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June 2008

"When is a Luton, not a Luton..........".

......When its a FRED of course!!

I hope I don't cause offence to any Minor fans by showing off a new acquisition which is almost a Luton Minor, but not quite.... However having now got it into the air for its first flight after storage for a few years, I'm delighted to find that it offers a similar flying experience.

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The aeroplane in question is a FRED, designed in Staffordshire in the 1960s by gliding instructor Eric Clutton as a "Flying Runabout Experimental Design". Like the Luton Minor it is a wood and fabric, parasol wing, open cockpit single seater, 'home-built' from plans. However it has one party piece that the Luton can't imitate.

Folding wings and quick-release fittings on the tail controls mean that the aeroplane can be readily derigged and towed behind a car. It also means that it can (at a squeeze) be stored in a normal domestic garage.

The first flight from Sywell Aerodrome near Northampton (at a stately 60mph cruising speed) confirmed our suspicions that the resulting extra strengthening built into the structure means a bit of extra weight and slightly less featherweight handling than the Luton. It is, I'm delighted to say, not in the category of 'flying like a manhole cover' which one onlooker predicted! It like the Luton, is a delightful aerial carriage for summers evenings.

One major difference between 'FRED' and the Luton Minor is the (even) thicker wing section, which contains the fuel tank a la Tiger Moth, rather than a fuselage tank on the Minor. When taxying, the higher centre of gravity produces a distinct 'waddle', again just like the Tiger Moth. I suspect that in gusty winds, the aeroplane might be more of a handful, so it is definitely going to be a fair weather flyer.

This particular example was built by a retired former WW2 bomber pilot to the superb standards that implies. It's not a true Luton, but I hope you agree its a piece of our aviation heritage well worth keeping flying!