concludes his story.
PART 3 LIFE AFTER APPRENTICESHIP
After my apprenticeship finished in October 1961 I continued with my academic studies by doing a two year Higher National Course (HNC) on a three evening/week basis. This was important because I still hoped to gain Chartered Engineer status and I needed HNC as one of the qualifying steps in securing my Corporate Membership.
I would often have conversations with Tommy Wake about his career at Hawkers, to further my interest and knowledge in the various developments in military aviation up to the 1960s. By the time we reached 1962 Tommy told me that he knew of a post which had become available for a Detail Draughtsman in the Research and Development Department.
This department was run by Charles Plantin and although I had never spoken to him I certainly knew who he was. I told Tommy I would love to be considered for the post and a few days later I was interviewed by Charles Plantin. Charles acquainted me with the work undertaken by his department and I was fired with enthusiasm listening to what he had to say. The outcome was that Charles offered me the job and a couple of weeks later I joined his department.
Always impeccably dressed, Charles was a tall elegant man who, to me, was a true gentleman (to coin a rather old fashioned word). He never forgot to ask me how I was getting on from time to time and I was always addressed by him as ‘Shorey’. To me, he was always ‘Mr Plantin’ and I would never dared to have called him ‘Charles’ to his face! Clearly Charles was an erudite and competent engineer but unfortunately I was never able to develop the rapport with him that I had enjoyed with Tommy Wake. This is why I found David Hassard's recent and excellent presentation of Charles’s career and private life to be so interesting and informative.
On my first day in R&D I was introduced to Diggy Mottram and he was to become my mentor for the next couple of years. Diggy then passed me over to Denis Logan who was a senior and very experienced Design Engineer. It transpired that my role was to work closely with Denis doing the stress calculations and detail drawing work for manufacture of the various components making up ‘Wiffle Tree’ linkages, to test load airframe structures.
At the end of my first day in the department I had very mixed feelings over what I had let myself in for. On the one hand I was keen to get stuck in but at the same time I wondered ho w I would ever get to grips with the tasks I was expected to undertake and master. However my apprehensions were completely unfounded as I was in very good hands. I found both Denis Logan and Diggy Mottram to be two of the most patient and knowledgeable people I could have ever worked with and for.
It was whilst working in the R&D Department that I learned Tommy Wake was to retire after spending 40 plus years of service with the company. On his last day in the office I told Tommy that I envied his career because he had seen so much change and technological advancement during his time. He responded by saying he had been fortunate and with the uncertain times being faced in the early 1960s he wondered if we as a nation would have much of an aircraft industry left by the time I reached his age. How true that prophecy proved to be. I am now older than Tommy was when he retired and sadly all we left have today are a few remnants of our once great industry.
As we moved through 1963 I began to wonder whether I would have a long term future working on military aircraft. The Labour Party were promising to scrap most military aviation projects on the drawing board and that is exactly what they did when they eventually came to power in early 1964. Out went the TSR2 and the P1154, amongst others. The P1154 was, of course, to have been Hawker’s supersonic successor to the P1127. In fact looking back, it seems hard to believe that 50 years have passed since the Harrier as we now know it, first took to the skies.
I was due to be married in September 1964 and I recognised that, at age 23, my aeronautical experience was still extremely limited. If cut-backs were to be made, I felt my long term future at Hawkers would be very uncertain. I therefore made the decision to look for alternative employment; a decision I did not make lightly. However, within a year or so cutbacks were made at Kingston which helped me to justify the action I had taken.
PART 4 LIFE AFTER HAWKERS
After resigning from Hawker I joined Elliott Automation as a Mechanical Design Draughtsman. I was attached to the Inertial Navigation Team which was responsible for developing on-board navigation systems for commercial airliners. Inertial navigation was particularly useful when flying over large expanses of water such as the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and Elliotts had a lot of interest being shown by quite a few airlines. I found the work to be very interesting but I was to encounter a major snag. Unfortunately, there was insufficient mechanical work to keep me occupied on a full time basis and I was often switched to working on the design of printed circuit boards. Regrettably PC board design was definitely not my cup of tea and after a couple of years with Elliotts I began to look around for other opportunities.
After a while I came across a small engineering company, employing only 35 people, which specialised in the design and manufacture of vibratory materials handling equipment. Although they were very successful in what they did they had experienced a number of structural failures due to metal fatigue. They were therefore looking for someone who had some experience of calculating the stresses being imposed on the structures to avoid future failures. My Hawker R& D experience had given me the level of know-how the company was seeking and I secured the post of Design Engineer. All the equipment was custom designed and manufactured to suit the applications and before long I was carrying out on-site surveys to determine space availability to accommodate the equipment. This led me onto carrying out costings for manufacture and installation and also writing up the proposals. Eventually I progressed to selling the equipment which was a role I particularly enjoyed. I was with this company for only seven years but it was to set the scene for the future.
I remained in the materials handling industry for the rest of my working life and I made steady progress in gaining seniority as I grew older. The last 22 years of my working life were spent with a large multi-national organisation where I was a Sales Project Manager. In this post I was responsible for the design and sales of multi-million pound bespoke automated materials handling systems to many well known companies across the UK and Europe. I headed a team of specialist engineers and technicians and it was my trust in their experience and abilities to get things right which gave me the confidence to sell the systems to the clients.
Looking back on my career raises the question of whether I would do the same again, were it possible to re-live my life. My answer to that question would be yes, most definitely.
Although my time at Hawker had its problems - for example, how to survive on the low apprenticeship wages I received - these situations pale into insignificance when all the benefits and the happy times are taken into account. Above all, the basic training I received at Hawker was second to none in my view. Indeed, it proved to be the rock solid foundation which was to set me up for the rest of my working life.
I had partly achieved one of my initial objectives by working on airframe structures although by the time I resigned I was not sufficiently qualified to gain Chartered Engineer status. However I continued with my studies and I did eventually become a Chartered Engineer in 1969. This was with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, however, and not the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Throughout my time at Kingston I was extremely lucky to have worked with so many clever and talented people. Indeed it was their collective patience and understanding in teaching me my craft which helped to formulate the way in which I was to develop my career. I had joined Hawkers as a fresh-faced lad in 1957 and I remained with them until late 1964. Forty six years later I still remember my time at Kingston with considerable fondness and affection. There is no doubt in my mind that Hawker was a superb company to work for and I am so thankful to have been a small part of it.