The story of a small and remarkable aeroplane (pt.2)
"Miss Sandgate" is reborn
I had gained my Ultralight Pilots certificate on a Hughes Lightwing
and during a 'bout of long service leave assisted Myles Breitkreutz of Dixalea, Wowan to repair a little aeroplane called an N3 Pup Sport. The Pup was a single seat open cockpit parasol monoplane, much like the Heath. It was powered by a Rotax 447 two-stroke
engine and went very well. I had a fly of the Pup after we had fitted an auxiliary fuel tank behind the seat, used to correct a nose heavy condition it had previously suffered from. There was no possibility of dual instruction, so this was my first solo venture
in a single seater. The flight was sheer delight. Flying in an open cockpit, with the wind in your face like a motorbike, I was hooked. With the advent of the 95-10 Ultralight category, registration of amateur built machines like this were now a possibility.
It was then that I remembered the tiny Heath Parasol, stored in the workshop at Smoky Creek. I called on Kev and asked permission to restore one of his aviation treasures. Kev agreed, and
in 1991 restoration commenced. On the death of my father Reg Neale, I had been bequeathed $3 000 which went well towards the purchase of a brand new 50 HP, dual ignition, electric start Rotax 503 two-stroke engine. This would solve the Heath’s under-power
problems once and for all. It was around half the weight of the old Henderson with almost twice the horsepower.
The fuselage was started first with a complete strip down to each individual component.
A new tube steel engine mount was constructed to house the Rotax engine. I designed the mount as a combination of the old wooden mount shape and an adaptation of a Lightwing/Rotax mount using rubber cushion mount blocks, with which I was familiar. In 280 hours
of operation, the installation has given no problems what-so-ever.
The fuselage tube frame, fortuitously, had been filled with preserving oil. The frame, once stripped, was found to be in remarkably good condition.
Numerous repairs were evident on the undercarriage attach points, otherwise the replacement of a cross tube at the firewall, that had been cut out to allow installation of the second magneto on the Henderson, was all that was necessary. The tube was re-primed
using zinc chromate. The undercarriage legs were checked and repaired, and the compression spring telescoping undercarriage struts were re-built using heavier tube. New wheelbarrow style wheels were incorporated on the original stub axles.
Extra wood longerons were installed to restore some of the cylindrical fuselage shape that had been lost in various adaptations during the life and trials of the Heath. I also, rather optimistically, installed a small "Tiger
Moth" style luggage hatch behind the seat thinking it would never be used, because if the Heath ever flew again, it would probably not go very far. How useful this small hatch has proven since, in storing a small tent, a sleeping bag, tie downs, camera, toothbrush,
change of undies, tools and emergency water and rations. It’s amazing how much lightweight equipment can be stored in a small space.
The tiny instrument panel was restored using the original airspeed
indicator, single needle altimeter (calibrated in inches of mercury instead of the now common hectopascals), and "Tiger Moth" style mag switches. Alongside these were installed the modern electric tachometer, switches, cylinder head and exhaust gas temperature
gauges necessary to start, run and monitor the Rotax. The panel was topped off with a "blob-in-a-tube" slip and skid indicator, and a small compass mounted on top behind the "Moth Minor" windscreen.
antique throttle quadrant was re-mounted in the left side of the cockpit on a section from the side of an aluminium ladder and connected via a yoke to the dual Bing carbies via bowden cables. Choke controls for the Bings were also adapted from pushbike gear
levers and cables.
The control stick and control box were overhauled, and new sailboat style stainless steel elevator and rudder cables were manufactured before the whole empennage and fuselage was covered
with Stits Poly-Fiber fabric, silver doped. The engine was run-in using a propeller acquired from Jabiru at Bundaberg that was tried on their original prototype Jabiru aeroplane that was then fitted with a Rotax 532 two-stroke engine.
I abandoned this propeller later as too short and coarse, in preference to a 60-inch diameter Canadian GSC ground adjustable. Fuel was contained in a temporary motorcycle tank. After the engine was run-in, a short taxi around without wings proved
that turning was quite feasible even despite the lack of wheel brakes or steerable tailskid.
Next came the wing restoration. At first I thought that the Irish linen fabric installed in the early 1960’s
might be still serviceable, until I discovered that mice had invaded the wings and chewed of all the balloon stitching thread to make nests. Off came the fabric and a complete re-glue of all wing joints commenced. The wing had originally been glued with casein
glue that had deteriorated significantly. The biscuits joining the ¼ inch square spruce rib frames were originally made from a red fiber material, attached with brass tacks. These were all removed and replaced with aircraft plywood webs and glued with
An example of an original rib from "Miss Sandgate" can now be seen displayed in the Sandgate Historical Museum. A new rib was constructed to replace it.
It was around this time that our youngest son was born, and he was named Cameron Heath, as a reminder that there was a restoration project waiting to be completed. It was also around this time that I formally purchased the aircraft,
minus the Henderson engine. This was as a result in Kev’s trust in allowing me to restore one of his treasures and his recognition of my effort in doing so.
fuel tanks with a total capacity of 36 litres were fabricated from galvanized iron and installed between the spars. The wings were then covered with Stits Polyfiber fabric, balloon stitched and silver doped in the traditional method. The wings and controls
were installed and rigged. On checking the wing chord incidence against the top fuselage longeron datum line, I found the incidence to be an excessive eight degrees. This went a long way to explain the "slewing on takeoff" characteristics Slusar had experienced
and also the aircraft’s reluctance to "get up and go" under limited power. It must have sat there and "mushed" until the tail got well up. My solution was to fabricate new rear carbane struts and also provide rear main strut adjusters, thus reducing
the incidence to four degrees. This improved the flying characteristics of the aircraft remarkably.
Some taxi test runs were conducted, then came the final application
for registration with the Ultralight Federation of Australia. This involved proof of weight and balance and verification of type with photographs. The Heath Parasol "Miss Sandgate" at last became registered for the first time in its sixty-year history as 10-1474.
I considered further taxi-runs without steering and brakes a little unsafe, so with the philosophy of "a faint heart never won a fair maiden", I lined the Heath up and opened the throttle fully, conducting the first
post-restoration test flight on the 15 October 1995. The aircraft flew perfectly with only minor trim adjustments necessary to make it fly 'hands-off'. The initial testing was conducted without engine cowls giving a cruise speed of around 55 knots. This was
improved to a good honest 60 knots by the addition of cowls. A remarkable 25 knot stall speed was also achieved. This littel machine now powered by a modern lightweight engine became a delight to fly.
Parasol 10-1474 "Miss Sandgate" instantly became one of the oldest Australian built aeroplanes still flying.
Airfield of dreams
Word travels fast and Graham Orphan,
editor of the "Classic Wings Downunder" magazine, picked up news of the restoration. "Miss Sandgate" had been known to Graham’s father Keith Orphan who was a founder of the original "Ultralight Aircraft Association" based at Redcliffe. Indeed it was
Graham that alerted us to the fact that the Heath Parasol had originally been named "Miss Sandgate" by Bill Slusar.
Graham organized an invitation to the 1996 Vintage Aircraft Fly-In at Watts Bridge near
Toogoolawah in the Brisbane Valley. So on the 16 July 1996 with just 30 hours in the logbook post-restoration, I set off for the "Airfield of Dreams" accompanied by my good friends John Rasmussen and Kevin Wilson in John’s 1956 Aeronca Champion "Tri-Traveller".
We tracked from Smoky Creek via Thangool and Monto, landing at Gayndah for refuelling and a hot pie. This little aeroplane was not made for long distance flights and the open cockpit and cramped conditions were taking their toll. I felt sympathy for people
like Keith Smith and Bert Hinkler who endured these conditions on their epic England to Australia flights. We took off from Gayndah slightly refreshed, next stop, Watts Bridge.
The little aeroplane dipped
its nose into the Brisbane Valley and commenced a long shallow approach from 4,000 feet. "Go discover your flying heritage", a voice in my head said. Ahead, spread out on the river plain lay Watts Bridge, an ex- bomber airfield from World War Two. The Heath
Parasol joined the circuit and crossed the Brisbane River on finals. A poorly judged and bouncy landing was made due to the fatigue caused by hours of sitting in the cramped open toped cockpit with only the continual noise of the Rotax for company.
There to meet us were two Bobs.
Bob Brown (then aged 83) from Greenslopes had built another Heath more than 60 years ago at Ayr in North Queensland. He made his fuselage
from wood rather than steel tube, and he had modified his Henderson engine to have larger cylinders with brass heads with overhead valves, similar to that used in the Australian copy of the Heath, the Clancy Sky Baby. This had improved the performance considerably,
though unfortunately his Heath came to a sudden end in a crash caused by wind shear. Meeting the surviving Heath Parasol at Watts Bridge had been the fruition of many ‘phone calls and much planning by Bob Brown. I’m sure it brought a liveliness
back to this man, the like of which he had almost forgotten. He entertained us all of the Saturday at the fly-in with a plethora of early Australian aviation stories.
Bob Cannell from Toogoolawah had
come to meet us and make us welcome at his home during the fly-in. He had been a Fitter 2E in the RAAF during World War Two as was my father Reg Neale. Ironically, Bob’s brother John had been a good mate of my Dad’s back in the small crops growing
area around Nambour. Bob’s love of flying had spread to his son Dave, who flew a Hughes Lightwing. Bob and Mrs. Cannell’s humble hospitality made us feel right at home. So much so in fact, that when Kev and John walked up for a beer at the local
hotel, Kev did his usual trick of winning the meat tray raffle. When it was presented to an astonished Mrs. Cannell, she vowed that it could not be so, as "the Toogoolawah butcher does no open on Saturday !"
the Sunday of the fly-in, the weather turned inclement. As I sat forlornly on a fuel drum under the sodden wing of the Heath, a sprightly old gentleman by the name of Douglas Power (see chapter 2) sauntered up. "Do you have something to do with this aircraft?"
he asked. "Yep, I flew it here", I said. "Well I helped build it and was one of the first to fly it", he replied. What a strange feeling this gave me, to meet one of the "early birds" who had actually been part of "Miss Sandgate’s" first life. Of course,
Bob Brown had something to do with rounding Douglas up.
After exchanging notes and reminiscing for a while I walked over in the drizzle to his car to meet his lovely Canadian wife Jean. I then had to say goodbye
to a walking, talking part of history. Sadly Doug has passed on since, but I was priveleged to visit Jean in Toowoomba in December 2003. During our conversation, she asked me to reach up into the top of a kitchen cupboard. There was Douglas’s original
RAAF logbook, in pristine condition. It told the story of his Ab-initio flying training in Australia where he really only had to do a flight test because of his Archerfield experience, some of it having occurred in the Heath. It went on to record his Air Training
Corps flying in Canada and his ferry pilot duties in England up to 1942.
Another "early bird" who had flown the Heath, Bill Maddox, sent his daughter Robyn to represent him at the fly-in. Robyn’s
son was photographed sitting in the Heath, the prints were to be taken back to Bill to remind him of his part in "Miss Sandgate’s" history.
Apart from the "early birds" welcome at Watts Bridge,
the initial reception from the other vintage buffs, at first, seemed rather cool. I couldn’t figure this out, until someone pointed out that my aeroplane had registration numbers painted on the side, not registration letters, thus labeling it an "Ultralight".
It transpired that the local Ultralight fraternity were not on the best of terms with the Vintage Group and it had caused some consternation when by far the oldest vintage aircraft at the meet turned up registered as an Ultralight. This demarcation seemed
to immediately vanish when Graham Orphan appeared and welcomed me, also making quite a fuss about "Miss Sandgate". In the end, all differences were forgiven, and "Miss Sandgate" was voted "best homebuilt" at the meet. It proudly took its place amongst the
Tigers, Austers, Cubs, Ryans, Moth Minors, etc. as a significant Australian Vintage aircraft.
The inclement weather remained all day Sunday and we all packed into the main hangar to witness the formalities.
Come Monday, a strong South Westerly sprang up and started to disperse the clouds. It was time to go home. The wind had increased to around 30 knots as I taxied to the Watts Bridge cross strip with Kev walking the wing. I turned into wind, opened the throttle
and sprung off the ground climbing at my usual 40 knots. What happened, of course, was the aircraft climbed almost vertically like an elevator at an amazing rate with little forward motion. The owner of a Trinidad Tobago who witnessed this from the ground
swore that I was going to stall the aircraft. Such thoughts were dispelled when I turned downwind and disappeared like a scalded cat.
The trip home was horrific. The effect of wind rotor from the hills on the
Heath when climbing out of the Brisbane valley was akin to that of a bucking horse. I just hung on, one hand on the stick, and one on the throttle. As there was not the remotest chance of reading a map under these conditions, I simply followed Geoff Craig’s
trusty fishing Garmin GPS. This was taped to my left leg as there was no other room in the cockpit for it. What became apparent was the tailwind component of the southwesterly was negated by the crosswind component. Thus my heading was 45 degrees to track
with a 60-knot ground speed strangely equivalent to the aircraft’s 60 knot air speed. Who, amongst "Miss Sandgates" early pilots, who only ventured out on calm mornings would have imagined that she could fly in these conditions ?
Luckily the wind was down the strip at Gayndah where almost full throttle was required to taxi into wind. After the inevitable fuel and pie stop, we again leapt from the ground to buck our way back to Thangool. By this time
I’d had enough. On reaching Thangool, I searched for a runway that was into wind, to no avail. On the verge of exhaustion, I elected to land across the grass cross-strip. This direction had once formed
another short cross strip at Thangool in front of the pepperina tree, now the terminal building. This short strip had been successfully used by Tiger Moths on just such days, but had succumbed to the niceties of lit windsocks and paved apron. The Heath pulled
up in less than 50 meters. I pushed it into Laurie McDonald’s maintenance hangar and left it there for a week.
So ended the first epic I shared with "Miss Sandgate" on our visit to the "airfield of dreams".
For quite some time the Heath made only local flights and it wasn’t until May 1997 that the Heath again ventured out of the Callide Valley, this time to
Middlemount Fly-in. John Rasmussen again accompanied me in the trusty Aeronca Champion. This actually became "Miss Sandgates" longest single flight lasting two hours and thirty minutes without landing. Even with the Rotax leaned to its minimum permissible
fuel burn, there remained only 30 minutes fuel in the tanks on landing.
The Heath Parasol also became a regular at the "Old Station" Fly-ins and air shows at Raglan each year from 1998. On display in the aircraft
parking area, the "gentlemen pilots" would sometimes regard "Miss Sandgate" as being a bit of a novelty, some doubting her authenticity. It was mainly the old timers that came to know her as being the "real McKoy".
in 1999, a plan developed to take the "Original Ultralight Aeroplane" to the annual Australian Ultralight Federation Easter convention at Narromine in mid-western New South Wales. Plans were laid with Peter Milne and his Jabiru of Capella aswell as Myles
Breitkreutz from Wowan and his Lightwing lined up as escort "fuel tankers". The total distance one way amounted to 530 nautical miles, quite an undertaking for such a small craft.
Because of the Heath’s
limited range, stops at around every two hours were planned. On 29 March 1999 - a week before Easter - we set out from Smoky Creek for Goondiwindi via Taroom-Wandowan and Miles. These legs went well, arriving in plenty of time to tie down the aeroplanes
and enjoy the hospitality of Dave Cannell overnight. Dave is the son of Bob Cannell who is mentioned in the Airfield of Dreams chapter.
The next morning we set off for Narromine via Moree and Coonamble, skirting
to the west of the notorious Pilliga Scrub. The Heath, being the slowest, was allowed to depart first, with the faster aircraft catching up and passing along each leg. I had departed Goondiwindi and set course for Moree when the old ex fishing GPS hit a black
spot in its satellite coverage. I thought "not to worry, the map shows a straight road between the two towns across the cotton growing plains, I’ll follow that".
Around halfway along this leg,
I contacted Peter Milne in his Jabiru on the Radio. The conversation went something like this, "Jabiru 3029, this is Parasol 1474, tracking midway along the road from Goondiwindi to Moree at two thousand, approaching a house with a dam and a windmill". The
answer came back, "Parasol 1474, Jabiru 3029 is also tracking along the road from Goondiwindi to Moree at two thousand, also approaching a house with a dam and a windmill." I anxiously asked; "Jabiru 3029, this is Parasol 1474 do you have me visual?" The reply
came; "Parasol 1474, Jabiru 3029 – negative".
The next minute a white shape passed over me with, fortunately, around 100 feet clearance. Because of the slim profile of the Heath from behind, Peter narrowly
scraped directly over the top of me without seeing me. It was a lesson to me not to follow exactly over a track and a heads up on just how invisible a small aeroplane can be from directly behind.
The GPS kicked
in around ten miles from Moree allowing me to give an accurate ETA which was as well as there was a Dash 8 on a straight in approach at around the same time. I was just ahead of it and I announced that I was on finals for runway 01 on the grass to the right.
Just after clearing the runway the Dash 8 landed behind and taxied by giving me a big wave (or was that a rude gesture?). Either way the first officer must have thought he was seeing a ghost as the Heath taxied to the parking area for re-fueling.
We arrived at Narromine on the afternoon of the 30 March 1999 and tied down the aeroplanes. We were welcomed by the locals and had a luxurious hot shower at the Airport Caravan Park. Overall, the journey down to Narromine
had been a good one.
As we were early, we picked a prime spot in the parking line-up. Many and varied aeroplanes came during the week with some inclement weather preventing some late arrivals. How is it that
the weather seems to deteriorate after arriving at fly-ins ? A low had set in and it rained for a week. Some activities still occurred however enthusiasm was a little dampened. Myles woke up one morning with a strange bobbing sensation and feeling a little
wet. It transpired that his tent had leaked from the top and the waterproof bottom section had filled up with water giving his air mattress six inches of water to float on.
I was again a little surprised at
the somewhat limited interest shown in Australia’s Oldest Ultralight at the meet. True, AUF Manager Paul Middleton made acknowledgment of its significance at the public forum of the AUF board meeting; however, it wasn’t until the arrival of Bob
Moreton that the full significance was realized. Bob arrived by road towing a long enclosed trailer. On the arrival of the trailer, my curiosity got the better of me, so I went over to see what it contained. Sure enough, I helped extract a genuine Clancy Sky
Baby, the Australian copy of a Heath Parasol. This particular one had a half VW engine, which subsequently proved to be under powered for the Baby.
When we attached the wings and rigged the struts and control
cables, I suggested we push it over next to the Heath and take some photographs. This being done, Bob asked me "Where’s your trailer ?" "What Trailer?" I replied. "The one you brought the Heath here in, you come from Central Queensland don’t
you ?" I went on to explain that I had flown the Heath to Narromine from Central Queensland however before the week was out, I wished I did have a trailer to take "Miss Sandgate" home in.
After seeing all that there was to
see, we sat and waited for the weather to clear so that we could make our way home. At about midday we left Narromine and followed the clearing scuds toward Coonamble. Having refueled some of the group were keen to press on. I didn’t like the look of
the low dark clouds that still hung in the direction we were heading, but agreed to give it a try.
About half way to Moree we started to encounter light rain and water started to bubble up in my flying goggles. I had no comfortable
cabin to keep the rain off, and this wasn’t for me, so I elected to try to find a suitable landing place to overnight. Not far below I spied a piece of new bitumen road, cleared on each side with good approaches. Either side the paddocks appeared waterlogged,
so I thought the road my best option. I radioed my intentions to the others in the group and lined up to land. Some of the others had tried to go over or under the weather, to no avail.
The landing was satisfactory until the end of
the landing roll when the rudder lost its effectiveness and having no other steering or brakes, the Heath rolled to the right off the hard bitumen and went off plop and into the soft mud at the side of the road. The starboard wheel almost disappeared,
such was the sploshiness of the surrounding country. Nose down, tail up, the Heath came to an undignified stop in the mud. Luckily I had killed the engine so no propeller damage occurred. The problem now was how to get the aeroplane out of this sticky mess.
The others overhead checked that I was OK and returned to Connamble.
Just then a chap came along in a small four-wheel drive. He said the area was completely isolated by floods. He went off to gather his children and came back with
four or five kids who could assist. I gave them each a solid piece of "Miss Sandgate" to pull on, and she was soon extricated from the bog. We dragged her down to a side road and washed most of the mud off her and myself in a handy puddle.
the helper was not too keen to accommodate us overnight so with some trepidation, I lined up along the narrow strip of bitumen and took off back to Connamble. By the time I arrived, quite a strong cross wind had arisen. I could not use the cross-runway as
it was overgrown and waterlogged. I set up for a cross wind landing however all the excitement had not helped my judgment and the cross wind picked up my port wing touching the starboard wing on the ground and causing the aircraft to ground loop.
Luckily, neither of us was damaged, except for our pride and some local aviation enthusiasts took me to their home for a hearty meal and a warm bed. If were not for their kindness I dare say I would not have "gotten back on the horse" the next day.
As it was, we arose before dawn, returned to the airport, wiped as much dew from the wings as possible and recommenced our journey. I climbed to 4 000 feet where it was actually a bit warmer. The wind kicked in again, this time from behind and the Heath achieved
90 knots ground speed for the first time in its long history.
All went well until Goondiwindi where I was tempted to add avgas mixed with two-stroke oil to the fuel tank. The Rotax was used to her diet of unleaded petrol and Penrite
TS40C oil. She did not like the lead in the avgas one bit and coughed and spluttered all the way to Miles. Luckily Myles in one of my "tanker planes" carried 20 liters of unleaded so the remaining avgas diluted with this made the Rotax feel a little better.
We proceeded along to Taroom-Wandowan for another fuel stop.
On running up the engine, there was a severe rev drop on one half of the dual ignition system. All the plug changing and lead checking in the world could not diagnose the
problem. We dragged as much of the aeroplane as we could into the only hangar next to a Kookaburra glider and left her there. I hitched a ride back to Smoky Creek in a Rans Coyote II so ending the epic journey without the company of "Miss Sandgate".
A week later we borrowed a truck, gathered as many foam mattresses as were available and went to rescue the Heath. She came home perched on the back of the truck with the wings removed and strapped to the mattresses. The engine problem was eventually
diagnosed to one of the electronic pick-ups that fired the capacity discharge electronic ignition system. Thus, one of the most modern and technologically advanced features of the restored aeroplane caused the interruption to its homeward journey.
The Heath now lives in the back of the Smoky Creek hangar covered with dust sheets. She recently emerged for a re-spray of silver dope and occasionally has a venture into the sky. She sometimes takes the lead in the Callide Dawson Flying Group formation
flying team, the first such team formed within Recreational Aviation Australia. She is now kept company by my amateur built J6 Karatoo, "Spirit of Smoky Creek" which I have scratch built from a plan. It owes much of its design and inspiration to that small
and remarkable aeroplane, Heath "V" Parasol, "Miss Sandgate".
An informative review about the J6 Karatoo 19-4396 can be located here :