Your TV's OK, how's the Air Defence
At one time Africa was going through
a period of unrest, you might say. Anyway a couple or more countries
were looking to improve their defence capability and had put
out a Request for Tender for the supply of Air Defence Radars.
After lots of head scratching and a
lot of clever things being written, proposals were issued to
the two potential customers.
After all we had this fantastic new
radar on the drawing board and this would do admirably, if it
Proposals of this kind tended to be
long-term things and not thought of as being that imminent by
the Marketing Department. Perhaps the mere threat of getting
such a facility put would-be aggressors off, and for the aggressed,
a kind of insurance. It came as a bit of a surprise then, when
not only one, but two countries in Africa suddenly decided to
go ahead, and not only that, but confirmatory telexes from both
arrived on the very same day.
Panic struck the Company and people,
who were normally quite reserved, started running around like
To start off with, it was not that easy
to find a couple of hundred people to staff a major project,
because everyone was ostensibly busy (otherwise they'd have been
made redundant), and to staff two projects was well nigh impossible
not to mention the fact that we hadn't tried out the radar properly.
The two jobs had to be aligned in some
The 3-D radar definitely needed developing.
The communications systems were also
just paper ideas and needed specifying in detail, designing and
breadboarding before manufacturing drawings could be produced,
but as each customer wanted both of these, the obvious thing
to do was design a common radar and a common communications system
that would do for both.
There were difficulties. One country
had been allied to the Eastern Block; the other to the West.
Their standards were different; one
wanted the systems to be fitted into Russian Standard Containers;
the other into British Standard Containers. The reason being;
handling equipment and aircraft were designed for carrying specific
container sizes and not only were the latter to be collected,
but because the requirement was for mobile equipment, they had
to be deployed by the countries aircraft and lorries.
To add to the difficulty, the containers
were to be filled by radios supplied by the customers. Russian
types, from one, looking decidedly several generations older,
in comparison with the American and Israeli ones supplied by
On the left a bit of "Lion"
and on the right a bit of "Rodent"
Although the two jobs were separate, they were run in parallel
and not at one factory, but at three, each separated from the
others by nearly 200 miles.
There were lots of common bits and,
of course two lots of unique bits, and completion dates were
roughly the same.
Funnily enough, although Equipment Acceptance
dates were only roughly the same, at the end of three years development
and manufacturing, fate dictated that the acceptance of the first
communications system for one customer was on precisely the same
day as that for the other.
It was surely pretty obvious to either
group of visitors that something was up as the two communications
containers selected for acceptance stood side-by-side on the
factory floor. One was painted dark brown and the other desert
sand. Although the factory was full of them, fate had dictated
that the two containers randomly selected were, of course, adjacent.
As I recall, both groups ignored each
other and probably just pretended the other wasn't there.
Both systems were accepted that day
and I remember the only glitch was when one customer opened his
document, no doubt supplied by QA, to see the words "SYRIA
SECRET" across the top of the page. Suffice it to say that
neither customer came from anywhere near Syria! They were due
Our site was looking after the communications
bits, and the manufacturing and integration of the systems was
carried out on the second floor of the factory.
Why was this, when each container weighed
more than ten tons and there were dozens of them, surely it would
have been simpler to do it on the ground floor?
The problem was their size, each measured
over 30 feet long and they needed a lot of manoeuvring to get
them all in. The factory, being fairly old, had large pillars
to support the floors. Downstairs there were more pillars because
they had to support the weight of the four floors above but at
each floor the weight got less so there were less pillars.
On the second floor there was just enough
space between the pillars to park the containers.
Whenever one was ready for delivery
they were all juggled about until it was next to the outside
wall. To get the containers in and out we had knocked out some
of the windows and a bit of wall and fitted a wind-up door. The
City Centre street outside was very narrow, dating back to the
1700s, and we needed a special giant crane to do the lifting.
This was always arranged on a Sunday
when this part of the City was deserted.
Suffice it to say; the exercise wouldn't
have been possible if the wall of the building, above the first
floor, hadn't been set back about ten feet or so. This had been
done to preserve the "right of ancient light" for the
building opposite. Without this feature the job would have been
impossible as it allowed the containers, which came out endways,
to be twisted round before being lowered to street level. Although
it was a tight fit it worked smoothly and dozens of the things
came and went in this way and I don't believe anyone ever noticed.
The local paper had their offices only
a stones throw away and to the best of my knowledge they never
found out what was going on.
Neither did anyone notice the large
foreign aircraft shuttling in and out of Hurn Airport. This was
a very quiet airport in those days and it was probably most convenient
for the three manufacturing sites involved, although our containers
had to travel about 250 miles to get there.
If news had got out about the identity
of the customers, there would have been more than a bit of bother!
I was a bit amazed at the time that
we'd even got export licenses.
An article appeared in The Mirror the
best part of a year after the last delivery of one of the systems
but only because an ex-employee spilled the beans..
The projects were known by codewords
chosen by the customers; "Rodent" and "Lion"
and the former, according to one or two people (collecting their
repaired TV sets), and who have since moved to the UK to live,
It's a small world isn't it! That was
Rodent, all I know about the other was that we got a job a few
years later to replace the Russian radios with American ones
so that must have been OK as well.
Oh yes I forgot to say, as the theme
is computers and I haven't mentioned them yet. We used milititarised
PDP11 computers in the containers to handle the comms. We had
touch-input MMI and computer controlled reed relay switching
matrices to handle radio voice traffic. It wasn't half complicated!