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HM 14 Flying Flea (replica)

1933 (1978), Langley Academy, On loan

The Pou-du-Ciel, known in Britain as the ‘Flying Flea’, resulted from much experimentation by Frenchman Henri Mignet and was first exhibited at the Paris Air Show in 1934. After flying the first Flea for 10 hours, Mignet wrote a book with instructions and freehand drawings for potential Flea builders. The motorcycle engines used initially were not very satisfactory, so special powerplants were developed. The tiny cockpit contained a control column which moved backwards and forwards tilting the main wing on a pivot above the pilot's head for climbing or diving. Moving the stick sideways controlled the rudder.

Flying Flea ‘mania’ was fostered by the British press in 1935. Mignet flew his Flea across the Channel for a three-week tour and published his book in English. The following year, ‘Flea Meets' and competitions were organised and many accomplished pilots became interested. Hundreds of Fleas were built in France and Britain, but the craze suffered a serious setback after a dozen fatal accidents. The authorities in both countries then grounded the type for full-size wind tunnel investigations.

After the problem was identified, Mignet soon solved it and in 1937 a revised edition of his book appeared in French but not English. Modified Fleas did fly, the last pre-war British Flea being registered in May 1939. In France, a Pou-du-Ciel was the first private aircraft to fly after Liberation in 1944 and Mignet continued to develop the design until he died in 1965. Some of his aeroplanes are currently flying in France and elsewhere but there have been no more airworthiness-related accidents. The present Mignet firm, run by Henri's son and grandson, manufactures a two-seat microlight variant called the 'Balerit'.

This example (BAPC 29, registration G-ADRY), incorporates some pre-war parts and was largely built by PD Roberts of Swansea between the late sixties and 1978. It was later acquired by Mike Beach of Twickenham with no main wing and the rear wing beyond repair, although the fuselage and Anzani engine were both in excellent condition. The aeroplane was restored to non-airworthy standard with two new wings and was completed in 1987. Initially loaned by Mike Beach, the Flea now belongs to Brooklands Museum.

DATA: One 1,100cc Anzani engine; wing span 18ft 6in (5.6m); length 11ft 6in (3.5m); height 5ft 6in (1.7m); weight (empty) 220lb (100kg).