The eccentric Flight Engineer

2 min readJun 20, 2019

‘ Electric Ed’ was an eccentric BOAC Flight Engineer on VC10’s. I was a First Officer and flew with him to Singapore in 1971

Extract from my book — “Dancing the skies and falling with style.”

‘Electric Ed’ bought some expensive tropical fish in Singapore and connected their little glass tank to the aircrew oxygen system for the long flight to Bahrain.

Ed was obsessed with dirt and dust. The cockpit was difficult to keep clean and the cleaners were reluctant to come onto the flight deck for fear of damaging something.

Ed designed a cockpit vacuum cleaner.

He bought a length of flexible pipe in Singapore which was the same diameter as the sextant housing, and he jury rigged a temporary coupling for the sextant port. The sextant port was an airlock in the roof of the cockpit through which the sextant was inserted during astro-navigation.

It was a calm clear starry night. The full moon shone on the Bay of Bengal, casting long shadows from scattered candy-floss clouds, thousands of feet below.

Ed eased himself and his oversized stomach out of his seat and reached up to the sextant port to connect his Heath-Robinson contraption. The pressure difference between inside the aircraft and outside was 8–9 psi. and the diameter of the pipe was about two inches. Ed calculated that the hose would have suction of about 25 psi, but he didn’t realise that that was about ten times the suction of a domestic vacuum cleaner. He paused and adjusted his glasses before switching it on.

He pulled the lever to open the port.

A whoosh filled the cockpit and the open end of the pipe snapped up into the air. It flailed about like an indignant writhing snake and sucked up everything in its path. Pages from Ed’s technical log disappeared down the twisting tube, charts were plucked from the centre console and it devoured the stilton from the cheeseboard. There was a sudden silence as it digested the Captain’s hat and, with a gulping belch, disgorged the tattered titfer into the void.

Ed tried in vain to shut the port. The flimsy pipe started to ingest itself, and with a farting spasm, the tube disappeared up its own orifice. Still attached to the vent, the pipe beat loudly on the first-class roof until it disintegrated somewhere over Madras.

The Captain wasn’t happy.

We landed in Bahrain and to Ed’s dismay the tropical fish were bloated and floating upside down. His over oxygenated ocellated cardinalfish had drained the crew oxygen tank. We were delayed two days waiting for a replacement to be flown from London.

The Captain was apoplectic.