The Odd Job man!
The aeronautical memoirs of GEORGE CORNER
ex BAC/BAe Flight Test, 9x7 Wind Tunnel and Warton Aerodynamics engineer
and previously at the Fairey Aviation Co Ltd, in the RAF
and at Short Brothers and Harland, Belfast.

Early days
To cut a long story short, when I was a youngster in SW London I managed to fail my “11-Plus”. However, on having been thrown a life-saving “13-Plus” opportunity, my Aunt talked the local technical college principal into accepting me into his establishment as a “late starter”.

Lucky break! And although the, arguably, unduly technically-oriented college curriculum taught me little about my roots and the geography and history of the world I lived in, it did provide a good grounding in physics, chemistry, mechanics, engineering science and engineering drawing, enabling me to score well in my leaving examination and pointing me in the direction of a technical apprenticeship.

In the early 1950s I became an aeronautical enthusiast. I was fascinated with aeroplanes – not so much with the piston engine types that had played such a major part in our wartime survival in S.E. England – but rather with the new fighters of the 'jet age' and in particular with the Hawker Hunter. I never missed the SBAC Farnborough show – it being a fairly short train journey from home. Thus, when it came to choosing an apprenticeship, I initially sought out Hawkers at Kingston, just down the road, who had no vacancies at the time. However, thankfully I was accepted by Fairey Aviation at Hayes, Middlesex (an accurate 3-view drawing of the Hunter, which I had fastidiously completed to take to Hawkers, providing testament to my dedication).

Fairey Aviation
Despite my zero contribution to its manufacture, I recall being proud to be a bit-part player in the Fairey team as I witnessed the first production Gannet, fresh from its new style Fairey-developed envelope jigging system, in its primer finish (yellow peril) being towed from the assembly line at Hayes to be delivered by road to the airfield for its very first flight!

An apprenticeship at Faireys (indentured student engineering apprenticeship … if you don't mind!) wasn't all 'beer and skittles'.  Although from time-to-time it could be fairly tedious, a Fairey apprenticeship provided an excellent introduction to the varied skills required of staff involved in the design, manufacture and testing of aircraft. The training was rigorous and designed to instil the requisite attention to accuracy and detail.  For example, the initial 3-months spent in the comprehensively equipped Apprentice Training Workshop, demanded maximum effort, concentration and the acquisition of expertise in the use of basic fitting/machine shop tools, both hand-held and machine driven.

Other workshop/hangar experience included (no, don't laugh!) 4 months in the pipe-bending dept. ... and a period of similar duration in the Experimental Dept – where at the time that 'aeronautical white elephant', the Fairey Rotodyne passenger helicopter was being constructed and the second Fairey Delta (FD2 - WG777) was having its wing integral fuel tanks sealed with 3M gunge on a rotary rig.
My sole contribution here was to actually insert two rivets attaching the outer skin to the longeron in the passenger compartment of the Rotodyne. I was deemed to have been too heavy-handed by supervision and demoted to skin deburring work, with which I could be safely entrusted!  Later on, in the Fairey training programme, selected engineering student apprentices undertook a brilliant 3-month course in drawing office and stress/technical office methods and procedures. Apart from demanding a high standard of drawing accuracy, the course included getting to grips with the task of assessing the loadings on specific components and correctly sizing them to withstand the rigours of carrier-based operation.

It stood me in good stead for my year spent in the technical office, where I had to stress-analyse various structural components on the Gannet (Mk 3) and then finally undertake the computation of the loading type record for that aircraft, including the structural strength reserve factors for the critical 4g rolling pull out manoeuvre. The latter requiring a good 6 months effort using an ancient, pre-computer age desk comptometer to make the calculations!

The same course had also improved my already generally competent engineering drawing skills in preparation for my spell in the Fairey drawing office (also on Gannet Mk 3 design work).
Next up was a spell in the component and materials inspection and test lab. This was a wonderful kaleidoscope of testing machines and pressure tanks. Here I learnt much about the behaviour of tensile test pieces under stress and their subsequent response during pre-fracture elongation – a subject with which I became strangely obsessed!

Things got even better with a 3-week course in the Fairey Aircraft Maintenance School – the course covered all the aircraft systems and the servicing work that could be undertaken on the Gannet (ASW) aircraft – providing an excellent schooling and system breakdown both for Fairey employees and Fleet Air Arm personnel.

Career choices
The real challenges for me came in the final two years of my apprenticeship:  Should I opt to focus on the design/detail design of aeroplanes as a part of a drawing office project team or on the stress analysis of the same?  Or should I seek to become a part of the airfield development team involved in flight testing?  (Meanwhile, I took a course in the endorsement subject “Fluid Mechanics” and taught myself as much about aerodynamics as I could glean from text books, because my HNC + endorsements were in Mechanical and Production Engineering – a result of a limitation in the otherwise excellent training policy of Fairey Aviation, due to a lack of colleges in my home area covering aeronautics at that time).

As it transpired, I was afforded an insight into the flight test option right away. I was posted out to the Fairey Flight Test Dept., located at White Waltham Aerodrome, which the Company shared with RAF Home Command and the West London Aero Club. Home Command mainly operated Bolton-Paul Balliols and The West London Aero Club (which is there to this day and in more-or-less the same accommodation!) undertook flying training with its Tiger Moths.
After some initial training, instrumentation film reading and a spell of plotting the results of the flight testing to verify Gannet performance and handling data, I was required to undertake a mandatory company medical before I was offered the unexpected privilege of becoming a Gannet flight test observer....

Wow!! ...This was brilliant, and entirely unexpected!!  All sorts of flight testing were taking place, but my assigned aircraft was due to undertake take off and landing trials at high weight. And the great thing about it was that although the Gannet could take-off satisfactorily at high weight from White Waltham, it could not risk landing at the same (grass) airfield until the fuel weight had reduced to around one third of its value at take-off. This entailed 'stooging' around for 2 to 3 hours, just enjoying the scenery. We would take off, fly the short distance to RAE Farnborough, be treated like important people there and after debriefing and a cup of tea we would take off again at a relatively high weight and fly around until our weight decreased to that permissible for landing at home base. My only problem with this was that as the junior member of the team, I was assigned the Gannet third cockpit and rear facing seat, staring at the fin and tailplane. But happy days! The better option – with the chance to actually (and, of course, entirely unofficially) fly the Gannet, albeit briefly – came with the trainer version. For me, as a junior crewman, this was a relatively rare occurrence.

At this time, Peter Twiss* (our pilot) had secured (for the time being) the World Airspeed Record** in the Fairey Delta 2 WG774). His fame sort of rubbed off slightly on us, with the associated bragging rights!

Aerial antics
There were two other great things about White Waltham. One was the existence of the West London Aero Club, as mentioned above. The other was the generous offer from Faireys to apprentices of subsidised flying training in the Tiger Moths.    I was fortunate to be able to take advantage of this offer and used up 8 hours of it performing take-offs and landings, level and inverted flight, rolls and loops, stalls and spins (with a flying instructor, of course!) – right up till I was posted back to the factory at Hayes, without having flown solo. After another couple of hours on Chipmunks at Southend Airport, I ran out of cash … and time! …. as I successfully passed the selection procedure at Biggin Hill, threw it all up and joined the RAF as a technical officer (initially student officer) with a 3-year short service commission and set off for the OCTU (Officer Cadet Training Unit) at RAF Jurby in the Isle of Man.

RAF service
Initial life with the boys in blue was a wake-up call, if I needed one, with strenuous physical training supervised by PT NCO's making the most of an opportunity to test potential commissioned officers to their physical limits.

Circuit training (with nurses standing by to treat any totally exhausted trainees – no kidding!), route marching/running and camping/living rough “escape and evasion” type exercises filled a good two-thirds of the curriculum, rendering the classroom activities, providing instruction in the basic requirements and expected qualities of RAF officers and QR's and ACI's (Queens Regulations and Air Council Instructions) 'a piece of cake' by comparison. (The assumption throughout being that one's technical/professional qualifications gained in civilian life were adequate evidence of general technical competency and would, by their very nature, be of benefit to the Royal Air Force).

On graduation as a Pilot Officer, then automatic promotion to Flying Officer, followed by a course at the RAF School of Education, I was allocated to the task, among others, of providing AEO's (Air Electronics Officers) and V-Bomber Crew Chiefs with an understanding of the aerodynamic principles governing their respective aircraft (Shackleton / Vulcan, Victor). This training was carried out at No. 8 School of Technical Training, located at RAF Weeton.

Although the only flying I did in the RAF was in a Twin Pioneer and a Whirlwind Mk 10 helicopter – Oh! … and a short introductory gliding course at RAF Gütersloh, I enjoyed life in the Service and almost made it a permanent career, opting in the event to leave the regular service at the end of my 3-year spell, but to retain a commission in the RAFVR with the ultimate rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Apart from enabling me to keep in contact with RAF life, this continuation service brought special treats, because summer camps at RAF Church Fenton in 1966 and at RAF Coltishall in 1969 (if my memory serves me right) provided me with some additional air experience in a Jet Provost (Mk.3) and after pestering the Wing Commander (Flying) at Coltishall, a trip in a Lightning T5 – so more Per Ardua Ad Astra!

Belfast and the Belfast
On leaving the regular service I secured a job in the Flight Development Department of Short Brothers & Harland, Belfast, constructors of the not overwhelmingly successful giant freighter, known at the time as the SC9, then named the Belfast. My task was two-fold:

  • To assist with the measurement of the performance of this colossal beast, notably the field (take-off and landing) performance.
  • To interpret the civil BCAR regulations and requirements relating to take-off and landing techniques, to which it was deemed to be subject.

Incidentally, my boss at Short's was Alec Cundick, ex Warton Flight Test.......

In fact I left just after the first flight of the Belfast, in 1964, having secured a position in the Flight Test Department of English Electric/BAC at Warton in anticipation of TSR2 flight testing.

(Meanwhile, the Belfast needed modifications to reduce base drag. Changes made following wind tunnel testing, brought about some modest improvements in service, but the original requirement was never quite fulfilled. Happily, the RAF's loss was Heavy Lift's gain as that air transport company and some others used a number of the transports for their less demanding heavy lift work!)

WARTON Flight Test – the place to be!
… it certainly was in the Summer of 1964, with Lightning Mk5 (2-seater) and Mk 6 flight testing underway! I had been accepted as a flight test engineer. There was lots of flying, all the time, hectic pre-flight meetings between engineers and pilots .. the juggling of flying hours to fit test schedules, between aircraft layups for engine mods, changes and instrumentation. There were probably 4 or 5 lightning flights most days – with the associated briefings and debriefings. The whole affair under the stewardship of Mike Henney (Asst. Chief Flight Test Engineer) and under the watchful eye of Don Horsfield (Chief Aerodynamicist and formerly Chief Flight Test Engineer) – not to forget the lurking presence below of the legend himself in his office adjacent to Flight Ops ...(Wing Commander) Roly Beamont.

I shall never forget my time in flight test. I worked on BRA (Sandy) Burns' section, which comprised just the two of us. Sandy was an absolutely brilliant bloke – he knew his onions; he was, I believe, an ex national service Meteor pilot and a graduate of a special place (The DeHavilland Technical College). Aeroplanes were in his blood - I am sure he thoroughly deserved his later gradual promotion through Chief Aerodynamicist to a leading role in the EAP project. I was saddened to learn of his sudden, untimely death before retirement and also before seeing his pet philosophies on negative stability / excess thrust and crucial combat instantaneous turn-rate advantage in air-to-air combat fully exploited in the shape of the 9g Typhoon!

Another ex-national service Meteor pilot in the person of Trevor Saunders was also in Flight Test at this time and he used to come out with the BAC fell walkers (Trevor's rise to fame is chronicled elsewhere on this website - sadly, in his obituary!)

The atmosphere in Flight Test had a magic about it … the jangling of radio, oxygen mask, RT and miscellaneous seat and pressure suit connectors; the sound of flying boots up and down the stairs. Nearly all the pilots were ex RAF aircrew. To name a few (and not in order of seniority): Tim Ferguson, Don Knight, Jimmy Dell and Des DeVilliers (Chief Production Test Pilot).

The flight test / flight ops and instrumentation building had windows aligned with the Warton main runway and such was the atmosphere of enthusiasm that seemingly each Lightning take-off was accompanied by the migration of half the office personnel towards the said windows, as if they had never before witnessed such an event!

The task in hand was the flight testing of the development Lightnings and ultimately the definitive Mk5/Mk6 Lightnings for the RAF and the Saudi Airforce. With the Lightnings Mks 5 and 6 built on the basis of the well established airframe with many hours of flying to it's name, the task was 'merely' to measure performance and handling improvements and the weapons management program. Essential changes to the familiar airframe to improve range included the incorporation of a cambered and extended wing leading edge, an enlarged fuselage ventral tank. An enlarged fin with squared-off tip was designed to improve directional stability at certain flight conditions.

My job was to gather information on takeoff and landing using film obtained from a remote Vinten camera out on the far side of the airfield, then process the data and eventually come up with a report on the outcome. Far more critical was the increase in airborne performance in terms of range and endurance and the safe weapons release envelope. (They say the “proof of the pudding is in the eating” - and although I had left Flight Test for Wind Tunnel at the time – a catastrophic event, in which the loss of two lives was fortunately, and very narrowly averted – quickly sobered up all those connected with the Lightning programme)...   During a test flight in a T5, crewed by Jimmy Dell and Flight Test Observer Graham Elkington and on the point of weapon firing at M=1.8, the aircraft suffered structural failure during a rolling pull-out (post weapon release). Quite simply, the fin had partly or wholly detached, as the aircraft entered a gyrating uncontrolled descent. Both crew members survived after ejection – Jimmy Dell having rather the worst of it as he remained, confused as to the state of the aircraft and initially still trying to recover it!!

Sometime later I was tasked by aerodynamics, via Clive Russell, to write a report on the results of 4 foot wind tunnel tests providing data to examine this flight case, for which there was a selection of Schlieren photos in addition to the force and moment data. There was evidence of a shock-induced flow detachment on the canopy, which clearly produced turbulent flow on the fin and was very probably the cause of the loss of restoring moment (nv).

… I believe the incident resulted in a restriction on the weapons release envelope.

TSR2 arrived from Boscombe Down in the shape of XR219, was flown for 20 flights – and then went, along with all jigs and fixtures and aids to its manufacture – all destroyed, with the exception of the original airframe and the only other fully completed airframe (XR 220).

The merits of the aeroplane and the largely unwarranted comments by its detractors are well documented elsewhere. For my part, I compiled the data on its field performance and presented the results in the appropriate manner.

My only other contribution to this unfortunate programme, was to suggest at a meeting just after the start of the testing, chaired by Don Horsfield, that evidence of some early suspected flow separation on the wing could be visualised by positioning a number of streamers/tufts securely attached to the wing skin (of course – a well known low speed wind tunnel technique!) Some early pictures of the aircraft in flight (suppressed at the time for obvious reasons) record for all eternity my brilliant suggestion!??

We were well aware in Flight Test, that the cancellation would mean wholesale changes and redundancy in our department. I decided to vent my feelings on the matter by writing to Flight International. To my great surprise my letter was published in full on the correspondence page … and I think it might even have earned me some brownie points with the Gaffer when it came to the inevitable decisions about staff redundancies?

As it transpired, Sandy went to Aerodynamics and my fate was to transfer to Wind Tunnel.

Warton and the 9 x 7 Tunnel
When I first joined up at Warton I happened to be in digs in Lytham with none other than Clive Bell. So, when I discovered it was to be my fate to move to the 9 x 7, at least I knew somebody working there.

For someone of my disposition, the wind tunnel was a place of enormous fascination, since apart from models of current projects it also contained a treasure trove - a sort of Aladdin's Cave - of aircraft projects and relics from the past. The facility near the Warton main gate was, of course, also home to the skilled constructors of the (predominantly wooden) models. - “The Chippies” - there was nothing they couldn't knock up.

In fact I loved the place!

I also enjoyed the fairly relaxed atmosphere of the tunnel office, due in no small measure to the attitude of Clive Russell. Staff from other associated departments would pop in for a chat at any time. There were also occasional visits from Ron Dickson (Director of Research). And, of course, I enjoyed the delightful company of Kathy Green – “Darling of the 9x7”!

When I first arrived in the 9 x 7 the focus had been on the Anglo French Variable Geometry (AFVG) project and much data had been amassed and analysed by Barbara Dickson covering a range of wing/slat and flap configurations, on a wing planform of Aspect Ratio around 7, 25 degree sweep and a model representative of that concept. Next up was similar work on similar types of detailed models of the MRCA (Tornado) project.

At this juncture I have a terrible admission to make!

I have never been particularly interested in wind tunnels for their own sake. Of course, its a good job that there are those who have. I was always more interested in the test results thus obtained and their comparison with full scale data at various configurations to determine the effects of scale/Mach No, etc.

Incidentally, the earlier AFVG model proved useful in connection with another project, not in the context of European collaboration, but for the CAC (Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation), Australia. I seem to remember being involved in this job with Clive Bell. Two hearty lads from “down under” came and worked for a period in the tunnel office. With considerable assistance from Ken Parr, we were able to reshape AFVG to approximate the proposed Australian aircraft. Testing of the model then took place in the tunnel. However, after several weeks the pair returned home – and to the best of my knowledge, were never heard of again!

I also spent some time in the 4' high speed tunnel. Strangely, all I can recall is working with George Benson … but on what? … my memory is just a blank on this one!

MRCA and other models
Around about 1967/68, the models starting to take centre stage in the 9x7 were those of the MRCA (Tornado) as the baseline spec was in the process of being defined. Much valuable data was acquired from these model configurations, involving surface flow visualisation as well as force and moment data.

Other models around that time, in which I was involved, included a Tornado half model, with an ejector system being used for boundary layer control at the interface slot between the half fuselage and the tunnel floor. The 'workhorse' model being Model 2.

Of course, we should not forget the contribution of yet other models, around this time, notably those for the Jaguar and Jet Provost/Strikemaster programmes – I recall a 'mini' project with the former, which helped to confirm French testing, at a larger scale, on the effectiveness of the wing fences. The latter model was used to test the effect of slight fuselage shaping changes in the canopy area and the effect on stall/post stall behaviour of fixed slats at the wing roots of the Jet Provost/Strikemaster). I recall some liaison with Dave Shaw (Aerodynamics) on this model.

A change of scenery
In 1969 Dave Shaw suggested that I should move to Aerodynamics. Since I was indeed interested in the aerodynamics of MRCA I welcomed the move and the transition was an easy one.

In fact the move opened up the possibility for me of getting to know the 'movers and shakers' in the MRCA world and of visiting some of the aeronautical research centres around Europe.Two of these are worth a mention here as centres of aerodynamic data acquisition for what was now known as the Tornado project:

The Dutch national aerospace research centre in Amsterdam (to coin an English translation for it) and the big tunnel (with the larger scale model) at Emmen in Switzerland. I was to spend much time at these centres and to made good friends there. (I only discovered in recent times that Nobby Hall and Cliff Elliott continued the liaison with Emmen later on).

I also got to know the MBB personnel very well, during their visits to Warton and ours to MBB Munich during the definition phase. I allude here to Herr Eberhard Klinke and Dr John, Herr Schuster and others. In Turin, at Fiat, there was Sig. Buchantini – who, in a moment of carefree abandon, I raced from the bottom to the top of the Fiat building in Turin on the stairs, whilst he completed the same journey via the lift. He actually won by 2 secs – but for the sake of Anglo-Italian relations we called it an honourable draw!

Getting airborne again
As mentioned at the start of this 'potted history', summer camps in the RAFVR provided the occasional treat. For example a Jet Provost trip from Church Fenton (1966). Happy days!


Fresh fields and pastures new
In 1972 I made a decision I later came to regret. I left BAC, got divorced and commenced a fairly unsuccessful and brief career in the sale of engineering products.

Technical publications
By 1979 I had returned to Warton as a contractor employed in the Technical Publications Department. There I was able once again to contribute to Tornado, this time in the area of
the technical manuals for the aircraft, as its full introduction to RAF service was underway and the field reports from BAe representatives at RAF Cottesmore and elsewhere highlighted the need for changes in the procedures. Due to my experience in Flight Test, I was also given the task of amending the Tornado Aircrew Manual to provide the equivalent for the ADV prototype and also for the aircraft for Saudi Arabia and to revise the Tornado handling notes – in particular those relating to asymmetric stores carriage. I fulfilled these tasks with the assistance of Flight Test and Peter Gordon Johnson.

Teaching activities
During this latter period, on a tip-off from Peter Knott, I lectured at evening classes at Preston Polytechnic (now UCLA) for several years to BAC apprentices studying basic aircraft performance and control systems on BTEC courses.

Then in 1986 I secured a two year tenure of the post of Lecturer in Aeronautics at the North East Wales Institute of Technology. The job involved lecturing to mainly foreign students undertaking the HND Aeronautics course (the course also including basic wind tunnel practical work on a model the students constructed themselves, based on a typical subsonic jet trainer design). Alas, I have to report that a less rewarding task aligned to the package was to teach classes made up of somewhat disinterested BAe apprentices from the nearby Broughton plant, Chester!

Bits and pieces
My penultimate contribution to the aircraft industry was in the preparation of the Manual for the modified HS125 Series aircraft (C-29A for use by the USAF in the calibration of airfield ILS installations. This work was undertaken at Hatfield via an agency agreement. (the aircraft illustrated here is the very similar version for the Japan Self Defence Force).

That aircraft was one of the last to be manufactured and kitted out alongside the 146 aircraft at Hatfield – the airfield and works being closed shortly thereafter. Sadly, like so many BAe airfields – goodbye Dunsfold (home of the Hunter) … long gone Vickers, including Brooklands and the Wisley airfield years before - it was sold off!

I finally, finally bowed out of all connection with BAe after a very short contract period at the Woodford airfield (AVRO), which I believe is now also in the hands of new developers. 

However, when I decided to work entirely at home, translating mainly technical documents from German to English from whatever agency sources I could find, I thought that would finally bring the curtain down on my aeronautical experiences....   I was wrong! – via an agency, I was employed to translate/edit a large chunk of the Alpha Jet German Air Force operating and maintenance manuals for QinetiQ, Boscombe Down.

So far as I know, a number of those aircraft remain in service, employed as RAF target platforms, operating out of Llanbedr, N.Wales; however I suspect they appear in the black QinetiQ livery.

What am I doing in retirement? Don't laugh … still flirting with the world of aeronautics on my Microsoft Flight Simulator, flying Tornados, Lightnings and Hawks, among many other types, whose steady state aerodynamic flight models are fashioned by means of the wind tunneler's curse – computational fluid dynamics …    Happy Landings!!

George Corner … per Ardua Ad Astra November 2016


* I was to meet up with Peter Twiss again in 2006 at a reunion celebrating the 50th anniversary of the record-breaking flight – he told me he was annoyed that the local gliding club had decided that at the age of 80 he could no longer fly solo in their gliders!

** Peter Twiss's World Air Speed Record was 1,132mph on 10 March 1956. Peter was 90 when he died in 2011.


Photograph captions

Gannet ASW Aircraft
Gannet Mk 3 Aircraft
Gannet ASW Aircraft
Peter Twiss
DH Tiger Moth and DH Chipmunk
Belfast in RAF livery
Lightning Mk.6 and taking off!
Lightning T5
TSR2 – Fantastic potential untapped!
Taxying in a Jet Provost – Church Fenton 1966
Flight Inspection Aircraft – Built and equipped at 6Hatfield (aircraft illustrated is the very similar version for the Japan Self Defence Force).
QinetiQ Alphajet-Llanbedr N.Wales