Roy Whitehead recalls events from
nearly sixty years ago...
was sometime during 1948 or '49 that a few of us from Richmond Road
were roped in for a couple of days to help man the Abbey Test Rig at
the Hawker factory at Langley. The bare airframe of a Sea Hawk was
fitted in the rig to undergo structural testing. There were probably
about twenty of us, each allocated to a capstan on top of the huge rig.
The capstans were connected, by means of a mass of rods, links and
spreaders, to the wings and fuselage, the latter being firmly anchored
to the base of the rig.
told how many quarter turns of the capstans to make, and when. We were
also informed that it wasn't we who were applying the loads to the
airframe; oh no, we were just "taking up slack". Quite rightly none of
us believed a word of that statement.
the last day and after some
hours of gradually applying the load there was an almighty bang and the
whole rig seemed to jump a few inches. This, we were told, was because
part of the airframe had failed at, I think, 110% of the design failure
load. This seemed to please the stressmen present, as it hadn't broken
at a loading below their calculated limit, which was, of course, their
Sea Hawk And
The next thing that sticks in my memory is that, as we looked down at
the now crippled airframe below us, we could see no obvious damage. But
what we could just see were the lower legs of the then head of the
stress office, Henry 'Roche' Rochefort, as he almost disappeared into
the port jet pipe fairing. He had gone in, head first, to look for
I remember my
boss, 'Jumbo' Betteridge, telling me that once when he had visited
'Roche' at his home they had gone into the workshop at the bottom of
his garden which 'Roche' had designed and built himself. Typically for
the keen stressman that he was, so 'Jumbo' told me, the design of the
roof structure was very much over the top and it looked as though it
would certainly resist anything that the weather might throw at it,
including a tornado; and possibly an avalanche!
While at Langley for those few days I spotted the dismantled parts of a
tiny light aircraft on top of an office in one of the hangars. It
looked like a rather large model and not long afterwards the parts
turned up in the Experimental Department at Richmond Road. The aircraft
was one of Sydney Camm's first designs, the Hawker Cygnet (G-EBMB), a
lightweight two-seat biplane, one of two built in the early 1920s. They
had been entered in some competitions and won prizes but for some
reason the twin had been scrapped soon after.
In the late 1940s and early '50s the Royal Aeronautical Society held a
number of garden parties and the bosses, bigwigs, pilots of the many
aircraft firms, and their guests, would gather for a day of
jollification and flying displays.
Someone at Hawkers must have thought up the idea of resurrecting G-EBMB
so that it could at least be taxied around to the delight of all and
sundry. As a result it was given the once-over, covered with new fabric
and finished with clear dope. The engine, a two cylinder Bristol
Cherub, was given a bench check and its aluminium cowling was buffed up
to a high polish. I think the original Palmer tyres were just about
usable for trundling round the peri-track and lawns - which it
proceeded to do.
was a problem; as the whole aircraft weighed only 373 lb. empty it was
hardly surprising that it really did want to fly. Without a Certificate
of Airworthiness this was not allowed but enthusiasm got the better of
the powers that be who decided to repeat the restoration, using all the
correct procedures, and then apply for a C of A. The restored Cygnet
was issued, not with a C of A, but with a lesser Permit to Fly which
restricted flying to the vicinity of an airfield. No cross-country
flying was allowed but this was no problem because the wings had been
designed for easy folding and the machine would fit comfortably on the
back of a lorry.
In the 1980s I
saw G-EBMB at Hendon in the RAF Museum's Sir Sydney Camm Memorial
exhibit and in 2006 it was transferred to the Museum's RAF Cosford
site. However, my story doesn't end there. In the late 1990s I went on
a visit, with other members of the Salisbury U3A, to the Shuttleworth
Collection at Old Warden airfield. Our coach pulled up for a moment
outside the gates and it was then I noticed an unmistakable and very
familiar shape and colour amongst the aircraft on the flight line. My
first thought was that surely G-EBMB hadn't been brought out of
Soon I was able to
make a closer inspection and discovered that this one was a perfect
replica, built in 1966. I would hardly have been able to tell the two
apart had I not noticed the registration; the letters G-CAMM were
proudly blazoned on its sides and wings, in honour of its designer.
Incidentally, while checking the details for this account I was
intrigued to find that I share my birth date, apart from the year of
course, with Sir Sydney; August 5th. And there, I hasten to add, any