Keith Hobbs’s experiences continued….
4. USA - Hawk
     For the next overseas visit I changed continents, this time it was Los Angeles, California and it was the week before Christmas 1979. The purpose was to collect the Request for Quotation (RFQ) for the supply of a training aircraft for the US Navy, issued by Navair . I was accompanied by Gordon Hodson and Reg Gearing.
    We collected our copy of these large documents and attempted to digest them as we sat around the hotel’s swimming pool. Alongside us was a shopping mall playing non-stop “Jingle Bells”. We returned to the UK for Christmas but knowing we would be returning for a three month’s stint in the New Year. I had got married that year on 29th September and after recent trips to Finland and the USA I decided to keep this news to myself until after Boxing Day.
Overseas For Hawker

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The first week in January saw us settled in LA at Longbeach alongside the Douglas plant. Gordon Hodson was our leader and Mike French and Reg Gearing looked after contract matters. We were a team of about six or seven with representatives from Product Support and Design with additional resources available to us back at Kingston. It was decided that we would submit a stand-alone bid to the US authorities. Douglas would submit their own bid and also advise us on presentation and the best way to prepare our bid. The three month period soon went by and although we managed to do some sightseeing in the early weeks, towards the end it was work seven days a week. Our submission went in on time and we were short listed for the next round. Others in the race were most of the US aircraft manufactures and the Alpha Jet from France. The Douglas bid did not get through.

5. Kenya - Hawk
    On my return to the UK things had taken off on the Hawk front with both Kenya and Indonesia showing serious interest. As the Finnish programme was taking up a lot of my time I decided to take on board the programme liaison tasks for the Kenyan Hawk with my deputy, Eddie Hunt, looking after the Indonesian programme. My first involvement was to chair a conference at Kingston with representatives of the Kenyan Air Force, MoD(PE) and the Kingston experts from the Design, Product Support, Contracts and Sales departments. Following this the contract evolved but some of the detail needed to be defined in Kenya. To this end I set off with Dennis Whittaker, from Product Support, with the task of agreeing the ground equipment and ground crew training requirements.
     We landed in Nairobi and headed to the home of the UK Defence Attaché and planned our movements for the week. This started with a visit to the Kenyan Air Force headquarters at Eastleigh and to get there we had to drive through a shanty town which was quite an eye opener. At Eastleigh we defined most of the requirements but they were subject to agreements by the users. Therefore we set off north next day to Nanyuki, one of the Air Force main bases, and with their Engineering Officer, John Kiluta, looked at the equipments already available at the base and so refined the Eastleigh listing.
    We had two days at Nanyuki spending the night locally at the Mount Kenya Safari Club. We had quite a job getting there as there had been a heavy rainfall and the mud track with its high camber was like an ice rink. For much of the time we travelled sideways and arrived at reception with a car which looked like a mud heap. After our two days Dennis was not feeling too well so we decided to return to the UK.

On arrival at Nairobi we found that the BA flight had gone down and only the Kenyan Air flight was available, so we took it. Every seat on the 707 was taken which was unusual due to the height of the airfield above sea level. Later we learnt that we had taken off with reduced fuel, so an unscheduled stop at Athens was made to take on more. The Greeks were not keen to accept Kenyan credit so we spent the night in the airport lounge whilst negotiations took place. Next day we got as far as Paris for another fuel stop; eventually we arrived at Heathrow - all I can say is poor long suffering Dennis.

    We followed-up this visit some two weeks later and agreed with the Kenyans the spares package needed to support their aircraft. On this occasion we were joined by Jock Martin from Spares Provisioning. As we crossed the Equator on the way to Nanyuki Jock noticed a stall selling local knicknacks and he wanted a souvenir of the trip. What we forgot to tell him was that the purchase price was about half of their asking price; you can guess for yourself what he paid!
6. USA - T45
    For the next round of bids for the US Navy’s trainer our team was stationed at the McDonnell Douglas Corporation plant at St Louis. This site was selected as they had much experience and expertise on naval aviation and carrier operations. Roger Dabbs took over the leadership and we joined forces with MDC to submit a joint proposal. To cut a long story short our proposal went in on time, we won and the T45, based on the Hawk design, was born.
    On return to the UK it was decided to reorganise the Departments and Chris Farara took over the programme management aspects as Hawk Project Manager and I joined the Purchasing Dept. as Purchasing Manager- Hawk.
However, this did not bring an end to my travels abroad
7. Algeria - Migs and Sukhois
Little did I know when I joined the Purchasing Department that it would lead to a visit to Algeria. The Algerian Air Force had a fleet of aging Russian aircraft which they were finding difficult to support. This led to an approach to BAe proposing a visit to Algeria to establish what assistance we could provide. The team of Brough airframe experts and Kingston equipment suppliers was led by Brough executive Barry Kensett. I led the supplier team which included companies such as Rolls-Royce, Dowty-Rotol, Ferranti, Smiths Industries, Martin Baker, Normalair and Plessey. On arrival in Algiers we were taken to our hotel, the El Aurassi at the top of the town, to be told that reasonable hotel space was limited so we would need to double up. My roommate was Jim Adams from the Kingston Contracts Dept; an essential member of the team.
     Our first day took us to a facility on the outskirts of Algiers, Maison Blanche. It was rather run down but could well be modernised and updated so that airframe work could be undertaken. The next day was Friday so members of the Moslem Algerian staff were not available to us. The BAe team, after a session to discuss out thoughts regarding Maison Blanche, decided to explore the town so we descended from our hotel and took off down the hill, through the Arab quarter, to the sea. It was fascinating but after a while we had our doubts and one Brough member who lingered behind us found himself, much to his surprise, all alone. A distraught figure soon came around the corner and caught us up; he did not stray again. Next day at the Air Force Headquarters we were told by the staff that they would not venture into that area as it was a place where the French were massacred during the troubles; ignorance is bliss. The Dowty reps. somehow heard that a local nunnery needed some DIY work undertaken at their convent and so set off in the early morning to see what could be done. We never did find out what they got up to but they had their legs pulled for the remainder of the trip!

The next day was Armistice Day and we were invited by our consulate to attend the memorial service at the allied war cemetery in Algiers. We ordered our wreath at a local florist, to be delivered on the day. Much to our surprise when it arrived it was not a poppy wreath but an ornate floral creation made up of parrot flower plumes and the like. Presumably our request had been misinterpreted; our schoolboy French must not have come up to the mark. Despite this we attended the service which was quite moving and after the dignitaries had placed their poppy wreaths it was our turn. Two of us solemnly walked forward, holding the wreath between us, and amid some smiles laid the wreath in on behalf of BAe.

The following day was scheduled to be a visit to an Air Force base to inspect some of their Russian aircraft, aging Mig17s and Su7s. We set off for the local base at Boufarik and were ushered onto a waiting transport aircraft which was equipped for parachute jumping, with wooden side seats and strap hangers.  We took off and followed the coast as far as Oran and then headed inland over the Atlas Mountains and into the Sahara. We landed an hour or so after take-off at an isolated desert landing strip. It was a day for questions to the suppliers such as: could we service Russian equipments in the UK, could it be reverse engineered, could equipments be replaced by more up to date UK equivalents etc. etc. The team spent all day pouring over the aircraft, had detailed discussions with the Algerian engineers and established the thoughts and intentions of our hosts.

The visit ended with a meal in the officers mess. The table was laid out with their best cutlery, several layers of it, and it was evident that we were in for a bean feast. All I can say was that our hosts enjoyed it but it was not to our palate and some dishes we found hard to identify. We flew back to Algiers later that evening, ignored the hotel’s evening meal and took to our beds.

The remainder of the week we went backwards and forwards to the Air Force Headquarters for detailed discussions with the senior staff to enable us to finalise our proposals. On our return to the UK the suppliers laid out their suggested way forward and provided detailed costed plans whilst BAe did the same for the airframe aspects. These proposals were consolidated by the Contracts Department and were forwarded to the Algerian authorities. Needless to say you can’t win them all and the Algerians expanded their fleet of aircraft by obtaining further, more modern, Russian aircraft :Mig 29s and Su 24s.

    As an afterthought, most overseas trips leave you with memories. With this one they were most unusual; they were of apricots. There must have been a bumper harvest of them that year in Algeria as when you ordered orange juice for the hotel breakfast it arrived as apricot juice. For the evening meal apple pie was served as apricot pie and for a main course a lamb chop was accompanied by grilled apricots. It was rumoured that I said that if I were to be offered apricots when I get home it could lead to divorce. Fortunately, now many years later, I am still happily married!
8. USA - Single Seat Hawk
    A radar was needed for the Single Seat Hawk and favoured suppliers were in the USA. A party of us set off to St Louis to see what Hughes had to offer. The technical team was led by Roger Dabbs and included avionic, software and logistic experts and I was the commercial representative. We spent two days at their plant assessing what was available, their willingness to supply units, free of charge for our flight trials, prices and supply conditions for production items and the support they would provide both in America and the UK.
    Our next port of call was to be Westinghouse in Baltimore. We purchased our flight tickets and on arrival at the airport were told all flights were on hold due to Baltimore being snowbound. This went on all day until it became obvious that we were to be in St Louis for another night. The airline said they would find us hotel accommodation but we would have to pay as our tickets were purchased in St Louis and by their rules we must be local residents. Then came the challenge from Roger, “You are our commercial rep - see what you can do!” Negotiations took place, more senior airline managers were summoned and a compromise was eventually reached, the bill being split 50/50 between us and the airline. Success!!
     Next day we made it to Baltimore and had two days of discussions going over the same topics raised at Hughes. Westinghouse were most helpful and apart from providing the information we needed, took us to their hangar to show us their flying test bed which, to our surprise, was a BAC 111.
9.USA - Hawk
    We were experiencing windscreen supply problems at Kingston and it got to the state that the supplier needed a shake-up. Maurice Lomas decided we would both go to LA to confront our supplier. We set off from Heathrow, had a night in LA, a next-day meeting with the supplier and flew back to the UK that evening. It was one the shortest overseas visits I had had so far for the Company, but we got the results we needed.
    The only other quick visits like this were outings to Bodensee Werke in Germany with Ted Pincombe and a visit to Micro Turbo in France, but they are both in Europe.
10. USA - McDonnell-Douglas Corporation
    MDC throughout the AV-8 programme were one of the suppliers to Kingston and as the purchasing responsibilities were progressively being transferred from Kingston to Warton, Roger Roberts, the Warton Purchasing Director, decided he should make contact with his opposite numbers at St Louis. With my years of experience in dealing with MDC he asked me accompany him and make the appropriate arrangements. With Bill Phillips assistance (our man at St Louis) we had a very successful and helpful three-day visit.