In one of my photo albums is a picture of someone's hand holding a CO2 powered model of Mignet's Flying Flea. The picture was taken in my garden some 27 years ago and I've occasionally wondered who the hand belonged to.
Well, this week I found out. The White Lion at Ufford in Suffolk hosts a vintage car meeting a couple of times a year. The spring gathering is not to be missed as vintage stuff comes out that you don't see for the rest of the year and the event is always packed. The October meeting is less popular but, if the weather is half decent (we got soaked in the Austin last year) then it's definitely worth the trip.
There's always a good showing of Lagonda's of all shapes and sizes but, more importantly for me, a chap turned up on a Cyclemaster powered bicycle. I was an NSU Quickly and Solex fan in my youth and in the last few years had restored a Trojan Mini-Motor for Mark the Furniture (a local antique dealer) so,
I popped over to have a look. I don't know how we got on to the subject of Fleas but, well I never, it turned out that this was the chap who belonged to the hand in my photograph. I found a Flying Flea rudder in a local barn some years ago. This particular HM14 was registered appropriately enough to a Commander Bird and was reportedly flown (and crashed) at Bury St Edmunds. The main spars were way up in the rafters of the barn and couldn't be reached and there was no sign of the fuselage or engine.
An inherent fault provoked by the unusual configuration of the Flea's wings and which produced control reversal in certain modes of flight - resulting in the deaths of several enthusiasts - was enough to persuade the Air Board to issue a blanket ban of the Flea, even though a Cleverchap called Baynes had sorted out an Anti-Bernouli-Control-Device mod (ABCD to us Earthlings) making the aircraft safe. I often toyed with the idea of building a Flea and, because at one time I was lucky enough to have my own airstrip, I imagined that a taxi trial; whoops, we're going a bit fast, hello, the ground's falling away, would have been an exciting moment. I think Mignet got away with it because he flew his aircraft on rudder and throttle alone - throttle for going up and down and rudder for left and right, leaving the articulating wing pretty much alone. It would perhaps have been interesting to test that theory. I'm pleased to have on my shelves a copy of Mignet's original book whose opening gambit declares that if you can nail a packing case together, then you can build a Flea. That's the stuff!
A trip to Norfolk - no doubt one of a great many to be undertaken - to borrow a couple of front spring shackles saw the first progress on the racing car. The rear springs - apparently of Maserati origin - are very neatly arranged.
No flies on the chap who designed this then.