ancient mechanicals

   tools and engineers
It has been said that an engineer is a man who can do for ten shillings what any fool can do for a pound; if that be so, we were certainly engineers. Excluding hand tools, there were not more than a dozen machines employed in the construction of R-100. Economy was the paramount consideration in the shop equipment.
A bitter little tale went round at Cardington, where they had everything they cared to ask for, R-100to the effect that R-100 was getting on rather more quickly now that one of us had bought a car and lent the tool kit to the workshops.

Nevil Shute, Slide rule (1954)

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   discovery along the river Nile
I was flying along without anything to do except to keep roughly parallel to the river (Nile), as this gave me practically the correct course for the next 100 miles; the flying conditions were perfect, and I began to get bored, especially as there was nothing much to see.
I found however, that I was beginning to feel a headache. At the time I could't discover the reason; but later on I found it out. It was due to my general habit of looking out to the right-hand side of the aeroplane; thus I was getting slightly gassed by the short exhaust pipes on this side of the engine, which permitted exhaust fumes to flow close along the starboard side of the cockpit. After I discovered this I never stuck my head out for long periods on the right side, but got into the habit of doing it to the left, which was clear of fumes.
Technical experts may say I am not correct in my statement; but I proved it by a simple process of trial and error, as you might say, which is worth any number of tons of theory.

Charles Rumney Samson, A Flight from Cairo to Cape Town and back (1931)

flying in a Fairy IIIF with a Napier engine

ancient mechanicals

   making a long range contact
Then there was the antenna reel on the floor below, its copper wire running down through a hole in the foot-boards. When we took off, this was wound up tightly, the ball-weight on the end pulled snugly against the oustide of the fair-lead. But once we were up, it trailed in the air behind us. I reeled in and out the antenna; I changed coils; I tapped out positions. I sat straining to hear through the crashes of static. My hand on the knobs, the earphones pressed close against my ears.
But I was beginning to hear something else besides the cosmic crashes, faint squeaks against the welter of noise, precise scratchings upon the blurred surface of sound. So dim and faint, they were no more than a twig's tapping on a windowpane during a storm (...).
They were living, however; they were human, I was sure. They were dot-dash, morse-code letters, words, messages of a human being.
"Dit darr dit - dit darr dit (R - received OK)," came back the faint clicks. He got it! Over two thousand miles away. We really were in contact with South America. We had jumped the distance, touched hands between hemispheres. A path had opened up through the night. There was our goal - this faint, fluctuating, but friendly eye of a distant lighthouse.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Listen! the wind (1938)

ancient mechanicals

   start-up with blowtorch
Steve has never flown in winter in the Canadian bush before. He picks up quickly all the cold-weather tricks: how to run the skis up unto a pile af brush when the plane stops at night so that they will not freeze to the snow, and how to drain the oil immediately from the engine. I teach him to open the pet cock and let the oil run right down into the snow, where it freezes into a solid lump which can be melted in a bucket the next morning.
When I start the engine at forty below, I drape a canvas cover over it and put a plumber's blowtorch underneath the makeshift tent to heat it. While the engine is warming I work the propellers back and forth with my hand to tell when the cylinders have thawed out enough to crank. Then the heated oil is poured back into the engine, and I climb into the cockpit and prime it. I have designed these Universals at the Fokker factory to be cranked from the cockpit - a safety factor for ski and float flying, and the Canadian bush pilots like it very much.

Bernt Balchen, Come north with me (1959)

ancient mechanicals

   a rubber band will do
Our plumb ignorance and blind faith in those days was horrifying. We would load up our poor Harts with tools, luggage, spares and personal kit in the back cockpit until the unfortunate gunner was practically sitting cross-legged on the top, and the machine's weight and balance would have made its designer hysterical. Even with full nose-down trim we often had to hold up the tail by shoving forwards on the joystick as well. I used to carry a couple of strong elastic cords (one wasn't strong enough) which I clipped round the stick and then under the lip of the dashboard to do some pulling for me, thereby taking some of the load off my muscles - which otherwise ached like hell after a couple of hours.

A.G. Dudgeon, The luck of the devil (1985)

ancient mechanicals

   traffic control with strings
I saw nothing in Europe that so intrigued and amazed me. Not only does the CATO know where each plane should be; but, what seems far more uncanny to us, he knows just where each plane is, even if it has been blown off its course or is lost in the fog. This miracle needs further explanation.
All passenger planes are equipped with the latest wireless sets, and the pilots can send messages as well as receive them. Every time a pilots gives his position, the CATO leans over his map and moves a little flag in the colours of the company owning the plane along another peg. While our eyes are glued to the CATO, pushing forward the flags on his fascinating desk map, we suddenly witness a demonstration of the vital role that wireless plays in commercial aviation.

The morning Handley-Page plane en route from Paris to London had run into a fog bank, so dense that the cabin lights had to be switched on, and the passengers felt as if they had been whisked from noon to midnight. The pilot, no longer able to distinguish a single landmark, puts the microphone to his lips and speaks through space to the CATO at Croydon. It takes the air traffic chief just two and a half minutes to figure out the pilot's position and give him his bearings.

He asks the pilot to speak into his microphone, say his prayers, recite a bit of Shakespeare, or say anything just to send out sound waves to enable them to locate the direction of the sound. While the pilot is answering, the wireless operator at Croydon and his collegue at Pulham, Norfolk both tune in with a special instrument, called a 'direction-finder'. The CATO is listening in for this information. On his map is a string, one end of which is tied to a peg inserted at the dot indicating Croydon. A second string hangs loose from the Pulham peg. As the Croydon and Norfolk strings are stretched across the map, they overlap directly above Cranbrook, and the pilot now knows that he is a few miles south of his course.

Lowell Thomas, European Skyways (1928)

CATO: Civil Aviation Transport Officer; the 'czar of the heavens'

ancient mechanicals

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