Newsletter 24
Summer 2009
Updated on 20May2009
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents Hawker Association

Cygnet News
F-35B Lightning II News
Folland Spirit Of Hamble
Harrier News
Hawk News
Hawkers In The 1950s
Hawkers in The Late 1930s
Hurricane News
R&D Department
Tempest News
Testing V/STOL Projects
World War 2 Experiences
    Peter Hickman looks back to his time at Langley when he was an Engineering Apprentice...
    In March 1951 I was working at Richmond Road on the first two production Sea Hawks, WF143 and 144. It was a frantic time since the Company was gearing up for Hunter production with the installation of the wing jigs and it had been decided to limit Sea Hawk build to twelve aircraft before moving the programme to Armstrong Whitworth, a sister Hawker Siddeley company, at Bitteswell.
    Two things stand out for me: the mismatch of the rear fuselage to the centre section, and the engine installation. Unlike the Hunter, the Sea Hawk rear and centre fuselages were united by many 1/4" bolts but unfortunately the first assembly didn't work because one draughtsman had drawn one frame to the inside skin line whilst another had drawn the adjoining frame to the outside skin line.
Hawkers In The 1950s Part 1 - To Langley

    The next problem was the engine installation. The Nene was mounted on a three point fixing; one on each side with the third underneath. The engine was lowered onto the side fixings and then rotated to match the lower attachment point. I have a vision of Wally Rayner and Bob Seth, the Rolls-Royce representative, lying on the floor under the fuselage lambasting eachother because they couldn't get the nut on. Of course we were all standing around the aircraft cheering them on.
    At this time I called into the Apprentice Supervisor's Office. Mr Barton said they needed a "good lad" at Langley because the bad winter weather had waterlogged the airfield creating a backlog of production Sea Furies. He advised that I was initially to work in the flight sheds and that the works transport from Canbury Park Road left at 7.00 am! I knew where Langley was because the previous year a group of lads had been taken there by Charles Plantin and Derek Thomas to carry out structural testing in the Sea Hawk. The problem for me was that it already took me an hour to get from my home in Wallington to Kingston by public transport as I didn't drive or have a car. Fortunately I remembered that in 1950 Engineering Apprentices had been classified as staff so Barton agreed that I could use the 8.00 am staff coach; so a two hour journey each way was to be my lot for the next sixteen months.
    Duvalls of Kingston provided the very comfortable coaches to transport us to the airfield. The route was via Hampton Wick, Feltham (where we picked up an AID inspector, 'Dolly' Gray), the Green Man pub and the KLG factory on the A30 at Hatton Cross, along a country road on the eastern edge of a much smaller Heathrow to join the A4 at Harlington Corner, then down the A4 towards Slough and up Sutton Lane to the airfield. The car park was at the Northeast corner which meant we had to walk through two rows of hangars to get to our workplace. Ford's occupied the first row where they were assembling tractors, and it wasn't long before they banned us from walking inside which meant that, in inclement weather, we could get very wet.
    On my first day I reported to Charlie Ayers who was responsible for the outside work on the flight line. We were based on the ground floor of the control tower where we had a crew room. Here we stored the parachutes and starter cartridges, and an aircraft status board identified the aircraft. The pilots would ring down to establish which aircraft were available, nominate one and ask for their parachute to be installed. Neville Duke had just been appointed Chief Test Pilot and his colleagues were Frank Murphy and Frank Bullen. A fourth pilot, ES Morell, had left the Company and would shortly be replaced by Bill Bedford.
    Taking the parachute, five starter cartridges and a screwdriver the ground crew man would go out to the Sea Fury, place the parachute in the cockpit on the seat, undo the Dzus fastener securing the Koffman starter access flap, insert the cartridge, secure the flap and wait for the pilot. (One day I managed to drop a cartridge into the engine bay. That meant undoing the lower cowling and retrieving the item, all under the eye of an inspector who had to certify that the aircraft was once again safe; I wasn't very popular). With the pilot installed the other fitter and myself would stand at each wingtip and signal that all was clear to start up. At the end of his engine checks the pilot would signal removal of chocks which were specially made of steel and were a good fit to the tyres. To prevent chock slippage, during the fairly rigorous engine test, 'U' shaped steel pins were located on the front of the chocks and fitted into tubes set in the tarmac. Also, the tailwheel was held down by two 1" diameter manila ropes that were secured to bars also set in the tarmac. When the pilot signalled 'chocks away'  the first job was to undo the tailwheel ropes which were often soaked in water and oil making the work more difficult. Next, to the mainwheels to withdraw the pins and remove the chocks. Sometimes the aircraft had crept forward causing the chock to bite into the pin. Signalling the pilot to ease back on the throttle we would then try to push the aircraft backwards. We then tried to lift the pins from the side otherwise there was a danger of falling backwards into the propeller. The situation was more difficult if drop tanks were fitted and when Service pilots were collecting new aircraft.
    When a Sea Fury had been stored overnight the first morning job was to turn over by hand the Bristol Centaurus radial engine two complete revolutions to clear any oil build up in the lower cylinders. My job was to slip a canvas bag with a long rope attached over a propeller blade then stand back whilst two other fitters pulled on the rope to move the blade through 72 degrees (the propeller had five blades). I then put the bag on the next blade and the exercise was repeated until the two revolutions had been completed. The bag procedure was introduced after an engine fired while two fitters were pushing and pulling directly on a blade; one was killed, the other seriously injured.
    We also had three Napier Sabre powered Tempest TT5 target tugs in from RAF Germany for modifications. The method of chocking and tailwheel constraint was the same as that for the Sea Fury although the mainwheels were further apart requiring alternative pin locations. Our real concern was always on start-up. If the engine failed to start on the first cartridge there was likelihood of a fire in the chin mounted oil cooler due to excess fuel leaking from the engine. We had to stand-by with a fire extinguisher ready to spray into the radiator housing containing the oil cooler. Then, of course, the flight was cancelled and a big clean-up took place. The usual pilot for these Tempest flights was Frank Murphy who had many hours on-type during World War 2.
    One afternoon a Tempest was prepared for flight by Frank. He came out to the aircraft closely followed by 'Dolly' Gray the Ministry AID inspector. They were arguing furiously but Frank carried on and climbed into the cockpit. Checks done he started up and waved for the chocks to be removed. Gray now set off  back to the hangar whilst we fitters, one on each wing tip, marshalled the aircraft. To our surprise Frank kept taxying forward after Gray and then quickly turned the aircraft through 180 deg with us desperately trying to keep up with the wing tips. Then a quick burst of throttle helped Gray on his way, fortunately without injury, and Frank set off across the airfield to his take-off point. We never got to the bottom of this incident.
    Arriving one morning at the control tower I was told to get out to the flight line and board the Company Rapide for a test flight; I was regarded as ballast! The pilot was Frank Murphy and we duly set off for the take-off point where we waited for clearance from Heathrow. All Langley flying required their permission as their main runway was E-W whilst Langley's grass strip was basically NE-SW. A TWA Constellation cleared the airspace and we took off, surprisingly still encountering a bit of turbulence from the Connie. We headed to Windsor Castle where Frank did two, fairly low, complete circuits of the round tower before setting off for White Waltham. Tests complete we arrived back at Langley where Frank decided to 'beat-up' the flight line at about 130 mph before a steep climb and landing. Then, it was back to work!
    (To be continued)