Tuesday, December 18, 2007

George B.S. Errington 1904-1966

All test pilots first came into the flying game primarily as young men with a terrific urge to fly, and only after having proved themselves to be of outstanding ability have they taken on the added responsibility of flight testing. Many of them started their flying careers as short-service officers in the R.A.F. George Errington thought differently. He decided that the only proper way to learn to fly was by becoming an aeronautical engineer first and by going through the shops and making aircraft. This decision, which he carried through despite many temptations to learn the easy way, has stood him in good stead. He holds ground engineers' licences A, B, C, D and X, all of which are still current. George's first contact with flying came whilst he was at Hamilton House Prep. School at Bath in 1913. As a small, but very interested, boy he helped a man who was experimenting with a glider on the hills round Bath. Launching was achieved by running downhill, and Errington well remembers the look of horror which came into the pilot's face when he made the suggestion that payment for help given might be in the form of a flight taken sitting on the pilot's shoulders! After leaving school—Uppingham —he studied at Sheffield University and was a pupil at Vickers' steel works to do the job thoroughly. He joined the Lancashire Aero Club and apprenticed himself to Avros. Woodford Airfield was, in those days, a smallish field with two ponds and one tiny hangar, and the only aircraft available was the original Moth presented to the club by Sir William Letts. His instructor was " Gas Pipe " Hall, and Johnnie Cantrell sent him solo. In the factory he helped to build Avro 504s and Avro Fives, and it is interesting to note that, whilst he never flew a 504, he did build the last one ever to be made—in 1930. The original Avro 504 first flew in 1912 and was the Tiger Moth of the 1914-18 war. Finishing up at Avros on the materials testing staff, and having obtained his licences and pilot's ticket, he went to the Comper Aircraft. Company (now Heston Aircraft) at Hooton as an inspector. This entailed both 'building and flying the Comper Swift. Meanwhile he managed to find time to run his own business as an electrical engineer. Here he became a private owner—or near owner. A gentleman by the name of Hart gave him free use of an Avro Avian, and Errington used that Avian as no other privately owned machine has ever been used. Much of his electrical engineering dealt with installations in private houses, and George flew the Avian from field to field to save travelling time. When Compers moved to Heston he decided to build his own aircraft. He bought a crashed Swift and completely rebuilt it. He first flew it in August, 1934. It was whilst at Heston that he first saw an Airspeed Courier. This had a retractable undercarriage—a very wonderful thing in 1934—and George thought, "Here is an advanced firm," so he promptly went down to Portsmouth and got a job as an inspector with Airspeeds. In 1935 an occasion arose when there was an aircraft to be tested (a Wolseley-engined Envoy) and no pilot avail-able. He test-flew it, and his report was so comprehensive that he was offered the job of test pilot. His total flying time at that period was in the region of 400 hours. George's first really big job came in 1936, when he had to fly a military Envoy out to South Africa, and to erect and test-fly the remainder of the contract out there. Whilst he was there the England-South Africa race took place, and Errington flew a Puss Moth to investigate the Max Findlay Envoy crash near Abercorn. Unfortunately he got lost and, running out of juice, made a forced landing at Mpika in the territory of the Wanyika tribe. The landing was made at 6,000ft with two yards to spare at the end of the run. The area was very remote, and the natives, having never seen an aircraft before, decided that George was a god. For a long while they would not go near him, and as nightfall came they went away and left him with only his blind-flying instruments as company. Anyone in the same predicament has Errington's assurance that the only way to sleep in a Puss" Moth is by tying one's head up to the cockpit roof! The next day a native arrived who had had slight contact with white men. He was dressed in a very long nightshirt and had an extra long grey beard so George mentally nicknamed him St. Paul and spent a long time making him understand that even God couldn't eat bantam's eggs raw, and getting him to take a message to the nearest white man. Eventually the local District Commissioner arrived with a thermos of tea—which was a change from water caught in a waterproof map as it ran off the trailing edge of the wing. The District Commissioner produced four gallons of petrol which enabled Errington to get the Puss Moth off down a 250-yard clearing (his wheels went through the trees at the end) and to fly to an Imperial Airways emergency landing ground to fill up. His next long trip was to deliver an Envoy by air to General Pakhoi, at Liuchow, in Kwangsi Province, China. The start was complicated by the non-arrival of payment.plus the proximity of the monsoon period. The financial side having been settled, Errington started on his 9,000- mile trip and ran slap into the worst of the monsoon weather. Between Calcutta and Akyab 15 inches of rain fell in 9 hours and whilst he was flying in this area all the instruments on the dashboard filled with water. Each day, after flying was finished, he did his own aircraft and engine maintenance, and so strenuous proved the flight that he lost more than i61b on the journey. The last 350 miles had to be flown by dead reckoning—much to the consternation of a Chinese pilot whom George was giving a lift to Linchow ; he considered that the slide-rule must be in the nature of a joss stick to be able to bring an aircraft dead over the airfield from above the clouds. The first real prototype Errington flew was the Airspeed Oxford, and the first flight in that was made by F/Lt Coleman. The same applies to the Queen Wasp, which was one of the early radio-controlled target aircraft. The Oxford was the first medium-weight twin-engined aircraft ever to do complete spinning trials. George found it was so stable in the spin that he was able to take an ordinary camera and photograph the instruments during the evolution. After testing the A.S.39 (a four-engined fleet -spotter) and the A.S.45 (a single-engined trainer), the Horsa glider had to be put through its paces. This Errington considered to be little short of penance. For every flight—the maximum duration of which cannot exceed ten minutes—a tug aircraft and tow-rope has to be found, and then follows a combined take-off and climb*to height. Every landing is a forced landing ; the tow-rope has to be recovered and the glider towed back by tractor. Then the performance is started all over again. It was whilst doing diving tests on the Horsa that Errington had one or two very close shaves. On one occasion he felt a jerk, and a loud bang was heard immediately after dropping the undercarriage. The observer went back through the cabin but reported no damage, so the diving trials proceeded. Actually the undercarriage had hit the fuselage near the tail, and had knocked a great hole in the structure and broken a longeron. Why the tail stayed on during maximum-speed diving tests is difficult to understand, ft is said that an A.I.D. inspector, seeing it all happen, ran and picked up some of the wreckage and then fainted. As George became more adept at handling the Horsa, it was found that much time could be saved by releasing from the tug at 2,oooft, diving to a maximum speed of 230 m.p.h. and landing from the pull-out. His worst prolonged experience on a Horsa, however, came when the tug pilot got lost in low cloud, with the glider fully loaded. The tug—a Whitley—was able to climb but very slowly, and Errington had no experience at blind towing. To use one of his own expressions, " It is one of those pastimes requiring a good deal of gin and enthusiasm." The inevitable cavorting about in the slipstream followed. George was quite convinced that the tug pilot did at least three badly executed slow rolls, whilst he in turn decided that George had left the controls entirely and gone aft for another purpose altogether. Finally, they broke cloud very much in the ultra-low-tow position, having been very fortunate not to have got into serious trouble. Another aerial barge-towing moment occurred when Errington was trying out a designer's idea for introducing The next day a native arrived who had had slight aileron anti reflex. The result was a complete aerodynamic seizing-up of the ailerons on take-off. After breaking the back of his seat whilst trying to control the rolls by rudder alone, he let go and made a spectacular arrival over two haystacks as he landed at Netheravon. As he says, " an aircraft without any ailerons never fails to produce a hearty laugh from the spectators." On yet another Horsa occasion, when one undercarriage leg fell off and the other wouldn't jettison, his observers had great fun throwing out three tons of concrete blocks. The one-wheel landing he brought off after this scarcely scratched the paint. Altogether Errington seems to have had somewhat of a dog's life at this towing business. He has tried being towed in a fighter by a bomber on research trials of bomber - towing-fighter to combat areas, and he, together with Geoffrey Tyson, carried out successful flight refuelling tests under black-out conditions at night. His very nearest go happened way back in 1939 when he was putting a special twin ruddered Oxford through its spinning tests. The case was full load with e.g. extended aft. Errington put the Oxford into a spin at i6,oooft, checked at 12,000ft, continued out of control to 5,000ft, and then pulled the anti-spin chute cord. At first this did not appear to work, and another 1,000ft was lost; then the chute operated By now i« dense cloud at about 3,oooft Errington found that he could not jettison the anti-spin chute which had just straightened him up. This, however, broke away just as he came through the clouds, and a multiple g pull-out just enabled him to skim over the Devon hills below. In addition to the big job he did getting Horsa ready for the invasions, he also did a spell of flight testing on Spitfires and Mosquitoes. George Errington, A.F.R.Ae.S., has a total of 4,100 flying hours on 104 different types, including 11 gliders and two jets. He got his C certificate after five hours. He made the first flights of the Airspeed AS.30 Queen Wasp (K8887); AS.39 Fleet Shadower (N1323); AS.45 Cambridge (T2249); AS.51 Horsa (DG597) and the AS.57 Ambassador (G-AGUA). He was killed in a crash of an HS Trident 1C (G-ARPY)during a pre-delivery test flight for BEA near Felthorpe, north of Norwich, at about 1930hr on June 3 1966