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50 years of the Monoplane 2009
By Terry Taylor

On July 4th 2009 it will, incredibly, be 50 years since the Taylor Monoplane first took to the air, in the capable hands of O.V.’Titch’ Holmes at White Waltham aerodrome, once the headquarters of the Air Transport Auxiliary.

Perhaps not so well known is the fact that this was not my father’s first aeroplane design, but the smaller result of one he had started in 1954. This comprised of a tandem two seater, it being better to fly with someone than alone, he thought, and was continued to a near final design stage regarding weight, stressing and size of engine. Unfortunately, it was the non availability of anything like the right engine that brought this would-be aeroplane to a standstill, plus the fact that it would need to be built in a room measuring 11 by 16 feet, the dimensions of the front lounge, at first floor level. After a re-think he decided that with a 26 foot wingspan, albeit in three pieces, it would probably be too big to build, too expensive and difficult to power properly. Back to the drawing board, literally, and a much smaller, lighter and cheaper design was produced, in the form of the Mono we all know today. It was to cost no more than a family saloon car, about £200 then, and be simple to build with a minimum of metal fittings, with no part longer than 11 feet. Unlike most men who are probably influenced by their fathers, it was my dad’s mother who gave him the aeroplane interest from an early age. She had been employed at Kingston by The Sopwith Aviation Company and helped produce fuselages for the Salamander amongst other types. He learned to build free flight models of Camels, SE5’s and other biplane types sparking the desire to build a full size ‘model’ some time in the future.

At the outbreak of World War 2 he was then 17 and soon became employed by The J.A.Prestwich Engine Co. involved in the manufacture of stationary engines for generators and water pumps. This company was also to manufacture an engine known as the J-99, a twin cylinder opposed air cooled twin for aeroplane use and it was one of these that my dad was to bolt to the front of his Mono some nineteen years later, so he was well acquainted with this particular unit, and also it’s peculiar characteristics. Eager to join the RAF in 1940 he set off with his brother expecting to be snapped up and sent for immediate training. Ironically, his brother Fred was indeed snapped up and spent the next six years working on various maintenance units servicing Rolls Royce Merlin and Bristol radial engines in the UK and the Middle East, near Aboukir. My dad was told that his work at JAP’s was ‘far too important for him to be released’ and he just had to stick with it, much to his frustration.

Postwar, the opportunity to learn to fly privately was investigated, but found to be still too expensive as Britain hauled itself slowly out of rationing and so forth and he was in any case busy finding steady work that enabled him to marry my mother in 1948. A little later he reluctantly accepted that he could not go down the private flying route and probably thought it was not to be. Or was it? A friend alerted him to the fact that The London Bus Co, of all people, had started a flying club at Fairoaks with a small fleet of Tiger Moths and their flying rates were about half the normal. Understandably, the requirement to becoming a club member entailed becoming a staff member, a bus driver in his case as this was where the shortage lay. Still interested? You bet he was, especially as the training for the bus license (PSV), was provided at no extra cost. 1950 saw my dad strapped into the rear of one of the Tigers under the guidance of H.E.Baker and he was to gain his PPL in 1950. At last things were moving in the right direction! This of course brings us to the point of introduction above concerning the two seater, that led to the Mono.

Nowadays with the help of the LAA, a multitude of STRUT’s, an unending list of material suppliers, a library of design books and a good empty garage it is possible for any determined person to design and build their own aeroplane. It wasn’t like that in the early ‘50’s though, the PFA and EAA were only an idea, materials were almost impossible to get and design information was held mainly by the many, (at that time), aeroplane companies dotted around the country. Had my dad worked for say, Miles or Percival then his goal would have been much easier to achieve. Fortunately for him, he made contact initially with Cecil Latimer Needham, designer of the Luton Major and Minor aeroplanes and also a lecturer in aircraft design. Even better, Mr Needham found time to write two books on the subject that brought it within reach of those with a good knowledge of materials and fairly advanced mathematics. My dad obtained both, found many areas that he didn’t understand and went to see the author who gave him considerable help and time in unravelling the stumbling points. The design of the two seater and hence the Mono was then started in earnest, my dad had now moved onto the drawing board at Ford’s in the jig and tooling office. Preliminary drawings were prepared by him and both these and the calculations checked by the Hunting Percival Design Office, with of course some minor alterations being necessary. Late 1957 saw him in a position to start building, but where were the materials to be found?

Enter Doug Bianchi, the owner of Personal Plane Services at White Waltham, a man of vast experience and practical knowledge regarding aeroplanes of all sizes and the person, as far as my dad was concerned, who was to change everything. This is no over statement as it was Doug who gathered materials, guided my dad through general construction techniques and was always ready with encouragement and practical advice. As the project neared completion in early 1959 it was also Doug who had obtained that very JAP J-99 engine that went on the front and lined up Titch Holmes to carry out most of the test flying, assisted by Bert Goodchild. The only other limitations on building the Mono were those imposed by the fact that the lounge it took shape in was also on the first floor and the diagonal dimension of the front window was 4’ 6”, so no component could be larger than that. If any Mono owner wondered why the wing chord is 48”, now you know! There are some fantastic advantages to building any aeroplane in the front lounge which are worth mentioning here as future builders may not have thought of them and they are certainly not readily apparent in the photographs. Firstly, your wife can never complain that she doesn’t know where you are. You’ll be about six feet away at any given time. Secondly, and this is the real winner, your ‘workshop’ will be at 200 C all year round, so no problems with trudging out to the chilly garage or worrying about glue and paint temperatures, it’s all at the twist of the thermostat. Other minor advantages are having someone to ‘hold the other end’ and also help clear up all the sawdust from the circular saw in the early stages of building as you reduce that tree you bought to more useful sizes. I just can’t understand why it’s not standard homebuilding practice?

Under these ideal conditions the basic wooden airframe took just fourteen months to complete, with the entire project taking about 2000 hours, and Pathe News visited along with the BBC to investigate this strange lounge creation. The removal aroused even more interest and is shown in the accompanying photos. Fords came to the rescue with providing transport to take it to White Waltham for final assembly. Curiously, Fords had previously, but unwittingly, come to the rescue by helping my dad have certain parts made for the Mono in the machine shop, components like the spar plates for example that appeared on Ford drawing sheets with ‘Experimental Fitting’ written in the title box and then subsequently returned to the drawing office for ‘approval’. This is initiative of the highest order and is what made Britain great in those pioneering days. I have often been quizzed about the build time, but if you work from tea time to bed time plus most of the weekend it can soon be achieved, and this is exactly what happened. At White Waltham the assembly of the Mono took just under one week, with engine runs, and this is where that peculiar characteristic of the J-99 came to light, which fortunately my dad was aware of. Advancing the throttle from idle to cruise power was generally followed by, nothing, then a strange ‘ping’ followed by the proper burst of power, about three seconds delay in all. He found from his days at JAP’s that it was the bridging jet that provided fuel in between idle and higher power settings that was at fault and he was able to rectify this quite quickly, so that there was no delay in response. Titch Holmes, to his credit had to contend with this for the first few hours of flying though and compensated for it comfortably. During the excitement of the previous six years my dad’s license had lapsed and therefore he was unable to carry out the test flying, but in any case employing the services of Titch Holmes was a much wiser choice all round.

The test flying proceeded smoothly up to the issue of the Permit to Fly with no major alterations of any nature being required. At the request of Hunting Percival, the airframe was inverted and tested structurally to a limit of 3G to check for wing deformation under these loads, and to ensure there was inadvertent fouling of the aileron cables. This lack of alterations has been a consistent feature of the Mono over all it’s life, but one minor modification crept in during it’s early life and took over 40 years to correct. The tailplane was initially set at zero incidence and flown in this configuration with flaps. Somewhere along the line it was deemed to be ‘longitudinally unstable’ and successive negative incidence applied to the tailplane, up to -50, in order to correct this, with the elimination of flaps. Monos flew like this for decades, but mainly in this country only, until one John Gibson noticed this on an example he came across at his local flying club. John, an accomplished gliding instructor has also spent his life as a leading aerodynamicist and expert in aircraft handling, on the Lightning, TSR2 and Eurofighter for instance. When he discovered that pilots were flying Monos with pronounced forward stick he set about investigating how this had come about. He was able to produce evidence denouncing the very term ‘longitudinal stability’, as stability is related to mainly CG position, and proved by calculation and test flying that the original zero degrees was the right setting. I was very impressed that someone should go to such lengths to investigate all of this and have been forever grateful to him.

September 1960 saw my dad at the controls of his own design, a marvellous feeling I am sure, the culmination of what had been a ten year adventure. Surprisingly to him, letters started arriving from the USA and Canada expressing an interest in ‘a set of plans’ for this masterpiece. What plans? The letters still came and he set about producing drawings enabling others to do likewise, the all wooden aeroplane being slightly different to the States builders with their steel tube fuselage models. Only one example has ever undercut the prototype’s weight of 430 lbs empty, that being Hugh Beckam from Kansas who squeezed in at 404lbs, so it can be done! English builders also took up the challenge, the Mono’s imperial dimensioned drawings and robust nature appealing to some more than the Druine Turbulent, a true contemporary in many respects. The VW 1500 has become the most fitted engine over the years, but Geoff Stanley fitted his one with a Walter Mikron, and it stands out totally for it’s streamlined looks. After my dad had flown it for just 29 hours, the Mono was sold to Mike Slazenger in 1961 for it’s construction cost of £150 in order to put a deposit on a three bedroom house here in Leigh on Sea. It had moved to Redhill by this time and stayed there, quickly being re-engined with the universal VW 1500. The Mono continued to gather popularity, the American solution to suitable engines being to fit one of the many A-65 Lycomings, regardless of the weight increase. Concerned by this, my dad set about a design for engines in the 100 hp class, having been totally bowled over by the arrival of the magnificent Cosmic Wind, which joined the Tiger Club at Redhill in the early 60’s. His timely design, the Titch, came second to the Beta in a design competition the Club ran in 1964, both aeroplanes flying in 1967.

Were my dad still alive, (he would have been 87 this year) I am sure he would be astonished that his prototype still flies today, and that about 150 examples have been built in Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. I am pleased that his design is still attracting younger pilots and builders, and can still be built for the price of a family saloon car, in fact £6500 will more than get you there. Advice and help with homebuilding has never been better, nor has the availability of materials as the adverts in the LAA magazine testify. So if some of the kits seem to be a bit on the high side, and their build times rather optimistic, there is always the option of ‘doing it yourself’, as many have over the last half century, and will continue to do.


Photo captions.

JT model. My dad at Fairlop in 1947 with free flight Tiger Moth.
01 Early flying days at Fairoaks in 1952, my mother enjoys a spot of real flying.
02. Work underway with some very early stage drawings.
03. My dad tries out the cockpit, finished wing panel on wall behind.
04/05. Teatime as usual as the Mono takes shape in the 1st. floor lounge. Visitors eventually seemed not to even notice it!
06. Close up of the JAP engine my dad was to become very familiar with.
07. The bay window gave just enough room to assemble the tail section.
08. With the window removed the fuselage is taken out with lots of helping hands. John Taylor in white shirt giving instructions to all and sundry!
09. Not as easy as it looks, but no damage occurred to any of the components during their unusual exit.
10. The author, aged 5, entrusted with the top cowling.
11. Finally assembled for the first time at White Waltham.
12. Early engine runs carried out by my mother revealed all was not well, but my dad’s time at JAP’s paid off here.
13. Bert Goodchild, Titch Holmes in cockpit, and John Taylor reflecting on the days performance.
14. The Ford Magazine gave space to their employees efforts but made up a lot of the text! The Titch was never a secret.
15. Titch Holmes enjoying himself over White Waltham.
16. At last! One year on and my dad enjoys the results of all his efforts.
17. After approval the Mono attended a fly-in at Seething in 1960.
18. Andrew Perkins example was one of the first to be built and flown in this country.
19. First example to fly after the prototype. Hugh Beckham from Kansas achieving the lowest empty weight ever of 404 lbs.
20. Ken Lynn and his Lycoming A-65 example. Good performance but somewhat heavy.
21. Bob Ladd and the ultimate Mono? Bubble canopy, retractable undercarriage, great cowlings and four blade prop. These improvements were added annually up to 1970.
22. Just like a model. Jim Kerley of California finished this example in under one year.
23. With over 2000 hrs on it Dallas Alldrege’s Mono probably has the highest time of any.
24. New Zealand examples have to add 14 inches to the rear fuselage to reduce tailplane sensitivity.
25. Ever the fighter! Yvan Bougie of Canada even fitted a’drop’ tank for extra stowage.
26. Cecil Bush has enjoyed his Mono so much he has built another one to go with it! Flies regularly from Great Oakley in Essex.
27. One of the most recognised examples of them all. Dave Hunter from Blackpool has advised many a Mono builder.