Fifty years ago John Taylor submitted the drawings for the Titch as an entry to the 1964 Norman Jones (Rollason Aircraft and Engines Ltd) sponsored Midget Racer Design Competition. The competition was set up to encourage British subjects to design a sporting midget racer aircraft that could also be flown and used by an average club pilot. By November 1964 the entries were judged and John Taylor’s Titch design was awarded second place−a team of young design engineers employed by the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) at Luton took first place with the Beta.
I bought Titch G-AYZH in April 2013 from Terry Gardner, who had taken on the plans-build project in 2001 after its two previous owners had failed to complete the aircraft, first registered in 1972. Terry completed ‘Zulu Hotel’ in April 2007 and flew her out of Wolverhampton (Halfpenny Green) for six years until he needed the hangar space for his soon to be completed Cassutt racer. As you can imagine, there is no dual to solo check-ride with a single-seater so a little time was spent taxying around the airfield, getting used to the controls and cockpit environment until I felt confident enough to open the throttle and get airborne. From the first leap into the skies of Wolverhampton the Titch was an absolute delight to fly; manoeuvrable, predictable, vice-free and just great fun. Although a little apprehensive approaching for my first landing, I needn't have been, the flare and touchdown were progressive and smooth, with stick forces and movement harmonising with the decreasing speed. Next stop was her new home at Hinton where I was confident enough with the landing characteristics to use the 500 metre grass strip.
The Taylor Titch had limited success as a racer in the 1970s and 80s but ‘Zulu Hotel’ certainly looked the part with her bright yellow paintwork, teardrop sliding canopy and carbon fibre spinner and instrument panel. Unfortunately formula one air racing had reached its pinnacle in UK by the mid 1980s and until this year no pylon racing had taken place for over fifteen years. I was therefore intrigued to see an article in one of the online aviation newsletters promoting a formula one air race scheduled to take place on 1 June 2014 at Lleida International Airport (LEDA) in Catalonia, Spain. I sent the organisers my best wishes and a few photographs by email and also suggested that if they had any vintage support races in future years, I might be able to participate with the Titch. To my surprise I got a swift reply from Air Race 1 CEO Jeff Zaltman, inviting me down to Lleida with the Titch. In a later telephone call he explained that the bright yellow little aeroplane would look good on camera as all the other faster racers went past it.
To cut a long story short, I started out from Hinton-in-the-Hedges on Saturday 24 May 2014, setting course for Goodwood to refuel before crossing the Channel direct to Deauville LFRG. During the run-up to the trip I had spent some time deliberating on the route down to Spain, but−with a 38.5
litre fuel tank−every time I factored in various winds, the whole route structure, fuel stops and diversions had to be changed. I looked at so many combinations and permutations that I researched just about every airfield in France and eventually settled on taking my old RAF 140nm nav rule (which was one sector in still air) and planning on the hoof. Several ex Search and Rescue pilot friends questioned my wisdom of not taking the shortest Channel crossing but the Titch hadn’t missed a beat in the year I had owned her so it was a calculated risk which I was prepared to accept.
At Goodwood I donned my lifejacket and ensured that my McMurdo sponsored Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) was attached to me, and close to hand. Crossing the Channel in good weather was my primary objective for the whole trip as I don’t have an artificial horizon, just a slip-ball and card compass. The weather was perfect, I didn’t tell the Titch she was over the sea (a trick I learned with the Auster) and we set course for Deauville. A few minutes here to relax after an extremely hectic build-up to the trip, take stock and have a look around−I noticed the newly applied red race number 22 contrasting nicely against the yellow wing. With France now in sight, for me the part of the trip which could easily have been a stopper was almost behind us and Catch-22, which was Zulu Hotel’s new race name, delicately felt her way onto French tarmac for the first time.
From Deauville I had planned to do one more sector to Cholet LFOU before sunset; however, Catch-22 thought differently and no matter how much I swung the prop she did not want to hot-start. Eventually the O-200 relented and settled down to her usual rasping burble from the short-stub exhausts and after this twenty-minute unforeseen delay we set off south with the setting sun just above the starboard wing. A quick calculation indicated that it would be dark at Cholet so I diverted to Le Mans LFRM and spent the night there, setting off again on Sunday morning for Angoulême LFBU, about 20Nm east of Cognac, for yet another refuel. The most common reason for delay through France was waiting for someone to exchange the use of their Total fuel card for cash, and with this accomplished at Angoulême we were on our way to the next fuel stop at Arcachon LFCH, about 20Nm southwest of Bordeaux. From here, it was my intention to fly along the coast towards San Sebastian in Spain before setting course inland for Pamplona LEPP, nestling amongst 5,000ft mountains. The flight plan was filed to reflect this but passing abeam Biarritz I was told the weather on the Spanish side of the Pyrénées was worsening and although Pamplona was still VFR at this moment, San Sebastian was not. A decision had to be made quickly and had to be the correct one as fuel was going to be tight. The choices were to continue to Pamplona amongst the mountains without an in-range diversion and worsening weather, or return to France and divert to Biarritz LFBZ. Either way the weather was not good but at least Biarritz was not surrounded by mountains so that was quite an easy decision.
Catch-22 was going to have to spend the night outside on the apron at Biarritz as there is no hangarage. I secured her as best I could using sand-filled tie-down bags and ropes provided by the handling agent, before walking over to the airport hotel with the few clothes and wash bag I had stowed in the locker behind my head.
The following morning I peered nervously through the hotel room curtains, but the view didn't fill me with joy. It was still raining with a 400ft cloudbase and the TAFs suggested this would not clear until early afternoon. This enforced delay gave me the opportunity to email Pamplona to inform them of my intention to try to get there later and pick up fuel before finally departing for Lleida. Their reply was not one that I had expected and was very unwelcome: fuel was not available to me without a carnet between San Sebastian and Lleida and cash would not be acceptable. I couldn't risk getting stuck in Pamplona and decided that the forecast tailwinds were such that if I flew a direct track over the Pyrénées I could make it to Lleida without stopping.
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