No 8 Group Coventry

Ashbourne Section Coventry ROCA Summer Visits 2004.
  by Jon Layne Ashbourne Section CROCA

All our visits this summer were connected in a variety of ways to the technology of the air.

The destination for our first visit dates back to 1797, the only working Grade II listed windmill in England which has a stone tower and is multi-sailed – six in all. Heage Windmill is set in the Derbyshire countryside adjacent to the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and just across the valley from the last ROC Post to be built – Ambergate (8/30 Post) which opened in the late 1970’s.

At one time there were three mills close together – the windmill, a water mill and a steam driven mill -owned, I think, by the same family but only the windmill survives. It has had a chequered career, having been severely damaged more than once and, prior to restoration, was last worked by the miller, Thomas Shore, in 1919 . After much work by volunteers and assistance from such bodies as Derbyshire County Council and construction firm Bowmer and Kirkland, the mill is in fine shape and is run by the volunteers of the Heage Windmill Society.

The Mill is of advanced design. In early mills, the miller had to attach sheets to the sails to cope with different wind speeds but, at Heage, the sails are fitted with moveable slats which can be adjusted by a complex “spider” arrangement (the mill and the “spider” appear in the accompanying photographs). Like most windmills, the grinding is done by two flat stones, the bottom one being stationary, the upper one rotating. The distance between the stones and the speed of rotation have to be appropriate for the type and quantity of grain and part of the governing mechanism is also illustrated.

The earliest type of mill was the post mill in which the whole structure had to be turned to face the wind but Heage has a cap which holds the blades. The cap can be rotated manually but, on the opposite side to the blades, is a “fantail” propeller which turns the cap and main blades as the wind direction changes.

Once the grain has been ground, it goes through a series of sieves, the finest of which removes the white flour (regarded as the premium product), the coarsest the wholemeal (the cheap stuff). How come then that wholemeal loaves are usually more expensive than white sliced !! ?

If anyone is in the area and wishes to visit, the mill is normally open on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays from April to October; contact number is 01773 853579. The site has an interpretation centre which tells the story of the mill, a shop selling flour and souvenirs and, importantly, toilets. There is also a large car park.

Our second visit took us to Eggington Airfield south of Derby and to links with Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison. Eggington is a small private airfield set up fairly recently when its former site at Burnaston (also south of Derby) became the site for the new Toyota Factory. After we had been given a short talk about the field and a tour around some of its aircraft, we met up with Stewart Jackson who, surprise surprise, was a former ROC member. A surprise to him was that in our group was a visitor from Spain, Geoff Cameron, who had served with Stewart on the Cotgrave Post – neither of them had prior knowledge of the other’s presence.

Stewart is a member of a group which is restoring the Comet aeroplane used by Johnson and Mollison in the 1934 England to Australia Air Race. The race was open to all types of aircraft including commercial airliners of the day but four (I think) of the twin-engined Comets were developed and built in a short time by De Havilland. This one, called “Black Magic”, didn’t make the finishing line but got as far as Karachi. It’s failure was said to have been due to Mollison putting in “duff fuel” when they had to make an unscheduled re-fuelling stop and also to “over-thrashing” the engine.

Since 1934, the aircraft has been in various places, in various states of dereliction, including being damaged by fire. However, the group at Eggington are confident that they can rebuild the ‘plane to flying condition. The photographs give a couple of views of the airfield itself and two of the current state of the fuselage rebuild – the second one is looking along the interior from the front.

Our last visit was to DHL Aviation’s East Midlands Hub, one of twelve in Europe and the sole one in the UK. It was constructed at a cost of £35 million, Nottingham East Midlands Airport being chosen because of its central location and excellent motorway links. The twelve European Hubs are strategically placed to provide extensive air network coverage to feed multiple final destinations.

The Hub is a massive building, capable of holding 7 full sized football pitches, with 35 truck bays, additional parking for 70 trucks and 18 aircraft parking stands. It contains 4 kilometres of conveyor belts which are used for sorting and directing smaller packages, larger ones being moved by fork lift trucks. The whole complex is capable of handling 1200 tonnes of material in the normal nightly operating window. DHL is the 9th. largest airline in the World, operating some 250 aircraft ; its new fleet has Boeing 757’s but we also saw Airbus 320’s.

Although there are some staff there during the day, the complex really comes to life around 2030. We arrived around 2000 to complete our security checks – passports checked, day passes issued, through the metal detectors and past the body searchers. Initially the conveyor belts (which we viewed from the mezzanine level) were fairly empty but the flows built up as lorries arrived and parcels were directed to the various containers. These are shaped to fit the aircraft type being used for their destination and everything from parcels to containers is bar-coded and scanned.

At about 2200 we were taken to the Control Room. Although the approach to the Airport is controlled from the main Control Tower, DHL staff have contact with their own aircraft who give the about twenty minutes warning of their ETA. They are then given instructions about their designated parking stand. Before they arrive, the unloading crew are given instructions and unloading starts almost as soon as the chocks are under the aircraft’s wheel. Tractors pull trains of large flat trolleys which, like the interiors of the planes, are covered with free moving rollers so that everything moves easily. Large scissor type jacks are raised to the cargo doors and the containers are moved to the trolleys for unpacking inside the complex. The aim is to unload and reload a Boeing 757 within one hour.

Photographs inside the complex were not allowed but I hope that the illustrations from the DHL brochure will give some idea of the operation.

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