In the first part of his memoir Peter Ryans gives an insight into working at Hawkers in the early post-war years….

Part 1 - HAWKER

I left what was then Hampton Grammar School in 1948 and commenced a four and a half year engineer apprenticeship, with day release, starting at Canbury Park Road. After experience in the detail fitting, machine shop, heat treatment and tool room I was sent down to Richmond Road with an advance party and one or two main assemblies for the first production Sea Hawk.

Looking back at life in industry at that time presents quite a different picture to that of today. I find this particularly so in the world of ‘health and safety‘. Despite our often derisory comments in this field there is no doubt that things had to and have improved over the years. Some of the things that spring to mind include the open tub of molten sodium cyanide at the end of our work bench into which we would suspend small hand made tools and jigs before quenching to case harden them. There was Sandy leaning over the large trichloroethylene wing skin de-greasing bath, smoking, with a somewhat bemused smile on his face. The noise level in the area where Meteor rear fuselages were being riveted up, for either Gloster or Armstrong Whitworth, was incredible. Ear defenders? What are those?

Ramblings Of An Ex-Hawker Aircraft Apprentice

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I well remember significantly altering the contours of a large Sea Fury wing skin when attempting to lower it into a bath for anodic treatment and I happened to bridge the two bus bars supplying electrical power to the bath. A roll of black insulating tape got rid of that problem. I can only remember one occasion when my status as an apprentice was taken advantage of and that was when I was in the machine shop and had to sharpen router cutters for the following night shift. The work was mind numbing and after a couple of days they employed a woman to do this job. Sexist? On another occasion in the machine shop a mill operator had a serious accident when he slipped on the oil soaked duck board in front of his machine and fell into the rotating cutters. It is hard to believe now but it had not been all that long beforehand when the machines in that shop had been individually driven by leather belting from overhead common shafting.

The Sea Hawk advanced party was initially located in the Richmond Road factory in what I believe was the south west corner of the building ( the main road end, not the river end ) since Leyland was still occupying the remainder of the factory. There were of course no offices at this end at that time. Leyland was gradually clearing floor space as it was completing the assembly and despatch of the last of a tank transporter contract. Soon we had the Sea Hawk front, centre and rear fuselage assemblies, each on their respective trolleys. Once Leyland had cleared most of the floor space we moved about half way down the factory and the process of assembly began. Whenever Navy brass visited Richmond Road to view their new aircraft we used to push the three fuselage trolleys together to give the impression of a complete unit. Soon we were joined by various other departments including Sea Fury wing jigs, coppersmiths and a rather rudimentary paint shop behind large curtains.

I won’t go into any detail about the various problems we had or the personalities involved except to mention Bert Weedon and Wally Raynor who had moved in and occupied an office on the balcony. I was moved into Wally's office for a while to lay out a scale model of the factory floor with representative Sea Hawks, jigs and various departments, to help shoehorn everything in. I particularly remember at about this time acting as a guide to a party of de Havilland apprentices who were visiting us from Hatfield. At the wash-up they said they were particularly impressed with the standard of surface finish and riveting on the air flow surfaces. After visiting Hatfield a few years later on a Comet course and with subsequent Vampire and Venom experience, I could appreciate the visitor's comments.

I consider that the experience I gained during my time on the assembly of the first Sea Hawk was invaluable. We all worked as a team with the trade boundaries becoming decidedly blurred on occasions. There were often instances when assembly drawings did not quite match up to reality and Jimmy Wild was a frequent visitor from the Design Office to sort things out and make the odd drawing alteration. It was also beneficial having the knowledge of the Rolls-Royce representative there as he brought the Nene, positioned nearby, up to the latest required standard. Once the aircraft was fully assembled and all systems functioned, short of running the engine, we removed the wings, loaded it on a couple of low loaders and off it went for its test flights.

After a while I went to Langley where I was employed on the structural test frame making tensile links and attaching them to the P.1067 Hunter specimen. I was still there when we had the first pull and the wing fractured ( I believe it was the undercarriage girder which failed ). However, with some beefed up material section and substituting 2BA bolts for some rivets, it sailed through the next pull. Reg's staff employed on the test frame also had the task of running up the engines of all the various types of aircraft held at Langley at that time (Hart, Tom Tit, Whitney Straight, Hurricane, extended leg Sea Fury and the Napier Sabre Fury spring to mind) which made for very interesting Friday afternoons.

I then assisted with the repair of Sea Fury wings damaged during carrier operations supporting ground forces in Korea. My last job at Langley was to attend the final Sea Fury maintenance course in the Service Department ( run by John Gale and Len Hearsey ) with the final batch of navy Petty Officers. The last six months of my apprenticeship were spent in the Design Offices back at Canbury Park Road.

I remember one classic moment when a rather irate Sir Syd (Sydney Camm) came into the offices with a bunch of photographs from Kinloss showing the results of a Hunter Mk1 landing with a touch of drift on: the cockpit had broken from the fuselage just behind the cockpit rear bulkhead. A modification had been embodied post delivery to introduce a pair of whip antennae mounted in the fuselage skin just behind the cockpit canopy. Fine for communication purposes but not much good for resistance to side loading in this area of the fuselage which also accommodated the gun pack. I then had the job of checking the shear strength of the fuselage of what was our current venture, the P.1121 which had a rather large de Havilland Gyron planned for it.

Another memory of this time is spending many hours doing performance and area rule calculations with John Fozard - of course all on a ten inch slide rule. I spent something like two and a half years in total in these offices before being commissioned into the Engineer Branch of the Royal Air Force.  (To be continued)