Bill Bedford Oral History

This set of 7 reels of audio interview was recorded with Bill Bedford at Brooklands Museum in 1989. Held at the Imperial War Museum.

DAHS have provided the unedited audio recordings, with a text summary of the content of each. We have also provided a searchable (Cmd+F) verbatim transcription at the bottom of this page.

Bill Bedford mini-Bio:
British NCO served as pilot with 135 Sqdn, RAF in Burma and India, 1942-1944;
Served with 65 Sqdn, RAF in GB, 1945;
Served as instructor with Training Command, RAF in GB, 1945-1949;
Served as test pilot with Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, GB, 1950-1951;
Civilian test pilot with Hawker Aircraft and Hawker Siddeley in GB, 1951-1967

Reel 1

Reel 1 30 minutes

Background in GB, 1920-1939: family; education; apprentice with Blackburn Stirling electrical engineering firm in Nottingham, 1936-1939. Aspects of enlistment and training as pilot with RAF in GB, 1939-1940: enlistment, 1939; soloing at 8 Elementary Flying Training School at Scone; flying Miles Master at Service Flying Training School, RAF Hullavington; first flight in Hawker Hurricane; initial posting to 605 Sqdn, RAF. Aspects of operations as pilot with 135 Sqdns, RAF in Burma and India, 1942-1944: posting to squadron; transfer to 135 Sqdn; voyage to West Africa; ashore in Iraq; flight to Burma; memories of commanding officer Frank ‘Chota’ Carey; bomber escort missions; move to RAF Dum Dum in India; injuries and hospitalisation from car accident, 25/12/1942; recuperation in India, early 1943; rejoining squadron at RAF Madras; converting onto Republic P47 Thunderbolt.

Reel 2

Reel 2 30 minutes

Continues: attending air-fighting course at Air Fighting Training Unit at Armarda Road; attachment as instructor. Aspects of operations as pilot with 65 Sqdn, RAF in GB, 1945: return to GB; operations to Norway; threat of anti-aircraft fire; flying fighters in aerial combat; lack of contact with enemy. Aspects of period as instructor with Training Command, RAF in GB, 1945-1949: reasons for decision to become instructor; loss of caravan home; movements and types of aircraft flown; obtaining place on Empire Test Pilot’s Course, 1949; period as tutor and instructor with Empire Test Pilots School at Farnborough. Recollections of period as test pilot with Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, GB, 1950-1951: background to appointment to Farnborough; work on spinning of swept winged aircraft; recovering from spin in Hawker Hunter; research work on gas turbines.

Reel 3

Reel 3 30 minutes

Continues: death of test pilots flying De Havilland DH 108; flying Avro Lancaster with power controls; development of power controlled aircraft; story of Tom Kerr’s solving problem of flutter with Hawker Hunter; loss of test pilot ‘Wimpey’ Wade, in P1081 1951. Recollections of period as test pilot with Hawker Aircraft Coy in GB, 1951-1963: move of company to Dunsfold; aircraft development work at Dunsfold from 1951; memories of Sir Sydney Camm; flying Hawker Cygnet; flying Hawker Hart; characteristics of Hawker Hurricane; early development of vertical take off and landing aircraft; role of Ralph Hooper in development of Hawker P1127; question of development of aircraft designs.

Reel 4

Reel 4 30 minutes

Continues: development of concept of vertical take off; training on helicopters for vertical take off; visit to use vertical take off simulator at Langley Field in US; problems flying Bell X14; lessons learnt from visit to Langley Field; flying prototype Shorts SC1; American contribution to vertical take off aircraft development; first engine run of Hawker P1127, 1960; characteristics of engine nozzles on Hawker P1127; description of jet reaction control system; control system of Hawker P1127; provision of wrist rest for pilot to control aircraft; development of nozzle control lever.

Reel 5

Reel 5 31 minutes

Continues: initial cockpit layout of Hawker P1127; effects of breaking leg; first tethered hovered flight in Hawker P1127, 21/10/1960; problems with lateral control in hover; testing hovers without tethers; use of puffer nozzles on wings; problems with undercarriage on Hawker P1127, 1961; direction control; further problems with undercarriage and solutions; initial problems encountered during flight tests in Hawker P1127; restrictions on flying Hawker P1127; improvements in aircraft’s controls; yaw problems with aircraft and solutions.

Reel 6

Reel 6 30 minutes

REEL 6 Continues: pilot who snapped undercarriage of Hawker P1127; problems encountered during development of Hawker P1127 and solutions; flying second prototype Hawker P1127; character of inflatable air intakes; flutter tests; ejecting from aircraft and reasons for malfunction; first deck landings on aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, 2/1963; attending Paris Air Show, 6/1963; performance of French vertical take off aircraft; incident of crashing at Paris Air Show, 6/1963; reasons for crash and lessons learnt; character of Hawker Kestrel developed for multi-national trials force; role of John Fozzard in development Harrier; effects of Government cuts on vertical take off landing development programme.

Reel 7

Reel 7 16 minutes

REEL 7 Continues: character of Hawker Siddeley Harrier; improvements to Hawker Siddeley Harrier from 1967; character of development programme of Hawker Harrier; leading players in the development programme; opinion of test pilot John Farley; memories of Sir Thomas Sopwith.


Reel 1- transcription of dialogue:

This is an interview with Mr. Bill Bedford at Brookand’s Museum on Wednesday, the 12th of July, 1989.

Could you sort of start off really with your beginnings, where you came from and the first jobs you did and how you first came to be flying?

Hell, it’s a good start to the day anyway, Rodney, to walk in through the gates and see a beautiful Hunter to welcome me as I arrived here today. And also to see the jet two-seater Harrier G-VTOL in the hangar. So that ought to be a good omen for our talk.

Anyway, but my beginning really was a modest one. I was the youngest of a family of five, and I was born on the 18th of November, 1920. My father was killed in a motor car accident when I was about five years old. So my mother had the job of raising the family of two boys and three girls. So whilst we were extremely well looked after as far as affection and consideration and that type of thing and family life, the economy was a little bit fragile to say the best of it, which necessitated, of course, my mother taking in lodgers. And also we acted as an agent for, pork pies and sausages from Bracknell, which I used to deliver and take orders for in my spare time, as well as being an assistant to a doctor.

So it was really with that sort of background, combined with an unbelievably strictly religious background that I was brought up in from a sect called the Brethren. Now they’re more exclusive than the exclusive Brethren. You almost had to have permission from higher authority to breathe. And of course, things like the radio, the papers, smoking, dancing, women, except when you are married, were taboo. And this sect, considered themselves to be the only privileged ones who would go to heaven when their time on this earth disappeared. So that was an extraordinary background really to be brought up in and somehow I sort of could not condone myself or allow myself to be, if you like brainwashed into that. And so I became a rebel by not joining in the fellowship. I was constantly prayed for during my life. Perhaps that’s what kept me alive during my more hazardous activities as steeple-jack as fighter pilot and then later as a test pilot, because I’m quite sure that a high performance guardian angels certainly seemed to have kept a good eye on me during my life, without which I would’ve never have made it. So I suppose I was endowed with some qualities which perhaps could be summed up as tenacity as not a not a brilliant brain, but a good coordination of eye and mind and very much enjoying practical things and finding it damned hard work on the theoretical side of things. I was also lucky to have an extraordinarily considerate and kind mother and from there things developed.

I didn’t do terribly well at school, but I did well at sport. Academically I was no very clever person but I excelled in swimming and football, cricket, and all the other games that one was involved with in those days.

Where were your at school?

I went to first of all, primary school called Rendall Street School and then to Loughborough College School. And as the sands of time of my schooling were running out, I was very keen to become an automobile apprentice with Rolls Royce at Derby, but they rejected me. And, so I found myself joining a company called Blackburn Starling Limited in Nottingham as an apprentice to electrical, mechanical engineering and steeple jack work. And that started really the transition into engineering. And I had to work quite hard at night school, three nights a week, then three or four nights a week doing all the studying necessary to get my national certificate in electrical, mechanical engineering and so forth.

But this really was to stand me in good stead when I went to, when War broke out and I applied to be a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Without that training, I would never have had the qualifications necessary for it. A few words on the apprenticeship, it started off with being a member of the Cable Gang at the Nottingham Gun Factory, which was producing ordnance for the army in a very big way, enormous, great guns. And we were doing the, our company was doing the total rewiring of that factory. And this involved an enormous amount of heavy work in terms of lining the insides of trenches with the hooks to take the cables and then hauling the cables into position, and then the distribution boxes being installed and wearing them up and taking them up over the girders and so forth. So it was hard work.

My most important job was to build a mash, cans of tea for the cable gang. That’s how it really all started off.

So it was very intriguing last year to go and look at the Nottingham gun factory and find quite a lot of the things that I had been associated with in about 1936. Still there, like the cables, the racks that we had hammered. Well, we hammered the rag bolts into the wall and attached the racks to them, then haul the cables in and put the cables up. Those very same cables are still there. And some of the switch gear also. So cutting a long story short, I spent probably about a year at the gun factory and then was involved with a whole variety of things from wiring of factories and cinemas and houses. And mixed up with that came work in the office of Blackburn Starling on the drawing office side of things. And that brought me into touch with the mechanical side. The Company, made lots of components for the war office. And so these had all to be carefully drawn out and monitored during the manufacturer. And in like vain on the steeple jack side of things, I found myself having to climb up chimneys about 200 feet high with just an iron ladder on the outside. And I found it was one of the most, fearsome experiences of my life because it was so totally insecure. There were no safety belts or anything. When one got to the top of the chimney, the chimney was just very gently swaying from one side to another. Steeple jacks walk around the top without any fear whatsoever. I found myself initially walking around on four, two legs and two feet to, because I was so paralyzed by it. We did the manufacturer of new chimneys, the refurbishing of old chimneys, and a lot of specialized work in terms of putting lightning arresters on chimneys and lightning arresters on buildings. So that was the sort of steeple jack activity that I touched on in the fringe of my apprenticeship.

And then after three and a half years of that mixture of the manual work and the drawing office work and the steeple jack work war broke out. And there was a recruiting office next door and I applied to join the Royal Air Force. And in a short time I was at Uxbridge for medical at the RAF headquarters in London to be for them to see whether I had suitable material to be a pilot. And I was accepted by the Royal Air Force as an aircraftsman second class under training as a pilot. And I went down to Newquay in Cornwall where I started my initial training wing to be taught all about drill and air force law and generally get a feeling for what the Royal Air Force was all about.

The Bergman Osterberg PT College was evacuated there. And at a dance I met a girl called Mary Averil who I married just before going overseas in 1941. And by some extraordinary fate, I’m still married to her, which is quite a remarkable thing. It’s had its first years of ups and downs. And so after the initial training, I went up to Perth in Scotland to Scone to No. 8 elementary flying training school, which was civilian run. And there was introduced to the famous Tiger Moth and it didn’t seem very long before the instructor got out, and I was away feeling very exhilarated on my first solo of the airplane, bounding along the grass and jumping into the air with great enthusiasm without the instructor in the back. And feeling that, you know, I had reached the pinnacles of success in aviation, particularly when I completed the circuit and landed the machine without breaking it.

And how many hours did you take to go to go?

Oh, I didn’t do anything very spectacular, I think in terms of number of hours. I, I think it was something like eight or eight or nine hours. And then I went down to Hullavington to the SFTS (Service Flying Training School) there on the Miles Master with the Kestrel engine. And of course that was a completely new generation of airplane. We looked in the cockpit with all to see all the instruments and they select a levers for the undercarriage and flaps. And we thought, well, we’re never really going to be able to master a thing like this. Radiator shutter control and so forth. It looked unbelievably complicated compared with the Tiger Moth. But like all these things in life with a bit of instruction and guidance and bit of luck, who gradually settled down to it and one felt flying that airplane, you were flying the beginnings of what was a Spitfire or a Hurricane. And on the course we also had some Hurricane I airplanes, so that having gone solo on the master, we were able to fly the very early Hurricane. And of course that was a feeling of immense pride to fly in the government’s high performance fighter airplane. It was rather like the government providing with a sports car in which to indulge.

Now the Hurricane, you couldn’t be initiated by it with any dual. You had to get in and it was solo from the first moment. Did you feel any apprehension of getting in this into this?

Yes. I think you do feel apprehension if you have any feeling at all about things and people, and you are doing something new for the first time and there is a certain hazard with it. You really are your own worst enemy if you don’t have some apprehension and consideration and the feeling of adrenaline going. But I mean, the basics were the same powerful single injured airplane that would swing on takeoff. So you’d had the training for that really on the Miles Master and the visibility was just a little bit worse for than on the Master. So really the interim step from the Master for the Hurricane was not a very large change.

So we got that out of the way. And then it was an operational conversion unit with Hurricanes that I flew on and after that to a squadron in the Midlands No.605 County of Warwick Squadron. And they were a rather short notice note his whittle off to go out to the forest East number of them were sunk of their aircraft or sunk, and a number of the pilots were lost when one of the aircraft carriers was sunk. And quite a lot of the pilots finished up as prisoners of war because I wasn’t up to a particularly high standardized transferred 135 squadron. Still this was in the Midlands at Honiley.

Frank Reginald ‘Chota’ Carey 1912-2004

And we had a very famous wing commander in charge by the name of “Chota” Carey, who I think was probably one of the top scoring pilots in the Royal Air Force. But he was a sergeant pilot of the Battle of Britain. I think he had a DFM and bar, a DFC and bar DSO and bar, which really wasn’t bad going. And but he didn’t quite get the same publicity because at that time it seemed to be a pattern to give publicity to the commissioned people, but not the noncommissioned ones.

Lasik, yeah, he was a very similar person. And Chota Carey of course went out far east and made a quite a name for himself in the Japanese war. So I just settled down a little bit with, No.605 squadron, it would be in 1942. And then we were on our way to an unknown destination. We went up to Scotland and it was just before my going abroad that I got married. And we went on to a ship called the Durban Castle at Currock to go to an unknown destination. And it was marvelous on board this ship because there was no rationing and we could get unlimited quantities of bacon and eggs for half a crown a serving on the black market on the ship, beautiful rolls and butter. And it was an interesting experience, me to be leaving England for the first time.

We finished up the west coast of Africa and there on, I think it was Imperial Airways. We flew in comfortable stages to Cairo where we waited for our long range Hurricanes, which were being prepared at Kilo eight, which I think now is Heliopolis. So as a young man, it was fascinating to see the world opening up underneath. You have to go through and see the natives in countries like I suppose it was the Gold Coast and Kano, which I suppose was Kano then still called Nigeria. It’s hard to catch up and remember all the changes that took place.

We had a couple of weeks in Cairo and then we were on our way flying in easy stages out to Burma. So I mean, we called it, and of course that’s a fascinating thing to see they conditions that obtained there in the Middle East. I mean, there were vast areas of deserts and very primitive types of reception areas and air traffic control when you landed to compare with what has happened now with the effect of oil and the development of so-called civilization in those parts, I remember very clearly landing at RAF Habbaniya in Iraq and we’d had a long day, but of course we have limitless energies and we would put up in a tent because of no accommodation in the mess. And we went through the gates and hailed a taxi, a terrible dilapidated taxi. By this time it was dark and no road beh down at all. The driver got out, looked at the star, aimed at the car at the star across the desert, and we were on our way. And after a couple of hours or so we arrived at Baghdad, had a look round had some food and the reverse happened on the journey back. Totally exhausted I fell asleep to be woken by an evil black face with a cutthroat razor poised to deliver the blow. And I thought my last minute had come, but apparently it was the normal practice to be shaved whilst you were in bed in that particular part of the world. So I survived that incident. I was welcomed by a cup of hot, sweet smokey tea and a donut. That was our breakfast.

And a lorry collected us. We were driven out to our airplanes. We put our parachute bag belongings in the gun panel and screwed the panel back on again. Started up, it was still dark. The flames from the exhaust pipes were in evidence shining cherry red. And, you know, by the time we’d sort of taxied out to the takeoff place with a the line of stone on a Blenheim that was doing some navigation for us, the dawn had broken. That surprised me. So how the rapidity of the change from night to day and the other end of the day from day to night abrupt discontinuity compared with what one was used to in Europe.

Then easy stages through India, and then eventually arrived at Mingaladon in Burma.

RAF Mingaladon, Burma. Spitfire Mark VIIIs ©IWM Collection

And there I think there were the American operated Tomahawks were operating there. They had the sponsorship, I think of the Chinese government behind them. And of course already out there were a number of Hurricanes. And I remember the story told about Chota Carey when he arrived at Mingaladon substantially ahead of the time that I got there on these American AVG they were called, American Volunteer Group. And they saw this Hurricane arrive overhead, shut the throttle, and do a series of violent side slip manoeuvres to touchdown on the runway and on the runway, continue weaving from one side to the other, get onto the perimeter track, cut the engine some distance away from the dispersal, spin the airplane round until it went backwards to come to a stop exactly where Chota Carey had intended. And the American said that goddam man’s gonna kill himself. They had no idea who he was.

I spoke to Carey about this many years later about his always this tendency to be flying with motion on, under combat conditions. He was eventually the Rolls Royce man in Canberra. And he said, well, in the early part of the war, there were three JU87s flying along in formation that I intercepted. He said, one of them was jinking, I ignored him. And I shot one down, had a go at the other one, and the one that was Jinking escaped. And he said to me, that was one of the most valuable lessons that I ever learnt. One, if you’re always on the move, you’re always conscious of the fact there might be something behind you and you are a difficult target to attack, then you should adopt this policy – all the time that you are operationally flying and it saved his life later on.

Jinking was an abrupt application of rudder to cause the airplane to side slip one way, and then side slipped the other way. Okay you lose a bit in terms of your speed, but you gain, in terms of your survivability. And at some many years later, Chota Carey went out to see, we were going back into Burma at the time, having escaped once from the Japanese. We were going back in there with more equipment, more aircraft and so on. Chota Carey went to have a look at Chittagong, arrived, got out of his airplane, and suddenly the air raid went. And he just had down say, does this thing happen very often tore into his Hurricane, jumped onto the wing into the cockpit, started up, didn’t do his straps up at all and opened the throttle and he was bounced by two Japanese Zeros.

And he adopted this technique of flying low and massive angle of side slip one way, massive angle of side slip. The other way. Disappeared through a gap between two palm trees. One of the Zeros hit the palm tree and he escaped from the other one. So it’s just remarkably indicative of you know, what that sort of defensive technique could do in terms of, and did do in terms. I mean, he was so far ahead of the average pilot, particularly someone like myself who was relative newcomer.

Anyway, going back to where we were in Burma, I was involved in doing a number of escorts. Imagine this, of Lysanders carrying bombs and Blenheims carrying bombs in a vain attempt to stop the Japanese coming into Burma. And of course we were at the end of a pipeline when there was a, a pretty important war going on in Europe. So the logistics support, spares and so on were extremely limited as indeed were a manpower and therefore there was no alternative but to move out of Burma and into India. As a junior member of the squadron, there wasn’t even an airplane left for me, so I had to come out on a boat. So I didn’t really play a particularly predominant part in the War, in the air during my time in the Royal Air Force. And we went back to Dum Dum Aerodrome (Calcutta) where we used to get up at the crack of dawn each morning to do readiness. We were very limited in the amount of flying that we were allowed to do, because of the shortage of engines and the shortage of spares generally. So we were curtailed about 10 or 12 hours a month. And most of it was readniess practice, combat maneuvers, unsuccessfully trying to intercept Japanese reconnaissance airplanes that were flying over because the radar and other facilities were virtually negligible there.

And Christmas day of 1942 saw me going to do readiness at Dum Dum aerodrome getting up very early in the morning because we used to disperse our airplanes quite frequently at funny little camps called Dirty Dick, Dumpster and Dumstable, little dispersed grass strips nearby on this particular occasion. Our aircraft were actually at Dum Dum and I was in the station wagon where the whole gaggle of people The driver called Sergeant Brown was drunk and Sergeant Brown went around one corner on two wheels and then we finished up on a paddy road, a road going through a paddy field raised above the paddy field. We came to the next corner, right angle bend and the thing rolled over and two of us were thrown out. Sergeant Ford landed on his head and killed himself immediately. And I was thrown out, fractured my back, my pelvis, my kidney, put my arm out, got hit on the head and went slithering along a gravel covered road and ended up in the ambulance. CEO came along and said to me, don’t worry, Goldeny, you’ll soon be all right. I mean, he even got my name wrong. And on the stretcher up there was poor old Sergeant Ford with his head bashed in.

So that was a pretty dramatic start, dread to my experience. I was dangerously Ill for about three to four weeks and then gradually a higher authority gave me a reprieve. And I finished up four months in hospital with plaster from my ankles upwards, and then had a further four months of rehabilitation finishing up in the foothills of the Himalayas at a place called Chuck Crota. I mean, it was an absolutely beautiful part of the world with peace and quiet and just convalescence facilities and a small service army camp there. And one walked and swam and played tennis and disappeared with, I never used to go on these long distances unless I had someone with me. And we’d walk on the mountain paths and do 15, eventually 15 or 20 miles.

And I finish up at Dehli for my medical sort of bronze, like the color of this table. And the board couldn’t believe that I had survived this phenomenal accident. And I was very, very lucky, a, to survive and b, not to be maimed and c to get back on flying again, which I did. I never had any trouble at all from that back or anything with one exception 10 years later when I went for a medical said can’t except water like this kit, the kidney I had damaged, the got stones in, and it had to be removed. But, you know, apart from that I had no ill effects.

RAF P-47 Thunderbolt. Source IWM public domain

So I rejoined the squadron then down at Bangalore where we were converting Blenheim pilots onto Hurricanes. And we did quite a bit of this. Then we went down to Madras to get ourselves geared up prior to going down to salon to convert onto the Thunderbolt. So the Thunderbolt emerged, there was no one to do the conversion course, we just got the pilot’s notes and away we went, and gradually built up confidence in this enormous great airplane which was very easy to land, but was rather sluggish compared with the Hurricane. It did have a turbo blower so it kept its thrust at high altitude rather better or kept its power at high altitude rather better than the Hurricane did. It had a massive radial engine that took an enormous amount of punishment and it had good long range and it I think at the time we had 0.5 machine guns on it. So it was down compared with what we’d been used to later on, on the Hurricane with the four, 20 millimeter guns.

I did one or two scrambles without seeing anything. I did a number of escorts of the Lysanders in which all we had to contend with was anti-aircraft. I personally didn’t run into any Japanese airplanes. I flew the, four 20 millimeter cannon, but I didn’t fly the tank buster one with a two enormous great big cannons that you had to achieve faring speed before you fired your guns. So they used to say, anyway, going back to the Thunderbolt, which we had mixed feelings about really, I mean, but you know, it had advantages of range, it had advantages of speed, but it just did not have the maneuverability that the Hurricane had. So in terms of out fighting the MIGs, you had to be, have to be extremely careful. And the tactics had to be to dive on the enemy aircraft, break and get the hell out of it.

Reel 2:


Yeah. You weren’t flying. And you know, the tactics whereby in the Battle of Britain, the pilots found the Hurricanes and Spitfires were generally more maneuverable than the 109s and other German airplanes. It was a total reverse and quite a lot of ex-successful fighter pilots in the European theater that got into trouble in Southeast Asia when they tried to mix it with the Japanese, because they had the Type 97‘s and the Zeros that were exceedingly manoeuvrable airplanes and could easily turn inside them. So it was very necessary to be prepared to adopt a tactic of attacking and breaking and getting the hell out of it, not foolishly mixing it at all.

Did you, you fly the, you flew the early Thunderbolts, did you? Was that with the, with the greenhouse cockpit or the later ones with the teardrop canopy?

We flew the ones with the teardrop canopy. And he used to say about the Thunderbolt, “the best way of taking evasive action is to undo the straps and run around the cockpit”. Which is a lovely comment. And, and the cockpit was enormous by standards that we’d been accustomed to. So I developed a bit of an affection for that airplane, and meanwhile was sent up to Armada Road (Rasgovindpur Airstrip) for the Air Fighting Gunnery Instructors course there to find Chota Carey back running that organisation. And so he couldn’t have had a better guide and mentor than Carey. And I do remember the emphasis that he used to put on the importance of range, line, deflection and good flying. And he would say, when the person had got a film, cine film, he said “you know, we can check on your range, we can check on your line, and you’re only cheating yourself if you have achieved these results with a lot of slip and skid on, because when the real time comes along, you’re gonna be the ones that suffers if you don’t get you off flying accurate as well as your range and your line.” He was a great instructor.

That was a very good experience because we did their air to air on drogues and we did a lot of air to ground and tremendous emphasis put on the characteristics that I mentioned to you in dealing with the Japanese of not mixing it with them, picking them up early, obviously coming out of the sun if you possibly can, and getting the hell out of it. And also in terms of the importance of taking violent evasive action as you were approaching your target to make yourself as difficult to hit as possible.

I remember on one occasion doing an attack on the target and there was a seagull sitting on the target. I never quite knew whether I hit the seagull or not. But with Carey’s instruction and following the advice that he gave you could make the Hurricane really talk in terms of its difficulty to hit by this combination of a lot of rudder and a lot of aileron, and then straightening out the last minute, getting the pip on in a quick burst. Another thing he emphasized was the importance of the short burst at the right range rather than long bursts that so many people tended to do when they were attacking a ground target or in their attacking an air target. So I came back, I think I finished second on that course. I had a strip torn off me in a jerking way by the squadron back in Ceylon. We were then down at Minneriya because the neighboring squadron with us there, the Australian pilot was the chap who finished up first on the course. So they gave me hell for not finishing top. But I quite enjoyed it.

Then I actually joined pilot attack instructors flight at Trincomalee (Ceylon) and all the fighter squadrons that were going out through the Far East were given training in tactics of how to deal with the Japanese, the air to ground and air to air and air fighting tactics all sharpened up. And this therefore allowed me to get my hands on a number of airplanes that like the Corsair for example. And the Spitfire and I even flew, an Avenger, which towed the targets. It was quite an interesting period. And then suddenly my time had run out for my overseas tour, and in 1945 I came back to England, was posted to the Specialist Navigation Course at (RAF) Shawbury. And for some reason or other they decided that this was not for me. And I was sent up to number 65 fighter squadron at Peterhead, where we were doing long range escorts of Beaufighters and Mosquitoes over to Denmark and Norway and the Kattegat and the Skagerrak.

What was the Spec end course?

That was the specialist navigation course. I’d been rather accustomed to pointing my own airplane in roughly the right direction and hopefully getting the target and back. So I didn’t really fan the idea anyway, of spending too much time on the specialist navigation course. It wasn’t quite my cup of these I didn’t particularly mind not being retained on that.

What did you fly in Scotland then?

We were flying the Mustang III in the Mustang IV they were beautiful airplanes. They had very long range and high cruising performance. They were drop tanks. And we know we’re doing six and seven hour flights across the North Sea. And that was I guess late spring. So the water was very cold. So your chances of survival and issue got into your dinghy quickly were very dubious indeed. Again, I mean we had our superiority at that time, so it was ground fire really, that we were mainly worried about. And I remember one chap flying next door to me suddenly went up in flames and had the presence of mine to jetistson the drop tank, and it was the drop tank that was on fire, and he got away with it, was able to fly back.

So that over, I had to make a decision when the war came to an end, what was I going to do? Go back to finish my apprenticeship in electrical engineering or stay with the Royal Air Force. And of course, by then flying had become part of my life and I just couldn’t picture my going back to continue.

Can I just interrupt you at this point before you leave the war years, because I’m very interested when you’re flying an airplane in combat, you’re concentrating on aiming your guns, on getting at the enemy. Are you concentrating on your instruments all that much in the process? Surely there are times when you stray outside the performance envelope of the plane, you don’t put enough power on a fight turn for instance, and something like that. Or do you find that most of the fighter aircraft are designed to take up those errors and to stay in the sky for as long as possible?

The airplane really becomes part of your strapped your backside. And therefore you can almost tell instinctively whether you are getting the, I mean, if you’ve got any feeling at all for flying, you can instinctively tell whether you’re getting the best out of the airplane. And of course, with practice, you learn to fly with a minimum of slip or skid because during the training, you periodically have glanced down to your turn and slip indicated to make sure that the slip needle is in the middle. So really, it’s very much a question of eyes out of the cockpit and looking through into the gun site and the mirror and keeping an eye on what the hell’s going around you, because that’s the most important point of survival. You’re assuming that apart from a quick glance of things like radiated temperature and oil pressure, that everything is going to burn and churn because you’re dealing with generally speaking very reliable power plant.

I’m thinking particularly now of the Merlin engine. I mean, that was a marvelous bit of kit, even when it was running on Indian petrol, which was part water, it seemed to cough its way out of trouble without too much difficulty. So the yes the main thing was one, survival and giving the best account you could against the opposition. And then the secondary job, of course, was cursory glance around the cockpit to make sure there wasn’t an oil pressure gauge down at zero or a radiated temperature off the clock. Because if that happens, I mean, you might just as well be shot down because things are gonna happen quickly. So you do spread your attention around rather, I think like you do when you are test flying, I mean, you’ve got certain particular tasks that you’ve got to be doing, might be a task of flying to very high incidence to check the engine intake system from a point of view of surge. And therefore, I mean, one your eyes want to be outside to see what you’re doing, but also they’ll be monitoring the jet pipe temperature very, very carefully and you can almost pick it up sort of somewhere over here with practice. So, you know, you develop your senses quite a lot, I think to extend your sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, feel, all of which are tuned in really to your getting the best professional performance you can out of the airplane.

I mean, I I have to say this that really, as far as I was concerned, the war was very kind to me, in that, despite the fact that I would love to have been associated with being a Royal Air Force Ace in a fighter airplane. It didn’t quite work out like that. I just had the misfortune to have a massive motor car accident at the wrong time. But perhaps that saved me from disaster in Burma, where quite a lot of my colleagues later on lost their lives was I was sitting back in the hospital in Calcutta. So I learned a lot about the theory and I did a number of operations, but none of them are ones in which I came in contact with the enemy, apart from being shot at from the ground.

So the, I made the decision, having talked to the managing director Starling of Blackman Starling, he welcomed me back, said, delighted away the last years of your apprenticeship and you can come on at 30 shillings a week, I think is when I was offered. My apprenticeship started at 10/6 a week. They were kind to me whilst I was in the Royal Air Force and continued to pay my widowed mother Ten Shillings a week, which I thought was an extremely nice gesture of them. In fact, I went to, went to visit them only last year and saw that Starling was a painting in the boardroom, and said how much I appreciated his kindness for what he had done there. It was a very nice human gesture that. But I had to say, you know, flying is now in my blood and that’s what I want to do. So I went back to the Royal Air Force and it was very apparent that the if you really wanted to survive, unless you had a tremendous record as a fighter pilot, instructing was the thing to go for. So I went to (RAF) Upavon and did the Flying Instructor’s course there that was on the Oxford airplane.

And it was only then that I started to realize how ignorant I was about flying. I mean, the finer points of flying, because I suppose largely due to the approach of the fighter pilot in which bay, the very nature of the work you are doing, you are not sticking to any normal rules for very long because your survival depends on being rather unconventional. So I had to change my tune very considerably. And eventually I passed out, had a very enjoyable time at that lovely old airfield at Uphaven, never thinking that many years later in the prototype of the Harrier, the, it was so-called prototype, the P.1127 when they had the 75th anniversary at Upavon. Now be the only jet airplane ever able to operate from that airfield. So it was very intriguing and never really in my wildest dreams, when I was in the Royal Air Force, did I ever imagine that I would finish up as chief test pilot,at Hawker Aircraft Limited, because that was looked on as the plum job on fighter aircraft because Supermarines had had their day in a big way with the Spitfire and they’d overdeveloped it rather, and they’d tended to go down as Hawker came up, with the Swift with being eclipsed by the Hunter. And everyone around the industry and Boscombe Down said, one job you want to try and get, it’s a test pilot with Hawker Aircraft Limited.

So for better or worse, I did my session of flying instructing, which really was invaluable in terms of getting in quite a large number of flying hours and flying and getting a good deal of experience with a wide cross section of pilots. Many of them were pilots who’d been prisoners of war. It was a pilot’s refresher flying unit. Started off at Wheaton Aston quite close to my wife’s home at Sheriffhales in Shropshire. So I was able to live at the farm there with my wife, and then we went down to Morton in Marsh. And at Morton in Marsh I then became very involved with the Harvard and I’d spent a lot of time on the Harvard on the gunner flight in Ceylon. I was very, very familiar with that airplane. And after that we moved from Morton in the marsh up to (RAF) Finningley and I had another of my usual sort of exciting incidents in life when we had a caravan at the time because he couldn’t get married accommodation and my caravan was being toed up -I’d gone up by and the chap got outta control and it went across the central reservation and he drove it back to the other side of the central reservation. And somewhere in near, I think it was Newark, the back axle broke. And well there was a great big problem there and recovering that machine and we eventually recovered it and got it to a builder’s yard where they specialized in caravan work. And we were living it, whilst they were still doing some mods to it. The thing caught fire in the middle of the night. And,, it was a Rippingille fireside heater that had gone haywire, a paraffin heater. I rushed out to try and get the fire extinguisher from the large workshop and uh, I couldn’t get it. There was a hose and I turned the tap on and nothing came out of it. Eventually the next morning I found a knot had been tied int it by then the caravan was nicely on the fire. I said, “where’s Peter?!” Peter was in the end of the caravan. So we got my son Peter, he would then be about.I suppose Peter would be about two years old by then. We, we got him out and everything went up in flames. I mean time of clothes rationing, food rationing, and most of my memorabilia and things like that, photograph albums and everything was written off during that fire. Anyway, we escaped. And so my wife went back to live in Shropshire and I went to the mess and lived there for quite a time and took a pretty passionate interest in flying, instructing. And at that time I had also done the Empire Flying School all weather course. That was down back down at Hullavington again. And when it was, when the Royal Air Force were trying to get themselves all weather minded because it was very hit and miss bad weather flying until that course was introduced. I was on the second course ever finished up as an instrument rating examiner. And by now Fillingly we had got Spitfire XVI with a Packard Merlin engine. So my flight was Harvards and Spitfire XVI, then the other flight was Oxfords and Wellingtons. And then there was an auxiliary squadron that had Mosquitoes. And because I had an instrument rating, I was involved in all these different airplanes. So that was very valuable experience for me. I suddenly, having been to Farnborough, I suddenly got the bug about wanting to do the test pilots course and the last occasion came to apply for it.

I’d applied twice and hadn’t got on it beacuase they wanted to get everything out of me as a flying instructor first. And Pat Burnett, the wing commander flying, called me in and said, why do you want to go on this course? And I said, well, I feel that instinctively that I want to be involved with a development of airplanes and to see them through their early problems and interservice life to do something new instead of teaching people. And he said, Bedford, do realize this will prejudice your chances of becoming Chief of the Air Force. Well, I didn’t really know whether to be flattered or shattered on this remarkable comment since I was a mere Flight lieutenant, overdue for promotion. And I had a flash of inspiration. I said, yes sir, but I’m quite happy to settle for Deputy.

He said, under the circumstances, I’m prepared to recommend you and if Burnett recommends a man for something, it happens. He was a real BS this man. And I found myself a few months later going to an interview down at Farnborough where the Empire Test Pilot School was and meeting a number of characters down there, being interviewed and being accepted for the course. I was on number eight course in 1949 and that really started to change my whole sort of potential career because then I got some professional qualification behind me. I was flattered when they asked me to stay on as a tutor at the test pilot school course. I felt its a case of the blind leading the blind because I hadn’t been involved in test flying. I thought it was rather an unsatisfactory way of doing it. But they wanted also to cash in on my instrument rating work as well as on my task as an instructor.

I mentioned the Australian chap. His name was Squadron Leader, Jim Rowans, who climbed to the top as chief of the Australian Air Force and then Governor General of New South Wales. And quite a number of characters distinguished themselves. B Weems Lieutenant Commander of the United States Navy did extremely well on the course. I’m very sad. His uncle was an admiral in the United States Navy who was involved in a lot of development of navigational aids for aircraft and for ships. Sadly, he was killed in observing takeoffs in a small flying boat and the airplane pitched nose down on takeoff and that was the end of poor old Jim.

Taffy Eccleston was an experimental test pilot with Handley Page and he was killed when the tail came off a prototype of the Victor. Teddy Tennant was Chief Test Pilot of Follands So, you know, a number of the people on that course, made their mark in aviation. It’s rather sad that of the 30 members, the 15 of them are now no more. So shows how important it is to have your high performance guardian angel looking after you.

Gloster E1/44

Well now during my period at ETPS, the first of the Royal Air Force displays, when it, when they moved from Hendon to Farnborough, was about to take place and a flight lieutenant Miller was doing practice aerobatics in an Olympia glider and killed himself. And the Royal Air Force didn’t have another glider. And they approached the commandant, Group Captain Leonard Snaith of Schneider Trophy fame, a very famous pilot and test pilot in the Royal Air Force and said, may we borrow your glider. Snaith said, yes, but you’ll borrow one of my pilots. And I got nominated, therefore, to do this aerobatic display at Farnborough, knowing little or nothing about gliders. Snaith made me practice twice a day. I was towed up and went through a full sequence of aerobatics, gradually getting lower and bolder until eventually I was able to finish up with a high speed, low level, beat up a loop off the deck, a stall turned to land outside the president’s tent. But in the process of doing this, one day when I released, I suddenly found that the variometer, which in those days was a green ball for going up and a red ball for going down was showing up. And I started circling and I had found a thing called a thermal and I was hooked. And from then onwards, gliding played a very big part in my life. In fact, it almost cost me a divorce. I occupied so much time on it. But more of that later.

After the test pilot’s court, I had been given author instructing on the, as a tutor, Snaith had told me that I would have some choice in the job that I did at the Experimental flying Department. Farnborough and I surely did. I managed to finish up at the aerodynamics research flight at which all the exotic airplanes like the DH108, Swallow, the Gloster E144 and we had an early Sabre F-86, the Armstrong Whitworth Flying Wing, and many unique types of this era were on research programs. An area that I played a very big part in, which acted as a life insurance policy to me in years to come, was a spinning research program on a thing called the Athena.

Avro 701 Athena T Mk.2. ©BAe Systems

And we were trying to look at the characteristics of the spin and spin recovery of swept wing airplanes. And by changing the moments of inertia, by moving on the ground, large lumps of lead to the wingtip or fuselage of the airplane, we could start simulating the behavior of the future swept wing generation of aircraft on spin and spin recovery. And what started to emerge there was that it was very apparent that the position of the ailerons was going to be really critical on the characteristic of the spin, and particularly the characteristic of the spin recovery. And there’s no doubt about it that this was so very true on a large number of aircraft that went into service. The instinctive thing on spin recovery is you think you know which way you’re going, so you apply opposite rudder, which normally is the correct thing to do. The second thing is that you normally, not always push, the stick forward, which is an instinctive thing to do. The third thing that you don’t do instinctively is to either keep the stick in the middle, or if you’re going to apply Aileron, you don’t instinctively apply it in the direction of the spin. You tend to apply automatically out spin aileron. And that can result in a zero spin recovery.

On sweptwing aircraft?

Yes, this is largely on swept wing aircraft and may be on certain straight wing aircraft dependent on the sort of fuselage wing loading distribution on the aircraft. Quite a lot of hunters had unnecessary spinning accidents and people would come back with stories either having recovered or having ejected that they fought it all the way down. And in the end we found on the Hunter during my test flying with Hawker Aircraft Limited, that if you just took your hands off the stick, the airplane would recover of its own accord because the spring centering would center the stick.

Armstrong Whitworth’s AW.52 “Flying Wing”

So you had no out spin aileron, and the stick position would be about neutral and the rudder was not all that critical. So that experience, along with a young boffin called Tom Kerr, who eventually finished up as scientific advisor to the MOD Air and I think is now working for the company that produces the little runway bomb -Huntings. That, that was a very valuable experience as well as all the other disciplines that went into the work on the AW.52 flying wing. And then there we were looking at lamina flow patterns and we would, the problem with lamina flow was it was marvelous in theory, but in practice, imperfections on the wing could wreck it in your range could go down very rapidly. Even flies sticking on the wing could be catastrophic. So we used to take off with what was known as a fly sheet, covering the entire wing, get up to our cruising altitude and operate a little lever in the cockpit that got rid of the fly sheet. And then we were sure that the wing was clear of any bugs. So I won’t go into too much detail of the other sort of work that went on at Farnborough.

Just going back, you mentioned the Athena. I mean, that was a fairly conventional training aircraft wasn’t it?

It was sort of. The Athena and the Balliol were in competition with each other, and the Balliol was eventually selected as the advanced piston engines trainer for the Royal Air Force. The Athena was made by Avros.

Mixed up with all this, we had detachments to the National Gas Turbine Establishment who had a facility at Bideswell. So we found ourselves flying Lancasters and Lincolns with engines slung underneath, or a Meteor with barrel engines or a Vampire with some modification to the Goblin engine. And that again, was a very useful experience to have.

Reel 3:

Interviewer: Can I just trip you up for a second on the, on the, the DH108, which I’ve always looked on as a fairly significant airplane, seeing that John Derry was supposed to have exceeded Mach1 in the fast version. Did you, did you fly the low speed version?

De Havilland DH108 Swallow TG306 on 25th September 1946 © BAe Systems

No, I, I didn’t fly either of the DH108‘s. Geoffrey de Havilland was killed due to a short period longitudal oscillation in the high speed one because of lack of damping through no tail on the airplane. Then you know, you can imagine a wing of that type just doesn’t have much damping at high speed and a bit of turbulence, and the thing was away. By evolving very careful techniques certainly John Derry created a bang and undoubtedly was the first person to fly supersonically in this country and the first aircraft to fly supersonically. The two slow speed versions – one killed Stuart Muller-Rowland of Aeroflight, and the other killed a man called (George) Genders. I think they both went out of control, either in the spin or a stall and were unable to recover and/or get out. So it was an important research aeroplane but it killed three people.

Well, someone had to get out of the AW52.

That was Joe Lancaster. Again, the flying wing concept with poor longditudinal dumping, and he got a series oscillations with high positive G, high negative G, in which he was practically losing consciousness. So he was the first British person to use as an ejection seat. Number one on the Martin Baker list of 5,000 plus.

But you’re on that list?

Yeah, I’m about number just under number 500. So we can sort of cover that one a bit later on.

There are certain areas that may be needed enlarging. I mean, I don’t think anyone today has heard the of the Athena. I don’t think they’ve heard of the Baliol, but of course they’ve heard of the Jet Provost, which they grew after the Baliol.

Another thing that we were involved in that, you know, when, unless you’re refresh your memory on these things quite early on you tend to forget. They had a fascinating Lancaster with power controls on it, in which we could change the feel and change the gearing in roll pitch and yaw, and you could have the feel on that such that you could destroy the airplane with two fingers because it was so light. It felt like flying a spitfire. To me it was marvelous to be able to have a big airplane like that, that felt so beautiful to fly. But in the minds of the people who operate civil airplanes and the heavy military airplanes, of course, that was totally unacceptable. It had to be inhibited with things like an artificial feel system, and a bob weight to make sure that it was extremely difficult, if not impossible to break it. But that was a very valuable tool in teaching one about power controlled characteristics, which were then in a relatively early day, you saw occasional powered ailerons on things, but we were only just sort of getting into that era. Whereas the Americans took shortcuts and went into it rather earlier than we did. They also had a Lancaster, which had servo tab controls where the stick was connected to the tab. And the problem with that airplane was that the control effectiveness was very poor at low speed. But the handling qualities were quite remarkable in flight with a very simple system to go for. But it’s application was limited for the reason I mentioned – low speed control and also under high mach number conditions. You could not use a system that depended on the tab alone because if the shock wave negated the effect of the tab, then the characteristic of a control would decline dramatically.

Would you get controlled reversal under those conditions? I mean, would the error on profile be distorted under load example?

I would think that what you would tend to get would be a whole variety of things. I mean, you’d lose control effectiveness quickly, you could certainly get control reversal. You probably would get controlled flutter. So it wasn’t an irreversible system, but it was a very clever idea. A fairly able ex bomber pilot who had quite a reputation did a landing on one occasion with the sero tab system and swung off the runway and went straight through, I call it Winkle Browns rubber mats. So it was rather an expensive sort of mistake to make, but it just shows how even a very experienced pilot could be caught out by the abrupt decline in control on that airplane. I mean, you had to use the rudder and the brakes quite carefully in the engines in keeping straight on takeoff and on landing when you’d landed, you had to be ready immediately with your hand covering the brake, ready to make a small correction by brake because the rudder effectiveness went downhill with a bang, as opposed to a normal rudder, or aerodynamically balanced rudder or the powered rudder, which sort of retained its effect on the down to quite a low speed. So, you know, those two projects were singularly interesting, and that was typical of the aerodynamics flight. They were always coming up with developments of this type.

Were Bolton Paul involved in this, or was it purely RAE?

I forget who did the power controls on that airplane, but they would certainly have been made outside the establishment. So it could have been Bolton Paul or Faireys or someone of that type who were involved in it. But it takes my mind back to this chap called Tom Kerr, and the ingenuity we had at one stage violent rudder buzz on the rudder of the hunter two, see a particularly was prone, you just are recovering from a supersonic dive, and there was a noise, like a cannon going on on the whole airplane shock. And it, and one wondered at times why the rudder didn’t come off. We did break the rudder on one occasion doing it, we had to think of how do we solve the problem. It was obviously do to shockwave oscillations on the back end of the airplane. And one solution was a hydraulic damper, but it was expensive and it was heavy. And it was Tom Kerr, Royal Aeronautical Aeroflight, and, ex-president of the Royal Aeronautical Society later who came up with this idea of putting a little bit of tin angle on the rudder itself at about a quarter chord. So the shockwave had something to hang onto, and that cost 17/6 initially. I’m quite sure that by the time industry had invoiced it to the MOD, it was more than 17/6. I love that solution, and to this day, you will see certainly on the two seater Hunters, that little bit of angle. To me, that meant hell of a lot, that simple solution. It’s good to see a thing like that now. Anyway, enough or reminiscing on that subject of Aeroflight.

North American F-86 Sabre. Rights: Public domain

So moving on a little bit, there was the tragedy of Wimpy Wade chief test pilot of Hawker Aircraft Limited, killed under rather obscure conditions in the experimental Hawker P.1081 airplane, which you could look at and see in it today, the forerunner of the Hunter. And he had been to the United States of America and he had flown the F-86 Sabre and to make that airplane supersonic required diving the aircraft vertically at the ground and of course the F-86 did, was provided with a variety of improvements in control system that were not present on the 1081. For example, I believe the one he flew had a variable incidence tail plane and a power boosted elevator. So that meant you had some longitudinal control when flying at or in excess of the speed of sound. Also, it had power boosted ailerons as well. So he was introduced to a supersonic flight and was one of the early people, and I don’t think he was the first, but he was certainly one of the early Brits to fly supersonic in America. I think Rollie Beamont (Roland “Bee” Beamont) claims to have been the first person to do it over there. So Wimpy came back to Hawker Aircraft Limited, as they then were, and the 1081 I believe was operating, we had a special shed at Farnborough for our jet airplanes like the P.1040 and the rocket version of that. And the 1052, the forerunner of the 1081.

Hawker P.1081 ©BAe Systems.

Wimpy took off anyway on a defined program. No one will ever really know what happens, but there are thoughts that he may have gone up to high altitude to do what he did on the Sabre. And if indeed he did this and pointed the airplane vertically at the ground, it only had spring tabs on board, so they would be totally ineffective, therefore, the airplane would go out of control. And undoubtedly he was in serious trouble. At what height he elected to eject, I don’t know, but it was with the Malcolm seat (M.L. Aviation ejection seat). And the Malcolm seat did not function. He was killed. The airplane recovered and flew around reasonably well and eventually crashed. And the exact circumstances will always remain a little bit obscure, but it is thought that he may well have experimented with what he’d experienced in the United States. So there was a crisis at Hawker Aircraft Limited.

Neville Duke was justifiably promoted as the chief test pilot because he’d had a super War record. He’d done two ETPS courses, a short one and a long one. He’d given a very good account for himself as a test pilot at A squadron Boscombe Down. And he was obviously an exceptional aviator. He wanted a younger pilot to come along on the experimental side as his number two. And I was approached in that context and eventually found myself leaving the Royal Air Force and occupying that job. That was in 1951 when we were seeing the end of Langley Aerodrome near London Airport, which was just a grass aerodrome.

Hawker Sea Fury FB.11 WF619 ©BAe Systems

And we were still seeing the end of the Sea Fury production line. So there were a number of sea furries around. And we also saw the move to Dunsfold Aerodrome near Cranleigh south of Guildford. And that had been used by Skyways and Airwork. It was originally an airfield built by the Canadians in about 1941, and saw quite a lot of operational service from there. And then in 1951, we moved there progressively on the development side and later on, on the design side. And that airfield really saw the end of the powerful piston engined fighter, the Sea Fury.

You flew that one, did you?

Yes, I did. The middle of the Sea Hawk development program and production program. The whole life of the Hunter. In fact, it was in July of 51, Neville did the very first flight of the Hunter, but he did it from Boscombe Down, the longest runway available in the country at the time. So he and I worked very closely together on the Hunter Project. I was almost serving an apprenticeship on test flying in those formulative days. Neville was extremely helpful to me in his acting as my guide and mentor. And then following that came the prototype of the Harrier, I say prototype. It really was an airplane, its own right, the P.1127 vertical takeoff and landing airplane, the Kestrel, a development of that with more thrust in for the United States Navy, for Germany, for Royal Air Force Tripartite Squadron. And then the Harrier first flight in the 31st of August 1966. And then of course, all the developments that went along with the airplane, the two seater version, the extra thrust, the Sea Harrier and the Harrier 2/AV8B for the Marine Corps and Harrier GR5 for the Royal Air Force. So that’s the sort of spectrum that that airfield spanned from 1951 through to where we are today in 1989.

Hawker Cygnet Rights: public domain

Well, I may have mentioned earlier on that pilots always told me that they give their eye teeth to be a test pilot for Hawker Aircraft Limited. So it was a great privilege when I found myself working with Neville and later on becoming the, in 1956, becoming the chief test pilot on the fighter aircraft. And of course, this brought me in close contact with su the famous Sir Sydne Camm, who had provided a whole range of successful fighter airplanes right from the early little Cygnet 2 seater airplane won the Lympne Light Aircraft Competitions (1926). I can’t remember exactly the date that that happened. And that airplane can be seen at the Camm wing at the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon. So Camm put his artistic green engineering fingers on a very wide cross-section of designs establishing tremendous reputation with the Hawker Hart and Hawker Hind biplane series, which led logically to the monoplane, the famous Hawker Hurricane, which established his name in aviation history for all time.

The Hurricane of course, as is known in certain circles shot down more enemy airplanes in the Battle of Britain than all the anti-aircraft defences, other aircraft, and including even the Spitfire. So it really played a very major contribution at a crucial time. In fact, of course, the partnership of the Spitfire and Hurricane were probably as important in providing us with success in the Battle of Britain as any other factors. Sydney Camm, of course, was a classic extrovert, and he was a combination of aggression and modesty. And his interests seem to vary from the perfection of the best chronometer, to golf to his garden, to his family, to his passion in high performance motor cars and of course designing of airplanes. Stories of him our legion.

Sydney Camm and Bill Humble on the deck of HMS Victorious during trials of the Sea Fury. Source:

And I just recollect the odd one that comes to mind at the moment in which there ‘d been a problem on the Sea Fury which was strongly criticised. And Bill Humble Chief Test Pilot and made his comment about it in writing. And Camm said “who said that? Who said that? Who’s responsible for that?” And the reaction was, oh, oh, it was Bill Humble. He said, “Umble?, Umble? Who the ‘ell’s Umble?”.

And of course lovely comments like that are well known to him going around the drawing office and seeing a design that displeased him, and showing his disgust by tearing it up in front of the poor unfortunate draftsman. But underneath it, and as the years went by, he mellowed considerably. And there is no doubt that whilst he himself was a remarkable designer of fighter airplanes, to which the country will always be indebted, he was endowed by a very good team of supporting people like Roy Chaplin, who has converted many of Sydney Camm’s ideas into reality in parallel with some brilliant up and coming production draftsman and experimental draftsman who saw his ideas take shape.

Very difficult for anyone to operate under the shadow of a man like Sydney Camm because he was looked on with such awe in aviation circles. And the Air Board’s view was, if Sydney Cam says a certain thing, we can depend on it. And so he had you know, a remarkable reputation during his life of producing some of the finest operational fighter airplanes and some of the best pilots’ airplanes that industry has ever known. I did have one or two flights in the little Cygnet, and I thought it was quite remarkable that it handled so well for an airplane of such an early date. And it was an extremely light machine, yet it carried two people. I forget the distance that it flew, but it was quite remarkable in its own way. The man who knows quite a lot about this is chap called Frank Murphy, who you may or may not know. Frank did a lot of flying on that airplane when it was originally refurbished and getting it back on the flight line. Then another airplane, which is also at the RAF Museum, is perhaps home. Perhaps it’s not at the RAF Museum. No, no, I think it’s at the Shuttleworth Trust is the (Hawker) Tomtit which was the contender for the basic trainer for the Royal Air Force in competition with the Tiger Moth. I think only a few of them were built, but that was another very pleasant airplane to fly. Then the example of the Hart, which is in the museum. We also had that in our sort of historic flight. So I had some experience of flying that. I think what I liked about it was its very good takeoff in landing performance. I was not over impressed with the lateral control on it. It struck me that it was a bit hard work having initiated turn in getting the bank off. But it did a remarkable job in service with the Royal Air Force and out in India in the many parts of the world.

So really, I suppose my close contact with Hawker and Camm came on the Hurricane and I was quite astonished that having flown a number of hundreds of hours on Hurricanes during the war when I joined Hawker Aircraft Limited, there was the last of 14,000 airplanes to have been built. And I had the opportunity, therefore, of having another love affair with the Hurricane, with its Merlin engine. And I always looked on the Hurricane really as something like driving a vintage Bentley. It had got a lot of characteristics and character in it with a crackle of the Merlin engine, the smel of engineering and the cockpit and the general feel of it. It had very good takeoff and landing performances. It had a strong rugged undercarriage that would cope with crosswinds and soft boggy ground. It was immensely strong. I never heard of a structural failure of the Hurricane in flight. And I felt that if you kept the speed around 180, 200 knots, the general handling performance was very good. I thought as the speed went much above 250 things headed up and it became very difficult, I thought to make the airplane perform in a really effective operational way. Perhaps many people did it, but it was undoubtedly too heavy at higher speeds. But perhaps that was the characteristic of aircraft of that era. I don’t really think I can say much more about the Hurricane off the cuff at this stage, particularly having been talking for about a couple of hours. But it, it, it was a, a good example of a fine pilot’s airplane that gave a good account for itself, both in the air to air role and in the, air to ground role in many theatres of the world. But it never quite enjoyed the same glamour as the Spitfire because the Spitfire had the exquisite beauty of the thinner wing and it was more streamlined, sleeker, a more attractive name, and it seemed to conjure up the imagination of people far more than the Hurricane, which was looked on more as, well a very practical, important airplane, but not having the same sex appeal as the Spitfire.

Well, vertical flight talk?

As far as I’m concerned, it goes back to the sparkle in the designer’s eye in 1957 when interest started to grow and the Frenchman called Michel Wibault had some ideas of a VSTOL device that were in many ways clever but not necessarily practical, the most important feature of it being rotating cascades that could change the direction of the thrust. And it was in this context that Sir Stanley Hooker of Bristol Siddeley Engine Company got interested in these cascades. And this triggered off is in his fertile mind, the idea of a vertical short takeoff in landing airplane. This gained momentum through the Mutual Weapons Development Organization, an American facility, which was designed to ensure that clever European ideas didn’t die as a result of lack of cash. In the fullness of time, it was agreed that the engine that was envisaged later became known as the Pegasus engine would be funded on a basis of two thirds of the money being provided by the Mutual Weapons Development Organization and one third by Bristol Siddeley engine.

SNECMA C.450 Coléoptère. Rights Public domain

So there was a potential power plant, a available and various discussions took place. Sydney Camm was alleged to have attended one of the air shows in the late fifties and seen the French Coléoptère at the Paris Air Show, which was more like a dustbin with long spindly legs able to take off and just translate around at low speed and then land vertically. It’s always said that he wrote to Stanley Hooker saying, “Dear Stanley, what are you doing about vertical takeoff? Yours sincerely Camm”. The two eventually got together and the early concept of the Pegasus started to emerge. Originally with the air going in through an intake at the front and being compressed and part of it going out through two front side exhaust nozzles and a single hot nozzle at the back. And one saw in the design department various sketches and ideas of the embryonic thoughts that a very clever design engineer called Ralph Hooper started to put on paper.

Sydney Camm, of course, was the authoritative genius who felt this was the way to go. And it’s right I think to say that Ralph Hooper, who was a bit short of work at the time, was the creative genius who started the thing going and really got the P.1127 and the fundamental aircraft concept working. In the design office we would see over the years, very, very many shapes and sizes of ideas and airplanes that never saw the light of day. They were designed ideas, exotic looking swept wing airplanes. And we even saw a version of the Hunter developed on the drawing board into an executive jet as something that equated to the HS125. It never came into being because of course it was too heavy and so forth. And I was therefore convinced when I saw these early ideas that these were scheduled to subside quietly along with all the other things I’ve never actually taken off. Because you have a lot of very alert people looking future projects, people looking into the future, putting their ideas down, talking about them sowing seeds. And only one out of several hundred ever takes place.

Reel 4:

Camm was known for his conscientious, reliable, cautious approach in which he’d look at a concept and make sure that it was the right way to go and then put his genius into making it much better than anybody else’s. So I never thought we would ever see VSTOL taking off within the company. But as time started to move by and Ralph Hooper and his colleagues got to grips with VSTOL it became very evident that there was a desperate seriousness about it. The air staff were getting very worried about airfield vulnerability, and here was a concept that could minimize the problem of airfield bombing by being able to operate from a normal airfield bombed airfield or dispersed site operation, and would also have an application from a ship.

Ralph looked at the early proposals of Bristol and said, this isn’t good enough. There’s no room to put anywhere. Why don’t we put on the bifurcated jet pipe of the Seahawk? This will then leave room between the bifurcated pipe and the rear of the aircraft to put in avionics and other equipment. That was a very, very important step forward. And to Ralph Hooper must go the credit for that. Now, although there may be arguments on the, who should claim the following distinction, I have no doubt at all in my mind that it was Ralph Hooper, although it may well be patented under Bristol Siddeley engines. Ralph got very worried about the large spinning mass inside an engine of this type. What would happen, for example, if you yawed the spinning mass, it would pitch in one direction, nose up another direction, nose down. What would happen if you pitched it in one direction? It would yaw to the right and if you pitched it the other way, it would yaw to the left. The gyroscopic couplings were going to be totally unacceptable. It was Ralph’s strong pressure on Bristol Siddeley that they have the spools contra-rotating to eliminate this problem. So he really put two very major inputs into this concept.

Well, suddenly we realized one day there’s going to be a need to fly this machine. What should we as pilots do for it? We’d got ourselves into the conventional aircraft fixed wing groove. So the logic thing to do was to do some helicopter flying. So my colleague Hugh merewether, and I converted onto the Hiller 2E helicopter. Initially we thought we were getting too old to learn a new trick because it was a fairly fundamental type of helicopter with the lifting twisting device, collective pitch control, which was, I always thought was very difficult to handle because as you lifted the control to lift the airplane off, increasing the power the airplane would yaw very substantially and you were always twisting to adjust the RPM to get the best out of the engine.

I think about two hours we thought, well, perhaps we’re too old for this. And about two and a half hours we suddenly found it started to come. And it wasn’t long before we were getting more intimate with a helicopter. It never really endeared itself to me, but we found it invaluable because it taught us a number of things. It taught us appreciate – one, that we could hover. What cues do you use to keep an airplane stationary when you’re hovering? Two, getting used to translating and tilting forwards, getting used to pulling the layers up, translating backwards, translating sideways to the right to the left, doing spot turns. And very important indeed, ensuring that you never set up a rate of descent that you couldn’t arrest. And the fact that the higher up you are, the more easier, the more easy it is to do that.

So we found ourselves getting intimate with this collective pitch control, but secretly we swore we never wanted to see an agricultural lever like that in a Hawker cockpit. Our our next move was to go to the NASA at Moffett Field and the NASA at Langley to have a look at the work that they had done on various unsuccessful research VSTOL devices that had nibbled at some of the problems but hadn’t really proved them to the extent of a practical airplane emerging. We therefore flew one of their simulators, which simulated the characteristics of the Bell X-14 and simulated the characteristics of the P.1127.

Bell x-14

Now in doing this, we got accustomed to the technique for hovering, and the time came for our team to have a look at the X-14. And fortunately for me, my colleague Hugh Merewether , drew the short straw to have the first flight when he lifted this thing off and basically it amounted to a very light Beech Bonanza airframe with a couple of little Viper engines in it that were equipped with little diverters to vector the thrust from the vertical to horizontal or an intermediate position. It had puffer reaction controls at the extremities of the wingtips, the nose and also the tail. The intriguing thing about it was it had no auto stabilization whatsoever. The experts at Royal Aircraft Establishment Bedford had always challenged the wisdom of our concept, which was – make sure you can fly the airplane without old stabilization and just have a single channel limited authority system of about 25% authority to help you in roll and to help you in pitch. We were given strong warnings by Shorts who’d been involved in the Shorts SC1 that we would never get away without triple channel full authority auto stabilization. We didn’t want this. It was complicated, it was expensive, and if it failed, it was totally catastrophic. So our concept swam or sank on the ability to fly with auto stabilization. So when Hugh Merewether lifted off in the X-14 and immediately got a pilot induced lateral oscillation and the airplane subsided and broke the undercarriage, it was sad, but perhaps one of the most important things that happened to us because we suddenly appreciated why this had happened, especially when we flew a variable stability helicopter in which we could dial in and roll in pitch and in your, the different control powers and the different sensitivities ie. gearing from stick to the reaction controls.

And we saw the sort of numbers that were considered to be acceptable on the American experience of one – helicopters two -VSTOL devices and three – the numbers associated with the Bell X-14. And we realised that the fundamental problem with the X-14 was just what we were going to experience on the P.1127, that the gearing from the stick to the lateral reaction controls just was not high enough. And furthermore, strange numbers like radian per second squared per inch of stick deflection no longer were like Chinese or Egyptian hieroglyphics to us, but they were seat of the pants numbers that we could start to understand.

Was the SC1 part of a totally separate program or was it built in connection with your program?

Very quickly, a young engineer with us by the name of Robin Balmer was in touch with Hawker Aircraft Limited design office saying, we found that something very important since we’ve been here at NASA you must make sure that we’ve got some linkages that will gear up the stick to the reaction controls because it’s controlled sensitivity that is the key to flying without alter stabilization. We’d realized that flying this airplane was just like having a brick supported by a fountain of hot air with no natural damping or natural stability and trying to control it by acceleration controls. And it was this subject that extended the ingenuity of the design department and in indeed ourselves to get that, those numbers right, so the aircraft could be handled safely with limited authority auto stabilization or without it in the event of it failing. So the visit we did to the United States really was of paramount importance to us and helped us to learn something about strange numbers that were quite new to us.

Shorts SC1

We got back to England and then we went to see Shorts in Belfast and we did just a very brief tethered hover on the Shorts SC1 which as you know, use his four separate lift engines, separate propulsive engine, has the agricultural collective pitch with a twist grip lever on it, and his heavily sedated with triple channel full authority auto stabilization. There was no doubt about it. It was easy to fly, although in my view, the auto stabilization was so heavy that it inhibited the maneuverability of the airplane in the hover. The engineering was good, the engineering is clever. The whole thing was too complicated to envisage as a an operational fighter airplane when it was known that to make an operational you had to have eight engines, at least one or even two propulsive engines. So more and more we felt that Hooker, Camm, the Hooker engineers and Ralph Hooper were on the right frequency to provide us with a simple solution to VSTOL bearing in mind the VSTOL element is only used on about 2 to 3% of the flight. Most of the airplanes got to fly like a normal airplane. So the SC1 experience was in of interest because it was our first feel for what it’s like to control an airplane laterally, longitudinal in directionally with jet reaction acceleration controls or in other words, puffers. As opposed to the aerodynamics of a helicopter or the aerodynamics of an airplane. And I mean, given the right gearing, it wasn’t a particularly difficult thing to do given the wrong gearing and you were in big trouble.

The “flying bedstead” of Rolls Royce -The Thrust Measuring Rig

The SC1was totally separate. The program in UK started with the flying bedstead, of Rolls Royce which they call the Thrust Measuring Rig, and I think that had two Dewent engines, and that was really the very early work that was carried out. Secondly, came a government sponsored research program for Shorts on the Short SC1, and our program really came out of the blue and was initially funded on a private venture basis by Hawker Aircraft Limited. And then as the program gained momentum, the ministry came in on it and provided the funding necessary on the airframe and the funding necessary on the engine. The American thread runs through the entire program. I started off by saying mutual weapons. Well, there it was. Then we found the people at NASA, at Langley exceedingly helpful in the context of free model testing in which they had a model of the airplane flying, and it had one pilot controlling the thrust, another pilot controlling the roll and one controlling in pitch and yaw, and this gave NASA great encouragement. When we saw the film, we were absolutely appalled at the way the model was behaving and the view of NASA was this is behaving like perfection compared with some of the models that we have tested on other VSTOL devices that have even so have operated reasonably successfully. So we had that sort of background behind us and if we now look back now 30 years, we found that that American thread is through that program all the way.

AV-8B Harrier II in service with USMC

I mean now you have of course the present moment time of speaking, 1989, the McDonnell Douglas leaders in the Harrier, AV-8B program of some 400 airplanes, 340 for the Marine Corps and 60 for the Royal Air Force and some for the United States Marine Corps. So they have McDonnell Douglas steeped in it. And if you look ahead beyond that, you have the situation for SSTOVL in which the British government and the American government are looking at different solutions for a supersonic advanced short takeoff and vertical landing combat airplane available to go in the service in about the 2010. And in parallel of that, you’ve got McDonnell Douglas, British Aerospace, other manufacturers looking at it at the same time.

So all the way through this runs that American thread, which is should never really be underrated. We owe a lot to them and their help in corporation Moffett Field, at Langley with the variable stability helicopter, with their free model testing, you know, has been absolutely invaluable in getting this thing really off the ground. And in latter years, I’m sure had it not been for the United States Marine Corps interest and the numbers of airplanes there required Bistol would’ve died in this country.

Engine test bay Dunsfold 1960 © BAe Systems

So we move on now to 1960, which was the very first engine run on a rather ugly looking prototype, it was P.1127 XP831. This airplane survived the entire program, played a major part in its now earning a well earned rest in the Royal Air Force Museum. On the side of it, it’s got marked the Royal Aircraft Establishment Bedford, because they retained it for about five years to do their research programs. It’s also got HMS Ark Royal stamped on the side because it did the very first ever landings of a fixed-wing jet east on airplane on a ship. Well, it was always temperamental one way or another. And after the very first engine run, the airplane caught fire and we very nearly lost it before it ever flew. The reason was that we’d got enormous great big iron elephants is surrounding the side exhaust nozzles on the port and starboard side to try and take noise disturbance away from the stockbroker belt. And when we came to shut the thing down, a leaky HP cock allowed fuel to continue to flow and that caught fire. And then we very nearly failed to remove the elephant ears before the fair team could get their fire extinguisher nozzles into the exhaust nozzles of the airplane. So, and that’s just how it started off.

We had a Bristol Siddeley BS 53 Pegasus Turbo Fan engine of 10,500 pounds of thrust. And I mean the main feature really of this were the fact that there was an enormous bifurcated intake able to swallow over 400 pounds of a second, air being expelled through two glass fiber nozzles at the front, the cool air and through the steel nozzles at the back, which was the hot air. And the initial engine life we had was 20 minutes only in the hover. It was later expend extended to 30 minutes.

Now the four rotatable nozzles were mechanically connected together and driven by duplicated air motor controlled by, but one extra lever in the cockpit, the nozzle selector lever. So the system itself was very straightforward and instead of imagining four nozzles moving independently, just think of them in your mind as a single thrust vector like a pencil pointing vertically downwards. When the pilot has selected the nozzle lever, the hover, when the nozzle lever is fully forward, the the pencil is horizontal and the thrust vector is horizontal and the airplane flies like a normal airplane. Any intermediate position can be taken, selected for short takeoff or slow landing and if necessary for a decelerating transition. When you move the nozzle lever from the forward position nozzles horizontal to the vertical position, you are destroying the momentum of a very large amount of air. And there is a phenomenal deceleration. Just feels as if you’re going to go through the instrument panel, it’s so strong and you can go beyond that to 18 degrees reverse thrust, and then you’re talking in terms of almost half a G longitudinal deceleration. And that is quite spectacular. And of course it’s that concept that was evolved later on for VIFF‘ing – Vectoring in Fordward Flight as an aid to air combat maneuvering on the airplane.

Well, the jet reaction control system is merely tapping high pressure air from the engine through some very well engineered pipes which run the length of the aircraft and it comes out through the nose, the tail comes out sideways to provide yaw, and it also goes to the wingtips. Now the jet reaction of puffer controls are just shutter valves. And the shutter valves are mechanically connected to the normal flying controls so that whenever you are, I suppose you waggle the stick from left to right, in addition to moving the ailerons, you open and shut the reaction control valves. If you push the stick backwards or forwards, you open or shut the reaction controls at the front. If you put the rudder on, you open or shut the reaction controls at the back. So in essence, really what you have got is attitude control on the stick, like a normal helicopter or airplane, heading on the rudder pedals, height on a normal fighter throttle and the one extra control in the cockpit, the thrust vector control or nozzle select lever controlled by the pilot with – lever forward nozzles horizontal, lever back nozzles vertical, lever reverse thrust 18 degrees reverse thrust.

So that really was roughly how it all started. Now, there was tremendously strong pressure to use the helicopter collective pitch lever to incorporate both the thrust vector control and the power together. And we just positively refused to have a system of that type in a Hawker fighter cockpit. And I think our decision proved to be correct.

In the very early days we moved the pitch noles differential to provide yaw control, but it was so grossly totally inadequate. We had to get rid of that system and have a separate yaw control that blew out sideways to provide the directional control necessarily. And I will deal with that a little bit more later. One of the things about the throttle is that it isn’t any longer a fighter throttle. It is the height control and as such, it’s got to be very carefully engineered. It’s got to have the no lumpiness, it’s got to have the right amount of friction. So if you let it go, even with the friction not loose, the nuzzle lever doesn’t move back of its own accord. I mean, that was just one little discipline that was applied. We also found the gearing between the throttle and the engine thrust of paramount importance. The early days we had we had been advised by some American people who’d operated the VSTOL airplane that you wanted, very low gearing from the throttle to the engine. So we bullied our designers into putting a slotted link in so that we’d come up to hovering rpm. Then when we got got there within that range, there was very, very low sensitivity. It’s one of the first things that we had to throw out of the airplane as being totally unacceptable. And we stepped the gearing up and up and up until eventually we finished up with a 10th of a G per inch of stick deflection. We’d had to increase the gearing about 10 times compared with what it originally was.

Then you reached the situation whereby that’s jolly good for hovering, but totally unacceptable for conventional flying because you, you the thrust throttle gearing was too high. So we then had to go to, interestingly enough, a cam, not Sydney Camm this time that desensitized the control when we were at conventional flying throttle settings. We also provided a wrist rest for the pilot so that he could make minute movements of the throttle either in the hover or in conventional flight. And it was a very convenient place for him to provide his own gearing system, either hiring it, the hiring the gearing or lowering the gearing. And in this little wrist rest, we put in various hydraulic gauges. We found a use for it. So it could be used to incorporate the state of play of the emergency hydraulic gauges in the airplane.

We eventually used this vernier that we took out from the high control to be used, the same principle to be used on the nose wheels steering system. Well, the height control as well as being a function of the thrust to weight ratio is tied up with well-engineered throttle control. The friction, not too much, not too little. And also this wrist rest. I’m just making these points because they were of such great importance to us and I can talk about them in 10 minutes. But of course it was several years before all these various developments took place to provide the standard that we enjoy today. In the old days, we had a dash pot on the nozzle selector lever that controlled the rate of movements of the nozzle, regardless of the speed at which the pilot moved the nozzle lever because there’s very big concern that if the pilot was in the hover ready to do a transition and got hold of the thrust vector control moved it too quickly, the airplane would fall out of the sky before the aerodynamic lift was sufficient to support it when the jet thrust had gone.

So I had the dash spot on so you could move the nozzle lever and the thing would fall out progressively. Of course, the inevitable happened. I was doing a demonstration one day. We got very bad nose wheel steering as I touched on on briefly. And so we popped the nozzles down about 30 degrees so we could steer the airplane on the reaction control during the short takeoff. And I came to lift off speed 60 knots. Luckily the perimeter track was free in front of me, selected down to the short takeoff position, 60 degrees. Nothing happened. The airplane just took a little bit longer to get airborne than normal. It was into the air and barely had I got airborne and suddenly there was a violent deceleration as the nozzles came backwards because of the malfunction of the dashpot, it, I thought I was going to come to a hover in the air. Luckily it was all right, but we’d had enough of it. So we threw the dash pot out. And with the system at the present moment as it is today, is that you just move the nozzle lever at a natural rate. You can do a transition without looking at a single instrument in the cockpit, accelerating or decelerating.

But if you want to get the best out of the airplane and fly it professionally, you move the nozzle lever at such a rate that you maintain the best incidents as indicated on the ADD incidence indicator in the cockpit. And obviously if you’re a professional, you don’t do transitions without keeping a pretty good eye on whether the engine or other systems are behaving themselves correctly. But we had instances, I remember after an overhaul, one of the prototypes demonstrating it at Brough, the air speed indicator wasn’t working. And I did a full aerobatic display starting off with a short takeoff and doing a decelerating transition and a vertical takeoff without the air speed indicator, a no chase airplane. So shows really, I mean, the system is fundamentally remarkably simple to be able to achieve that with just one extra lever in the cockpit. And I think when you come to look at the way people view this, any person who can fly a high performance airplane like a Harrier Jaguar, Tornado, Lightning will have no difficulty in flying the Harrier. The pass rates are just about the same for the Harrier as they off conventional airplanes. Big difference being, of course with the Harrier you would take off vertically, rolling vertical, short takeoff, conventional takeoff, and the same for landing. So you’ve got different tunes that you can play. My view it’s far easier to stop and land than land and try and stop. So you get a lot of very big benefits from the additional techniques the pilot has got to learn.

Reel 5: (specific to early trials of the P.1127)

There’s a very important factor here in keeping the nose into wind all the time, isn’t it?

Bill Bedford:
Yes, I was going to touch on an experience we had, and I’ll come to that very shortly. That is known as intake momentum drag yaw, and it is of paramount importance. But I’ll give you a bit of an example in a few minutes. The cockpit of our airplane at this time, cockpit instruments really, I mean, the predominant features were two fuel gauges and a jet pipe, temperature gauge, and an RPM gauge. And when eventually those gauges were moved from in front of us to other parts of the airplane, we felt a little bit naked with it. But in the first instance, we could only hover for about three minutes without running out of fuel. Therefore, fuel was paramount importance to us. Well, it was quite difficult to make friends with this extraordinary looking airplane with big bulbous metal intakes, stripped of 700 pounds of weight, including radio sets, generator, pitot head, undercarriage doors, and this thrust to weight ratio, which in theory allowed fuel from maximum three minutes hovering.

And we operated from a gridded platform in the first instance. This was designed to take away the jet efflux, and if you imagine doing the exercise from a slab of concrete one, the jets would’ve hit the ground and gone sideways, recirculated hot air back into the intake, shot out sideways, and provided suction and a, a lot of disturbance to the airplane. And in fact, we find that the performance of lift offs from solid ground compared with lifting off from a Grided platform where you’ve got no ground effects differs by, by about five or 600 pounds. So, I mean, that’s quite a large amount of thrust to lose in those early days. Had we not used the Gridded platform, we would certainly not have been able to get airborne.

XP831 on the Dunsfold VTOL pads. Winter 1961 © BAe Systems

Well, the prototype P.1127 is XP831, and I seemed to build up a place relationship with each other – we were right from the word go despite the fire during the engine run. But the situation was made even more bizarre because I had been to Germany one month previously to demonstrate the Hunter at Landsberg (Landsberg-Lech Air Base) to the German Air Force and was being driven back home when the driver drove me into a tree and I came around in hospital with a potts fracture, third degree of my ankle. It was plastered, but I managed to persuade the surgeon to allow me to be bring my hunter back to Dunsfold. I was lifted up in a forklift truck into the cockpit, flew back to Dunsfold, where a customs immigration and an ambulance waited for me, whistled off to Halton Hospital (Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Hospital Halton) to see that my leg had been set correctly. And there I was with every possibility of losing the opportunity of flying an aircraft of a lifetime, because seldom does it come one’s way to fly new prototypes and a new concept of this type, the brand new engine, was something that any pilot worth his salt would want to fly.

Well, I worked on the medical board. I hopped everywhere I could go. I flew everything dual, I could fly, drove my car. And thanks to the good offices of the Royal Air Force Central Medical Board, I finished up with a medical category unique in aviation history, namely fit, civil test pilot tethered hovering only. Hawker board of directors gave me a reluctant approval, and so started a very exciting progress in my life. It was October the 21st, 1960, the anniversary of Trafalgar Day, significantly enough, that I stepped into the cockpit 17 months after we cut the first piece of metal and commenced the very first tethered hovering with tethers attached to the wing tip and nose, giving me just one foot of freedom in movement. Well, to our intense surprise and relief, the airplane lifted off and hovered. Well, it didn’t prove much because that was just the start, but it did prove at least that the thrust exceeded the weight, albeit when on the Gridded platform, but on increasing the length of the tethers to four feet, we really were in trouble. We were cavorting around like a drunken cow and sometimes rotating around the nose wheel, sometimes sliding sideways. And it really looked an impossible situation. And there were of course, dubious glances at my plastered ankle. And I knew it was nothing to do with that. But other people thought to the contrary. Then we suddenly realized what the basic problem was, that the airplane had too much freedom in Roll. And the gridded platform was sloping at about one and a half degrees. So immediately we opened the throttle with a thrust vector pointing at the ground – the airplane rose even higher, leaned like a lame dog, and the horizontal component of thrust drove it sideways to the tethers. The situation was worsened too, because periodically the airplane would rotate around the nose wheel. Well the control power was quite inadequate to keep the wings level when once the thing had started sliding sideways.

XP831 with the tethers and spring loaded skids. On the Dunsfold tethering grids. October 1961 © BAe Systems

What we did was to put underneath each outrigger a small platform as a temporary solution. It became very apparent that that was the problem, and we were able to lift off. Then we put design on the back of an envelope one night on the airplane, two days later, spring loaded agricultural skids on the outrigger wheels supported by bungee springs so that we could have the aircraft lateral level at liftoff despite the angle of the operational rediness platform that we were operating from. And we suddenly realized then that we had nailed the problem . Now it’s possible to hover the airplane with a measure of control, and we had the tethers instrumented, so they would tell us if we were pulling on a tether. We had to demonstrate to the resident technical officer of the ministry that we could hover within the confines of the tethering system before we were allowed to do free hovering. So it was for this reason that whenever we pulled on a tether, a light came on automatically and warn and showed ground service that this would happen very quickly.

We got used to flying the machine within the hovers, and the day came to fry freely. My medical category was extended to free hovering not above four feet. Now one thing that worried us was what would happen if we lifted off and got too high and ran out of fuel before we landed. We didn’t have a radio on the airplane. So our chief flight development engineer Fred Sutton, my life insurance policy for many, many years, stood with a green flag and a red flag. And if I got too high, he was gonna wave the red flag at me. Well, it was with a freedom of like a bird out of a cage to get rid of the irritating restraints of the tethering system. And we did two one minute hovers. And in that first month of flying, we had carried out a total of 21 flights. We were impressed very much by the serviceability of the airplane and the progress that we had made. At the end of that period, we grounded the airplane for until about March of the following year when we got it ready to flight, like a normal airplane with a nozzles horizontal. That was due to take place at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Bedford, of course, by the time the airplane was ready for conventional flight, so was my ankle. So I had a full and normal medical category.

Can I quickly interrupt you for a clarification? Presumably the, the puff system that you call it was, was operating all this time. You know, the the little air stabilisation jets on the wingtips and so on. Presumably it is just not a stable machine without them those.

Rather, like what I mentioned, you know. You have to imagine a brick supported by a fountain of air with no natural damping or stability. That’s just what the airplane is. So it depends entirely on the puffer controls to keep, maintain its attitude when you are hovering. Initially those were constant demand puffers. They were always slightly open. Later on in order to conserve engine power, we had them permanently shut until the pilot made a demand. By that way, we were able to keep the engine temperature down and give us added control power. Cause all the way along the line, we wanted more power, we wanted more sensitivity, but if we’d had it all at the beginning, we’d have never hovered. So it was a compromise in the end.

The air was fed from the fan, was it that?

– High pressure air from the high pressure side of the engine. So not from the fan, from the turbine of the engine, just ahead of the burners.

So it’s pretty hard air that’s coming out of there. Mmm, put your hand in the way to take it off. Very high velocity air is coming out of there. Very hot air too. So you can imagine the engineering that was involved in getting the necessary ducting through the fuselage of the airplane into the wingtip and so forth for that. And the overall engineering of the buffer controls and how they’re constantly being updated either from an engineering point of view or design point of view. I mean, for example, in roll we arranged for one bucket to blow up and the other to blow down. So we doubled the rolling moment, but it wasn’t the expense of a bit of vertical thrust. And the control powers had to be increased. I think I’m right in same come that in a minute, about three or four times before they’re adequate because there are different demands that have to be made – Ground disturbance effects causes wings to go down unexpectedly. There’s the problem you raised, rolling moment due a side slip. There’s the problem of strengthening your control to cope with this directional instability. The problem of a pitch control that has to cope with nose up pitch during a transition, or it has to cope with air bouncing on the ground, impinging on the tail, and causing a strong nose down pitch. And of, of course, you only know these things as you progressively experience them and realize what you’ve got to do about them. Then you’ve got to think of asymmetric stores. You get over the CG problem basically by carrying all the stores as near the CG as you properly can. Because with this airplane, you can’t just think of the center of gravity and the aerodynamic center. You’ve got to think of the center of thrust as well. If you move one, you’ll affect the other two. So this has been one of the constraints and disciplines that has been imposed on us from start.

The also with the throttle engine, your throttle response is very good

Well, a lot of people said, if you don’t have these little, light RB 108 engines, big response will never get away with the response on a big thing like Pegasus. I mean, it’s interesting how we human beings can come out with bold statements like that without any knowledge of it. And this is exactly what was going on with the opposing camp from a Bedford and Shorts, the response on the Pegasus was admirable for the VSTOL mode, because you’re right at the top end of the RPM range anyway, you see,

It was the start of Spring 1961 and as we started taxing and breaking and you see the p.1127 had the wheels and brakes from a Seahawk. And when breaking, we got this moderate main wheel judder. And to our surprise, with a sudden jolt, we snapped the main on the carriage off like a carrot. And the technical reason for this was due to the diametrically opposed brake pads producing a twice wheel speed excitation in bending and torsion. So all we did was replace the break pads and that destroyed that triggering off of the natural frequency. Well, I remember that very well because the Dunlop chap was there, a man called McLaren and he’d organized bacon and egg sandwiches for us from the local pub, the Compasses, by the time we came to eat them, we ate them cold and very sad.

Why were they asymmetric the pads?

AW.660 Argosy

I mean, well they weren’t, they were diametrically opposite to each other, but they triggered off, they, they, it was such that it triggered off the natural frequency at the undercarriage. And by making them not diametric opposite, it broke up the resonant frequency. Then our next problem with uncontrollable nose wheel steering, and, this was because we’d handed it over to the experts at Armstrong Whitworths, who had had produced the Agosy transport, and so used the system on the Agosy. The only difference was that the Agosy had a separate tiller control, whereas we controlled the airplane with a nose wheel steering button and the rudder pedals. And the other thing was that the Argosy weighed five times. the weight of the P1127 carried only 10% of the weight on the nose wheel, whilst we had 30% of the weight of the aircraft on the nose wheel. So we weren’t comparing like with like.

We got an erratic degree of directional control by blipping and kicking rudder. I mentioned to you earlier on that by popping the nozzles down for a takeoff, we could steer the airplane on the jet reaction control system. Then in the forms of time it was said that the slotted link vernier, which we took out of the height control, was put into the rudder nose wheel steering control. So that about the middle we had low sensitivity and for large deflections of the rudder, we had high sensitivity integrated with that. At a later stage, we also had a self shortening undercarriage. So the airplane didn’t have this problem of freedom and roll and it really had the handling characteristics of a superb Grand Prix motor car. So I think we finished up really with probably some of the best nose wheel steering and ground handling characteristics that you would wish for on any airplane.

I mean, these things didn’t happen quickly. They hadn’t progressively, I mean we, this ladder thing took probably when the Harrier came along, it was incorporated. That’s John Fozzard got involved in that side of things. I’ll touch on his name later. Well, there was a gap of five months since the initial hobbing. We went to the Royal Aircraft Establishment of Bedford, the biggest, longest runway in nice quiet part of the country. And during this period, they’d done all the resonance testing and system tests prior to conventional flying. And this coincided with my ankle getting a clean bill of health. Well, the first major problem we ran into had been predicted by a very experienced operator, namely the bloke who pushed the tea trolley in the experimental can. He said, you’re gonna have trouble with shimmy on those outriggers. I know I’ve had it myself. And how right he was at 150 knots, all hell was let loose!

There was noise like a cannon going off in the cockpit terminating with an impressive bang as the tyre burst. And along Bedford’s runway we left a thousand meter black squiggle, one and a half cycles per second of an amplitude of 18 inches just felt as if the airplane was falling apart when this lot happened. And the interesting thing was the undercarriage manufacturer said, that’s not classic shimmy – we’ve tested it up to 200 knots on our ground rig. Well, I mean, that may be so the basic problem was that when you were snarling along the runway, the wheels were not in firm contact with the ground. So there one moment that was damping there to damp the oscilation out. The next moment there wasn’t. So what we did, we put, shear pins and locked the outriggers fore and off and then accepted that if you did a sideways landing, you’d shear the shear pin. And later on we had inward castoring only. And that problem together with the self shocking undercarriage leg and the new nose wheel steering really revolutionized the airplane.

Well at RAE Bedford, we had our work is a marvellous experience from me. I mean, you couldn’t really talk about Halcyon days. I had a Rapide to go around the local area and for communications purposes, a Hunter for practice flying. A brand new XK120 motor car and this superb prototype. Well, I mean, what more could you wish for in that? Really it was terrific.

Well, over and above the glamor of it, we had to make sure we were doing the job properly. And the preparation you put into a thing like this is extremely important. Again, part of your life insurance quality, you owe it to the company and yourself and everybody else when you are, put in that position of responsibility to make sure no stone is left in turn. So we simulated everything we could in the Hunter from engine failure on takeoffs, streaming the parachute, calling for the barrier, operating at the same fuel state for the same duration as the 1127 would do, leaving the undercarriage down till we were at an altitude of 500 feet in case there was some phenomenal trim change, restricting the amount of throttle movement that we ran into so there was no risk of N over root feet are top end surges and move the throttle very carefully to give everything the best possible chance of getting that air airplane airborne safely with very modest targets to go for. To minimise the possibility of getting surges, which can be a function of the fan RPM outside air temperature, and of course to that you have to add aircraft incidents as well. This is the sort of thing that you have to know about on an engine, so you know how the engine’s got to be screwed down or the intake later on has got to be adjusted to cater for it. Mixed up with that, of course, there’s also the gun faring one, which will come to on another occasion.

We gave ourselves a speed of 450 knots and 4G and just took our time very quietly. There was the usual abundance of adrenaline in the cockpit as one came to take off. No great surprises. The airplane was tremendously lively in roll, had an exhilarating thrust await ratio, but it had served very much wrong with it. I mean although after landing the public relations department said, chief test pilot says she handled beautifully and has a great potential – that really meant a great potential for a test pilot school because it had everything wrong with it. I mean, it tightened up in turns. It pitched up, it had a transonic wing drop, he had an excessive nose down trim change with landing flap and it had a noisy vibratory ride. It had zero static stability in pitch and it had premature buffet onset in maneuver. And so when we came to do the landing on it, I chose to land do a flapless landing. So we didn’t have this problem of not of having to hold an out trim force on the final approach. And having landed one stream, the parachute and everything was quite satisfactory. But the engine limitations that we had to observe on the flight, I mean, I’ll just give you a feeling for them. We marked the gauges to minimize the difficulty in doing it, but we had to avoid 43 54% F rpm avoid 69 77% fen rpm don’t throttle back below 77% RPM above 0.7 mark number and then the same below 54% Fen RPM above point fire limit the throttle opening to avoid top end surge.

And frequently we had a deceleration flame out on landing and we always had an engine fare engine fire on shutdown. And these were classic constraints that you get often when are flying a new prototype airplane. This one was no exception. But we did a number of flights and we felt there was nothing that would stop us from slowing down below the stall to look at the approach to a transition, the aim being have a conventional airplane that you slow down to 90 knots, a hovering airplane that you accelerate from the hover to 90 knots, the bridges gap, look at the results is everything okay?

One thing I haven’t touched on at the moment is the intakes. If you want high efficiency of intake on a VSTOL airplane, the intake wants to be bulbous and that is not compatible with high speed flight. It was always envisaged that we would have a pneumatic intake that blew up to provide high static efficiency in hovering efficiency sucked down to a sharp intake for high speed flight. This was not ready at the time. So we started off with a bulbous metal intake speed limited to 250 knots and that’s hovering and low speed. And then when we came to fly the airplane conventionally it had a sharp intake for high speed flight, but no good for hovering. So that’s another classic example of having to wait for development to catch up before you’ve got all the features incorporated in one airplane. We have the pleasure of Sydney Camm came along. Well over a period of time, some years to achieve the standard that we have today, we had to one re-engineer, the nozzle control box, which I mentioned elimination.

We had actually a number of serrations. We’d move the lever sideways and it would engage with the slot. Well, you could never engage with the right slot. So all that lot went out and we just had a hover stop again straight back to the hover stop. And if we wanted an intermediate position, we just selected the intermediate position and then you lifted it back to come to the breaking position. The extravagant constant bleed system was replaced by total demand variable bleed system in which the valves were shut, until you needed to make a demand. The roll sensitivity, the gearing from the stick to the reaction controls in rolls increased five times to a figure of 0.75 radians per second squared per inch of stick deflection. We increased the roll control power, four times finishing up with a figure of 2.4 radians per second squared.

So I mean all these, the, the roll power went up from a figure of only 0.6 radians per second squared to a figure of three and a half radians per second squared. So you see all these things were getting progressive overhauling . The control in yaw was increased three and a half times from 0.1 radians per second square to 0.35 radians per second squared. The yaw proved to be a very important aspect of the airplane such that we provided a separate yaw control. And during our very early hovering trials intake momentum drag, yaw introduced itself unexpectedly to us its effect was minimized. Initially, we increased the control powers and maintained a very close discipline regarding combinations of side slip incidents and air speed and laterally. We put in pedal shakers that vibrated the rudder pedal and told the pilot immediately which rudder should be applied to suppress side slip because it was natural to apply the correct aileron to suppress a wing drop, but unnatural instinctively to put on the right rudder to suppress the side slit to get down to the root of the trouble.

Now, examples of what went on were on the following lines. One day executive director Bob Lickley arrived on the scene saying, I’m bringing Air Chief Marshall McGregor CinC fighter command along to see you fly today. And I said, well have a care because we’re doing something we’ve never done before. We should be moving forward about 30 or 40 knot 40 knots and doing a turn. It didn’t sound anything very dramatic. Well, Bob Lickley decided that we’d bring this CinC fighter command along anyway, and he came and I started this manoeuvre and the airplane appeared to go on pirouetting as if in a flat spin, failing to respond to full opposite rudder. And eventually it came out and I limped my way in the hover one wing down and put the airplane on the ground with a great sigh of relief. That was our first introduction to this phenomena.

Then suddenly everybody discovered what it was, intake momentum drag yaw. And this became known, this incident became known in history as the McGregor Turn after Air Chief Marshall McGregor. Basically what it is, is that a normal airplane has a fin on the back to keep it straight directionally, but the fin is not effective until you are doing about 90 to a hundred knots. With the P.1127, the airplane is unstable directionally, and when you get side slip on, you are destroying the momentum of a large, mass of air and the aircraft wants to yaw nose down wind because there’s no restraining force of the directional, static stability from the rudder to keep the airplane straight. Now from zero to 30 knots, it’s not over important because you’re not getting very strong aerodynamic effects in roll as well. But above that, you suddenly find that there are very strong rolling moments associated with the side slip, right outside the control of the aileron jet reaction control system on the airplane. So it was for this reason that we had to go to devices instill in the pilot, the importance of keeping the airplane pointing into wind with a sideslip indicator, sideslip in head up display, the rudder pedal shakers, and later on, auto stabilisation in yaw. /

Reel 6:
Plane pointing into wind with a side slip indicator side slip in the head up, display the rudder pedal shakers, and later on auto stabilisation. in yaw. , During our early test work to examine this, we said, how should we do it? So we agreed that our take off translate sideways and ever increasing speeds to the right and the left. I finished up at 60 knot, sideways to the right, 60 knot sideways to the left, nothing happened. So we then realised there was something more to it than that. It’s probably a function of incidents or forward speed. So we then went up, started doing turns at 20 knots, 30 knots, 40 knots, 50 knots. I was about 200 feet over the airfield when bang! Suddenly the airplane started to roll. I had the stick in one corner and going through my mind, whilst God sake, be careful what you do with the rudder, cuz at least you’re the right way up at the present moment, I thought carefully probably didn’t take very long and ease the rudder on it was the correct rudder and we straightened out. I just felt like an apple balanced precariously on top of a batch of apples on a barrel. I thought I was gonna fall off and it was brought home to us very forcefully.

Now, another problem we ran into also was strong nose down pitch in ground effect. We had to put an anhedral tail on the airplane at one stage to stop it pitching up in normal flight when we were manoeuvring the airplane at higher speeds. And the anhedral tail got over there. But when we got near ground in the hover, the jets bounced on the ground under certain conditions, hit the tail plane, caused the airplane to pitch nose down. And one rather rotund pilot by the name of George Cannon was rather slow in dealing with this. And the important thing in this a VTOL airplane is to make sure that you never make a significant reduction in thrust until the wheels are in contact with the ground.

Because if you shut the throttle, even Dr. Newton is there waiting to operate at 32 feet per second every second, every second. And he would snap the undercarriage off just like that. He did that, he shut the throttle and snapped the nose, undercarriage off. Someone did a cartoon of it entitled Cannon Off the Kush, which was a little bit unfortunate. What we did to get over that was we reduced the splay on the hot nozzles at the back, thus preventing the rebound from the cold nozzles onto the tail of the airplane. So you have sort of conjure up in your mind what the jets are doing, but it got over that problem. And these are typical of some of the difficulties we ran into. And another one that emerged during the life introduction of the harrier as opposed to the kestrel.

Well, I was doing a decelerating transition in the latter stages. We got an unbelievable Dutch roll and it turned out that the geometry was different from the P 1127 and the one that followed at the Kestrel And that the jet efflux was impinging on the edges of the under fin and causing a destabilised yawing effect, which caused a destabilised rolling effect. We were so lucky to get over that problem. We got over it just by lowering, automatically having the airplane, the air brake partially lowered when the undercarriage went down and that took the jet efflux away from that sensitive area. So these were the intriguing things that emerged. Now mixed up with all this business about controlling roll pitch and yaw, in terms of control power and control sensitivity came the actual control feel. How do you get the feel that you want?

I mean, for example, in roll you can have a spring feel, but you’ve also got to have a feel system for conventional flying. So we finished up with a compromise. Ideally in the hover, you want the lowest possible spring centring you can get away with. As a backup device if two field fails for conventional flying, in a way you tap off the Airstream to give you a feel system on your airplane, you won’t a reasonably stiffish spring. So what we had to do, we had to compromise. We had to get spring, which is a bit on the light side for conventional flying, a bit on the heavy side for hovering. And the same went longitudinally. But the things that you have to juggle together to meet these requirements are difficult. Imagine in yaw, so you’ve got in yaw nose wheel steering, you’ve got yawing in the hoverYou’ve got yawing in conventional flight. So you have to have a pedal. Yaw relationship, which allows you to cater for each of these requirements in terms of control, power, control feel, control sensitivity. So these are just some of the things that are triggered off in my mind as I go through.

Well now the next thing that happened in the p1127 development was a new airplane arrived on the scene. The second aircraft XP 836. This was going to be the all speed airplane, the one to do the flutter clearance, the engine intake strain gauging and slowing down to below the stall. Oh, out speed. Got the original prototype working from the hover up to a speed below the storm. It was only 11 months after the first hover that I did the first accelerating and decelerating transitions with and without auto stabilisation.

The remarkable thing was that they were so small, so smooth and straightforward. It was rather like a brick accelerating on virgin ice. It was such a smooth transition. The only problem initially we ran into was the last 30 degrees of nozzle movement produced a strong nose down trim change unless we first retracted the flaps. So all we did, we put a reminder ramp. So as the nozzle lever came along, it hit the ramp and that said, Hey, lift your flaps before you do the next 30 degrees. That feature, for some reason, I’m unaware of, disappeared later on with the Harrier itself.

This first transition shook the men at the ministry, because Bob Lickley said, “Bill, if you are in flight development are happy, don’t wait for the men from the ministry. You’ve already waited two days. Go ahead and do it. ”

So it was left to the design department, flight development and myself to decide whether it was okay. So we went ahead and did it. And then of course we had to excuse ourselves. And I have a lovely letter marked Secret from the resident technical officer to the Ministry of Defence Procurement Executive saying: “I understand from the chief test pilot that the first transition has been successfully carried out on XP 831. He tells me it was done entirely by accident. “

We have to say that we had lifted off, decided to do a translation, covered up so much of the airfield, we thought it’s safer to go ahead with the transition. And that is recorded to this very day in this lovely letter from the RTO.

Well, it was also around this time, these damned inflatable de-inflatable air engine intakes started to rare their ugly heads. And I’ve explained to you why you’ve got to have an intake that will meet the demands of hovering and high speed flight. This was a brilliant idea, but the basic problem was the danger if the bag didn’t inflate or if you had a slow puncture or a fast puncture, and the length of time it took to replace this intake. We had great difficulty in getting them to shut down. They used to flap like spaniels’ ears and periodically tear off. Luckily, they never ever went into the intake. Beautifully constructed, and they had very powerful corset stays inside, which maintained the true form of the inflatable intake – A when it was blown up – and b, when it was stuck down. It was very clever.

Who made it?

They were made by a company called British Aerospace.

So we thought a lot about this and meanwhile, men called Dr. Gabby, he’s a very clever man, came up with ideas of a compromise intake in which you lost a bit on spillage drag when flying conventionally, in theory, and you lost a bit when lifting off vertically. The moment of truth came, I was at one end of the airfield with inflatable intakes blown up. He was at the other end. Conditions were as near as the same. We loaded the airplane up to a condition at which we didn’t think it would take off. His airplane took off, mine didn’t. So the Compromise Intake won. And that was a very important step forward. Well then you see we moved to suction relief doors on the various developments. Six per-side for the Pegasus six engine Harrier eight pre-side for the Pegasus 11 and two rows, totalling 14 doors per side for the AV8-B. So the problem has now been solved, but in a rather different way from which we had been originally envisaged.

When I mentioned XP836 and the intake, a vibration testing that we were carrying out and pictures of it show it to be well and truly tufted. And we had vibration equipment on board the airplane to see how near the limits we were flying to. And we eventually resolved the problem by the use of titanium fan blades and snubbers on the fan blades to get over those limitations. But XP836 was always hostile and it never really sort of settled down and endeared itself to us. Now I was motoring along one day at 550 knot, low down doing fluter tests. They basically consist of flying progressively increasing speeds within strict disciplined flight development program, turning on the instrumentation and then thumping the stick hard ! longitudinally to try and induce a vibration and then see how it quickly it damps out on the instrumentation and then bang it sideways and do the same, kick the rudder pedals and then switch an instrumentation off.

I’d just done that and there was suddenly an abrupt deceleration. I lost a hundred knots, a roaring noise that I thought I’d had an engine problem. Called up the chase airplane, said I think I have an engine failure or an engine problem. I’m going to a conventional landing at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton. So he made some contacts and I was on my way. I was determined to come in fast. I only had an ordinary cartridge seat, not a rocket seat. And in the latter stages of the approach the airplane rolled and I thought it must regain speed to regain control, and throttle. It just made it that much worse. It just went ever so slowly. And the words of James Martin went through my mind, “Bill be sure to turn in, use the seat, handle seat between your legs“. Pull the handle large bang, straight through the canopy in those days, parachute deployed out and I hit the ground. Wondered why this emergency had turned out into a total disaster and didn’t know even when I saw the wreck burning in a barn. Picked up my bonker that I’d hit the control column with and my stopwatch, which was still going. Crawled aboard the admiral’s helicopter, went to sick quarters and nothing wrong. Rang up Kingston and Dunsfold to explain what my predicament was. And then they sent a team over quite quickly and we had a look at the wreckage. We weren’t at all sure what had happened. Two days later, a farm labourer found the glass-fibre engine exhaust nozzle from the left hand side in an orchard. He thought it was a space man’s helmet. And what had happened was that during manufacturer, by the engine manufacturer, this bit of equipment was not very well made and it had torn off. Glass fibre is very hard to examine after you’ve made it without sewing it in half. It was at that stage anyway. And hence when I lost the nozzle, I lost a quarter of my thrust that slowed me down, that accounted for the roaring noise. Unfortunately, my chase aircraft didn’t come and have a look on the other side, otherwise we might have done a flap-less landing or something like that.

So which direction was the air squirting out?

Well it was going out at right angles to the fuselage. But when I lowered the flaps air from the one nozzle remaining blew on one flaps, I got an asymmetric roll. And that’s what caused us to lose the airplane. So temporarily we changed from fibreglass to steel to get over that particular problem. And it was rather an expensive lesson to learn. I’ve still got a mach meter from the airplane. It didn’t even break the glass on the mach meter. It was quite remarkable.

Well, our next landmark was landing the original airplane on HMS Ark Royal, number four, February, 1963. Sir, I grounded all the conventional airplanes in the Dunsfold area and we cleared the operational readiness platform to represent our Ark Royal to the series of short takeoffs and vertical landings. And we were ready to go. The men from the ministry said, what are you going to do if the engine stops? What’ll happen if the nozzles don’t come down? You’ll buckle the deck. You’ll deafen the captain, you’ll blow the crew overboard. The pessimism had to be seen to be believed. We had confidence in what we were doing and we went and landing at dawn in February, 1963, it was a complete anti-climax, almost easier landing on the ship than landing on a normal runway because you’d got the, tower, island really to judge your height by.

Bill Bedford being welcomed on board HMS ARK ROYAL by Commander A R Rawbone. P.1127 XP831 © IWM

We operated with sensible parameters. Again, my good friend Fred Sutton was on board and we had a mutual agreement. The main exercise was to make it successful not to go to the limits of handling and performance. So we did a series of short takeoffs and vertical landings and hovering in the vicinity of the deck. And people had said, watch the hot gases from the funnel, beware of the turbulence to the lee of the island. The turbulence is not really a very significant factor because the jet velocity of VSTOL airplane is high relative to the gust velocity. Whereas with helicopters, the down wash velocity is very low compared with the gust velocity. So a, VSTOL airplane is much more dense than ever a helicopter is, and as such is not affected by gusts the way a helicopter is.

Very interesting comment made by Admiral Donald Gibson flag officer aircraft carriers who said the thing that impressed me most was the complete absence of fight on the part of the spectators. “New aircraft normally come aboard bigger, heavier, and faster. And here was a complete reversal of the trend.” It was a lovely comment that he made there.

Well, I had the great pleasure on the 8th February, 1988, of re-enacting that historic flight, the first landing of a jet VSTOL on airplane on a ship by repeating it in a two-seater from 899 squadron with Alistair McLaren and flying from Yeovilton escorted by Scott Ledbetter the CO of 899 squadron and landing vertically on the immaculate new Ark Royal number five. And that was a tremendous occasion to do that. And we came to refuel, they couldn’t actually refuel because the two seater had never been on the ship before. They don’t normally give dual before landing on the ship. And the refuelling coupling is in a slightly different position in relation to a certain bulkhead. So they were terribly embarrassed. And then they had the bright idea of putting the inflight refuelling probe on the airplane and filling the airplane from the inflight refuelling probe on the deck. This they did successfully gave the captain a quick swell around. Then I jumped in the airplane with, Angus. We taxied backwards along the deck, lined up to what looked like a brick wall in front of us. But that was the perspective on the ski jump. Full throttle. We were away up the ski jump lifted off on a sort of semi ballistic trajectory and completed our transition in the runway in the sky, which is for nothing. And quick few turns and we were in tight formation on Scott Ledbetter back on our way to Yeovilton So it’s quite a tremendous experience there.

Well, it was June of 63 moving from the great success of Ark Royal to the Paris Air Show, where there was a very important international competition going on for the NATO basic military requirement, Number three. Our main competitor was the French Dassault eight engine Balzac with a separate propulsive engine. These were the only proven devices. There were many sort of parametric studies which bore no real realism to real life that were being proposed by other people. We hit the headlines where the airplane had arrived on the Wednesday and Press, television and everything. We even landed on the grass. That was our intention.

Dassault Balzac. The first flight of the aircraft on a leash, October 1962

Our competitor, the Balzac initially and later the Mirage IIIV had to have 1- a water cooled platform from which to lift off, 2 an army of men to attend to its needs. It had to be anchored down and the oleos compressed by a chain so that when it lifted off. It lifted off under the influence of the eight lift engines and the energy stored in the undercarriage, rose off the ground, majestic like a lethargic champaign, corked about three or 400 feet. And then had the great problem diving through the intake momentum drag that it had generated itself. Could only do it by losing height. And so you saw this extraordinary performance. The air had been filled by ordinary Mirages to make it look as if take one’s eyes off of what was going on. Well, you interested one put up our binoculars and saw the engines were never shut down on the Balzac. They were kept going all the time. Meanwhile, Le Bourget is full of delta shapes. Mirages. I saw it coming back with smoke coming out, arrives over its platform and it can’t lift off when once it’s landed on a solid surface. So what the pilot did was set up a high rate of descent, hit the ground with a thump and under the influence of the energy stored in the undercarriage, it bounced back into the air again, very undignified. Landed, stayed away.

XP831 crash at the Paris Airshow. Still from AP newsreel

We had no flying on the Thursday. It rained out on the Friday, couldn’t start on the Saturday, but a second airplane along on the Sunday. So we had two aircraft operating, one from the grass, one from the runway. Our intention being to land on the grass adjacent to the concrete platform of our competitors. At the moment critique. I had done my aerobatic display took off at 13 minutes past five, completed that part, decelerating transition coming to the hover and suddenly I found myself plummeting earthwards and I crashed ignominiously on the platform that was designed for our competitors. And I remember being very concerned about fires. I got the fuel off and the switches off very quickly undid the straps undid the canopy, jumped out, found the ground was close to me because there were no undercarriage there.

And then came the spectators, fire tenders, helicopters, everybody you could think of, surging round it. An hour later they found a regulation that said anyone involved in a crash must go to hospitalised, put on a stretcher into an ambulance, driven at break neck speed across the airfield. If my life had depended on it, I’d have been dead by the time I got to the far side of the airfield. I had to put my hands on the roof of the ambulance to protect myself from banging my face on the top of it. Got to the other side, was allowed to get out like a normal person. Wait 45 minutes, into the helicopter ambulance talk off with great urgency at low level, startling past people’s windows at height of a bus, I suppose. And there are people looking anxiously out as they were having their aperitifs. We arrive at the hospital, blood all over the steps, might of got crash, another hours’ wait. Finally I have the examination. Nothing wrong. Go back to the hotel, scream, meet publicly. Have a chat about 1 – What did we think it happened? 2 -how do we handle the press? 3 – what we are gonna do in the evening? Had a hot bath. Brandy and ginger ale. Change, look respectable, going down the stairs with the scream. Up come my colleagues all covered in fire fighting fluid, looking terribly depressed. Years later they said, I said, thank goodness for Christine Keeler and Russian women in space – it will keep us off the front pages of the newspaper. Of course it didn’t do anything of the sort. Basically what appeared to have happened, the nozzles were operated and controlled by a duplicated air motor, fed through a filter. If as the system was then, the filter malfunctions, then the pressure reducing valve will allow the nozzles to go to the almost horizontal position. So we put in filters, we put in a minimum flow stop. We repaired the airplane. Eight months later, I tested the improvements on it. Shortly after that, the airplane went to the Royal Aircraft Establishment and did a very good job on research work there. So,you know, that was quite a sort of exciting incident one way or another to have had.

Hawker’s P.1154

And our next phase we built, you’ll see six of these airplanes with varying types of wings on some prelude to an operational type of airplane called the Supersonic P 1154. But there was a requirement for a Kestrel Evaluation Squadron of American, German, and British pilots. Nine aircraft to be built. And this airplane was to have 15,500 pounds of thrust as opposed to 10,500. It had a proper swept wing replacing the delta one on the 1127 longitudinal control characteristics improved by an increased span anhedral tail plane and inertia bob weight. Centre of gravity was tackled by stretching the fuselage and taking the wing with it. And with a VSTOL aircraft, as I mentioned earlier, you have to think of centre gravity centre of first ,centre of lift. We increased the fin size also. And the squadron did a thousand sorties, 650 hours of flying. On the very first day of the squadron United States Army Pilot colonel Lou, Salt, crashed on takeoff because he tried to take off with the parking brake on. And the Kestrel with the parking brake on is direction unstable. And the airplane went sideways, rolled, cartwheeled caught fire. They got him out without any significant damage done to him.

What, what is the effect of the parking brake ?

No, this was running along the ground. You see most airplanes you can, well a lot of airplanes you can hold up to full power on the brakes. This airplane you can only use about quarter of the power and you’re sliding with brakes locked and that’s directionally unstable. One other pilot did it also, but he did it on the sortie that involved vertical takeoff and vertical landing and recognised when he was trying to taxi that there was something wrong the parking brake was on. So what we did was to incorporate a system whereby the parking brake was automatically knocked off when you opened the throttle. So that got over that problem.

So I mean the trials really, I think by and large were an outstanding success. And one lovely story was General Barkhorn, an eminent man on the squadron, one of the top scoring fighter ACEs of the Luftwaffe, and he claimed and was credited with 350 aircraft destroyed on the ground in the air in the Russian theatre and some in the UK. And he crashed one of these Kestrels by shutting the throttle too early and the undercarriage broke off. He stepped out of it, said “that makes 351 allied aircraft destroyed“. Sadly, he was killed in a motor car crash.

I mentioned the NATO basic military requirement 3 for a supersonic airplane. And our submission at Hawkers, I suppose we would then be the Hawker Blackburn Division of Hawker Siddeley Aviation was the supersonic P1154, which was announced the technical winner of the NATO evaluation in April 62. And it was going to have a Bristol BS100 engine with plenum chamber burning of fuel in the front nozzles with a thrust of 33,000 pounds. Designed to fly at seven 50 knots at low level. But at 1.7, mach number at altitude, John Fozzard played a major part in the design of this project. And it was John, of course who successfully led the Harrier team and also the Sea Harrier team. So John Fozzard played a very important life in the operational aspects of VSTOL for this country. Development of the P1154 was well underway when the new labour government under Harold Wilson came to power. And the chopper came down on the TSR2, on the VSTOL transport and even on the 1154. And I got a very interesting picture of Minister of Aviation, Roy Jenkins, the Grim Reaper, having seen a Kestrel demonstration at Boscombe Down just before the axing of the 1154 in February 65. He said unofficially the 1154 is out, but we’ll buy some of them – pointing to the Kestrel. “Them” were eventually to be an aircraft designated, I think rather unwisely, P1127 (RAF), now known as the Harrier.

Reel 7:

Well, the Harrier was in a major redesign for Kestrel albeit a political one – minimum cost, minimum risk. And it wasn’t a very popular solution with many people in the Royal Air Force who wanted supersonics, so as an airplane, not supported enthusiastically as a concept, it involved 95% new drawings, 2 million engineering manhours by Hawker Aircraft, and 2 million by subcontractors. And of course it incorporated an engine 19,500 pounds going up to 21,500 pounds. It had a greatly improved wing, a requirement to pull 6G at 400 knots, 10,000 feet at 16,500 pounds. This requirement combined with a specified war load radius of action from vertical takeoff made the design have to be threaded really through the eye of a needle. The Pegasus 11 of engine of 21,500 pounds of thrust with increased suction relief doors later came along. And as, as I told you before, it had the superb self shortening leg to give good handling characteristic. Would carry a war load of 8,000 pounds. I did the first flight of the Harrier on the last day of August, 1966. A few days later, we demonstrated at Farnborough Air Show having only done one hour, 45 minutes.

The airplane was a goer from the word go. And I mentioned too early on that funny Dutch roll characteristic that we got over by partially lowering the undercarriage. So then we learned a lot more about intake efficiency and the feel characteristics and the reaction control characteristics. We operated it from a small ship called HMS Blake, that was done by Hugh Merewether, the Harrier GR Mk1 was followed by the GR Mk3 with laser on board and about a hundred Harriers operated with the Royal Air Force. Some in RAF Wittering and some at RAF Gütersloh.

Was that laser ranging?

Yeah. And they were equipped with the Ferranti FE 541 clockwork version of the inertial navac system. Remarkable bit of kit ready for its day. And I mean that really summarises as far as I think it’s worthwhile my going except just to touch on the prototype or the Y-AV8B, which was developed Harrier designated by or designed by McDonell Douglass in St. Louis, but using a lot of the expertise from British Aerospace. And this airplane has a carbon fibre wing, three pylons under each wing pylon under the fusalage. Last two 30 millimetre podded guns, greatly increased fuel so it can either double the war load for the same radius of action, double the radius of action for the same war load as the old Harrier, many improvements: the engine intake also to the location of the nozzles. Very large flaps to give extremely good stall device with short takeoff and landing device with the flaps, interconnected with the nozzles. Then it has additional devices called lift improvement devices. They’re strakes underneath the fuselage, which will improve the vertical takeoff, vertical landing performance. Current status is that 340 of these airplanes for the Marines are envisaged, 60 for the Royal Air Force and the squadron for the Spanish Marines.

So that is where we stand at the present moment. It’s my view that it is wise, and I’m surprised that more countries around the world have not got an element of VSTOL airplanes to integrate with conventional aircraft to give flexibility of operation mobility surprise and quick reaction, which is always of paramount importance in war. But it’s been very slow catching on, and one wonders why this is? Is it prejudice? Is it not invented here?, Is it because so much money has been spent on harden sites, blast proof shelters surface to air missiles? In the United States navy they want to keep large aircraft carriers. So they don’t want to give way to VSTOL except in a limited way for the Marine Corps But one feels there is a room for it because airfields are more vulnerable than ever before with the modern generations of anti airfield bombs. And you can play so many different tunes with VSTOL that you can’t with conventional. I don’t pretend it replaces them, but it’s something complimentary to conventional airplanes. It makes sense.

Interviewer: You have also when that young pilot from Illustrious forced landed is sea harrier on the deck of a Spanish freighter? It, it struck me quite clearly at the time, if you have a situation of, if you like sea borne dispersed, I mean if you didn’t want to put a whole squadron, the carriers on say an Ara class carrier now or put ’em all on there, but if you had a, a fleet of small Ships even for instance, a new dude class Fris coming out. Yeah, they’ve got a chopper hanger, which I thought you could tuck a harrier Into.

A Sea Harrier approaches the container ship ATLANTIC CONVEYOR to test its recently installed flight deck at Devonport. This was the first Sea Harrier to land on the ship. ©IWM

Well, I think there is a possibility of this concept and you know, whether it’s a sort of freighter that you use via airplane or whether it’s the type of ship that you use, you’ve got the opportunity of doing this. Additionally, you’ve got the advantage of the integration of Army Navy Air Force operations. Now that operation sounds very attractive, but from an interservice point of view, the rivalry that goes with it makes it an extremely difficult concept to be acceptable. I mean, one found that to some extent during the Falcons there was quite a lot of interservice jealousy going on with the, well,

I have listened, fascinated to you for the last, I dunno how many hours now, it’s all there. Devils for punishment. But one thing that’s come out from this is that you’ve virtually reinvented the airplane in the process.

Well, I think that’s right. I mean, we were all very ignorant about what was required of it and what we were going to problems we were going to run into. The thing that saved it, you know, was just enthusiastic, able, experienced people who put everything that they had got into it. You know, whether it was the bloke who swept the hangar floor or provided the tea, or whether it was the engineers who worked in flight development or the people who were involved in the drawing office and the other disciplines within the company. I mean, they, no one ever thought of striking or anything when the pressure was on. It was how do we find a solution to the problem

As many all pulling together? There’s no need.

Oh, it’s tremendous. And we didn’t go through great big committees because we were responsible for that project as a plan. The first instance, small group of people could decide which area they’re going. Now you never do that on one of these collaborative projects with Germany, Italy, Spain, and United Kingdom. So we were very lucky at that particular time to have that freedom of operation. But the changes that went on on the airplane, every single thing you couldn’t think of seemed to be changed on it. And it’s surprising how people honed onto what the problems were and honed onto solutions for them. And in my book, there’s no doubt about it, that while Sydney Camm played an important part in giving it the green light, Ralph Hooper was the creative genius behind the concept that we are involved in, in parallel with his opposite number, Gordon Lewis of Rolls Royce at Bristol. And not in any way degrading the very important part that Stanley Hooker played, which he obviously did on the political side as well as on the technical side. Also, John Dale on the flight development from Bristol was very important. I mean, these were really key people who were involved in it. And now I put on record my thanks for everything that they did and appreciation of other pilots. I mean, I’m feeling in the hot seat today, I’d almost think that I invented this damn machine. I had a lot of support with very able men called Hugh Merewether in those formative days. And I respect what he did. I have the utmost admiration for John Farley, who I mean was head and shoulders above so many other test pilots that I have known around the world. And I put him in the category as one of the top engineering test pilots in the world. And a very intelligent man to boot. I just wish at times he was just a little more diplomatic. Cause he doesn’t help himself too much. But I respect that man, and he’s a great friend of mine, and really what he’s done to the Harrier should at least have made him a senior director for VSTOL in British Aerospace. But the politics didn’t fit, you see. So I don’t mind that being put on record. I’d be delighted for it to be played to anybody at British Aerospace.

Bill, can you spare me just a few more minutes? Yep. Because on my phone, and it is public knowledge that the Harrier formed was somebody’s fav, one of his favorite aircraft, and it was a milestone in his life. I’m talking about Sir Thomas Sopwith and you mentioned that you’ve met him on a number of occasions and you were very fulsome over the phone. And I was wondering if you could just enlarge on that now.

Well, I feel inadequate really to pay proper tribute to so Thomas Sopwith, because I suppose he’s the one man I would really like to have emulated in my life and in my career. I don’t don’t think I have ever seen anyone who exudes so much integrity, credibility, wisdom with such modesty. And it used to be marvelous to see him down at Dunsfold Aerodrome in the halcyon days of the Hunter. And in the early days of vertical takeoff and landing, always interested in what we were doing and what problems we are running into ready to reminisce about the past or whether to look into the future. He’d usually come armed with brace of pheasants or partridges or some other gift like that. And it was an absolute tonic when that man arrived. It just, he had the charisma and presence to raise the spirits and morale of the place almost immediately when he arrived at Dunsfold Aerodrome. And of course, his interest in those formative days of the P1127, he was absolutely fascinated by it because it was a new concept, which he knew in his innermost soul was the right way to go. And that man having done so much prior to enduring World War I and World War II, particularly, I’m thinking of the Sopwith aircraft that he produced for World War I and of course the Hurricane, especially for World War II. And then he actually gives the green light for the go ahead of the prototype P 1127. He always had that uncanny neck of knowing which way to go. And I think also he is a great man for choosing the right sort of people. And it was for me one of the greatest pleasures and privileges that I could possibly have wished for when I was asked by the Society of Experimental Test Pilots to present him with the honorary fellowship of the Society shortly after his hundredth birthday. I went to Compton Manor where it was pouring down with rain and dull and arrived there, was welcomed inside. His secretary said, oh, this Bill Bedford arrived. He said, “come over Bill. Sit down on this stool. Tell me all about the society.” So I told him about it and he said, “I’m going to do something I don’t normally do, and let’s have a drink. Do you mind passing me your glass?” Well, I was having one of the famous Compton Manor rum cocktails out of the silver goblet, and I handed it to him and he had a drink and I had the pleasure of having a drink out of it. Also, it was just like drinking out of the aviation cup of fellowship. I mean, that was a marvelous experience. And later we had lunch together. But I was impressed by the dignity of the man. He had his, although he couldn’t see, he had his food on a tray at the table and he honed onto the side of it. He operated as if he could see, and he was doing it by intelligent feel and thoughtfulness and so on. And at the lunch table, he was talking about current events. He was talking about things happening in the future, and he was talking about things happening in the past. And it was absolutely fascinating to feel the presence of that man allied to this unbelievable modesty went with it. That is my inadequate comments on a man I greatly respect.

I mean it’s so unusual for a man who was fortunate to be well brought up. He never abused the privilege of his wealthy upbringing. He put such an immense amount into life on land with his motor car racing and activities at sea with all his success sailing and in the air and in business. Incredible. Isn’t it really when you look back at it. And then when the time came to take things more quietly, he enjoyed himself shooting and walking and fishing on the natural things in life. Incredible man. I should think there must be a very empty space in the those left behind in the Sopwith family when a character and personality like that goes.


Original sound recordings created at Brooklands Museum in 1989
Copies held at the Imperial War Museum
Transcriptions and photographs provided by Dunsfold History Society 2023

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