Newsletter 28
Autumn 2010
Updated on 30Oct2010
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents Hawker Association

Book Reviews
DH Heritage Centre
Experimental Department
Hawker Formations
Hunter News
New Technologies
Programme For 2010
PWS 'George' Bulman
Sea Harrier News
Sir Sydney And I
Sopwith News
Two-Seat Fury
Wartime Memories

    Peter Hickman completes the story of his early days with Hawkers…
    The final location for my stay at Langley was the Experimental Department. This was situated at the southern end of the hangar complex and comprised the Abbey aircraft structural test frame and the Company collection of aircraft. Reg Price was in charge and he had two very good fitters working for him. If the need arose he was allocated additional staff.
    When I joined the department work had just finished on structurally testing the Hunter. At that time a major problem had been discovered in the lower front fuselage skinning near the gun pack. As already mentioned the Hunter fuselages were being built at Squires Gate where the wrong gauge material had been used. Consequently we had to quickly change the already tested correct front fuselage for a sub-standard one. When completed the R & D (Research and Development) department descended on us from Kingston to strain gauge the fuselage. R & D then carried a repeat test programme while we busied ourselves elsewhere.
Experimental Department

    The Company aircraft comprised two Hurricanes; LF363 and PZ865, both now with the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. LF363 was all silver while PZ865 was in royal blue with gold lettering and cheat lines as mentioned above. The Tomtit, G-AFTA, and the Hart, G-ABMR, were also in blue and gold. the other aircraft were the Cygnet, G-EBMB, a Rapide and a special Sea Fury.
    The latter had an ingenious double-extending main undercarriage which was intended to prevent propeller damage during aircraft carrier landings. The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) landed on the deck with flare whilst the US Navy landed harder without flare, a practice the some FAA pilots were adopting. The Sea Fury had not been designed for such treatment. Dowty, who made the undercarriage, proposed double oleos connected by a heavy steel cable. With the undercarriage extended there was more leg than normal but on retraction the undercarriage fitted in the standard wheel well; very clever. Unfortunately, to carry out retraction and lowering tests we had to use big 'SkiHi' supports, and step ladders to get up to the cockpit where I had the extremely tiring job of operating the undercarriage. However, it was all too late for introduction into the FAA. Another feature of this Sea Fury was the installation of a cartridge recognition signalling device. Normal procedure with a Sea Fury was to load the pistol with a correctly coloured cartridge, insert it into a socket on the port side of the cockpit which opened a small flap, and fire. However, this arrangement was no good for the pressurised cockpits on jet aircraft. The answer was to install the signalling device in the wing upper surface near the tip and fire the cartridge electrically. And yes, inevitably one went off in the hangar, fortunately not doing any damage.
    The Cygnet was permitted to be flown only within the Langley airfield boundary. One day some air-to-air publicity photographs were required. The 'camera ship' was the Rapide minus its entrance door and Frank Murphy was the Cygnet pilot. With full flap the Rapide could just fly slowly enough for the Cygnet to keep up; but it was a dodgy flight. Reg Price hated starting the Cygnet. The little Bristol Cherub twin cylinder engine could kick back viciously and he had had his knuckles rapped by the propeller on more than one occasion. Eventually he managed to 'accidentally' break the propeller. That ended the flying because although the propeller was glued and bound it was useless for flight, and there were no spares.
    Starting the Kestrel engine of the Hart was also very interesting. One fitter each side stood on a main wheel behind the flying wires and inserted a starting handle in the side of the cowling. On a signal from the pilot the fitters, one sometimes being me, wound like mad until the pilot engaged the starter whereupon we would be covered in oily smoke and flames from the exhausts. It was very important to crouch down or else you lost your hair!
    I had a further engine starting experience when a twin engined Airspeed Oxford arrived to pick up some spares. Detailed to help the pilot when he was ready to leave, he explained the Cheetah starting procedure. After removing a starting handle from a pocket inside the cabin door I had to climb onto the port wing, undo an access door on the engine cowling and insert the handle. The pilot then signalled me to start winding and eventually the engine started. Taking care not to be blown off the wing I secured the access door, climbed down to replace the handle in its pocket and closed the door, then round to the port wheel to remove the chock. Thank goodness for the cartridge starters and ground starter trolleys that replaced that system!
    Sadly, just outside the hangar on the grass adjacent to the sports field were two aircraft waiting to be broken up by Coley's. One was a Lancaster bomber used by Airwork for trials until replaced by a Lincoln which was still flying from Airwork's hangars on the northern side of the airfield. The other was a Tempest Mk VI which had been used for engine trials.
    Here ended a most interesting period in my early days at Hawkers, one that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was now time to return to Richmond Road to complete my apprenticeship.