Dave Lee, who recently joined the Association, remembers his time at Hawker, starting in the mid 1950s….
I am afraid that this collection of some of my remembered experiences is not particularly exciting as I was a mere craft apprentice, but it may stir the memories of others who were there in those times. I would also add that this is written from memory of times long ago and some of the dates and names may not be strictly accurate.
went to the
There were about ten of us that sat at a bench visually inspecting small parts for defects and we were supervised by a strict overseer who stood at the end of the bench keeping a very close eye on us. His name was Jim and he also worked part time as a steward in the Social Club, the same one that is now the venue for the Hawker Association meetings. We had to use a metal punch to stamp “HAL” on each part that passed.
The factory was extremely noisy because Hunter wings and centre fuselages were being constructed. The main noise came from the compressed air riveting guns on the sheet metal but this was supplemented by the whine of the ‘windy’ drills and the high pitched scream of the routers that were milling out the centre fuselage spars from solid aluminium alloy. I don’t remember seeing any ear defenders; what would modern health and safety exponents make of that!
I started my
apprenticeship as an aircraft electrician in the winter of 1955/56 and was
immediately posted from Richmond Road, where no wiring was being carried out at
that time, to Langley, where Hunter rear fuselages, front fuselages and centre
fuselages were separately wired then joined together to form the complete
fuselage. During this period there was a coach laid on that took us from
incident of note occurred during this twilight period. Hawker had their private
fleet of historic aircraft at
eventually transferred from
was involved in the final wiring operations on the finished Hunters and of
course saw the aircraft test flown then finally flown off for delivery. I seem
to remember Swiss Air Force aircraft flown out by Swiss pilots directly to
I remember several interesting incidents at Dunsfold, some quite dramatic. For its initial engine run the Hunter was tethered in the sound baffled ground running pen and one of the tasks for the electricians was to set the output voltage of the generators. To do this, the electrician had to crawl under the aircraft while the engine was running, wriggle past the nose wheel then finally stand upright with his torso in the bay where the generator adjustment screws were. When the adjustment was made, I think at 3000 rpm, he had to signal to the Rolls Royce engineer in the cockpit to raise the revs to 6000 and then check the generator output again. You could feel the aircraft kick forward at this point. Although I wasn’t present on the occasion, I was told that one day the electrician carrying out this operation had his clothing sucked up towards the engine air intake and a pair of pliers in his pocket was ingested into the engine doing a great deal of damage. Apparently, there were some very white faces among the crew that had to report the incident.
On another occasion, a group of us apprentices was having lunch in the canteen when a Hunter on a test flight flew low over the runway with the airbrake fully extended and the undercarriage down. One of the mechanical apprentices said, “He can’t do that”. We went out to watch the pilot carry out a very flat successful landing with little damage to the air brake. I think the pilot was Frank Bullen.
I spent time at the various Hawker factories, I used the Richmond Road Social
Club throughout. On Saturday evenings a group of us played snooker in the games
room, then later in the evening moved into the dance area where there was a
small band playing. We danced the waltz, the quickstep and the foxtrot, which
enabled us to “chat up” the girls. In the periods that I worked at
a very interesting time at Dunsfold I was transferred back to
I left there, and the aircraft industry, in 1964 to join The Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell as a design draughtsman. I worked my way through the ranks until I retired in 2003, in charge of my own Drawing Office.