automate much of the work, such as sending out personalised subscription renewals by e-mail.
We'd lived near the end of the Felixstowe peninsula for about 20 years, and were both ready to move house, but couldn't decide where to go. As my work had previously dragged Wilma from London to Suffolk, I felt it only fair that she should have the final say on where to settle, now that we were no longer tied down to within commuting distance of my job. The world was our oyster - but that was too much choice! We looked at several other locations in East Anglia, with the initial requirements of a Quaker meeting and an airfield nearby, but nothing seemed to jump out at us. Then (as a reward for listening to a salesman for an evening) we got a "free" holiday. Well, the accomodation was free, but we had to pay for our own food, and we could choose from hotels all over the country. As neither of us was familiar with that part of the country, we picked Bodkin House at Petty France on the A46, near Badminton.
During our stay there, I planned-in a visit to Kemble airfield, where Aero Developments carried out their business, based at that time in the old spray-shop hangar. They were agents for the NSI Subaru car-engine conversion that was being installed in several Europas, and they had finishing and painting capabilities where other Europas were being readied for flight. Just so it wouldn't be all aeroplanes that day, I suggested we also do some touristy stuff in Cirencester. As it happened, we came through Tetbury and found no way in to the airfield from that road, so we did Cirencester first before returning to Kemble. Wilma soon tired of aeroplane talk in the Aero Developments hangar and went back to sit in the car. When I eventually returned, she had another of those suggestions: "Let's go back and have another look at Cirencester - I think we should consider it as a place to live". My reaction was "Yessss!".
We spent several months after that researching Cirencester, getting on all the local estate agents' mailing lists, coming over to stay for a few days of property viewing, and so on. Despite all this activity, and even finding a couple of houses that matched our tick-list almost perfectly, we somehow couldn't find a place that felt "right". After more than 6 months of this, we were beginning to think we should widen the search a bit. So on our way home from Cirencester, we called in at Charlton Kings, a suburb of Cheltenham, that had been recommended to us by a friend of a friend back in East Anglia. There we looked in several estate agents' windows until we saw a picture of this house in one, and both of us said almost simultaneously "That looks nice!". When we went inside and asked for details it got better - there was a ground-floor room for Wilma's studio, and a 34-foot long garage for me. We arranged to view that evening, and offered to buy before we left.
As we were buying almost by remote-control, we ordered a full structural survey of the house. This turned out to be a very wise investment - although the survey turned up little of major importance, it was very valuable in negotiations with our insurers when the house suffered subsidence a few weeks after moving in! The investigation and rectification work took several years; we had to wait through a full 4 seasons to prove the effectiveness of tree surgery in stopping the structural movement before repair work could start. There were other little projects such as refurbishing the warm-air heating system and extending it to two rooms added after the house was built; re-insulating the loft and adding false joists to fit flooring over the thicker insulation; and re-outfitting a bathroom after a cistern cracked and flooded 2 rooms.
While the builders were in, excavating all around the house to replace broken drains, we got them to take out a section of garden wall, opening up a pedestrian gate to vehicle width, and to lay an additional section of drive leading to the new opening. This was to allow an aeroplane trailer to park at the side of the house. My original idea had been to use the open trailer supplied by the Europa factory, and keep it in the garage. However, the headroom with the finished aircraft loaded would have been marginal and the trailer would have taken up a lot of valuable aeroplane-construction space in the meantime.
Although we'd done almost no research into Cheltenham (compared to the time devoted to Cirencester) we soon found that (apart from the subsidence problem) we had fallen on our feet. We were within walking distance of the
Cheltenham Quaker Meeting House,
there was an
nearby where Wilma could do research, and for me there were thriving local branches of aviation organisations. The
Royal Aeronautical Society
Gloucester & Cheltenham Branch has monthly lectures, usually at the premises of one of the aeronuatical engineering firms in the area, and the LAA*
meets every 2nd Thursday evening of each month at
The Flying Shack,
[* The Light Aircraft Association (LAA) was the Popular Flying Association (PFA) prior to 2008-01-01.]
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