John Charnley: test pilots

John Charnley recalls working with test pilot Martindale.

I’ll tell you first of all that he wasn’t a very good dancer, my wife complained about his dancing, that he might have been a good test pilot, but he couldn’t dance. He’d go down one side of the ballroom when he danced with her, to the corner, a shuffle, and across there, and another shuffle. However, he was very good test pilot. [inaud] Martindale. Marty, yeah. I don’t really know his wartime background, but he certainly was a very good test pilot, and worked with me a lot on the Spitfire. And the Spitfire was a very useful experimental aircraft as well as a good fighter aeroplane, because it had a very clean wing, clean in the sense of you could get a version, the photographic reconnaissance version, that didn’t have guns or anything so that the wings were neat, clean and you could do experiments. And Marty, as he was to everyone, used to take the Spitfire out to 40,000 feet, stuff the nose down, and patiently wait until the aeroplane got down to lower heights and pull out. Unfortunately, on one occasion, on the way down, his dive was so steep that the level of the hydraulic oil in the oil tank that was servicing the propeller, the constant speed unit that kept the propeller revs under control, the supply pipe became uncovered, no oil got to the constant speed unit, so instead of controlling the propeller revs at about 3,000 rpm, we know this from the instruments in the aircraft, up went the revs, so over 7,000, the propeller spun off, oil streamed back onto his windscreen, he couldn’t see another thing, and he was then – he was on to Air Traffic saying this had happened. He got help from Air Traffic, and landed on the airfield here at Farnborough, dead stick. That means just with no ability to control the engine, the engine was dead. He just did a dead stick landing on the airfield here, without a propeller. I’d had discussions with the structures people here in RAE, and they had provided some counterweights which would act, they said, to control the propeller speed if the same thing happened again. The same thing did happen again, the propeller weights didn’t do their job, so he lost his propeller again. This time he wasn’t so fortunate, he was further away from the airfield, and he landed in some – he did, again, an engine off landing, in some woods near Guildford. And the first thing I knew about it was Marty on the telephone, ringing from a pub, saying that a) he’d hurt his back, but b) he’d got with him, he’d abandoned the aircraft and he’d got with him, ‘Charnley,’ he says, ‘I’ve got your bloody camera with me with all your results in it and this time you’ll be able to tell me what went wrong.’

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