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    some people were born to be great!!

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    some people were born to be great!!

    Post by Admin on Tue Feb 02, 2016 10:18 am

    He learned to fly aged 22, set up his first aircraft factory aged 24 and by 30 his fighters dominated the skies over the Western Front.
    Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith - later, Sir – founded the Sopwith Aircraft Company in 1912, turning out aeroplanes from a Edwardian roller-skating rink in Kingston upon Thames. Yes, the Edwardians had a love affair with roller skating.
    His firm and its successors notched up the firsts – float plane, tri-plane, British mono-wing fighter to exceed 300mph, aircraft capable of taking off and landing vertically.
    Some of these planes became legends: the Camel, best all-round fighter of the First World War, the Hawker Hurricane, mainstay of the RAF during the Battle of Britain, the Hawker Tempest that duelled with Adolf Hitler’s first jet fighters, and the Harrier jump jet – taking off and landing on the spot.
    But while these aircraft were revolutionary, they were also practical. Thanks to their cunning designs and an efficient manufacturing operation, Sopwith achieved market saturation in WWI and, later, of the RAF and of British aviation.
    The story of Sopwith isn't just the aircraft - it's also a tale of business risk. Sopwith liquidated Sopwith Aviation to rise again and buy rivals as HG Hawker Engineering and then Hawker Aircraft. He also pressed on with the Hurricane without getting any actual government orders.
    His legacy? BAe Systems, the successor to those early firms: an £18bn global colossus employing 88,000 people, spanning diverse activities and today making the Hawk – flying the flag with the RAF aerobatic team, the Red Arrows.
    The backdrop for this manufacturing success wasn’t the industrial heartland of the Midlands but rather the market town of Kingston upon Thames, in leafy North Surrey.

    The Sopwith Camel, WWI's most lethal fighter. Credit: the Royal Air Force Museum
    Sopwith established not one but three factories in Kingston, meaning a small town in the commuter belt was responsible for the majority of fighter designs in WWI and the heart of Britain’s military aviation industry for years afterwards. He became one of Kingston’s largest employers with a trio of factories plus research shop. Entire households became dependant on Sopwith's pay packets; over nine decades Sopwith and its successor firms is thought to have employed 40,000 in Kingston. A network of suppliers grew up, too, feeding in parts, materials and services into those Kingston factorBAe closed the last site in the 1990s. All that's left today in the town are some random civic sculptures and streets bearing relevant names. Kingston University also runs undergraduate courses in aviation and has both a building and a scholarship named after Sopwith's top designer, Sir Sydney Camm.
    The Register decided to tour Sopwith’s former industrial town. We navigated the backroads searching for the lost buildings and former factory sites. Along the way we saw plenty of plaques on walls. These are the work of Kingston Aviation, which has been running events with Lottery Funding, to raise awareness of Kingston's aviation past. Kingston Aviation is the work of ex-BAe engineer David Hassard, who we spoke to for this piece.
    We started at the site of the Edwardians' roller skating rink on Canbury Park Road: the first of Sopwith’s three Kingston plants.
    Back then, Canbury Park Road had Victorian terraces down one side, facing mansions on the other and a modernist bunker that was the Regal cinema at the top. The Rink pressed its cheek up to the wall of the cinema.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgxCioiN5pQ

    Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith in 1910 -
    father of an industrial empire
    Today, the cinema is closed, with the building being home to a dance studio and TV shop around the side, with sprigs of Buddleia shooting from various brickwork. The rink and mansions are gone, knocked down for red-brick and green-glass offices.
    It all feels post industrial and sort of run down. A narrow alley runs between the cinema and the offices on what would have been the Rink’s entrance.
    Back in the 1912 the rink glowed with modern civic pride; arched windows and Art Nouveau signage on the front, looking like a conservatory. What lay behind was a space of 13,000 square feet with a high roof and no internal columns: ideal for skating. Or, for building aeroplanes.
    Educated in engineering, Sopwith was fascinated by almost anything with a motor and was taken with new-fangled aeroplanes. Having learned to fly and formed an aviation school at Brooklands Airfield in Weybridge,15 miles away, in 1910. He was joined by two of the three brains that would help him design and deliver those first planes: Fred Sigrist, an engineer on Sopwith’s yacht who became engineer and designer, and an Australian named Harry Hawker who'd worked at Daimler and become Sopwith’s test pilot and chief designer.

    Gone but not forgotten - the site of Sopwith's Rink factory
    Their first order came in 1913, for a Bat boat - the world’s first floatplane - with the Royal Navy. Having talked the talk, Sopwith and Co. had to deliver the goods. He needed a factory and so he came to river-side Kingston.
    Why pick a rural market town where retail (department store Bentalls opened its doors there in 1867) was the big thing?
    Kingston had developed as important post for trade and transport thanks to its history as a major Thames crossing point. This meant a work force on tap skilled in building with wood – skills not dissimilar to those used in building the first aircraft.
    Initially, 150 staff were squeezed into the rink - wood workers, panel beaters and polishers, wirers, fitters and welders. Machinists hollowed out wood to make their aircraft's spars lighter while others beat and fashioned metal brackets, bearings, flanges, plates and made fuel tanks.
    Women sewed the linen fabric for the wings and bodies, painted dope on the fabric and painted the wood and fuselage with varnish.
    It was dangerous work and in those pre-health-and-safety days the women donned gloves to protect against blisters caused by the caustic dope and drank milk every day in the belief it would stop the powerful fumes damaging their lungs, according to Kingston Museum and Heritage Services.
    As WWI developed and more men went to the front, women moved out of simply doping wing fabric and onto the shop floor, soldering, running presses and carrying out inspections so that by the final year of WWI nearly a third of Sopwith's workforce of 3,500 were women.
    Such was the pace of orders that Sopwith soon needed a bigger factory: he picked a site just 109 yards up the road, a facility that became briefly the heart of his empire - at the corner of Canbury Park Road and Elm Crescent. Surrounded by roads, this site became known as The Island. It began as a 14,000 square foot shed in 1913 but by 1917 stretched to 40,000 square feet, was built from brick and reached up three storeys.
    The Island was self contained: it featured a sawmill, machine and sheet metal shops, tool stores, aircraft assembly floors and separate dope and paint shops. One whole wing – along the Canbury Park Road side – was dedicated to design while there were separate departments for sales, ordering and accounts. It was through these that orders for essentials such as engines and machine guns flowed.
    From Canbury Park came the design of every Sopwith aircraft between the years of 1916 to 1958 – from biplane, to monoplane to jet aircraft.
    This was the Henry Ford approach to aircraft production, coming at a time when most aircraft firms had one or two models that were delivered in small runs. And the results showed: 25 per cent of British fighter aircraft designs in WWI came from Sopwith; 60 per cent of all single seater aeroplanes in the British and allied air forces were a Sopwith. This includes models designed and built in Kingston or just designed in Kingston and built under license elsewhere.
    Kingston produced 16,237 aircraft of 32 designs for WWI. The best known of these is arguably the Camel, which made its first flight in December 1916 and during it's relatively short time claimed more enemy aeroplanes shot down than any other aircraft:1,294. By 1920, 5,500 Camels were built – 3,300 in Kingston alone.
    The Camel became a hit because it was a revolutionary aircraft, with a winning combination of firepower, speed and maneuverability.
    In a design first the Camel featured twin, forward-facing guns - a pair of .303” Vickers In a design first the Camel featured twin, forward-facing guns - a pair of .303” Vickers machine guns. It was a mounting that became an RAF standard. The guns used the fledgling synchronization gear technology, developed to allow fixed forward-firing guns to fire through the aircraft's propeller blades without shooting them off. Anything caught head-on by a Camel got a hot-lead shower.
    The most common model of the Camel featured a nine-cylinder 130 horse power Clerget air-cooled engine giving it a climb of 1,085 feed per minute – double that of the German’s Fokker D.II and nearly twice as fast as the D.III. It was faster, too, with a top speed of 118mph and it could fly higher – touching 19,000 feet
    What made the Camel so lethal was its manoeuvrability. Ninety per cent of the plane’s weight - engine, fuel, guns, ammunition and pilot - were packed into the first seven feet of the fuselage, making it compact and finely balanced.
    It wasn’t perfect: front loading made the Camel fast on the turn but too fast for the inexperienced pilot. Pilots also had to combat a powerful clockwise rotary effect in the engine that made left turns nearly impossible and saw pilots forced to sweep right.
    Kingston Aviation’s Hassard credits the Camel's design and performance to the driving desire of Sopwith’s chief test pilot, Hawker, who was a motorbike fanatic. “He wanted something so compact you could throw it around,” Hassard told us.
    It was a Camel pilot who was closely involvd in the shooting down of Manfred von Richthofen, the infamous Red Baron with 81 allied kills and who flew a Fokker Dr.I triplane painted a brilliant red at the head of Germany's pre-eminent Flying Circus. Richthofen’s Fokker was a copy of Sopwith’s own triplane model; the Germans had studied one that crashed behind their lines. But, while the German three-winger was highly manoeuvrable it was slower than Sopwith's and it was dogged by structural failures, with the top wing prone to breaking.
    The Camel features in a planned First World War Air Exhibition at the RAF Museum, Hendon, in December 2014, making the 100th anniversary year of WW1.
    By 1917 Sopwith’s factories couldn’t keep up with demand. In April 1918, Sopwith opened his third Kingston plant - the then new National Aircraft Factory No. 2 that had been built by the Ministry of Munitions in a period of just 26 weeks during the winter of 1917, which stood on a field near the Thames just outside Kingston and off Richmond Road. Less than a mile away from Canbury Park Road, it was leased to Sopwith and became known as the Ham Factory. The Ham Factory looked like a series of hangars squatting next to each other, and behind their huge front doors lay a cavernous belly. In here hundreds of Sopwith Snipes, Dolphins and Salamanders were lined up and churned out.
    But Ham, or possibly peace, killed Sopwith's company. War finished seven months later, leaving Sopwith with piles of parts and unwanted orders.
    Sopwith limped on, trying to retain 3,500 staff by turning them to producing civilian metal goods. Yet, faced by debts and high taxes, Sopwith was liquidated in 1920 and Ham was sold to British car maker Leyland Motors for £227,000.
    But this wasn’t the end of Tom Sopwith or his presence on Richmond Road: Sopwith was rebooted as H.G. Hawker Engineering in 1920 and he bought back the Ham factory in 1948, for £585,000. I’ll come back to that.
    Back on our tour, I’m at the junction of Canbury Park Road and Elm Crescent looking at what's left of The Island. Now called Sopwith House and strictly residential, it's a Grade-II listed building.

    Siddeley House, Sopwith's former Experimental Shop
    and home to the Hurricane. Credit: Gavin Clarke
    You can walk a loop of the old Island. Sopwith House fronts a small, Brookside-like housing development called Sigrist Square. Sopwith House is part of Sigrist Square, behind a brick and iron fence featuring a motif of propeller blades. Look at the ends of Sopwith House and you can see where the new bricks join the old, where the building was cauterized after its other parts cut off. Walk a few yards from the corner, down Canbury Park Road, and you find a pair of brick gateposts bearing two plaques from Kingston Aviation.
    Come back to the corner of Canbury Park Road and Elm Crescent and you’ll see the first-floor bay window – that was Sopwith’s office. From the early 1920s to the 1930s the design office of Sopwith’s chief designer Sydney Camm were behind the upstairs windows along Canbury Park Road.
    Turn 180 degrees: breathing down your neck in this narrow road is a redbrick, fort-like building fronted by high windows. This is Siddeley House, also listed.
    Leased offices now, owed by Search Office Space, in the 1930s this was Sopwith’s Experimental Shop – used to develop top-secret projects. The first aircraft built here was the prototype Hawker Hurricane in 1935. Peek inside and you’ll see the original block and tackle with runner in the ceiling and the dangling hook used to load lorries that pulled up to the spot where you’re standing.
    The Experimental Shop was self-contained: on different floors were canteen, fitters and assembly facilities. Space was tight, with large, semi-assembled parts passed between floors through the windows.
    Also developed in this building were the Hawker Henley, Hotspur, Tornado and Typhoon but it was the Hurricane that made the biggest hit. Cam had joined Sopwith’s firm in 1925 and, in addition to working on biplanes, started on an Air Ministry tender for a monoplane fighter.
    Rivals at Supermarine – later Vickers-Armstrong – in Southampton were working on the Spitfire, too, but the Hurricane flew first, in November 1935, and entered mass production ahead of the Spitfire. The Hurricane also dominated the RAF’s count of mono-wing fighters – outnumbering Spitfires at the pivotal Battle of Britain. Hurricanes scored more aerial victories, too, during that conflict: 1,593 of a total 2,739.
    All this while Germany’s Willy Messerschmitt had prototyped his Bf 109 in 1935. This became the Luftwaffe’s lead fighter in the Battle of Britain but got its first combat experience in the Spanish Civil War, between 1936 and 1937.
    The Hurricane was the epitome of Sopwith’s design ethos: practical while scoring a number of firsts. The Hurricane was the RAF’s first fighter capable of exceeding 300mph. It featured a retractable undercarriage and had space for eight wing-mounted machine guns capable of firing without striking the propeller blades, doing away with synchronization mechanisms in the engine.
    The aeroplane was tough: an engine capable of operating in all theatres of war – European, desert and tropical while the Spitfire suffered engine problems outside Europe. It was light, too, being constructed in part using lighter-than-wood aluminium.
    Camm, with Sopwith’s managing director Sigrist in the 1920s, had pioneered a technique in construction using aluminium to help ensure the frame was tough yet lightweight: they squared off aluminium tubes that were replacing wood as the structure of modern airframes so that they could be bolted together instead of welded. Bolting was critical: the quality of welding could vary, making it a potential critical weak spot.
    Camm also took two important steps to ensure his Hurricane beat the Spitfire. One was to adapt the design of his existing Hawker Fury biplane. Another was employing a combination of wood and canvas with aluminium not just in the frame but also in the skin - a technique that helped spread weight and stress and, again, meant a lighter and less bulky airframe.
    Camm’s approach meant the Kingston production lines could accommodate the new model with relatively little disruption. Supermarine, working on the Spitfire, didn’t have it so easy: it was building a new type of aeroplane with a completely aluminium frame, skin and wing design that used flush rivets for greater speed. It wasn't just a brand new aircraft – it was a brand-new manufacturing process, too, which caused problems in construction and helped ensure delays and missed deadlines. “What he did was design for manufacturing; he made sure even though they were building the best aircraft, they could be built effectively and efficiently. He was keeping an eye from on top saying things like: 'Don’t do that, we can’t build that that quickly,' or: 'We can’t build that time and time again',” For all that, the Hurricane was a gamble. Sopwith pressed into production on the first 600 fighters without actually ever receiving an order from the all-powerful Air Ministry – the customer. That meant investing in the people and the plant to produce a new aircraft with no guarantee of an actual buyer.
    “They took a big risk,” “That was Tommy Sopwith all over – he was a man who was very quick a taking decisions. A brilliant businessman for those reasons.”
    After the Hurricane, Camm went on to design the all-aluminium Tempest, the RAF’s fastest fighter of WWII with a top speed of over 450mph that played a major part in downing Germany’s V1 flying bombs and Messerschmitt’s jet-powered Me 262 – the world’s first operational jet fighter, flying at 870km/h.
    It was during this period that the character of the Kingston plants changed, as aeroplanes went metal.
    Kingston’s wood workers were slowly outnumbered by machinists shaping and making aluminium alloys and titanium; people treating metals to prevent corrosion; copper and pipe smiths; and tool makers who ensured the factories’ machines made identical parts. Engineers worked on pneumatics and hydraulics in retractable landing gear on the emerging mono-wing fighters.
    Hundreds of technicians were deployed on experimental work with test rigs to stress-test airframes through endless cycles of take offs and landings, checking for fatigue on engine failure. Boffins from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), in Teddington, ran their slide rules over the planes, testing and recording performance in the facility’s wind tunnels. It sounded busy, but everything is relative: Hassard reckons this wasn’t mass production as we’d know it today – the factories in Kingston turned out just a few dozen planes a month in the 1930s and one hundred Hurricanes a month during WWII.
    But it was enough: 80 per cent of the aircraft serving in the RAF were a Sopwith design in the 1930s. Sopwith's company was a cash-flow positive as a result of the business, and he bought up rivals including Gloster Aircraft, maker of the nippy little Gladiator biplane fighter and later a manufacturing plant for Hurricanes and Typhoons. During this period, through a spate of acquisitions, H G Hawker Engineering became Hawker Aircraft.
    At the end of WWII, as Sopwith’s factories turned to jets, it was clear Canbury Park was too small. Following a brief search, in 1948 Sopwith bought back the Ham factory he’d had to surrender 28 years earlier.
    It’s here that our tour goes back up Canbury Park Road, past the rink, and heads north up the Richmond Road/A307 to the site of that factory. In the car, you’ll need to navigate Kingston's one-way maze to get back onto the A307. Or, you can take the 65 bus from Kingston bus garage, near the station, and get off at Tudor Drive.
    Ham spanned 47 acres so you need to make two stops. First, up to the junction of the A307 and Dukes Avenue. If in the car, turn left and pull into Northweald Lane; if bus, get off at Tudor Drive and walk a short distance. This is the start of a village in all but name; an estate of neat homes and eddying lanes with names like Camel Grove built on half of the old factory site. Head back to the corner and at the junction you’ll find a brick pillar bearing two stainless steel plaques from Kingston Aviation marking the location’s significance and featuring a Harrier – one of the main aircraft built there.
    Get back in the car, or walk past the Tudor Drive stop, and travel a few hundred yards back down the A307, turn right onto Lower Ham Road and you end up at a sports field and the YMCA Hawker Centre. This is the other half of the Ham factory – the half that didn’t fall to developers. To the right, the field runs up against the wall marking the housing estate we just left. Ahead and to the left, the YMCA Hawker Centre. On the right-hand wall of the centre inside the reception is a bronze commemorative plaque. Go in and turn right, past the reception: you’ll find a glass wall bullet-pointing the history.
    Back outside and standing on the sports field, you’ll have to imagine Sopwith’s factory surrounded by a cluster of busy offices and facilities.
    It was 1958 when the focus moved out of Canbury Park to here as the design office moved into Ham. It was also the year when Richmond Road received massive facelift, acquiring a brand-new façade that was reputedly the work of the architect who’d designed the Milk Marketing Board’s offices. It was a grand exterior of tall windows and towering columns looking more like some suburban municipal offices rather than an HQ of national defence.
    The only thing that gave anything away was a humble wooden sign reading Hawker Siddeley Aviation Limited, then British Aerospace Company and then just British Aerospace, when the company’s name changed again in 1977 following mergers with other British aircraft makers and nationalisation by the then Labour government.
    In addition to design and build were test facilities, including the Mithraeum to strength- and fatigue-test large parts such as entire airframes. Additional testing equipment put fuel, hydraulic, flying and electrical systems through their paces.
    It was Ham that became the manufacturing centre for another first in aviation: the world’s first viable vertical take off and landing (VTOL) aircraft. That VTOL aircraft was the Hawker P.1127, which evolved into the Harrier. Just 278 Harriers were built by Sopwith’s companies but they had quite an impact. Harriers were ordered and adapted by the Royal Navy and the RAF. Harriers were also ordered by US forces, normally served by their own defense contractors. Harriers flew with the US Marine Corps under a design produced by US giant McDonnell Douglas and BAe. The last 40 Harriers were only retired by the Brits in 2011 – and they were bought at fire-sale prices by the USMC for parts to keep their Harrier II fleet airworthy. The Harrier saw combat two decades after entering service in 1969, during the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982. 26 Harriers and Sea Harriers were embarked aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carriers HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes on the mission to recapture the Falklands. Their presence helped stop the Argentinians inflicting heavy losses on the British task force so close to the Argentinian mainland and military machine.

    Harriers on cargo-ship-turned-aircraft-carrier, the Atlantic Causeway. Credit: CPO Bob Gellett
    As it was Argentinian aircraft struck 17 ships, sinking five warships and one civilian vessel, the Atlantic Conveyor. Of the Harriers, five were lost – two to bad weather – in return for 20 Argentinian aircraft downed. The Harrier found a niche in military planning – short take off and landing, suited to the role in the Falklands; conceived to serve against the Soviets launching without airstrips from the forests of Europe. Some 14 Harriers had arrived in the Falklands packed on the decks of the Atlantic Conveyor - fortunately they had been flown off before she was sunk. Work on the P.1127 started in 1957, in a Bristol outpost of what had become Sopwith’s aviation empire. Michel Henry Marie Joseph Wibault developed the concept for a vertical and short take off and landing (V/STOL) engine using a Bristol BE.25 Orion turboprop engine. Wibault's engine directed thrust down via two nozzles on the outside of the aircraft. The Orion powerplant hailed from Sopwith’s Bristol Siddeley firm.
    The engine evolved to a more powerful BE.53 but Bristol needed help ironing out lingering technical problems – plus, it also needed an airframe to mount the new engine in. The firm approached Hawker and Camm, who suggested the addition of two extra external nozzles to direct the airflow, solving the problem of balance. The Hawker and Bristol teams began work on the P.1127 as a “high-speed helicopter.”
    NATO funded 75 per cent of the cost of developing of the engine and the teams meshed. The British Ministry of Aviation ordered two prototypes and four developmental aircraft in 1960.
    The P.1127 was actually designed at Canbury Park Road but built by hand at Richmond Road. The Harrier was a long way from the early biplanes: 200,000 components with a quality-control process that inspected things like welding joints using X-ray systems. The work had become more specialized, too, giving rise to apprentices. Over time, aircraft bodies shifted from aluminium to carbon fibre.
    “In this area of North Kingston there was hardly a family who didn’t have somebody who didn’t work there,” “You couldn’t get a more complete industry or broader range of skills.”
    The Ham factory closed in 1992 and was knocked down after BAe pulled out of London and as the local authority succumbed to housing developers. The land was carved up between these developers building more than 300 homes, the council that owns the large field, and the Hawker Athletic Social Club. According to Hassard grown men cried as the wrecking balls tore into the Ham factory. It’s not hard to see why, as you stand on the football pitch outside the Hawker Athletic Social Club and superimpose the image in your head of what was once on this now mostly wide-open vista. Today, Richmond Road would have been turned into urban dwellings. At least the façade might have been retained, like at Canbury Park Road.
    Like the factories, Sopwith and his team are gone, too. Harry Hawker died in a plane crash in 1921, Sigrist passed away in 1956 and Sydney Camm – knighted for his services to the nation’s defence, like Sopwith - passed away in 1966.
    Sopwith outlasted them all, dying in 1989. He retired from day-to-day business in 1963 and became board chairman. He was still there aged 90 and then made president for life of British Aerospace. BAe pulled out of the town where he’d started a few years after he passed and the wrecking balls flew.
    We’re at the end of our solo flight. Your best bet is to loop back to Kingston for refreshments and – if you want – shopping. There’s a cinema and theatre, too, if you want to linger, and lots of riverside bars and cafes.
    My advice? Go riverside, near the theatre and where cheeky swans bob about waiting for passers-by to throw them pieces of bread, and reflect: reflect on the boat building business that helped lure Sopwith to Kingston, turning this rural market town into an industrial powerhouse. ®
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    G-GMDH

    Posts : 786
    Join date : 2015-09-19

    Re: some people were born to be great!!

    Post by G-GMDH on Wed Feb 03, 2016 12:06 pm

    These GREAT pioneers of aviation were not bounded by libraries full of regulations, health and safety and all the other crap that we have today including quangos like the CAA.

    M

      Current date/time is Sun Sep 24, 2017 4:06 pm