Major engineering award for Sumburgh Head Foghorn

The Sumburgh Head Foghorn was awarded a prestigious Engineering Heritage Award by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers this morning.

Sumburgh Head project manager John Mackenzie welcomed past President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Bill Edgar who performed the official unveiling of a plaque in the engine room.

Also in attendance was Brian Johnson who was responsible for the repair and restoration of the foghorn itself during the wider restoration works on the site. Brian worked for many years as an occasional keeper and lighthouse engineer for the Northern Lighthouse Board, he joined the Trust in 2007 and although now retired, he still keeps the foghorn operational.

Previous winners of Engineering Heritage Awards include Alan Turing’s Bombe at Bletchley Park, the E-Type Jaguar and the fastest ever Concorde.

Mr Edgar said: “The Sumburgh Head Foghorn is a magnificent feat of engineering that helped ensure safe passage for countless sailors navigating the North Sea for over 80 years.

“But this award not only honours the great feats of the engineers who created the horn but also the wonderful work of John Mackenzie and the rest of his team at the Shetland Amenity Trust who restored the foghorn to the wonderful condition it is in today.”

Mr Mackenzie said: “As a chartered civil engineer, I am so pleased to be tasked with receiving this award on behalf of Shetland Amenity Trust and the Sumburgh Head project. 

“At the outset of the Sumburgh Head project we had a vision to create something special. Shetland Amenity Trust has received many awards for various projects, this is the first engineering award that the Trust has received, is arguably the most prestigious of all and surpasses our expectations. The award is a just reward for all the hard work and great teamwork from the design team, contractors and Trust staff, with special thanks due to our own ‘lighthouse artificer’ Brian Johnson and the Mechanical and Electrical staff at Irons Foulner Consulting Engineers Ltd.” 

The foghorn at Sumburgh Head last sounded in 1987, just before the automation of the Lighthouse Tower and the last Keeper left his post in 1991.  The light is now operated remotely from the Northern Lighthouse Board offices in Edinburgh.

Following extensive repair and restoration, on Thursday 15 January 2015, the final stage of testing was carried out on the Sumburgh foghorn.  After previous ‘silent’ tests where air was passed through the horn with no sound, the motor was engaged and the horn sounded out over the sea for the first time in 28 years.


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