Don Berrington was Managing Director of the Helicopter Division at Westland. He remembers how a problem with taking photographs during test flights was solved with a pair of ladies knickers

One of the jobs I had there was rotor blade stresses and in those days you stuck your own strain gauges on and you basically did the flying, you measured things and you came back and you wrote a report and you checked it all against the fatigue testing that had been done in the laboratory and ended up by concluding that the thing was safe and the life was so much.

We had problems with the Wigeon because if you are going to measure anything that’s rotating and take it back to a recorder that’s static you’ve got to go through things called slip rings. Slips rings just transfer signals from rotating components to fixed components. We could never get the slip rings to work on the Wigeon, I don’t know why. So we were faced with a problem.

Then we had the idea that we could actually get a tiny recorder and actually bolt it on to the rotor head, rotating with the rotor, so we didn’t have to worry about slip rings. That was good. We tried it and it really worked and we operated the recorder by a little remote control radio controller. The only problem was that this tiny recorder had only a few channels, probably four at the most, perhaps only two, called a Hewsono recorder, about the size of a sugar packet, so we had to go away, fly for four, well, not fly for four or five minutes but take four or five minutes worth or recordings, come back, climb up on the rotor, take the recorder off and it was recording on to photographic film so we then had to take this whole thing into the darkroom, take the film out, put a new film in, go back out, climb up, bolt it back on again.

I thought well, this is taking an awful lot of time and a young woman called Stephanie Woollard in those days, her married name’s Stephanie Smallridge and she’s still around today, Steph was actually in charge of changing the films and developing the films and what have you and she said look I’ve got an idea.

So, she made this device like a Victorian pair of knickers, which had elasticated leg holes but actually armholes and a zip up waist and so when we’d landed I’d climb up and get the recorder and give it to her and she’d put it in these pair of knickers, as it were, zip it up, fiddle about inside, change the film, put the new film in the Hewsono recorder, give that to me, I’d go and bolt it back up and she’d carry the film she’d taken out back to the photo lab to develop and that saved us quite a lot of time.

But in those days you were encouraged to do things like that, I mean, it was very much more informal than things are today.


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