Alan Abbott remembers an event when he was with Ground Test Services…

I started in the Experimental Department, moved to the Lofting Floor, and then on to the Ground Test Services Control Engineering Section where I became involved with the Gnat fin stress recorder. We were having a lot of trouble getting this to work; remember that in those days transistors came in single cans and the only counters were electro-mechanical. All the clever people had found other tasks to get involved with, leaving me to sweep up.

We had our system fitted to the outside left Red Arrow and to a standard fleet trainer. The RAF took the attitude that unless the Red Arrow was involved in displays, both aircraft were available for my work. In those happy days if I wanted to drill holes in the aeroplanes I did so as I carried the Deputy Chief Inspector’s stamp and just signed the Form 700. Simple as that.

On this particular day the ‘fleet’ aircraft was to fly from RAF Kemble, so I drove down in the morning and set up and zeroed the system. I briefed the pilot to fly from Kemble along the low level corridor through the Welsh mountains to the Irish Sea then to climb to 12,000 feet and perform a series of fin-loading aerobatics. Off he went and I retired to drink coffee and exchange lies with the Red Arrows.

Happy Days 


After 45 minutes someone came in and informed me that the aeroplane was back. I walked out to the pan and Dusty Rhodes had just shut down and opened the hood. I approached and Dusty told me “I haven’t got any results”. I asked what had happened - had the power dropped out? He said, “No, I was at the start of the low level corridor when I saw a traditional Gypsy painted caravan so I did a couple of circuits to give it a look. Then I noticed a horse hobbled nearby so I went round and looked at the horse, then I saw a big black cooking pot on a tripod over a fire so I went round and looked at that. Then the fuel low-level warning light came on, so I came back.” I couldn’t punch him as he was a lot smaller than me, so I was back the next day to do it all again. A few years later I heard of a Hunter pilot suffering engine failure 100 miles out over the North Sea and gliding home to his airfield. His name? Dusty Rhodes. Obviously a lack of distractions bought out the best in him.

After leaving Hawker I joined my wife in Tupperware which took us to Merseyside then the New Forest. Following this I went into printed circuit board (PCB) design, ending up at Boscombe Down. During this time my elder son moved to southern Spain and on a visit there we took a trip to Gibraltar which ended in my buying a 37 ft sailing boat. The family sailed this to the Caribbean and slummed it around the islands for a while. At the turn of the century we came back to Spain and moored up in Marbella where I still live on the boat. I finally learned to fly at the age of 74, where I became quite proficient at bending ultralights. Learning to fly with all the instrumentation in metric was a challenge. A fellow learner really pranged the ultralight the day before my general flying test, so I was tested on a borrowed fully airways equipped Tecnam. Still don’t know how I passed.