Mike A Delany Aeronautical Engineer
Mike was a “Flight Test Instrument Engineer” at Hatfield working for/with, amongst others, Charles Caliendi, John Marshal and Vic Chambers. He flew in various Comets from November 1956 to August 1958. Comet III, G-ANLO was his particular aircraft, but he was also involved with Comet II XK 697, Comet IIR XK 663, Comet IIE G-AMXD and Comet II s XK 695 and G-ALYT. “In September of 1957 we took XK 695 to Changi, Singapore, to investigate the behaviour of the aircraft’s engines in the magnificent cu-nimbs of the inter-tropical front. I seem to remember that a gentle sortie into the edge of one storm was quite enough to persuade our captain, Peter Bugge, that such situations were to be avoided!”
Anecdotes by Mike
Mike Delany provided the Author with a number on anecdotes and copies of log books for a previous Comet website which operated from 1998-2008.The Author thanks Mike for his special contribution.
First a little background. The Comet 3 was really the prototype and test bed for the production Comet 4. As such a certain amount of test instrumentation was built into the aircraft as a permanent feature. This was the reason for an instrument engineer being a permanent member of the crew. We always flew with all our recording equipment fully loaded and could then make records at any time of any thing that occurred. This was of course long before Flight Data Recorders were available as standard equipment.
The Instrument Engineers station was on the starboard side of the aircraft immediately inside the forward (crew) door. I sat on a fold down seat facing aft with my back against the cockpit bulkhead. As the aircraft was only partially pressurised I had a long low pressure oxygen house and intercom lead so that I could reach all my equipment.
Directly in front of me was a large instrument panel about four feet wide and six feet high, concave in the vertical plane, and pierced with multiple rows of standard aircraft instrument mounting holes. Instruments were mounted in these holes as required for various tests but the centre group consisting of a the standard pressure instruments, altimeter, air speed indicator, Mach meter and, I think, a turn and bank and rate of climb and descent, were permanent.
As was a clock a counter running at half seconds and an event counter that I could control. A slow speed 35 mm. Movie camera was mounted at my right hand side to photograph the panel. We used “still” type film so that each frame was sufficiently sharp to read a projected image in the film reading booth and the results recorded by the small group of young women who worked in the Instrument Lab.. The panel was lit by two banks of six, four foot fluorescent tubes one set in the ceiling above the panel the other on the floor below.
The scene is set.
At that time in mid 1958 the first complaints of aircraft noise around airfields were becoming strident. There was talk of legislation to restrict aircraft noise at a fixed distance from the airfields to a certain level. I see from my log book that we made a series of flights in June 1958 which were probably to measure the noise under the glide path. I had no particular function in these tests, but as was the rule, went along for the ride. I gathered from general conversation that the tests were at best marginal and there was real fear that the Comet might not be acceptable. Then someone in Aerodynamics or Flight Test had a bright idea.
Now as I remember the glide path descent as controlled by the “Instrument Landing System” was three degrees, held, I think, to a screen height of three hundred feet then the aircraft was flared out and flown onto the runway. The idea was that if the glide slope could be increased to four degrees the aircraft would be thirty percent higher at any point and the sound levels reduced by a ratio of sixteen to nine. A test program was designed. A theodolite was put at the end of the runway set at four degrees.
An operator looking through the telescope and in contact with the pilot by radio could direct the aircraft down the new glide slope. With nothing else to do I stood in the cockpit doorway to watch the approach. All went well until the screen height was reached, then the pilot, John Cunningham, flared the aircraft. The aircraft responded by rotating, but continued down a much steeper than usual descent. It struck the end of the runway with an impact that bottomed out the undercarriage legs and whipped the wings enough to ripple the fillets between the wing and fuselage.
Luckily I was crouched a bit with my knees bent so that I was still standing but the top fluorescent tubes at my panel fell out and into the tubes at the bottom with quite a crash much sparking and clouds of white powder. The aircraft seem to roll only a few feet before it stopped!
John Cunningham was not known for showing emotion. On this occasion he did. He refused to move the aircraft from where it had stopped.
Steps were brought out for us to disembark and the airplane towed away for a major inspection I see it did not fly again for thirteen days. The project was immediately dead. I still don’t know what happened about the noise levels!
It would seem that sometime in August or early September of 1957 the R.A.F. had a problem with a Comet II on the Woomera milk-run.
You may or may not know that Woomera, in the back country of Australia, was the British Commonwealth weapons test range. The “milk run” operated by the R.A.F. using modified Comet II’s flew the required personnel out from the U.K. on a regular basis.
The route, as I remember, was via: El Adem, Aden, Negombo, Changi and Darwin. I believe they came back via a Pacific route that included Hawaii and Canada. At some point in this long , and for the pilots boring routine and I think on the leg after Changi which had a very good R.A.F. base and officers mess, the pilots dozed off! The airplane, on auto pilot carried on quite happily except for the trim. This became slightly nose down and the airplane started to gently accelerate “down the slope”.
The crew were rudely awakened by the first and then the second Mach warning horns and by the time they realized what was happening they were in to the buffet threshold! Guess what? They pulled the nose up quite hard to slow down! We were asked by the powers to investigate the response to “pulling ‘g’ in the buffet”.
I remember that we added this episode to a busy month by doing the investigation on a Saturday. Checking my Log Book it seems likely that this was the 21st. Of September and John Cunningham flew us in Comet II XK 695. We climbed up to about 40,000 feet and commenced a gentle “down the slope” now, I hope I have the numbers right, the first horn went off at M .93, the second at M .935 and the buffet was perceptible at .94. Mr Cunningham gently collected the airplane and said.
“Nothing wrong with that, Let’s go home.”
“But aren’t you going to pull ‘g’ in the buffet?”. Asked the Flight Test Observer.
“No” said John. “I leave stupid things to others!”
Very early in the development of engine thrust reversers a set were fitted to the Comet III.
These reversers were operable independently of any other systems. I believe on modern aircraft they are interlocked by switches in the undercarriage so that they can only be operated when on the ground.
We tried them out by making approaches on to the top of clouds and showed that they definitely slowed the airplane faster and that the operation didn’t cause any handling problems. We had a new toy!
When we got back to Hatfield the first thing the pilot, I think it was Pete Wilson, noticed was that the runway was wet. There had been a heavy shower while we were away. This would be a good opportunity to try the reversers on the ground. As far as we were concerned everything worked just fine.
Then it was noticed that there was consternation on the ground! We stopped out on the runway and shut the airplane down. The fire trucks came rushing out and circled us. I opened the door, the firemen fetched a ladder and came aboard.
Then we found out that seen from the ground the, the whole airplane from the wing leading edge aft had been concealed by a cloud of spray and steam. This, of course had never been seen before.