Front-Line and Experimental Flying With the Fleet Air Arm by G.R. (Geoff) Higgs AFC RN

Front-Line and Experimental Flying With the Fleet Air Arm by G.R. (Geoff) Higgs AFC RN

Author:G.R. (Geoff) Higgs AFC RN [RN AFC Higgs (Geoff) G.R.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781844687787
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Published: 2012-03-15T16:00:00+00:00


Experimental Flying Department, RAE Farnborough and Bedford

RAE Farnborough

The Experimental Flying Department consisted of a number of separate flight organisations, each supporting the Research Departments, Aerodynamics, Structures, Radio, Met, Weapons and Naval Air. I was appointed firstly to the Naval Air Department but also to Radio Flight, which I joined with Flt Lt John Walker from the Test Pilots course. We would become very good friends, and later on I would be his best man at his wedding.

The Naval Department, commonly known as NAD, was the centre of all development involved with getting aircraft on and off ships, specialising in catapult and arrester gear design and any equipment associated with this activity. It had in its time been the forerunner of new techniques, steam catapults and much improved hydraulic arrester gear, and was currently involved in water spray gear for use at airfields, as well as aircraft carriers, the angled deck, and various devices to assist the pilot, such as the mirror sight and projector sight to replace the Landing Signal Officer. The scientists and engineers in NAD were dedicated people who tended to spend the better part of their careers in advancing ship/aircraft operation and compatibility. Their knowledge was invaluable.

Straightaway I inherited a ‘nasty’. The Westland Wyvern, which had recently entered front-line squadron service, was experiencing an increasing number of engine failures at the end of the catapult launch during operations at sea, and as a result all catapult launches had been suspended until the fault could be found. This rendered the aircraft less than useful in its role, and understandably, the Admiralty had demanded the highest priority to resolving the problem.

My only experience of the Wyvern was a couple of months previously when I had scrounged a short flight while on the Test Pilots course. So I immediately set to work to fully familiarise myself with the aircraft, and more particularly the Python engine, an eight-bladed contra-rotating turboprop engine, a product from Armstrong Siddeley. The Wyvern had had a chequered start in life, requiring numerous aerodynamic modifications as well as prolonged development to achieve satisfactory engine/propeller/ throttle response before it was accepted into the fleet. I made one handling flight, which included delivering the aircraft to Westland at Merrifield, followed by an air test and a short flight on another aircraft before getting to work on the catapult programme.

NAD was an unimpressive collection of buildings, which, with the adjacent hydraulic catapult and other bits of machinery, reminded me of a dockyard facility. Farnborough was still, at this time, the working location of NAD, but it was due to reduce to care and maintenance within the year, when all work, technical and flying, would be transferred to the RAE Bedford. Meanwhile there were still a number of outstanding test programmes to be undertaken, with the ageing BH4 catapult and the now obsolescent Mk 9 arrester gear with the Wyvern our first priority.

So early in January we embarked on a programme of investigation into the problems that had beset the Wyvern at sea.


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