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Ferranti Helicopters

Old 10th Jun 2010, 22:35
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Ferranti Helicopters

I am part of a group working on the development of a website detailing the brief but fascinating history of Ferranti Helicopters.

Any contacts with ex-Ferranti personnel as well as material such as documents, media reports and photograps would be greatly welcome along with verifiable stories of the company's operations (1970-79).

Pls blog or PM me.
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Old 11th Jun 2010, 12:16
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maybe you should try in the Italian forum of this website
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Old 11th Jun 2010, 12:54
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This sounds interesting. Is this the electronics supplier Ferranti?
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Old 11th Jun 2010, 12:56
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Nah...Ferranti Helicopters was in the UK ,based at Shoreham ? ,flying a Westland Widgeon at one time I recall and later a Bo105.The chief pilot was Bob Smith ex Bristol Helicopters test pilot who went on to be a naughty boy in South Africa I believe?
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Old 11th Jun 2010, 13:15
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You'll have checked here? Maybe not. Complete history - it seems.

The National Archives | Access to Archives
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Old 11th Jun 2010, 21:23
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Heli1 has some of it straight but the responses, in part, qualify the benefits of posting the site.

Ferranti Helicopters was a short lived operation but one which made quite an impact on shaping the future of the UKs executive helicopter scene. Prior to being bought out by British Caledonian in 1979 they operated a fleet of pristine Bell 206s, a pair of BO105's and managed at least half a dozen additional aircraft.

Forget, thank you. This was thoughtful. We are already working with the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester on this project.
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Old 11th Jun 2010, 23:25
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Yes .... vaguely remember flying an ex Ferranti Bo105D ... and NO the Ferranti SAS installed did NOT work properly .....
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Old 14th Jun 2010, 07:38
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It goes back further than that. The Ferranti family home was Kerfield House near Knutsford. Sebastian J Z De Ferranti was an early helicopter user with a Brantley B2A. The Company had the Westland Widgeon and a Bell 47 as mentioned.

See this entry from "Flight" in 1967


The helipad at Kerfield house featured a hangar with a retractable landing pad - very James Bond.......
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Old 14th Jun 2010, 20:51
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Speechless - Prior to its incarnation as G-BFYA, this was a Heliswiss bird known as D-HJET seen in the following link at Bern in Switzerland in August 1977 about a year before being delivered to Ferranti:

Photos: MBB BO-105DB Aircraft Pictures | Airliners.net
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Old 14th Jun 2010, 23:45
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Much of that information is correct-ish!

Send me a PM.
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Old 18th Jul 2010, 08:24
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We are still keenly searching for images of the following aircraft:


Everything readily available on the web we already have so its the images stored in lofts, garages and log books they we're keen on.

We're also searching for images of those aircraft managed by Ferranti:


Plus ... any verifiable stories from the Ferranti days.

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Old 18th Jul 2010, 08:42
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Are you interested in Hughes 369HM EI-AVN by any chance?

500 Fan.
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Old 18th Jul 2010, 09:13
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500 Hi!

AVN was a 500 C model belonging to Sebastian de Ferranti's brother Dennis (who lived in Ireland).

My godfather recalls the story when en-route from visiting Sebastian in Manchester Dennis overflew an army airfield (the name of which escapes my memory) at about 400ft agl without any radio contact.

As soon as Dennis landed at Battersea (I think the controller used to be a chap called Ward?) he said there had been a call from an army base telling him he should call them immediately!

This he did ... to say that he was despatching a car to come collect them to attend a bash he was throwing that evening in London (and was the reason he gave for being in such a hurry and unavailable by radio).

Apparently the entire Army ATC crew attended and, perhaps needless to say, nothing more came of it! What brilliant days they were!

Now, to answer your question: Yes, we are collecting all aircraft related to the Ferranti family (including their fixed wing fleet). Regarding AVN specifically we have the IrishAirPics image of this craft at Galway but, it is such a terrible photo and completely out of focus. If you have something better then ... yes please, it would be most welcome.

I'm PM'ing you my email address in case you are unable to post the photo onto PPRuNe.


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Old 18th Jul 2010, 09:31
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I haven't seen Bob Smith's name crop up yet he was the first Ferranti chief pilot as I recall...Is he still alive ??
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Old 18th Jul 2010, 11:10
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Bob Smith ended up becoming a mildly controversial figure in the latter days of his tenure as Ferranti's Managing Director. This was due (in part) to his somewhat unorthodox lifestyle choices and by a certain degree of envy from some of his industry peers. Bob was however held in esteem by Ferranti's loyal clients who revelled in the five star service he created.

You need to imagine the impact Ferranti made pretty much everywhere they went in those pioneering days of executive helicopter aviation. As the business of personalised helicopter transport was growing, and newcomers setting up their operations, in would fly a Ferranti helicopter gleaming in its Dijon yellow colours, which were never permitted to dull or fade, replete with hand crafted interiors of leather, wood and wool (bespoke commissions from Rolly Royce's own suppliers Connelly Brothers and Mulliner Park Ward), white seat belts (so that passengers would have no fear of soiling their garments – which had previously been a concern) and with pilots wearing mohair and wool hand tailored uniforms with solid silver be-jewelled cap badges and ... wait for it ... white gloves!

In retrospect it was perhaps a cruel infliction upon the crews but ... the passengers loved it and as a result of this, and Ferranti’s obsessive commitment to professionalism, the company was propelled, for a time, to the fore of British executive helicopter aviation and, in many cases set standards which were to become benchmarks for an entire industry.

Bob joined Ferranti in 1964 flying their first helicopter, a Westland Widgeon G-APVD, in which he conducted test flying on the various aircraft flight systems being developed by Ferranti and which included the stability augmentation system (SAS) and flight management systems (flight instrument packages, flight director guidance (for all flight phases) and autopilot coupling). These systems were developed by Ferranti’s aircraft equipment division at Moston, Manchester and Bracknell, Berkshire.

Bob also doubled up as Sebastian de Ferranti’s personal pilot for though Ferranti had a ppl he wisely understood the limitations of his ability and knew that after visiting four factories in a day that to fight with nav and met while trying to master the wild stallion which was the Widgeon, was probably unwise. It is said that he found his next aircraft, the AgustaBell 47J2A, a more forgiving experience.

Bob went on to become Ferranti’s MD when the company was formed in 1971 and remained in this post until it was sold to BCal in April of 1979. Between ’79 and ’85 (when he moved to Africa) he held a number of corporate posts which included being the personal pilot to Vincent O’Brien (Irish racehorse trainer) and John Broome (developer of Alton Towers). From ’83 to ’85 he managed an offshore operation for the Brazilian-Anglo-Italian consortium Montreal Micoperi Worley (MMW) who took delivery of four new S76s which flew on contract to Petrobras. That operation achieved a 98.9% despatch rate during Bob’s tenure as their MD – an achievement acknowledged by Sikorsky’s sub-contractor and technical support firm, Keystone Helicopters (now owned by Sikorsky).

Bob concluded his professional days as ops manager of a company based in Tanzania, East Africa (operating 206s and a 105) and from there he retired to South Africa where he currently lives. He’s pushing into his 80s now and, for the most part, is in good health.

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Old 22nd Jul 2010, 21:52
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Just a few bits & pieces of contacts with Ferrnati in my early days at Shoreham.

How well I recall my first visit to what was a distinct copy of an all-American hangar ... 'Hangar One' (very big and very posh) and the ex-home of Beagle Aircraft of course. The Pup 100/150s were built there and to this day the three weighing plates for the wheels remain by the main hangar doors. I was introduced to the infamous Bob Smith and have to say he was a man you couldn't easily forget. Yes, the white gloves were mandatory for his line pilots and were an item I referred to in my earlier novel, "Appointment on Lake Michigan" where my pilot decides he wants such an executive job ... gloves and all! Bob's helicopters were always spotless in both paint and interior and being something of a new aviation buyer in those days, I marvelled at the condition of G-AWJW. But Bob was something of a stickler for the rules and on the occasion I walked down to the hangar to collect the heli, he insisted that as an aviation trader, I sign a ten-page document drawn up by Ferranti's lawyers waiving all rights of redress against Ferranti for any reason! Knowing so little about the nice legalities of trade purchases, I had to decline. My boss Roy Spooner got on to his lawyer who said there was to be no such signature. I really don't know what happened next other than Roy Spooner walked down to Hangar One to talk to Bob Smith and an hour later I was back collecting the aircraft.

I always suspected B-Cal bought the company because in those days Ferranti had the 'Class 7 off shore licence.)

I do recall that with the Ferranti SAS fitted, how much smoother and easier it was to touch skids than other 206s I'd flown, especially the earler machines.

From memory, I'd say Bob Smith was and hopefully is a true gentleman and I know little of his subsequent oddities in SA. But S ... can I ask you to pass him my sincere and very best wishes, should you be talking.

On a side tack .... and for some reason which I cannot recall, around the 1970s, I found myself flying into the Ferranti Pad up near Manchester somewhere. I was with an Enstrom so it may have been a sales demonstration. I landed in the largish garden and walked over to what I thought was the gardener doing the mowing on a large tractor. It turned out to be Sebastian Ferranti himself who greeted me. We talked for perhaps an hour and I left.

Savoia, if tit bits like this help you build a bigger picture for your project, let me know and I'll dig out the detail from log books.

Best wishes to all. Dennis Kenyon.
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Old 22nd Jul 2010, 22:42
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I could not resist drawing attention to this obit. to the late Major Warburton who was the quietly spoken ops manager for Ferranti at Gatwick and subsequently Shoreham.

It gives a good idea of the calibre of personnel Bob Smith had in his team. (The outfit positively reeked quality ) It is poached from here Untitled Document and I sincerely hope they do not mind me using it to draw attention to the memory of this modest and kind English Gentleman. RIP Sir.

Major Herbert `Warby' Warburton M.B.E. D.F.C. CdeG
Army pilot who directed artillery fire in North Africa from a slow and unarmed spotter aircraft

MAJOR HERBERT "WARBY" WARBURTON, who has died aged 82, distinguished himself during the Second World War as an Army observation pilot in North Africa, Italy and Burma.

After the Operation Torch landings at Algiers in French North Africa in 1942, "Warby" - a nickname which reflected his warm and colourful personality - was quickly in action spotting artillery with 651 Squadron.

It was a perilous occupation, pottering about over enemy positions in an a fragile, unarmed, single-engined Auster that seemed more suited to a flying club than to the hazards of war. Derived from the American Taylorcraft, this light monoplane cruised no faster than 100mph, and was restricted to a range of 250 miles.

As the First Army made its bold but unsuccessful dash for Tunis, there was a constant demand from Air Observation Post (Air O.P.) crews for tactical information. Careless of the risk, Warburton circled enemy positions and directed artillery fire. Constantly attacked by enemy fighters, he was also highly vulnerable to ground fire. But Warburton became known as "The Artful Dodger", so canny was he in manoeuvring his Auster until German pilots were forced to break off their attacks for lack of fuel.

He was awarded the Croix de Guerre in recognition of the operations he had flown in support of the Free French 19 Corps around d'Oum El Abouab, where his courageous observation in the face of enemy fire made possible the destruction of an ammunition dump and artillery battery.

Herbert Bradley Warburton was born at Amersham, Buckinghamshire, on July 26 1916, and educated at Hymers College, Hull. While still at school he learned to fly with the Hull Flying Club. Afterwards he joined the Civil Air Guard and the Blackburn Aircraft Company.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Warburton enlisted in the Royal Artillery, and in 1940 was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 52nd Anti-Tank Regiment.

He volunteered as an Air Observation Post pilot. Awarded his Army flying badge in 1942, he was posted in the rank of captain to 651 Squadron. The next year, after the end of the Tunisian campaign, Warburton, by now a flight commander, moved to Sicily and Italy.

Posted home from Italy in 1944, Warburton qualified as a flying instructor at the Central Flying School. The next year he joined No 656, a sister Air O.P. Squadron, taking part both in its support of the 14th Army in Burma and in Operation Zipper, the liberation of Malaya and Singapore.

Following a brief spell as an instructor at the RAF Staff College, Warburton returned to the Far East, where he commanded 656 Squadron in the messy attempt to help the Dutch recover their East Indies colonies, much against the wishes of the Indonesian people. He was awarded the D.F.C. in 1947.

Amid the chaos and general sense of frustration, Warburton raised spirits by declaring a weekly "Swiss Navy Day", when officers were encouraged to wear caps back to front and to drive their jeeps in reverse.

While sharing an airfield with a Spitfire squadron, he was piqued by a young RAF pilot who bragged that soldiers flying Austers would stand no chance against a well-handled fighter aircraft. Warburton challenged the young blood to a dogfight, and in a dazzling display of evasive flying made a complete ass of him in front of spectators from the station. That night he ostentatiously wore his spectacles, and fumbled his way to the bar, where the drinks were on the RAF.

On his way home to be demobilised, Warburton served briefly in Palestine with his former squadron, 651. Back at home, he ran Warby's Wine Store, the family shop, for a while, but fretted to return to the service. His opportunity came with the outbreak of the Korean War, when he was posted to No 1903 Air O.P. Flight.

He returned to Malaya in command of 656 Squadron, where his experience and unconventional command - especially with his flight's Austers - contributed crucially to the defeat of jungle guerrillas. He was appointed M.B.E.

At much the same time, his Auster floatplane trials off Singapore, which involved take-off runs of up to a mile, indicated his potential as an experimental pilot.

Much of Warburton's operational success was due to his gift for bringing on new pilots. They might find him forbidding at first, but they soon recognised his incomparable experience and innate kindness and generosity of spirit.

Warburton returned home as a major to command No 663 Air O.P. Squadron of the Royal Artillery (sic) Air Force at Liverpool, before training in America in 1957 as a helicopter pilot.

Subsequently he joined the Joint Experimental Helicopter Unit at Middle Wallop as a trials pilot, flying Whirlwinds and Sycamores, and became a founder member of the Army Air Corps. As part of his work with the development of Army helicopters, he helped introduce the troubled Scout helicopter into service.

While second-in-command of the helicopter test squadron at Boscombe Down, he tested an open seated Wallis-Benson auto gyro for altitude, wearing an Irvine jacket, muffler and thick boots. An astonished Boeing 707 pilot called the Wiltshire experimental station and reported he had just passed under a teddy bear flying a curious motorcycle at 11,000 feet.
Warburton also undertook high-risk icing trials with the Wessex helicopter at Fort Churchill, Hudson Bay. He was attached to the Royal Norwegian Air Force to advise on icing trials.

After a spell working on the Lynx helicopter and other projects at Army Aviation HQ, Warburton retired in 1971 as the second-longest serving Army pilot.

But there was no break from helicopters. Warburton immediately joined Ferranti Helicopters as flight operations manager at Gatwick, and held similar posts with British Caledonian and British Airways.

When he finally retired, his career had embraced 42 fixed-wing and 24 rotary types, involving respectively 4,075 and 2,200 hours flying.

Latterly, Warburton enjoyed trout fishing on the Wiltshire Avon, though his activities were restricted by bronchial problems deriving from his time in the desert.

In 1974 he was elected Freeman of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, and the next year he received a Ministry of Defence award for his work on the Scout and the invention of the Warby Weight Computer. Warburton was also a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

In addition to his wartime medals, he was thrice mentioned in dispatches.

He is survived by his wife Joan. © Daily Telegraph (London) 14/7/99
Savoia PM on its way in due course.


Last edited by Wunper; 22nd Jul 2010 at 22:57. Reason: fpelling
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Old 28th Jul 2010, 09:08
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Col. Bob Smith & Ferranti


Didn’t realise you had already authored some books (I did suspect you may have some interesting stories to tell). Will definitely get copies of your work next time I’m in the UK. If there is a special distributor perhaps you would let me know the details. Well done!

I will certainly pass on your regards to Bob. He was, without doubt, a gentleman. Moreover, those who knew him personally will readily remark on his congenial, generous and loyal nature. He is one of the kindest people I have encountered over the years.

In the days when we he was flying for the race horse trainer Vincent O’Brien (collecting Lester Piggott or Pat Eddery from either Cork, Shannon or Dublin was a regular occurrence) he lived for some months at the Cashel Rock Hotel in County Tipperary (owned by Vincent) where a dear old lady had been resident for almost 10 years. One evening during his ‘wee snifter’ at the bar Bob discovered that the dear woman was unable to attend the wake of her recently departed sister (who had been her only remaining relative) and which was to take place in Galway the following day.

Bob arranged with Vincent’s manager (a chap called McCarthy) to charter the aircraft for himself and then promptly collected the old dear and flew her to the Church in Galway. Vincent got to hear of this (Cashel was a small place) and had his manager reimburse Bob’s money and made a point of telling him that it was one of the kindest things he had seen anyone do. But, I have to say, this was utterly in keeping with Bob’s generous nature.

By the time Ferranti had moved to Shoreham you will have found Bob in a different place and I’m not speaking of geography here. The day I first met you was the date of the photo I posted of you in BENO. It was Saturday May 14th 1977. The following day Ferranti suffered the worst incident in the company’s history when a radio-less Tiger Moth flew into the main rotors of G-AVSN killing Ferranti pilot Hugh Lovett and his 4 passengers. Sadly, throughout the remainder of his professional career, Bob never overcame this tragedy and bemoaned the loss of Hugh and his passengers until his retirement. At that point in British executive helicopter aviation there had been remarkably few dramatic fatalities of this nature (probably the closest incident was three years earlier when G-AXAY (on contract to Plessey) came apart above Inkpen Hill near Hungerford).

Needless to say, the resulting publicity and general demoralisation within the company were things that Bob felt strongly. Less than a year later one of Ferranti’s Bo105’s (G-BATB) was struck by a freak wave while on the pad at Skerryvore lighthouse. Thankfully there were no fatalities but, the incident attracted additional and unwelcome publicity which ran contrary to the image that Bob and his team were working so hard to build.

In the background the Ferranti electronics group were going through their own challenges and from around ’76 Bob found himself becoming somewhat isolated in that Sebastian de Ferranti (his strongest ally and constant supporter) became increasingly indisposed as he attempted to manage the financial storms that the parent were facing. On top of this, Ferranti were booted out of the Beehive facility (Gatwick had been a mildly prestigious location for the company) and so by the time you found Bob at Shoreham, both he and the company, had seen better days.

Regarding Bob’s somewhat fastidious devotion to detail (such as that which you encountered when purchasing AWJW) one need’s to appreciate the distinction Bob made between his personal nature and his commitment to Ferranti which was, for all intents and purposes, his ‘baby’. Sebastian’s strong advocacy of Bob’s guidance of the company was met by Bob’s fiercely loyal commitment which sought at all times to ensure that Ferranti was protected from risk while pursuing the very highest standards of professionalism attainable.

Regarding Ferranti’s Class 7 licence, yes, BCal’s only interest in Ferranti was to use it as a platform from which to compete (especially against BAH) in the offshore sector.

Re: The Ferranti SAS system, sadly I never got the chance to experience this for myself. Speechless Two could doubtless be able to offer valid comment about its usefulness. I do know that people such as the late John ‘Chalky’ White (ex-JCB) swore by the system.

If your conversation with Sebastian threw up any interesting remarks about the Ferranti days then yes I’d be keen to receive any details – thanks.

Through the Ferranti tribute website we are developing we hope to capture those aspects of Ferranti’s operations which went on to inspire an entire industry and in this regard, and as previously posted by Speechless Two, were are still keenly seeking information, details, photos and stories relating to the following ex-Ferranti personnel:

Paul Blackiston
Peter Cox
Tony Dando
John Grandy
Dick Hansen
Chris Hunt
Hugh Lovett
Paddy McLaughlin
Chris Powell
Des Sadler
Sqn Ldr Ron Salt
Lt Col Bob Smith
Maj Herbert Warburton

With equal enthusiasm are we wishing to obtain details of Ferranti’s engineering and admin staff. Any leads are most welcome.

Lt Col Bob Smith
  • One of the first twelve pilots to fly helicopters in Britain
  • Former test pilot with A&AEE Boscombe Down
  • Former test pilot with Bristol, Westland and Rolls Royce
  • Former Chief Pilot of Christian Salvesen serving on whaling expeditions in Antartica
  • Former Chief Test pilot of Ferranti Electronics group and personal pilot to Sebastian de Ferranti: 1964-1971
  • Managing Director of Ferranti Helicopters: 1971-79
  • Founding member of Aviation Consultants International (1981) which counted Norman Todd (Chief Pilot British Airways Condorde Fleet) and the astronaut David Scott among its Directors
Bob received some 30 awards and recognitions during his career, was a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and a Warden and Liveryman of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators.

Ex-Ferranti AgustaBell 206B JetRanger II G-AWJW at Shoreham on 12th August 1981

Clearly no longer a Ferranti 206 as the closest thing that Ferranti had to a logo (the Royal Mail cipher) is missing from the baggage door area and, crucially, the skid fearing cuff is also missing.

Ferranti JetRangers working VIP assignments had a number of non-technical (cosmetic) criteria to meet before they could be considered serviceable, Bob was pretty adamant about this and left Ferranti’s ground staff in no uncertainty as to what was required.

The criteria included a freshly detailed interior with checks to ensure that the white passenger lap straps were thoroughly clean and that newly laundered white covers were applied to all headsets. All windows were to be spotless. The exterior was not permitted to display any evidence of oil leaks or exhaust emissions. The areas of the fuselage exposed when opening the doors and baggage compartment (as well as the inside of the doors themselves) were to be completely clean and Bob’s pet hate … landing gear not covered by fairings including .. specifically .. fairing cuffs (the oval fibreglass cuff that linked the fuselage to the skid fairing!).


Last edited by Savoia; 13th Apr 2011 at 16:40. Reason: Additional details
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Old 30th Jul 2010, 07:01
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Wunper: Thank you for mentioning the Major.

Warby was such a vital element of what was Ferranti Helicopters that I can scarcely consider the company without bringing him to mind.

He was at the heart of the management trinity which included Bob Smith and Sebastian de Ferranti. Indeed, when Bob was off flying Warby was the one Sebastian would most often seek out.

Warby not only personified the dignity and character of personnel that Sebastian and Bob cultivated at Ferranti but was, in his own right (and as the obituary so aptly demonstrates), one of Britain's most accomplished pioneers in both fixed and rotary wing aviation.

His contribution as an essential member of the Ferranti team could never be over estimated. He was, on all counts, an impeccable gentleman aviator and manager.

The tribute site we are working on (anticipated launch around Easter 2011 - there is much to do and few to do it) shall include an 'In Memorium' page where, among other things, Warby's obituary shall appear with the permission of the Daily Telegraph).

In the meantime, and as previously posted, we are keenly seeking any information about aircraft and personnel from the Ferranti days.

My regards


Major Herbert 'Warby' Warburton at Ferranti's Beehive Operations Office, London Gatwick Airport with Ferranti Bell 206 G-AZZB in the Background

Major Herbert Warburton MBE DFC CdeG (1916-1998)
Former Operations Manager, Ferranti Helicopters
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Old 4th Aug 2010, 23:19
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I'm just back from 3 days operating onto Skerryvore and would love to know a bit more about the incident involving G-BATB - very few people left in the lighthouse 'world' who were around at the time. Was the aircraft washed off the helipad, and if so how did the crew/pax escape? Couldn't see any sign of wreckage although after all this time I would imagine anything not recovered immediately post-incident would be more than half-way to Mull along the ocean floor by now.

I believe one of Ferranti's other Bolkows did make its way into the Bond fleet, where I'm told it was admired for the very high standard of maintenance and husbandry it had obviously enjoyed in its previous employment.
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