Aviation Archive Registration Acknowledgements
BAC 100: 2010. Join in the Celebrations of 100 Years of Aviation in the West of England. Aviation image sequence: Photograph of the Bristol Flying School at Larkhill by T L Fuller © J T Fuller. Mercury engine installation diagram, courtesy of BAC/Rolls-Royce. Selection of old postcards from the collection of Jackie Sims. Photograph of A380 over Clifton Suspension Bridge courtesy of Airbus SAS 2006. Computer generated image of A350 XWB courtesy of Airbus. Artist's impressions of main exhibition by Simon Gurr. Sir George White (Airbus).
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Your Stories

In addition to the audio extracts, we are adding written accounts about working in the West of England aviation industry, and about seeing or travelling on West of England aircraft.

Contribution from Mark Bailey

Mark Bailey has given us permission to make a link to his reminiscences about his time working at Filton. Visit the page The Alarming Adventures of an Apprentice in Aerospace at the Museum of Pointless Nostalgia

Contribution from David Delaney

I started my apprenticeship with Bristol Siddeley Engines in 1956 after a short spell of work experience at Handley Page in Park Street. An abiding memory was when I set up an internal grinder in the Filton apprentice school machine shop, I forgot to set the stop. Just when Mr Sterland the principal was showing an important visitor round and they were looking over my shoulder I engaged the drive and the spindle crashed into the workpiece. They were a bit shaken!

I remember riding my scooter to Whitchurch in the snow and ice just wearing a duffle coat for warmth but I really enjoyed repairing the Hercules and Centarus engines. We used to find locusts in the cooling vanes. Once there was a big strike and the only people in the factory were we apprentices, we were in the Rodney Works and we had a super time racing the fork lift trucks around the plant. My mates and I used to go to the Railway Inn at Patchway for lunch where they did an excellent egg and chips. The Patchway canteen had Worker's Playtime on the Tannoy and you could have tripe and onions for lunch. My most enjoyable time was on the engine test beds. Once they lost track of me and I spent about two weeks on my own in an empty test cell skiving off and catching up on my reading. The tea lady still called selling mugs of tea and wads. I still marvel at the sound of those Centaurus and Olympus engines running at full chat. The Pegasus vertical lift engine made a magnificent sound as the test bed was out in the open air. I remember the icing problems on the Proteus turboprop and going to look at the Britannia that ditched in the Severn estuary. I left BSE in 1961 after working in the drawing office where I ended up.

I then joined the family business Delaney Gallay Ltd developing on a new type of all metal anti-vibration mounting; I moved to Leicester working for Ratby Engineering Ltd and then Porlester Ltd. The latter made a remarkable fishing net loom; I took one to the Leipzig Fair to sell to the East Germans, a fascinating experience. My engineering training stood me in good stead when I joined the management consultants NUMAS Ltd working on assignments all over the country. Next I got the job of Management Services Manager at Kings College Hospital, a huge culture change from industry. Finally I returned to Bristol and the aircraft industry as chairman of Production Pattern Bristol Ltd, a highly successful toolmaker (http://www.ppb.co.uk/). I now live in Herefordshire on a 5 acre smallholding.

Note: if any former colleagues of David would like to contact him, please send a message via
bac100@btinternet.com and we will pass it on.

Contribution from Norman Gardner, MSc, PEng

Norman has sent an illustrated article covering the years of his apprenticeship at the Bristol Aeroplane Company 1946 to 1951 which you can read in the Word document Apprenticeship.

Contribution from Patrick Williams MSc MCMI MRAeS

I was a small child as Concorde 002 was being built at Filton. My family grew up in the village of Tockington and I attended Olveston Primary School. Many of the children's families like mine had parents in the aerospace industry at either BAC or Bristol Siddeley as it would have been then. Hence I knew many people of all levels in the industry and projects like Concorde and the Harrier, followed by Tornado created a sense of pride as well as a focal point in much of the community in the 1960's and 70's.

I have some very strong memories, the first going to an open day when Concorde 002 was being build and seeing the green fuselage on its jigs and the droop snoot nose being tested. Then later seeing the aircraft being towed on the runway just after she was formally rolled out and again on taxi trials before take off.

But the biggest thrill was when the school closed for the afternoon on the day of Concorde 002 taking off for the fist time from Filton, such was the interest from the children and the involvement the community had. I went up to Oldown hill a mile from Tockington and watched seeing the aircraft moments after leaving the ground, with the chase aircraft behind and then as she flew directly over me enroute to Fairford.

Those joys were not relived a few years later when I recall reading that Pan Am and many other airlines were dropping their options for the plane due to financial and political pressures. However Concorde is still something of technical marvel, and something this area can remain proud of. I guess these events shaped my life as I have spent the majority of my career in various roles in the aerospace sector.

Contribution from Ronald Pew

I worked at the BAC Engine Division from 1937 to 1951.

On Brabazon, my responsibility (among other things) was for the development and installation of the innovative coupled Centaurus engine power plants. I also acted as coordinator between the engine and aircraft divisions in the difficult task of tackling the basic technical problem which eventually resulted in the cancellation of the program.

This problem was a vibration caused by the proximity of the propellers to the leading edge of the wing. New ground was broken and it was determined that there was a minimum safe distance a propeller could be from the leading edge of the wing in relation to its chord. And this could never be satisfied on the Brab because of its very wide wing.

My main contacts on the aircraft side were Sir Archibald Russell and Fred Pollicut, sadly no longer with us.

As I also had a responsibility for helicopter engines I knew Raoul Hafner and his then team. He of course sadly died many years ago at sea in his boat.

I was subsequently a Director of Lucas Aerospace. I was very much involved with the engine company (now Rolls Royce) and the aircraft companies with systems and accessories. This needless to say included Concorde and I was one of the first to be flown across the Atlantic by Bryan Trubshaw before the aircraft entered service.

I retired in 1978.

If there is anyone reading this from my years at BAC who would like to be in touch, please contact Mel Kelly at
bac100@btinternet.com and she will pass on a message to me.

Contribution from Sinclair Wilson

In September 1956 I was one of 24 starting an Engineering Apprenticeship at Filton. We were fortunate that our five years coincided with the build and first flight of the Brabazon; a quite unforgettable experience. Memories include working on the windscreen structure in the Fitting shop, and later as "PDA Kiddies" (preliminary drawing alteration) liaising between workshops and drawing office. A particular memory is of being called to a query on the top hinge on the rudder 59 feet in the air. Up there the fitter said "Sorry it's the other side" and leapt across a gap that looked like six feet to me. I'm afraid I climbed down and scaled the scaffolding on the other side.

Unsurprisingly Concorde was the peak of my time at Filton. Following structural tests during development and on the prototype I was involved in the Concorde fatigue test carried out in a specially enhanced facility at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. This involved representing flight conditions on a complete Concorde structure with air loads, cabin pressurisation and external heating and cooling. 5,000 represented flights was a requirement for the Certificate of Airworthiness with a target of 30,000 flights for life clearance These fatigue were to avoid the disaster that befell the De Havilland Comets earlier due to structural fatigue.

Interesting tests carried out in the laboratories during my time there included an ejection seat test on a representative cockpit of the Type188 the all steel supersonic research aircraft. This was successful but we kept the test pilot away in case it wasn't. Helicopter blades, made in wood in the Filton wood shop were proof tested on a special rotor tower before service on Bristol Sycamore helicopters. On a special test to destruction, the blades really did fly off, and despite protective torpedo netting not all bits were found. We decided somebody won some firewood. Bird impact tests where an aircraft colliding with a bird was represented stirred many emotions. A freshly killed chicken (before rigour mortis sets in) is fired from a special gun to demonstrate the integrity of the cockpit window design, for example. On rare occasions improvements have been necessary. Lastly I recall a burst tyre test arising from the loss in flight of a Swissair aircraft due to brake overheating causing a tyre to burst. A customer required us to demonstrate that should this occur on a BAC-111 aircraft it could withstand the occurrence. Heaters replaced the brakes in one wheel and the tyre was damaged. You can imagine the nervous tension (not unusual in structural tests) as we awaited the explosion preceding a successful outcome.

I retired in 1989 as Chief Test Engineer (Mechanical).

Edited extract from Howard Smith's Filton Community History interview, 4 March 2008

"At Whitchurch, I was on engine overhaul. You started off stripping engines, a dirty job, and then that would be cleaned and then they'd be checked for wear and tear. Engines would do a certain allotted life, like 1,000 hours or maybe 1,500 hours. These were piston engines by the way, and they would come back and be stripped and cleaned, and then they would be re-assembled in the other hangar on Assembly, at Patchway. They would be built to test standard and then after they'd been tested they would come back out to Whitchurch to be put into what they call nacelles; that was like a power egg where you had all the cowls all put round, so all the RAF had to do was lift the thing off the trolley, and onto the aircraft, put the mounting bolts in and it was basically ready to run. They didn't have to prepare any fittings. Aircraft services were then connected.

The engines had been tested at Patchway. It had done basically maybe an hour and a half, two hours proof run and then it was taken back up to Whitchurch and then after it had been put in a stand we put the cowls on and that was what we call a power plant. I worked on three or four different types of engines at Whitchurch. One was the Hercules, all marques, another the Centaurus, all different marques.

And then I went over to the American hangar and they were doing American engines under licence and there was Wright Cyclones and I worked on those. They were large engines. This was because the United States Air Force was based at Greenham Common and Fairford and we were doing these engines under contract for the United States Air Force, or the US government. It was quite good and their tool kits they supplied for us to do their jobs were absolutely out of this world. It was just extra work and we were grateful for it.

When I was working at Whitchurch, I used to ride pillion on a motorbike, and one day we ran up and down a runway - the airport was operational, mind. Then we spotted a car coming towards us. It was the runway supervisor! He said that an Aer Lingus Dakota had been cruising round for five minutes trying to land, and air traffic control were furious. We ought to have been sacked for that. We certainly got a wigging."

Edited extract from Mike Jones' Filton Community History interview, 9 July 2002

"I think one of the biggest changes is in those days, particularly as an apprentice, you learnt to handle any job connected with the construction of aircraft. Now, as in all jobs, they've become more specialised, compartmentalised and people know a lot about a little whereas we were all good all-rounders. If you went back to the days of Britannia, they were all hand built. They were 'jigged' to a certain extent, but they were not built in the sort of jigs and fixtures that you get these days. Each of those aircraft was hand built, which was part of the problem because half the parts weren't interchangeable, but they were all made by hand and there was a lot of craftsmanship went into these things and its craftsmanship that's gone now.

And you got thrown in at the deep end. I remember there was a big flu epidemic in 1954 and at that time I'd been working for the fitter and we were putting in the very first engines in first production Britannias. He went down with flu and there was nobody else knew how to put the engines in and the foreman came up and said, 'Can you do it if I give you a gang of labourers, can you put the engines in?', and I said 'Yes', so I did. For an 18 year-old-you thought, God, this is brilliant. Also people had a terrific pride in their work. Whenever an aircraft took off on its maiden flight, everybody stopped work to see it fly and you'd think, 'My department did that'."

Edited extract from Phil Kirley's Filton Community History interview, 9 July 2002

"I was on inspection. The whole concept of how engines were developed changed over the years that I was there. When I started there first, the designers would design an engine on the old fashioned drawing boards which is what they worked on in those days. The engine would be built to the designer's drawings and specifications, the engine once it was built would go to test, it would run for so long. Invariably there would be problems. It wouldn't reach the designed amount of power initially so the engine would come back, it would be stripped. I mean the engineers would come from their offices, inspect the engine when it was laid out on the tables, examine parts, note where the weaknesses were, suggest modifications, parts would be modified, new parts manufactured, engine rebuilt, back to test and it was all over and over again. There wouldn't just be one new engine, they'd build at least a dozen or so engines and they would go to test, testing different aspects of a particular engine. It would go on like that for several years and eventually they would get the engine right and produce the power it was designed to produce.

They've got these methods now where they can use 'spinning rigs', where they can test, for example, the service life of a turbine wheel. They can simulate ten years of engine life in a matter of weeks by taking the wheel, fitting dummy blade weights on the rim of the wheel to simulate the blades, mount that on the end of a shaft inside a huge steel chamber, all the air would be sucked out of the chamber, so they were running the disc in a vacuum and there would be no friction because it's running in a vacuum. What they would do is the shaft was connected to a big generator and he would spin it at quite a few RPM. It would go up and down, rev up and down, up and down continuous and they could simulate as I say ten years' engine life in a matter of two or three weeks by doing it that way. And they had methods as well of testing individual blades on rigs by vibrating the blade. They could vibrate the blade and do the same sort of thing, simulate engine life within a matter of weeks, find out where the weakness of any individual component was."

Extract from Robert Talboys' Filton Community History interview, 9 July 2002

"They would deliberately sometimes try and destroy an engine, maybe an aircraft had been and crashed, there'd been a fault with the engine so they would try to find out the reason why. So if you went into a test bed and you'd see thick bits of metal up against the the thick plate glass you'd think 'Ah ha! they're going to try and destroy an engine in here'. It's extra protection. You go in some test beds and there'd be huge chunks of concrete out of the walls where bits of engines had gone flying all over the place.

I've been on quite a few test bed fires you know, engines have broken their back. You've got security systems such as fixed CO2 systems which were operated by the Control Room Operator. CO2 nozzles were directed at the main components where fires would likely to be; obviously sometimes it went a bit bigger than that, when an engine blew it could go anywhere.

Each test bed was different because of the type of engine that was tested in there because no two engines ever amounted to the same. The Pegasus engine for the Harrier was entirely different to the test beds for the 105, 135 were entirely different from say the 140, which was the Concorde test bed. All the mountings were different. They'd also test a new engine like the Concorde engine. You'd get huge blocks of ice and they'd just chuck it in the front of the engines like that or they fired chickens in there, ones with the feathers on. They'd kill them just before they shot them into the front of the engine to simulate bird strikes and of course we'd have the job then of cleaning the mess up."
Search the site
Employee 1940s (Bristol Aero Collection).
Employee 1940s (Bristol Aero Collection).

BAe staff celebrate success of Giotto project, 1986.
BAe staff celebrate success of Giotto project, 1986.

Employees and family at start of journey to Cape Canaveral for GEOS launch, 1977.
Employees and family at start of journey to Cape Canaveral for GEOS launch, 1977.

Employee 1970s (Rolls-Royce plc).
Employee 1970s (Rolls-Royce plc).

Rolls-Royce apprentices working on wartime engine.
Rolls-Royce apprentices working on wartime engine.

New Publication
Olveston Parish Historical Society has recently published reminiscences of people from the parish who worked in the aviation industry. Further details on the PDF of the cover. Priced at £7.00. Contact Les Harper lesnjanet@hawlane.freeserve.co.uk to order.

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