Newsletter 26
Spring 2010
Updated on 22Feb2010
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents Hawker Association

Book reviews
Camm Windsor memorial
Christmas lunch
Handley Page sixty years
Harrier news
Harry Hawker biography
Hawk news
Hurricane & Fury news
International powered lift
Making them right
New RN carriers news
RAF museum news
Sea Harrier news
Sea Hawk & Sea Fury news
Visit to Rolls-Royce  
    This talk covering the life of Charles Plantin was given by his son-in-law, David Hassard, on 14th October to a large audience which included many of Charles’s family as well as colleagues from the R&D department at Kingston. After an introduction by Ralph Hooper, who knew Charles well professionally, David started with the early life of his subject.
    Charles was born in 1912 in London to French parents, Paul and Madeleine, who had moved there from the south of France to start a business importing luxury goods. At the weekends, only French was spoken at home and French papers and magazines, including ‘La Science et la Vie’ were enjoyed, ensuring that Charles grew up bilingual with an interest in the arts and engineering. David had brought along a wonderful collection of books, magazines, sketches, drawings and paintings that Charles had owned or created.
Making Them Right - An Engineer At Hawkers, 1936 - 1976

    There was a ‘Wonder Book of Aircraft’ from 1921 which had an article by Sir Sydney’s brother, FJ Camm, on building model aircraft, ‘The Clipper of the Clouds’ by Jules Verne describing a VTOL aerial ship, and copies of the ‘Meccano Magazine’ featuring prize-winning models built by Charles from the age of thirteen, although he had been a Meccano modeller since he was five! These included a magnificent Atlantic type locomotive, a streamlined biplane fighter, a submarine and a bascule bridge, all original model designs. The drawings and paintings included remarkable renderings of aircraft, locomotives and ships as well as a detailed sketch of a ‘flying wing’ airliner, “the Pterodactyl of 2000 AD”, done in his teenage years.
    Charles and his two younger brothers grew up in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, where he did well at school and was set to go to ‘Oxbridge’ when the financial ‘crash’ caused a change in plan so he went to the Southend-on-Sea Technical Institute where he won the National Union of Teachers bronze medal for science and mathematics and shone in engineering drawing. He went on to Queen Mary College, London University, where he was awarded a BSc in mechanical engineering in 1934 but stayed to study aeronautical engineering under the famous aerodynamicist, NAV Piercy.
    In 1936 he was recruited by Roy Chaplin, Sir Sydney’s right-hand-man and also a QMC graduate, to join the Technical Office at Canbury Park Road, Kingston, which contained just eleven engineers: three aerodynamicists, seven stressmen and a weights engineer. Charles was soon at work stressing the Hector wing spars and ribs, calculating the torsional stresses in the Hurricane rear fuselage framework and working on the Henley and Hotspur. His first structural test job was the Hurricane canopy release, under load, at Langley.
    In 1939 Charles married Vera Fellowes who he had met at Westcliffe-on-Sea and they set up home in Kingston on his salary of 7.10.0.
    In 1940 the Hawker design team moved to Claremont House in Esher, to avoid possible bombing at Kingston, and Charles was put in charge of the ‘upper’ stress office. (Claremont did in fact receive incendiary bombs on the roof and bombs in the garden.) In 1947 he was promoted to Deputy Chief of Research & Development, Structures, soon responsible for 85 staff and running the test rigs at Kingston and Langley.
    The Abbey test frame at Langley could take a complete aircraft with the loads applied hydraulically and distributed through ‘whiffle tree’ linkages. Strain gauges were applied to the airframe and deflections were measured with telescopes. Under such a test the P.1040’s rear fuselage failed at only 40% of its design load but once strengthened it was satisfactory.
    The pressurisation test on the P.1040 canopy caused a near disaster. As the pressure was increased the canopy seals did not fail but the canopy did, showering shards as the canopy exploded. Charles later joked that he had nearly killed the entire Hawker design team! A repeat test with water bags over the canopy only resulted in everyone getting wet as the shards burst the bags; subsequently such testing was done submerged. An exception was low temperature testing when the Farnborough cryogenic chamber was utilised.
    Resonance testing of the P.1081 was a landmark in structural testing. Charles and his team devised a method, using eccentric loaded gears, for subjecting the complete aircraft to a series of precisely controlled excitations whilst recording the resonances at key places on the airframe. Following on from these tests he wrote a paper for the Royal Aeronautical Society on resonance testing and the theory of flutter calculation which won the 1952 Edward Busk Memorial Prize for the most valuable contribution on applied aerodynamics.
    By 1951 the Hunter was under test in the ‘Abbey’ frame with loads applied manually via capstans set in pairs which were turned together by the two hands of each operator. Charles, the ‘Test Master’, was calling out the instructions - such as “three turns 8 and 9” - from his script when he noticed that one wing was going up and the other down; definitely not correct. The answer was that a fitter was turning his pair of capstans in opposite directions. Some say it took three days to reverse the procedure so the test could be restarted!
    On the subject of hands, David remarked that Charles, naturally left handed, had taught himself to write with his right hand. The result was that he could explain what he wanted done by drawing with his left hand whilst simultaneously writing instructions with his right.
    Bilingual, and smartly dressed, Charles often represented Hawker and HSA at the Paris Air Show, and was frequently an instantaneous interpreter. He also wrote French language versions of marketing brochures for the Hunter, P.1127, Harrier and Hawk.
    In 1955, with the advent of supersonics, Hawker purchased a Ferranti Pegasus electronic computer, the third built, which Charles was put in charge of. One of its first tasks was transonic area rule calculations.
    The same year, with Frank Cross, the Chief Experimental Draughtsman, he crossed the Atlantic by BOAC Stratocruiser to visit Avro Canada, Orenda Engines and the US Bendix Corporation to study North American design and production methods and to assess the ill-fated supersonic CF105 Arrow all-weather fighter with its 25,000 lb static thrust Iroquois reheated turbojet, the latter being a contender for Hawker’s equally ill-fated P.1121, both eventually being  cancelled. Charles and Frank concluded that Hawker needed to double the size of its design and R&D organisations to keep up in fighter development.
    In 1949 Hawker had reoccupied Sopwith’s Richmond Road factory from Leyland and developed it with a new front office block and additional buildings.
     In 1957 Charles got a new test laboratory, a new test frame and his R&D team all together in one place, the test frame work being moved from Langley.
    Devastatingly, following Defence Minister Duncan Sandys’ dictat that there would be no more manned fighters for the RAF, the HSA Board decided to stop funding P.1121 work.
    The new test frame, named Mithraem after the temple to Mythras recently discovered beneath London, was designed by R&D to be large enough to accommodate an airframe the size of Convair’s B-58 Hustler. It was made in Glasgow and erected at Kingston sunk 10 feet into the ground to comply with local building regulations.
    Hunter fatigue research was the first programme carried out in the frame with computer controlled automatically sequenced load application. Testing was carried out on five Mk4 Hunters and two Mk7s, two at a time.
    An interesting P.1127 research task was fatigue testing alternative riveted and spot welded wing structures. Later P.1127, Kestrel, Harrier and Hawk structural strength and fatigue tests would be carried out in this frame.
    In 1961 Charles was appointed Chief Structures Research and Development Engineer  for HSA’s Kingston-Brough Division, responsible for aircraft structural strength, fatigue and dynamic R&D work, running the structural test laboratory, the digital computer and the provision of mathematical services to the Design Department. The same year Sir Sydney Camm presented Charles with a clock to mark 25 years service to Hawker and 25 years working together.
    To cope with the 1962 supersonic V/STOL P.1154 project the R&D department expanded and new airframe test techniques were devised to take account of kinetic heating. Power demands by the heaters were so high that a dedicated cable was to be run from Kingston power station, and strain gauge readings were now needed at the rate of 1000 per second. Charles also wrote the French language version of the P.1154 brochure.
    However, once again Hawker was hit by a cancellation; this time in 1965 it was Dennis Healey who wielded the axe, on the P.1154. A quarter of the R&D staff had to be dismissed and Charles was so upset at having to tell some of his younger men that they were redundant that his health suffered.     
    In 1967 Charles moved to the HSA Head Office Design Department, still in the Richmond Road building, as Assistant Company Co-ordinating Engineer (Management & Methods) dealing with metrification, company standards for bought-out parts and value engineering. His fluency in French was still in demand at the Paris Air Show and during visits of French-speaking delegations. His last R&D task was to co-ordinate Harrier and Hawk model spinning trials in the vertical wind tunnel at Lille, France.
    Charles retired in April 1976 where he was presented by HSA’s Technical Director, John Stamper, with a Longines watch and an album of photographs of the Hawker aircraft he had worked on. At the retirement party were colleagues from the early days including Charles’s boss for many years ‘Roche’ Rochefort, Sir Robert Lickley, Roy Chaplin, Harold Tuffen and Ian Nightingale. Charles died aged 92 in 2004.
    David’s talk was illustrated by many photographs, several taken by Charles, showing his family, his colleagues and his cars as well as aircraft that took his fancy at air shows from 1936 onwards, all of which added to the enjoyment of the large audience. The title for David’s talk is taken from a quotation from Camm who said that his aircraft were “always right” and the job of his team was to “make them right.” Ralph Hooper has said that he overheard Sir Sydney say that “Charles Plantin is a first class engineer”, the only time he ever heard him complement a member of his staff.
    David Hassard adds the following footnote: I would like to thank those who contributed anecdotes and those who spoke to me and the family after my talk. We remember the stories but in most cases do not even know your names. If you would like to get in touch with me, I would be very pleased to get your stories properly recorded.
    Putting this talk together has brought me into contact with some of the interesting people who worked on structural testing for Charles, and later Derek Thomas, but there seem to be very few surviving reports and photographs. If anybody out there has any such material that I could copy, please do contact me and I can pass it on to Brian Indge who is building a record of this work. Also, I must apologise for some caption errors in my talk, somehow Mary Sutton became Helen and, in one place only, Harold Tuffen became Tuffin.
    David Hassard Tel: 020 8546 2715
E-mail: .