Whitehead has some
flights of fancy. Like Roy, don't we all look skywards at the sound of
a jet engine? Of course, but Roy gives his imagination full reign...
I should first explain that my career at Hawkers started in the
Experimental Department at Canbury Park Road in Kingston. There, in
1947, a small group of us was involved in the firm's first primitive
forays into what is now called flight test instrumentation (FTI) for
our prototype and development aircraft. The Experimental Dept. moved to
the Richmond Road factory at Ham in 1948. Eventually I became Chief
Experimental Instrumentation Engineer, until in the late '70s the
Design Department felt the need to take over responsibility for FTI and
I joined Instrumentation and Electronics in a lesser capacity.
In 1989 I accepted the firm's offer of early retirement having worked
for Hawkers and BAe for forty-two years, including my two years of RAF
National Service. With my pension coupled with some voluntary
redundancy pay I was able to move to Wiltshire and have lived happily
in Wilton and Salisbury ever since.
Having been in the Salisbury area since late 1989 I have
been reminded of my days in the aircraft industry. After all, Boscombe
Down is not far away to the northeast and Yeovilton only a few miles
further away to the west. Over the years aircraft of the types I have
been closely involved with, especially Hunters, Harriers and Hawks,
have often passed overhead as reminders. At the sound of a jet engine I
still turn my eyes to the sky.
There have been
times in recent years when I've been outdoors minding my own business,
sometimes with no other person within sight or sound, when I have had
an uncanny impression that some of those aircraft up there know that
I'm down here looking up at them!
in 1990 a Hunter, presumably loitering, waiting its turn to land,
circled half a dozen times at about 2,000 ft overhead Wilton, just off
the Boscombe Down runway approach path. Banking steeply in a very tight
turn, the inner wing seemed to point, accusingly, straight at me all
the while. I had the thought that the pilot was perhaps daydreaming and
not quite in control, or else the Hunter knew I was down there. It is
quite feasible that some of the instrumentation equipment fitted to
that particular aircraft could date back to my time at Hawkers.
Fancifull of course, but who knows?
In the early
2000s while walking across a car park in Yeovil, I experienced what I
fancied to be a personal, close, low level, very tight formation
flypast by four Sea Harriers, their engines strangely quiet. More
recently, in 2006, a Hawk heading towards Boscombe Down and flying at
only about 400 ft, without any obvious rhyme or reason, did a flick
quarter roll to port, slicing the sky immediately overhead before
quickly regaining level flight.
Then in March
2007 my wife, Pam, and I visited Michael's Wood, a Natural Burial
Ground at Cholderton in north Wiltshire. We wanted to see if it might
just be suitable for our last resting place. As we were having details
of the large wooded area with clearings explained to us we came across
the grave of a thirty year old woman who died in 2003. A small marker
gave few details; she had been a helicopter pilot and keen cyclist but
there were no details of how she came to die so very young. We were
told that when her body was interred a military helicopter came up over
the edge of the wood to as if to perform a low flypast in her honour.
Cholderton is not all that far from the School of Army Flying at Middle
Wallop, and much closer to Boscombe Down which is not as busy as in the
past but is still in daily use.
While we were
chatting to Vivienne who was showing us round we heard a high flying
jet about half a mile away. We caught a glimpse through the trees of
the very recognisable shape of one of the latest versions of the
Harrier. I thought no more of it. Five minutes later it was back again,
but this time much nearer and flying semi-jetborne, slowly, directly
overhead. It was then I felt prompted to recount some of the
'daydreams' I had experienced. Vivienne reminded me that having noticed
my tie with the Harrier motifs she had asked if I had worked at
Boscombe Down. Then in her next sentence she used the word "uncanny".
Another five minutes went by and there was a repeat performance. Could
we now construe this as a confirmation that this is the place, for me
at least? Pam says she would consider it too. All in good time we shall
Checking on the OS map
No.184 I found that
Michael's Wood (map reference 220430) is under the flight path to the
main runway at Boscombe, just three miles from the threshold. Hardly
surprising, then, that the Harrier was flying low and slow. As the A303
is only about 200 yards to the north there is also some traffic noise
as, well as the occasional aircraft noise; but who cares? It's just a
reminder that life goes reassuringly on, as it always has - for us, so
All right, so maybe I do
I have enjoyed my contacts with aircraft before, during and after my
working life. I feel very privileged to have been involved; they have
been happy days and I wouldn't have missed any of them for the world.