Updated on 29Mar2004
Published by the Hawker Association for the Members.
Contents © Hawker Association
WIMPY WADE AND THE P.1081
from Roy Whitehead
ex Chief Experimental Instrumentation Engineer
On April 3rd 1951 the P. 1081 crashed. The pilot, Sq Ldr 'Wimpy' Wade, Hawkers, Chief Test Pilot, had lost control in a dive and eventually had to eject. Unfortunately he may have done so too low for his first generation ejector seat to be fully effective and he was still in it when it struck the ground. He didn't stand a chance.
The following morning I was called into the office of the Chief Experimental Engineer where my boss, 'Jumbo' Betteridge, and I had the task of unravelling the wire from the pilot's voice recorder. The machine was German, most probably one of the spoils of war, and the wire was wound on Bakelite spools which had been broken in the crash and the wire was badly tangled. We did our best but I never did hear if there was anything recorded by 'Wimpy' to explain what had happened.
Twenty or so years later I was given a job which required the use of an electric actuator, a device that acts like an hydraulic jack but extends electrically. The very nature of our work in the Instrumentation Department meant that we became 'squirrels', saving anything which 'might come in useful one day'. Consequently, from our 'glory hole' I was able to find an actuator that was ideal for the job. It didn't matter that it was second hand. Having wired the actuator I found that it would not work, so I stripped it down to find out why. I saw that the contacts on one set of limit switches had overheated and were welded together. The ram had gone to the end of its travel and jammed there. I was able to separate and clean the contacts and soon had a working actuator.
Now I stress that some details that follow are what lawyers call 'hearsay'. I told 'Jumbo' of the actuator problem and he informed me that this particular actuator was the one used on the tailplane of the P.1081. He also said that it had been sent to the manufacturers for investigation after the crash, was returned to Hawkers as serviceable and was put in our 'glory hole'. It occurred to me that this tailplane actuator, jammed at full travel, might have been the cause of the P.1081 crash and I wondered if anyone should be told of the fault I had found. 'Jumbo' said it was far too late for that and it was all past history, anyway.
In his book 'Hawker Aircraft Since 1920', Frank Mason notes that the aircraft was modified with an electric tailplane actuator (presumably for trimming as the elevators had no trim tabs. Ed.).
(Can anyone add to Roy's story? Does anyone have any comments on what would seem to be a feasible explanation, provided that no one else had borrowed the actuator and overloaded the contacts before Roy found it? Ed.)