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The Answer to a Question

With the arrival of a splendid, blue Land-Rover in the Bluebird Wing last week someone asked the question today – what was the issue with the floor in there?

I'm not sure that it has never been properly set out so here goes and apologies for the repetition if it has.

It all began when we had one of our brilliant ideas – we would find and prepare a Derwent engine as a thank you gift to the aerospace company that shall not be named because they didn’t help us in any way so in a conversation with one of their people we suggested that, as their new building is named for their first ever gas turbine, wouldn’t it be fitting to have an example on display in the entrance foyer. Good idea, they agreed, but they didn’t have one nor could they easily locate one – so we made it our mission.

Having eventually procured a cutaway example on its original maintenance stand we took our prize back to BBP HQ and the team set about scrubbing and painting and polishing so we could make it look amazing but there was one thing we couldn’t do and that was to actually install it in the building. They have their own people who must do such things, no ifs no buts, so we were asked to liaise with them to get it through the door. No problem there.

First thing was dimensions. That was easy, a quick flick around with a tape measure and that was done but it threw up a problem – it wouldn’t fit through the door. Great start!

We suggested dismantling the door, the engine or both but before that plan was realised they came up with a solution. Many people work at the facility so the canteen / rest area is huge, it seats a lot of people and therefore has fire escapes large enough to admit a Derwent engine on its stand. From there, by a series of convoluted routes, it could be wheeled to another suitable door leading onto the central atrium area and thence into the foyer. But that came with its own difficulties.

You see, whereas the main drag though the building has massively strong floors to allow large slabs of granite to be brought indoors on which to stand sensitive testing equipment, the canteen floor is designed for foot traffic and janitors’ trolleys only. They’re all tiled floors and our mission was to move a heavy engine with small points of contact over them for quite a distance.

To this end we were given maximum loading values for both floors and asked to calculate how close to these values our engine would come as it stood on the tiles so we worked out the contact areas and the weights on various castors and sent it back so the boffins back at the factory could calculate what was needed. Then we saw an opportunity.

Would they, pretty please, if we supplied the loading values for the tiled floor in the Bluebird Wing and the values for a Bluebird K7 on its cradle, produce a similar report for us so we would know ahead of time if there were any nasties waiting for us come the time to install K7 in the museum.

Yes, no problem, they would be happy to do this for us.

Now I have to make it clear that we did not expect any issues because when the wing was designed I worked closely with the architect to try and head off any problems way ahead of time and we were confident that this had been achieved. One of them was that the boat wouldn’t fit through the door with the fin installed and as it’s such a tortuous job to get it on and off a fake gable was designed that would open to allow the fin to pass but that was later deleted, unfortunately. The other biggie was we knew the boat simply wouldn’t wheel in there and trundle around the corner. We have 36 feet from the BBP workshop door to the door on the other building on the other side of the road and K7 won’t turn in that gap, we have to get her past the end of the opposite building. She’s a smidge over 26 feet long and the Bluebird Wing has only about 30feet of useable width so there’s not a chance and that means trolley jacks and skates or whatever is deemed necessary when we finally get a good look at the problem. And it’s not just that. The boat can’t really stand on its aged Dunlop tyres for grass landing Goster Meteors either so it will need stands or baulks of timber or something to bear the weight on a longer term basis.

But we knew all of this very early on so the floor was designed with a 6” thick concrete slab to make it fully load bearing allowing us to push and pull and lift on top of it without fear of breaking anything. All we had to do now was give the load values to the aerospace facilities management team and they would write us a report on how to install K7 safely. Trouble was, I couldn’t find the values. I contacted the museum and said, great news, we’re getting something for nothing here, please can you get me the values for your floor and we’re in business. But they didn’t have them either.

Not a worry, I called up the original architect. That took a bit of doing because he’d retired and, as bad luck would have it, he hadn’t kept any of his records so that was a dead end too. Nothing daunted, I contacted the structural engineers only to find that the bloke who had done the numbers had also retired but at least they still had everything on file and were happy to send it over so next day a bundle of PDFs arrived in which I discovered something rather disturbing.

The floor in the Bluebird Wing was described as an ‘extension’ of the floor in the rest of the building rather than the load bearing design. I dug out the original drawing to check and there it was, a 6” concrete slab containing the underfloor heating pipes atop 2” of insulation with tiles on top of that but the floor in the rest of the building isn’t made that way. It’s designed for wet shoes and pushchairs and consists of 2” of polystyrene insulation with a thin sand and cement screed on top with the heating loops in it and tiles on top of that. You can park a Land-Rover on it with big squishy tyres but dollying a 2.5 ton jet hydroplane through 90 degrees using trolley jacks is a very different proposition. But had the floor really been built this way?

Some more detective work and I was able to speak with the contractor who had installed the underfloor heating who confirmed that it was done the usual way with screed on top of polystyrene then tiles. It’s not load bearing! We offered to have a suitably qualified contractor lift a tile in an inconspicuous area to find out exactly what we were dealing with and work out a loading figure from there but this was declined and then another source gave us a set of photographs of the floor under construction that answered our questions.

Now let’s clear up a couple of things here. Firstly, we’re not saying it can’t be done because it can – it’s just that it’s gone from very straightforward to having a lot to think about and secondly, we don’t mind either way whether it’s given proper consideration and planning or a case of winging it and hoping for the best but if it’s done on a best guess and something still goes bang and black water starts rising through the cracks in the floor all we’ll be able to do is shrug and put our wellies on.

The fact of the matter is that sooner or later the questions will have to be addressed and decisions made and they aren’t our decisions – we merely tried to help.

As a small footnote. The engine installed in the foyer. This is the stronger of the floors yet it was still deemed necessary to stand it on four aluminium plates 15mm thick. That was only its position for the presentation ceremony. It was later moved to where people can't damage themselves on it or nick bits. Like I said – quite a bit to consider.

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