Reminded by Les Palmer’s talk on the Indonesian Hawks, Inspector Colin Balchin remembers sticking to the rules in the face of senior management….

I had just carried out before-flight inspections on four Mk 53 Hawks which were due to be despatched to Indonesia the following morning. It was early evening on a lovely sunny day and the Hawks were lined up in the ‘Flight Shed’, complete and ready to go, with notice boards hung prominently on the nose of each aircraft saying “Keep Off - Aircraft Prepared for Flight”. All the hangar doors were wide open and the southerly view over the aerodrome was a beautiful sight and a reminder as to how lucky we all were to work in such a place.

I was generally happy to have finished my work on the aircraft and had just completed the requirements of the History Cards when my peace was disturbed by a Ford Granada pulling up in front of the hangar and parking right in the middle of the hangar doorway. Blocking access to a hangar has clear implications so the driver immediately clicked up a black mark in my book. He then got out of the car with two quite young boys and proceeded with them into the hangar without reference to anyone; second black mark in such a short time! It got worse, though, when they approached one of the Hawks and, ignoring the warning sign, walked up to the aircraft and prepared to mount the steps which gave access to the cockpit; third black mark and now deserving of attention and action.

A Summer Afternoon At Dunsfold

Toptop toptoptoptop

I walked over to the gentleman and, pointing out that the aircraft was prepared for flight, asked if he would please move away. He told me that it was perfectly o.k. for him to be there but I repeated my explanation and request for him to move away from the aircraft. He persisted and told me that he has just had a meal with the Indonesian customer who had told him that he was happy for him to show the Hawk to the two young boys. I stuck to my guns and insisted that it was never acceptable to approach aircraft that were prepared for flight particularly when there was a relevant sign attached to the aircraft; and would he please move away.

Under these circumstances hackles can rise in a person and, inasmuch as there may ever be visible signs of this, I felt sure that I detected a degree of upward movement in the gentleman’s shoulders. After a brief pause he asked me if I knew who he was. I said that I did not. He then told me “I am Mike Turner, Divisional Director and General Manager.”

Although I was never recognised for my diplomatic skills, even I could see that there was a need immediately to prevent escalation of the situation and perhaps effect a recovery. With no delay and with, I hope, the inscrutability that would get praise from the Chinese, I explained that it made no difference who he was and would he please move away from the aircraft, which he did. Escalation appeared to be at least deferred; now, perhaps, a move towards recovery. So I said that if he wanted to show the boys an aircraft I would take them all to another part of the hangar where there was an aircraft still under construction that they could not only look over freely but also the boys could get into the cockpit and fiddle to their hearts’ content.

This offer was accepted and I told Mike that for safety reasons I would take the boys one at a time around the raised staging and into the cockpit. By now and with some self congratulation I thought I had the situation nicely under control but it suddenly got considerably worse. Just as I was lowering the first lad into the cockpit John Yoxall, the Works Manager, spotted me from the far end of the hangar and, on this occasion, hackles were very clearly seen to rise. For those who do not know John, he had more facets to his nature than were ever seen around the hangar and had a genuine care for nature and a love of animals. But where any impediment to his production programme was concerned a ferocity could be aroused in him with very little effort. I never found out exactly what he thought at the moment he spotted me but a pretty clear indication was given by the sight of his splayed size 13s (a well known John Yoxall characteristic) carrying him as fast as his anger could move him to the aircraft in question. Only at the very last moment did he see Mike Turner, at which point he skidded to halt like a cartoon character. It was so funny but I restrained myself and continued with boy one until all his questions were answered. I then returned him to Mike, took boy two up to the cockpit, answered all his questions and returned him to Mike as well. I asked Mike if there was anything else I could do for him to which he replied that there wasn’t, but he thanked me as did the two lads. I then left Mike with John Yoxall - and that was that.

All this happened many years ago so there may be some inaccuracies in the detail but the essence of the story is true. The following morning I arrived at work wondering if I still had a job but nothing was said and I remained at Dunsfold until 1995.

Still in good health my hobby is restoring old Norton motorcycles. It was only two years ago that I restarted what was a hobby in my teens and twenties years and so far I have completely restored a 1960 ES2 Norton into what is known as ‘Café Racer’ style, and more recently a 1939 500 cc Manx Norton into what could loosely be called ‘race standard’ for that era. I am currently starting a complete restoration of a second 1939 Manx and have a 1956 Manx rolling chassis which may become a future project. Obtaining parts for the old engines is not too difficult as there are many reproduction parts available, but these tend to be consumables like bearings, valves, etc. The main shortages are cycle parts like frames, wheels and tanks, consequently I always dream of finding unused and forgotten Nortons hidden away in sheds or garages. If anyone is interested in bikes and would like to see my Nortons, please feel free to contact me on 01483 454077.