Friday, November 12, 2010

The Memoir, continued

I won't dwell on my 3 years at the Academy. Suffice it is to say that what education I failed to get at home I obtained there in addition to the training I would need for my future position with Mr Sandhurst's company. If I am able at a later time, I'll tell about those exciting and soul-pushing days, but I want to make sure I had my story out before it was lost.

After my time in the Academy, I was sent to work under an engineer named Charles Penderking in Mr Sandhurst's West Highborough division. He set me to work on various problems he was working on to help me get a feel for real work as opposed to projects at the Academy. "You'll find, Snitterton," said Penderking, "that the forces of nature cannot be predicted accurately, no matter how precise you are. Always prepare for the unexpected." I learned quickly and worked well with him, feeling with him a natural flow of things. Pieces fell together easily when we worked together, as if the forces that we were dealing with realized that with the two of us there was no point in fighting us. I wasn't sure if he felt it like I did, but one day he asked me to help him on the project he was busy with. It was an engine for a new kind of airship, and he had been working on it with two other engineers, Thorpe and Duncastle. They had done a prototype but it kept failing. "The engine will run for seven minutes then fail," he told me. "We've made adjustments and tried different formulas, but once it gets warm it quits on us. I want you to take a look at this."

Thorpe and Duncastle, two fellows who were relatively amiable but a little cold, weren't too happy with this apprentice looking at the plans then observing the engine. It took me some time to figure it out. It was a subtle change and I could see and sense it, but it took about a dozen tries before I was able to really nail it and confirm it on the plans. "See here?" I said, pointing out the offending valve. "When this gets warm, this valve seats properly and holds a seal. But when the heat makes it expands it creates a leak. That's what's shutting it down." When we made adjustments to that valve and nearby cams the seal held and the engine growled contentedly.

That was what it was like in those days I spent at West Highborough. Most of the time I'd be working on small projects that helped me learn but occasionally I'd be called in to help out on the engine or another portion of the airship. Duncastle warmed to me but Thorpe stayed relatively cool. He was a little older than me and I could sense his resentment of my presence. But as long as I was Penderking's man, I encountered no difficulties.

The days when the airship was to come together and go through the flight tests were nerve-wracking. The airship was a beauty of design and power, driven by 4 engines and clad with a tough but flexible skin over its frame. After the final test, we received word that Mr Sandhurst was anxious to know if the airship was ready for demonstration. Penderking, Thorpe, and Duncastle conferred with the other technicians, mechanics, and pilots. There were some who felt we needed to do more testing, but others felt we were ready and could work out the minor problems later in production. Penderking was the most anxious and Thorpe the most insistent on moving ahead. Finally after wrangling over an hour, it was agreed to notify Mr Sandhurst that the airship was ready for demonstration.

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