Ron Williams recalls life in the
Hawker Project Office in the 1940s...
In 1943, when I entered Hawkers, the Kingston works had already been
bombed and the Project Office along with most of the Design Office and
services was based in the supposedly safe Claremont, Lord Clive of
India's country mansion at Claygate, just outside Esher. It was being
used as a girls' school when Hawkers took it over. The House was now
covered in camouflage netting and the valuables and fittings had been
removed, although the tapestries on the walls remained.
The Project Office was located at the front on the ground floor, next
to Stress. Robert Lickley was its head with Freddie Page
(aerodynamics), Ken Bentley (structures), Alan Lipfriend (stability
& control), Wally Walford (performance) and Vivian Stanbury
(design layout). It did not get much bigger in later years; part of its
attended the new Design School run by a Mr Wiles and set up in
Claremont Lodge at the foot of the long curving drive rising to the
house. We spent two days a week there, with three-and-a-half days in
our departments - mine was the Drawing Stores in the Kingston Drawing
Office - and three nights at Kingston Tech. As a prize for coming top
in the end-of- year exam I joined George Brailsford in Flight Research,
part of the Project Office under Freddie Page, at Claremont but in a
separate small room.
The Project Office had the task of seeing
aircraft through their flight trials as well as creating the new
designs to replace them. At this time there were special versions of
the Tempest and several Fury and Sea Fury prototypes to manage. This
burden remained through the years with the attitude, "You created these
horrors; you put them right." Typical were two of the problems I met
then: isolating the vibration on the Sea Fury and reducing the position
error on the Tempest V. The excessive position error on the altimeter
readings from the wing tip pitot-static probe made low level flying
against the V1 'Doodlebugs' hazardous. Fortunately the solution was
found quickly. Re-routing the static pressure line to a hole on the
fuselage side below the cockpit reduced the variation in readings.
had a closer view of the action in 1944, and again in 1945, when I was
seconded to Flight Test at Langley, our 'shadow factory' and grass
aerodrome, to stand in for Charlie Dunn who was taking the Tempests to
Khartoum for hot weather trials. This gave me access to all the Flight
Reports from No.1 by Philip Lucas on the Hart, including Frank Murphy's
report on an incident when the instrumented Tempest V, JN729, reached
614 mph in a dive. I met a range of pilots, Company and RAF, based at
Langley including 'George' Bulman, Philip Lucas, Bill Humble, Neville
Duke, RN Muspratt and Capt HS Broad, and on a flying visit (and
airfield beat-up) Roland Beamont in his personal Tempest V with its RPB
Back at Claremont in 1945 Freddie Page left
for English Electric to work on the Canberra and I entered the office
proper as the Technical Assistant with my own desk and drawing board.
The P.1040 jet fighter was being schemed in detail and with various
layouts, some being drawn with wing sweepback. Lickley asked me to see
what I could make of a design with the Nuffield 100 hp piston engines
being proposed by Morris Motors. The P.1058 five seat, twin engined air
taxi was the result.
Although Sydney Camm was just across the
corridor I cannot remember Lickley ever allowing him into the Project
Office. Lickley was a bit of a tyrant, hard on the senior staff but
generous to us, younger mortals. He used to bait Rochefort in Stress
and we could hear his shrill voice in the many arguments.
at Claremont wasn't all that bad. Once you had evaded the V1s on the
way to Kingston a coach took you to the House. We had two tennis courts
and a swimming pool for lunchtime recreation, but the sight of the V2
rockets leaving shock wave condensation rings as they went supersonic
falling on London was not very pleasant. More peaceful was the sight of
Bob Copland flying his beautiful rubber powered Wakefield Trophy
winning model aircraft over the large green slope in front of the
House. We could also escape into the strictly out-of-bounds Claremont
Park with its lake and folly, wild through lack of attention.
the Project Office itself more attention was being given to the
possibilities offered by new powerplants to meet the current and
envisaged military and civil requirements. There was even a tail-less
airliner project with boundary layer control air intakes along the
swept wing. Parametric studies into optimum solutions were also
performed. I suppose this incredible period ended in 1945, with the
famous group photograph on the steps of Claremont.
when the Kingston Future Projects Office was closed, I was the only
employee left from that auspicious family and shut the door on one of
the most successful teams in the world. It wasn't a bad training
ground, either. Robert Lickley went to the College of
Cranfield, as Professor of Aircraft Design and then to Faireys as Chief
Engineer. Freddie Page ended up as Chairman of the British Aerospace
Aircraft Group and Ken Bentley became a director of the British
Aircraft Corporation. Alan Lipfriend, who had been studying law at that
time, became a barrister and eventually a High Court Judge, and Wally
Walford left to take up making specialised Chinese red clay pottery.
Vivian Stanbury, who while at Kingston had rebuilt a De Dion veteran
car for the Veteran Car Club Brighton Run, was for a time Chief
Designer of Rolls-Royce Cars.
And of course Sydney Camm and Freddie Page received Knighthoods.