Posts Tagged ‘nose’

In-Depth – De Havilland DH-88 Comet

May 7, 2010 2 comments

Hi! Welcome to this new category of this blog. Here, i’ll go in-depth on several interesting models, always looking to focus on the less common ones but surely attractive either from a history, flight characteristics, peculiarity, difficulty, style, appearance or symbolism perspective. In most cases, i’m sure a bit of all of these will apply.

To start it off in a nice way, i’ll talk about one of my all-time favorite aircrafts. Don’t ask me why, but the Comet really stands out from every other plane when i compare it with others. It’s style, unique appearance, flight challenge and twin low engine just adds to the pack!

De Havilland DH-88 Comet
De Havilland DH-88 Comet


  • Crew – 2
  • Propulsion – 1 piston engine
  • Engine model – de Havilland Gipsy Six R
  • Engine power – 172 kW / 230 H.P.
  • Max speed – 206 kts / 237 mph / 382 km/h
  • Cruise speed – 191 kts / 220 mph / 322 km/h
  • Service ceiling – 19.000 ft / 5.791 m
  • Rate of climb – 1200 ft/min / 366 m/min
  • Range – 2.542 NM / 2.925 mi / 4.708 km
  • Empty weight – 2.840 lbs / 1.288 kg
  • Max takeoff weight – 5.320 lbs / 2.413 kg
  • Wingspan – 44,0 ft / 13,41 m
  • Wing area – 212 sq ft / 19,7 sq m
  • Length – 29,0 ft / 8,84 m
  • Height – 10,0 ft / 3,05 m
  • First flight – 08.09.1934
  • Total production – 5 units


The de Havilland DH-88 Comet was a twin-engined British aircraft that won the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race, a challenge for which it was specifically designed. It set many aviation records during the race and afterwards as a pioneer mail plane.

Despite previous British air racing successes, culminating in 1931 in the outright win of the Schneider Trophy, there was no British plane capable of putting up a challenge over the MacPherson course with its long overland stages. The de Havilland company stepped into the breach by offering to produce a limited run of 200 mph (322 km/h) racers if three were ordered by February 1934. The sale price of £5,000 each would by no means cover the development costs. In 1935, de Havilland suggested a high-speed bomber version of the DH-88 to the RAF, but the suggestion was rejected. (De Havilland later developed the de Havilland Mosquito along similar lines as the DH-88 for the high-speed bomber role.)

Three orders were indeed received, and de Havilland set to work. The airframe consisted of a wooden skeleton clad with spruce plywood, with a final fabric covering on the wings. A long streamlined nose held the main fuel tanks, with the low set central two-seat cockpit forming an unbroken line to the tail. The engines were essentially the standard Gipsy Six used on the Express and Dragon Rapide passenger planes, tuned for best performance with a higher compression ratio. The propellers were two-position variable pitch, manually set to fine before takeoff and changed automatically to coarse by a pressure sensor. The main undercarriage retracted upwards and backwards into the engine nacelles. The DH-88 could maintain altitude up to 4,000 ft (1,200 m) on one engine.

De Havillands managed to meet their challenging schedule and testing of the DH-88 began six weeks before the start date of the race. On the day of the race, the three distinctively coloured planes took their places among 17 other entrants ranging from a new Douglas DC-2 airliner to two converted Fairey Fox bombers.

The first of the aircraft to fly was registered G-ACSP, named “Black Magic” and was bought by Jim and Amy Mollison (nee Johnson) who were both independently recognised as world record holders in their own right. This combination started the race as favorite. The “Black Magic” was the first of a great new generation of British aircraft that flew with all three of the now commonplace technical features: retractable undercarriage, variable pitch propellors and flaps.

De Havilland DH-88 Comet "Black Magic"
De Havilland DH-88 Comet “Black Magic”

The three Comets were painted in distinctive colours – the Mollisons’ G-ACSP Black Magic was black and gold; Bernard Rubins’ nameless G-ACSR was green and flown by Owen Cathcart Jones and Ken Waller; while G-ACSS, flown by C.W.A. Scott and Tom Campbell Black, was resplendent in red and white and named Grosvenor House.

G-ACSP "Black Magic", the first of the Comets, flown  by Jim and Amy Mollison
G-ACSP “Black Magic”, the first of the Comets, flown by Jim and Amy Mollison
G-ACSR - the green one - landing in Baghdad on its  way to Australia
G-ACSR – the green one – landing in Baghdad on its way to Australia
G-ACSS "Grosvenor House", winner  of the MacRobertson Trophy
G-ACSS “Grosvenor House”, winner of the MacRobertson Trophy

Grosvenor House

“Grosvenor House” went to Martlesham for RAF trials in 1935 and, painted all white as K5084, was a memorable feature of the 1936 Hendon display. It was subsequently damaged when landing with a full load and disposed of as scrap. F.E.Tasker then acquired it and Essex Aero Ltd rebuilt it at Gravesend with Gypsy Six series II engines driving DH variable pitch airscrews. In pale blue and renamed The Orphan, G-ACSS was flown into fourth place in the 1937 Marseilles-Damascus-Paris race by Flg Off A.F Clouston and George Nelson.

Bearing a third name, “The Burberry”, the aircraft left Croydon on November 14th 1937 piloted by Clouston and Mrs Kirby Green, who succeeded in lowering the out-and-home record to the Cape to 15 days 17 hours. Carrying its final name, Australian Anniversary, it left Gravesend on February 6th 1938, but broke no records after the undercarriage collapsed in Cyprus. The last historic flight by ‘SS was one of its greatest. Flown by Clouston and Victor Ricketts, it took off from Gravesend on March 15th 1938, reached Sydney in 80 hours 56 minutes, crossed the Tasman Sea to Blenheim, New Zealand, in 7½ hours, stopped overnight, then returned to Croydon on March 26th. The 26,450 miles had been covered in 10 days 21 hours 22 minutes to set a record which still stands. The Comet then returned to Gravesend where it remained under tarpaulins until rediscovered in 1951. The DH Technical School then restored it to its original MacRobertson condition for display at the Festival of Britain Exhibition, after which it was preserved by the makers at Leavesden until handed over to the Shuttleworth Trust in 1965.

Flights and Records

On December 20th G-ACSR, suitably renamed Reine Astrid, left Evere, Brussels, piloted by Ken Waller and Maurice Franchomme, to carry the Christmas mail to Leopoldville in the Congo, arriving back on December 28th. It was then sold to the French government as F-ANPY and lowered the Croydon-Le Bourget record to 52 minutes during delivery by Hubert Broad on July 5th 1935. In the course of experimental work for a projected South Atlantic mail service, Jean Mermoz made Paris-Casablanca and Paris-Algiers high-speed proving flights in this machine in the following August and September.

A fourth Comet, registered as F-ANPZ, was built for the French government with a mail compartment in the nose. In their experiments with high-speed aircraft providing a mail service to far-flung colonies, the French also produced the Caudron C641 Typhon, an aeroplane that bore an uncanny resemblance to the Comet.

The Portuguese government had similar mail-carrying ideas, and acquired the Mollisons’ Black Magic for a projected flight from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. Renamed Salazar and re-registered as CS-AAJ, it was ferried from Hatfield to Lisbon on February 25th 1935 by Senor Carlos Bleck and Lt Costa Macedo, who covered the 1,010 miles nonstop in six hours five minutes. A return trip was made in the following September, and in 1937 Macedo again brought the aircraft back to Hatfield for overhaul; he made an outstanding return flight to Lisbon in five hours 17 minutes in July of that year. Shortly after being sold to Portugal, the “Black Magic” disappeared for a number of decades until it was found languishing on a portuguese farm and recovered to the UK. After passing through a number of owners, “Black Magic” now resides in a safe and secure environment with her own workshop. G-ACSP “Black Magic” is now in the process of a complete restoration to airworthy condition by the Comet Racer Project Group. Although a number of years away she will one day make her second “maiden” flight from the safety of her new home at Derby Airfield.

The last Comet

A fifth and final Comet named “Boomerang” was built to the order of Cyril Nicholson, who planned a series of attempts on the major long-distance records. Piloted by Tom Campbell Black and J.C.McArthur it made a record Hatfield-Cairo non-stop flight of 2,240 miles in 11 hours 18 minutes on August 8th 1935 during the first stage of an attempt on the Cape record. This was abandoned because of oil trouble, and the machine returned non-stop in 12 hours 15 minutes and established a new out-and-home record to Cairo. Although entered in the round-Britain King’s Cup Race of September 7th 1935, “Boomerang” was a non-starter and left a fortnight later for a second attempt on the Cape record; airscrew trouble over the Sudan on September 22nd compelled the crew to abandon the aircraft by parachute.

Radio Control Scale versions

To spice up your apetite, here’s an amazing 1/4th scale (3.35m wingspan!) radio controlled DH-88 Comet flight video. This awesome scale version can be powered up by two O.S. 160-200 size engines (2 or 4 stroke) for an amazing realism. Enjoy!

[to be continued… check back later]

The Case for Mode 4 Transmitters…

This will be an interesting post. It could also be called “”How Most of the Planet Got It Wrong”!

Ok, let’s cut to the chase and soon you will understand what this means… 🙂

The great majority of RC pilots use transmitters set up in Mode 2. This post will set out reasons why that is a bad idea, and makes the case for using Mode 4. Most of the rest of the world uses Mode 1, which, while better than Mode 2, is still inferior to Mode 4 for most people.
So, what are these “Modes”? Transmitter Modes define what movements of the two control sticks control which of the main four control channels. The usual response I get when this subject comes up is “What on earth is Mode 4?”. I point out that almost everyone who has flown a three channel plane has flown Mode 4 – rudder and elevator on the right stick and throttle on the left. Yet when they get a four channel plane they do a very curious thing – they move the rudder to the left stick and put ailerons on the right stick, which is Mode 2. Why not just add ailerons to the left stick? If this was the only consideration the subject would be simply a matter of preference, with the choice of where to put rudder and ailerons being somewhat arbitrary. However, it goes much deeper than that. Let’s move on…

First, to be really clear, let’s define the four modes. In all cases left-right motion of the sticks controls aileron and rudder, and forward-backward motion of the sticks controls elevator and throttle. That leaves four possibilities, for the four Modes.

Mode 1

RC Transmitter Mode 1
RC Transmitter Mode 1

Mode 2

RC Transmitter Mode 2
RC Transmitter Mode 2

Mode 3

RC Transmitter Mode 3
RC Transmitter Mode 3

Mode 4

RC Transmitter Mode 4
RC Transmitter Mode 4

The difference between Mode 2 and Mode 4 is that the horizontal controls, aileron and rudder, are swapped.
The difference between Mode 2 and Mode 1 is that the vertical controls, elevator and throttle, are swapped.
The difference between Mode 1 and Mode 4 is that the entire sticks are swapped.
To understand why the choice of Mode is important, we have to look at what combinations of controls are used in flying RC. I believe the most demanding form of RC piloting is aerobatics, as practiced in pattern flying (like F3A) and in 3D. These tasks require coordinated, simultaneous use of all four controls. Certain combinations of controls are much more common than others, and it is the ease with which these combinations can be learned and executed that form the main argument in favor of Mode 4.
The fact that there are so many highly proficient 3D fliers using Mode 2 is a testament to the human brain’s ability to learn complex actions and to the perseverance of those individuals. The reason they use Mode 2 is because that’s how they were taught. This post is really aimed at someone starting to learn to fly, or who is moving from three to four channels. For someone already proficient in flying Mode 2, changing to Mode 4 would be very difficult, as would be any change of Modes. I started learning 3D flying to see if i could learn new tricks. The answer is “yes”, but it takes longer, and anything that could help the process was highly welcomed. Mode 4 was one of those things. The post concentrates on fixed-wing aircraft. We’ll leave helicopters aside for now, but i will come back to them later.

Continuous Rolls
The first maneuvers I attempted that got me thinking about this topic were the coordinated continuous roll, the rolling circle, and the rolling loop. For these the plane should fly horizontally, in a level circle, or in a loop, while continuously rolling about its longitudinal axis. All attempts I made to do these maneuvers in Mode 2 ended in disaster. Let’s look at why it is hard to learn. In Mode 2 a continuous roll, to the right for example, requires the following actions:
1. Move and hold the left thumb at the required throttle setting
2. Move and hold right thumb to the right (aileron – this sets the roll rate)
3. Move left thumb to the left (Left rudder)
4. Release left thumb and push right thumb
5. Release right thumb and move left thumb to the right
6. Release left thumb and pull right thumb
7. Release right thumb and move left thumb to the left
8. Repeat steps 4 through 7 to continue rolling.

The main thing that is difficult is the out-of-phase motions of the two sticks. There is a toy that has been available in the US for many years called EtchASketch. It draws lines controlled by two knobs, one of which moves the pen left-right, and the other moves it up-down. The motions of the elevator and rudder stick in a Mode 2 roll are exactly like the motions of the EtchASketch knobs for drawing a circle – something that can be done, but is widely acknowledged to be hard to learn. Another difficulty is keeping and controlling the aileron deflection to achieve a constant roll rate while working the elevator up and down, and maintaining the throttle while working the rudder back and forth. I found my plane would either stop rolling or that I had reduced the throttle, while concentrating on rubbing my tummy and patting my head, to which it has been compared.

Now let’s look at a Mode 4 continuous roll:
1. Move and hold the left thumb at the required throttle setting
2. Move and hold left thumb to the right (aileron – this sets the roll rate)
You can now forget about the left stick, except for minor adjustments to the roll rate if needed
3. Move right thumb to the left (left rudder)
4. Rotate the right thumb in a circle around the center – push, right, pull, left, … repeatedly.

To compare with EtchASketch again – this is like drawing a circle with a pencil – much, much easier. Moreover, since the left stick, throttle and aileron, hardly moves at all, it is much easier to maintain constant throttle and aileron, or to make minor adjustments to these controls if needed. Of course, in both Mode 2 and Mode 4 you have to coordinate the rate of movement of the sticks with the rotation of the plane. The difference between a straight roll, a rolling circle, and a rolling loop is largely in leading or lagging the plane’s roll with the stick motions. This is quite enough to think about without having to worry about getting the phase between rudder and elevator correct.
In Mode 4 that part is automatic.
For a right roll, the right thumb rotates to the right, or clockwise. For a left roll it rotates left, or counter-clockwise. Very natural.

Vertical Hover
This maneuver is controlled mainly by the rudder and elevator, to maintain the plane pointing vertically upwards. This tends to require small, rapid movements of the rudder and elevator, like balancing a stick on your finger. The throttle is adjusted to maintain altitude, and the ailerons are used to either counteract a torque roll, or to force a roll. These tend to be slow adjustments. As with the continuous roll, having a rapidly changing control on the same stick as a slowly changing control tends to make it difficult to maintain the slow control.
Again, hovering in Mode 2 can, obviously, be learned, but there is nothing very natural about it.
Consider what it takes in Mode 4. There are two main orientations – hovering “canopy-in”, where you are looking at the top of the plane, and hovering “wheels-in”, where you are looking at the underside of the plane.
Canopy-in: Consider the right stick to be the vertical fuselage of the plane. Now you can move the stick in the direction you want the plane to tilt, for example:
To make the plane to tilt away from you, push the stick away from you.
To make the plane to tilt to the right, push the stick to the right.
If the plane drifts away and to the left, pull the stick towards you and to the right to counteract it.
And so on. Very natural. This is sometimes called “flying the nose” because the plane reacts as if your thumb was on its nose.

Canopy out: Consider that the right control stick is attached to the tail of the plane, and that you are balancing the plane on the top of the stick. Now move the control stick just as if the plane really was balancing on its tail, for example:
If the plane falls away from you, push the stick away to re-balance the plane.
If the plane falls to the right, push the stick to the right to re-balance the plane.
And so on. Again , very natural. Most people can balance a stick on their finger, so they should find Mode 4 wheels-in hovering very easy. This is sometimes called “flying the tail” because the plane reacts as if your thumb was supporting it on its tail.

Inverted Flight
In inverted flight the actions of the throttle and ailerons remain the same as for normal flight, but the rudder and elevator controls are reversed. In Mode 2, each stick has one control reversed and one normal. In Mode 4 the left stick remains normal, and both controls on the right stick are reversed. For me this is easier to remember, rather than trying to remember which of the two controls on each stick is reversed and which stays the same, as you have to for Mode 2. In a way similar to hovering, you fly the nose of the plane when it is approaching you, and fly the tail when it is going away, and the main controls for doing this are both on the right stick, in Mode 4.

Benefits of Mode 2
Some people say that Mode 2 is better because the right stick acts like the joystick in a full-sized aircraft. While this is true, I believe it is irrelevant. Friends of mine who fly both RC Mode 2 and full-sized planes tell me that the experiences are quite different. Maybe if RC pilots used foot pedals and separate throttle levers, and had seats that always oriented them in line with the aircraft, there might be a case. But most of us don’t fly full-sized aircraft anyway.
Another argument in favor of Mode 2, in most places in the world, is that you can fly other people’s planes and they can fly yours. Again, this is true, and is a valid argument. However, if more transmitter manufacturers would provide the facility for switching Modes, as some already do, this would be a non issue. For me this is actually a benefit. I hate flying other people’s planes ever since I smacked a friend’s plane into the trunk of a tree, pretty much wrecking it, the plane, not the tree.
So now I have an excuse not to fly other peoples’ planes. But if I want someone else to fly my plane, I just switch my transmitter to Mode 2 and hand it to them.
What about three channel throttle, elevator and aileron planes? Here I don’t think there is much to choose between Mode 2 and Mode 4. Now the ailerons play a more active role and it could be argued that they would do better on the dominant hand, Mode 2 for righties. At the same time some pylon racing people have told me they have the aileron on the left stick (Mode 4) to maintain a good separation between the bank and yank phases of a pylon turn.

It has been said that focusing on rolls, hovering and inverted flight is biased, and surely there are other maneuvers for which Mode 2 is better than Mode 4. I am yet to find them.
Perhaps the biggest case for Mode 2 is that it is what most people have learned from other misguided souls, and changing to any other convention would be very difficult to do.

What about Mode 1?
The difference between Mode 1 and Mode 4 is that the entire sticks are swapped. Because of this, Mode 1 enjoys all of the benefits of Mode 4, except one. The rapidly-changing controls for rolling or hovering are the elevator and rudder, so they should be assigned to the dominant hand.
Most people are right-handed, so Mode 4 is better for them. Left-handed people would do better with Mode 1.

What about Mode 3?
I can find no redeeming properties for Mode 3.

Using Mode 4 facilitates a range of 3D maneuvers. If you are familiar with Mode 2 you should probably stay with it. But if you have only flown two or three channel planes with rudder and elevator on the right stick, you might give some consideration to staying with Mode 4 and putting the aileron on the left, rather than following the herd.