I left school in the summer of 1969 with one GCE and five CSE’s, after completing an optional fifth year. I wanted to learn to fly and go into aviation as a commercial pilot but I did not have the drive at school to study for the necessary academic qualifications, so I joined Hawker Siddley Aviation at their factory in Kingston-upon-Thames as an apprentice aircraft fitter. Hawker Siddley built Harrier “Jump Jets” at the plant and also refurbished Hawker Hunter aircraft, which were sold on to smaller countries.
My time at Hawkers gave me a good grounding in most engineering principals and our first year was spent in the training school making our own hand tools and learning health & safety in the workplace.
I remember some of my colleagues were always up to pranks. One day a fellow apprentice called Keith riveted Mr De Meuth’s, a senior lecturer, tin enamelled tea mug to his bench. When De Meuth went to pick up his mug and head off to the tea lady and her trolley, he could not move his mug was firmly fixed to the bench, with all the apprentices doubled up in fits of laughter, whilst he tried unsuccessfully to remove his mug from the bench.
A few of the more rowdy apprentices had got one of the smaller chaps and put a broom handle through his overall sleeves and clamped his overall cuffs in two adjacent bench vices, leaving him stuck there as we went off to lunch!
Another senior student called Butler kept taking instruments and bits off the training school Hawker Hunter aircraft and they ended up in his de-seamed Mini Cooper S, which had been painted in the company paint shop. Bob and I looked over Butler’s Mini one day and he had the aluminium steering wheel fabricated and trimmed by his pals in the various company departments, gauges off the Hawker Hunter amongst other items. If the truth were known, his Mini cost Hawkers thousands of pounds in time and materials.
The following year we were assigned to rotate through the different departments in the real factory, working on real aircraft, or manufacturing components. My first role was re-skinning ailerons for some of the refurbished Hunter aircraft.
I then went onto a number of other departments and I will always remember with some affection my time in the welding department. The chap that ran this, Bill always smoked a pipe when he could and he told us that they had built a specialist-welding machine that could butt weld very thin titanium rolled sheet. The Americans, Germans and Japanese claimed this was not technically possible at that time but Bill and his team at Hawkers managed it. This was an old broaching machine and a few of them had got together and knocked this up as a one off machine and it welded the production air duct tubes that ran through the Harrier wings and fuselage to control the pitch and yaw of the aircraft. Bill and would often sit and tell us stories for hour after hour. I remember he said, “Never lubricate or grease welding bottle regulators” so when we all asked, “Why not”, he proceeded to tell us that the last person that did that blew the factory roof off and it landed two streets away!
Health & Safety was a big thing at Hawkers and we all learned this from day one, which never leaves you and chaps like Bill had their own effective fun way of teaching their students.