27.10.21 The Clerk

The Coachmakers’ Banquet 2022

As mentioned in the previous edition of Coachlines, mindful that 2022 will be the 40th anniversary year of the Falklands Conflict, the Master Coachmaker intends to pay tribute to those who served in the South Atlantic in 1982 and to those who provided vital support, particularly those with connections to the Coachmakers’ Company.

Arrangements for the Banquet are proceeding at pace and full details of the event will be published in the November edition of Coachlines. Also, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to book their tickets early, ticket sales will commence immediately after publication of the November edition of Coachlines.

For now, following the announcement of the banquet theme last month two more significant Coachmaker contributions to events down south have emerged.

The first was from Freeman Colonel Mark Blatherwick MBE GM who informed me that he spent eight months serving as Senior Ammunition Technical Officer Falkland Islands (SATO FI) at the end of hostilities, in the rank of Major.

His responsibilities included the clearance and rendering safe of any unexploded ordnances (UXOs) on the land, including munitions, booby traps, Argentinian Defensive Positions, downed aircraft, mines, and the like, whilst the Royal Navy Divers dealt with anything in the water. During his time in theatre he also commanded the Falkland Islands Ammunition Depot and oversaw the management of all UK ammunition stocks held.

Colonel Mark described it as a wonderful place to serve and he thoroughly enjoyed his tour of duty and the opportunity to experience the uniqueness of the Falkland Islands.

However, a less direct connection to those who served during the conflict of 1982 was made by Liveryman John Pearl. Less direct it may have been but it was a contribution that significantly enhanced the capability of the Royal Navy’s Sea Harrier Squadrons and the Harrier GR3s of No 1 Squadron RAF.

During the early 1960s John worked as a post-graduate apprentice at Hawker Siddeley and spent about six months in the drawing office. During that time he was seconded to the Hawker P1127 development team; and as many of you might know the P1127 eventually became the Harrier.

John spent much of this time working on the design of the engine air intake for this experimental aircraft. His main responsibility was the production of drawings of various versions of the engine air intake based on the parameters provided to him by the design team. The main problem that the design team was trying to solve was that unlike most engine intakes which have a ram air effect due to the forward motion of the aircraft, the P1127 could have very little or no forward motion during vertical/short take-offs and landings (V/STOL). As a result it was necessary to ensure that the engine would not be starved of air at times when maximum thrust would be required. This ultimately led to the large “elephant ear” shaped intakes which became a characteristic feature of the Harrier, the final version of which was exactly as drawn by John.

Harrier takes flight, pic courtesy of MOD

John is extremely modest about his involvement in this work but he explained that although the parameters for the drawings were normally given to him by the Chief Designer of the P1127, Ralph Hooper, Sir Sydney Camm, who had an overall design responsibility for Hawker Aircraft and took a keen interest in P1127, would also become involved; this despite him being close to retirement.

As you may know, Sir Sydney Camm was the designer of more than 50 aircraft during his long and distinguished career, including the Hurricane and the Hunter, and in recognition of his many achievements the Coachmakers’ Sir Sydney Camm Scholarship was established in 2012 in his memory.

However, sometimes there were slight differences of opinion between these two great men and, depending on who had last spoken to John, he was often questioned about why he had changed the parameters on the latest drawing. After a few uncomfortable experiences John managed to persuade them to co-ordinate their visits so that any disagreements were resolved before he committed the final agreed parameters to paper.

The P1127 was designed as a prototype aircraft that was never intended to go into production. However, like so many cutting edge projects, a rather convoluted gestation led to the production of a few versions of the P1127 and after successful flight trials the P1127 was eventually renamed as the Harrier and went into full production. It entered service with the RN as the Sea Harrier FRS1 and with the RAF initially as the GR1 and as the GR3 in 1982.

Without those aircraft being available in 1982, the late Brian Hanrahan would not have been able to report “I’m not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid, but I counted them all out, and I counted them all back.” And one of the most distinguishing features that would have been visible to Brian Hanrahan on that day as they returned was the “elephant ear” engine air intakes as drawn by Liveryman John Pearl.

The contribution of Marshall to the Falklands Islands Campaign

With thanks to Liveryman Christopher Walkinshaw of Marshall of Cambridge for the following details:

After Argentinian forces invaded the Falkland Islands on 2nd April 1982, it became very clear to the Ministry of Defence that without air-to-air refuelling it would be difficult to deploy transport aircraft to the South Atlantic.

As a result, at 5 o’clock on Thursday 15th April 1982 Marshall received a phone call asking the company to proceed with a conversion to enable the C130 Hercules aircraft to refuel in flight. The brief provided was that the conversion had to be achieved in the shortest possible time, and be 100% operationally reliable. This modification was achieved from scratch; there had been no feasibility or definition studies carried out, and it was based merely on a brief from the Royal Air Force to Marshall to get on with the job. The Marshall Aircraft Design Office was mobilised that evening, and by Saturday afternoon, two days later, metal was being cut with manufacturing and modification under way.

The company was initially tasked to convert just six aircraft, and a long refuelling probe had to be designed, manufactured, and mounted above the cockpit extending well clear of the nose, and the fuel system had to be changed to enable it to accept fuel from the probe. Within 14 days the first aircraft had been modified and had completed flight trials at Cambridge prior to its delivery to the MoD organisation Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) Boscombe Down on 29th April, where it was test flown and evaluated by RAF Test Pilots. Following these trials, which included the first transfer of fuel on 2nd May, the aircraft was delivered to the RAF for operational service on 5th May. That was within 21 days of the original request.

Three further aircraft were delivered on 13th, 25th and 31st of May and the fifth and sixth on the 3rd and 6th of June respectively. With air-to-air refuelling, the flight time for the round trip from Ascension Island to the Falklands and back was 25 hours, but a world record duration flight for a continuous flight of 28 hours three minutes was completed during May 1982 by Flight Lieutenant Terry Locke and his crew. Following the Falklands Conflict, Air Marshal Sir John Curtis, Air Commander for South Atlantic operations paid a personal visit to Marshall at Cambridge to thank all concerned and said:

“The speed with which Marshall reacted to the initial request and the short time taken for the project to become a reality has earned the admiration of us all. The conversion allowed the RAF to do a lot of important things they could not otherwise have achieved”.

In parallel with this conversion work Marshall was asked to convert six Hercules aircraft into tankers to enable them to deliver fuel in flight, and these were converted between 11th June and 6th July 1982. In addition to this important refuelling work on the Hercules, Marshall also installed Omega long-range navigation equipment into 14 Hercules aircraft within 13 days and also designed the installation of similar equipment to the RAF Chinook fleet of helicopters.

Subsequently, Marshall converted all aircraft in the Hercules fleet to receive fuel in flight, and following the Falklands Conflict the company‘s efforts were recognised in the Falklands Honours list with the award of two OBEs and a BEM to employees closely involved in the modification.
When questioned by a reporter, long after his retirement, Sir Arthur Marshall commented “that the modification to the Hercules to receive fuel in flight was the one piece of work of which he was the most proud of during his very long career in aviation”.

In 1988, the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, visited Marshall and in her subsequent letter to Sir Arthur Marshall she was still minded to mention Marshall’s contribution to the success of the Falklands’ campaign.