Keith Hobbs remembers some of his overseas trips……
They say join the Navy and see the World. I joined Hawker and saw a good part of it!
My first trip overseas was to Washington at the start of the US Harrier Programme. A party of us from Kingston and Dunsfold headed to the Pentagon to outline and agree the weapons clearance flight test programmes required by the US Authorities for their choice of stores. This started with a presentation by Chris Farara on our proposals for the programme followed by round table discussions with our American counterparts. Later that week a visit to the Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River was organised. This visit was hosted by Colonel Grey of the USMC and included a tour of their armament storage area to view the weapons we would be handling. One memory of this was our guide, patting a particular weapon (which shall remain nameless) remarking that this was one the President would no longer allow them to use.
My next visit abroad was to Egypt, led by Colin
Chandler, with the primary purpose of exploring the possibility of a
Hawk sale. In those days the normal route to Cairo was via Beirut in
the Lebanon. We departed from Heathrow in a VC10, meeting up with Jonny
Johnson from Sales, staying overnight in Beirut and travelling next day
on an MEA flight to Cairo. The main discussions on this trip were held
in the Ministry of War Production and included proposals for limited
manufacture of the aircraft in-country. Bert Tagg, the Head of
Production Engineering at Kingston and John Gale, Product Support
Manager, Dunsfold, were the mainstays for this part of our
As a follow-on from this, the Egyptians arranged a visit to their Air Force Base at Helwan, several miles south of Cairo. Here we saw a hangar full of MiG 21s all in various states of overhaul. The site had the potential for Hawk manufacture but the subject of possible HSA assistance on the upkeep of MiGs was raised. My abiding memory of this trip was of being caught out by the room service staff at Shepherds Hotel where we were staying. I had been warned not to drink the local water and so ordered bottled water from my hotel room. It transpired that they were taking away my empty bottles, filling them with tap water, returning them to my room, opening them and filling a glass for me. I spent three days in bed feeling somewhat sorry for myself. I was young and learnt the hard way. The bitter pill was they charged me for the service!
I had another visit to Cairo some weeks later to progress matters. On this visit Len Woodward took care of the manufacturing aspects and because of my previous experience we stayed at the Hilton. The MiG aspect led to a contract for us to supply parts and support to the Egyptian Air Force and was followed by the visit of a supplier team headed by Maurice Lomas. An in-country support team was set up at Helwan. It included Product Support representatives, Quality Assurance involvement and a liaison arrangement with HSA’s Purchasing Organisation. I recall that one of the team members was Rory Quigley from the Programme Control organisation.
The country I visited the most often was
Finland. The first visit was before contract signature with a team
again headed by Colin Chandler. Its purpose was to agree the top level
framework of the contract prior to detailed discussion taking place at
Kingston between their Air Force’s engineering officers and our
specialists We were met at Helsinki Airport by the HSA agent, Bjorn
Schonberg of Machinery Oy, and were taken to our hotel where we spent
the following week hammering out the details. Reg Gearing, our
Contracts Manager, had the task of drawing up the contract and he was
supported on the design, production and support aspects of the
programme by Gordon Hodson, Bert Tagg and John Gale. The scope of the
discussions covered the standard of aircraft to be supplied together
with details of the equipment fit required by the Finnish Air Force
(this included items the Finns would purchase themselves and provide to
HSA), the amount of manufacturing work to be undertaken in Finland
together our willingness to provide the jigs, tools, parts and data
needed for their manufacture, and the training needed for both ground
crew and aircrew. There were also separate commercial discussions which
I was not privy to. It was a very busy and hectic week with the Finnish
Air Force and their government officials.
The visit ended in true Finnish style with a sauna for all who were involved during the week of discussions. This turned out to be a feature of most of our subsequent visits. It was not my idea of fun, sitting in a chamber heated to 110◦ C in ones birthday suit followed by a jump into the swimming pool. It brought us all down to the same level with CMC surprisingly looking no different to the remainder of us! Later visits led to saunas at the lakeside followed by a pontoon run and a dip in the lake. At next day’s meetings you felt insect bites in the most unusual places.
Shortly after contract signature a visit was needed to establish and agree the best way of translating our publications into the Finnish language together with the subsequent type setting and printing. To this end I set off with Pat Finnigan from Technical Publications and Barry Brown from the Purchasing Department print room for a tour of various printing establishments around Finland. We were accompanied by a member of the Finnish Air Force to act as our interpreter and overseer. This involved visits to Tampere, Lhati, Kuopio, Helsinki and Jyvaskyla. The travelling by car was interesting but led to long days due to the distances involved. The outcome was that the Finnish Air Force would do the translation, because of the technical content of the manuals, with printing undertaken at one of the printers we visited.
Once the main contract was in full swing we had quarterly progress meetings with the customer alternating between Kingston and Jyvaskyla. My first of such meetings was in mid-winter. After a change of flights at Helsinki I arrived at Jyvaskyla and summoned a taxi. We set off for the hotel down a tree lined frozen road which glinted in the headlights. Looking at the speedo I saw we were doing the equivalent of 50mph and as we approached a tee junction my heart sank. I was relieved when the studded tyres brought us to a halt. I then understood why the Finns were so good at rally driving. These meetings were attended by representatives from Design, Contracts and Product Support with myself from Programme Control. Our hotel was outside the town and somewhat isolated apart from an overhead ski lift. These meeting continued over a two-year period.
Interspersed with these sessions I had regular progress meetings between our manufacturing departments and the Finnish aircraft constructor, Valmet Oy, at their plant in Kiuruvesi. These get-togethers were to monitor our manufacturing departments’ progress on the supply of data and parts for Valmet’s share in the build programme, and overseeing Valmets own activities. Ron Bryan was the main contact in our manufacturing departments for this work. The Finnish plant was at an isolated location alongside the main north south route across Finland. Our hotel was a ‘motel’ on this road which was subject to an all-night flow of heavy traffic including air brake applications; not conducive to sleep. I recall one visit when we were taken to lunch and on the adjacent table were representatives of Russian industry with staff from Valmet for discussions on Migs (yet again!) We were introduced to the Russians in their smart uniforms with much heel clicking on their part. Later we appointed a manufacturing representative to reside at the factory. This was Mike Boddington from HSA Brough.
For the final meeting I had with the Finnish Air Force they suggested an alternative location for it. Apparently they had a log cabin inside the Arctic Circle and we were welcome to hold it there. All previous meetings had been in a hotel at Jyvaskyla, arriving there on a Sunday night and not leaving the hotel until Friday afternoon, so we naturally jumped at the invitation. We flew by scheduled airline to Ivalo and then went by road to their cabin 100 miles inside the arctic circle. It was a delightful location alongside a lake with visiting deer and as it was September there was no snow but vivid autumn colours. It goes without saying that we all had to have a sauna. We were told afterwards that although the lake was not frozen the permafrost was eighteen inches down – never again!!!. It was a useful meeting held at a superb location and our hosts looked after us well. The Finns had flown to Ivalo in one of their Dakotas and offered us a lift back to Helsinki. Much to our regret this would not have got us back to Helsinki in time for our return flight to the UK.
(To be continued)