Flying the Interstate Cadet at Tyabb

Interstate CircuitsOn Sunday 28 December I enjoyed a few circuits at Tyabb Airport and a local flight around the Mornington Peninsula in the Interstate S-1A Cadet. The weather was very good early on with quite smooth conditions and a light south east wind. There’s always a cross-wind on the north-south strip at Tyabb.

I made a short YouTube video of the take-offs & landings in the Interstate which you can see by clicking here or on the photo above. I suppose I must have completed 50-75 landings in this aircraft now, so things are feeling easier, although with a tail dragger you always need to keep on your toes – literally and metaphorically!

While I was circuit-bashing, my friends Stephen and Mike flew in Stephen’s newly acquired Bush Hawk down and around Wilson’s Promontory, the most southerly tip of mainland Australia. It’s about an hour and a half round trip from Tyabb in that aircraft. They reported good conditions, although there was a little lee-turbulence at lower levels around the ‘Prom’. I think Stephen gets nosebleeds if he flies higher than 500 feet… Up higher, there was quite a stiff northerly, which slowed them a bit on the return journey.

But back to the Interstate. I have now completed just over 30 hours flying in the aircraft since the first flight early in August 2014. As a result, it’s starting to feel more relaxed to take-off and land. Admittedly I haven’t thrashed it, but fuel consumption is working out at a very economical 20 litres (just over 5 US gallons) an hour and it hasn’t used any oil so far; although there’s always a drip or two on the hangar floor after each flight.

The camera I used was the Garmin VIRB, a competitor to the now almost inevitable GoPro. The Garmin is a completely different shape and can be controlled via an App installed on an iPhone, iPad or other smart device. Unlike the GoPro, the Garmin view finder is built-into the camera and is on the top (or bottom, if the camera’s mounted upside down) not on the back. The Garmin also comes with a very easy to install neutral density filter to help get rid of those peculiar ‘feather’ effects you often see on videos taken through a rotating propeller. It’s the first time I have used it – in the past, I have relied on my trusty old GoPro – so it’s interesting to compare. Maybe, if I can find the time, I’ll do a bit more of a comparison in a different blog post.

Hopefully, there will be more Interstate videos coming soon.

Interstate S-1A Cadet

Interstate Cadet VCQAs announced in earlier posts, I have been lucky enough to acquire a 1941 Interstate S-1A Cadet aircraft. This particular example  – serial number 9 – originally rolled off the Interstate Aircraft and Engineering Company production line in Segundo, California, in January 1941. It has recently been restored to better than new condition in the States, with an 0-235 115 hp engine replacing the original Continental A-65 hp, toe brakes replacing the original and much disliked heel brakes, raising the MTOW to 1,650 pounds (750 kgs) from the original 1,200 pounds (544 kgs) and a host of other improvements, including an improved tail wheel.

As far as I know, this is the first Interstate Cadet in Australia, registered VH-VCQ, replacing its original USA registration N28317. Around 320 S-1’s were built by Interstate during 1940-1942, then later some more by Callair, who acquired the Interstate manufacturing rights. The aircraft was also built as a military variant – the Interstate L-6, which had a bigger glasshouse to facilitate its observation role. The Interstate Aircraft manufacturing rights were eventually purchased from Callair in the 1970’s by Arctic Aircraft in Alaska. They have developed the S-1 into the Arctic Tern by adding a 160 hp engine and many other upgrades and improvements.

A small piece of trivia – interesting mainly to me – is that Interstate originally sold the S-1 manufacturing rights to the Harlow Aircraft Company, who then sold them on to Callair. I’m hunting through the family tree to find out which (probably none) of my relatives were involved in this venture.

The Interstate Cadet was one of several similar aircraft types made at the time by competing manufacturers – Piper, Stinson, Aeronca and Taylorcraft to name a few. However, although the Interstate was much bigger and more rugged than these other aircraft, it was also much more expensive – in fact, almost three times the cost of a J-3 Cub. So Piper went on to make literally thousands of Cubs, while Interstate disappeared by the mid-1940’s.

A final historical footnote – an Interstate Cadet, flying on a Sunday morning training flight, was the first US aircraft to be shot at when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbour – not, as incorrectly portrayed in the film ‘Tora Tora Tora’ a Stearman Kaydet biplane.  Thankfully, the instructor – Cornelia Fort (yes, a woman! and only 23 years old too) – was able to evade the fighters and get back on the ground safely. This very aircraft is now apparently owned by Kent Pietsch – he of the ‘Jelly Belly’ comedy aerobatic display, seen all over the world, including at our own Avalon Airshow. However, the provenance of some of these older aircraft can be difficult to confirm and at least one other person lays claim to ownership of the Pearl harbour Interstate.

I’ll be posting some more about flying the Interstate and some links to videos of the aircraft in due course. Meanwhile, here are a few YouTube links to whet your appetite:

Me introducing the Interstate Cadet:
oug’s Super Cadet:
Dick O’Reilly’s Christmas Crosswind Flight:


The way we were

Interstate L6I recently acquired an old aircraft – a 1941 Interstate S-1A Cadet – there will be more information about this aircraft to come in the future.

With the aircraft came a ‘Pilot’s Flight Operating Instructions’ manual, which naturally I read with interest. Near the back is a section on cold weather operation, which includes the phrase: “Evergreen boughs may be used for brushing off light snow”.

Other interesting cold weather instructions include “Where [engine] heating facilities are not available overnight…drain the oil out on the ground and refill with fresh from the store before operation. This is far easier than trying to heat the oil system of the airplane to permit the flow of congealed oil”. And to round things off nicely: “Remember to include ammunition weight in centre of gravity calculations”.  How the world has changed…

In the back of the manual is a ‘Glossary of Nomenclature’ to help US personnel understand their British counterparts. Apart from obvious terms like the US ‘gasoline’ (petrol), ‘antenna’ (aerial) and ‘airplane’ (aeroplane), there are some which induce a bit of a smile: ‘engine’ (aero-engine), ‘battery’ (accumulator, electrical) and ‘fuel valve’ (fuel cock). Interestingly they quote the US term ’empennage’ for the British ‘tail unit’ which I’d have thought would be the other way round.

Many many years ago I owned a 1942 Willys army jeep. Apart from a placard on the fuel tank which indicated ‘Minimum 68 Octane Fuel’ (that probably means filling it with peanut butter would be OK) there was a great instruction in the maintenance book that read: “…to access and repair the transmission, first stand the vehicle on its side”. There are probably a few car service facilities outback who even today value that advice!