Karl Smith remembers the early days of the P.1127... I was one of the lucky few Hawker employees privileged to witness the first tethered hover of the first P.1127, XP831. In actual fact, in the well known published photograph, the figure in the background, apart from the fireman, could well be me.At the time I was working in the Installations Department under John Apted and Elias Gabbay, both sadly no longer with us, and had written the pre-flight test instructions for the air conditioning and pressurisation systems. As an aside I had also been the victim sealing the cabins from the inside when they were slightly pressurised. All had gone smoothly except when we were testing the rig in the Robin Hangar at Richmond Road; the hood locks let go and I was depressurised rather suddenly! No harm was done although I am now, over 50 years later, rather deaf in one ear. But I blame Roger Samways and Co for that with the noise made when they were hot testing the reaction control valves, or from the hover rig jet efflux inside the building. Of course, it could just have been Roger's singing.
At the time of clearing the aircraft for its first hover John Apted and I had driven to Dunsfold in John's Hillman Husky one Monday lunchtime and remained there with day, night and day shifts until mid afternoon on Tuesday when Stan Williams arrived to free us to return to Kingston. I actually nodded off very briefly in Acre Lane, Carshalton, driving home after that. Luckily there was less traffic in those days. Pressure testing XP831 went smoothly and that, we thought, was that. Unfortunately the BS53 engine did not produce enough thrust to exceed the weight of the aircraft so weight reduction was sought; out came the entire cabin air systems totalling 105 lbs! So much for our test programme!Anyway, and I've never known why, I was back at Dunsfold for the first tethered hover over the grid-covered VTO pit. I suspect the need for the pit came from the results of hover rig model tests conducted by my colleagues. They were concerned about possible re-ingestion of exhaust gases, hence the pit, grid and deflector vanes. To preclude any runaway after take-off the aircraft was tethered by heavy cable attached to chain so that the weight to be raised increased the higher the aircraft lifted.; simple and ingenious. As to the weight saving, I've always held the view that the Deputy Chief Test Pilot Hugh Merewether should have flown instead of Bill Bedford. (I'm sorry that neither of them is around to respond to that tongue-in-cheek comment.)