Back in the day, American Indians were recruited to work the high-rise steelwork of a burgeoning Manhattan because they had no innate fear of heights. A brilliantly similar choice was made when staffing one of those, Safe-Speed-For-Life-Because-Children-Die Every-Day-When-We're-Not-Here-To-Catch-Murdering-B'stards-Like-You, vans ensuring that the operator suffered no pangs of conscience in summarily dismissing me to one of those Speed Patronisation Courses for straying a few mph over the limit. His simple genius and low cunning had him lie in wait at the bottom of a hill a mile or so from the school and fill his boots.
Northumbria Police wants to educate not prosecute, or so they assured me. Do you feel persecuted? They asked. Well, as a matter if fact I did, because I don’t see a fleet of sneaky vans photographing irresponsible pedestrians daydreaming across the public highway then having them hauled away to be hit for sixty quid and four hours of the Green Cross Code. It’s us motorists getting the one-sided lumber.
Please don’t misunderstand me here… I don’t speed, at least not on purpose. Nor do I buy the ‘lapse of concentration’ bullshit, which seems to underpin their credo. Face facts, humans can’t concentrate to save our lives (literally, in many cases), we’re hopelessly bad at it. I read somewhere of NASA developing an optical switching system to overcome astronauts having to lift gloved hands against launch g-forces only to scrap it again because those highly focused and trained rocketmen let their eyes wander all over the overhead until Terry Wogan blared out of the speakers and the vacuum portaloo in the next compartment threatened to burst their eardrums.
Once seated comfortably the presiding traffic womble, or perhaps that should be womblette, admitted that humans can manage only ten to twenty minutes of decent concentration in every hour then tried to squirm out of the equal truth of degraded or none existent concentration for the other forty or fifty.
She hurried on… Did you know that in 2009 over two thousand people died on Britain’s roads? Enough to fill ten jumbo jets. Womblette demonstrably hadn’t a clue about how big a jumbo was. Poor research – my favourite.
I whittled her apocalyptic tale down to four jumbos then shattered her retaliatory theory that even four crashed jumbos would keep passengers out of the air with Lockerbie, Japan Airlines, Air India and the Pan-Am / KLM altercation at Los Rodeos.
Having moved us swiftly on she then gravely (pun intended) stated that forty two people were killed on the roads in the Northumbria force area in 2009 with one in four being ‘speed-related’ but of this unfortunate dozen, Womblette couldn’t cite a single example of one flattened by the likes of those represented in the room – ‘marginal speeders’ as they call us. Ordinary people trying to offset what the law wants against getting through another day – people with perfectly legal radios, CD players and extra seats full of nattering distraction in their cars. People who, despite not meaning to speed and driving to the best of their abilities, occasionally glance at the speedo’ only to hastily lift off with all thoughts of the day’s tasks replaced by low-yield panic until the needle slides back to the 30 mark.
That was the title of a paper I had to pass before the CAA would give me a pilot’s license. It dealt with the deeper reasons why humans occasionally make a balls of things because in the aviation world it’s well understood that humans can only master a task to a certain standard beyond which improvement is an unreasonable expectation – truism that seems not to have reached the traffic wombles yet. Yes, it’s illegal to speed but it’s also illegal to die in the House of Commons, and it’s seriously bad practice to crash your airliner so why don’t pilots just concentrate more?
One by one, Womblette’s wretched victims vomited their guilt – not paying attention, in a hurry, etc, etc. No way was I about to abase myself before the altar of speed-related belittlement when the truth is I was driving as well as I could… Humans perform any task to a tolerance – plus or minus. Humans can no more drive at precisely 30mph than draw a perfect freehand circle as Pablo Picasso tried and failed to do… That’s all she got from me.
I asked what the typical tolerance might be - plus or minus ten mph… five, perhaps? But Womblette didn’t know. With no data or footing in scientific study she couldn’t say whether she had a collection of lawbreakers culled from the roads of Northumbria and fully deserving of a bollocking, or a representative cross section of above average drivers from whom she ought to try and learn something and not the other way around. She didn’t especially enjoy having that spelled out but it damn-well needed spelling out because it’s true.
Quickly shunning the horror in the second row with measured answers unlike anything her womble training course had told her to expect, we were then expected to buy into an accident scenario contrived to the point of perverseness to be sure the driver was hung drawn and quartered.
In short, a poor lad walking with his mates down the nearside path, made a most unfortunate decision to cross the road at a shallow angle as a car approached. Why he didn’t hear the car wasn’t pondered. Maybe he had his Podeye plugged into his ears or maybe the gently purring, modern engine and anti-lock brakes allowed the car to slither to a standstill in relative silence but whatever the truth the driver jumped on the brakes, according to the police chalk-lines all over the street, and veered right until he ran out of slightly soggy road. Problem was, the photo of the aftermath didn’t add up at all.
How far beyond the point of impact did the car stop? I asked. All the police cars and hi-vis-jacketed busybodies seemed to be surrounding the murder-death car. How fast was it traveling when it hit the lad and how much further did it go? Only a metre, it transpired, and it was barely moving at impact. This was clearly a freakish accident that could’ve happened in a supermarket car park. But the wombles’ argument lived by the fact that, according to the police boffins, the car was doing thirty-eight when the driver hit the brakes. ‘Speed-related’ is what mattered, you see, so its very freakishness was not about to be admitted if they could skirt around it.
It later emerged that what actually happened was that the lad tripped at the last and, so far as Womblette would have us believe, gently glanced his head off the plastic bumper of a Clio and succumbed to his injuries at the scene. The lack of any witness mark on the closely photographed and still grime covered bumper (and we’ve all had a startled pigeon imprinted on our windscreen at some point) and blood on the tarmac under the passenger door suggested a more sinister scenario but they weren’t going there. After all, fatally injuring someone at a snail’s pace wouldn’t sit well in a speed patronisation lesson.
It was a one-in-a-million and desperately unfortunate accident that must have been devastating for all involved but to twist it around and lay it firmly at the feet of the driver when so many factors conspired to produce the outcome was utterly disgusting.
Had the driver got his foot down the boy might have tripped into the spray thrown by the retreating vehicle. Or, had he set off across the road two seconds later, he may have been killed by a car traveling at the requisite 30mph – then who would they have blamed, I wonder…
What they didn’t seem to have was a straightforward case of some beleaguered motorist ‘marginally speeding’ and an equally distracted pedestrian getting whacked by a car because neither could get out of the way quickly enough. That ought to tell the wombles something.
In conclusion, while we were there having our evening wasted, the speeders who really did need an education were at home with their feet up bitching over their three points.
What a farce.
With a bit of effort the wombles could have left us breathless and wracked with guilt, convinced that higher minds were at work and that we should all strive for the rest of our lives to achieve speed limit obeying Nirvana… not make us sick of the sight of 30-limit signs.
I left the building deeply disappointed but the incident with the car reawakened another tragedy that, off and on, has haunted me for years.
When I was diving, a pretty girl from down the road also took up the sport with her dad who’d dived for years, though I didn’t know him personally. They went down to the sea and he taught her well but she was seventeen and wanted to dive with people, boys mostly, of her own age. But a dive went tragically wrong and she was drowned on the first trip she took without her dad. I spoke to the instructor who’d been with her when the underwater panic took hold and he couldn’t save her and I also interviewed the lad who found her lifeless body forty minutes later and blew her to the surface. There followed a desperate resuscitation attempt – as there always is no matter how futile – but the game was up on a diving accident, pure and simple.
I have two little girls and a love of diving, a sport I will no doubt return to in the fullness of time and they’ll want to come with their daddy to see what all the fuss is about…
Life can be such a lottery sometimes and another whose number came up recently was ‘Corporal’ Paul Evans – radio operator for the 66/67 attempt at Coniston, ‘Base’ as in, ‘Tango to Base…’ and the last person ever to speak to Donald.
Paul sadly passed away after a long illness and was another of the old guard who won’t make it to see Bluebird reborn. Back in 2002 when it became fact that K7 would be rebuilt to working condition I pleaded with the Hapless Lottery Failure to expedite our project so the likes of Paul, and Ken and Lew Norris could breathe old history into new in their twilight years, but the lottery-flops aren’t clever enough to understand something so historically significant and now we’ve lost all three and may lose others along the way.
On the other hand, I’m sure they’d all have been delighted with the cracking coverage we enjoyed over the holidays thanks to our mates at Sky News. I’ve no idea how many times the doco was aired but it was lots and our project positively lit up with thousands of new visitors and, more importantly, a welcome shot in the arm for our flagging coffers… Thanks to all you good people who dug deep in the skintest part of the year to buy something above and beyond the call of Christmas pressies.
The other tremendous event – and it went largely unnoticed – is that we completed the structure at long last and finally managed to clash some serious bodywork on the old tin girl with rivets and everything. She got her cockpit opening back, in case you missed it.
And now that’s all there is to do – stick bodywork on and spoon her internal organs back in. You’re about to see some dramatic visual progress from now on and speaking of dramatic, what about the Sky News animation, eh?
OK, the moaning minority picked fault and you’ll always get that amongst those who confuse computer games and movies with real life but there’s no denying that it’s the best effort yet and if only it were possible to properly explain what a lengthy and labour-intensive process it is to produce such a thing there’d be a few eyes opened to just what a grand piece of work it is. There was only one slight inaccuracy... I’ll be the first to admit that it is difficult to tell from the photographic and videographic evidence that the boat actually fell on her left-hand side, and the animation depicted it as a slow roll from the moment of takeoff. But that isn’t how it went. What actually happened is that the boat was falling but still facing along track with wings level until, at the last second, she yawed left and in so doing the wind got under the right-hand sponson and pitched it upwards. In the last fraction of a second a violent left-roll was initiated and, although the sponsons smashed down left side first and immediately righted themselves along with the front spar, there’s no way they had sufficient authority to stop the main hull from continuing its roll until it landed flat as a pancake on the forward half of the left-hand cockpit wall.
At such speeds the water simply couldn’t get out of the way and the frame flat-packed itself against a surface that may as well have been the car park at the boating centre for all its compliance. The first major failure was both longitudinal frame tubes at the left side of F-17, the bulkhead at the front of the cockpit seat.
This is the first piece we ever lifted, the left-hand cockpit wall from F-15 to F-17 where the frame snapped. Look in the middle and you’ll see the oval blister added to the side to accommodate the steering gear then notice that vertical crease running right through the middle of it. That’s where it’s been swaged around the F-17 vertical frame tube proving that the frame failed before the outer skin was wrapped around it. Notice also that the outer skin has been fairly evenly flattened against the underlying structure.
This is the front half of the left-hand cockpit wall, it looked as below when we found it…
…once again, the panels have been brutally hydroformed around the structure by a blow from the left, the important point being that they’re still there – squashed against the frame but still attached. Now compare this to the damage to the opposite side as-recovered and the difference is quite striking. Here’s the right-hand cockpit wall from F-15 to F- 23 (the point of the bow)
You’re looking at the inside face and the outer panels are gone, blown outwards from left to right.
Here it is again from the outside, the outer skin hung in its original position for illustrative purposes…
See what I mean? It’s the total opposite effect with the skin ripped outwards and mostly blown to kingdom come and below is the right-hand frame when stripped of its covering tinware before it was mended. In particular, look at the longitudinal frame tube at floor level and you can clearly see that it’s kinked to the right.
You can also see the separated forward half of the left-hand cockpit frame standing there all shiny and silver having just returned from BettaBlast because whereas most of the frame came up in 2001, it was another six years before that last piece was found.
Returning to the more intact right-hand side, it also failed at F-17 but, crucially, the failures in the upper and lower longitudinals were fore and aft of the F-17 vertical, which then acted as a torque tube preventing the halves from separating. F-17, by the way, is where that U-shaped crossmember spans the cockpit.
This is the fracture at F-17 being dressed back to clean metal prior to sleeving, pinning and welding. To the left of the die-grinder is the top of the F-17 crossmember. The fracture in the lower tube was the other side of this allowing the vertical to hold it all together.
The longitudinal tube was straight to within a few millimetres once we’d effected a repair.
Now consider this, watching most video of the crash it’s fairly apparent that the boat yaws left just before impact but in that instance, had she landed level but facing left of track, she’d have been hit on the right side of her cockpit not the left and the damage would have been reversed.
Convinced yet? No? OK – here’s some more. Remember that the left-hand side of the cockpit broke away completely forward of F-17. Well it landed 140m to the north east of the impact site…
Think about this carefully… K7 was travelling north at the time of the accident so the front-left cockpit wall was facing north west, yet it departed to the north east, completely the other side to where it came from.
The reason is that as the boat impacted the cockpit failed at F-17 but the now separated section didn’t penetrate the surface. Instead it flipped beneath the rolling boat and shot out the other side like a skimming stone retaining its forward energy but with an easterly component added by the roll.
Still not convinced? Look at the fin.
Study the root of the leading edge and the fairing that replaced the rudder and what do you see? Both edges are beaten this way and that’s because the right-hand face of the fin smacked flatly onto the water on the first roll because the boat landed equally flatly on her left and the whole lot went up and over when she snapped at F-15. Got it yet?
Here’s another for the hard of understanding…
Notice those two arrows pointing left to right… It’s obvious that, as you look at the wrecked inlet mouths, the one on the right has been torn wide open whilst the other has been squished shut and this is why…
Having flat-packed the entire cockpit, the rest of the hull landed like an open cup and the left-hand throat (as you sit in the boat) got a great mouthful of water, ripped open then flung the hull over until it landed on the outer face of the other throat, which got squashed shut for its trouble.
There you have it, proof positive. It’s plain as can be that K7 fell over yet strangely it’s not apparent, lost between frames or masked in the angles in all the other footage so we’re lucky we have that one good example.
Enough of that though… what’ve we been doing?
We had our annual team gathering in Coniston on the 8th of January. We all made our way over there for an evening of beer, food and craziness with the kids and that in itself is especially significant. I know I enjoy the occasional pop at the Hapless Lottery Failure for their ‘anyone under the age of forty won’t be interested’ nonsense but they didn’t actually say that – they paid someone good money to come up with it on their behalf. Even then, not all of them were signed up to it but they still paid the bill and that’ll do for me, but what about it? I was talking to a member of a speed record enthusiasts group recently who told me their youngest member was in his thirties. Well that’s just wonderful for their long-term survivability. (Or ‘sustainability’ as the museum lot would say).
Our youngest member is currently two years old and comes to the phone at bed time on workshop nights to ask if Daddy is ‘fixing Bluebird’ before she’s tucked up in bed.
Our workshop is festooned with kids’ drawings and paintings and more than a few will remember or be reminded of their involvement when they grow up and that’s what it’s all about. Who knows who or what we may inspire.
Mind you, we’ll not be inspiring anyone until the bureaucratic system takes a few more arthritic steps towards signing off our simple byelaw amendment. It honestly staggers me that they ever get anything done, when they can waste years of our lives on a simple question like, can we please drive our boat at more than 10mph on a lake?
Then there’s the question of when… No doubt the political agenda will run aground on the reef of common sense, as usual. The idea of operating K7 at a time when there’s little tourism to give the place a boost makes sense on paper but there’s a good reason for the lack of tourists – the weather’s crap, and K7 doesn’t work in crap weather. She was once sunk, and I mean properly sunk, by the wash of pleasure craft vying for a good look so she’ll not stand much of a swell. But Campbell was running in January, I hear the cry. Yes, and he was sick of the weather keeping the attempt under canvas. Would you like to take time off work to go stand at the side of a desolate, windswept lake to see bugger-all? No more then we’d enjoy putting on the bugger-all show for you. Then there’s the kids’ holidays to consider… surely the bureaucrats wouldn’t entertain the thought of timing this event for when the future of our nation is cooped up in school all day.
But at least we only have the odd smattering of bureaucracy to frustrate us nowadays because it seems the idiot population has moved on. Never thought I’d say this but in a peculiar way I miss the amazement, incredulous disbelief and challenge of working against some of the most highly accomplished idiots this country has ever produced. I’d always just lumped idiots into a single category until we started looking into where to test our tin boat and I came face to face with a high up official in charge of water in its various forms – rivers, lakes, reservoirs – that sort of thing. This bloke had obviously come across a few special cases and had a system of classification that intrigued me and went as far as the Type II idiot. Since then we have clearly identified the Type III and evidence suggests another, even higher-functioning type but we’ve not positively identified one so in the meantime please enjoy the Bluebird Project guide to idiot types.
[An idiot, dolt, or dullard is a mentally deficient person, or someone who acts in a self-defeating or significantly counterproductive way.] (Wiki)
Standard Idiot. The standard idiot is to the human race what pigeons are to city streets. Irritating whilst simply being themselves and individually harmless whilst large concentrations can prove deleterious to health – mental health, that is.
An endearing characteristic of the standard idiot is that once the outward manifestations of idiocy are pointed out, and this may require some patience and the boiling-down of simple concepts, the standard idiot will usually grin in understanding then endeavour to improve themselves. The fact that they were born an idiot generally precludes spectacular progress but the process has a faintly charming quality nonetheless.
Danger level – minimal.
Type I Idiot.
The Type I is as above in many ways but lacking the kindly nature and slightly guilty manner when confronted with evidence of its own idiocy. The Type I is usually either obnoxious or overly friendly, the latter requiring most caution as those unskilled in spotting the more exotic idiot forms may realise somewhat later than is comfortable to tell the offender where to go. Occasionally a vestigial form of learning ability still exists in the Type I and, with extreme stimulation, a punch in the face, perhaps, or telling the offender precisely what you think in good strong language, this recessive attribute may briefly spring to life and exact beneficial change on the individual concerned.
Danger level – low to moderate.
Type II Idiot.
The first of the dangerous varieties, Type IIs are predominantly masters of the over-friendly method because all doorways to the human world would otherwise be closed without this vital coping tool. Mild pity may be taken on examples that combine stupidity with idiocy though these are rare – the majority of type IIs are reasonably intelligent but lack the closed loop linking self-observation to the learning and behavioural-modification centres of the brain.
This cerebral short-circuiting is best observed in the Type IIs frequent and expeditious flight into a huff condition when faced with the conflict between idiotic self-recognition and the absence of an innate mechanism for rapid behavioural modification.
Patients exhibiting these symptoms are at serious risk of spiralling into the Type III regime of heaping spectacularly stupid acts one upon the next in an orgy of self-defeat.
Another seldom-encountered evolution of the Type II is the intelligent / obnoxious variety where the cumbersome matter of outward friendliness is dispensed with in place of learning, researching and accumulating vast tracts of knowledge with which to impress and regale other idiot types and weaker subjects.
It should be noted that all Type IIs are dangerous due to a typical inability to modify their stance regardless of how utterly defeated, outgunned or proven wrong they may be. Extended periods of mental hibernation awaiting the trigger that will start them off all over again is typical and may give others some respite but the Type II has a single redeeming feature elevating it above the Type III, this being its modicum of low cunning and on rare occasions the Type II may see a vision – a vision of themselves as others see them – and, although unable to publicly acknowledge this epiphany, they will usually drop from sight at this point never to be seen or heard from again.
Danger Level – moderate to high.
Type III Idiot.
The Type III is to the human race what syphilis is to sex, it represents the highest functioning idiot life-form formally classified by social science. There’s good reason why words do not exist in the English language (nor probably any other) to fill the disbelieving silences left in the wake of Type III activity.
Type IIIs are the true masters of the over-friendly technique and with a penchant for overdone pleasantries they make smarming headway through the social orbit of their victims with a desperate need to please and a love of mummy that would make Oedipus blush.
True Type IIIs are serial losers with little to show for their stay on the planet, their calling requiring the sacrifice, faith and lifetime dedication of a monk.
Career-wise, they find themselves endlessly returned to square-one due to an inabilty to work with anyone, finally achieving middle-aged stagnation when claimed either by premature redundancy or a weak-willed and last-ditch attempt to work for themselves.
But what really sets the Type III apart from other idiot species is their staggering determination to heap one fantastically stupid act on top of the next leaving observers intrigued and dumbstruck in equal measure.
The Type III doesn’t rest for a moment – forging relationships that live and die like summer moths it slithers through society like diarrhoea, afflicting many but making no friends in a transitory universe utterly beyond its grasp where only family and other idiot types can tolerate long-term association.
Like cancer, two discreet forms exists. The benign form is often found in bureaucratic circles making preposterous rules that no one can understand whilst the malignant form grows as an ugly, unwanted tumour within a social group spawning poisonous platitudes that, due to an inability to learn, alter little with the passage of time.
But back to the serious business of tin-bashing… we’ve still got lots to go at and one area that’s well advanced these days is the cockpit and, as its creator and head of the Anal-Widgetry Dept, Mr Bull now takes up the tale.
Step In To My Office
By Mike Bull
While everyone in the workshop can lend their hand to most things when needed, many of us also have our own specific roles and for myself, my biggest solo responsibility by far is getting the little visual details right, especially in the cockpit, where a lot of the finer detail was lost in the crash and never recovered, or recovered at the time and then lost! Either way Bluebird was without many features of her cockpit, so I’ve been a busy boy in there, and have much still to do. It is fast becoming a recognisable space though, so here is a little descriptive tour of the cockpit as it stands, from left to right, to give you an idea of how it’s going- what’s original, what isn’t, what’s done, and what’s still to do. The text is keyed to these photos-
The actual structure of the cockpit is largely original- the frame tubes either side, the bulkheads, seat structure, floor, inner cockpit rails, exterior skins etc- only the right hand cockpit rail and the F18 and F20 bulkheads are new, along with two new outriggers on the right hand side at F18 and F16. Recorded photographically for all time, the dreaded bright green new parts have recently been hand painted in silver along with the rest of the cockpit, bringing it all back into one unified appearance at last. Doing that alone took me days!
Starting our tour down at our left, mounted on a little bracket attached to F17 is the gorgeous brass valve that controlled Donald’s breathing air, and its associated Siebe Gorman contents gauge. (1) Both these items needed little more than a good clean (thanks, Novie!) and putting back into place. (Very heavily made as it is, I still marvel that the gauge wasn’t shattered in the impact, given that it was located right down on the left hand side, which impacted the water first)
Directly above the breathing air, fixing into captive nuts at F16 and F17, is the radio box. (2) As you’ll all know, Corporal Paul Evans was seconded from the Army to assist Donald Campbell with his communications and Bluebird was fitted with a Murphy A41 Mk.2 radio set of the kind more usually carried by a soldier in a ‘manpack’. These radios are very heavy items, and Bluebird’s original set is surely lost forever, deeply sunk into the gloop at the bottom of Coniston. We have a rare replacement set that was kindly donated to us in 2007. The radio sat on top of it’s battery, which was a cardboard outer case filled with cells- the original will of course have long ago dissolved into nothing in the lake, leaving us with a look-a-like recreation that I’ve made; replacement originals are hard to find but moreover in this case, they are full of corrosive nastiness that we don’t want leaking out into our precious museum exhibit!
The radio box itself however IS original, coming out of the lake squashed virtually flat and for the most part rebuilt a few years ago by Mark Evans, son of the Corporal. I’ve finished the box off by assembling the brackets, painting it and reattaching the original rubber strips, electrical connector block and P-clip to it. Interestingly, the box was painted blue on the outside when recovered- not ‘Bluebird blue’ however, but obviously just any old blue paint they’d had to hand at the time, presumably to negate the fact that the radio set itself was…gasp…green!
Hiding under the radio box and partly obscured by the air valve is one patch of cockpit that we’ve not painted silver- the little hand-signed dedication from Gina Campbell on F17, made on the occasion of her setting the first ever rivet in the rebuild. That particular rivet itself also remains subtly unpainted. (3)
Continuing forwards on the left hand side of the cockpit we come to what we refer to as ‘the steering cover’. (4) This is an item that was fitted to Bluebird from new and which seems to have remained pretty much the same through all her many variations. Fitting from F17 to F19, the lightly padded aluminium cover separated Donald’s left leg from the linkage of the steering mechanism, which ran from the left side of the foot well, back parallel to his leg, and then outwards at F17 to the side of the boat before continuing aft. On top of the cover was mounted a G-meter, which was also padded over, in a little kennel of vinyl and foam. The G-meter was a totally self contained item, with no external power supply, remote sensor or the like- there’s simply a little screw on the back to lock or unlock it, and a knob on the front to reset it. As far as is known, no readings were ever kept from this gauge, and at a guess it was probably fairly redundant much of the time. The gauge is an exact replacement item, and the cover is also new, though luckily all the holes needed to reposition it exactly remained in the boat. Interestingly, the positioning of the cover means that the pilot’s left leg is always pressed somewhat into his right- Donald would have had to discreetly and carefully adjust himself when sitting down, for fear of trapping any of his vital personal equipment!
Moving hastily on, above this position, at the forward end of the left hand inner cockpit rail, is located the fire panel. (5) This little square plate held the two lights and two switches associated with the on-board fire suppression system, and is another item that had to be recreated entirely from nothing but photographs. Luckily it used totally standard car warning lights and known switch types, so getting replacements was, for once, an off the shelf job. The panel itself is just a square of bare aluminium, with two water-slide decals that I recreated in my computer, again from the reference photos. Interestingly, the panel is largely hidden from the pilots view when sat normally in the boat. (‘Across The Lake’ fans will note that when starting his boat, Donthony Campkins was actually pressing buttons on the fire panel!)
Moving to the centre of the boat, down in the foot well between F18 and F19 we have a recreated piece of raised flooring, located where Donald’s feet would have rested. (6) A remaining task here is to mount the radio foot pressel switch, another item that was fitted to K7 for virtually her whole career. Mounted then on F19 itself is the throttle pedal (7).
The pedal on its shaft, the operating arm and the right hand mounting bracket/bearing assembly that fits behind F19 are all original- only the left hand bracket and the foot plate are new items. To the right of the pedal (and mostly out of shot here) lives a favourite little item for many on the project, ‘Donald’s trouser guard’. Lord knows what the guys back in the day actually called this little piece of thin aluminium, but it can only have been there to keep the pilot’s trouser leg out of harm, or perhaps to help position his foot? The ‘trouser guard’ is entirely original, and is fixed back to F19 in every last one of its original rivet holes.
Staying in the centre of the boat and coming up, we get to the instrument panel. (8) Bluebird went through a few of these in her time, of various shapes, sizes and mounting methods, but by the time she was rolled out in 1966, it looked like this.
The panel has been a real labour of love, given that the original- which would have been a very heavy item indeed- was lost and is (as yet) unrecovered. Mounted only on eight small rubber anti-shock mounts, and with some cabling behind it, the panel- one of the thickest slabs of tin on the whole boat- would have sheared out of the collapsing cockpit and shot out probably virtually unimpeded, flying off in who knows what direction, most likely in one piece.
So a new panel was required, and luckily, there was enough good reference material to make one. The biggest help was that the instruments and switches were all universal sizes, making the scaling and positioning of the panel’s contents (which are neither symmetrical nor level with one another!) a fairly easy task. Only the top edge of the panel remained uncertain for a time, having as I did to wait and allow for fitment under the gently curving body skins.
From the off, the panel had two redundant screw holes in it which don’t correspond to any of the switch or instrument types, so heaven knows what they were ever for, but I positioned and drilled them anyway! Luckily for me the panel was clearly hand made, with less than perfect holes for the gauges, poor counter sinking, etc- so it was right at my level!
Replacing the contents of the panel has been interesting- some items, like the warning lights, push button and switches, are very plentiful and freely available, likewise the RPM gauge on the right, but the jet pipe temperature gauge to the left- known as the ‘EXH gauge’ in our case- has proven to be fun to track down. Very close matches can be found, and indeed we have a few of these in stock, but an exact item has eluded us to the point of me thinking that as Donald’s donor Gnat was a pre-production prototype, so might his gauge have been. Well, we could use a gauge we have as-is and virtually no one would ever spot the tiny difference, or perhaps we’ll get the card of one tweaked to suit- we’ll see.
The air (water?!) speed indicator at the top of the panel is also a very standard gauge, with one exception- it’s marked in MPH, not knots. We never did find out what application used the MPH version, but we do at least have a beautiful example of the right instrument, from a kind donation. Currently our panel is in the 1966 configuration, but of course once at Coniston the speedo was soon raised up to the very top of the panel, housed in a little raised box- to move it more into Donald’s eye line as he drove- and we will of course be doing the same in due course. A little-noticed fact is that there was actually a little pivoting glare shield fitted above the speedo box as well- another item that will need careful recreation.
Another significant item to be mounted at the bottom left corner of the panel will be a Longines stopwatch. Though we’ve yet to fabricate a mount for it, we finally acquired one of these exquisite items in 2009, at some expense- so please keep those donations coming in, and then one day the rest of the team might stop ragging on about ‘Mike’s watch’!
Attention to detail on the panel will extend to copying things like the original being hand painted, with visible brush marks, and to using Donald’s own Dymo machine (and even the same roll of blue tape) to make the labels. (See Diary, Jan 2010)
The section of angle bar spanning the cockpit and holding the bottom of the panel is new, the original having come out of the lake a few days after the crash, still attached to the right hand cockpit rail, steering column and F20 bulkhead. I was able to recreate the brackets and position this angle bar exactly as thankfully we had the original left hand cockpit rail complete with rivet holes and scribe marks showing me where the original had been located, and I was able to copy that information over to the other side. At the time, just spanning the cockpit like that felt like quite the achievement!
The steering box remains a matter of popular debate, with a few clues but no definitive answer as to what the boat actually had fitted to it. If only they’d left the original one in the lake in 1967! We have a box in the stores that appears to be very close indeed toBluebird’s, so if all else fails we shall use that, mounted down on F20 and with the column extending up to the centre of the angle bar, secured in an alloy block. We shall of course also have to recreate the big Bluemel’s steering wheel too, although an exact spare of Donald’s does exist though sadly locked away from sight/use.
Now we’re over onto the right hand side of the cockpit, right of the instrument panel and directly opposite to the fire panel; I call this spot ‘Donald’s glove box’. This open space, with the formers rising up from the old flap tray to support the raised exterior skin, is we think a strong contender for being where Mr Whoppit was put for a run. It’s often said that Mr Whoppit was ‘sat under Donald’s seat’, but there simply isn’t an underneath to the seat, so unless Mr W. was sliding around on the floor under Donald’s knees- where he had every chance of being a very naughty little bear by getting into the Bloctube linkages to the right- this ‘glovebox’ area seems to be the most logical spot for him to have gone.
Heading down to the area under this position (10) we’ve yet to fit a mass of brackets and push-pull rods, some of which will be original and others which we have yet to recreate. (We have a good stock of new genuine Bloctube parts though) This gubbins was associated with the throttle pedal linkage and with the low pressure fuel cock- the original handle, rod and bearing for which are back in place on F17. (11) Below this handle, mounted on a stout bracket between F17 and F16, is the big black Bloctube control box, (12) which was quite a large affair for something that was just another link rod control, this time controlling the high pressure fuel. The original Bloctube box was recovered from the lake and was the subject of much debate on the project forum about whether it should be conserved ‘as recovered’ or restored to full working order. As I write, the poll stands at a fairly conclusive 93% being in favour of the control box being restored to full working order, as per the rest of the boat and the entire Bluebird Project ethos. However, it would be easy to control the HP fuel by another means, and just leave the box as it appears here. What do you think?
The last significant thing to mention about the cockpit is the overall upholstery- the seat and headrest are already long made (see Diary, August 2008) but there’s quite a bit of foam and vinyl yet to go into the cockpit. Seat sides, cockpit rails, knuckle guards, F16 pads, F17 knee pad, etc- this will all be fitted probably a little later in the day, in the interests of keeping the dust and swarf out until we finish the rest of the boat!
It’s an honour and a privilege to be recreating Mr Campbell’s cockpit for him and it is very spooky when sat in there surrounded and faced by everything I’ve just described to you. All manner of things come to mind- practical matters like how easy it is to step over the cockpit sides and sit down, how enclosed you are once you’re in, how massively safe and solid the boat feels all around you, how easy it is to see right across the boat’s nose, how your legs are squashed together…and then the more emotional side where it’s almost inconceivable to imagine some of the things that must have gone through Donald’s mind over the years when sat alone in there with the canopy shut, perhaps freezing cold and with the sound of water lapping all around him.
It makes you think, and I hope I do him proud.
Another part getting the treatment, and probably the last big challenge on the machine, is the air intake assembly. It basically swallows air from either side of the cockpit and feeds the engine deep in the craft’s bowels but it’s a piece of work to say the least.