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Brake units


Can anyone out there confirm for me whether the brake units on the Phantoms were asbestos or not?
I have been diagnosed with stage 3 to 4 lung cancer and believe there may be a connection, as I have never smoked.

Thanks guys

All the best


Re: Brake units

Just read your post to the forum Dave. You must be devastated. Just got my phantom course notes out and there is no mention of any asbestos content in the M or k versions. I am sure if there was it would have been in the safety and servicing notes. I will have a look at the manufacturers notes that was issued with the Phantom delivery. Just need to remember where they are. Silly question but is your condition definitely asbestos related?
Mitch Phillips

Re: Brake units

Hi Martin

Thank you for taking the time to reply. Yes it is devastating news for the family and very unexpected.

There is a cancer called Mesothelioma which is DEFINITELY caused by asbestos, which is very bad and the consultant thought I had that, and the life expectancy is only about 12 - 21 months. I have a different more common (but still bad and incurable) cancer which for most people is caused by smoking, but I've never smoked, or been in a smoky environment. There is no family history of cancer and my consultant says it was almost certainly caused by exposure to asbestos. I was working as a rigger on 29 Squadron Phantoms for seven years, and suspect that is where my exposure occurred.

There are websites that detail how aircraft mechanics were exposed to asbestos dust



Re: Brake units

This is a fantastic site for all us ex tomb engineers, but the forum is completely public. If you need to contact me please feel free to private mail me at

Re: Brake units

Hello Dave, first of all i am sad to hear of your diagnosis. If it's any help then rather than chase brake units, look at the type of build the hangar was. Many RAF hangars were built with a large proportion of asbestos in them as a fire retardent. Only a couple of years ago the Hangars at Linton had to be evacuated and cleaned as asbestos was found in them. I cannot recall the construction of our hangar on 29 Sqn but I do recall that when the heating system in the ceiling was installed in the late 70s, the material used to insulate the air pipes was like a silver foil packed with a substance which looked like a mix of fibres, possibly some kind of fibreglass, or maybe even asbestos, but that is just a guess. . The 41Sqn hangar, later BBMF Hangar was pannelled with asbestos, I clearly recall having to replace some of them whilst on 41. I wish you well Dave and my thoughts are with you and your family. GM

Re: Brake units

Hi Gary,

Good to hear from you and thank you for your kind wishes,and I hope you are keeping well

Thank you for your memories and you are right in that during this period many hangars contained asbestos in the construction and the lagging of the hangar ducting. I do feel however that I was most directly exposed during my aircraft maintenance,

Asbestos in aircraft can be found in several aircraft components. Including engine and electrical insulation, asbestos blankets, brakes, cockpit heating system, heat shields for engines, torque valves, gaskets, electrical wiring and insulation in the cargo bays.
Asbestos content can be relatively high in the brakes, ranging from 16 to 23% by weight in some types. This suggests that people employed in aircraft maintenance-repair work, including brake replacement, might be at risk for asbestos disease.

I believe this asbestos exposure issue for aircraft mechanics will become a bigger issue as latency can be as short as 10 years or as long as 50, but the average length of latency for malignant mesothelioma is 35 to 40 years between exposure and diagnosis. Because the latency period for mesothelioma can vary from patient to patient, so too does the age of onset of the disease vary. I feel that this issue will peak and then die out, as sufferers pass away and there is much lower risks with more modern aircraft.

After leaving the RAF I remained working for many years as an aircraft maintenance engineer on old pre 1970 cargo aircraft, where I believe my exposure continued.

Thanks again Gary

Re: Brake units

Thank you for the prompt reply Dave, I am fine thank you and thank you for asking. I was concerned to see that brake units contained so much in weight as part of its construction. I knew that old aircraft did have some level of asbestos, but I wasn't aware of the extent of the problem. I know that you never smoked, Dave, but in those days we were subject to high levels of passive smoke in the crew rooms, bars and pubs. Especially the crew rooms when there was a large percentage of smokers. I looked at the instances of related illnesses involving aircraft people on the internet and as you say, there is a cause for concern to the many who worked in that environment.
Thanks again for the message and stay in touch.
Gary M