After a spell in the Service School, where RAF crews were taught about
the Hunter, I was moved back to ‘Flights’ and worked with Jimpy and the
crew for another year. He was called Jimpy because he looked similar to
a cartoon character of that name, a small, round faced lad who appeared
in newspapers and magazines, including the Daily Mirror, during the
1940s and 50s. Our Jimpy was all of 5 feet tall but as far as work went
he was just as tall as any of us. He could get his hand in the Hunter
aileron hydro booster access panel whereas I, among others, could not,
so he got the job if adjustments were required.
When we loaded 1000 lb ballast bombs, in those days
before ‘health and safety’, we had to lever them along the floor from
the side of the hangar where they lived, onto a porters’ trolley. It
took six of us to do this with one to put a jack handle behind the bomb
to stop it rolling back as we manhandled it onto the trolley forks.
Then came the hard bit, getting the load on the wheels whilst
keeping the bomb still with the jack handle. Four of us used all our
might to pull the trolley shafts back and this is where Jimpy came in.
He was small enough to climb up the cross bars on the trolley shafts
which added enough weight to tip the balance and get the bomb on board.
He then leapt off while two men pushed down and two men pushed up to
stop the load from overwhelming us, making the trolley fall flat. Next
we had to move the trolley across the hangar floor to under the
aircraft wing. This was more of a drag than a roll because the cast
iron trolley wheels had poor bearings and were reluctant to rotate,
scoring the concrete hangar floor.
Once under the aircraft we had a sling on which to place the bomb
and a pair of Tirfor hand operated winches hooked on each side of the
pylon to hoist the bomb into place where it was held by the
pilot-operated bomb release. Loading four bombs took a couple of hours
- so much for technology, or lack of it!
Jimpy always had a straight face and must have been
a little hard if hearing because whenever spoken to he always said
“Wazzat Shag?” and you had to repeat. He called everyone Shag without
exception, it was just his way and we took it with amusement. We often
had visits from the armed forces top brass. Once an admiral said
something to Jimpy who replied with his usual “Wazzat Shag?” We
all had to suppress our laughter, but the Admiral didn’t seem very
Jimpy and the lads in ‘Flights’ prepared Hunter
WB188 for the world speed record flight by Neville Duke. You can see
the aircraft at the Tangmere museum. They also worked on ‘the big
Hunter shoot’ to prove that the four 30 mm Aden guns were reliable.
First of all we ground tested the guns firing into the butts which was
a large gravel and earth hummock to take the shells. In front were two
wooden posts about 10 ft apart holding a stack of 2 inch thick timber
boards to keep the gravel in. The aircraft was parked facing the butts
about 30 yards back with its nose wheel in a concrete groove and a
jacked up cradle under the rear fuselage to stop the aircraft bucking
with the guns firing. We had no ear plugs and the noise was terrific
and is probably why I’m hard of hearing today.
The tests started in late summer and continued
through a very cold winter, dawn to dusk. We had two small Nissen huts,
one for making up the belts, the other for tea breaks. The ammo came in
steel boxes, thirty rounds apiece, already fitted with links. These we
joined up in fives, removing the last three rounds as the gun pack took
147 rounds per gun. When winter came there was powder snow and with the
wind blowing towards us it drifted over all our outside equipment. Our
hut had a pot-bellied stove but our requests for fuel were turned down
as we were deemed to be ‘outside crew’. So we took our hacksaws with us
to the butts and soon branches began to disappear from nearby trees up
to height of around 8 feet, as far as we could reach. With Jimpy on our
shoulders we could reach a few feet more.
In the mornings some got a lift in our van down to
the butts, the rest walked - past the fire station, behind the control
tower, past the three production hangar bays and the dope shop, the
hangar used for safety equipment and servicing, several Nissen huts
used as the telephone exchange, the service training school and the
pilots’ mess, across the road from the Stovolds Hill entrance, past the
armoury to arrive frozen stiff at the butts. We took to passing behind
the production hangar to collect a few lumps of fuel from the pile
outside the boiler house….until an accidental solution to our fuel
problem was found. After we had shot the butt timbers to pieces we
called the Maintenance Department to come and renew them. Naturally we
grabbed the old boards for fuel. “Just let us know when you want them
replaced again”, said the maintenance crew - problem solved.
The guns were harmonised at 1000 yards using a
barrel scope and a sighting board and could be adjusted vertically and
laterally with worm gears. The next time our heating fuel ran out we
set the guns wide apart, removed the rear fuselage jack and fired. The
Hunter bucked up and down and the butt boards were cut from top to
bottom almost to each end. Guns reset, problem solved again, more fuel.
Meanwhile the in-flight firing had started with
Neville Duke using sea targets off Ford in Sussex. On his first trip
the nose leg dropped on firing so the locks were tightened. The same
thing happened on the next two flights so the locks were tightened even
more and the nose leg stayed put. Unfortunately the leg failed to
extend for landing so Neville had to land without it, holding the nose
up as long as he could then gently lowering it. The runway ground
through the base of the first three nose frames which were repaired
later after solving the up-lock problem. In another Hunter after a full
fire-out the windscreen de-icer system shook apart and the nose wheel
bay was awash with alcohol. Ron Selley, the charge hand, told me to
remove the system. A tall and slim physique was necessary to work in
the confines of the bay. As the aircraft was still hot from its flight
the alcohol had vaporised and after breathing the vapour for a few
minutes I nearly passed out blind drunk. I was lent up against a wall
to recover and the nose bay slowly drained and dried.
During the flight trials it took us just seven
minutes to rearm and turn the aircraft round. Neville didn’t even get
out of the cockpit. His flight to the range and back did not take much
longer. We all had different jobs for the turn-round. Two men kept
about six gun packs loaded and ready for use, Jimpy and three others
removed and replaced the packs and every three flights I saw to
refuelling and topping up the IPN (iso propyl nitrate) starter tank. We
did this without any hurry or urgency, the jobs just needed seven
minutes. When things got a bit more intense we borrowed a second
aircraft from Production which Bill Bedford flew. On his first run he
flew into a shell ricochet which took a lump out of his port wing;
another job to sort out. Eventually we ironed out all the problems and
got the system going.
On my earlier posting to Instrumentation I only had
occasional contact with armaments. One day a high speed Paillard-Bolex
16mm cine camera arrived. After loading a film in the dark room my
boss, Gordon Nuttall, and I went to the gun butts where I had to kneel
a yard from the cartridge ejector tubes and when Gordon said “fire” the
chap in the cockpit pulled the trigger and I started the camera. We
needed to film the trajectory of the cartridge cases so the curvature
of the ejector tubes could altered to ensure the cases cleared the
aircraft to avoid the damage that was being caused at the time.
Often we would have three 8 mm cine cameras set in
the wing, fuselage and tail bullet to record store releases and rocket
firing and a 35 mm cine camera filming a panel of duplicate cockpit
instruments. The camera was mounted in the instrument panel filming the
panel through a mirror opposite to gain distance so the complete panel
was in view and focused. This set-up was mounted in place of the
ammunition tanks. We also had a Hussenot photographic paper trace
recorder which provided time histories of additional parameters.
As soon as the aircraft landed after a test flight
the bods in Flight Development in the control tower wanted the results.
I had to remove the cameras and unload and develop the films in the
darkroom. Fortunately photography had been one of my hobbies since I
was ten years old. In the totally blacked out darkroom I took the cine
films out of the cameras and put them in the developer which I had
premixed from basic chemicals; no bought-in stuff ready for use.
Unfortunately the 8 ft by 3 ft room was not only airless but all I had
for the films was a Dallon tank designed for old fashioned glass whole
plates used in the Victorian era. It was about 6 ins square in plan and
8 ins deep. Into this went four cine films and a paper roll from the
Hussenot. An alarm clock told me when to take the paper roll out and
put the lid back on. With the red safe light on the paper was rinsed
and put in the fixer. With the red light off I took the tank lid off
again, rotated and opened each roll of film, fed them through the fixer
and when fixed opened the dark room door and rinsed the films and paper
in the lab sink. After a few breaths of fresh air I strung the films
over my outstretched arms, climbed down the steep staircase to the
hangar floor and then ran over to the control tower where the still wet
films were taken from arms and the door closed on me without a word
being said or a chance of knowing the results - only a quick glance to
see that the development was OK.
Thinking back on this ill-equipped outfit at the
forefront of fighter aircraft production, we performed wonders in spite
of the Company’s tight purse strings.
An event worth mentioning happened one day, when I
was calibrating instruments which we did on all aircraft each month. A
group of men came in with an instrument wanting to know if it was
accurate. One of them was an American. I knew we had visitors as there
was an F-86 Sabre on the hard standing and a car load of people. After
testing the instrument, which was alright, I had a few words about it
with the American and some of the others, and off they went. Gordon
Nuttall then said “Do you know who you were talking to?” I didn’t so
Gordon told me it was Chuck Yeager who was here to evaluate the Hunter
for NATO with a view to America financing it to re-equip European air
forces. He had been flying the first Hunter Mk 6 in dog fights against
another American pilot in the Sabre. I got to develop the gyro gun
sight camera film and there was a lot of Sabre on it!