Smyth in the Air Police Service

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Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Frecks » 02 Sep 2017, 20:36

What would Smyth have actually done in his role at the airfield during the Air Police era? Would he have been a hands on Ground Engineer or more like a Foreman? We know he kept an eye on the Stores because in Works It Out he came into the office to discuss ordering some spare parts. Would there have been quite a few Engineers or just a couple? How many aircraft did they keep at Air Police headquarters? I think the Austers and Proctors were permanent Aircraft and the larger planes they used for overseas operations were loaned from the Air Ministry.

It is hard to work out how much time the team spent at the airfield and how much at Scotland Yard. In a lot of the short stories they seem to do regular patrols so they must have used the aircraft on a very regular basis.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Wanderer » 02 Sep 2017, 23:53

Frecks wrote:What would Smyth have actually done in his role at the airfield during the Air Police era? Would he have been a hands on Ground Engineer or more like a Foreman? We know he kept an eye on the Stores because in Works It Out he came into the office to discuss ordering some spare parts. Would there have been quite a few Engineers or just a couple?


Given the types of aircraft they had there should not have been a huge amount of work. They were not "wood and canvas" biplanes like in WWI: if an Auster started flying "a bit left wing low" or trailing anything more than a thread from the canvas stitching I should be VERY nervous indeed:-) Airframe work would mostly be inspections (especially on the Proctor where plywood delamination became a risk with age), repairs to fabric covering when the Auster got misused and regular inspection and minor works on engines and electrics. Any "major" work or rebuilds would probably have been contracted out - it would be very inefficient to have lots of men sitting about waiting for something to do. So it could easily have been a one-man job, or two if there was a permanently manned radio room (did we not recently determine that Roy might have been employed in that capacity?)

Frecks wrote:How many aircraft did they keep at Air Police headquarters? I think the Austers and Proctors were permanent Aircraft and the larger planes they used for overseas operations were loaned from the Air Ministry.

I think they only had an Auster and a Proctor - both refurbished WWII types - and of course the Gadfly after the late 1950s. Other aircraft such as the Wellington would undoubtedly have been on loan.

Frecks wrote:It is hard to work out how much time the team spent at the airfield and how much at Scotland Yard. In a lot of the short stories they seem to do regular patrols so they must have used the aircraft on a very regular basis.

A moot point, I think. You are correct in assuming they spent plenty of time at both places.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby RAAF Spitfire Girl » 03 Sep 2017, 07:24

Wanderer wrote: Airframe work would mostly be inspections (especially on the Proctor where plywood delamination became a risk with age), repairs to fabric covering when the Auster got misused and regular inspection and minor works on engines and electrics. Any "major" work or rebuilds would probably have been contracted out - it would be very inefficient to have lots of men sitting about waiting for something to do. So it could easily have been a one-man job, or two if there was a permanently manned radio room (did we not recently determine that Roy might have been employed in that capacity?)


You've raised an interesting question, Frecks. I haven't had a chance to discuss this with Mr RSG, but I suspect he would probably agree with Wanderer. I think I'm right in assuming the SAP maintenance operation would come under the GA (General Aviation) category (a whole different ball game to airline maintenance - as Mr RSG discovered after 40+ years working with major airline :D ). Smyth, himself, may have even had licence coverage for everything by this stage - airframe, engine, electrical and instruments - or he may have had an electrical/instrumental engineer on the team. I like to think that Roy would have been part of the team looking after the radio side of things. This was an era prior to radio/electrical/instrumental being incorporated into "avionics."

Look forward to hearing other thoughts. (And I'll definitely discuss this with Mr RSG and report back :yay: )
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Tommy Smith » 03 Sep 2017, 08:32

My take on it has always been that post war he would have stayed mechanicing, maybe taking on a small garage initially but then renting a hangar on an airfield and ending up with regulars and contracts for maintenance work and employing at least one other, maybe even bought and sold a few. There is usually a small community of businesses on larger airfields where you can get anything done.

Not sure about Roy. How often did he pop up? I thought he was off doing something else and just took leave to join in the occasional jaunt because his dad asked him. I have no idea when aircraft stopped having wireless operators, if that's what he was doing for an occupation.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Frecks » 03 Sep 2017, 08:46

Roy was radio operator during the War in Baltic and Sweeps The Desert. He joined the RAF and trained to be a radio operator before the War. He was not mentioned as such in any other books but Smyth definitely still worked for Biggles in the Air Police era. I like the idea of Smyth and Roy working together. They certainly had a radio operator so it could have ben Roy.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Indian Civil Service » 03 Sep 2017, 14:08

I think they had two Austers (Terai), two Proctors (Another Job), a Merlin (Special Case), an "old Air Police Halifax" (Chinese Puzzle), an Otter (Buries Hatchet et al), and a helicopter (Takes it Rough) on strength. Other types they borrowed through some special agreement with the Air Ministry, through Raymond.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Frecks » 03 Sep 2017, 14:36

Good heavens ICS. They would have needed quite a large team of aircraft mechanics to service all those aircraft. I am sure there were at least a couple of mechanics because in Works It Out they were told to be careful about any visitors to the airfield. Mr. Frecks was a motor mechanic before he retired and even in a small garage they always had an apprentice and someone in the office as well as the actual mechanics and usually a couple of bosses.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Fairblue » 03 Sep 2017, 15:13

Frecks wrote:Good heavens ICS. They would have needed quite a large team of aircraft mechanics to service all those aircraft. I am sure there were at least a couple of mechanics because in Works It Out they were told to be careful about any visitors to the airfield. Mr. Frecks was a motor mechanic before he retired and even in a small garage they always had an apprentice and someone in the office as well as the actual mechanics and usually a couple of bosses.

I wouldn't have thought they would need a large team of mechanics. Not all the aircraft would be worked on at once; servicing would have been done on a rotational basis and the mechanics would have been trained on most types. Biggles and Co weren't in the air all the time, either so there would have been opportunity to catch up on maintenance then.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Kismet » 03 Sep 2017, 16:49

At the beginning, the Air Police used RAF aircraft.

Sergeant Bigglesworth CID:

'By the way, what are we gong to do for aircraft?'
'The Airforce has more machines than it needs at the moment, so you can help yourself. I've already fixed that up with the Air Minister. He will provide us with documents that will enable you to refuel at any R.A.F. station, and call upon service personnel for maintenance. That's a temporary arrangement. The police will need an airforce of their own. For the moment we have been allocated a hanger at Croydon, so you had better regard that as your base. I don't suppose I shall see much of you, but officially, your headquarters will be at the Yard, so I'll fix you up with an office.'


A few books later, they did, indeed, have their own Air Police aircraft. I can't remember which one the change happened in, but I think it was the one in which Biggles was promoted to Air Detective Inspector.

Also, in Works It Out, when Smyth tells Biggles that a fake newspaper reporter has been in the hanger, he says:

'I found him wandering about talking to some of the boys, or trying to.

That sounds like a reasonable number of men under Smyth to me.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Fairblue » 03 Sep 2017, 17:06

Kismet wrote:PA few books later, they did, indeed, have their own Air Police aircraft. I can't remember which one the change happened in, but I think it was the one in which Biggles was promoted to Air Detective Inspector.


You're right, Kismet. Another Job But I don't think the budget would have run to many men. The mechanics were policemen, which would have added to the expense, with the allowances Policemen would have had back then.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Kismet » 03 Sep 2017, 17:46

I've fished out Another Job, and what it says is:

The Treasury, agreeing reluctantly that the police force would have to move with the times, had at last sanctioned a grant of money for the formation and equipment of a Special Air Unit, whereas hitherto the Air Police had had to rely on the Air Ministry for its machines, maintenance and service. The money did not run to a special airfield, but was sufficient for the hire of a private hanger at Gatwick Airport, with the usual offices, and one or two aircraft for general work, mostly types from the R.A.F. Obsolescent List. It was, of course, out of the question for the unit to maintain the many types, large and small, land, marine or amphibious, which its highly specialised work in different parts of the world might from time to time demand; but the difficulty had been overcome by the appointment at the Air Ministry of a Liaison Officer who was authorised to let the Police had on loan any particular type required.

It was on the organisation of this unit that Biggles had been working; and there had been a lot to do, from the engagement of mechanics, who had been enrolled as policemen, to the fitting of two way high frequency radio, for direct communication between pilots and their headquarters, and police cars on the ground.

'I've got my old Flight Sergeant, Smyth, in charge of the ground-staff,' Biggles told the Air Commodore.

'There'll be a twenty-four hour service in the radio room. So, through it, you should be able to get in touch with us instantly, whether we're in the air or on the carpet. I hope, too, always to have an officer on duty, with an aircraft standing by, for any urgent job that may turn up.'


I think that 24/7 radio service would require at least four men. I wonder, if at this point, WEJ was toying with the idea of making the Air Unit a bigger concern than he eventually did?
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Kismet » 03 Sep 2017, 18:16

A google tells me that:

Today the NYPD Air Support and Air Sea Rescue operate out of the only home they have ever known, Floyd Bennett Field on the water's edge in Brooklyn NY. The unit consist of 69 total personnel, most of which are sworn officers, including maintenance personnel.

The air support unit currently operates 4 medium lift helicopters, Bell 412 EP's, and 4 light helicopters. The 412 medium helicopters are used for missions such as tactical support, fast roping, firefighting-Bambi Bucket operations, port security and rescue operations. It is the 4 light helicopters that are undergoing a conversion from the AgustaWestland A119 to the Bell 429. NYPD received their first 429 in July of 2014 with the remaining 3 scheduled for delivery before the end of 2015.


8 helicopters = 69 personnel. A similar ratio, if applied to the Air Police, would give us two aircraft = 17 men.
The Air Police have 4 pilots and 1 flight sergeant, leaving 12 mechanics, radio operators, tea boys... I suppose some of them might be part time.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Frecks » 03 Sep 2017, 19:05

Well they are very short staffed in my model workshop then :lol: I have just got Smyth in the workshop and Roy in the radio room with a female figure to do the clerical work just so that it is not an all male environment. I could use one of my other models for the Liaison Officer who could visit the office every now and again. The facts and figures you have quoted are all very interesting. It sounds as though they started out at Croydon and then moved on to Gatwick.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Fairblue » 03 Sep 2017, 20:01

Frecks wrote:Well they are very short staffed in my model workshop then :lol: I have just got Smyth in the workshop and Roy in the radio room with a female figure to do the clerical work just so that it is not an all male environment. I could use one of my other models for the Liaison Officer who could visit the office every now and again. The facts and figures you have quoted are all very interesting. It sounds as though they started out at Croydon and then moved on to Gatwick.

They're all in the aircraft beavering away, Frecks, instead of standing around being modelled. 8-)
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby RAAF Spitfire Girl » 04 Sep 2017, 04:28

I've finally had time to discuss this with Mr RSG. He made the following observations (based on his own professional experience and knowledge of aircraft maintenance):

1. Number of engineers realistically needed on staff (in the 1950's era) - Two (2) appropriately licenced engineers would have sufficed - i.e. one engine fitter and one airframe fitter. In that era's light aircraft (Austers, Proctors etc), experienced chaps would have also had the knowledge and expertise to cover both electrical and instrumental requirements. It's likely that Smyth was the foreman (and, as I previously hypothesised, most likely had dual licence coverage) and had one of each (i.e. one engine and one airframe mechanic) licenced engineers on staff. The routine check-up required for these aircraft is the basic 100 hourly inspection. So, once that has been done, the aeroplane is out flying until its next check-up - unless the pilot notices some glitches and, naturally, wants it looked at and fixed. They would have had an overall schedule for the aircraft which staggered their overhaul schedules so they weren't faced with the embarrassment of having all the aeroplanes in the hangar having their 100 hourlies done the same week :oops:

Given they were an approved (I am presuming they would have been!!!) maintenance provider, they may also have had one or two apprentices on staff.

2. Regarding the Radio Room staffing. This would have been manned (or wommaned) full-time. The radio person had to remain in that room, focused on the radio for their full shift. If they were outside in the hangar, they risked missing a call. It was / is the radio operator's responsibility to have someone sit in for them when they had to take a necessary break. Otherwise, the radio would have been left unattended and an important call could have been missed. So, as well as Roy, there would have needed to have been a sufficient number of others to cover the radio for the 24x7 timeframe Biggles mentions in Another Job. In that era it most probably would have been based on eight hour shifts, so three staff would have covered a 24 hour period, but there may have been an extra to cover days off and to make the shift roster manageable.

So, make of it what you will, but for their limited number of aircraft, they could have coped very well with two experienced licenced engineers and the requisite number of Radio Operators. Mr RSG pointed out to me that a friend of his who ran a General Aviation Maintenance business at an aerodrome near us serviced up to 50 different light aircraft (under contract) with only 2 - 3 full-time engineers. Once their 100 hourly service is done and dusted, you hope not to see that particular aeroplane until its next scheduled 100 hourly.

I hope that's been helpful.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby tiffinata » 04 Sep 2017, 06:47

Early on I guess there would have been lots of surplus spare parts for the Beaufighter, Mosquito et al.
Do I remember correctly that many of the wartime aircraft repairs were take off the damaged bit and swap it for a spare to keep as many of the squadron available as possible?


If the radio room was operational 24/7, would they have needed an engineer present if Biggles and co were out outside of normal hours? Would Smyth have been given overtime or would this be an additional staff member? What would the labour laws have been like at the time?
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Frecks » 04 Sep 2017, 08:14

Thanks very much RSG - that information is very helpful. In my model there is a dwarf wall between the radio room and the workshop/office which in my mind is a partitioned off area in the main hangar so Roy can go over and talk to Smyth and still be within hearing distance of the radio. In those circumstances Smyth might be able to cover the radio for a few minutes if Roy needed a break. They all have mugs of tea on their desks for refreshment and there are plates of biscuits too along with plenty of aviation related reading matter.

It is possible that one of the team covered the radio sometimes when they were on the airfield. I have an idea it says in one short story that Ginger was helping Smyth in the workshop but I am not sure about that. Ginger certainly uses the radio in one of the Gimlet books but I am not sure whether that was at the airfield or Scotland Yard. From the quote posted above it looks as though WEJ intended the team to spend more time at the airfield than Scotland Yard although in practice it seems to have worked out the other way round.

There is much more detail about their day to day activities in some of the Air Police short stories.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Indian Civil Service » 04 Sep 2017, 10:29

Very detailed research here!
Add-on: In Plane That Disappeared, Ginger, taking off after the baddie, calls Algy on radio at HQ, then Algy calls Biggles on phone to update him about Ginger.
In several short stories, they are testing long-distance short-wave radio and Gaskin contacts them to trail a getaway car etc etc.
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Re: Smyth in the Air Police Service

Postby Tracer » 04 Sep 2017, 11:11

Brilliant research by all and special thanks to Mr. RSG!

Regarding hours - I spent most of my working life in ops, and people worked 12-hour shifts. That way you need 4 staff to cover holidays, sickness etc. so I expect some of the maintenance staff were licensed to use the radio too and could step in when needed rather than have 4 dedicated staff. So maybe 2 permanent radio staff, and others as needed.
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