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Interview of Ron Neal, 12th August 2013

Interviewed by Peter Stoddart

Interviewer
Starting off, you're not from Leicester, are you?
Ron Neal
Yes.
Interviewer
You are from Leicester?
Ron Neal
Yes.
Interviewer
I thought you were born in Richmond?
Ron Neal
No, I was born in Leicester...
Interviewer
Right.
Ron Neal
...but all the family was Richmond but I actually lived in Yorkshire.
Interviewer
So your family was already here?
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
Right, so what was your date of birth then?
Ron Neal
29th of March, 1940, yeah.
Interviewer
I'm your senior by a few months and what school did you go to and that sort of thing in Leicester?
Ron Neal
In Rearsby and then went to school in Yorkshire for a while - Richmond - and then came back to Rearsby Primary.
Interviewer
Right, what took you back to Yorkshire then?
Ron Neal
Mother and family. It was family.
Interviewer
So did something happen?
Ron Neal
Well, I lost my father in 1941.
Interviewer
He was a war casualty, was he?
Ron Neal
Yeah, in Malaysia.
Interviewer
Right, so she went back to the bosom of the family really?
Ron Neal
Yeah, really in the end, though we always used to go up. Every school holiday we always went there and one year we stayed there. I don't know. It was a bit more than a year, I think.
Interviewer
Yes, and what did you mum do then once your father's income was lost? How did she sustain herself then?
Ron Neal
Just on whatever she got. Yeah, she did work.
Interviewer
Was she in service?
Ron Neal
Yes, she was. She worked with ((Ina?)) up at Rearsby House. No, that was before we went to Richmond when I was small and then she had jobs at other places in the village.
Interviewer
Yeah, so all doing sort of domestic work?
Ron Neal
Domestic work, yeah.
Interviewer
You went onto - what - secondary school?
Ron Neal
Yeah, Melton Grammar.
Interviewer
Right, and did you get GCSEs?
Ron Neal
GCEs them days - not many. ((laughs))
Interviewer
And then after that level did you then go onto technical college?
Ron Neal
Only through the company.
Interviewer
Right, so you were looking for a job after your GCE?
Ron Neal
After, yeah, I left at 16.
Interviewer
So what got you into aviation then?
Ron Neal
Nothing. It was just ((laughs)) I'd looked round for all sorts of things really. It was either go into Leicester at half past six, seven o'clock in the morning. I'd got a job at the ((?)) got a job through ((Hamshaw's?)) I think, if I wanted it. There was plenty of jobs about, them days, and I just sat down one day and thought This is silly. I might as well get up at quarter to eight and end up at the airfields at eight. ((laughs))
Interviewer
Of course you were living in Rearsby.
Ron Neal
Yeah, I was living in Rearsby.
Interviewer
So you could actually walk to work.
Ron Neal
Yeah, I could actually. I thought I may as well go there. It wasn't the aeroplanes that attracted me because if you lived in Rearsby you either worked at the factory or worked on the farm and I thought I'll work at the factory and so I got a job not through getting the job; it's who you knew in the ((?)).
Interviewer
There must have been quite a lot of people in the village working ((?))
Ron Neal
Yeah, lots of them.
Interviewer
Because, I mean, I don't know how many farmers there are in the parish, but - what - a dozen, if that?
Ron Neal
Yeah, I should think there's a good dozen. It was them days, yeah. There isn't now.
Interviewer
So you were starting off. What were you taken in as then? As an apprentice?
Ron Neal
As an apprentice.
Interviewer
And that was when you went off into the polytechnic, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Well, we went to Melton Technical College mainly for machine work.
Interviewer
So what was the process once you went in the firm then? Go round each department?
Ron Neal
Well, you allocated to a department when you went in and then every six months you supposedly moved round each department but in my case I only moved once ((laughs)) and I asked to stay.
Interviewer
This was getting into experimental?
Ron Neal
Yeah. I started in number five, over the road, on detail section, sheet metal welding and car components we did if we were short of work and then I started first week in August 1956 and the following February I moved over to experimental in the tool room there because the experimental department had its own tool room.
Interviewer
That was on the airfield, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, it's on the airfield, number four works, the side closest to the airfield and they had their own little machine shop so if you got a job you actually did your own machining and everything for the job when I first started there.
Interviewer
This is why you're such a unique animal because you worked where you did more than just one thing.
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
I mean, most of the employees were specialist at one thing.
Ron Neal
One thing, yeah. Well, eventually when the unions came in they tried. They stopped us using the machines and only machinists could use the machines and it all got a bit thing but there was a tool room. It was number seven at Syston for production tools but we just used to make our own temporary tools for the jobs because we were doing one-off jobs all the while.
Interviewer
Now, you say number four works...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...I always think of the Rearsby aerodrome side as number six.
Ron Neal
Yeah, well, number six was the hanger nearest the road - the production hanger. Number two was the hanger nearest the road at Gaddesby end, which was the flight shed and number four was the newest hanger on the airfield.
Interviewer
Right, so a lot of numbers must have moved from some of the vacated sites in Syston...
Ron Neal
In Syston or whatever, yeah.
Interviewer
...and number five was the car parts.
Ron Neal
And number one of course was repair hanger, which was remote a bit.
Interviewer
Yeah, so you got into the dabbling with every bit of an Auster right at the start really?
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
And how much time did you spend learning machining and things? Did you learn any aeronautical engineering at college?
Ron Neal
None.
Interviewer
That was all picked up on the job?
Ron Neal
Machine work mainly because there was no facilities at Rearsby to put anyone in a machine shop. There just weren't the machines. Machine work was all done at Syston at number seven.
Interviewer
So what was going on when you started in experimental then?
Ron Neal
Well, I think even when I started in number five, because occasionally we used to work over the road on the aircraft very occasionally and the first aircraft I worked on was fitting the neon signs on GAOSL. That was the first time I ever worked on them.
Interviewer
Was that the Pepsi one?
Ron Neal
Roxy ((?)) under the centre fuselage and then occasionally if we was on the sheet metal section ((laughs)) we occasionally used to go and fit the Agricola cowls with sheet metal man over the road.
Interviewer
So your starting point was sort of Agricola time?
Ron Neal
Yeah, Agricola. The Auster Alpine was on the production line at the time - G-APAA. That was just being built.
Interviewer
The ambulance freighter?
Ron Neal
That was stored outside.
Interviewer
That had been and gone?
Ron Neal
Really it was on its way out, yeah - MKL.
Interviewer
But the Atlantic was still to come, is that right?
Ron Neal
Yeah, but then there was other things before the Atlantic.
Interviewer
Well, carry on.
Ron Neal
I'm just thinking what I did over number five for a start.
Interviewer
What sort of things did you do for cars?
Ron Neal
With cars if you were short of work on the aircraft they'd throw you on the cars. I did Austin Healey handbrake bushes - to drill and ream them - and there was a router section which routed the detail parts. Did a lot of work on ((Supermarine Scimitar?)) wing rib components, which were assembled over in number four subcontract side. I'm just thinking what else we did over there. Welding, Payne ((sp?)) and Baldwins dye trucks ((?)) people who used to be in Melton where Pet Foods is.
Interviewer
There's a picture of those in one of the albums.
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
Were they made of stainless steel?
Ron Neal
Stainless steel tubing and then Payne and Baldwins moved from Melton to Darlington I think and Pet Foods came in.
Interviewer
So did the welders have to be retrained for stainless steel because they were working on the mild steel type tubes, weren't they?
Ron Neal
Tubes, yeah. If you did stainless steel, which they did because they did Heron exhaust heated tubes and things like that and if you did you used to take separate weld tests for those. Each material had a separate test procedure which had to be submitted to laboratory.
Interviewer
So when you were doing bushes - drilling and reaming - that must have been repetitive work.
Ron Neal
It was, yeah.
Interviewer
And how many of them do you think you did?
Ron Neal
Thousands ((laughs)) of them and Vauxhall Victor steering wheel gear lever tips - the tubes that went down the column. I used to have to check those, inspect those for concentricity and things like that.
Interviewer
So I bet it was better when the aircraft side was buoyant and you didn't have to go over?
Ron Neal
Yeah, and Humber Hawk accelerators ((?)) hundreds of those.
Interviewer
Yeah, because people like Ambrose have always said how critical that work was to having a financial base of a company.
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
How much of the sort of absorption of quiet times in the aircraft was it then with the staff going over there? I mean, did you actually have staff being laid off every now and then?
Ron Neal
Yes, at Christmas time, which is the usual time.
Interviewer
Really?
Ron Neal
Yeah. Not so much while I was over on number five, when I was at experimental. Just before Christmas they used to line up outside the office. ((laughs))
Interviewer
I mean, you were immune from that as an apprentice presumably.
Ron Neal
Yeah, immune from all that.
Interviewer
But, I mean, did that ever happen to you once you were through your apprenticeship?
Ron Neal
No, never, because just after I was through my apprenticeship it became Beagle. Of course money was no object then.
Interviewer
So what was the length of the apprenticeship then?
Ron Neal
Five years. Yeah, I did all sorts.
Interviewer
So who were the key people you might have worked with then in experimental or was there a constant change in personnel? I mean, who was the key person?
Ron Neal
The works manager who became the overall works manager was Arthur Pickett ((sp?)). He was there all the while.
Interviewer
Who was coming up with the projects that were going into experimental?
Ron Neal
I'm trying to think in the early days.
Interviewer
I mean, was Dickie Bird drawing things up on the back of envelopes?
Ron Neal
Yeah, Dickie Bird was well in the forefront because he was in charge of the design office until he left.
Interviewer
I mean, the Agricola seems to have been one of his pets.
Ron Neal
Yeah, well, Agricola production was just starting and they were actually building them on number six works on the production line but then they send it to get finished in the experimental department.
Interviewer
Yeah. So they were mixed in with standard Austers, were they? They had them on the production line?
Ron Neal
Yeah, just one section of the line. Only just one part of it, not a full ((?))
Interviewer
I mean, they only made about 11 in the end.
Ron Neal
Eight, I think it was.
Interviewer
Eight was it?
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
At what stage did they find out that this sort of financial prop that was going to support it had been pulled out?
Ron Neal
Well, it was the fact that when the New Zealand government withdrew the subsidy to the New Zealand farmers. When they withdrew the subsidy the farmers couldn't afford to buy the aeroplane because it was an expensive aeroplane really compared with the Tiger Moths which were being bought for �100 each and converted down the repair hanger for spraying for Crop Culture.
Interviewer
Right, so you were actually doing that?
Ron Neal
No, I wasn't doing that.
Interviewer
No, I mean the firm.
Ron Neal
The company was doing that, yeah, after Tiger Moth was being converted for Crop Culture.
Interviewer
Were they spraying with the Micronair atomisers?
Ron Neal
I don't think so on the Tiger Moths although I didn't have anything to do with them but I went on experimental tool room. What jobs did we do there? The first job was the J1U temporary engine mount fixture. They'd brought a J1N fuselage off the line and converting it into Lycoming engine with Micronair atomisers and things.
Interviewer
Now, the birth of the J1U, was that off the back of the failure of the Agricola or were they looking to have another standard Auster?
Ron Neal
No, it was a Crop Culture used to operate J1Ns which were being built on the line at the time and the Gypsy engine was a bit of a thing, so they decided to go to ((?)) ask me a question. We put the Lycoming in and Dickie Bird got a bit carried away.
Interviewer
So that would have happened, Agricola or not then, wouldn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, it would have done really because the Agricola was too expensive for Crop Culture at the time.
Interviewer
I presume the Agricola would have a bigger capacity for carrying?
Ron Neal
Yeah, a lot bit bigger.
Interviewer
But of course it's no good if you can't afford it in the first place, no.
Ron Neal
No, so I think the J1U is about the first type of thing. We used to do test rig work as well and on the tool room help build the Jet Provost ((?)) fixtures because we did a lot of subcontract work for Percival, especially in the other half of number four where they did all the tail surfaces for the Pembroke ((?)).
Interviewer
Yeah, they're all metal, aren't they?
Ron Neal
Yes, they're all metal. The majority of the number four hanger, or the majority of the opposite half to what were in was just jigs for ((?)).
Interviewer
So the subcontract work was that on a par really with the car parts for giving them a stable income?
Ron Neal
Initially yes. It was good work and just incidentally they used to do Jet Provost rudder pedal assemblies of which one pair complete was fitted in the Agricola. ((laughs)) They just took the pedal and fitted them in the vehicle. They were adjustable pedals.
Interviewer
Without asking permission?
Ron Neal
Yeah, ((laughingly)) adjustable pedals for large boots really - flying boots - and so the Agricola always had ((?)) pedals.
Interviewer
Well, it did come eventually, didn't it, in the standard Auster frame, the idea of sliding seat bases?
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
I mean, before that there was no adjustment of anything.
Ron Neal
No, but we did test rig work as well. We did used to assist on that: skis for the mark nine, which never developed into anything, doing tests for that and heel of shoes for ladies. We did the stressing and the support that supported the shoe for the heel of shoes - did a lot of work on that.
Interviewer
That was because of the shoe business going on in Leicester presumably.
Ron Neal
Yeah, and hydraulic accelerators for Humbers, which never come to anything. We actually fitted one. I did that personally and we owned most of it and fitted one unit to Gerry Inward's car.
Interviewer
That was developed in Austers?
Ron Neal
Well, it wasn't really developed. It was started to be developed but it was a waste of time; it just didn't work.
Interviewer
Yeah. I mean, did Humber just say "We want a hydraulic accelerator"?
Ron Neal
No, I think the company decided to try it. Gerry Inward, one of the commercial directors, decided hydraulic, which is hydraulic brakes and all this: "We'll try hydraulic accelerator" but it just didn't work. So that was another job and Morris manumatic gear levers we always did in experimental. They never did those over in the commercial side.
Interviewer
Was that because they were a smaller run then?
Ron Neal
It was a very small run and it was a gear lever. It was not a clutchless car but the clutch was operated through the gear lever but when you put your hand on the gear lever the top part of the knob depressed four thou of an inch and that four thou operated the clutch. So it was no good driving with your hand on the gear lever.
Interviewer
Bit like this.
Ron Neal
We used to assemble these levers with the wires on - only short things - and shim the tops off them. Did quite a few of those but it was very small quantity stuff.
Interviewer
How many people were there in experimental roughly?
Ron Neal
When I went over there must have been 20 to 30, yeah, and of course most of the work initially was Agricola development: J1U, the Atlantic was there being prepared and also before the Atlantic we did the J5T, which was virtually the Atlantic engine in an autocar and we took the wings off the B4 freighter and put them on the J5T, so they were standard sort of autocar wings.
Interviewer
But that was still a tail wheel aeroplane?
Ron Neal
Yes, it was an autocar with an Atlantic engine in really.
Interviewer
Was that off the production line or was it a registered aeroplane that was used?
Ron Neal
It was off the production line. It was never registered as far as I remember, no, so that was before we got too involved with the Atlantic and then the Atlantic was shown at Farnborough before it flew and they obviously brought it back and then stripped it down, got the wings off the B4 and rebuilt it to some form of flying condition.
Interviewer
Yeah, I mean the autocar was a very ingenious was of widening the fuselage...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...without any big hassles.
Ron Neal
Big hassles, yeah.
Interviewer
But I mean the frame of the Atlantic was a completely new design to get the doors right...
Ron Neal
Absolutely.
Interviewer
...and then you'd got this hydraulic undercarriage which was a problem, hadn't you, which waddled about on that.
Ron Neal
Yeah. The doors ((laughs)) were a problem. The doors hit the lift struts when they were opened when we put the wings on and so we shortened the doors and put a hinge right along the bottom of the door, which, when it hit the struts, folded up, ((laughs)) so you could open it far enough to get in.
Interviewer
Right, and that'd have to be sprung shut presumably...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...otherwise the flaps would be open ((?))
Ron Neal
Yeah. That was a right 'bodge' and then of course all the door lock mechanism had ended up with Wilkinson's nails with holes drilled in, which everyone forgot about, and likewise they forgot about the nose wheel strut was only a mock-up and hence it subsequently broke on landing.
Interviewer
So it was flying on the mock-up...
Ron Neal
Yeah, on the mock up.
Interviewer
...without any spring in?
Ron Neal
Well, no, it did actually work; it was just a bit of a mockup. It wasn't the proper job.
Interviewer
The mounting of it wasn't ((?))
Ron Neal
((?)) but the actual ((crow two?)) broke at the bottom if I remember. It wasn't the right tubing.
Interviewer
How many times would it have flown, do you think?
Ron Neal
I flew in it once. It must have flown about four or five times perhaps. It had a rudder problem. We took the rudder off and widened the cord on the rudder and we did a bit of flying to determine the flap settings and although it had flaps they weren't connected to anything and we had fixed rods of different lengths that we used to change to get the different settings.
Interviewer
So it would have to take off with that flap on?
Ron Neal
Flap on, yeah, to determine the actual positions for the flaps and the flap mechanism was designed and fitted and you've got some bits I gave you and it never flew again because Masefield ((sp?)) sort of came in then with Pressed Steel and decided that it would be quicker to proceed with the D8 sooner than the Atlantic because the Atlantic required a brand new fuselage jig, whereas the D8 would be built in the standard jigs, which was the D6 with a nose wheel.
Interviewer
So the sort of on-off flying of the Atlantic went right up to the start of Beagle then in '69?
Ron Neal
Yeah. As I say it sort of did and then it became dead while we did the flap mechanism. There was no priority on it all. It just got done when it ((?))
Interviewer
That would have been a centre floor lever, was it?
Ron Neal
Yes, it was. It was a ((?)) I think it was commercial, if anything but in-between time, which was more priority, was the J1W, which was the civil version of the workmaster, which the upper fuselage was covered in metal skin and then fabric completely over and that's the one that was going to have ((?)) trainer wings fitted - the short span wings - on the workmaster. At the last minute when we came to put the wings on they decided to put the large wings on and that was the time when I argued with the foreman that he wanted longer wing struts ((laughs)) and we couldn't have put them on. The wrong struts were about 12 inches short because we'd got the short ones ((?)) and that's when he said to me "Go and fetch a short pole." I went to the subcontractor section and fetched Eddie whatever his name was - a Polish name - because he was the shortest Pole I could find. He went back. ((laughs))
Interviewer
I'm sure you were very...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...flavor of the month.
Ron Neal
((laughingly)) But he made him stay there and help us hold the wings while we went into number six hanger to get some more struts.
Interviewer
Now, that was intended, the J1W, would have been a three-seater, would it?
Ron Neal
No, four-seater.
Interviewer
So did that have an autocar frame in it then?
Ron Neal
No, it was a standard J1 ((?))
Interviewer
So it would have had the whole ((?)) Hardly progress.
Ron Neal
It had shock absorbers on the bungees - the first aircraft to have it. That's it, is it, yeah?
Interviewer
Yes.
Ron Neal
That's the high side and it had a flat top. It didn't have a rounded top like autocar. It was like a Cessna of the time when it went up and down again. It had adjustable sliding seats which actually folded up when they went forward to the panel and if you didn't catch them right they came up with such an effort that they banged into the instrument panel and more than once broke ((laughingly)) the instruments. Yeah.
Interviewer
So there was some spring loading?
Ron Neal
Spring loading to get them up to make it easier to get in the back of the aircraft and it was supposed to have been painted in the same scheme as RDJ eventually was - pink and what not - but it never actually got that far and also, at that time, we were building the J5V in experimental, which was the Lycoming in lieu of the Gypsy. It was PUW that we were building that and the Atlantic just took a side step then.
Interviewer
The modern Lycoming re-engining mods were issued for adaption of all the Auster types, weren't they, but that was the only one that Austers actually did, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yes, that's the only one we ever did and at that time the B9 was still hanging in the roof - the helicopter was still hanging up there.
Interviewer
Was it completely made?
Ron Neal
No, it was a mockup basically.
Interviewer
Just for the rotor basically, was it?
Ron Neal
No, the rotor was a separate entity which they used to run up the top of the side of the airfield but the actual fuselage it was a complete fuselage but a mockup with mark nine seats in the thing, but also on experimental at that time we had a mark six TW524, which was there permanent ((?)) development work, which we fitted retractable skis on.
Interviewer
That ((?)) undercarriage before as well.
Ron Neal
Yeah, I wasn't there then but we used that for development and we used mark nine WZ672 for development work ((?)) improved, including a camera ((mod?)) in the end. That was going on in there so it was quite a bit of work going on. Then in the meantime if we were short we did some special rally seats for Humber in small quantity for the rally cars, built the frames for them, didn't upholster them and they had a big fire at Humbers in Coventry and then they shipped a lot of the burnt stuff back to us and in experimental when we were short we used to clean it up, repaint it, ((laughs)) and off it went back again.
Interviewer
That's a bit like when we picked the mark nine engine up - the Stafford - the civvies there were rebuilding Griffin engines for ((?)) every two years...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...whether or not they were used. The cycle was every two years.
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
Now, that picture, we've got the Atlantic behind.
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
Is that the experimental? Where is that?
Ron Neal
That's experimental. If you had a drawing I could tell you whereabouts.
Interviewer
Is this a row of offices at the top?
Ron Neal
That's the offices and the other side of the hanger is where the subcontract work was done.
Interviewer
Right, so those offices and whatever's underneath is acting like a divider?
Ron Neal
Yeah. Actually, eventually the ((laughingly)) welder used to work underneath the offices, of all things, yeah. Ray Mattock, he used to work under there and he used to do all the welding just for experimental. At the back of the hanger there was the tool room, just a small area for the tool room and there was a test rig at the back. We eventually had the D6 in to put the aerofoil section flaps on it, larger tail plane and a mock-up nose leg on the D6. There was a pre-D8 prototype. Although there was no actual wheel in the nose leg we used it for drag tests. We also had an Auster seven in that was allocated to us for spinning trials so that it would clear it for seven turn spins prior to the conversion of the Auster sixes to the Auster tens, if you remember?
Interviewer
They'd been around a long time, the Auster sevens, hadn't they?
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
So what were they limited to before that then?
Ron Neal
I just don't know.
Interviewer
I mean, if they got up to seven turns there was nothing in the book.
Ron Neal
((laughs)) Yeah, we cleared this aircraft for seven turn spins. I remember doing that and then after that then they brought the Auster sixes in, or so many, to the repair hanger and they converted them to tens down the repair hanger. We didn't get involved.
Interviewer
That was really...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...quite a lot of cut out and put T7 bits in, wasn't it, the bore tube and everything.
Ron Neal
Yeah and everything like that.
Interviewer
It was a fairly extensive rebuild.
Ron Neal
Really, yeah, so we didn't get involved. The only thing we rebuilt was the J1U when we'd finished with it. We rebuilt PKP to production standards, which was the prototype which we'd always had and it was while we were doing that one August that the Atlantic broke the nose leg ((laughs)) one August bank holiday. There was only two of us in.
Interviewer
That presumably is the same location from the other end then, is it?
Ron Neal
That's right, that's the Atlantic. This is the test rig, that's the Agricola wing jig and at that time I would have thought that that - I'm not sure - could have been the wing off the South American Agricola VP-GAZ that crashed out in British Ghana and they sent it back for repair and we started to repair it.
Interviewer
Had they been bought out there then?
Ron Neal
Yeah. It was the first Agricola to have the spray system fitted with the spray liquid in wing tanks.
Interviewer
It had lots of little nozzles, didn't it?
Ron Neal
You had lots of nozzles but the actual tanks were in the wings where subsequently PFZ, which wasn't a prototype but it was the aircraft we kept in experimental, the hopper was actually converted into the spray tank but that, the VP-GAZ, had the tanks in the wing roots and that could have been the wing because it's the only time I remember a wing being in that jig and a very temporary jig it was. It was nothing special. It looks like it's on trestles but it was actually a wing jig and the centre section wing jig for the Agricola - there's an Agricola centre section there...
Interviewer
I see it, yeah, standing up on the ((?))
Ron Neal
...yeah, the actual jig for that was across the hanger in front of the Atlantic and that was only a sort of temporary thing.
Interviewer
So the Atlantic as we see it there would that be between its Farnborough show and getting it ready to fly?
Ron Neal
Yes, getting it ready to fly.
Interviewer
I mean, the door problem, of course, wouldn't have been realised then because you hadn't had the wings on.
Ron Neal
No, we hadn't had the wings on at that time. I remember it like that. It's a pity that's in the way. You've seen what's down there. There's a pair of Agricola wings by the look of it but they'll be New Zealand wings, they will.
Interviewer
Yes. Who operated the West African one then?
Ron Neal
Not West African, South American.
Interviewer
Sorry, yeah.
Ron Neal
Somebody on a sugar plantation.
Interviewer
So it was a private purchase?
Ron Neal
Yeah. It was about the only private purchase they had, except for the one we had was sold - G-APFZ - to a company in this country flown by one of the people from New Zealand who used to fly them out there formed a company here, which didn't last very long and we sold them PFZ, obviously on lease or something or other. They went into liquidation and we actually grabbed it back off them and they didn't have it for about three or four months.
Interviewer
Were they ones that eventually got to New Zealand - outright purchases?
Ron Neal
Yeah, far as I know they were outright purchases by one company - Arial Agriculture - and obviously subsidised by the government and eventually VP-GAZ was written off insurance-wise. It came in, we put it all in a jig, started work and then some reason it got written off. Obviously it was too expensive to repair and the bits and everything went to New Zealand along with G-APFZ.
Interviewer
There might be some of them is it BA ((?))
Ron Neal
Yeah, you don't know. Yeah, they all went out there and of course PFZ went out there.
Interviewer
You mentioned earlier on that the Atlantic would have needed a new jig and in the past I think it said it was built on boards.
Ron Neal
Yeah, we used to build everything on plywood boards with wooden blocks we used to saw up just to position the tubes.
Interviewer
So you would create the flat frame ((?))
Ron Neal
Yeah. I wasn't there when that frame was actually built but we'd create the two sides and then join them together, top and bottom.
Interviewer
Because I've never understood why that drawing of the frame is dated '59.
Ron Neal
Yeah, it was built before then.
Interviewer
Yeah, but it's a retrospective drawing.
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
Whether that was anything to do with the possibilities of moving on to make it in the Beagle era I don't know.
Ron Neal
I would think it was first designed, the Atlantic, around - I don't know - and built probably early '56 but they probably didn't finally draw it as the drawings we've got until it was proposed after we'd flown it. It was a nice aircraft. It was proposed at one time to put it in production and I think we may have done had it not been for the Pressed Steel take over. We decided it would take too long to put it in production, which it wouldn't have done anyway. It would have been far better to put that in production retrospectively than the Airedale. Of course the Airedale was only like the development of the D8 which got completely carried away.
Interviewer
Well, the D8 still retained the sort of Auster features of the fuselage.
Ron Neal
Fuselage, yeah.
Interviewer
I mean, the rear fuselage was modified on the Airedale...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...and the empennage was totally different.
Ron Neal
Yeah, well, what happened the Airedale was developed, the rear fuselage shape was very similar to that of the J1W. Then it was proposed instead of the normal welded tubular steel standard Auster fin that we put a swept back tubular steel fin and rudder, which me and Johnnie Jenkins ((laughingly)) worked with. We were just about ready to do that. We'd done the rear fuselage and were about to do that and then Masefield decided in an ((aerofoil?)) section empennage should be fitted so that didn't actually get built.
Interviewer
It used the mark nine...
Ron Neal
Tailplane.
Interviewer
...tailplane and elevators, did it?
Ron Neal
Well, the same shape elevators but they were fabric covered.
Interviewer
Right, and they had an interesting structure where there was like a pressing, wasn't there, underneath and then a skin on the top...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...rather than formed ribs. Did they have formed ribs as well in the tailplane of the mark nine?
Ron Neal
No, there were actually metal ribs in effect in but they were actually stuck in by a process that we didn't do at Rearsby. I think it was done at Cambridge. I'm not sure.
Interviewer
((Reduxing?))
Ron Neal
Reduxing, yeah, ((redux?)) bonding.
Interviewer
So all that had to be sent away for them to make?
Ron Neal
Yeah, and I didn't have much to do with mark nine, only the one we had based in experimental so I didn't know ((?)) but that's really interesting. Pity you can't see because I'm sure at that time the helicopter was still in the roof and that ((?)) would actually blank it out ((laughingly)) complete I would think.
Interviewer
I don't know what the origin of that photograph was actually. I don't what it says on the back or where it came from but it's one that we've copied.
Ron Neal
The test rig at that time. They're surface plates, they are, which we actually built the Jet Provost ((?)) fixtures on but also in the test rig we were actually testing plywood spars for the Auster six and sevens at the time because spruce was getting short but nothing became of that because ((?)).
Interviewer
Was that using a ready-made plywood laminated?
Ron Neal
All spars were made out anyway, I think in Nottingham. I'm not sure.
Interviewer
Some of the spar drawings, I mean, that spar drawing shows a blank of pure wood...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...and then it shows various laminations.
Ron Neal
Various laminations and things, yeah.
Interviewer
I mean, some of them are made of almost small blocks.
Ron Neal
Yeah, they were. The Workmaster had some with small blocks in some of them.
Interviewer
Then there's like ply on the outside.
Ron Neal
Outside, yeah, but the ones we tested I think were complete ply. I'm sure they were, yeah. That's interesting, that photograph. We had offices there. That was the inspection department there.
Interviewer
Right, so that's underneath where we were talking about before, yeah?
Ron Neal
That dealt with both sides of the hanger. The subcontract side was on that side.
Interviewer
That's looking towards the door onto the east end of the field, isn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, the east end of the field.
Interviewer
Is it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, towards Gaddesby. Yeah. That's east, isn't it? Yeah, that's east and all the rubbish used to end up on top of there and the Airedale wheel fairings, the mark 11 wheel fairings, some Humber rally seats - all sorts up there - rubbish. You used to have to climb up sometimes.
Interviewer
Well, the big original Hurricane hanger, the production line, that was full or air frames in the top.
Ron Neal
Top, yeah, just air frames though. This was all sorts of odd things that had built in the past that just got thrown up there out of the way but the hanger was quite jammed full really, this half, at certain times. I'm trying to think ((?)). No.
Interviewer
So at the end of the fifties they'd come up with the Lycoming re-engining...
Ron Neal
Yes.
Interviewer
...and the Portuguese order was in then, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, the Portuguese order that was in we had very little to do with that in experimental. That was all done on the production line. It was just prior to the sixties, that was - late fifties.
Interviewer
Was the J5V the only aeroplane you were really involved in on the D sort of range then, because that was a precursor of the D range, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
In a way, yeah, it was, although the Portuguese contract for the modern Lycomings was mooted in '56 that they wanted a batch of two-seater with a modern Lycoming in, hence the D4, but that progressed to only four D4s and the D5 really but that didn't come about. That seemed to take like two or three years before it was finalised and before they decided to go ahead, so they went ahead. All we did mainly in here, actually I remember doing the doors for the D5, which, because of the wider firewall meant wider doors in a different frame slightly and we did the doors but that's it. I can't remember doing much else.
Interviewer
Yes, because there was a curvature in line with the engine on the sides of the rear cowl.
Ron Neal
Yeah. That's right.
Interviewer
It wasn't flat straight down the door.
Ron Neal
No, you couldn't get it flat straight down the door. Because there was width you couldn't fold it into the screen at the top. There was too much metal so you had to keep the curving.
Interviewer
Well, that applied with the Atlantic's doors, didn't it?
Ron Neal
Well, in a way, yes. That was slightly different.
Interviewer
That must have been awkward hinging those.
Ron Neal
What, the Atlantic doors?
Interviewer
Yeah.
Ron Neal
I'm not sure whether you can't see the hinge on the door there, you know. I'm not sure. See that bit there?
Interviewer
Yeah, because it had quite a sharp shoulder on it, the Atlantic door.
Ron Neal
Yeah, but I'm sure the Atlantic doors weren't curved so much. They were flatter, it had a flat-sided cowl and it was quite flat but I would think that was taken when we just had moved from there. We put the wings on here with no fabric on. We took fabric completely off the B4 wings and there was all gadgets in there - electrical boxes and things what the ministry had in. We took all those out. We must have covered them and put them back on while its undercarriage obviously in that position, then we brought it round the end of the B8 fuselage jig, which was in front of it, ((laughingly)) just got it through between there and the benches at the side and that must then be when that was taken before it flew.
Interviewer
Well, that was a lunchtime picture by John Mannell ((sp?)). It's a colour slide actually.
Ron Neal
It's before it actually flew I would have said because I remember moving it and it had the wheel fairings on when we moved it with the landing lights in at the front there.
Interviewer
That was a Farnborough feature, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, and they stayed on, although they were never connected. I can't really see what's shoved up the top there but there was an Autocar fuselage outside as well when I first went in experimental and I never did know what that was. That had been cut about and it was just dumped outside and then when we decided to build the Airedale we built another Autocar fuselage in, of which I had the serial plate off. I think it was a Spanish one that had been returned to Rearsby for repair and was never repaired and we used this Autocar fuselage as a mock-up, which eventually became the Airedale, which was a pain really because with being an Autocar it had a sloping firewall and because it got so involved we ended up moving the ((laughter)) firewall vertical on it, just bodging it up to get it vertical, make it look like a D6 and then it went from there. It just got carried away then, that did, but that was a problem. In the meantime of doing all this we were still messing about with the mark nine. The mark six eventually got sold, that we had, and converted to a 6A in the experimental and sold to someone at Lasham and I think it was RDX.
Interviewer
So that would be the first Tugmaster then?
Ron Neal
Yeah. I think that was RDX.
Interviewer
That was still in the Auster regime days?
Ron Neal
Yeah, that was still in the Auster days or was it early sixties? I can't remember Pete. No, I think it was early sixties. Yeah, just around 1966 time I think. I can't remember but that went. We still kept the mark nine 672 for development work because that was a requirement of the ministry that we did that and the Agricola was still in there - PFZ - in the sixties, which we kept in the early sixties.
Interviewer
That mark nine you had, did that become the mark 11 then?
Ron Neal
No. That mark nine eventually was painted white with the stripes on and sent to Thurleigh at Bedford for radio trials. It's in the States at the moment.
Interviewer
The WZ?
Ron Neal
672, yeah.
Interviewer
Somebody was flying that in the club a few years ago.
Ron Neal
Yeah, it went to the States and I think it's still out there.
Interviewer
So the mark 11 was a spare mark nine for him then, was it?
Ron Neal
No, it was the last production mark nine frame or one of the last production mark nines. That was brought in off the production line out of the last batch and it was eventually replaced with another aeroplane which the serial number was out of sequence, but it's transpired that the frame that they used on the replacement nine was actually a repaired frame off another mark nine we think. I don't know whether you knew that?
Interviewer
Well, this one they're doing seems to have a rather mixed sort of history.
Ron Neal
I've actually seen it and looked at the serial plates and nothing makes too much sense apart from the only way you can trace it is the fact that it was the last mark nine. It was used as a ground instructional frame. If we could get the ground instructional frame number we may be able to confirm that it was the last one, yeah. I don't know whether anyone's got that far with it yet, so that was built as the replacement and we kept the mark 11, which was ((?)).
Interviewer
Whose inspiration was the mark 11?
Ron Neal
I think it had been proposed for a while. I think it was Dickie Bird's actually to re-engine them because the Bombardier in Malaya ((?)).
Interviewer
It was a big increase in power, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Not Malaya, in Kenya. Yeah, it was a big increase and basically it was reasonably simple because it was an Agricola installation on the front with Agricola cowls and everything, so it wasn't that difficult to do and then of course we were all ready to do the mark 12, which was the same thing with the Airedale type swept back fin and rudder, which we never did.
Interviewer
Well, they were helicopter ((?)).
Ron Neal
Yeah, and the mark 11 got nowhere so that didn't get it done but the mark 11 was built in a very short time between perhaps I think we probably started it in the June and it was flying in the August. That one, that's me on there.
Interviewer
Yes.
Ron Neal
John, Trevor and Charles Masefield with - what's that? I don't know which Husky it was. Was it SBV or SNC? It'd be SNC I would think.
Interviewer
I mean, the Husky tale you've written up extensively in the Auster quarterly...
Ron Neal
Quarterly, yeah.
Interviewer
...but they were definitely Beagle period, weren't they, but were they the last sort of traditional Austers that were produced as a one-off basis by experimental and you in particular, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah. Well, I'm trying to think what happened. Yeah, they were building D5180s on the production line. I think the last one they built went to Ghana and then we had SBV. That was built on the production line, which was a standard D5160 with a 180 engine on it.
Interviewer
Yeah, because it was the 160s that Portugal had initially, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yes, the 160s and D4108s and they built about two or three D5180s on the line and one I went abroad with to Belgium to demonstrate it to the Belgian army and then we brought it back. They were interested in it. We brought it back, did some modifications on it, which were hydraulic brakes, a rearward facing rear cabin seat, extended the rear cabin slightly and I think that was about it. I think we had a Terrier instrument panel put in it, which was the latest type thing. We did that and then the Americans decided to re-engine all the Belgian armies ((?)) free of charge if they bought some more fibre cups, so we didn't stand a chance of selling it but that's how the Husky developed really. Then that was sort of when Beagle started and of course they'd kept it and called it the Beagle Husky. In the meantime also in experimental we were doing the Terrier two, which had been developed from an Auster six down at Shoreham. All the development work on that was done on one of the Auster sixes. Peewee Judge did all the flying.
Interviewer
That's the one that had the long exhaust?
Ron Neal
Yeah, long exhaust, modified panel and large tail planes, yeah.
Interviewer
Yeah, and they got them boxed up with the flaps, didn't they, with that one, was it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, they lowered the flaps.
Interviewer
They're blanking off instead of staying open?
Ron Neal
Yeah. What would happen, he apparently found out that when you put full flap on the leading edge of the flap come above the training edge of the wing slightly.
Interviewer
Yeah, but how could that have happened if it had the fittings that had worked on the six and seven?
Ron Neal
Yeah, I don't know. Whether it was just that close that they realised it was too close for comfort or not but it wouldn't have protruded to any extent. I mean, it didn't bother it. It was just something they seemed to say "Yeah, we'd be better if we lowered them. You'd get a better air flow between the flap and the wing."
Interviewer
Might have been like that all the time...
Ron Neal
Yeah, it was. It must have been.
Interviewer
...but it didn't have any effect really.
Ron Neal
No, it didn't have any great effect. What effect it had by lowering them I don't know apart from loading the system up on the flap lever but we built the first Terrier two in the experimental and I went down the air shows with the Terrier two and the Airedale. We used to do the air shows - France, Germany, Paris - all that lot.
Interviewer
Was that a good deal with the company, going abroad?
Ron Neal
It was. You were usually on your own. I think one of the worst ones was when we took the Airedale on hot weather trials to Seville. I was on my own really.
Interviewer
You and the pilot?
Ron Neal
No, the pilot took his wife on honeymoon. Porteous ((sp?)) took his wife. He'd just got married when we went there, so he took her with us and after the trials in Seville and Salamanca he took her down to Morocco and we came home. There was me, the flight test engineer, Charles, Porteous and his wife.
Interviewer
You were there - what - as a fitter?
Ron Neal
Well, if anything went wrong ((laughingly)) you've got to put it right and, as I say, you're on your own.
Interviewer
Yeah, and, I mean, did you take a lot of spares with you then?
Ron Neal
No, didn't take very few spares. There was no facility for taking spares. I mean, weren't on the airline and initially we were going on tropical trials and I don't think I was going to be involved and they were going to take spare propellers, about four people as backup with spares and stuff and it was that expensive and then obviously Pressed Steel decided to cut the costs and do it as cheaply as possible. We were getting the aircraft ready to go. That's the time when one of the Airedales caught fire in the hanger. I think it was RKF that we were taking and someone was fuelling it by hand, the fuel ran down the back of the wing onto a lead light and set fire to the port side of the aircraft.
Interviewer
Gosh!
Ron Neal
So there was a panic on then. That was RKF and we took the engine out of RKF, which is the only Airedale that never left Rearsby ((laughingly)) I think and put it in RNR and decided to take ((?)) which eventually got dismantled and ((?)) we took RNR on tropical trial.
Interviewer
I mean, a lot of effort went into proving the Airedale but it never reached its breakeven point, did it?
Ron Neal
No, it was too complex. There was too many bits and pieces.
Interviewer
I mean, instead of sticking with the Tugmaster, which, as I understand it, didn't always have a complete recover...
Ron Neal
No.
Interviewer
...it was just assessed and what was there was assessed. With the first Terrier and the second Terrier they were just completely stripped to produce, weren't they?
Ron Neal
Yeah, that's all.
Interviewer
It was start again.
Ron Neal
Start again, yeah, right from scratch, even the welding - different welded panel and trim cable guides and everything, which caused a problem in the end.
Interviewer
So the Airedale was a Beagle in Masefield's idea - a Beagle style of aeroplane - that he decided to carry on with, which came out of which of the planes was the progenitor of the Airedale?
Ron Neal
The D8 actually, which was a tricycle version of the D6.
Interviewer
Yes, and was that produced in an aeroplane or was it just a drawing?
Ron Neal
No, the D8 was never produced but when Masefield arrived at the time, in order to get aircraft on the market he decided to build ten more D6s. Only about one or two fuselage frames got built and then they decided not to go ahead and push the Airedale.
Interviewer
I mean, basically that's the Autocar with the front end made vertical, isn't it?
Ron Neal
Yes, the D range.
Interviewer
Because the D5, I mean, its origin wasn't a J5, it was a J1.
Ron Neal
It was a J1, yeah. It was J1U really ((?))
Interviewer
Yeah.
Ron Neal
Yeah, they were going to build ten D6180s.
Interviewer
Now, although the Terrier two was all worked out at Shoreham, how much of the Airedale was worked out at Rearsby and how much at Shoreham?
Ron Neal
I should think 99.9 per cent was done at Rearsby. Yeah, it was all Rearsby.
Interviewer
Because I remember you saying Masefield used to come and faff around wanting detailed alterations.
Ron Neal
He'd come up every week. He'd alter the instrument panel every week. He'd be there for two days. He used to always come in the morning, decide what he wanted altering and then we used to rush around and remake instrument panels complete overnight, subcontracting a lot of the work to someone in Syston so that it was ready for him to look at when he came the next day. It was absolute 24 hour, seven days a week.
Interviewer
On what pretext did he keep altering things then? Just whim?
Ron Neal
Just personal as far as one could see, yeah. They used to get fed up making instrument panels and then they made the whole thing, then decided there was nowhere to put the compass. You know there's a large compass hanging ((laughingly)) in the roof? He didn't like it there so it was decided to put it down near your left-hand leg and that was useless ((laughingly)) because you kept catching your leg on it. So it was then decided put a small compass in the windscreen and of course the cross tubes were in the windscreen so we had to alter the fuselage to delete the cross tubes in the screen so we could stick the compass.
Interviewer
That was when you had the two thicker tubes?
Ron Neal
Thicker tubes on the outside and then reinforced front spark tube like mark 11. That had a rear spark tube.
Interviewer
I can't remember. Did the J1U have only two tubes - one either side?
Ron Neal
No, it had normal J1N. It was the J1 frame really but at that time around the early days when Pressed Steel took over the last Autocar was being built on the line, which was SFK, which was a Cirrus one - Cirrus Major three. The one and only D6160 was built and sent to Norway. I think that was LM-VWB and eventually put on floats. That was the only D6160 they ever built, then they built three D6180s, which RDJ, RCS and one for Denmark that's sort of disappeared now. I don't know where that is and that was at the time we were working on the Airedale.
Interviewer
Yeah, and they were running on the production line?
Ron Neal
They were on it. They came here ((?)).
Interviewer
You were doing the Airedale in experimental?
Ron Neal
Yeah. It was nearly all Airedale down there. The Airedale wings were subcontracted to a company called Hilliers at Reading, even the first one. They actually built all the production wings in Reading.
Interviewer
Airedale have metal spar, is that right?
Ron Neal
Yeah, metal spar.
Interviewer
Was there any sort of tie up between the mark nine wing and the Airedale?
Ron Neal
None at all.
Interviewer
So it was a completely new design?
Ron Neal
No, the wing wasn't a new design because the D5s had metal spars and one J1U had metal spars. It was basically Autocar wing with metal spars.
Interviewer
And a square end.
Ron Neal
Then the Airedale wing was developed from that mainly to hide the lift strut attachments inside the wing and silly things that Masefield required, which was all extra work and extra weight.
Interviewer
They developed that sort of ejector exhaust underneath it.
Ron Neal
That was ridiculous. It was Masefield's theory. We were having cooling problems with the Airedale.
Interviewer
The cowling was still a sort of D range cowl.
Ron Neal
Yeah, well, we always had cooling problems, even with the Workmaster which was sort of the first sort of cowling and he'd got this theory that if you had a tube 16 times longer than the diameter it would draw the air through the cowling and we fitted this thing and the first time went over the road, the undercarriage hit it and knocked it off, ((laughs)) so we got out to fetch it in.
Interviewer
Because ultimately it was integrated with the bottom cowl, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, from the lower cowl and it was a big 'U' on the bottom cowl...
Interviewer
Like a bath tub underneath.
Ron Neal
...and we couldn't get the thing cooled. We couldn't cool the engine. As I say, the J1U was always really not very marginal so they suddenly decided ((?)) on the shop floor that what the problem was the oil cooler was mounted on the front cowling and the air was going through the oil cooler and pressurising the underneath of the cylinders. So the air going in the air intake and passing vertically down through the cylinders was fighting against the air going through the oil cooler. So how we cured it was we put a duct on the back of the oil cooler and ducted the air out of the cowling and flexible duct - cured the problem - but to prove it we first - I remember doing it myself - stuck the oil cooler vertically on the starboard side of the aircraft on the rear cowl ((laughs)) just out in the open with two pipes - cured the problem. Yeah, so then they thought We've got to get rid of the oil cooler. What can we do? They eventually put it back where it was, ducted the air out. I used to get under the cylinders, so hence this sort of ((?)) idea, which never did really work. They didn't actually fly eventually.
Interviewer
Well, the mark 11 had two big nozzles as well. Was that a similar type of thing?
Ron Neal
Well, they were ducts. No, it wasn't really.
Interviewer
That had been on the Agricola.
Ron Neal
Yeah, that had been proven on the Agricola. That was a straight through exhaust with no silencer or anything. It was just the exhaust was drawn out through those tubes and they thought also it might help spread the fertiliser but the Airedale - good grief - the problems we had with it cooling. I spent hours cooling the thing, then we used the same cooling baffles on the D5180 Husky but they never worked quite the same ((laughingly)) because they were all still stuck under the frame, or they'd help.
Interviewer
I know you've said in the past that putting the oil cooler in the cowling was a nuisance...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...because if you wanted the cowling off ((?)).
Ron Neal
Yeah, you had to disconnect the oil cooler off.
Interviewer
I mean, couldn't that have been put on the bearers?
Ron Neal
It could have been put anywhere. The Americans put them on the firewall inside the cowl and ducked the air through, so it's totally remote from the engine really in a way ((?)) cowlings.
Interviewer
Where the oil tank is on the Gypsy?
Ron Neal
Yeah, that sort of thing, just with a duct off the rear cooling baffles.
Interviewer
So when you did GVG, where did the oil cooler go there?
Ron Neal
On the firewall.
Interviewer
As you just described?
Ron Neal
Yeah, Cessna installation - Cessna 152. Yeah, no problems with that but the Airedale was a pain in the neck but, I mean, eventually someone put the Continental engine in the Airedale but that was done at Marshalls ((sp?)).
Interviewer
That was to pick up Rolls built engines, was it?
Ron Neal
Well, that's so really we could fly the aircraft at Farnborough. ((laughs)) That was Masefield again. We wanted to fly the Airedale at Farnborough. We can't do it because American engine, whereas Rolls were building Continentals under licence, although not the particular engine we put in the Airedale but we put it in, flew it. I remember Albert saying he went to collect it with someone from Marshalls, started it up and the AH needles and the dial ended up on his lap. They'd connected it backwards, yeah, and then we did a little bit of development work on that and it did have a problem with the rudder control and to get over that I had to move the spat - forward nose wheel fairing - back about two inches to counteract the effect it was having on the rudder, because when the rudder goes one way the nose wheel fairing goes the opposite way.
Interviewer
I mean, the Continental went in the same cowling, did it?
Ron Neal
No, it had a longer cowling. It was a longer engine. It was six cylinders as opposed to four.
Interviewer
So there could have been aerodynamic consequences?
Ron Neal
Yeah. It doesn't look that much longer but it is in fact slightly longer cowling but I'm not sure the nose cowls were the same.
Interviewer
The ball?
Ron Neal
It was further away from the firewall. They did that sort of development. They did all sorts but in the meantime as well we were still doing things with the mark nine and doing cable laying things one day with it when the cable wouldn't cut off. They had to go round and get rid of it all and me and one of the other lads had to roll this cable up and it's so springy. We ended up with an eight foot diameter ball of fuzzy cable.
Interviewer
Was that on the airfield then?
Ron Neal
On the airfield, then we did the mailbag pickup tests with it where the little knob thing they hook round a cable. We had two lift struts on the airfield with a cable across and a little knob that hooks the cable, spun round and hooked on the cross cable. The aircraft went and stretched it until the cable broke, which quick-released the knob, which was then travelling faster than the aeroplane, which ended up ((laughingly)) hanging over the front of the leading edge of the wing with Trevor looking at it. Yeah, wondered it was. He appeared over the wing.
Interviewer
So when would this have been because the mark nine had been in operation then for a while?
Ron Neal
Yeah, it was mods that they kept asking for.
Interviewer
I'm surprised that they hadn't had cable laying from the start...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...and there was that great big camera pod as well, wasn't there?
Ron Neal
That was very later but, yeah, the cable laying thing, I didn't have a lot to do with it because the first mark nine job we had, when I first went in experimental was the crop spraying installation on two aircraft for Christmas Island. That was the first job I ever had in experimental, assisting with that, and then the cable laying was around perhaps that time as well on the mark ((?)) we always had, which I didn't get too involved with.
Interviewer
Well, that is earlier on then.
Ron Neal
Yeah, that was earlier days. You had the mailbag pickup and then the Agricola when we used the hopper. We put a rubber liner in the side of the hopper and up through to the top to the filler neck at the back of the pilot and then we used to have to go out on the airfield and put filter papers all over the airfield, hundreds on them with a little pebble on. Then they'd put dye in the tank and then go and spray and measure how many spots of dye ((laughs)) on the filter paper. That was something else we used to do.
Interviewer
To get the spray pattern?
Ron Neal
Yeah, to see what coverage it was. We did away or did we take that after then or not before? We then decided to spray granular fertiliser and then put big wooden duct underneath, spread the fertiliser and then two of us used to have to sweep the road across the aerodrome over a short area. The aircraft would fly over, drop the granular fertiliser. The design office would come out and count how many grains in a square foot. Then we used to have to sweep it quick again by the time he went round and drop it again, yeah.
Interviewer
That was on a mark nine?
Ron Neal
No, that was the Agricola doing that and then these test things we did and then Husky went away for night flying trials somewhere, came back late and the farmer used to let the sheep on the field every evening. He'd let them on and then suddenly someone who rang up said "We're coming back." So me and the Polish guy who used to live just down the road, we had to clear the sheep and I was whistling and he was barking to try and get these sheep off, ((laughingly)) chase these sheep down to a ((?)) in the bottom corner of the field while the Husky landed - all sorts of old events like this.
Interviewer
So after you'd done your work on the Airedale was that when you went onto doing the odd production of the D range?
Ron Neal
No. What happened then, they closed the experimental department.
Interviewer
Right. That was now at Shoreham then, experimenting, was it?
Ron Neal
Well, they kept two of us on as experimental really and at that time we got the first 206 fuselage on the production line and me and the other guy, Harry Simley ((sp?)), were put on the shop floor on the production line. If anyone had a query they'd come to us on a bench where we had all this paperwork, with a problem, and we'd write this problem on a thing called a drawing theory form. On the top half we'd write what problem they had, where it was and drawing numbers and everything and we used to get 20 or 30 forms a week, if not more, and they would then go to Shoreham and they'd come back with answer on the bottom half of the form and then we used to make sure they were implemented on the aeroplanes. We did that for quite a while.
Interviewer
So you were really like their agents in Rearsby then?
Ron Neal
Yeah, in effect on the shop floor queries.
Interviewer
The aeroplanes that they were producing then were the bigger ones that went to the RAF then were they?
Ron Neal
Yeah, Z2 was RAF. There was the odd civil but the first lot before ((?))
Interviewer
Xs and Ys, weren't they?
Ron Neal
Yeah, they were Shoreham ones. The only one we built like that was Z2. Z1 was a Shoreham built one. Z2 was the first sort of - I don't know - one built at Rearsby really and then they went onto production numbers, which I think were Cs. I can't remember. All the civil ones were Cs. I forget what I think the military ones are. I'm not sure. Just as a works number and we worked on the first few. Then the ((tow?)) six series two came in. We had a little bit to do on that; not a lot. I'm trying to think when we started the Huskies because in that time the experimental had moved to number two hanger. In effect we were in number two.
Interviewer
Which was the old repair at the bottom. Is that right?
Ron Neal
No, it was the flight hanger, the one nearest to Gaddesby. Half of it was fly shed.
Interviewer
Because that was a double-ridge building.
Ron Neal
Yeah. It was the spray shop and we were behind the spray shop with the shop ((blasting men?)), ((laughs)) just put there but before we actually moved into that bit we were down on the shop floor in number six hanger with our bench and paperwork. As the aircraft got into production then that faded out, that bit did and then we back to number two and we were building Huskies not very quickly, just the four of us, just doing them one at a time. I think that faded out and then they decided to bring all the 206s back one at a time for modifications so that when they selected flap they actually put additional trim ((?)) on the elevator because they're getting the trim changed with flap and to counteract it they connected the trim ((?)) elevator to the flap system so it automatically trimmed it out and also waterproofing mods, so we then got involved in that.
Interviewer
Where was it leaking then?
Ron Neal
Everywhere, especially on the joint from the rear fuselage to the forward fuselage where all the radio equipment was - just poured in. That ((?)).
Interviewer
Was that a screw or bolt joint then?
Ron Neal
Riveted.
Interviewer
Right, so it was a permanent joint?
Ron Neal
Yeah, riveted joint but you couldn't dismantle a thing and put sealer in because it was too much of a job, but on production they started to put waterproof sealer in the joint which cured it but on the ones that the RAF had at the time they did send a works team to Topcliff to sort this out but it didn't work so they decided to bring the aircraft back.
Interviewer
So that was like a production joint, not a dismantling joint?
Ron Neal
Yeah, it was a production joint, a permanent joint, that.
Interviewer
So the whole fuselage was made at Rearsby, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
But the wings were bolt and pull?
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
Did that include the Nacelles and everything and the undercarriage?
Ron Neal
Yeah, bolt and pulls. No, the undercarriage was fitted at Rearsby, just wings and firewall, that was it, and of course the engine was on the tray, which was part of the wing but the actual cowlings were actually fitted at Rearsby, but all the rest was built at Rearsby eventually from fuselage.
Interviewer
Now, in photographs you start to see 206 and you've still got things like Terriers.
Ron Neal
Terrier two on the other side of the hanger in the same building, yeah.
Interviewer
But eventually the 206 would fill it up.
Ron Neal
It pretty well filled it up and then eventually half of the 206 line went to Camborough ((sp?)) tail service repairs and Short ((sp?)) brothers used to fly the Camborough tail services in sky bands and they used to do mods and repairs on the tail surfaces down at the Rearsby end of number six.
Interviewer
Well, the Camborough rudder, was that wood?
Ron Neal
No, the fin was plywood with a metal spar. They used to be repaired in the woodwork department, which was part of the repair hanger. It was moved to the repair hanger and the experimental that we moved out of ended up with moving number seven Syston works tool room into there. So the experimental part sort of disbanded but we used to do all sorts of odd jobs, me and ((?)). We actually built two special front seats for series two 206 and we built 20 sets of toilets for the military.
Interviewer
That was - what - like screen walls, was it then?
Ron Neal
Yeah, just sort of local MDF lightweight material just in one corner. They were only supposed to do two and apparently the planning department ordered 20 - the whole aircraft. ((laughs))
Interviewer
The fact that they needed to fit a toilet, is this a measure of what the aeroplane was like?
Ron Neal
Yeah, ((laughs)) but then eventually we took C50, which was the 50 ((?)) 206 and straightened the top out, me and one guy. ((Tom Gillett?)) I think it was, put this new back on complete and new long dorsal fin. I think ((?)) fin on an original 206 but it actually cut the door off and everything, so you had to climb in through the emergency window. We did quite a bit of test flying with that. We used to have to load it with lead through the emergency window ((?)) and eventually that became the series three.
Interviewer
That would involve totally different rear structure to the fuselage, wouldn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, the upper structure.
Interviewer
The hoops would be completely different.
Ron Neal
The hoops were different and all the lofting for the hoops was done at Rearsby - first time I've done ((heavy?)) lofting at Rearsby. That was all done at Rearsby, the series three was.
Interviewer
That's where you draw it out full size?
Ron Neal
But they did take it to Tangby ((sp?)) and did some flight testing down there, Shoreham did, but it came back again and we built just the one series three, although there was about five more fuselages built but never progressed.
Interviewer
Were they scrapped in the end?
Ron Neal
I think they went up to Scotland with the rest of the stuff.
Interviewer
That was - what was it - ten seats, was it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, ten seats. Special magnesium ((?)) that had to be welded underwater or something like that - some peculiar process that we didn't do.
Interviewer
I mean, that must have been moving the CG backwards.
Ron Neal
It had a very good CG, did the 206.
Interviewer
A wide band?
Ron Neal
Yeah, wide area. Very good it was.
Interviewer
Didn't need lead weights like the Austers then?
Ron Neal
We also got involved then at that time with three flying doctor aircraft from Australia where we had to take this internal frame completely out of the aeroplane and extend the cabin to put stretchers and oxygen bottles and all sorts. Yeah, that was a major job. That's where my knees went, doing that.
Interviewer
So that was working in a ready-made fuselage then?
Ron Neal
Yeah, just modifying existing fuselage that was.
Interviewer
It would have been easier to do when it was produced ((?)).
Ron Neal
Yeah. I'm trying to think when we did the Huskies because we did all those in number two works. We did about three or four Huskies there and some were finished in the repair hanger - that was it - because we were doing the Huskies before the RAF aircraft came back for modification - that was it - and when they decided to bring them back the Huskies moved down the repair hanger. The ones I went out to Africa with they were completed down the repair hanger, although we'd done most of the work in the number two. I think we'd completed one in number two and the spray one was completed down in the repair hanger.
Interviewer
Down in the repair hanger, I mean they obviously repaired Austers, but they did other aircraft as well.
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
Things moved to the bottom end eventually.
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
That was to make space for the repaired 206s.
Ron Neal
I'm just thinking. I have to keep jumping about back and forwards but when we'd finished on the flap development with the Atlantic we took it down to Broome ((sp?)) Lane. We took the wings off, which were standard basic Autocar wings, although they'd been on the B4 and the J5T. We took them down to the repair hanger, probably to be used on something - I don't know - and we took the Atlantic down to Broome Lane for storage. We regularly took stuff down there or pre-production aeroplanes and we used a little blue Austin A30 van. I think they were A30 and I used to sit in the back with a tail spring at the end and tow them down.
Interviewer
Was that the company's vehicle then?
Ron Neal
That was the company's little van and tow them down Broome Lane, store them and the mock-up of the twin was stored down there, the twin pusher was down there and lots of fuselages and bits.
Interviewer
I mean the sad fact is that the museum had started when those things were still there.
Ron Neal
When Pressed Steel took over they decided to bring the Atlantic back to show him on his first visit when he came, so we had to go down Broome Lane and fetch it back and of course you couldn't hold on the tail spring like that. So we bolted the tow bar on and I hung on the tow bar and pulled it down from Broome Lane and coming down into Rearsby it got a ((?)) on ((laughingly)) and we ended up hitting the spat on the kerb in front of Rearsby garage because it was going too fast. So we smashed the left-hand wheel fairing a little bit and we got it back anyway. Then we put it on display for Masefield.
Interviewer
The wings were obviously all revved up.
Ron Neal
Yeah, well, the wings were.
Interviewer
The tail end was revved up as well.
Ron Neal
Yeah, a lot of it where we extended the rudder. Yeah, we completely covered the rudder, I think.
Interviewer
Yeah, because there's several drawings in the sketch drawing which show it ended up with like a flat top rudder because it was pushed further back.
Ron Neal
Because the cord was made wider so it ended up in the middle.
Interviewer
Yeah, so it didn't have enough rudder then.
Ron Neal
Yeah. I was involved in doing the rudder.
Interviewer
You also did the skids to stop the wings hitting the ground, didn't you?
Ron Neal
That was on the mark nine as well. We first did that on that mark nine.
Interviewer
Really?
Ron Neal
Yeah, because the military were finding they were dropping a wing on landing, which they still do now.
Interviewer
Really?
Ron Neal
Yeah, because the ailerons, when you put the flaps down the ailerons came down as well. It had drooping aileron with the flaps and the whole wing used to stall at once. You could have one wing stall and it used to drop and hit the ground and Les Leethem ((sp?)) did some tests. We fitted two skids on the mark nine and he did tests to try and drop the wing but he wasn't very keen on that ((laughs)) and we never did actually manage to drop a wing, although it did happen to Trevor when he was doing the intensive flying. He dropped a wing and sheared the undercarriage bolt and it's happened on one or two since.
Interviewer
Presumably if they get a slight ((yaw on?)) or something.
Ron Neal
Yeah, it actually drops and on the mark 11 we tried to get out that. We took the drew power to the ailerons so there was no aileron drew with flap, fitted a stitch ((?)) on it to get over that problem.
Interviewer
I haven't mentioned this aileron droop ((?)) cam and I think there might be some mark nines flying now that haven't got it in.
Ron Neal
Well, they never did have it fitted. The only mark nines that have got that are those that have been done since the company closed. They fitted the mark 11.
Interviewer
That's what I mean. I think there maybe some of the ones that have been done since that haven't had it in.
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
I don't know.
Ron Neal
How do you mean, haven't?
Interviewer
Well, they've taken the airframe, which was ex-military and hadn't flown...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...and haven't done that mod.
Ron Neal
No. Well, they didn't have to. I think there's only about two aircraft mark nines that have been done really, if that. I know one of Trevor's was done.
Interviewer
They need to be aware that this might happen of course.
Ron Neal
Yeah. Well, Carl bent one out in Norfolk like that - dropped a wing.
Interviewer
So was it the same skids that went on?
Ron Neal
Atlantic? Yeah, they were standard skids and we had standard skids and a standard parachute for spinning trials that went on the Airedale and we did spinning trials with the Airedale. There's a recording of those spinning trials somewhere that Trevor did but where it is I don't know.
Interviewer
Well, we've got some film of spinning.
Ron Neal
Yeah. Did you get the recording?
Interviewer
Not words.
Ron Neal
No. I remember hearing Trevor said to the designer at the time, which wasn't Dickie Bird, it was Fred Watkin and we actually said "You know Fred, we're not going to get out of this one" ((laughs)) and he'd gone round about seven turns and he shoved the stick forward. He said "I'm shoving the stick forward" and it came out. Yeah, but we did some tests on the Airedale with the parachute, not spinning, but just releasing the parachute. There was a little ((drogue?)) parachute and a larger one. The drogue come out and disappeared and it landed in Rearsby and someone had written on it '�5 reward' and the farmer brought it back and wanted his �5. There was quite a stir about that.
Interviewer
That would literally stop the plane turning.
Ron Neal
If it had been in a spin, yeah, it holds it vertically. You can get out and dive and stop it spinning, yeah, and we also fitted it on one of the 3680. It was one of the Huskies that eventually went to Tanzania. It was allocated to the Irish Air Corps and the Irish Air Corps wanted the Huskies cleared for spinning but they never had a Husky at all in the end. The contract never transpired.
Interviewer
How much did you get involved in the testing then and with Trevor and people like that? Had Les left the firm?
Ron Neal
No, Les was still there. I remember him flying the Workmaster quite a bit. We got the load sheets as lads and we used to have to ballast the aircraft.
Interviewer
There's Les in the Agricola.
Ron Neal
Yeah. He used to have to do the ballasting. There's him in the Agricola. One day Arthur Hamsom ((sp?)) was working that I think and one day he dropped it and the thing went down the shute and the whole weight went on the aircraft and the aircraft went 'Er'. ((laughs)) He was on the control tower.
Interviewer
So the tube structure did take the weight?
Ron Neal
Yeah, ((laughingly)) it took it, that one.
Interviewer
Because, I mean, that was a crash structure, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
The tube?
Ron Neal
Yeah, the whole weight of the thing went on top of the aircraft. People think that's the hopper but it's not. The hopper's underneath the aircraft there. You sit on top of the load because people think the load's there. You could fill it up there if you wanted but most of the load's there, so if you had an accident you're on top of the load; it didn't come and crush you.
Interviewer
A lot of clever design went into the aircraft.
Ron Neal
There was Ken Sharp there, see. There's Dickie Bird isn't it, there, with his bald head. That's before I went there, that was.
Interviewer
I'm still not clear whether the Autocar was Dickie Bird's inspiration or somebody else's because once when I was travelling with Ambrose...
Ron Neal
I don't know.
Interviewer
...he talked about somebody called Barker, Baker, who went to Australia.
Ron Neal
Baker I think probably. It rings a bell but it was before my time.
Interviewer
Because they went through all the business with the previous thing, the Avis, to make a full four-seater, which was three longerons in a rear fuselage - totally different to the Auster - and then of course they made the square fuselage ambulance version of it, whereas in the end they got their four ((laughingly)) seater by just pulling out the tubes...
Ron Neal
The tubes, yeah.
Interviewer
...at the shoulder height. So somebody had a wizard thought there and that was all the same jig then, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah. Well, they could only pull the tubes out far enough to get the aircraft in the jig because otherwise it would mean a new jig but one of the construction things in the welded fuselage was that the Auster basically was welded in. Some items were fitted in the jig. With the mark nine everything was fitted in. There were some items but they were always sent with no holes in the fuselage and the mark nine was actually put in a second jig and all the holes drilled, so everything was right, correct, in relation to each other. So you never had to rig a mark nine because everything was identical; you just bolted it up. There was no rigging. There was no need for it, whereas on the others you used to get all sorts of distortion and twisting and whatnot during the welding, which could make things really difficult at times. I should think one could assemble a mark nine in half the time basically of an ordinary Auster.
Interviewer
I think if that had come in at mark six time they'd have sold a lot more.
Ron Neal
They'd have produced a lot more a lot less expensively because everything would have fitted.
Interviewer
I mean, I don't know about going through to hydraulics for the undercarriage and the flap lever. I mean, one of the problems we had with our mark nine was that the undercarriage units went sad...
Ron Neal
And the flap ((laughingly)) used to ((?)).
Interviewer
...and they would probably do the same. I mean, the great thing about the basic Auster is it was literally totally mechanical and, I mean, there was so much that just couldn't fail really. Yeah, so when you'd done your D range you gravitated down to the old repair section down at Rearsby end. We got into the government support period.
Ron Neal
Well, at experimental finish we went into number two works, just two of us, and I don't know what was happening in the repair hanger then. Just normal repair, I think.
Interviewer
What was the sort of vibe in the company really? How did the workers feel about what was going on and having seen how Mr Masefield would just keep spending money without sort of getting any back or didn't you think about things like that?
Ron Neal
We didn't think because there was always work at that time. There was plenty of work, it was coming in, it was a big company, Shoreham were involved. There was money everywhere. It didn't seem to bother anyone. When it first started to worry people was when they had the contract for the Argentine 206s. I forget how many it was for, whether it was 14. I can't remember and they cancelled it due to some problems we had in the country with corn beef. We rejected their corn beef because there was something wrong with it and then they cancelled the 206s. There was also a contract for South Africa with 206s which got cancelled because of the apartheid thing I think or something - I don't know, no idea - and that got cancelled. Then people thought Well, this aircraft isn't really selling very well and then they got a washing machine salesman that they set on - I can't think of his name - who went off to America to try and sell the Beagle 206, which got accepted well but something happened that he never managed to sell any really because it was a good aeroplane at the time. It was in front of itself so that went downhill. So virtually the RAF only had 20, didn't want any more, so we're not selling any.
Interviewer
Because that was only about half their order, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, nothing's selling. Then it picked up a bit because the Pup came along. We were building Pups at Rearsby but that was terrible thing to build. Well, as you probably know we were building Pups at Rearsby, fuselages, wings and everything. We were sending them to Shoreham. They were assembling them, flying them and sending them back to Rearsby to finish them and all the bits for the Pups were made at Rearsby and we were taking those down by road, as well as building Pups at Rearsby. We'd got a big production line of Pups.
Interviewer
So they were producing them at Shoreham as well?
Ron Neal
They'd built a new hanger to produce them in but Rearsby supplied all the components and then at the end, to finish and paint them, they flew them back to Rearsby and at one time were two of us - me and Harry - involved in modifying the Pups to customers' requirements, like dual throttle controls. They were all built to a basic standard, then they'd come back and then be stripped and whatever the customer wanted for the radio, door throttles, jettison doors - whatever - we'd end up stripping and fitting those. They'd be painted and then they'd be delivered. Then they'd go back to Shoreham again and be delivered from Shoreham. Yeah, it was just ludicrous.
Interviewer
The two lines, because there were different powered Pups, weren't they?
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
Did Shoreham build one power and Rearsby the other?
Ron Neal
No.
Interviewer
So you had a mixture of both?
Ron Neal
Mixture of both, except the only ones that we started to build at Rearsby, which Shoreham never got involved in, were the series five, which we built fuselages, but no series five ever got completed.
Interviewer
What was the difference with them then?
Ron Neal
The doors basically. It had square top doors because we were having lots of problems with the doors and then the Swiss had some and then they had two fatal accidents in Switzerland and then they had a fatal accident in Australia and one could see things were going downhill, although we were selling Pups to countries that we'd never sold aircraft to before. I mean, we built 150 horse Pups, we built two 160 horse Pups for Mexico. That was somewhere we'd never sold and aeroplane to. We built some for Iran as well.
Interviewer
Was this the washing machine man selling these?
Ron Neal
I don't know who sold them. I've no idea but I think the washing machine man went downhill a bit after the American tour.
Interviewer
I mean, presumably there was interest from customers direct anyway?
Ron Neal
Yeah, there would be.
Interviewer
I mean, these aeroplanes were widely...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...written up in the press, weren't they?
Ron Neal
All the sales were dealt with through Shoreham. There were no sales going on at Rearsby at that time; it was all Shoreham carrying the sales.
Interviewer
You never got involved with any of the Miles aeroplanes that came through - the 218?
Ron Neal
No, when they last sort of flew it I think at Coventry air show, just after Masefield, Pressed Steel tool over, had an air show at Baginton. It was the first time we took the Airedale out of Rearsby and I flew with Porteous to Baginton in the Airedale and the ((Student?)) was there at Baginton.
Interviewer
Well, the jets.
Ron Neal
The jet one flying.
Interviewer
I was meaning the twin piston one. What was it - 218 or something?
Ron Neal
I had 218, yeah...
Interviewer
Fibreglass thing.
Ron Neal
...which changed into the 242. No, I have been down to Shoreham and seen it. I used to go to Shoreham a bit, especially if we were going abroad to air shows. You always seemed to have to go through Shoreham for some reason.
Interviewer
Because the ((Student?)) was a wonderful aeroplane in the Miles tradition. I mean, it was very innovative. Lesser air forces didn't seem to take it up, yet there was a Swedish design, which was very similar in Malaya, although it didn't have car doors and it was a car door entry, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, it was in the ((Student?)) aeroplane but nothing became of it obviously, but the 218 developed. It was a problem. I don't know what the problems actually were. I think they were aerodynamic problems, that big bulge, and that turned into the 242.
Interviewer
Which was a new aeroplane really, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, then only time I ever got involved was when we were at Farnborough for the displays. You'd perhaps help them out, help their engineers with it.
Interviewer
You were saying about spares and so on when you were supporting displays. How much was the Dragon used for actually transporting things other than people?
Ron Neal
Never knew it was used for anything.
Interviewer
It always amazed me that Beagle hung onto having a Dragon when they'd got all the 206 executive aeroplanes.
Ron Neal
Well, it wasn't so much that. Where that came about was we used to ferry Airedales to Australia. Charles Masefield and Lord Trethgarn ((sp?)) used to ferry them out and when they got there they always used to try and get something to fly back. Once they brought the Dragon back and then another time they bought a Mustang back, which Masefield kept for himself for a while and the Dragon I assume the firm paid for it to come ((?)) company and they kept it within the company until it got bent. We made some bits to mend it, but we didn't mend it at Rearsby although we did paint it at Rearsby when it first came back in Beagle bronze and white, yeah.
Interviewer
I know Trevor had a trip down to Farnborough flying that I think.
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
Fish and chip special.
Ron Neal
Yeah, that happened because the RPM indicator in the cowling all fell out ((laughs)) but it was never used other than that. If we went on company business when we did the hot weather trials in Spain because Porteous took his wife on honeymoon I had to go by commercial airline. Hanover show we went by commercial airline.
Interviewer
What aircraft are we talking about then - Viscounts?
Ron Neal
Yeah, it was a Viscount because we were going to take the Airedale and the Terrier to Cannes. I flew down in the Terrier with a pilot to Cannes but the Airedale never got there because Masefield had bent the only one we could take the day before we were going. He'd knocked the nose wheel off at Thame, near Oxford.
Interviewer
He was flying quite a lot then, was he?
Ron Neal
On and off I suppose. I don't know, but he knocked the nose leg off so the Airedale never got to Cannes, so Flight took their Airedale - RXD I think it was. Mark Lambert took it down and we used that. I used to have to clean it in the morning just for show but it wasn't like a Farnborough show - the Cannes show - no. It was just a lot of aircraft parked and people meandered round them all. I don't know. It wasn't like a proper air show.
Interviewer
The pilots put on, like the old Porteous Farnborough show, when they were showing the Beagle designs, did they put on a good show?
Ron Neal
Yeah, pretty well.
Interviewer
Trevor would be involved in that, was he? Peewee Judge?
Ron Neal
Yeah, Judge, Trevor, Peewee, Ranold ((sp?)), because Ranald was doing the ((?)) at Farnborough. He went dizzy. He didn't fly a lot after that actually.
Interviewer
Did he have to abort what he was doing?
Ron Neal
I don't think he aborted it but it was near the end of the display. He come down and said "I feel really dizzy." I remember him saying it. It didn't do him a lot of good and I'm sure he didn't fly. He was on sales and he stuck a bit of normal flying and no aerobatics much anymore, I don't think, but then he was based at Shoreham so you didn't know for sure.
Interviewer
Once the Pups got going at Rearsby they gradually ousted the 206. Were the 206 still there on one side to the end?
Ron Neal
Yeah, the 206 wasn't quite in. The 206 was both sides and then the camera stuff came in when 206 sales went down a bit but the 206 fuselage jigs stayed there at the top end - I remember that - and then the Pup pretty well took over.
Interviewer
When was the series three development? Was that towards the end of the sixties?
Ron Neal
Yeah, it wasn't in the sixties. It's got to be, because they'd just bought us a few. When we were in number two works the Huskies had obviously gone. We'd just finished the RAF mods I think and they just wheeled a 206 in. "Come up", they said. "We want you to do this" and me and John put this skin on the fin and everything, painted the whole thing white and just out of interest we had it in the hanger there on the spray shop side of number two and no one could decide what the window shape would be. So we had all these windows cut out in different shapes and the largest one being on the top it got smaller ((?)) pack, and Masefield come in and they used to come in and rip these off ((?)) like that and then ((laughingly)) ripped the next layer off until he decided which shape of windows he wanted on this series three.
Interviewer
In the production aeroplane that was done then, was it?
Ron Neal
Yeah it was done when he'd decided they were drawn up and obviously incorporated in the productions ones but in the first one of course the flying mock-up things had no windows at all, but also down the repair hanger - just thinking about it - they built a complete wooden mock-up of a two-seater side-by-side trainer that ended up at Shoreham. There was a little sort of round house thing - a semi-spherical building. It ended up in there in the end at Shoreham but that was a proposed Chipmunk replacement, which I'd worked on the wooden bit, fitting the throttles and things in it, but it never went anywhere.
Interviewer
That wasn't what led into the Pup then?
Ron Neal
No, that was after the Pup ((?)) Pup production, that was. Didn't know a lot about it. I forget even what the spec was of it but it was a side-by-side.
Interviewer
There was a mock-up for a B121, was it, like a cylindrical fuselage twin?
Ron Neal
Yes, we did that at Rearsby.
Interviewer
Which looks as though it just had fabric draped round.
Ron Neal
It did, yeah, and painted in transport command colours, yeah. We pushed it outside in the end behind where the ((laughingly)) gliding club used to be. Yeah, that had 206 seats in. I don't know how many seats he wanted. Got to be 12 seats at least, if not more.
Interviewer
It was a cylindrical fuselage?
Ron Neal
Yeah, and that was just a wooden frame with, as I say, fabric draped round and painted in transport command colours. That was the next project they'd got in mind but we did that at Rearsby. It was a bit of a mock up. We did 242 mock up work at Rearsby, some of it, carpet-wise and we were working on that.
Interviewer
From what you've just said then, with this ((?)), I mean, the mock ups would have a fully fitted out cockpit then and was this with real components or bits of wood?
Ron Neal
No, they were real components. I mean, even at the air shows we used to take wooden mock up things. We had a complete mock up Pup fuselage they used to ship round and a 206. I'd got a complete cabin area 206.
Interviewer
I think some of those pictures in the brochures look as though they might have been done in that...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...where they conveniently cut off at the back of the cockpit.
Ron Neal
Yeah, he took them to Germany, we did, the 206. Didn't take the Pup because it wasn't about then.
Interviewer
When the Atlantic went to Farnborough did that actually have an engine in it or was the front end of that a mock up?
Ron Neal
Front end, as far as I remember, was a mock up. The engine wasn't in it, not that I remember, no. The engine was put in when it came back, I think. Yeah, I don't remember the engine being in. I don't know because I wasn't involved with it at that time. I was still over number five. It was '56 and I was still over number five works and I didn't get involved in it really apart from when it came back, or just after it came back from Farnborough I was still over number five. We did actually make exhaust tail pipe for it in number five.
Interviewer
For real?
Ron Neal
For real, which they'd designed wrong anyway and ended up throwing it in the bin I think when they fitted it and ran it. They'd got two pipes coming into one. We did the two pipes coming into one and the downpipe and the downpipe was at the same time which was a two part ((?)). I remember that.
Interviewer
Yeah, bit of a restriction there.
Ron Neal
Yeah, but by the time I'd gone over to experimental of course the engine was in it, so I'm not absolutely sure whether it had an engine in but I don't think it did. I saw it at Farnborough down there because the year before the Atlantic went they'd took the Agricola but only the centre section. ((?)) photograph of that, have you?
Interviewer
I don't know. I don't remember seeing the Agricola on a Farnborough stand.
Ron Neal
Yeah, I don't know whether even the rear fuselage was on it Peter. I can't remember, but it was all open and all the sides were off it ((?)) inside.
Interviewer
Yeah, see all what was inside. Were you at the meeting when Wedgewood Ben pledged his ((?))
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
Was everybody at that?
Ron Neal
Yeah, he just called everybody in the hanger. Everybody came into number whatever it was. There was number six hanger, number two and we joined the two. The meeting was in-between the two hangers. It was covered over. He come and said how well we were doing and everything and we were doing a good job and three weeks later he'd closed the place down. Of course at that time he'd closed Langar ((sp?)) down. We had a lot of Langar people working. Work came over from Langar, quite a few.
Interviewer
Was that Fields or was there some Beagle action there then?
Ron Neal
No, there was no Beagle action. I don't know. Avros, because they were doing Shackletons and Lancasters where the Langar was based. I remember the Lancasters at Langham and the Shackletons. They moved the radio on the Shackleton ((?))
Interviewer
They put Viper engines in.
Ron Neal
They were doing mods on Shackletons.
Interviewer
Were there jobs for these people to come into then?
Ron Neal
At the time, yes, when Langar closed. I'm not sure whether we were still doing the military 206s or whether we brought them in because the Pup production was picking up, because I know I joined the 206 military production. We had a lot of subcontract workers from Manchester came in. We had a big batch of them. They seemed to fade out when military contract finished and then I think the Langar people came and that time it were an important production, yeah.
Interviewer
When did you know that the writing was on the wall then, because the government refused to give the �6m or whatever it was?
Ron Neal
Yeah, they wanted �6m. It was the time I think they wanted some of that to develop this B12 or whatever it was.
Interviewer
121.
Ron Neal
Yeah. They wanted money to develop that and the government said "No more money." We spent too much, I think.
Interviewer
What about the Bulldog?
Ron Neal
Well, the Bulldog was on the cards to be built at Rearsby. They actually ordered the material for the Bulldog, although we'd never had one at Rearsby at such. I was the planning process had commenced to order the materials and that had started when the firm closed, so all that happened was that the material ended up in Scotland with the Pups and everything.
Interviewer
So there was no Rearsby involvement in the development of them?
Ron Neal
None at all.
Interviewer
No actual manufacture in the end?
Ron Neal
No manufacture, just raw materials were starting to ((?)).
Interviewer
That would have run in parallel with the Pup then would it?
Ron Neal
Probably yeah. I think the Pup production would have been reduced and Bulldogs added into it, because it's basically the same aeroplane but there was a lot of people didn't realise that we actually did produce series five Pups or started to, which all ended up in Scotland.
Interviewer
Yes, I mean, some of the assessments seem to suggest that the company, if it had had that money, would actually have got away with moving to profitability because they had got some of their orders in place but you don't?
Ron Neal
I don't think so because I think they'd have squandered it on developing something else and all the profit they'd been made would have gone into that B121, because that was a big project, that was. I know �6m was a lot at the time. It wouldn't have been enough to develop that.
Interviewer
Because the talk I'm thinking of was suggesting they needed it to establish full production at the level that would meet the sales but of what they were already dealing with, not something new.
Ron Neal
No.
Interviewer
Invest it in the present design.
Ron Neal
Design, yeah, but, I mean, they weren't doing too badly, the Pups. I think the profit they were making out of the Pups was negative. They just didn't make any. I'm trying to think what it says. The amount they were selling the Pups for just covered the cost of the proprietary items they'd bought in, which was the engine, the undercarriage units and the instruments.
Interviewer
All made by other people.
Ron Neal
Yeah, whereas the 206 series twos at the time were only losing about �1,000 an aeroplane. They were sort of more profitable than the Pups were by far and they thought it they could produce a series three they could up the price and actually make a profit on the series threes. Not a big profit obviously, but they could make a profit.
Interviewer
I mean, you said that the 206 was a plane ahead of its time.
Ron Neal
Yeah, initially. There was nothing quite like it in range and weight carrying capacity.
Interviewer
Yeah. That was its advantage over the American aeroplane.
Ron Neal
At the time, yeah, hence the Americans grabbed them all up, as many as they could.
Interviewer
For long flights to Cuba etcetera.
Ron Neal
Yeah, from South America all through the Caribbean and I would think 90 per cent of them went to America - I don't know - of what were hanging about anyway.
Interviewer
How would you assess it from the point of view of design and structure compared to the American aeroplanes?
Ron Neal
It was typical British aeroplane, heavy and well-built, do you know what I mean?
Interviewer
I mean, I always thought it was a Rolls Royce when a lot of people wanted a Ford.
Ron Neal
Yeah, it probably was a little bit like that, which, again, is Masefield, isn't it?
Interviewer
You only look at the aeroplane and a lot of the American ones had straight wings and then you've got tapered wings.
Ron Neal
Yeah, it was all ((?)) into it. The undercarriage system was so terribly complex it was unbelievable. You could get a situation where you'd got one wheel going up and one coming down and things like this due to electrical things overheating and it was a nightmare, that was.
Interviewer
Of course it never met the RAF spec, did it?
Ron Neal
Well, the series one didn't, no. The series two would have done but the series one didn't.
Interviewer
They could have the Vulcan crew but not the kit with them, sort of thing.
Ron Neal
The same thing. I mean, they took a series one to Australia. They wouldn't accept the series one. It wouldn't meet any of their basic civil requirements.
Interviewer
What was the difference in power between the two?
Ron Neal
I couldn't tell you offhand.
Interviewer
No. Were they six cylinder engines?
Ron Neal
Yeah. One they had to put the gear on the top of the engine, which increased the power on the series ones but it wasn't done so much to increase the power as keep the props from hitting the floor. Yeah, because we had to put a stop on the nose leg to stop it going down so far to help clear the prop tips. Yeah, that was one of the problems with the series one. It was underpowered but they got a bit more by increasing the RPM and then they geared it down but the gearing helped, as I say, to lift the prop side, but the series two was a lot more practical aeroplane: better designed, better built installation and things.
Interviewer
The origin of the design was when he was at Bristol, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
I know, it was, yeah.
Interviewer
And he was looking for somewhere to build it because Bristol weren't having any of it.
Ron Neal
It wasn't a bad aeroplane in its day. It was good but to say the range and carrying capacity were good on it, although it's typically British over ((?))
Interviewer
Yeah, we'll I'm sure they're proving durable and the Pups as well.
Ron Neal
Well, yeah, but the Pups were more built in effect as more flimsy aircraft. They were based on the American design but they, again, became complicated. Yeah, they were difficult to work on.
Interviewer
So what would be the final things you were involved with then? I mean, you were there until redundancy, weren't you?
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
Was that in early February, was it, '70?
Ron Neal
It was officially finished, the last lot, which I was one of them, was March the 13th, 1970. That's when it actually closed. We closed the airfield at that time. Just prior to that I think we'd changed a wing on a Beagle 206 from British Ropes because the port wings always used to leak fuel. It was found out whoever was building the port wings at Bolton pool were putting the wrong length rivets in. They were putting them in all the same size in the wing ((boom?)), whereas there were varying sizes because there was something tapered inside the wing, whereas the right-hand wing was okay, because the bloke who was building that one did it right.
Interviewer
Were they sealed structure tanks?
Ron Neal
Yeah, sealed tanks and they found that out at the very end so we changed the port wing on the British Ropes one - red and white one - and then we knew then we were going to finish, so we finished in the middle of March. The last day we went to Hemswell to fetch, was it two or three 206s back for North Air Aviation, who'd bought them off the receiver prior to the final closure. One was a Brazilian one, ((?)) dark blue. I can't remember what colour the others were. There were two or three. Anyway, they got them back but because that day, the last Friday, which was, I assume, March the 13th, the airfield was closed. We had to get them back in.
Interviewer
They were at Hemswell just for storage?
Ron Neal
Yeah, for storage, so we brought them in and then I stayed on with a crowd of them to convert them, working for North Air Aviation and just got paid at the back of the hanger. You just told them how much you wanted and they paid you, so we converted them to their spec. Spray shop stripped them and sprayed them yellow and white and black. I'm sure there was three of them, if not more than three, and then that finished and then there was still a skeleton crew, which was two people - Johnnie ((Room?)) and Ray Mattock ((sp?)) - finishing the 206 spares contract off on their own ((laughs)) because they'd committed the sales of the 206 spares contract. I went in sort of every other week to help tidy up and do all sorts of odd jobs and I sprayed all the Pup fuselages on the production line - there must have been 20 - with this protective plastic coating stuff - temporary ((lac?)) it was called. I sprayed all them, inhibited all the 206 series one engines that they never used. Must have been about 20 of those that never got used because we went ((?)).
Interviewer
This was after the airfield had closed?
Ron Neal
Yeah, in effect, although when I say closed it was closed as far as Beagle were concerned but it obviously still got used because North Air used to fly in and out to see how we were getting on with the aeroplanes, so they still used it but I don't know to what extent it was called closed. Closed for practical use and Beagle using it and all sorts.
Interviewer
Yeah, it'd be unlicensed aerodrome.
Ron Neal
In effect, yeah, so anyway I carried on then from March on and off until July just going up and back as I wanted, yeah.
Interviewer
Yeah, and then what? Was that when you went onto Harold? ((sp?))
Ron Neal
Yeah, I started Harold's beginning of August, funnily enough, I think, at Nottingham.
Interviewer
How did you know about Harold's job then?
Ron Neal
Although I didn't work every week ((?)) but he'd already gone to Nottingham.
Interviewer
Right, Chris was an Auster worker as well then?
Ron Neal
Yeah, he was repair hanger. Yeah, we never met. Well, we'd met but we never worked with each other and he got a job with Harold at Leicester because he was made redundant before I was. He must have started in the January, February - I don't know.
Interviewer
They were carrying on with the repair hanger right to the end then were they?
Ron Neal
No, not until the end. The repair hanger closed before because the woodwork section and repair hanger were together and Chris was redundant until ((?)).
Interviewer
The job you took was the one at Nottingham then?
Ron Neal
Well, l rang Harold. I must have rang him and said "Have you got any work?" and he said "Yeah, we can find you a job at Nottingham if you're interested." It was further than Leicester but it's obviously better to work and just as quick to get there nearly.
Interviewer
It's an easier journey.
Ron Neal
Yeah, it is. It was a relaxing journey.
Interviewer
The road was dual carriageway by then anyway, wasn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah. I enjoyed that.
Interviewer
This side of Nottingham as well.
Ron Neal
I enjoyed that job really. Opened my eyes a bit to see that the standard of work was sort of nowhere near the standard you were used to on normal aircraft maintenance, which I'd never really done. Well, I hadn't done any or the maintenance.
Interviewer
Was it more time pressured though?
Ron Neal
No, it was ((laughs)) just the opposite, yeah. There was no pressure, the standard of work was way below what you were used to so you had no problems in meeting that. It was just so ((?)). Yeah.
Interviewer
Did that take a bit of interest out of the work, the fact that you weren't working up to the standard?
Ron Neal
Well, you tended to try and introduce your own standard but realised you don't need to do it. It made the job quicker and shorter. It didn't bother me at all. I fell into it quite easily, yeah.
Interviewer
How long were you at Nottingham before you came to Leicester then?
Ron Neal
I went to Nottingham in '77 - three years, yeah. I worked at Leicester '73, although we sometimes worked at Leicester occasionally if they were busy. I'd go over but not very often. Yeah, in that dark hanger at Leicester ((laughs)) where Nottingham was quite nice, a small hanger. You're all on your own ((?)).
Interviewer
Well, Harold had his rather strange sort of little bit of territory there with his wooden hut which you needed to retreat into to recover, I think.
Ron Neal
Which was a Heron hut really when the Herons started. Ken's father started that.
Interviewer
I can't really remember what the set-up was at Nottingham because we only ever saw it if we collected the aeroplanes. Were the working conditions a bit better there?
Ron Neal
They were better, yeah. They were lighter and brighter.
Interviewer
It wasn't such a big hanger, was it?
Ron Neal
No, it was a small hanger. We did store the Sherwood aircraft in there - two or three of them - but you could work on your aeroplanes and you were enclosed together. They actually had running water at Nottingham as well, where we used to have to carry it from the other side of the hanger at Leicester with a kitchen and an office where you could sit. It was more self-contained.
Interviewer
Was that hanger Harold's exclusive area?
Ron Neal
Yeah, it was Harold's hanger.
Interviewer
Did he own it?
Ron Neal
He owned the hanger, yeah. I'm not sure whether he leased the ground but he definitely owned the hanger because he actually sold the hanger in the end. I think he sold the hanger but he'd leased the ground it was on. Of course they'd been through, bought it, bought the hanger. I can't remember the name of the helicopter people who bought it off them. Yeah, they'd bought the hanger and leased the ground and after a year they didn't renew the lease because they'd misread something on the lease apparently, the story goes, and Truman's ((sp?)) at the time threw them off the airfield because they hadn't renewed the lease or something - some clause - they had to renew it every year and they didn't, so off they went. I think the flying club took it over then, complete.
Interviewer
Then of course they got the ex-Desford hanger up there, the one that we were hoping to have at the museum.
Ron Neal
Yeah, Truman's hanger, they took that over. Do you know, I haven't been up for years. They covered it, didn't they?
Interviewer
Eventually, yeah. The frame went up and the ((?)).
Ron Neal
((?)), didn't it?
Interviewer
Well, yeah, I mean, it's a question of whether you've got the readies to do the whole job, isn't it?
Ron Neal
But Nottingham - it's peculiar really - had fewer aircraft than Leicester but they're all newer aircraft. You come to Leicester they were all ((laughs)) old aircraft. It was funny. It was always like that but I don't know what's happened in Nottingham now. Not a lot, I don't think. I don't think it's developed though. The council own it, I think.
Interviewer
Well, it's still a Nottingham airport, I think, yeah.
Ron Neal
They were going to build on it, I think, at one time. Well, they were Leicester, I suppose. That's Harry ((?)) by the look of it.
Interviewer
The Imperial Tobacco 206.
Ron Neal
It looks like he's got stockings on, doesn't it, by the look of it ((?)) shadows are. Tom Simmons ((sp?)), Arthur Pickett and Hamblin ((sp?)) there. Have you got the names of them?
Interviewer
I don't know. Is it on the back? No.
Ron Neal
That's Arthur Pickett - works manager. That's Hamblin - manager number six - and Tom Simmons - manager number two.
Interviewer
Who's this in the middle?
Ron Neal
Hamblin. I can't think of his first name. He lived in Rearsby.
Interviewer
He was a manager?
Ron Neal
In number six works, sorry, production line - always was.
Interviewer
Arthur Pickett, and he was?
Ron Neal
Complete works manager, the total works. He was manager of number four works for a start and then manager of the whole works in the end - the whole lot. I don't know who's with Eric Hall. Must be the Imperial Tobacco.
Interviewer
Did Eric Hall go to Oxford?
Ron Neal
Yes, Oxford.
Interviewer
He was sales, wasn't he?
Ron Neal
Yes. Now, I don't know where or what that is. I can't imagine unless it was when they had the Auster in the Granby Halls...
Interviewer
Yes, it could be.
Ron Neal
...when Harold took it down. Nothing to do with the company, that wasn't. Harold always did that, took an Auster down to the Granby Halls.
Interviewer
It's under the banner of Austers, isn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah. I can't remember what he took it down for but he did take it down to there. You can see a bit of the reg but that's about it, isn't it. Used to shudder but it puts you off being the Granby Halls in the fact that aircraft bits on the bench at the back.
Interviewer
Well, internal drainpipes or whatever it is, unless they put anything in the home file exhibition. I couldn't imagine. It's interesting because there is a half-circle window.
Ron Neal
Yeah. It says something there, doesn't it? I didn't read that. No idea what that is.
Interviewer
It looks like a camera club or something to me.
Ron Neal
Something it looks like, but it is a workshop in that they've got woodworking-type benches because of the woodworking vices but what it is or ((?)) seem to do with them. I wouldn't have said it was aircraft anyway, personally.
Interviewer
I think it might be something out of Trevor's collection. Does it say Howard collection?
Ron Neal
No, it says nothing.
Interviewer
It might have been something that ((?))
Ron Neal
That looks like Malcolm ((Founding?)) but that's a lookalike. It ((?)) and he looks like somebody out of the Yemen. ((laughs))
Interviewer
I did wonder whether that was one of the royals but I don't know what the ((?)) is.
Ron Neal
No. Funny enough, when we were doing the Airedale, was it, I had to help Winston Churchill take the cowlings on and off an Airedale.
Interviewer
Really?
Ron Neal
Winston Churchill's grandson.
Interviewer
Young Winston?
Ron Neal
Yeah, because he was contemplating a flight to Africa but he was going to do his own maintenance, so I had to spend time with him showing him the engine installation and how to take the cowlings on and off and I think he thought I'm not going to Africa. It was that much of a job. He never went, no. That was Winston Churchill but one period we went to Sywell with the Airedale I think. Was that the second show? We went to Coventry first, then to Sywell in the show and I did actually have to take Masefield's wife from A to B in the aerodrome once. Only time I ever saw her was that time in the van, ((laughs)) yeah, across the airfield. I had to take her in a Beagle van.
Interviewer
Did they have two sons?
Ron Neal
Don't know. There was Charles. I didn't know there was another one, not offhand. Is that Hitchman ((sp?)) or not?
Interviewer
Yes, I think so.
Ron Neal
Well that's Tom Simmons again, there's Hitchman. I don't know what this was. This is obviously later on. I would think it's when he, Albert and Charlie Green ((sp?)) retired. He was a stores man, was Charlie Green. He used to work in the stores in the flight shed end of the hanger with the stores. He had a hardboard half and a wire mesh round the top of this stores and ((?)) white overalls and a pipe. We used to stick notices on: 'Do not feed'. He used to ((laughingly)) look out on the ((?)) and that's Arthur Pickett, Hitchman, Albert's wife Florie, Albert, that must be Charlie Green and that's Brookes ((sp?)), the director. I don't know what his first name was.
Interviewer
He was a Beagle director?
Ron Neal
Beagle director, yeah. It's when he retired, presented him, had this big thing and I think Albert and him got a watch for the service. Yeah, they got something anyway for long-term service. It's got a mark on it. A cup of tea, yeah. Yeah, that's what that was all about. It was a big publicity thing for the factory - employer relations thing.
Interviewer
So it's Florie?
Ron Neal
Florence I suppose her name was. I don't know Pete.
Interviewer
Thank you.
Ron Neal
There was a batch of mark nines parked outside behind the hedge at Gaddesby end of the airfield waiting for engines. There was an engine shortage for some reason.
Interviewer
Then the AA Alpine?
Ron Neal
Yeah, I did say that was on the production line. I'm trying to think what else was on the line. I can't remember. Nothing much.
Interviewer
Did you ever get a welding torch in your hand in hanger?
Ron Neal
Yeah. What we used to do, when I was over in number five when I started, you used to get the components and the welding fixture and they'd put you with a welder and you used to put the components into the jig, into the fixture and tack weld them, just put tacks on them. Then the welder would take them out and completely weld them up and finish them and it'd obviously help him in his bonus. So they always used to give you something when they get their bonus through for helping them out, although it was just a thing - a sort of recognised thing if you helped them like that. Yeah, I did quite a bit of tack welding, wing root ribs and the Heron heater tubes, which were two foot six long at least - cylinder. They were argon arc welded. They were stainless steel and I used to revolve them slowly in this jig while the welder went round ((laughingly)) the end of them and you couldn't go too quick and you couldn't go too slow.
Interviewer
Well, it had to be a sealed weld, didn't it?
Ron Neal
Yeah, and I used to hate doing them because you had to get it to the right speed all the while. Yeah, I did a few of those.
Interviewer
That was down to human expertise then?
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
They hadn't come up with something to turn it automatically?
Ron Neal
No. Well, they could have done but they never did. I don't think the quantity was there to warrant that but you used to do perhaps five, ten at a time.
Interviewer
So some of the bits you made might have been on the new ((?)) Heron.
Ron Neal
You never know. We used to do all sorts of subcontract stuff.
Interviewer
Did you ever to get to doing complete welding? That'd have to be a coded welder, wouldn't it?
Ron Neal
I never took a welder test. The only time I did complete welding was electric welding on the dye trucks - stainless electric welding on the Payne and Baldwin's things. I occasionally did one or two bits - not a lot. Guy used to do most of it.
Interviewer
Were the dye trucks a sort of continuing thing?
Ron Neal
It seemed to happen regularly in the six months I was over at number five.
Interviewer
I mean, if they were well-made and they were stainless they'd last anyway.
Ron Neal
There were different designs. Whether some of them were new designed or not, I don't know. I don't think so because the tooling was a bit old. ((?)) small ones and large ones. Then I used to have to paint all the welds with acid to take the discolouration out of them - quite fussy. Built a few of those and the Vauxhall 50 gear tubes were the things - a long tube about three seven eights diameter and you used to put them in the machine automatically and it used to braze a very fine ring on them. When they'd been brazed we used to put them in a tool and fix them each end and then revolve them and if they revolved easy you put them in one heap. If they were a bit stiff you put them in another heap and if they wouldn't revolve at all you put them in a third heap. The first heap would go to Vauxhall as normal, the second heap would be put to one side and the third heap would be put outside but then, what they'd do - I mean, you're talking a hundred at a time and you'd get quite a few rejects out of those, you'd probably get 50 per cent rejects - is create an automatic shortage at Vauxhall's. So they'd then send the ones that would revolve but not very well and Vauxhall's also used to send some back that they'd rejected that they couldn't fit and we used to send them back as well without touching them and they'd accept them if it meant 'helding' line up. In extremes, when we'd got a lot of rusty ones outside, what they used to do was create a real shortage of Vauxhall's. They'd be crying out for them and they used to bring them in, put them in a genolite bath and just send them off and Vauxhall's would accept them because they were short or they couldn't afford to stop the production line.
Interviewer
So they might have had a mechanically stiff gear change.
Ron Neal
Obviously it didn't matter to that extent. We also used to do Mini suspensions. I didn't get involved in those really, which was like a ((?)) and a rubber bush thing somehow.
Interviewer
How much did you get involved in covering worm woodwork or did you always have somebody come in?
Ron Neal
No, the Huskies always used to get Ina ((sp?)) usually to come and cover them when we were doing those but if she couldn't we have actually done them ourselves between the two of us - done quite a bit on that. On experimental we used to do a lot of our own covering.
Interviewer
So Ina was around?
Ron Neal
No, she wasn't then.
Interviewer
Up to Beagle days?
Ron Neal
No, it was Marie who used to do them. She was around but she went off the covering - that was it - onto first aid. That's it. So she didn't do the Huskies. No, Marie did the Huskies and a Polish bloke, Bob, used to dope them for us. We used to send them to the dope shop normally for covering and doping but we have actually covered them on the shop floor, then took them to the dope shop when things sort of were not really production yet; we were doing them one at a time. So that used to happen but, say, on experimental if you had a patch you'd do it yourself - small patches and things.
Interviewer
Yes. I mean, you've never been involved in matching wood sections and stuff like that?
Ron Neal
No, never involved in the woodwork section. I don't think any of the apprentices ever went on the woodwork section that I remember. I don't remember one going on there: production, repair, tool room.
Interviewer
There's a myriad of different bits of wood in the aeroplane.
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
It's surprising really.
Ron Neal
Yeah. I mean, all the wood, as you probably know, they all had patterns for each aircraft. They didn't use the drawings; they just got the patterns out and cut them.
Interviewer
What about the social side and so on? I mean, you met your wife there obviously.
Ron Neal
A lot of other people did.
Interviewer
Yeah. I mean, it must have been a good social side because you wouldn't meet your wife in the experimental department; you must have met her at a social.
Ron Neal
No.
Interviewer
You were marauding about then, were you?
Ron Neal
Yeah. She was in the spares department and occasionally you got involved in the spares' department. If you were going away and you wanted a few bits or anything you all had to go and get a bit of paperwork through spares department and things. You always somehow, within the experimental, was attached to something else ((laughingly)) somehow, even repair hanger with the Huskies because we you used to go down there and help them sort the Huskies out and we moved them occasionally. So she was in the offices in number six works, she was, and if you were on experimental you'd have to go to number six stores for your bits if you were short or wanted anything. You'd have a list and go to number six stores to get the bits. She was just off the number six stores so it was more in the works that I knew her.
Interviewer
So that came about through you just visiting the stores...
Ron Neal
In a way, yeah.
Interviewer
...rather than company dances?
Ron Neal
No, nothing. There was the odd company dance you used to go to because in 1963 they had one at the Bell Hotel...
Interviewer
Yes, in Leicester.
Ron Neal
...in Leicester. The first time I ever anything: I won a bottle of gin in a piece of brown paper.
Interviewer
For the quality of your dancing?
Ron Neal
No, I forget. Probably raffle. I've still got it. I've never opened it. It's 1963. It's got it on the label: Gilby's Gin. Still got that but occasionally they'd have bus trips out like to Skegness and we went to Horden, Chester, when they were building the Comet, for a cricket match. None of us played in the match, we just went for the day out and they took us round where they were building the Comet and things.
Interviewer
During the war, if you look at the Taylorcraft ((?)) then, they were obviously having inter-factory competitions of various things.
Ron Neal
I don't remember anything like that, no.
Interviewer
You were really all in one place.
Ron Neal
Yes.
Interviewer
I mean, when did it finally just become Rearsby and Syston shut down?
Ron Neal
That was in the later sixties.
Interviewer
So the Brook ((sp?)) Street was still going then into Beagle?
Ron Neal
Yeah, I'd actually been down there and done something on Chipmunk tooling, just for a week or so, because we had a load of Chipmunk tail planes came in. I think they increased the gauge on the nose ribs. They were cracking up and they had to alter the tool and ((?)) accept the gauge ((?)) one time if you ((?)) anywhere. At experimental you'd go round anywhere but once I remember very well: I hadn't been there long. Nesbit's ((sp?)) coaches took us to Percival's and it was Percival's that had got the Pembrokes on the production line and in this hanger there was this big wooden mock-up of the back end of an airliner with two engines on the tail - never seen anything like it before. Wouldn't tell us what it was. It was a 111, wasn't it, eventually. It was a mock-up for the 111 and Percivals were doing it at Luton.
Interviewer
That was originally one of their designs then, was it?
Ron Neal
I don't know. Either they were subcontracted to do it or it was one of theirs. I don't know but it was there in the hanger - back end of it - just ((?)) in the hanger and, as I say, it was all Percival, Pembrokes and Presidents, which were quite closely associated with Percival's. We were doing the tail surfaces for them. Is it a ((Mew Gull)) that they had that? Was it Amy Johnson's thing they kept at Luton?
Interviewer
Well they had a ((Go four?)) I think it was. No, it was the other woman that went not to Australia. It ended up at Shuttleworth. Is that the one you mean?
Ron Neal
I don't know where it ended up.
Interviewer
The Mew Gull was the tiny thing that Henshaw ((sp?)) used to fly.
Ron Neal
No, it wasn't that, it was a bigger one.
Interviewer
Yeah, with a glasshouse cockpit.
Ron Neal
It was dismantled actually when we saw it. That was there.
Interviewer
I can't think.
Ron Neal
Of the lady's name. Yeah, I know. I can't remember, but Luton was a grass field then and they were flying the Jet Provost off the grass field and the undercarriage legs on the prototype were that long. It was shaking about.
Interviewer
I never understood why they gave that such a long undercarriage...
Ron Neal
No.
Interviewer
...because, I mean, later on they just sawed it in half because it didn't need ground clearance...
Ron Neal
No.
Interviewer
...but unless they were using components because it was an adaption of the piston engine aeroplane.
Ron Neal
It may have been or they didn't want it too ((laughingly)) close to the grass in case they set fire to the airfield because, as you say, there was no runway.
Interviewer
So would that be a social visit then?
Ron Neal
Yeah, it was like an apprentices' visit, just the apprentices. Yeah, we went in the week.
Interviewer
Yeah. I was going to say, it sounded like work.
Ron Neal
Yeah, it was company time thing but I assume Percival's apprentice's came to Rearsby. I don't know.
Interviewer
So after your five years you ended up getting a certificate then?
Ron Neal
I got a certificate that listed everything you'd done plus some things you hadn't done. ((laughs))
Interviewer
Was that an entr�e for any of your compatriots to other firms? Did they ever carry it anywhere else?
Ron Neal
No.
Interviewer
I mean, most of them tended to stay. I mean, I've always seen it as quite a good company to work for but not necessarily paying the most.
Ron Neal
I did well when I finished my apprenticeship. I got quite a good hourly rate, the equivalent to a full man's hourly rate. The top rate nearly they paid me because a lot of the apprentices would leave and I know one or two left when they'd finished their time but whether it was ((?)) trying to keep them I don't know. It probably was.
Interviewer
Did you come in in a batch or were you an individual?
Ron Neal
I think I was an individual because it was one of these who you know sort of things. I'm trying to think who started at the same time as me and I can't. I know Graham North was there. He'd already started there and Johnnie Jenkins was way after me so I don't know anyone who started it exactly the same time. At one time I was over the five they decided to set an apprentice training school up, where all the apprentices went to number five doing small detailed jobs but that lasted about a month. ((laughs))
Interviewer
I mean, there'd be obviously people at different stages of their five years.
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
You never heard anything about these sort of things at school? They never came into school or anything?
Ron Neal
Nothing.
Interviewer
They could always find enough people without?
Ron Neal
Yeah, there was nothing like that at school, no. Nothing regarding that Peter, no, but, as I say, some of the jobs you got, I don't know, all sorts of things you did. Number five works was dismal but I helped there when they put first moving production line in for commercial components. I think it was Ford clutches. Didn't work on them but just used to go in Saturdays and do it with a farmer who'd come from out Bruntingthorpe way. He used to come in his wellies covered in cow muck. He's the guy who apparently at the time they said had designed the car transporter. He'd designed that for some car companies or something - I don't know - but he eventually tagged onto Rearsby to put a production line in.
Interviewer
Did you ever see the thing down at Syston or that had long gone, had it?
Ron Neal
What?
Interviewer
The rolling production line.
Ron Neal
No, never. I did see what was left of it because they were thinking about bringing it back in I think for Pups and things but they did bring a bit of the mechanism back up. Dug it out from somewhere. I don't know where.
Interviewer
It seemed to have a chain in a groove in the floor pulling the trollies along.
Ron Neal
The bits I saw were just like together. I didn't take much notice of them. There was no long bit there.
Interviewer
How were the 206s and Pups moved down?
Ron Neal
On trollies properly built. The Pups were usually wheeled because they'd put the undercarriage on pretty well straight away. One of the first things to go in would have been the undercarriage so they can move them then. It could carry the wings and the 206 wings and the fuselage, they were on special trollies but the other thing that we'd got involved with, which is ((Australia?)), is Johnnie Jenkins was deeply involved in these four-wheel trucks that the RAF have on airfields for taking the armour on and fitting it to the Javelins. He was responsible for a load of that, making those things, actually cutting out the parts. We did a load of those. We did some massive metal spheres for balloons as well or with some pear-shaped sections around, hovercraft stuff.
Interviewer
How were they used with balloons then? To mould balloons on?
Ron Neal
No, to actually go on the balloons for weather for installing data equipment and ((?)).
Interviewer
As an enclosed unit?
Ron Neal
Yeah, somehow. Didn't have a lot to do with them. Hovercraft subassemblies for the fan to go in but didn't fit the fans. They went to the Isle of Wight.
Interviewer
It's surprising how so much of the production of these things was farmed out - separate little bits. I mean, it must have needed an awful lot of control to make sure it all was to the same standard.
Ron Neal
Yeah. I did quite a bit of stuff for the Comet.
Interviewer
In the Bates' album there's a picture of the Brabazon tail plane...
Ron Neal
Don't know.
Interviewer
...the implication being that that was subcontract work.
Ron Neal
Don't know.
Interviewer
They did do some just design work, as well, didn't they? Did they do just design rather than actually make? I might have got that wrong.
Ron Neal
The only design work I knew they did was on the commercial side where some foreign guy - I think he was Polish, he may not have been but he was foreign, definitely - was purported to have designed the winking flashing indicators at Rearsby, did that, but who, for or what or where, we never made any. We never manufactured any. We did manufacture Sunbeam Rapier fuel caps and some door locks for them ((?)) manufacturers. That was all experimental stuff that we used to do. I've got a Sunbeam Rapier fuel cap assembly room made brand new.
Interviewer
Those over-centre latches, you were doing them at one time. Were they a subcontract for something on Canberras in Brazil or somewhere? They were these latches made of forged or cast sections.
Ron Neal
I was on Canberra latches. I made them but that was at Leicester.
Interviewer
Yes. Was that something that followed from Austers?
Ron Neal
No, that was through Steven ((Tailor?)). ((Sables?)) used to make them. One or two companies have made them over the years but they used to do those. We made some side panels and supports for flight simulator, which were tubular steel fabric-covered ones. So I don't know what on earth flight simulator they were for but probably Tiger Moth ((laughs)) or fabric sided things - right primitive thing.
Interviewer
I mean, quite a lot of these bits you wouldn't necessarily know how they fitted into the whole thing.
Ron Neal
No, not with the subcontract stuff. I was involved with some of it, not a lot of it but Percivals were the best company.
Interviewer
Now, Normal Ellison ((sp?)) came from there, didn't he?
Ron Neal
Yeah, I think he perhaps did.
Interviewer
Did you ever interface with him when you were at the firm?
Ron Neal
Yeah, when we were on experimental we used to deal a lot with the design department. They were always running up and down if you'd got a problem. The usual thing was they gave you a drawing and said "Get on with it" and if something didn't work or the bolt were too long you used to mark the drawing and give him it back. ((laughs)) They used to draw it but occasionally it was necessary for them to come down.
Interviewer
So you'd have seen quite a lot of those sketch drawings in print form then, would you?
Ron Neal
Yeah. Well in the Beagle days they had three colours of drawing: yellow, pink and white and the yellow ones were mock-up, the pink ones were prototype and the white ones were production. That's how we worked.
Interviewer
These were black prints on coloured paper then, were they?
Ron Neal
Yeah. Well, they're blue, aren't they?
Interviewer
But the paper was the colour?
Ron Neal
Yeah, the paper was the colour, so hence you'd got yellow, pink and white drawings. That was in Beagle days. Before that you just got little square bits of paper with ((laughingly)) something written on them, sort of A-sized drawing.
Interviewer
The SBAC system, that came in with the mark nine...
Ron Neal
Yeah.
Interviewer
...and then that carried on with anything after the mark nine, did it? I mean, no, the Terriers are not. They're done to the old drawings.
Ron Neal
Old drawings. The Airedales are done to the old drawings. It's only the Agricola was done to that and the B9 would have been but it never got that far, but, no, mark 11 was done mainly ((B3?)). It wasn't done to the system but B5 joins but then that went to E3, didn't it? There were E3 drawings.

All of these transcripts are available in a single file in several formats.


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