Newsletter 11
Winter 2005
Updated on 18Nov2005
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents © Hawker Association

Agenda for Aerospace
Duxford Visit
Harrier First Delivery
Hawker People News
Heritage Memorial Project
HMS Invincible Retires
Last Pegasus
Programme 2005-6
Sopwith Stories
Tangmere Hawker Weekend
Unified Flight Control
John Crampton, who knew Sir Thomas well, has contributed the following anecdotes about the great man to whom we all owe so much...

Early in 1968 I was detailed off by the management to comply with a request from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers for someone from our Company to prepare and read a Paper on the history of both the Sopwith and Hawker Aircraft Companies. I expressed astonishment at the request and felt sure that I was not really the right bloke; I knew little or nothing about the histories. "Just the very man we want", said the Management, "no preconceived ideas!"

A few weeks before this, Bill Bedford and I had been asked to go to Dunsfold on a day that Sir Thomas Sopwith would be visiting. He wanted a run down on the P.1127. Bill and I did our stuff. I remember Sopwith on that occasion very clearly. He leant forward in his chair to catch every word we said - especially when Bill described flying the aeroplane.
John Crampton

John Crampton

top toptoptoptop
Encouraged by this meeting I wrote a very carefully worded letter to Sir Thomas telling him of the daunting task I had been given and would he kindly guide my hand in drafting my Paper? And perhaps even more kindly read the Paper before I presented it to the Institute's audience to ensure I had not made too many howlers; hopefully no howlers at all? The day after posting this letter my telephone rang at midmorning. "Sopwith here. Got your letter. You'd better come to lunch. When?" The only day I could accept such an invitation during that period was the following day. "Thank you, sir," I said. "Tomorrow?" "Oooooh hang on, tomorrow..." Then followed whisperings to, I presumed, Lady Sopwith, about this immediate acceptance. "Yers, all right. Know where we are?" "Yes, sir" "A quarter to one then." "Thank you, Sir." What follows are his answers to a few of my questions.

John Crampton. "Starting at the end of 1910 you had a couple of sheds in which you kept your aircraft at Brooklands and I assume you flew from that aerodrome as frequently as possible?" Thomas Sopwith. "Yers."

 were also flying from there at the time?" This resulted in a period of deep thought; a characteristic when Sopwith was asked such a wide ranging question. Then TS: "Werl, there was a feller almost next to me who had a shed. He used to fly every now and then and whenever he turned up we all stopped what we were doing to watch the crash. The man could get off the ground and fly around but he had no idea how to land. He'd either stop the thing thirty feet up and so fall with a sickening crash before us all, or he'd fly it straight into the ground, in which case the accident took longer. We'd have to disentangle him from his wreckage and someone took him to Weybridge Hospital. Trouble was he always lost something in the crash: an arm, leg, hand, eye. In fact when the poor little bugger died he had only one of everything left."

JC. "In 1911 you went to America and took part very successfully in a number of flying competitions. While there you bought a Wright Flyer..." TS. "Yers." JC. "How would you sum up Wilbur and Orville Wright? TS. "Two very quiet and serious Americans. Not given to any small talk and not given to suffering fools gladly, either. Bit like Camm - who came later."

JC. "Having studied pictures of your Howard Wright biplane the position of the undercarriage indicates that you flew with the Centre of Gravity rather far aft." TS. "Yers, and the longer you had the aeroplane the further aft the CG would go." JC. "Why?" TS. "Stands to reason." JC. "Not to me, sir." TS. "Werl, look where the engine is." JC. "Trailing edge of the wing centre section." TS. "Yers. Well those things threw out a gallon of oil an hour. And that went all over the tailplane." JC. "I see. Did you just renew the fabric or the whole structure?" TS. "The lot. The wood got soaked too."

I once asked Sir Thomas who gave the unusual names to his aircraft: Baby, Pup, Camel, Cuckoo, Dolphin, Snipe, Bulldog, Salamander, Gnu, and so on. "I have no idea." he said. This struck me as strange. Sir Thomas must have known, but he gave a direct answer to a straight question. It would have been very impertinent of me to say "Oh come on sir, you must know." So I didn't. I asked him again several years later and he snapped back at me "I've already told you. I do not know." It was the only time he spoke severely. Clearly something rankled him. I have since re-read that wonderful book by Harald Penrose, "British Aviation - The Great War and Armistice, 1915 - 1919". The answer is given in Appendix 5, page 605. Worth looking up.

[Editor's note. For those of you without this classic book, I have looked it up for you. Name types were specified in an official Government publication: TDI 538, later to become AP.547. Single seat, land or carrier based aircraft were to be named after reptiles (except snakes) or land birds (except birds of prey); multi-seaters after mammals (except felidae - the cat tribe); seaplanes after waterfowl or fishes. However, these rules do not appear to have been applied rigorously eg the  Baby, Pup, Camel and Dolphin were all single seat land planes. I understand that the first three were unofficial nick-names derived from size and appearance, but a Dolphin is certainly not a reptile or land bird!]

The Paper on Sopwiths and Hawkers was passed by Sopwith and given to the Kingston upon Thames Branch of the IMechE on november 28th 1968. And that, I thought, would bring my association with Sopwith to an end. But no! On a number of occasions he would ask me to perform tasks for him. Nothing demanding. Rather along the lines of what follows - a brilliant account of a lunch party in 1977 that Sopwith gave to Robert Parke, editor of the American aircraft magazine "Flying".
To be continued in the next Newsletter (so, pay your subscriptions, please!)