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Steve Slater shares his delight in this ultra-sensitive 1947 basic trainer but its not a Nipper!
In these days of soaring fuel prices, it is not too surprising that the ever-greater interest in fun, low-cost, affordable aeroplanes is pointing more and more pilots toward ultralight and light sport aeroplanes. So, how about a sport aeroplane designed specifically to provide fun flying that possesses sweet handling, with an 80mph cruise and a fuel consumption of about 12 litres an hour? This aeroplane isnt some ultramodern plastic fantastic powered by a high-revving Rotax. The Tipsy Trainer was designed by the Belgian, Ernest Oscar Tips, almost three-quarters of a century ago. Yes, Oscar Tips is the same man who later designed the bee-like, stubby winged, aerobatic single-seater, and that aircrafts popularity is perhaps the one bugbear of owning a Tipsy Trainer. You know, the typical question in the club bar: What do you fly? To which my reply is, A Tipsy. Ah! comes the inevitable response, A Nipper. Not so. I have to explain again. The VW-powered aerobatic flying egg became Oscars best-known and certainly most

numerous design, but the story of the Belgian aviation pioneer and his aeroplanes began a lot earlier. He and his brother penned their first design in 1909, and the Tipsy Trainer was one of a number of sporting aeroplanes that Tips devised in parallel with his main job as a senior engineer with the Fairey Aircraft Company, with whom he began work during the first world war. The first Tipsy flew in 1933, a small low-wing, single-seater, powered by a Douglas Sprite flat twin of just 16hp. Like many designers of the period, Tips was thwarted by the lack of a suitable engine. The answer arrived in 1937



Traditional analogue fit has a purposeful military look and feel

Glass panel is less cluttered and the Odyssey is great for airspace warnings

when the Czech company Walter unveiled the Mikron, an air-cooled, in-line, four-cylinder engine of around 2.5 litres capacity, developing 62hp, basically a miniature DH Gipsy Major. Around it, Tips created the Tipsy B, a clean, artdeco, wood-and-fabric, two-seat, open-cockpit monoplane with flowing lines and some surprisingly neat innovations. One of its most distinctive features was an almost side-by-side two-seat configuration. In order to preserve a narrower fuselage, the two seats are staggered, with the right seat about a foot behind the left. The two occupants share a central control column, which is fitted with a hockey stick

The instructor would spend the entire flight with one arm, more or less legitimately, around her shoulders
extension for the right side, while the instructor also has a throttle, behind the students seat on the left side of the cockpit. This apparently

made the Tipsy a popular aeroplane for instructing pretty girls, as the instructor would spend the entire flight with one arm, more or less legitimately, around her shoulders! Around 20 Tipsy B models were built at the Fairey Aircraft factory in Belgium while, at the same time, the production of a similar number was planned at the companys Slough facility. The majority of British-built examples featured a slightly thicker wing profile than their Belgian cousins, along with fixed leading-edge slats and a degree of washout, in an



Low and slow over France, the open cockpit a delight on a warm summers day
attempt to alleviate a quite pronounced tipstall (well come to that later), from the shapely elliptical wing. These models were labelled Tipsy Trainers. Sixteen Tipsy Trainers were completed before the outbreak of WWII, production of three more, numbers 17, 18 and 19 having begun in early August 1939. With war being declared just a few weeks later, on 1 September, the part-completed airframes were hoisted into the rafters of the factory to await more peaceful times. At the end of the war, Tips attempted to resurrect the production line, and while two older Trainers were burned as firewood to heat the factory and aid the setting of glues in the bitter winter of 1946, work began again on the three incomplete airframes. Number 17, now registered G-AISA, made its first flight in April 1947 from Faireys Great Western Aerodrome. Most people today know the airfield a little better by its current name London Heathrow. It may have taken more than seven years to build, but this Tipsy is a survivor. Only four currently remain airworthy, three in the UK and one in Belgium and G-AISA has what must be a unique

Basic instrumentation and odd stick for staggered seating arrangement


RV-8 >
record. Although it has had its share of prangs over the past seven decades, new engines, even a new wing spar, there has not been a calendar year from 1947 to date in which it has not flown. Some responsibility for me then!



So what is it like to fly? Simply, a delight. It is certainly easy to get into, with clearly marked walkways on the wings, an easy step into the wide cockpit and no stick to get in the way as you lower yourself behind the wide and remarkably efficient draught-preventing windscreen. And this is an aeroplane where glass cockpit means brass-bezelled dials, and only a few of them at that: airspeed indicator, altimeter, oil pressure gauge, rev counter, compass and, dominating the panel, a large Reid and Sigrist turn-and-bank indicator fed by the vacuum which is generated by a classic, trumpet-shaped venturi on the outside of the cockpit. There is no electrical system, so starting is via the Armstrong method. After priming the fuel system with a manual lever on the fuel pump and flooding the Claudel-Hobson carburettor under the cowl, one pulls the wooden Hordern Richmond propeller through eight blades to suck the mixture into the cylinders, then with the throttle cracked open and a final check of the chocks, the bakelite magneto switches are flicked up for contact. As might be expected with only 62hp and a big rudder, there isnt a massive swing on take-off, only a small amount of left rudder is normally required as the tail comes up and the aeroplane almost flies itself off the runway to settle into its best climb speed of around 55mph. A comparison with a 65hp Cub from the same period is inevitable, and the Piper certainly climbs better on its available horsepower, but much as I love the J3 it simply cannot match the control responses of the Tipsy. Where a Cub gives you a satisfyingly steady response to every input, the ultralight, bordering on over-sensitive controls of the Tipsy, give an almost instant reaction in every axis; it certainly doesnt surprise me that the late, great Neil Williams used to practise energy management, i.e. downhill aerobatics in G-AISA. Without even thinking about the control inputs, one can naturally settle the aircraft into a tight steep turn, which in a basic trainer maybe wasnt such a good thing. The aircraft stalls at 38mph and perhaps this is where the control authority is just a little too good. While only 50ft may be lost in a gentle stall and recovery, if one is too aggressive with the stick and the aircraft is out of balance, it will drop its elliptical wingtip very quickly. A turning stall can provoke an incipient spin, losing about 600ft in the process. Not good if you are turning onto final. The long-chord, low-mounted wing provides a ground-effect cushion that flatters even the most cack-handed pilot (me) with soft landings. As ever with a taildragger though, the landing isnt over yet, that big rudder turns the aeroplane into a very efficient weathercock in a crosswind. In hindsight, after the war the open-cockpit Tipsy would never succeed against cheaper more robust war-surplus air force trainers and the new generation of Pipers, Cessnas and Luscombes with enclosed cabins. However, what goes around comes around and, burning those 12 litres of fuel an hour, I am happy to fly a 70-year-old predecessor of the latest Light Sport aircraft!

PERFORMANCE Maximum speed: 195kph (121mph; 105kt) Service ceiling: 6,000m (19,685ft) Rate of climb: 2.2m/s (430fpm) to 2,000m (6,560ft) Range: 800km (497m; 432nm) DIMENSIONS/WEIGHTS Wingspan: 9.5m (31ft 2in) Length: 6.6m (21ft 8in) Height: 2.1m (6ft 11in) Wing area : 12m2 (130sq.ft) Empty weight: 245kg (540lb) Gross weight: 475kg (1,047lb) Engine: Walter Mikron four-cylinder inverted in-line, air-cooled, 45kW (60hp)

Top: the beautiful elliptic wing is evident from this view Middle: well-spatted and faired undercarriage aids performance on low power Bottom left: Walter Mikron engine is like a mini Gipsy Major Bottom right: the Trainer is a physically small aeroplane, easily manhandled