Sir Donald Spiers
is well known in Hawker circles for his
involvement with the Kestrels, as the Ministry of Defence (Procurement
Executive) [MoD(PE)] Hawk Project Director and as Controller Aircraft,
responsible for the procurement of all aerospace materiel for the UK
armed forces; and issuer of the famous CA Release.
Mechanical Sciences at Cambridge he served an apprenticeship with the
de Havilland Engine Company and became a gas turbine development
engineer in the Halford Laboratory. Joining the Air Ministry in 1961
his operational research interests included the Kestrel Evaluation
Squadron (KES). With the MoD(PE) he was, amongst other things, also
Project Director for Jaguar, Tornado and Eurofighter.
On leaving the
MoD Sir Donald (he was Knighted in1993) held a number aerospace
industry directorships and served as President of the Royal
Aeronautical Society and of the Popular Flying Association.
Evaluation Squadron - And A Few Other Things
In 1960, said Sir Donald, the Air Ministry had three
principle arms: strategic nuclear deterrence with the ‘V’ force, air
defence with Lightnings and ground attack/reconnaissance with Hunters.
The Douglas AGM-65 Skybolt air-launched nuclear missile was
in prospect for the ’V’ bombers but in 1963 the US government cancelled
it in favour of the submarine launched Polaris. Harold MacMillan then
agreed with John Kennedy that Polaris would be bought for UK
submarines, which meant the end of the RAF’s nuclear deterrence role.
So the importance of ground attack and reconnaissance increased for the
UK’s overseas commitments, especially in Cold War Germany, but also in
Aden and Indonesia.
The Air Ministry
became concerned about the vulnerability of the overseas bases -
Guttersloh was close to the East German border, for example - so they
turned to Hawkers and Bristol Engines with their great engineers, Camm
and Hooker. Ralph Hooper’s Hawker funded vertical and short take-off
(V/STOL) P.1127 was adopted and two prototypes and four development
aircraft were built.
In 1963 nine
developed P.1127s were ordered for an international evaluation squadron
to be formed in 1965. These were the Kestrel FGAMk1s operated by the
UK(RAF)/US (Army, Navy and Air Force)/FRG(Luftwaffe) manned Tripartite
Evaluation Squadron (TES) whose objective was to examine the
operational use of V/STOL aircraft. The TES main base (MB) was at RAF
West Raynham whence the Kestrels operated to RAF Bircham Newton, the
Stanford Army training area, the disused North Pickenham RAF station,
and a field called Rabey’s Wood.
Sir Donald showed splendid archive film of the KES operating in many
environments. From grass, STOs were satisfactory but VTOs were not
practicable because of ground erosion and debris ingestion. However,
the rolling vertical take-off (RVTO) with some forward movement solved
the problem. VTOs were confined to pads of metal planking or sprayed
plastic. Vertical landings (VL) also required a forward rolling
technique (RVL) or the use of pads. It was possible to operate a number
of aircraft from one site and to carry out multiple STOs from the same
Operating away from the MB was
found not to be difficult and between-flights servicing to be
practicable. Operationally the VTO radius of action (65 miles) was too
small but that from the STO (160 miles) satisfactory. Pads stood out
from the air so had to be camouflaged and STO strips became visible in
time as the grass turned brown. The KES flew 930 sorties and some 600
After the KES was disbanded the
Germans took no further interest, their Kestrels joining those
allocated to the USA which, named XV-6As, carried out tri-service
trials and eventually were allocated to NASA for research flying.
In the event it was none of the participating US air arms
that bought the RAF’s Harrier, but the United States Marine Corps.
(AV-8A). Sixty Harriers were ordered for the RAF in 1966 and entered
service in April 1969. This led to the Sea Harriers and to today’s GR9s
serving in Afghanistan.
Donald was involved in RAF trials in Aden and Malaya to examine the
vulnerability of dispersed aircraft, and showed some interesting film
records, which indicated that from the air at low level one had to be
within 1,000 ft to see them. He also showed film of the victorious
Harrier effort in the 1969 Trans-Atlantic air race code named Operation
Nylon; New York - LONdon.
Moving on to the Hawk Sir Donald said that, as the P.1182, it defeated
the BAC P59 to satisfy AST397 for the RAF’s new advanced trainer. The
fixed price contract would be worth £100 million to HSA once a twelve
point contractual dispute with MoD(PE) was settled. The negotiation
between Kingston’s Colin (now Sir Colin) Chandler and Sir Donald was
stalled when Sir Donald proposed, “You take six and I’ll take six.”
Agreed they sealed the deal over lunch. The Hawk was another Kingston
success story - in May 2009 there were 646 in active service with
Sir Donald reminded us that the Hurricane won the Battle of Britain,
showed a film of ladies working on Camel manufacture and George Bulman
with ‘The Last of the Many”.
Appropriately, the man responsible for devising and developing the
P.1127, Ralph Hooper, gave the vote of thanks.