Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Alec Wortley was born in Essex. After primary school he attended Bungay Grammar School. At one time due to absence from illness he was bottom of his class. Armed with 2 A levels in Maths and Physics he was accepted by the General Electric Company to undertake a Student Apprenticeship which led to a Diploma in Technology 1st Class coming 3rd in a class of 72 students.

He then applied in July of the graduation year to read for a PhD degree at Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham and Cambridge Universities. The only University to give a positive reply was Cambridge as the others had all filled their quota for the year. After an interview with Professor Oately, Alexander was advised to apply to Corpus Christi College and the University and apply for a DSIR grant. A year later he was sponsored by the Brush Electrical Engineering Company in Loughborough and he set about investigating “The instability of variable frequency induction motor drives when supplied from static inverters”. Whilst there his first son Robert was born at his home at Lensfield Road. During his time in Cambridge, Alexander learned to play squash, played hockey for Corpus and Cambridge City 1st elevens, and rowed for one of the lower Corpus boats in the bumps. In addition he began a lifelong addiction to keep fit regularly following the 11 minutes a day 5BX physical fitness programme published by the Canadian Airforce in 1964. Later Stuart was born in Rugby at 8 Bilton Road. Following completion of the PhD he was employed by Eurotherm in Worthing and worked for them for 3 years as Midlands Area Sales Engineer, setting up the Midlands Area Office in Rugby. In those days Alec lived above the office thereby giving the first 24/7 service for this company around.

Eurotherm had a policy of encouraging engineers to set up their own business and so Alec jumped at this opportunity and began solving technical problems for customers without conflicting with the interests of his employer.

Perhaps the best example was a new way of controlling welding machines used in construction projects by Babcock and Wilcox in Tipton, Birmingham. They were using a bulky rheostat to control the output from welders remotely and the problem was that the rheostat controlled the welder excitation of 0-15 amps at 0-30 volts. Hence there was a large volt drop when the rheostat was used with a long cable more than a few yards from the welder. This of course led to a large and unwanted drop in the welding machine output. On the kitchen table Alec developed a solid state controller using a low voltage thyristor stack purchased from AEI semiconductors in Lincoln. After several prototypes and some trials this proved to be very successful and several hundred were made on the kitchen table at £16 each for Babcock. Now the Babcock welders could work at any distance from the welding machine without any loss of output and Mr Norman MacDonald, Chief Electrical Engineer of Babcock, was a very happy man. From this small start W Controls was born and copies of the first sales records are still kept. The business was started at a bed sit in Narborough near Leicester shared with several students from Leicester University and later a new house was purchased in Carlton Avenue. After this larger premises were bought at Ashfield House, Blaby where John Michael was born

Gradually more products were developed including speed controllers for machine tools made by Jones and Shipman in Leicester and conveyor drives and process machinery. Later at the request of his brother he repaired an electric fishing machine and developed an improved model of which several were sold to Anglian Water and Yorkshire Water. This was the first of a range of machines and was called the WFC5. Another fishing machine to be used with a 3 phase generator was developed for Southern Water and gradually anodes and cathodes were brought in to the production schedule. This was in the 1970s and the first testing of electric fishing machines was carried out at this time in Brighton with the sound of an Amazon Grey parrot owned by the lady Fisheries Officer and brought to work in the office each day!

While in Leicester a helicopter operating company was established at Fosse House, Croft and two Bell 47 G3B1 machines were bought and used. Also, Alec's fourth son Richard was born here. Several charity events were helped using the helicopters. At one memorable Leicester Air Show the helicopter training instructor Johnny Johnson gave a flying demonstration of the Bell 47 showing the great capability and flexibility of this machine. Many people attending the show had a flight in one of the machines for £5 a go. Pilots Geoff Vooght, Ian Morris and Roger Cookson were employed as well as Gay Barrett as Chief Pilot. An Air Operations Manual was established and Ian Normand of the Civil Aviation Authority was the site inspector for all flight operations. Commercial operations were started and pleasure flying was conducted in North Wales during the summer time. The Bell 47 G3B1 models registered as G-CHOP and G-BGMU both employed high inertia rotor blades as well as turbo charged engines and these gave incredible safety and performance capabilities. Some of the records of the uses to which these machines were put can be seen here. Alec always insisted on a great safety record in all operations and on 5 occasions aircraft were quickly and temporarily landed in fields, once in a white out snowstorm, another time upon the perception of a smell of burning rubber in the cockpit (later found to be due to a farmer burning tyres in a field, smoke from which was drifting across the flight path). The third time was due to non VFR flying conditions en route to the Lake District and the 4th time when flying with the doors off on a very rare hot summer’s day one of the clip down seat cushions became loose in the cockpit. This is the beauty of flying helicopters, it is possible to land almost anywhere in an emergency and when flying cross country Alec always insisted that with a single engine it is advisable to fly around built up areas. Several trips were made to London and here there is a prescribed flight path en route to Battersea Heliport via Perivale down to Kew Bridge and along the Thames River to Battersea. The Bell 47 is fitted with electric and mechanical fuel pumps and both need to be operational. On one occasion the electric fuel pump circuit breaker would not remain closed and so Alec called the maintenance engineer Reg Bagwell at Midland Counties Helicopters at Droitwich and got permission to swap the cockpit light circuit breaker (same type and rating) for the inoperative fuel pump breaker and this was duly done to effect a temporary airworthiness certification for the aircraft. On the 29th July 1981 Prince Charles married Princess Diana and on this day a replica of Diana’s wedding dress was made in South Wales and a model wearing the copy was flown by G-CHOP to Coventry and Birmingham Airport in the afternoon and was featured with Roger Cookson flying the machine on ITV / BBC news in the evening.

Eventually word spread about the operation of the electric fishing machine products produced in Leicester and machines were supplied to the far corners of the earth. Later operations moved to Wolverhampton and the Quality control system of BS EN ISO 9001 was established to ensure all production and quality systems met the highest standard. Large orders were received from the Environment Agency in Wales and the UK during the 1980s and many of these machines are still largely operating today since they are easy to service, repair and test.

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