At this point in my tour I thought it might be as well if I got to know my guide a little better, and after some few more personal preliminaries I quietly asked his full name. He could only give it to me, he said, on condition that it was not printed. Everything here is supremely impersonal, quite secret. They do not believe in spreading abroad names or personalities.
That might suggest a cypher-treatment of the whole staff, the system of men becoming numbers in a machine. So far as their welfare is concerned nothing could be farther from the
The Handley-Page Halifax
A dozen or so newspapers dated from May to August 1939 came up for processing in the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum Archives. Newspapers were different then – the type was tiny and the size of the pages was much larger allowing for much more content. They read with language which didn’t treat the reader as if he or she had a Grade 5 level understanding of English. The content provided more information and opinion. What was amazing about these newspapers from this pre-World War II time was that readers were being told, not directly, but by inference and analysis of the stories, that the country would soon be going to war. The stories said the Nazis, Japanese and Italians were hostile and unwilling to listen to reason from any other country. They said the Axis powers were determined to start a campaign of brutal conquest and pillage against neighbouring countries.
A Winnipeg Tribune article will be interesting to those wishing to know more about the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. It is ``Forbidden Places – A Series of Articles on Places Barred From the Public Which the Author has Visited.’’ This second installment of the series, followed the writer on a visit to an aircraft factory in Great Britain. It had the feel of a propaganda piece or at
Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
Canada 150 Vignette – 043 of 150
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan - Home Front
Prlude to War / War Manufacturing
destruction bothered him. He might look the part of the destroyer in his goggles and overalls but as I later discovered, hidden underneath that mask was a gentle, elderly face, in quiet repose.
I glanced further afield. Masses of tubing writhed everywhere. Lathes turned and glinted. Darkly dressed minions moved with unerring precision tending the monster machines. The gaunt skeleton of a wing reared on its side almost to the roof. Now and then the high-powered whine of machinery gathered force and rese until it drowned speech.
How was it, when they spent their lives producing machines deliberately devised to destroy, that they remained happily content? Then. suddenly, I realized their attitude. These men did not think of their products in terms of destruction and war. They thought of them as the means to prevent war. They were working for peace and peace alone. With that thought I became aware that my guide was smiling a little acidly. Of course I had not heard his last few sentences. I apologized hastily and he thought the moment opportune to move along.
We paused next to a special wing section fitted with peculiar slot devices. This again is a Handley-Page specialty. It gives the big bomber several advantages. Heavily loaded, the machine can take off with quite a short run provided the slot device is properly adjusted. In any situation where emergency measures become necessary the slot greatly increases control over the plane. You can land a heavy Harrow bomber at remarkably low speeds by using the slot device.
Next we paused outside the experimental department. A mere handful of experts alone have ever entered this department. Here, in collaboration with Air Ministry officials, the Handley-Page experts commit to paper all the latest designs and devices produced by the best aeronautical minds in the country. It is impossible for the ordinary individual to enter the actual workshops which are producing Britain's new bombers. They are forbidden. Even stricter regulations surround the experimental department. They guard with more than jealousy the plans and blue prints you see there.
Equally hush-hush are the large models, exquisitely fashioned, which cost anything up to £250 each. They represent the first experimental form of the ideas conceived on plan and blueprint. They are accurate in every detail, and are handled by experts alone.
Outside the experimental department we paused to discuss one of the latest developments in modern bombers. Still largely in the experimental stages it would revolutionise the whole business of flight if it is perfected. Experts are aiming to produce a screen in the pilot’s cabin with the plane's course traced in red down its centre. Television apparatus would throw upon this screen a miniature picture of the actual plane in flight. Thus whenever the pilot diverged from his true course, he would know immediately by the reflected imagine on his screen. Still following that image he could bring the plane back directly to its course.
• • •
From the experimental department we moved to a new job specially set down for the Hampden bomber. My guide paused to explain further details of this remarkable machine. The fuselage is narrow to reduce the total drag of the machine without in any way interfering with the gunner's cockpits. The crew's range of vision is unusually large since the narrow fuselage permits a steep view
earthwards on both sides. The gunner in the tail can sweep the whole area to the rear from plane to earth. Its actual speed I am afraid I cannot divulge.
truth. Every possible facility is provided for the men. Their hours of work are most carefully regulated. They have their own nurse and first aid station on the spot, and can enjoy an excellent lunch in their private restaurant for the remarkable figure of eight pence (16 cents).
During working hours in this forbidden factory they are rapt in their different jobs and see the whole business very unromantically. One exclusive group of men alone find the real stuff of drama in their work. The test pilots… These men who take newly designed bombing machines into the air for the first time are odd people. They combine a detached, philosophical attitude to living with a zest for thrills and adventure. They are men of blood and iron who prefer to talk of other things than test-piloting.
I persuaded one of them round. At last he set down something of his thoughts and reactions during one .of these deadly terminal velocity dives…
Humming gently to himself he put the bomber through its preliminary tests. Minor affairs these. When those Johnnies down below did make a miscalculation it usually came to light late in the test flight. Odd there wasn't more trouble. A decimal mark in the wrong place, a mere dot among numbers, could so easily spell death for the test pilot. Particularly with newly designed machines like this...
Well, now for it... The most terrible test of all,. Up she goes… With shrill whine the plane rears at the skies. Twenty-one thousand feet and level her out… Everything given a quick once over... Parachute right… O.K.,,, Down with that nose... The speed indicator leaps to three hundred… The earth is rushing up.... Three hundred and fifty, three hundred and seventy, four hundred miles an hour….
Face feels stiff behind its protecting mask. Air pressure becoming unpleasant… A queer, sweet sickness in the mouth… The speedometer needle has slackened in its mad race towards the maximums. Soft spurts of blood from one ear. Had that before.... Unimportant.... Almost on maximum speed,,, Will the machine stand it…. Or....
Now. get her out of this inhuman dive. Slowly back with throttle and stick… Can feel the whole body tensing to the terrible strain.... She's answering beautifully… Something between a sigh and a whistle, and now for the ground….
Five minutes later, the great gray warplane is at a standstill. She has survived the most exacting tests and is ready for service.
The Winnipeg Tribune - May 15 1939
Stories and Articles on Places Barred to the Public That the Author Has Visited.
Where Britain’s New War Planes Are Built
By Vincent Brown
There was a quietly suburban atmosphere about the whole district. Approaching the great, grey outline of the Handley-Page workshops I passed through long lines of neat villas which obviously housed many a Smith and Brown. Even inside the main gates the same illusion of suburban content persisted. Neat roadways and sheds with no sign of an aeroplane.
It was only when I entered the actual offices that things changed. Immediately I was button-holed by an attendant. With perfect politeness he managed to ask the most penetrating questions. Then he showed me into another office. There, my credentials were examined very closely. Further cross examination followed. A brief wait. Then, at last, my guide appeared.
Now I was to realize the privilege of many weeks' patient negotiation with manufacturers and the air ministry. A rare privilege.
We began with a bird's-eye view of the vast workshops from a raised platform. The sight was remarkable. Stretching away in deep perspective the long shops ran, with myriad workmen intent upon the thousand different parts which go to make Britain's bombers. There was the heavy hum of machinery, constant movement and an air of absolute privacy about each group of workers.
Then we descended and entered the first section of this forbidden factory. Immediately you become aware of their system. The first shop dealt with tails only. Next came bodies. Then wings, wheels and engines. Starting from the top and going to the bottom you traced the formation of a complete aeroplane from the moment the simple and rather absurd tail joined the body, until wings were added and finally, engine and wheels.
Apart from the fact that this system facilitates mass production, it also makes for secrecy. Every workman has his own particular jig and has made a specialized study of one part of an aeroplane. The term "jig" means a mould or metal frame, from which will come just that one fragment of an aeroplane. It is correct to a thousandth part of an inch. Working exclusively on one jig any given workman knows intimately the part he produces, but little else, and even if he wanted to give away information, it would be very limited. Actually the workmen are very carefully chosen and remain closely loyal.
Anyway, the completed aeroplane involves somewhere in the neighborhood of 85,000 parts. Piecing any information together from workmen scattered amongst such a vast number of parts, is almost impossible.
• • •
The Handley Harrow was introduced to the Royal Air Force as a heavy bomber which under the stresses of combat proved to be inadequate in this role and was reassigned to duty as a transport aircraft. It was a twin-engine, high-wing monoplane with fixed undercarriage. It was capable of carrying 3000 pounds of bombs of which 2000 pounds was the biggest a bomb could be.
One Hundred Harrows were delivered in 1937. By the end of 1939, the Harrow was phased out as the RAF’s primary bomber. Despite its changed role to transport, it was used for a unique mission in the Battle of Britain. Six Harrows were used to tow Long Aerial Mines (LAM) into the paths of enemy bombers. Although they were credited with destroying six German Bombers, the RAF felt this mission was not successful enough to be continued. In addition to transport work, the Harrow was used for air-to-air refuelling of Short Empire Flying Boats. Two even made it to Canada for service with the RCAF.
The Harrow was a forerunner of the Handley Page HP56 which begat the Handley Page HP57 – the Halifax Bomber.
keast a story strongly endorsed by the British Government which apparently was cooperating with author wherever possible. The piece advised with veiled words that Britain was going to war soon and its citizens were ardently preparing defenses, months before the country actualy declared war. Today’s media would likely report the hostile actions of a future enemy, but wouldn’t suggest that a country take the ultimate step – to declare war.
This article on the production of bombers makes some interesting points some of which proved to be wrong as the war progressed.
flame, welding part of a wing section. I could feel the heat from where I stood. The flame threw dancing lights across his glasses. There was something a little devilish in his appearance.
Yet he, like everyone around him was quietly absorbed in his work. Obviously no thought of war and
The Hanley-Page Harrow
Next my guide shepherded me between whirring drills, pipes and benches, to the wing spar of a Harrow bomber. It resembled the skeleton of a dinosaur. I was invited to lift one section standing nearby and declined. It looked quite beyond me. My guide pressed me, and at last I gripped it firmly with both hands and braced myself to take the weight. The section came up easily. I could almost have lifted it with one hand.
Duralumin, the foundation metal of the modern bomber, has two vitally important characteristics. It weighs about two-thirds less than steel, and yet has the same strength. Wing sections which look enormous standing on the ground, can easily be lifted by one man. Near where we stood they were laying down a jig for the new Hampden bomber. This was produced as an answer to the problem of the heavy bomber. It is a monoplane capable of carrying unusually large loads. Under the terms of the Official Secrets Act I cannot reveal the actual load, but in its class this machine will carry a heavier load of bombs over a greater distance than most of notable other types so far produced.
My guide moved me along to the benches where bomb release gear was in process of production. The Handley-Page patent bomb gear has several unique features. The button for the release of bombs is so protected that only by deliberate application of finger or thumb can you operate the mechanism. In the "off" position no one can stumble against the control and accidentally let loose the bombs. It has to be done intentionally. Supposing a situation arose where it became necessary to jettison the complete load of bombs, they would be released in a "dead" condition. The whole of this intricate mechanism is electrically operated.
While my guide explained the deeper technicalities behind the gentle art of bombing, I became conscious for the first time of the real atmosphere of this vast workshop. Immediately on my left a man wearing dark goggles bent intently over his searing jet of
The Handley Page Harrow