Barry Kensett also remembers his visits to Algeria….
In the Hawker Association Newsletter I was amused to read the experiences of Keith Hobbs and in particular of our time in Algeria. I only remarked to Peter Ginger recently that if ever I wrote a book on my time in the industry, Algeria would have one of the biggest chapters, it was so bizarre.
I was of course an aircraft itinerant, starting at Hatfield on Comets and Tridents and having been the engine man on the latter I was “encouraged” to Brough to stuff the Spey up the bottom of the Buccaneer and later followed the engine into the Phantom. I was sent back to Hatfield for Airbus but then for many years to Kingston on Hawk, AV-8C (not many know of that) and AV-8B.
I was despatched to the Foz (John Fozard, then Marketing Director) to help with the Hawk marketing push in Algeria and pulled together a bunch of rogues from all over the industry with particular skills including the equipment manufacturers Keith mentioned, along with expertise from Bristol and Woodford to advise on the transport aircraft. The customer objective was a full aircraft industry capability, ours was to sell Hawk. The full story would need a book but I can add a few more experiences to Keith’s.
The El Aurassi hotel where we were billeted was built by the Egyptians and was intended to be much higher but it started to lean so was capped off at ten floors. There was a water shortage in Algiers and you only got water in your room at certain times of the day; we collected it in the waste bin so that we could flush the toilets in ‘off’ periods but then the chambermaids would empty it and we had to collect more from colleagues on another floor who were in an ‘on’ period. It was sad to pass all the children at the gates with bottles pleading with us to give them water.
The competitive sport was to leap into the bathroom with the light off to see how many cockroaches you could hit. The room phone was in the bathroom which seemed a little odd but then you could at times spend more time sitting in there than anywhere else. The staple diet, as Keith mentioned, was apricots - and I still avoid them.
We had daily meetings at Maison Blanche where there were primitive production facilities and we had to try to assess the capabilities. When we walked in for the morning sessions everything was swinging but as days wore on you noticed that there was activity but no output, the ‘in’ and ‘out’ piles of bits never changed and there were clearly work simulations every time we walked through. If we wanted to see another part of the factory we had to wait while the “workforce” was moved there.
With Rolls-Royce we talked about engine support facilities and asked to see the test bed the Algerians said they had. This was out in the desert and we were given a large coach for six of us to go to see this. On the dirt roads the coach filled with dust and we had to move to the front to see anything. The driver clearly did not know his way and stopped at villages to make enquiries after which we turned up at what looked like a Foreign Legion fort. The “caretaker” obviously didn’t know we were coming as he staggered out wide-eyed and pulling his trousers on. We had a tour and were invited to witness an engine run on a Neneski from a MiG 15.
We assumed that this would be called off at the last minute, but no,
the engine started to whine, there was fuel everywhere, the intake was
open in the cell and the tailpipe was a poor match with the chimney
which was full of birds. The Rolls-Royce guys were through the exit
ahead of me! They later showed us the test results which showed that
every measurement was bang in the middle of the tolerances. We also
noticed that even with the engine stopped the rotameters for fuel flow
measurement were stuck half way up the tubes.
On another occasion we were taken to see their jig borer. This was a pre-war machine lovingly cared for by a pre-war machinist whose sole job was to keep the machine highly polished. There was no sign that it had ever been used. One of our team was Dick Chandler, an ex-test pilot who flew fighters in North Africa during the war. He had a few words with machinist who flung his arms round Dick’s neck tearfully wailing “The British are back!”
Keith spoke about the formal lunch at the airbase, I guess he was not the first through the door to see the rising cloud of flies lifting off like Harriers from the sheep in the middle of the table. As party leader I had to pull the tongue out. I think the plate of white stuff was cheese but not sure from which animal.
These are just a few of the stories; for more you will have to wait for the book, but that could be a very long time!
Looking back Algeria was a life enhancing experience. We produced a proposal which went right back through the country’s education system to generate the manpower for a factory which was to repair and overhaul a mixed fleet of civil and military, eastern and western aircraft and a factory to progressively build up a capability to manufacture Hawk. It would have been a thirty year project and would have paralleled a similar ambition in Brazil which was successful. Unfortunately the gas revenues which were to fund the project were diverted to other national social programmes and we didn’t get to the chance to deliver the project. The whole team was magnificent and we should be proud of what was achieved. Now where did I put that report ….?