Problems with Hermes props at Handley page

2:01pm Thursday 14th August 2003

By Aaron Bateman

MORE now from Ted Turner's diary of working life at Handley Page near Radlett.

Prevbiously, Mr Turner has detailed the problems in the factory encountered as a result of the shortage of propellers. These were eventually overcome but there were new problems just round the corner.

Mr Turner continues: "Another incident involving propellers occurred when a Hermes was fitted with a relatively new type of propeller incorporating reverse pitch which when properly applied acted as a brake during landing.

"The props were of De Havilland design and we flew the Hermes to De Havillands at Hatfield for trials with a De Havilland test pilot at the controls,"' he said.

"After several taxi runs on the runway and a number of bumps and circuits the pilot confirmed that all was working as it should be.

"We flew back to Radlett and on approaching the apron in front of the hangar the pilot activated the reverse pitch control much to the amazement of the small reception committee who were suddenly hit with a gale force wind which left one or two of them flat on their backs. Fortunately no injuries were sustained.

"In 1951 we received an order to build 150 English electric Canberras of which the first one flew in 1953.

"Only half of these were completed as the Victor was already in production and that took priority. My job on the Canberra was to fit wing fuel tanks which incorporated explosive bolts at the attachment points.

"Canberra engines were started with the assistance of a very large cartridge inserted into the centre boss of the engine nacelle.

"It was activated electronically, with a misfire more often than not, in which case after a short time lapse, a second attempt was necessary.

"As I was part of the ground staff team at this time the flight trials were part of the job and two aircraft were prepared for flight.

"It was February 1954 and the two aircraft were both despatched within a few minutes of each other and disappeared into the blue.

"Some time later one aircraft was observed in the vicinity of Napsbury Hospital. It suddenly dived into the ground followed by a muffled explosion.

"We all knew what had happened and our immediate reaction was to warn the trains whereby a fitter sprinted across the field to the platelayers hut on our side of the railway to warn the occupants of the impending danger.

"The warning must have reached its destination as there was no report of a train accident that day even though it was later confirmed that the rails were badly damaged and the two lines were closed for some time.

"The part of the wreckage that was recovered was laid out on the hangar floor whereby all sorts of theories were put forward as to the cause of the crash. It was later transported to Farnborough where a more detailed examination could take place.

"What the outcome was isn't certain, it was no doubt put down to pilot error, something which the chief test pilot, Squadron Leader Hedley Hazelden D.F.C found difficult to accept - he was in the other aircraft at the same time.

"I had the privilege of having lunch with him on a nostalgic visit to Cranwell as a guest of the Handley Page Association in September 1999 and we discussed the Canberra crash at great length.

"Sadly "Hazel" passed away in August 2001 aged 86."

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