By very good luck and being in the right place at the right time, in 1999 I took delivery of a former Bloodhound missile side-loading forklift very generously donated by David Thomas of Lintec Laminations in Grimsby. Since leaving the military it had given good service round their yard but was due to be replaced by a new truck. It was a heavy-duty piece of kit, as the forks, which extend laterally on their tower as well as vertically, were rated to around 5 tonnes at full extension, as long as the jacks were safely down and taking the load.
Gary in the cockpit exercising the tower while Nigel instructs from the front. John can be seen standing on the back, about to demonstrate that the jacks really are safe to 5 tonnes load. Max, the Border collie, supervises.
Since then it has been used on the airfield to remove the jet pipes from XR724 for servicing (see photo in the Engineering section of the site). The jet pipe trolley is put on the forklift bed, the truck is driven up alongside the tail and the trolley lifted accurately into position for the jet pipes to be slid out onto it. The only other one I’ve seen was at the RAF Museum at Cosford where I was told it was the most useful piece of kit in the Museum’s possession, ideal for moving around aircraft, engines and bits of fuselage etc.
The tower at full lateral extension
Since the renewal of engineering work on XR724 late this year (article and photos in the pipeline) it was apparent that the jet pipes would have to be removed yet again, so at the beginning of December we got the forklift truck out of the garage and checked her over, especially the electrics, topped up the fluids and applied a couple of very large batteries from the Artouste to make a 24 volt system. She started almost first time and was run out into the open for testing the forks, jacks and hydraulics, as well as greasing all the rails and chains and the numerous grease nipples.
The forks at full height with XR725 and the cockpit of XS899 in the background. ‘Laughing’ John Watson demonstrates how to improve your posture using an old ejection seat guide rail.
We were fortunate to have the fork-lift expertise of Gary Lazenby and Nigel Portas at our service, and the boys even got keyed ignition installed by the end of the day, replacing the insulated screwdriver held across a couple of terminals which had been the only starting method until then. Coming down the slope out of the garage without brakes demanded a certain lack of imagination plus a hefty grip on the steering wheel to make the turn without ploughing across the grass and into XR725, so John Watson did the honours.
The next task will be to remove the wheels and service the brakes, which are fairly non-existent. After that it will need cosmetic tidying up and finally repainting. It’s an excellent example of how non-aviation skills can be of immense help in maintaining our ground equipment, without which the aeroplane could not run.
Just before wrapping it up for the day, John indicates to a disbelieving Gary how big a curry he’s intending to demolish for tea. The bits of steel on the forklift bed aren’t part of the machinery but an old crane taken from a Land Rover recovery truck (for sale, if anyone’s interested).
Thanks to Gary, Nigel, John and Darren Swinn, as well as Max and Jed, without whose organisational and herding expertise none of this would have been possible. Charles Ross