Meet Dave Hamilton – our Lead Engineer

Hi, I am David Hamilton and I am the Lead Engineer on the Skymaster 56498.

Aviation for me started at a young age. My father was in the Air Force and later with the airlines and was to inspire me in my future career. On my 11th Birthday, I was treated to a “Jump seat” flight from Belfast to Jersey and back on a Vickers Viscount of British Midland, as my father was the Station Engineer with BMA at Belfast, this opened my eyes to the world of aviation. This soon led to starting model making as most young boys did. Leaving school in 1986 at 16 I went to college and studied Mechanical and Production Engineering and following graduation at 18 I was offered a job in a carburettor manufacturing plant in Belfast but I declined as I had the aviation “Bug”.

In June 1988, I joined British Midland initially as a helper for the summer, working on the ramp at Belfast, this involved assisting to fuel the aircraft, prepare them for departure and also assisting with “putting them to bed” in the evenings, changing wheels and filling up the engine oils etc.

In September 1988 I was accepted for an Aircraft Engineering apprenticeship with British Midland and travelled to England, where, together with 7 other young lads, we embarked on a 3-year Ab-initio training scheme at CSE, Oxford, with additional practical training at BM main Engineering base at East Midlands Airport.

3 years later we all qualified with a basic UK Aircraft Maintenance “License without Type Rating – LWTR Section L” and subsequently what would be my first “Company approval – the Douglas DC-9, and the start of a love affair with Douglas aircraft.

During this time, I also took to opportunity to regularly visit Heathrow and Gatwick airports where I would spend hours photographing the aircraft coming and going and also traveled to Coventry, which at the time was the UK main “Propliner” hub with mostly DC-3 and some DC-6 aircraft. It was always a delight to see around these aircraft and take photos, as in those days, a letter in advance often got you “ramp access” for photos and chatting with the other Engineers.

Now working for the airline, the perks of Staff Travel were availed of, and usually at least once a year a trip was made to the US where things would always begin at Miami International and “Corrosion Corner” where photographing the delights of DC-3s, DC-6s and DC-7s still in operation hauling freight would delight both the camera and the ears with the song of their engines! Seeing these aircraft still working and earning a living at 50+ years was always a delight and inspiration.

Further travels in the US would lead to the mecca of MASDC or Davis Monthan – the “Boneyard” where all the US military aircraft were stored and either sold off as viable aircraft to other operators, stripped for parts, or sadly broken up. Again, requests to the owners of the scrapyards surrounding this base would lead to access and more wonderful pictures!

North of MADSC, and just to the South of Phoenix, Arizona was a very famous dirt strip airport, known as Chandler Memorial or Gila River airport. This was a propliner mecca with well over 40 propliners at one time and the guys there were very friendly. I was always allowed to free roam to take pics of the planes and get up and personal with these wonderful girls.

It was home to an operator called Biegert Aviation, who had a fleet of Douglas C-54 aircraft that they would use in the aerial spraying role, for budworm, that would devastate forests and the lumber business if left unchecked. It was here I would photograph the Biegert aircraft not knowing that years later I would be reunited with N44914 as she was when with Biegert!

I have always worked in aviation maintenance, everything from the humble mechanic to Line Maintenance Manager and Technical representative with different airlines and operators, and am not really happy unless I’m around aircraft! 34 years now and 31 years as an Aircraft Maintenance Certifier!

A chance encounter with a post on Facebook led to an invitation to come and see 56498 at North Weald, and on my visit, I was delighted to be shown around this wonderful lady. When asked what I work at normally, I replied Aircraft Engineer and was then asked if I would like to come and help out. Well, that was 15 months ago and I now find I spend a lot of my spare time there progressing the restoration.

We now have several Licensed Aircraft Engineers on-site, we all coordinate through the Engineering director and ensure that the maintenance work progresses smoothly and methodically and at the same time help and mentor other volunteers in the art of aircraft maintenance and restoration.

What does the Skymaster mean for me? I can’t sum it up in a word, it takes several!

There is the team spirit and friendships that have been made, there is an opportunity to keep skills alive, skills I learned about during my apprenticeship and that modern computer aircraft don’t use! And the opportunity to have the younger generation learn our arts, whilst giving non-aviation volunteers a real insight and sense of purpose by working on a live aircraft and feeling a part of her restoration.

It is also about Love, a love of Douglas aircraft, and how these once leaders in aviation are still alive today, more than any other aircraft of their generation, and still, in some parts of the world, earning a living for their owners and operators, and how we will bring our love of aviation to delight others when our mission is complete!