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28 October 2014

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You are in: Bristol > Concorde > Apprentice mourns Concorde's retirement

Dale in the Concorde cockpit

Apprentice mourns Concorde's retirement

Where did the years go? As a 17-year-old apprentice Aircraft Electrician I spent around two years working on the build and test of Concorde 002.

It's sad in reflection that I did not realise how fortunate I was to be working on such a prestigious project.

Looking back over the many years of the Concorde programme I have been fortunate enough to have a number of unique experiences and memories of which a little detail is provided here.

Most of all I remember the fantastic working atmosphere on the aircraft, a few names that stick in my memory - Tommy Greenhill who I worked as an apprentice to for around 6 months, Cliff Mansfield the hard man that everybody loved and Mervyn Thompson and Andy Williams the foremen in charge of section S38.

A flight certificate

Cut hands

A simple but painful lesson taught to me by Cliff, that has stuck with me all my years, is how to break waxed string without cutting your hands to shreds.

Whilst the cables were being laid in the aircraft during build-up they were temporarily tied with wax string. The balls of string were left dangling throughout the fuselage.

The trick was to quickly pull off a length of string, wrap it around your hand and with a quick tug, and snap it.

What you could not see was the special way it was wrapped around the hand, which stopped it pulling against your skin. There were quite a few of us apprentices around with cut hands for a while until we cottoned on to how to do it!

Secondly, I remember being asked to leave the cockpit around two-and-a-half hours before the aircraft took off for its maiden flight by Freddie Price, the Works manger at that time. The aircraft was about to be towed out onto the runway for more taxiing trials (or so we thought!)

Pre-production work

Soon after the maiden flight I was transferred to GW Division where I worked on a Flight Tape recording system for the pre-production aircraft 01 and was fortunate enough to be tasked with demonstrating on the aircraft a 'tape write-in unit'.

This piece of equipment allowed the programming of a "core store" (an early form of computer memory) using fanfold paper tape that enabled the Flight Test engineers to select the frequency at which sensors were measured and recorded during flight.

This demonstration was done in the cockpit where other detailed system test were being undertaken at the same time and hence was in a fully operational condition with numerous displays all lit up.

In October 1985 I was fortunate enough to have a commercial flight. My wife was working part-time in a travel agents office and a special offer came up to fly from Cairo to Heathrow.

Jumping at the chance we flew down to Cairo in an Airbus, spent 2 days there and flew back on Concorde with people who had flown down to the Pyramids for a 'day trip'.

Enjoying the high life on Concorde

Sports car

I'll never forget as we passed over North Africa the captain advised us that his speed had been restricted overland but as we now commenced crossing the Mediterranean he would be increasing his speed to Mach 2 - the feeling was like being in an accelerating sports car - pushed back in your seat as he increased the throttle.

As we approached Heathrow the captain advised us that we were about to set a record for the fastest flight from Cairo and that Air Traffic Control had given us direct clearance to land without any queuing to ensure the shortest time possible.

What now turns out to be my final experience happened around seven years ago. A sales manager at my present company worked for BAe as part of the Concorde sales team.

Whilst we were exhibiting at the Farnborough Air show he met a colleague who had also been part of the Sales team and was now managing the Pilot Training facility at Filton and was invited to visit him at the facility.

I shall be eternally grateful that our sales manager invited me to go along with him for the visit. Of course the main part of the facility is the Concorde Flight Simulator and I was fortunate enough to spend around 15 minutes at the controls including trying to land at Hong Kong airport.

All that I have been able to do in recent years is marvel at that little white arrow that passes over my house on a Sunday morning around 11.15am whilst I am working in the garden - she will be sadly missed.

last updated: 12/03/2008 at 09:14
created: 12/03/2008

You are in: Bristol > Concorde > Apprentice mourns Concorde's retirement

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