Schneider Trophy Race, Calshot 1929, Engine Change by Rolls-Royce.
During the mooring test for the 1929 race, a sergeant, who had been round the aircraft in a dinghy, came in to tell the two officers that the starboard float of Atcherley’s aircraft was leaking, slowly but definitely. It was a horrible moment, for the aircraft would be automatically disqualified if anyone touched it before the six hours were up. The designer, Mitchell, was hastily dragged from bed where he was sleeping, having been up working all the previous night, for he was the only man who could give any idea how low the float could sink before the whole aircraft would capsize. While everyone watched the water-level slowly creep up, he decided that it would last for another three hours, but there were only two hours left to run of the mooring test, so all was well.
This was nothing, however, to the panic of the night before the race.
During the day all the men of the Experimental Department at Derby who had helped to build the engines came down in a charabanc to Southampton to watch the race. They were headed by the inveterate practical joker, R. H. Coverley, (‘Coy’ in R-R nomenclature), the Superintendant of the manufacturing side of the ‘Experry’, a big, heavy, former Derby railway foreman, clean-shaven with a high complexion, and with the deserved reputation of being a hard driver. All the men were in a merry mood. They had spent many weeks working on the engines and now they wanted to celebrate appropriately in the pubs of Southampton.
After all three British seaplanes had passed the mooring tests without mishap, they were hauled up onto the slipway and into the hangars to be given a thorough last-minute overhaul and check by Lovesey and his crew late that night. Petrol tanks had to be emptied and refilled with just the right amount, valve springs inspected and sparking plugs changed.
While taking a plug out of the `R’ engine of the S.6. flown by Waghorn, Stan Orme, the `human hairpin’ to his mates, noticed a spot of white metal clinging to it. He looked inside the cylinder.
“Come and see if you can see what I think I can see,” he called to Vic Halliwell, his mate.
“Oh, bloody hell!”
Halliwell had looked inside and seen that the cylinder liner was scored deeply. It meant a seized piston with a broken or cracked piston ring. Hives took charge of the situation at once. The first thing to do was to find out what the rules of the contest permitted. A complete engine change was out of the question, nor could the existing engine be removed from the aircraft, therefore everything had to be done in situ. A hasty search was made for Ransome, the A.I.D. man whose job it was to see that the rules were not infringed. He ruled that the piston could be changed and a new cylinder block fitted, but only on the aircraft. The piston was easy; but a complete new block was an appalling problem, because it was too heavy to lift by hand, and yet would never go on unless lowered absolutely truly. It was a job which had never been doneoutside Derby, where the whole engine was canted over so as to lower each block vertically. The whole job was more than Lovesey and his crew could possibly tackle in the short time left — it was already past midnight – - and they had been working for more than 24 hours at a stretch already. Then someone remembered the party from Derby who were staying in Southampton.
Hives immediately got onto the Southampton police and asked them to go to the Crown Hotel and rout out the whole Rolls-Royce party and tell them to come out to Calshot. A policeman duly went round and found several alcoholic parties going on in various bedrooms. He delivered his message but no one took him any too seriously and very soon he was sitting on the floor drinking beer with the rest from his helmet!
Time passed and still no men came to Caishot. Hives could wait no longer and jumped into his Rolls-Royce (a blue one built for Ammanullah of Afghanistan but unsold after that monarch’s exile) and drove like a maniac into Southampton. At the Crown Hotel the night porter had little idea of which bedrooms the Rolls-Royce party occupied so Hives burst in on all the rooms with masculine shoes outside. He had not reckoned with the joking spirit of Coverley who had already gone round the whole hotel switching ladies’ shoes for mens’ wherever he could. After this little embarrassment, the Derby men were rounded up in their pyjamas and quickly sobered when they heard the news.
No one demurred at the thought of working on through the night and very quickly they were roaring out to Calshot in a couple of lorries, with Hives taking the key-men ahead in the Rolls-Royce. In the hangar they rolled up their sleeves and calmly set to work. Mitchell had already been hauled out of bed to work out a plan of tilting the seaplane on its trolley so as to lower the cylinder block vertically into its place on the engine. Fortunately it was unncessary to tilt the engine, but Mitchell gallantly stayed up all night, appearing in the hangar at intervals with mugs of steaming black coffee. It was found that only a left-handed man could possibly change the piston without removing the engine, and Bill Marsden became the hero of the hour when he admitted to being left-handed.
Dog-tired but triumphant they carried on, inspired and exhorted by Hives, and before 7 a.m. Waghorn’s aircraft was running on the slipway. He didn’t know until after he had won the contest at a speed of 328 m.p.h. the exciting events of the previous night.
(Later in the morning the experts examined the damaged pieces very carefully, and did some hard thinking. They decided that the trouble was started by the long period of slow running which occurred before Waghorn took off in the trials. A lot of petrol could, in that time collect in the casing of the supercharger, and it would be picked up by the fan when the engine accelerated, but could not all be vaporised properly. Liquid petrol would be thrown into the cylinder and would wash away the oil film over the metal, which would therefore soon get overheated.)
A Rolls Royce ‘R’ engine is carefully loaded onto a converted Phantom 1 car.