RAF technician keeping steam engine going

Chris Adamson at RAF Wittering EMN-160513-151112001
Chris Adamson at RAF Wittering EMN-160513-151112001
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The halcyon days of Britain’s industrial and engineering past are kept alive by RAF Wittering technician and steam traction engine enthusiast Corporal Chris Adamson.

No. 71 Inspection and Repair (IR) Squadron is famous in the world of military engineering for the precision and quality of its work. 71 IR Sqn repairs the structures and surfaces of British military aircraft, no matter where in the world they may be.

Cpl Adamson is a trainer on the squadron, but his love of engineering is as much about the past as the present. In their spare time Chris and his wife Tsitsi maintain and run a steam traction engine.

The connection with the RAF might not seem obvious, but Chris’s engine Vanguard was used by the Royal Air Force to roll runways during the Second World War. The magnificent engine was built in 1893 and scrapped in 1948.

Vanguard was built by Aveling and Porter of Rochester in Kent and was originally used as road roller for Middleton Council in Manchester until 1923.

The lovely machine has a top speed of only 10 mph, but Chris maintains: “When you’re this beautiful speed really doesn’t matter.”

Taking on such a project would daunt even the most enthusiastic engineers, but for Chris and Tsitsi it is a labour of love. Chris said: “I feel passionate about our industrial heritage and it seems to me that recently it has become less fashionable, there is just nothing like these engines and we have to keep them going.”

Vanguard hit the road again on May 5 and headed for the Albert Dock in Liverpool where a host of historical steam powered vehicles gathered to mark the restoration and opening of the Daniel Adamson - one of Liverpool’s most famous ships. The connection with the name is pure coincidence.

Christ and Tsitsi took Vanguard from Lymm in Chershire to Liverpool; a journey of 30 miles, which is a serious achievement for a machine of 123 years old.

Chris credits Vanguard’s handsome appearance to the engineering skills he has gained from the Royal Air Force. He said: “Aircraft skin repair and steam engine boiler cladding have real similarities, so what I’ve learned on 71 I’ve been able to use on my traction engine. Linking my work and hobby has increased my enthusiasm and motivation for both.”

For Sqn Ldr Andy Wilson, officer commanding 71 (IR) Sqn, Chris’s love affair with traction engines is something to encourage.

He said: “Chris is a pleasure to work with; it’s like having a young Fred Dibnah on the squadron.

“From a slightly more serious perspective, good engineers understand how things work and that understanding comes from experience of working in different environments.

“I’m very glad that Chris has learned some useful skills from his work, but it cuts both ways and the squadron has a trainer with a greater breadth of experience as a result.”