By Sqn Ldr Michael J Cawsey GD Eng RAF Rtd.
Chapter One – First Tour for a Direct Entry Flight Engineer
A strange title but nevertheless true, I served thirty seven and a half years in the Royal Air Force, flew over 12,000 hours in seven major types, but my home stations were all in England.
Let me start with enrolment at Cardington in March 1950. I had been an ATC Cadet in three different squadrons 263 at Acton Technical College, then secondly 1413 Ealing Squadron at Ealing Library and finally 342 Ealing Squadron in Hanwell. I was a cadet FS and had been to camps, experienced flying in a variety of types, and obtained a gliding certificate in Daglings and Cadets at RAF Halton. During this period I also learnt to shoot and became quite proficient at .22 rifle target shooting under the influence of an instructor from the Ealing Police Rifle Club. I purchased my own rifle, an ex-German military bolt action .22 Mauser. Not quite up to the high standards of the Martini Action target rifles generally in use, but with competition sights on it I did remarkably well, and I subsequently took this weapon into the RAF with me and used it in the Wales and Monmouthshire League competitions.
My appetite for the RAF and flying had been whetted and I made an application to join the RAF as aircrew. The letters PNSEG on the application form indicated that I wanted to fly at all costs and any trade would be acceptable. After attending the aptitude tests at RAF Hornchurch I was offered SEG, and I elected for and was accepted for training as an Air Engineer.
I enlisted at RAF Cardington on 27th March 1950 and met the other five who were to form the initial part of the course intake at No 4 School of Technical Training at RAF St Athan. John Land, Maurice Pavitt, David Johnston, Mike Laker and James Mutsaars. Our Course No 12 consisted of three phases each scheduled for six months, first basic where we did all of our initial service training, metal bashing and academic work. Plus, of course Aircraft Recognition, sport PE and basic aircraft systems. For phase two of the course, 12 ex-tradesmen who were all Fitter IIs, Airframe and Engines and even an Electrician, joined us. They were invariably ex-RAF Apprentices, and whilst they were clearly the senior men they were not made course leaders a job retained for the new boys, but they were placed in charge of our billets. On East Camp we lived in wooden huts heated by two Tortoise stoves, and that was another learning curve keeping them lit on the frugal fuel supplies.
On the second phase we concentrated on system components, whilst the final phase was to look at Gas Turbine Engines, and Aircraft Systems, Performance, and even Engine Running which was practised in a Miles Magister, an Avro York and a Lincoln. The flying experience consisted of four exercises in a Lincoln to handle the controls, and practise Log Keeping. This experience amounted to fifteen hours of which nine was a single night flight!
The time was early in 1951 and clearly with the changing situation in the Far East and the planned introduction of the English Electric twin-jet Canberra bomber, the demand for Flight Engineers was about to change dramatically. Our course was abridged and we passed out with a Brevet (E Badge) but still as Cadets with the large arm badge. It had previously been the practice for the cadets to be made up to E IV towards the end of the course, and move into a separate mess as a first stage in their NCO training, and then to have the Brevet presented on graduation. An E IV wore a single star within his laurel arm badge, the ex-tradesmen having a pale blue stars, and the Direct Entry Engineers had a white ones. There was also a pay differential with the ex-tradesmen being called Engineer (A) and we were, of course, (B) this anomaly was eventually removed some time in 1968 when all of the (B) engineers were allowed to sit an examination and remuster to Air Engineer (A).
On leaving St Athan, the courses were posted to a holding squadron prior to attending an Operational Conversion Unit for Type training. The Short Sunderland, Handley Page Hastings and Avro Lincoln were the main types. I was posted to RAF Hemswell where I was attached to 97 Squadron. We arrived as a total anomaly, cadets with a Brevet, we were a sort of outcast. Clearly in need of an Aircrew Mess, which only existed on one RAF station, maybe a stage above the Airmans Mess, yet not promoted to Sgt. We lived in a Drying Room, and ate behind a partition in the Airmans Mess. The Squadrons did not really want us, although we did a bit of flying as 2nd engineers, and some practical training in the hangars, even learning how to service the Tiger Moth which was present on all squadrons for pilots to keep their hands in on light aircraft. My companions at that time were Dennis Crowson and Fred Coates, and we spent many days working on the Station Farm or keeping out of sight there.
Shortly afterwards our promotion to Sgt came through backdated to when our Flying Badge was awarded, which was 8th May. Around about this time there had been a very significant increase in the pay scales and we were all highly delighted with our back pay. By the time my Type Course started at 230 OCU, RAF Scampton in September 1951, the confusing aircrew ranks introduced in 1946/7 had all but gone.
For the record I will try and clarify them, and their insignia; a cadet simply wore on the upper arm a light blue embroidered laurel wreath with an eagle facing rearwards above it, an E IV had a single star in the middle of a pair of laurel leaves surmounted by a woven eagle, an E III had two stars, an E II had three stars, and an E I had three stars and a Crown above the eagle and was equivalent to a FS. The Master Engineer had a Coat of Arms badge within the top of the laurel leaves, and the eagle was placed where the stars had been. As a Warrant Officer equivalent rank badge it was worn on the lower sleeve as it still is today. For the purists the badge for Warrant Officers remained, but was later made from a Navy Blue Cloth and the woven eagles were replaced with gilt ones.
On the first day of
the OCU all of the crewmembers gathered in a large room, a mixture of ages,
experience, ranks and trades. There were first tourists and the more
experienced youngsters and those more mature. Ranks were Sgts through to Flt
Lts and trades being Pilots, Navigators, Signallers, Engineers and Gunners.
Those who had been around and knew the score, quickly sorted themselves into a
crew, whilst the greener ones found themselves wandering around asking who
still needs a navigator or whatever. This had been a traditional method of
crewing up and had worked well as a system over the years.
During my time at Scampton on the course, I first became aware of the realities and dangers involved in flying. An overconfident pilot shut an engine down for a high coolant temperature on a solo flight, his landing was not that spectacular and as a result he attempted the impossible – an overshoot from the three engined landing. He left the runway traversed the airfield, clipped a hangar and came to rest in the 25 Yard Range where the aircraft exploded and burnt. Sadly all of the crew did not survive and this tragic accident brought the reality of the saying “I learnt about flying from that” home to me. If the Pilots Notes, as they were then, say it is not possible to go around from a missed landing on asymmetric power then that is a fact, the word must or must not was mandatory in the handling instructions.
Later on during the course my crew headed by Flying Officer John Shingler managed to leave the runway after four engined landing during a Saturday morning solo exercise. Out on the airfield were two teams playing football, our Lincoln trundled along parallel to the goal posts, with players scattering in all directions. The starboard outer propeller managed to turn the wooden crossbar into many fragments as the rotating blades went CHOP CHOP CHOP along it, pieces going in all directions.
My OCU was actually done with an arm in plaster, as shortly after starting it I had an accident with my newly acquired ex-WD 350 Ariel Red Hunter motor cycle. I was out at Dunholm Lodge airfield following a very experienced motorcyclist called Junior Dunstan, also a flight engineer on the course, but on a corner and travelling too fast, I ended up on the wrong side of the road and clipped a car coming in the opposite direction. From my position in the bottom of a muddy ditch I clearly remember my first thoughts were are my teeth still intact as I ran my finger along them? They must have been good teeth developed from school milk as I still have them 50 years later.
After a couple of
days with my very swollen and painful wrist strapped up, and X-rays at RAF
Nocton Hall, my arm was eventually encased in a plaster cast due to a fractured
scaphoid bone in my left wrist. The crew had to assist in getting my kit on
board, and I sat at a very strange angle in order to follow up on the throttles
for take off, but we got by. I was exceptionally allowed to continue flying, as
there had already been a loss of an engineer from another crew on the same
The definition of a Flight Engineer’s duties and responsibilities was given in an Air Ministry Order. A262/42 as amended by 681/42.
To operate certain controls at the engineer’s station and watch appropriate gauges as indicated in the relevant Air Publication. To act as a pilot’s assistant on certain types of aircraft, to the extent of being able to fly straight and level and on a course. To advise the captain of the aircraft as to the functioning of the engines and the fuel, oil and cooling systems both before and during flight. To ensure effective liaison between the captain of the aircraft and the maintenance staff, by communicating to the latter such technical notes regarding the performance and maintenance of the aircraft in flight as may be required. To carry out practicable emergency repairs during flight. To act as a standby gunner.
In reality that definition provided a sound basis for what evolved. The flight engineer was a pilots assistant, technical supporter, systems handler, limitations minder in addition to being able to relate to the ground crew, and if necessary carry out simple repairs. He was also required to be competent to service and replenish the aircraft in the event that it landed away from support.
Not listed in the
AMO, was a most important function which is Weight and Balance. All aircraft
were weighed periodically, and their Basic Weight and Moments listed. Once
allocated an airframe, the weight of the crew, stores of fuel, bombs, and
ammunition had to be added to the basic weight, and their moments calculated.
The moments divided by the weight would produce a figure, which was the Centre
of Gravity (C of G) for take off. This had to be within the limits published
for the aircraft type in order for the machine to fly with good control
response and handling characteristics.
Before flight an extensive external inspection was carried out, checking on the overall condition of the machine, tyres for wear, cuts and creep, generally for oil, fuel, hydraulic and coolant leaks, security of control surfaces, and the function of all external lighting. Ensuring the removal and stowage of control locks and jury struts, pitot head covers and static plugs. Once inside all emergency and safety equipment had to be checked and stowed, Elsan secure and closed, control runs unobstructed, emergency hatches secure and upper surfaces and filler caps secure, hydraulic reservoir level correct and accumulator pressure checked.
On the flight deck or cockpit as it was then, the emergency air knob had to be wire locked. The supply of spare fuses and bulbs, Very pistol and cartridges checked, then all switches and lights were checked, and system controls placed in the correct position. Fuel and oxygen contents had to be checked and recorded in the engineers log. I can remember at the Lincoln OCU each student had to sit in their flight seat and be able to touch any control or switch nominated by the instructor whilst wearing black goggles. During flight a log was maintained of all power settings, the indicated and predicted fuel consumption, and fuel remaining, calculating range and endurance information.
The engineer, in
response to pilot demands carried out Landing Gear and Flap selections, but
pilots operated their own control for the Bomb Doors. Engineers started
the engines and carried out the Run Ups and Power Checks when required. Apart
from taxiing and initial take off power application when asymmetric power was
invariably needed to control the swing, and maybe the landing, all in flight
power settings (cruise control) and propeller synchronization were carried out
by the engineer, listening to the beat or noting shadows between the props.
Coming back to real time we graduated as a crew and were posted to 12 Squadron at RAF Binbrook. The Conversion had taken four months and we had flown 96 hours, almost half at night, which was going to be the pattern for future flying in Bomber Command. My time on “Shiny 12” was only three months, in that time I flew with six different skippers, learnt about “Gee” bombing systems, did an airtest for the first time and flew a sortie out to a Weather Ship, where we dropped a container of mail, and then ended up on three engines for 4 hours. High Level Bombing and Air to Sea firing were regular events; I physically flew the aircraft for about 14 hours and added another 77 hours to my Logbook.
This rapid escalation of experience was brought to a close with a couple of delivery flights to RAF Waddington, on one of these I was with a pilot called Bob Harrington and when we arrived at the aircraft I discovered one of the prop blades had been bent at the tip by a vehicle probably a tractor. We discussed the situation and I sent for a couple of large hammers and the tip end was brought back into line and as it was a very short hop over to Waddington and we were very light we agreed to take it. These deliveries were brought about by the introduction of the Canberra into RAF Service and the Binbrook squadrons were the first to be equipped. Flight Engineers, Signallers and Gunners were of course not needed on this new machine and we were all put up for disposal.
At Binbrook one of
the pilots on 12 Squadron was FS Michael John Cawsey, exactly the same name and
initials as mine, however he was married and lived in Married Quarters, and I
lived in the Sgts Mess, all mail was handled by the RAF Post Room!
Whilst at St. Athan, I had learnt to dance in the City Hall at Cardiff courtesy
of the girls from the Coal Board who were short of partners. Being near Grimsby
I started dancing at the Gaiety Ballroom and met a young lady Elizabeth Hinds,
who sent a rather personal letter to a Sgt MJ Cawsey, RAF Hemswell etc. This
letter was delivered, in error, to the other Mike Cawsey’s Married Quarter.
Needless to say it was opened by his wife, and caused a great upset when he
came home for lunch and denied all knowledge of its contents. I eventually got
a very crumpled letter later that afternoon when all had been sorted on the
domestic front. Liz was an excellent dancer and with a slim figure and great
looks was the winner of the local Beauty Queen contest. We were engaged for a
while, and even kept in touch after the engagement ended, I had the ring
returned to me and that provides another story later.
The early Canberra was Avon powered and at that time the engine inlet guide vanes were simple two position ones. The thrust generated is controlled by the pilot’s throttle demands, but high power is not instantly obtainable until these vanes have changed position to allow a maximum airflow into the engine. One of the earliest accidents to the Canberra occurred when a pilot tried to overshoot in a snowstorm, his demand for a very rapid increase in power, caused an uneven response from the engines, higher thrust on one side than the other, and with the low airspeed the aircraft became uncontrollable and crashed. After I left Binbrook my own original crew John Shingler, Jim Pemberton, and Harry Hawkes were all killed when, after inverter failure and loss of some instruments their aircraft flew into Sixhills at Market Rasen on 10th November 1952.
Posted back to Hemswell and 97 Squadron I was crewed up with Sgt Ken Marwood. Ken was a masterful pilot and really believed he did not need any help from me. We had a number of disagreements before settling down to work well as a team. He had a stable crew which produced exceptional bombing results and that was the yardstick of success. I remained crewed up with Ken until he went to be commissioned in early 1953. I did not believe I was being utilised to best of my abilities, and had ideas of getting a posting onto Hastings or even Washingtons, so I applied to change aircraft type.
At the time, the Squadron Commander was Sqn Ldr Terrence Helfer, sadly, I cannot remember his decorations, but he certainly had some, and always wore a black flying suit when the rest of the RAF wore grey! He called me in for an interview and really worked me over verbally. At the end he said well Cawsey the choice is yours, as a result of the Lawrence Minot Bombing Competition, your crew has been selected to fly to the United States of America to participate in a bombing competition. You can have this application back and go with us, (he was going as well) or I can process it and you may or may not get a posting but you will not have this trip. Of course I rescinded the application and went back to the crew room to spill the beans.
On the squadron we had eight airframes, and ours was RA713 “B” this aeroplane became a very personal thing and we nurtured it and always wanted the latest and best fitted to it. The Bombing Competition was the Strategic Air Command Bombing and Navigation Competition, an annual event. Two Lincolns from Hemswell and two Washingtons from RAF Marham were going, and it was being held at Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona, the hosts were the 63rd Bomb Squadron.
Preparation got underway, the engines were replaced if necessary, new wheels fitted, the aircraft serviced in anticipation of being away for a month. In addition two 400 gallon fuel tanks were fitted in the bomb bay and a pannier to carry spares and tools for the trip. The Overload Fuel tanks, which increased our capacity to 3650 gallons, were piped into the normal fuel system inboard tank. There were no tank selectors on the Lincoln, fuel feeding by gravity into a collector tank, which fed the engines, this in turn meant that transfer could not be started until the main inboard wing tank level had dropped enough to accept a transfer and the outer tanks, fed by gravity, emptied first.
On the Atlantic crossing we stopped at Keflavik, then onto Ernest Harmon AFB, our aircraft had no problems with the fuel transfer, but we did spend 6 hours out of the 10 on the flight in cloud at about 1500 feet. With no Anti Icing or De Icing fitted we had little choice but to stay low, and with our altimeter set on 1013.2 we later discovered the atmospheric pressure at the centre of the depression was 980 so for some of the time we had been flying at about 500 feet above the sea in cloud. After our arrival in Stephenville there was no sign of the other Lincoln RA677 flown by Sgt Split Waterman. Eventually it arrived but desperately short of fuel. Trouble with the fuel system transfer and the loss of nearly 400 gallons of fuel due to a leaking connection due to a misaligned olive, had caused them to reduce power and fly slowly in an effort to conserve what little fuel they had. A very primitive system, which would not meet any safety standards in this day and age, where the aircraft was committed to continue the crossing on the assumption that the transfer would take place!
concepts would reverse the order in which fuel was taken from the wing in order
to provide a relieving load and reduce stress and upwards bending in the wing.
For the flight from Earnest Harmon we did a leg to Westover AFB Massachusetts
in just over 5 hours, then onto Davis Monthan on that final leg we flew for
almost eleven hours, at about 5000 feet and had a superb view as we crossed the
On arrival we discovered that the Lincoln did not have the range to complete the full route set for the competition even with our overload tanks, so the competition route was suitably shortened for us, and our results became comparative against the B29s, B50s and B36s.
Arriving on 30th Sep, we left again for the UK on 22nd Oct. Giving us just over three weeks at Davis Monthan for the competition and recreation. Dealing with the competition, we did three practice sorties and a final airtest. A flight to Sathurita bombing range near Phoenix where we did some high level practice live bombing, releasing 2 x 200 pounders. The next one was a radar cross country to Kansas and Dallas lasting nearly 10½ hours, and our final practice was bombing at the Wilcocks Range.
After the drop, Sqn
Ldr Helfer took the controls, and treated us to a low level tour of the Grand
Canyon. Our major problem turned out to be the new VHF radio, installed
especially for the trip, it had been borrowed from an Oxford aircraft and was
in fact some old Lend-Lease equipment, as I seem to believe the Washingtons
were. After breaking a number of ATC instructions and having a violation filed
against us, the USAF decided we needed a special briefing, and flew in an Air
Traffic Control Officer to defuse the situation.
The dawn of the competition was the following Monday, dusk would be a better description as our Take Off time was 2130 hrs, on the three nights we flew Monday, Wednesday and Friday. (The other aircraft flew the alternate nights.) We carried a USAF Major as Observer, and 2 x 500 pound bombs. We were the first off each night, from a 2500 ft field elevation; we then had to orbit climbing to clear the mountains at 15,000 ft, before setting course. Our sortie lengths were 12.20 on the first night, 12.30 on the second and 12.55 on our final night. That was more than a typical months flying time in the space of a working week, and we needed some rest.
Five hours after TO we arrived at Kansas City and completed a simulated bombing run by radar, 2½ hours later the same exercise at Dallas. Our (blind bombing) radar was known as H2S, it had a rotating antenna in a very large cupola under the fuselage, and the presentation was on a circular scope. The Radar Navigator lived under a black curtain during the run ins. Our simulated run scores were calculated by ground radar plots from the moment we called “Bombs Gone”. Our results were consistent at 250 yards for every run in the contest and this was a superb achievement. The next target was at Phoenix just 3 hours away and this was a ground assessment of a visual bombing attack on a drainpipe on the corner of a bank.
The final task 2 hours flying from Phoenix to a visual desert range at Tucson, to drop the 2 x 500 pounders before returning to Davis Monthan AFB. We had not been able to calibrate our Bomb Sight and as a result the visual bombing scores were not up to our UK achievements. That said, our crew results were the best RAF one, and on a comparative basis against all entrants we were in fifth position. The Americans had great difficulty in grasping the fact that mere NCOs captained both of the Lincolns and that the crews both contained officers.
The Merlin engines
made a noise which was a great attraction, and drew crowds whenever engine runs
took place, on one occasion an over enthusiastic member of our ground crew
operated the boost over-ride to obtain more power and noise but he forgot that
the pannier was laying below the belly. It was lifted and flew rearwards and
hit the leading edge of the tailplane causing considerable damage. Luckily this
incident happened shortly after arrival, the USAF technicians allocated to
assist us quickly cut the damaged skin and ribs away and created an immediate
repair scheme, with handmade ribs and a perfectly fitting new leading edge
section, the aircraft was quickly back to Combat Ready in plenty of time for
the competition. The Observers who flew with us were impressed with our
manoeuvrability and approach techniques, and of course the way we worked
together with little unnecessary chatter.
Whilst there, we had an great social life, being invited into many homes, and I stayed in touch with a USAF flight engineer for many years and he even turned up at my parents home for Sunday lunch without any pre warning. The drinking laws in Arizona were strict, with a minimum age of 21 to buy alcohol, Ken was OK at 22 but he didn’t look his age and I was only 20 and five months, so we had a few problems when out for a drink. I’ve Got Sixpence became our theme song, and we sung for our supper quite often. We were very short of dollars, only being allowed to draw $1.50 from our pay and about $3.00 in allowances on a daily basis.
On one of our off days, we went to the border at Nogales and crossed into Mexico, I remember stopping a few times in order to take in the scenery and take pictures. We had a good look around the border town and I believe only one guy from the RAF detachment got carried away with the offer of “You wanna buy my sister”. We discovered this after returning to the US side of the border and dashing to the toilet in the basement of a military building. There was a very large Medical Orderly there who demanded to know who had had “Connections” when this guy admitted he had, he was ordered to drop them and a very large hypodermic syringe connected with his rear end. This was normal US Military treatment for the prevention of venereal disease, and put our simple ET (early treatment) Room to shame.
Our route home was similar to the outbound one. 10 hours to Westover AFB for a night stop, then 4.20 to Goose Bay in Labrador, and finally a direct flight to Hemswell taking 11.05. My logbook tells me we flew 117.15 in 29 days, and our worst technical problem was the autopilot on the final leg. A great experience and achievement for a young crew, but thinking about it we were not really the youngest around for National Service Aircrew had been introduced and we called them our 18 week wonders, for they were flying aircraft like the Lincoln 18 weeks after joining the RAF!
A Lincoln returned from a sortie one day and landed on 3 engines, with the No 4 engine shut down and feathered to minimise the drag. When the crew were interrogated in order to establish the cause of the engine failure, they did not have any idea. “It suddenly feathered itself” so we came home was the statement. Once in the crew room it was fairly easy to find out what had happened. The engineer often eased himself out of his folding seat at the request of the navigator, and slid down into the nose compartment either to select or arm the bombs or set wind onto the bombsight computer. Invariably wearing a parachute harness loosely fitted. On this occasion he had eased down into the nose, carried out the Navigators requests, and returned to the cockpit. His harness had caught he No 4 Pitch control (RPM) lever and as he moved forward he had inadvertently moved it downwards and through the feathering gate causing the engine to stop rotating. Neither the pilot nor engineer understood what had occurred so they did the best thing and returned to base.
Another incident I shall never forget concerned a very keen 18 Week Wonder who wished to be trained on the Tiger Moth including the hand swinging of the propeller for starting. After a suitable period of training and explanation, I left this fellow with a Tiger Moth in the middle of a hangar to practice his procedures and inspections. Some time later he appeared at the crew room door ashen faced saying it’s live. Well a live prop is a liability and very dangerous, I accompanied him back to the Tiger Moth, the cowlings were open, fuel off, magnetos off, and throttle closed. I stood firmly in front of the engine, pulled the prop into position and gave it a brisk tug. To my horror and astonishment it was now live, kicking, and actually running it had burst into life despite my checks on Fuel and Magnetos.
As the crowd gathered (engine running in a hanger was not an authorised procedure) I rushed around to the left side of the cockpit and slammed the throttle fully open in an effort to stall the engine. Sadly it responded, I slammed it shut and looked up. He was standing by the right side of the engine with a cup-like object in his hand, at this moment it all became very clear. I shouted above the engine noise PUT IT ON, and as he leant forward arm outstretched behind the propeller, and did so the engine stopped much to my relief. The magneto switches route via the contact breaker cover, and if the cover is removed the magneto IS LIVE. He had been trying to observe the action of the impulse starter whilst turning the engine when it kicked him. The fuel had been on whilst he did some checks earlier and the carburettor was full of fuel. I suffered a lot of leg-pulls over that one but again I learnt about magnetos from that incident.
The Merlin whilst
generally very robust and reliable had to have its lubrication system carefully
primed after it was newly installed, and it may be that this next incident
could be attributed to that procedure. Ken and I were tasked with doing an
airtest after a No 2 Engine had been changed, it was late afternoon on 3rd Feb
1953, these flights invariably were carried out at max power for Take Off. We
had three options 3000 RPM +12 lbs Boost at the gate was our normal setting.
That is a manifold pressure of 12 psi above standard atmospheric or 54 inches
of Hg (Mercury). If the throttles were pushed through the gate about +18 lbs
(66.5 Ins Hg.) depending on field height would be supplied, but if the Tit or
Override was operated, the boost went to +21 lbs (72.68 Ins Hg.) It was
used when the aircraft was fully loaded, or other conditions were not
favourable. Or of course, to make an impression on a display flight with a very
lightly loaded aircraft when it positively leapt into the air.
On this take off we were well down the runway when a loud bang and power loss occurred. No 2 engine had seized and later we discovered that it had thrown a connecting rod through the crankcase. Ken brought the aircraft to rest, and the man from Rolls Royce was not in the least concerned, saying it was a known problem.
On another occasion on Take Off the main wheel flange, which forms a removable rim decided to fracture. The tyre simply changed position, and was like a hoop around the oleo leg. The aircraft sank onto the hub, which dragged along the runway, and caught fire as it was being worn away by the runway surface. With the noise and vibration, the lowered wing and reduced acceleration, the TO was abandoned and the aircraft stayed on the runway due to the skill of Ken in keeping it straight. The fire was extinguished and the long-term damage was limited to the brake hoses, wheel and tyre.
Late in February 1953 Sgt Graham Smith arrived on 97 Squadron, posted in from Waddington to replace Ken. He was a superb pilot as well and we became great friends. I see from my logbook that we often flew in the Tiger Moth together, as well as in the Lincoln, which now seems to have assumed the role of Gee-H Bombing.
Bomber Command was a regular spoiler of weekends with exercises on Saturday nights. They came under the code names such as Bulls-eye, Backchat, and so on. All of these exercises were started with a large preflight meal, and finished with the great British fry up. The Exercise Briefing followed the preflight meal; many of these exercises were flown with a maximum command effort, all aircraft on the same route in darkness and without Navigation or Resin lights [Editor’s note, coloured lens lights similar to Formation lights]. When the exercise was complete each aircraft passed through a gate position and put their lights on, this was when the sky lit up and you realised how many other aircraft were around you. Above, below, ahead, astern, to left and right.
I am pleased to say that the system of timing seemed to work, and the collision record was small, although there was, I believe one such incident. After landing the De-Briefing Technical to establish how the aircraft were standing up, defects, fuel consumption and performance were all dealt with, and then an Operational De-Brief when all aspects of the flight, bombing, radar, navigation, weather, other aircraft attacking, seen or heard, rations and beverages etc.
That last word has brought to mind an incident, which happened on one of our longer flights: We were all on oxygen from start up at night and 10,000 ft by day as our operational altitude might be anywhere from 15-25,000 ft. It was usual for one of the gunners to be in charge of the hot drink thermos flasks these were a large variety and usually stowed by the Rest Bed or rear spar area. In the early days we carried two gunners one in the Mid Upper in charge of the 20 mm cannons and tail-end Charlie in charge of his .5” Brownings. Later the Mid Upper was removed and the top fuselage faired over. Oxygen economisers and supply hoses were strategically placed in the fuselage to allow crew members to move back and forth with the Elsan being down by the rear door.
Having decided a hot
drink was in order the captain called the gunner and asked him to do the
business, he responded and we waited. He arrived at the spar area and lined up
the paper cups, after filling them he tapped the signaller on the arm to set in
motion the pass along the drink routine. Instead of giving him the hot drink he
grabbed the signallers oxygen tube, and disconnected him from his supply,
picked up a cup of steaming beverage and proceeded to pour it into the Oxygen supply
pipe. At this point we had a Gunner suffering from Anoxia ([Editor’s Note – now
called Hypoxia] Oxygen Shortage) and a signaller at risk of becoming so. The
situation was quickly sorted out but it was a real life demonstration of the
loss of brain and physical ability and facility so often demonstrated in the
”Sunray” was the name given to an exercise, which enabled crews to experience long-range overseas flights, a variation in operating conditions, and the opportunity to carry out some daylight bombing during the winter months when the weather in the UK was not suitable. The Base Station was RAF Shallufa in Egypt, located between Fayid and Suez at the southern end of the Bitter Lakes. The whole squadron would fly out usually with five minutes between departures and our detachment left base on 3rd March 1953 flying first to Idris, Tripoli. The original name of this station was Castle Benito named after its builder and founder Benito Mussolini, it was renamed Idris after the King of Libya.
The first leg took just under eight hours and after a night stop we took off again for Shallufa this leg being just over five hours. Our detachment arrived back at Hemswell on 1st April, we had flown sixteen sorties plus the four legs out and back, just over 83 hours. During the detachment we carried out regular visual and radar bombing, gunnery air to ground exercises, and simulated gunnery during fighter affiliation, when the aircraft is flown fairly violently in corkscrew manoeuvres in an attempt to stop the fighter getting hits with his cine film gun cameras.
We also had a fighter affiliation exercise called “New Moon” with the Turkish Air Force. This involved a transit to Nicosia and back with a couple of days in Cyprus. During our exercise we had a couple of frights, we were briefed to take as many photos as possible whilst on this sortie, but all was to be destroyed in the event of a forced landing.
The terrain was very mountainous but we were not briefed to expect any unusual weather phenomena, as it turned out we were not the only crew to suffer this terrifying experience. We were cruising at 15,000 ft when the speed started falling, power was increased and the RPM put up to 2650 max cruise, speed was still falling and the aircraft starting to descend. The throttles were placed at the TO gate and RPM up to 2850 the maximum apart for TO. We were still in trouble so RPM was selected to 3000 and the throttles were pushed through the gate for what it was worth. The mountains seemed to be getting closer and closer, Graham looked grim faced, we had all the power available and the drift down continued at the minimum speed he dared to fly at. I think we all had visions of curtains and our lives flashing through the mind, surely it could only be a matter of time. We had parachutes of course but it did not enter into the sequence to think of baling out. The fight for speed and stability went on and eventually the VSI showed level and the speed started to increase again. Colour returned to the boss’s face and the mountains slid by just under the aircraft. Progressively we regained our cruising altitude and speed and the power was reset for a normal cruise.
During debriefing we would not leave it alone, but it did not seem we were believed. Of course a lot is known now about standing waves, but at that time they were generally unheard of. We had settled down after that when the i/c burst into life “mid upper to pilot – attack attack from the port beam” when interrogated he had seen two Turkish fighters in a tight turn coming for us, white puffs were visible and he was convinced we were being shot at. It eventually turned out to be condensation or vapour coming off their wings in the tight turns. Sanity returned as they came into formation prior to a session of real fighter affiliation and evasive action.
Enough excitement for one day we returned to Nicosia and after a break, set off back to Shallufa. At Shallufa I was rostered as Orderly Sgt, this was in fact the first time I had fallen for the duty in the 22 months since I graduated, and it was just my luck to discover I had a special duty. The Orderly Sgt had to raise the RAF Ensign just after dawn and lower it at dusk, accompanied by the Orderly Officer, who took the salute during the raising and lowering sequence. The drill was to fold the flag carefully, so that it could be broken out after hoisting (no training ever given for this one), a whistle blown would bring all traffic to a halt, and a further blast would indicate the ceremony was over. For my first effort, Queen Mary had passed away at the age of 85, and I was on duty on either the 24th or 25th March the day the ensign had to be flown at half mast – up to the top of the pole, break it out, pause, and lower to half-mast, and a reverse later in the day. I am pleased to say it went off without a hitch, another new experience gained.
Whilst we were away
on that trip, a Lincoln and its crew were lost in Germany. Most people will
have heard of Checkpoint Charlie the famous entry into East Berlin from the West,
but the Berlin Air Corridors may not ring such a familiar note. In order to get
to RAF Gatow, Berlin, in the British Sector aircraft had to fly through the
tightly controlled Air Corridors, in this instance from Hamburg. On this
occasion a Lincoln was transiting the corridor, and maybe it strayed the truth
was never very clear, but instead of the usual buzzing by Russian MiG fighters,
it was attacked and as a result six of the seven crew members and the aircraft
Throughout the tour all engineers were checked annually by the Wing Engineer Leader, it was called a Basic Efficiency Examination and took place in two parts. The ground examination was a mixture of Oral questions, and questions requiring a sketch or diagram to answer, and a more practical walk around the aircraft and equipment. The flying test was simply an observation by the examiner of one’s performance when flying the aircraft, straight and level, turns onto a specified heading, climbing and descending turns, the engagement and operation of the autopilot, and being able to trim the aircraft. Flying the aircraft was routine for most of us, we had to fly the Link Trainer to a reasonable level of proficiency and with only one aircraft per squadron fitted with dual controls had to be adept at swift seat changing as there were not too many pilots who wished to be in the seat for the total duration of our flights. At the end of my tour I had logged 155 hours at the controls and over 70 hours in the D4 Link trainer.
On 7th August 1953 our crew captained by Graham Smith were called out for an Air Sea Rescue Search over the Atlantic. We were trying to find an American B36, which had gone down. We departed Hemswell at 0610 in RA713 in my logbook only as ‘B’ and set course for RAF Aldergrove flight time 1 hr 20 mins, of which I flew the machine for an hour. After filling up with fuel, having a meal, and briefing we departed for the search area at 1045, on arrival we went down very low as the weather was almost on the sea, all of the crew were on lookout with the exception of the plotter and Graham who whilst looking when he could was concentrating on his low flying.
The sea was very
rough and the chance of survival minimal. It was well into the afternoon about
1515 when suddenly Norman Peach the Signaller who was in the nose called out
“We have just passed over a dinghy” the captain leapt into action like a big
spring being released: he gave an immediate instruction to the Navigator “Time
me 30 seconds, then 45˚ turn right for one minute, then a rate one turn left
onto reciprocal. All eyes out after the turn, signaller make a report to
HQ. Now eyes down”, and there it was a large grey dinghy, with what looked like
a body on it, there and gone if a split second. We fixed our position and climbed,
set up a holding pattern at endurance settings and became a control centre.
Eventually a ship came on scene picked up the dinghy and took over as
controller. At this point we set off back towards Ireland flying at our most
economical speed, Aldergrove was not available due to weather and we made for
Belfast Nutts Corner arriving there after 12.40 flying time, a quarter of it
being flown by myself. With a fuel load of 2850 gallons, we had probably pushed
prudence to the limit and attained the maximum that could be squeezed out of
that fuel load. I had only managed 12.55 on 3650 gallons out in Arizona!
Back on 97 Squadron the routine carried on, we worked on the Lawrence Minot Trophy Competition, completed exercise Momentum, had a night at Buckeburg and even did some formation flying for the Battle of Britain Flypast.
About this time we had a new Flight Commander Flt Lt Brindley F Ryan, he introduced a number of new ideas to our operating techniques, regular crew checks, and pre-nomination of various speeds, which had to be called during the take off. This is, of course, normal routine now but was an innovation at that time. Early in 1954 I note that Graham Smith is not featuring in my Logbook I suspect he also went to RAF Jurby on an OCTU Course. In March I flew with seven different captains, Flt Lts Williams and McGillvray, Master Pilot Harris, Fg Off Lambert, Sqn Ldr JJ Barr, Capt Hamilton USAF, and FS Ted Szuwalski.
The last named was to become a new running mate we flew a Lincoln five times in March and April, and during that time were selected to be one of four crews, two from 97 Squadron and two from 83 Squadron who would be flying the Lancasters which had been delivered for film work on The Dambusters. Three of the four airframes had been modified at Hemswell to enable them to carry what was supposed to represent the Bouncing Bomb used by 617 Squadron on the Dams raids. For our familiarisation we had a look at the Pilots Notes, examined the aircraft inside and out, ran the checks a couple of times and made sure we could start the engines. I had to get my First Line Servicing Certificate signed up to say I was competent to do the necessary when away from base. I now had Lincoln II, Tiger Moth, and Lancaster VII signed off.
The other pilots were Flt Lt Ken Souter, Fg Off Dickie Lambert, FS Joe Kmiecek, and I flew with them all during the six months we spent on this task. For our first flight, Ted and I flew to RAF Lossiemouth in NX782, stayed for lunch and then brought it home, nearly five hours flying and I had an hour on the pole. That was the sum total of our training. Three days later we were on Low Level Formation practice, followed by low-level runs over the dam on Derwentwater, we simulated the V Landing Lamps under the fuselage casting beams meeting on the water to establish flight at 60 ft. Next was formation runs over both Derwentwater and then Lake Windermere. After more formation flying and a stream landing at RAF Scampton the operation really got started.
There are many sequences in the film where the Lancasters were carefully positioned in the foreground, and the Lincolns from Scampton or Hemswell are in the background. The number of propeller blades three on the Lancs and four on the Lincs was the major give away, but they made a good background for the purposes of the film. Each time we flew there was filming activity of some sort, The Take Off, flying in formation, low flying, landings. The film crews travelled around to be at the various venues, there was an Oxford PH462 flown by Flt Lt Caldwell used for filming from, also a Wellington MF628 flown by Flt Lt Birch, and a Varsity WJ920 with the right seat and windscreen removed which was flown by Flt Lt Scowan, this aircraft had a tripod fitted instead of the right hand seat and was used for a lot of the air to air shots, there was also another Varsity WJ912 flown by Plt Off Mathieson used to facilitate the movement and filming.
We simulated a delivery scene at Scampton, with a low formation flypast and circuit, it was on this occasion that I learnt I had to be a mind reader as well, Ted was busy pumping the throttles as we climbed away between the hangars, but we were not holding station, I reminded Ted we only had about 2400 RPM and got the answer “WHY YOU NOT GIVEN ME MORE?” I set 2850 and we got back onto station. Ted spoke in a broken mid-European version of English as did most of the Polish and Czechoslovakian pilots and Air Traffic Controllers, it was generally understandable, but got more difficult as the adrenalin content rose.
One Sunday morning we were positioned at Syerston. The Lancasters were positioned in a semi circle around a dispersal pan, the film unit was in the centre and a refreshment van was supplying bacon sandwiches for breakfast. It was normal with the Lincoln and Lancaster to cool the brake sacks on arrival at a parking position by applying the brakes and releasing them a couple of times, and finally release the brakes when given a signal by the ground crew. We had no ground crew or chocks at this point and with the aircraft seemingly safe we left it standing with the long access ladder up through the Nose Hatch.
A scream from Ted told me we had a problem, and on looking at the bird I could see it was creeping forward. I ran to it and tried to climb the ladder but as I went up it started to come through the vertical and I had to abandon that method of gaining access to the brakes. I really ran to the rear door, threw myself in and clambered through the fuselage, into the cockpit, and grabbed the brake lever which was on the Control Hand Wheel, fortunately we still had some pneumatic pressure and the beast stopped just short of the filming equipment – no damage done but another of those “I learnt about flying from that” situations.
Most flying was done in formation, and we spent one session doing wheeler landings and rolling off them, this was not a normal activity on Lincolns! RAF Kirton Lindsey was a grass airfield about five miles north of Hemswell, it was used at that time for some form of training (probably pilot) we did a fair amount of activity there, the most exciting was our first visit. We were briefed to fly a circuit in formation and then land still in formation. The landing was not a problem in itself we were all down and rolling towards the north west corner in a neat gaggle, the grass was wet and retardation not particularly good. All aircraft were by now trying hard to stop before the perimeter was reached, but the Kirton Lindsey ground crew had picked out an aircraft each and were trying to marshal them to the positions required by the film crew – we were busy trying to stop without colliding with each other as the space available became narrower and the aeroplanes closer, I am pleased to say all ended well and the aircraft were later repositioned to suit the filming. After the formation landing we were tasked with a formation take off, not too much of a problem with this, but a considerable heave was experienced as we crossed the runways.
A more pleasurable experience was flying in formation around Lincoln Cathedral, an exercise not normally permitted. RAF Silloth was an airfield up by Carlisle, which had a Maintenance Unit on it. At the time of making the film the MU were engaged in breaking up Lancasters, and whenever we needed a part this is where it came from, taken off one of the aeroplanes in the graveyard. This was a very sad sight, engines cut off and lying on the ground, instruments smashed with a hammer, and the airframes reduced to aluminium waste for recycling as saucepans etc!
Oulston, and Biggin Hill were other airfields we visited, and the latter was for a Battle of Britain display. After the BoB display in mid September, we did not fly the Lancs any more, they disappeared from Hemswell as mysteriously as they arrived. The cinema in Lincoln was a daily meeting place for the aircrews, film stars, producer, director, lighting and other cameramen, continuity girls etc. etc. We gathered after the normal show, and viewed the Rushes which were the sequences filmed on the previous day. We also used other cinemas when we were working away from Lincoln.
In summary I flew
about 60 hours in the Lancaster whilst making the film, over 62 sorties, in all
four aircraft and with all four captains.
During the film making, PO Ken Marwood arrived towards the end of May in a Meteor VII WA592, and took me for a 45 minute spin, some aerobatics and a short period of hands on, the next time I saw him he was a Wg Cdr, and President of a Biggin Hill OASC Board.
Looking at my Logbook after this milestone I see the name FS Ryba, shortly after he arrived we had an inspection. The CO – Sqn Ldr Grant GD Nav stopped in front of Ryba, looked him up and down and asked, “Where do I know you from” the reply was of course in broken English and sounded like “You dropped zee bomb in mee Elsan”. They had met at a board of enquiry, this Navigator Squadron Commander had actually released a visual bomb, which had penetrated another Lincoln flying below it.
The squadron was by now concentrating on navigator training, which finally resulted in 97 Squadron and 83 Squadron becoming Arrow and Antler Squadrons and losing their numbers in Jan 1956. My last flight in a Lincoln was on 18th February 1955 with Brindley F Ryan, and I had 1369 hours on type, a number familiar to most officers as the dreaded Annual Confidential Report. I did in fact fly Lancaster PA474 The City of Lincoln later in my career.
Chapter Two – The Handley Page Hastings of Transport Command (TC)
In Bomber Command each individual had their name on a board run by the Flight Commander, and as the tour progressed the individuals Colour Code altered until on reaching the final colour it was time to be posted. My final colour must have expired in March 1955 for a posting to 242 OCU, RAF Dishforth was handed to me. I was delighted, it was for a conversion onto the Hastings, and that meant some overseas travel and a new challenge.
During my time at Hemswell I had changed the Ariel Red Hunter for a BSA 500 Twin, and then for a Matchless G9 500 twin, which was a much smoother runner and nearly new. It also had a rack and a couple of panniers, but still not enough capacity to move all my personal effects and kit in a single run. The OCU ran from March until July, four months compared to three for the Lincoln conversion. The ground school was quite long and covered a wider spectrum, and when the time to fly came we had already formed ourselves into crews, pilot, navigator, signaller, engineer, and quartermaster. (At this time they did not wear a brevet and were suppliers).
My captain this time was Flt Lt Des Divers. At the end of the ground phase there was a series of tests or exams, and when the results were published I could not believe my lowly placing in the Order of Merit. This led me to do some snooping one lunchtime when I found the offices deserted. Whilst in the Wing Engineers Office I located the test results, and they did not reflect the order of merit, which had been published, which was based on rank and experience, so as a Sgt with a single tour I was at the bottom. Clearly I had joined a system, which supported the old boy net from start to finish. Useful, but not in my interest at this stage, so I decided to rock the boat. After a number of interviews it was finally agreed that the places could be revised to indicate the order of placing to match the test results.
The Categorisation System in TC was much more formal with local examiners and the famous TC Examining Unit, which also had examiners for each trade. It was normal to leave the OCU with a “D” Category, which indicated inexperience or a poor result, and it limited one’s ability to carrying Freight or Troops! With a certain amount of effort and determination I managed to get “C” marks and assessments in all aspects of the course and left with a “D” recommended “C” which could be upgraded to “C” after I had sufficient experience on type.
There were minimum hours as well as test marks to be achieved. Flying started in early May and there were 31 exercises to complete, some of them were solo for the crew, the first after about seven hours. But as engineer I was solo before that, and my night flying check did not materialise at all, which can be read back that the Staff pilot instructors must have been happy with my performance. With all but the final exercise complete we set forth on the Route Training Flight, Dishforth to RAF Lyneham, which was the major Hastings base. Here the aircraft would be loaded and we would clear HM Customs. For the crews a night stop at Clyffe Pypard, a Transit Camp on the top of a Hill near Wootton Bassett. Service Transport was provided once we had been to Operations and booked the Meteorological Data for the route, and discussed the technical state of the aircraft and what fuel load was required. Once again hutted accommodation and stoves to manage, after getting spruced up and having a meal we walked down the hill to the “local” famous for its scrumpy cider and some of the locals who partook of it- they could be difficult to understand early in the evening, but by closing time even more so. The climb back up the hill was exhausting, and helped to ensure a good nights sleep.
Transport days started early, and breakfast, transport and briefing had all got to be fitted in before a typical 0600 departure. On this our trainer the routine was different and we arrived at 1100 and departed exactly 12 hours later for Gibraltar, a similar routine at Gibraltar and departure for Idris again after a 12 hour stopover. On all trainers the Staff or Screen Crew normally worked one leg and the leg to Fayid was theirs. Next stop was Luqa, then Lyneham and finally back to Dishforth. At each stop we were given a conducted tour of all of the facilities, messes, shops, ATC, Operations, where to order rations and early calls etc etc. At Lyneham it was invariably all baggage to be removed from the aircraft and a march through the Customs shed. In those early days it was a corrugated iron building and the severity of the process often depended on how good or bad Swindon Town had performed in their last match.
Each leg was debriefed both as a crew and as individuals. We arrived back at Dishforth on 6th July, and on the 7th, we flew our final exercise bringing our hours for the course to almost 106. At some stage I had asked about parachutes, having carried or worn one during my Lincoln tour, I got a strange look and was referred to a Transport Manual I believe it was called The Transport Force Supplement. On poring over this magic document which turned out to be a real bible full of pearls of wisdom, I discovered that they would be carried if the King or Queen were on board, or if engaged on Supply Dropping or Towing. Two days later I was at my new unit 24 (Commonwealth) Squadron at RAF Abingdon and in those days it was in Berkshire. Our crew had been split up and I seem to think I was alone joining the Squadron.
The routes were varied, but the bread and butter was Australia, the Near and Far East. On the OCU all the Hastings were Mk Is, but my first flight at Abingdon after two weeks leave, was in a Mk IV, captained by FO Bob Reynolds, who became my next-door neighbour some 10 years later – it was an airtest, and my acceptance flight, a good shake down. The Mk IV was similar to a Mk II but fitted out for Royal/VIP Flying, similar to the Mk II they had a much-modified horizontal stabiliser and were considerably easier to land.
A few days later I drew the short straw for a continuation training sortie with three captains FO Barrel, Flt Lt Pearson and the Squadron Commander Sqn Ldr Kerr there were no problems, and I was programmed the next afternoon to fly with Flt Lt John Connolly – he was a Wing Pilot Examiner.
We flew a few circuits of varying sorts, and he declared he needed to practise some Short Landings. A technique where the pilot calls for a progressive reduction of power on the approach whilst he gets the airspeed down to a minimum figure determined by the weight and just above the stalling speed, and then he calls for power increases until he has the aircraft settled at low speed and rate of descent, after crossing the runway threshold he would call for a Cut, the power was instantly removed and the aircraft sat firmly on the ground. Two of these approaches had been carried out, and we settled down to a third, power calls were normal and the aircraft was settled with plenty of power, I thought I heard Cut, repeated it and closed the throttles, a voice came back No – Standby to Cut (this standby call was a non-standard one) there was a crunch and a voice said Too Late. It was a heavy landing just short of the pavement. The right throttles went fully open and the aircraft came to rest after doing a curve across the airfield. Cut and Abandon was the next call and the Navigator, Signaller, and Copilot were hotfooting it down the fuselage to the rear door. John and I killed the fuel and electrics and made our way to the rear door, at which point I decided I ought to disconnect the batteries. I raced back up to the cockpit, up with the floor hatch, down the hole in the dark to the batteries at the back of the bay, trying to visualise in the dark which pair of leads to remove first. (With the +VE side of the batteries connected to the Airframe, if the +VE Links were half removed and allowed to touch the structure there would be a big flash, as they made a short circuit, and possibly even an explosion as the batteries give off hydrogen whilst being charged.)
After what seemed a lifetime I had done the job, and joined the others who were well clear of the wreck. The front spar on the starboard wing had sheared, and the wing rotated around the rear spar axis. Both Nos 3 and 4 propellers had feathered due to the extra loading in the control runs, and the starboard flaps were like plough blades digging in the grass, fuel was also leaking from the ruptured wing, and the fire service were now in attendance, much to our amusement complete with a short wooden ladder!
After a short inquisition we were transferred to the Medical Centre for an examination and tests, and finally released for lunch. After lunch John and I were separated and asked to write a comprehensive report of events leading up to the accident. Whilst we were waiting to hand them in to the CO, we read each other’s report and there were no significant differences. Later that same day our helmets and masks were tested and mine was declared to have an intermittent fault. That could well have been a contributory factor and I was later told that I should feel 5% responsible. Much more significant was the fact that there was not any Board of Inquiry, and by tea time we were told the fracture site revealed considerable corrosion and fatigue and it was going to fail sooner or later anyway.
The other side of
this story was the fact that on it was painted in large letters Johns No Two
very shortly after the event. I am not sure of the time scale, but John had
previously been inbound to the UK one night when the country was fogged out and
no airfields were accepting inbounds. In the pattern at Abingdon John saw a
clearance, they flew a circuit, saw the lights clearly and landed. It was
rather unfortunate that the landing was on a solid but thin layer of cloud with
the lights blazing through it. The aircraft of course stalled and dropped
firmly onto the runway and suffered a similar fate to the event described.
The Parachute Training School made good use of both of the fuselages for the parachutists to train in saving wear and tear on the line aircraft.
Two days after the heavy landing, I was on route, almost the same one that we did for the trainer: Lyneham – Luqa – Fayid – Khormaksar – Fayid – Luqa – Lyneham. In the last week of August I set off on a trip to Australia, the pilot was Flt Lt Keith Isaacs, Royal Australian Air Force. There was no formal crewing system on 24 Squadron. The various tasks were listed on a board which was passed around the sections, individuals made bids for trips they likes the look of and for those already away on route their leave bids were considered and they were slotted into suitable ones. Of course there were limitations to the allocations and Categorisation had to be considered when a task was identified as VIP at one end of the scale and Freighter at the other.
I enjoyed flying with Keith, and his warped sense of humour, and endeavoured to fly with him whenever it was feasible to do so. He was a smallish gentleman, and the Mk I Hastings was a bit of a beast at the final point on the landing. Keith could just not muster enough strength to heave back on the control column sufficiently hard to get the tail to lower, and at the critical moment he would issue a rallying call to the other pilot to heave with him. I used the term other pilot deliberately, for they were generally 2nd pilots – not qualified on type with an OCU course but just instructed locally where the various controls were. On other occasions a Co Captain flew in the RH Seat particularly if it was a VIP Flight.
A month after arriving at Abingdon I set off on my first long route, it took 17 days to complete, and we had a day’s rest in Australia at the half way point and in Singapore. The route makes interesting reading as names of places change and various countries became politically opposed to the military and landing became more difficult. This one was via Lyneham for customs and loading – Idris for a night stop, 12.30 actually on the ground, and out of that was taken putting the aeroplane to bed, a debrief with the Met Office, after flight and before flight meals, a generous helping of Marco’s Brandy Sours which seemed to be the recognised thing to drink, and of course some shut-eye.
The early call arrived with a cup of tea and the next day started usually before the sun came up. El Adem next for what was called a “Flag Stop” where the aircraft was only on the ground for 75 minutes. The next point of landing was in Iraq at Habbaniya up on the Plateau Airfield. There followed a coach ride down to the main camp where the desert had been transformed by irrigation and the roads were lined with palms and flowers. Up on the plateau was a forlorn Hastings, it had arrived there with a serious problem, and currently had 3 engines and a bulkhead, and I believe a fixed landing gear. All arriving crews were invited to fly it down to the main station – this request was generally declined, but eventually some adventurous souls did just that, it was repaired and returned to service. The staging posts as they were generally called were in the main large enough to sustain the normal mess system, where the crews split off to their respective messes, but at some stations there was an all ranks Transit Mess.
From here we set off again 12 hrs 30 mins later for Mauripur in Pakistan. Here the evidence of Imperial England was clearly visible with lots of officials, customs, immigration, papers and rubber stamps in evidence. The drive from the landing site to the accommodation was past miles of Shanty Town made from any scrap material that could be found and the odours in the air rather foul.
Our next stop was at Negombo in Ceylon, both of which have changed the airfield name more than once. A very different atmosphere and climate here, English beer, and a sample of the local curry, which was particularly, hot, and made its presence known again the following day when it passed on! Yet another new experience!
Next onto a rest stop at RAF Changi on Singapore Island. The airfield was at one end of the village and the All Ranks transit mess at the other. Being an overseas station it had all the usual messes and facilities including a golf course and a hospital. It was possible to walk from venue to venue but short cuts were not advised as the monsoon drains were hard and deep and took many prisoners as they staggered back to their resting place. Talking of prisoners, the now famous Changi Gaol was just past the airfield on the road to Singapore City, and it was here that many of the aircrew took their Flying Logbooks to have them bound into volumes.
Shopping, bartering, eating and drinking in the village were mandatory, and most crewmembers would have vast shopping lists, for presents etc. Cameras, Electrical Goods, Toys, Cycles, Tyres, Car Accessories, and even small TV sets for use from mains or 12 volt supplies – there was nothing which could not be obtained cheaper than in the UK. Suits and shirts made to order almost overnight, also ladies dresses made from patterns, or just to a size in a local design. Khaki Drill uniforms were also made to measure. At this time we were still wearing the original pattern and the overnight laundry service available in the messes brought the KD back looking like new and stiffly starched.
Changi Creek Transit Mess was exceptionally well laid out, with chalets, bar, dining rooms, lounge, reception and it looked out onto the creek over extensive gardens filled with colourful shrubs and lawns, and of course birds and butterflies in many brilliant colours. The boats plied up and down the creek, their engines chugging steadily, and on the other side was a coastal beach, which could be accessed by a short walk, in the distance were islands covered in vegetation. Further along the coast line towards Singapore was Bedo Corner an absolute haven for alfresco dining on the local cuisine prepared in front of your eyes on little stalls along the front. I would add that over the years things have changed and considerable building has now taken place on the reclaimed land at Bedo. The transit mess was also used as the pick up and drop off point for passengers, and there was limited accommodation for them as well.
After 36 hours we were on our way to Darwin almost 10 hours flying, and my first impressions of Australia. At that time before the big storm, Darwin was a shantytown on the north coast, many of the buildings of a temporary nature. It was hot and steamy on arrival and all windows and doors had to be kept closed. After parking the RAAF pushed some steps up to the rear door, and an Agriculture and Fisheries Inspector came on board, walking through the aircraft spraying an insecticide on the way, all unconsumed food, tins, packets, fruit, etc was stripped from our little ship and taken for incineration. The natives definitely seemed hostile, and it transpired that all the bad ones got a posting to Darwin.
Once clear of Customs and Immigration the crew left the engineer to sort the aircraft out, fuel and oil replenishment, hydraulics and pneumatics to be serviced, and last of all, the really nasty job. No – the Elsans (chemical toilets) were done by the Aussies; it was the Tecalemit Filters which had to be changed. This was done when a certain pressure difference built up across the filter giving an indication of its remaining efficiency. The higher the pressure difference, the lower its efficiency, hence the need to replace it. Almost 12” long and 5” diameter the filter was located in the engine nacelles, and it was a messy job involving the removal of the end cap, extracting the filter, inserting a new one and making sure the end cap resealed. Oil drained from the filter case, and had to be prevented from soiling the tarmac. It was hot work and very messy and I seem to think it always needed doing at Darwin.
Once the servicing was complete transport was provided to the billet, and here another shock was in store. All the indoor accommodation was already full so our beds were under the billet, which was on stilts to protect it when the monsoon floods were taking place. At least it was air-conditioned by nature although it seemed very hot and sticky inside the mosquito net. The showers and toilet facilities were also primitive and I can remember looking up at the back of the toilet door and seeing a line of toads sitting on the bracing bar observing the action. More of this, when turning to operate the flush there were more of them with their heads sticking out of the unused overflow orifice and where an alternative handle position was located. Eventually I get to the bar and discover they had some weird rules about when one could drink, and when at last the beer came it was so cold it was almost freezing, and it was in a tiny glass. Oh well the food was excellent, steaks anytime and generally good tucker – no wonder they were all big strong healthy boys.
The flight to Edinburgh Field, a military one just North of Adelaide, took 7 hours and this was more like normal accommodation, and the airfield a hive of activity. It was a ministry research and development base, and one of the projects was a Meteor being flown by ground control whilst the pilot sat and watched! On the rest day we managed a very quick visit to town, saw the shops, the gardens and zoo and the Murray River. The architecture was a mixture of early colonial wooden buildings and some very large brick structures with a very Victorian feel to it.
The return flight followed a similar pattern, the trip taking 17 days, and would be followed by a stand-down or Route Grant, as it was known. My next trip was a short one to Malta (Luqa) and Cyprus (Nicosia). The impression of Malta was one of brilliance, white rock in all directions, and buildings made from stone and similarly painted. The taxis and busses were well used and felt rather rickety, and all carried a model of the Virgin Mary in the proximity of the driver. The roads were poor, but the shops quite interesting, and I managed to purchase some 78 RPM records, which had long since been dropped in the UK. The transit messes were well organised and all servicing carried out by the Staging Post Staff. There were of course beaches and restaurants, but there was not time on this stop to investigate them.
My next long trip was my first Christmas out of the country. It was a freighter to Changi and we left Lyneham after being loaded with mattresses and oil stoves! The mattresses were easy to explain; as many beds down route still had old hair-filled ones and these were Dunlopillo. The oil stoves were for some of the near and middle east stations where it can get very cold at night in the winter months. We arrived at Changi on December 23rd. having followed the standard route, and did not leave until the 27th. The Trunk Route was closed down for the break. We were treated extremely well by the staff at Changi, and with a break that long many of us found friends on base to visit. At Mauripur on the way back we had an engine change, a chance to get stuck in and learn a bit more about the aeroplane and this added another two days to the schedule, and required an airtest before we set off again.
Further trips added Bahrain, Gibraltar and Car Nicobar to my overseas tally; the last one was not a routine stop for the larger transport aircraft, but the Vallettas of the Far East Communication squadron were a regular callers. During the period between January and March the EOKA problems took a turn for the worse and tensions heightened in Cyprus, I was involved with three detachments there, and times were not pleasant. On base at RAF Nicosia it was cold and muddy, and accommodation was at a premium we were even sleeping on the billiard tables in the Sgts Mess, or in the partially completed Air Traffic Control Centre.
As things got more organised some of the crews were shipped out to safe hotels, and the main one was The Castle Dome located up on the north coast at Kyrenia. The journey across the island was very tense, especially on the mountain roads where an ambush might be expected. We were all armed with Smith and Wesson revolvers, or side arms as the official designation went, and the RAF Regiment, travelling in convoy by Land Rover, escorted the crew coach. The hotel was quite up market and had many elderly residents staying for the winter season. The furniture was hand made and large with some excellent built in door mirrors, and this leads us to another event.
Weapons were supposed
to be loaded when going out into the town and kept unloaded in the hotel. Bugs
Bunny, a Sgt Quartermaster, was alone in his room playing scenes from a Western
with himself by practising being quick on the draw, and aiming at the door
mirror reflection of himself. You guessed there was a loud bang in the hotel
followed by the sound of breaking glass; he had loosed one off accidentally at
the reflection of himself in the mirror. The hotel was indeed a hive of
activity whilst both the military commander, and the staff established that we
were not under attack, where the noise emanated from, and what or where was the
broken glass. Bunny appeared from his room during the hubbub, and offered
himself as the sacrificial lamb. Needless to say there was some tightening up
of the gun regulations, an armoury was established, and a duty roster created
to control the guns and ammunition.
The next significant event was a flight with the Squadron Commander Sqn Ldr Bolt RNZAF to Fiumicino, we routed via RAF Turnhouse, Dijon and Istres. It was a support flight for 43 Squadron Hunters who were going to display at MAF 56. This was a major event staged to celebrate the opening of this new NATO Airfield. 43 Squadron were at that time the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team with their black Hawker Hunters long before the Red Arrows and the permanent Central Flying School involvement.
Operation Buffalo was the next challenge, and Operation Grapple followed this without a break apart from the flight from South Australia to Christmas Island. Departing Abingdon on 3rd August. We arrived back there on 11th November. The year was 1956 and the exercises were integral with the Atomic Bomb Trials in Australia and the Pacific. We carried two Captains, Sqn Ldr Bolt and FO Bob Reynolds who was an ex-NCO pilot, and later became my neighbour when I moved to Lechlade on Thames for a tour some 10 years later.
The flight followed the standard pattern up before dawn, or the crack of sparrows, as it was known, breakfast and away as the daylight arrived, landing in time for tea, a wash and brush up, then dinner, bar and bed was the standard order of the day. The route followed was also standard until we left Changi and had to call at Kemayoran Airport in Djakarta on this occasion and after a refuelling stop made our way to Darwin. The next day we arrived at RAAF Edinburgh Field, and settled ourselves in for an 18 day stopover. During that time we flew a variety of sorties between Pearce on the West Coast, Maralinga, inland and North of Adelaide, and Edinburgh. We also spent a few days at Maralinga with an item known as a Heavy Beam fitted to the underside of the aircraft. This was as its name implies, designed for heavy loads, which could of course be airdropped. On this occasion, scientists from the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, wired up the aeroplane, to enable the transfer of data to the equipment and monitors fitted into the fuselage, from the sensors and external gear fitted to the Heavy Beam.
That task completed exercise Buffalo, and our flight to Christmas Island started exercise Grapple. Our route to Christmas Island was modified by the CO, Sqn Ldr Bolt, who being a Kiwi saw an opportunity to make use of an empty ship and arranged a diversion of the aircraft into Whenuapai, which was the headquarters station of the RNZAF. At this juncture there were some crew changes, Bob Reynolds returned to the UK and Flt Lts Ray Corney and Bill Cake became the drivers. The RNZAF had a VIP Hastings of their own, so servicing was no problem and we had a completely free day to visit Auckland before setting off again. First stop was Nandi Airport in Fiji. We had taken on board a full load of NZ soldiers who were going on detachment and this was their destination. Our major navigational aid should have been the Automatic Direction Finding gear but this did not seem to want to play, and we ended up low down doing a Creeping Line Ahead search, then a Square Search. Fuel was being used up and we were all beginning to wonder what was the next move when the island was sighted and a safe landing made.
History repeated itself here when the British High Commissioner managed to clout the horizontal stabiliser with his Jeep whilst delivering the In Flight Rations. This time the damage was minor and after a conference we decided that the flight could continue with a red line entry in the RAF F700. A night stop in Fiji allowed us to have a brief look, but it was like most of the smaller Pacific Islands; a tropical paradise of palm trees, birds, vivid plants, and a lagoon.
Sadly we had to follow our standard routine and plan our next days adventure a flight to Topham Field on Canton Island. Crossing the International Date Line can be a bit of a mystery, not quite like the equator, which is a definite circle on the surface of the globe, the IDL, has been bent to enable the various islands to fall on one side or the other and not be subject to two dates at the same time. All of our flying was accomplished using Greenwich Mean Time, and this had the effect of simplifying the time zones when the line was crossed the time in London remained the same, so it did for us, but for the locals, one side of the line is say just after midnight ie very early on a day, and the other side it would be just before midnight on the previous day. That is probably as clear as mud but that is the way it is!
On 1st September we arrived at Christmas Island, a coral runway, tents in use for everything except the showers and latrines! Messes, Accommodation, Hospital, Stores, Operations, Servicing. There was one other thing, which was not tented. We christened it HMS Five Funnels it was a desalination plant with five distillation units painted in bright colours and run by a Royal Navy team led by a Petty Officer. We slept on Safari Beds on the floor of the tent where we were attacked by the mosquitoes and the land crabs. Not far to fall out of bed if you have had a heavy night, but we quickly elevated the beds on timber frames and placed boards across the tent entrances to keep the crabs out. The toilets were Chemical, and the showers were made of a Fire Bucket with a hole in the bottom, you filled the bucket (cold water only) and hoisted it up onto a frame with a rope. When ready for the deluge a second piece of rope pulled the plug out of the hole and the water came down. A second bucket full was invariably needed in order to get rid of the soap.
Our task once settled, was to run a service between Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, and the island. Sqn Ldr Bolt left us after our first arrival at Hickam, and with two complete crews we worked on alternate trips, the loads included fresh food, milk, and fruit, troops, freight from the UK, and the odd VIP. On my third trip we brought back Air Vice Marshall Oulton, and his Staff Officer, Sqn Ldr Terrence Helfer, who was my Squadron Commander in my early days on No 97 Squadron. Once they were established on Christmas, we took them on a local flying exercise to have an aerial look at Malden Island, which was to play an important part in the trials.
At the beginning of October it was decreed that we needed to do some Continuation Training in order to remain in Current Flying Practice, a monthly task set by Transport Command HQ. I flew a couple of day sorties at Christmas Island, but there were few navigational aids and no night flying facilities and so both crews positioned at Honolulu and we aimed to fly two conjoined night sorties on this large and complex airfield which was made up of Honolulu International a civil airport and Hickam AFB a military airfield. Things got very fraught between the Air Traffic Control and the two Captains both knowing best, when we got lost on the ground, and then did not fly the correct pattern in the air. The exercise was a very frightening experience, a disaster waiting to happen, and the signaller Sgt Joe Haggerty, who was doing all the RT work, eventually managed to convince them to call it a day before we had a serious incident.
Generally speaking our aeroplane remained reasonably serviceable, but a leaking fuel tank was more than the USAF Fire Service could accept and we had a three day break whilst a new tank was flown out from the UK. We had another problem just before our detachment came to an end. The route home leaving on 22nd October was to be Christmas – Honolulu – Canton – Nandi – Amberley – Edinburgh – Darwin etc back to Blighty, however we had an oleo leg problem at Hickam and spent four days getting that sorted, but once again the technical expertise of the USAF technicians was utilised, and they managed to fit a new valve and replace the seals, we departed there on the 26th.
Following the route above with the daily night stop and then a rest stop extended by Command to 4 days at Changi. We were not aware of the reason and arrived at Negombo to be presented with a strange signal, re-routing us. RAF Salalah in the Sultanate of Oman, was the next stop followed by RAF Khormaksar in Aden, thence to RAF Eastleigh, Nairobi in Kenya, to Entebbe, and then Kano, and then almost back onto the trunk route with a night stop at Luqa arriving there on 9th November. Luqa was a hive of activity, aircraft positioned on all available spaces, and with stripes painted under the wings.
As soon as we stopped, a crew rushed on and demanded that we removed all our kit, as the aircraft was now in the task force and would be flown by the first slip crew in line, which was them. We explained that the aircraft had been out of the UK for an extended period, was overdue a major servicing, and was carrying a vast number of red line entries. This was all to no avail, they were determined it was now theirs, so we wearily unloaded all of our kit.
At Operations all was revealed; the Suez War was the problem, and this had caused our delay and re-route through Aden. We went to bed after a clean up and a meal leaving our tired ship to the slip crews desperate to get an aircraft and continue around the slip pattern whatever it was.
In the morning we followed our set plan and lo and behold our ship Hastings Mk Ia TG537 was still sitting where we had left it and operations indicated that the Headquarters on the Hill at RAF Upavon had decided we were not part of the Task Force and that we should continue on schedule. We arrived back at RAF Lyneham at 0710 hrs, and it was well over two hours later that we made our way back to home base at RAF Abingdon. At Lyneham it was always the same in those days, everything off and into the Customs Shed for clearance. The inbound aircraft were always parked between one of the hangars and the Customs Shed which stood in splendid isolation on the airfield side of this taxiway.
From my logbook I can see that I must have had a good period of stand-down known as Route Grant for the next entry was Continuation Training to get my hand in and make me legal again and this was on 19th November. This was to be my last flight in the Hastings; I had flown 994 Hours in them over a period of 18 months, it was spread across the Mk I and Ia, the Mk II and the Mk IV, these all had Hercules 106 engines with two speed superchargers, I had done a makers course at Bristol, and learnt about Miss Shilling’s Orifice, and of course the Hobson RAE injector model BI/BH/3/4 which utilised her invention. I had become quite at home with the aeroplane and left with an Above Average assessment.
I specifically mention the mark of engine as during that period 70 Squadron known as LXX was re-formed and established at RAF Nicosia. One of the tasks performed along the way was to ferry their aircraft out. These models had different engines, known as Hercules 216 the major difference being that they were fitted with a single speed supercharger. The cruising height was always in the region of 10,000 ft and as the passengers did not have an oxygen system available there was little need for the extra altitude which could have been gained by the use of “S” gear.
Going back to that continuation Training, after the flight I went back to the Engineers Office, and a little later took a telephone call, it was from the Command P2 Officer, who wanted to know where FS Fairless was, and why he did not start a Comet Course at the De Havilland Factory at the beginning of the week. I quickly scanned the boards and found out that he was in Australia or thereabouts and not due back for over a week. I relayed this information, adding a “Will I do Instead” to my answer. He said who are you and I passed him my details. A little later he rang back and said Sgt Cawsey you are serving on an 8+4, (8 years in and 4 on the Reserve) if you go to SHQ and sign on the dotted line, to convert this to 12 straight, you may pick up the posting to 216 Squadron at Lyneham at the same time, and proceed to Hatfield ASAP. I agreed to this and have never managed to clear a station in less than half a day, either before, or after this turning point in my humble career. I should add the Geordie Fairless never spoke to me again.
Chapter Three – The Comet, or Joining the Shiny Fleet.
Arriving at the De Havilland School, I located the course, which was made up of hand picked elite mafia men from across the transport force. I think there were only three lowly Sgt engineers when the squadron was fully formed Ted Weightman, James Mutsaars, and myself; the rest were FSs, Master Engineers, or of Commissioned Rank. Initially the course was difficult as I had missed the beginning, but slowly it fell into place and I made new friends who helped me cover the missed ground, some of whom I am still in touch with. Included in the course was a week at the Rolls Royce Aero Engine School in Derby, and the whole thing was completed on 1st February 1957 when we returned to the wooden hut at Lyneham which was the temporary squadron building whilst the new one was being constructed.
At the time of the Suez crisis petrol became rather difficult to obtain, it was placed on the ration, and the 70 mph speed limit was introduced in order to save fuel, and we still have it! Cars, their engines, suspension and braking systems are of a totally new generation – but the limit has been retained. For me the rationing scheme worked very well – drivers did not need to be accompanied whilst driving on a provisional licence, and we had a garage nearby who had more fuel than he knew what to do with and so long as the owner got a fuel coupon he was not too worried about the amount delivered.
Whilst on the course I regularly spent the weekends at my parent’s home in Ealing, and exchanged my beloved motorcycle the Matchless G9 Twin for a Hillman Minx saloon, it had been imported back from Germany and I spent £30.00 having it converted to a RHD. It was however a car with a jinx as shortly afterwards I had to have the steering conversion replaced when it developed tight spots making the steering erratic. At that time the Rootes Group Factory was only a few miles from home, and what spares I needed were very easy to obtain.
That was the first of a number of incidents, the second occurred whilst driving up to Hatfield on the A1 for another course. The front offside wheel and a piece of half shaft came off the car I was passing. It careered up the road, and eventually impacted on the front of a southbound lorry. Punched into the air it landed just in front of the Minx, smashed into the A Frame (Windscreen Pillar), it then travelled along the side of the car smashing in the windows. Cause of the failure was deemed to be a latent defect in the half shaft of the French car, and his insurers would not pay for the repairs. Then after getting it sorted out I managed to prang it myself by skidding on packed snow into a lorry, which had abandoned its attempts to climb Silbury Hill on the A4. The other incident with it was when it was standing parked outside the new squadron headquarters, when a Bomb Trolley which was being towed by a tractor managed to detach itself from the prime mover, and then chose my car to act as its arrester barrier. Again the steering and a front wing were in a sorry state and I had an insurance fight with I believe it was The Crown Lands Agency, but they eventually paid up. Enough about the car and its chequered history, lets get back to the Comet and my career change.
I had by now become one of those I had previously called a variety of names, and my subsequent postings will reflect that up to the terminal one. My Captain was Flt Lt later Sqn Ldr Robinson, Copilot FO John Connell, Navigator John Holland who was commissioned shortly afterwards, and Signaller Sgt Brian Dearsley.
Our conversion took place at RAF El Adem, this venue was chosen for its weather factor, and we flew every day and sometimes twice. Without a flight simulator, the Flight Engineers conversion was done panel by panel, (Fuel, Air Supplies, Pressure Control, Electrical Power, De Icing etc) with an instructor engineer operating the panels which had not yet been handed over. This process carried on until the in flight workload incorporated the whole of the engineers panel and controls. The engineer’s station was on the starboard side of the fuselage, behind the Copilot, and in front of the Radio Rack. The engineer was seated facing forward for Take Off and Landing, and at an angle for the cruise. In 12 days we had flown 28 hours of exercises and a further 17 watching, no days lost for weather sickness or aircraft unserviceability. After returning to base we completed a short route to Aden, and one to Singapore under supervision and were finally cleared for service at the end of April.
Dutch Holland came to stay with me in Ealing over that Easter Grant, and it was whilst we were out on the Saturday night that I met the shapely brunette who is still my wife. We had bought tickets to the Castle Ballroom at Richmond, and gone off to visit a few pubs, on our return we both took a partner and went off for a dance. Dutch was very tall and when he returned we had the usual conversation – what was that like then? I asked and his reply; not bad but a bit short! Well I had a dance or two and arranged a meeting with her at a Lyons Corner House for the next weekend. I turned up in London in the Minx with my L plates, and we hit the town. Joan had no idea about my lack of car driving experience, although I was reasonably familiar with the City; we subsequently struck up a lasting relationship.
On the squadron our esteemed captain Sqn Ldr Robinson seemed to delight in keeping all the information he was privy to, to himself, so he became known as The Prince of Darkness by the rest of the crew. Two of my colleagues Dennis Crowson and Jim Mutsaars were both commissioned around this time, but it was not to be for me. I applied time and time again and the replies were always the same. May reapply in six months or may reapply in two years, but I persisted with the applications for the next 14 years visiting the Officer and Aircrew Selection Boards which were initially at RAF Hornchurch and later at RAF Biggin Hill, on many occasions, still believing that I could do at least as well and probably better than those commissioned engineers I worked for. The general trend seemed to be to grant commissions to the older and more senior members of the branch.
A trip to Singapore took 10 days whilst one to Australia took about 13, sometimes they were slips where the aircraft was handed onto the waiting crew and the crew rested, waiting for the next schedule, and sometimes they were slow where the aircraft and crew remained together. The slip services were excellent for the transport of crew mail both out of and into the UK. In those early days of operation we were the only aircraft operation at cruising altitudes of 35-45,000 ft. In consequence we were able to Cruise Climb, setting the Mach No at .73 and the engine RPM according to the Outside Air Temperature, as the fuel was consumed the aircraft slowly gained altitude. The Hastings was normally operated as a one leg a day operation, but now the high speed of the Comet and shorter flight times meant that two major legs could be flown in a day within the allowable Crew Duty Time.
Westabout flights did not appear on the schedules very much, but exercise Travelling Causeway and the Westabout Reinforcement Route were exceptions. The route this time was Lyneham – Keflavik (Iceland) – Goose Bay (Canada) – Offutt AFB (Nebraska) – Travis AFB (California) – Hickam AFB (Hawaii) and finally Christmas Island. On 1st October 1957 this slip service was initiated with crews being dropped off en route we departed Lyneham at 0840 and arrived at Travis at 0805 the following morning.
Our crew was now in position and our task to fly the slip from Travis to Honolulu, rest whilst it was flown down to Christmas Island and back, and then fly the Pacific leg again back to Travis. We did four return flights, and due to a problem involving the crew at Hickam, causing them to run out of Crew Duty time, we came back into duty time and so flew the schedule onto Christmas Island and back. This to me was another geographic milestone I had now flown to Christmas Island from both the East and the West. Our ability to do the Pacific crossing from Hickam AFB to Honolulu was totally dependent on the wind and we had to delay our departure on some flights waiting for the headwind to abate.
The crews all returned to Lyneham on the final schedule, arriving there after five weeks away. For me there are two other major events colouring that detachment. The first was the Russian triumph in successfully launching the first Sputnik space flight on the 4th October. The media reaction was one of shock, disbelief, and even anger that the Russians had pipped the USA to the post, so to speak. This was certainly a major topic of conversation for many days afterwards.
The second was that during this period of separation from my girl friend I made the decision that I would ask her to marry me as soon as we were reunited. For the record I did ask her, and her parents’ permission. The answer was yes, they were delighted and I was over the moon. It was now November and we were married on 1st March 1958, at St. Barnabas Church on Clapham Common, an engagement of just under four months. In order to marry at this church we had to establish residence for Joan by arranging some lodgings in the parish and leaving a suitcase there. This seemed to be an accepted practice and a nice little earner for the helpful landladies who got paid for storing an old suitcase. The reason for this subterfuge was of course that the Banns could only be called if you lived in the parish. Mine were called at St Mary’s in Lyneham. As the reception was to be at Streatham Ice Rink we arranged for a large coach to transport our guests from the church to the rink, of course on the day the driver lost his way travelling a few miles around the South Circular Road, but he did eventually deliver them.
In February I flew The Rt Hon Selwyn Lloyd MP who was the Foreign Secretary to Hellinikon Airport (Athens) departing from, and returning to London Heathrow. This was the first specific VIP flight I had been allocated since I converted, but of course it was often the case that Royalty, Senior Officers and Ministers just used a Scheduled Flight with some additional Catering organised locally.
We spent our Honeymoon in the Cotswolds based at Burford in The Bay Tree Hotel, and set ourselves up with an Air Force Hiring at Tetbury, which was 16 miles from Lyneham. My chance of being allocated a Married Quarter, newly married and without children was out of the question. Hence Master Engineer Jim Pickersgill, whom I first met on the course, put me in touch with a gentleman he had played cricket with when he was at RAF Aston Down. This fellow Ben Seelig was a shrewd investor and never let a bargain slip him by, consequently he had houses to let and lots of junk to furnish them with that he had picked up cheaply as unsold lots at auctions.
The hiring was two floors of a double fronted house, three storey house built with natural stone, it had a courtyard at the rear, a covered-in well, and cellars. The rent to us was very modest, about 15/- (75 p) a week and the RAF paid Ben the handsome sum of 4 guineas. We lived in that house for four years, Martin and Sarah were both born there in our 26 feet long bedroom, and eventually the RAF decided that hirings were not in vogue any more, probably because they now had Married Quarters available. Ben offered to sell us the house for £1000.00 but my dear old father said it would be a liability with its roof in natural stone slate and lead lined gulleys, and with wooden sash windows. This was probably the best investment we have ever been offered, sadly we believed him and moved into a quarter at RAF Lyneham.
We did not stay there very long, not really enjoying the house, and due to pressure exerted on me by another Master Engineer who was new on the scene, one Laurie Batchelor. He had bought a house in Chippenham and was getting an allowance from the RAF for living in his own house, and after looking at the various costs involved we made a jump into the housing market in 1963.
By this time Jonathan had been born, again at home in the MQ at Lyneham and once again I was able to be there at the birth, but only just – more about that later. Financially we did not seem to be worse off and we were also progressively buying our own furniture and getting rid of the numerous orange boxes, which came in so useful as supports for tables and storage units when we first moved in.
Thank you Laurie wherever you are, we never looked back after that, the silly thing is that house cost us £3200.00 and we were only about two years away from refusing to buy a much more substantial property in a country town for a third of the price.
The next significant route started in late April with Flt Lt Basil D’Olivera, and Robbie. The details were Lyneham – Santa Maria – Kindley – Montego Bay – Kingston – Montego Bay – Belize and back to Montego Bay. On 5th April HRH The Princess Margaret was going to open the new Terminal at Belize Airport, and we were going to do a short flying display in her presence. After the flypast we had a few days at Montego Bay and then followed the reverse route home. The beaches, hotel, food and drink were all excellent, and we all returned with a few bananas, like a three foot long walking stick absolutely loaded with hands of them.
June was a very busy month, I went to Aden, Nicosia twice and then did a training detachment to El Adem, nearly 64 hours in a month, followed by four months, which were very slack. Come November, I am on a Special Flight with Flt Lt Tony Rippengal DFC DFM, this flight unusually, was covered by Air Ministry PR photographers and press releases on the crew. We were supporting a Vulcan flight, and I believe Air Marshall Gus Walker was flying the Vulcan. The route was extensive Lyneham – Waddington – El Adem – Ankara – Local Demonstration Flight – El Adem – Nicosia – Karachi – Local Demonstration Flight – Katunayake (name changed from Negombo) Butterworth – Changi, and after the usual break at Changi we headed for home, with a couple of extra stages through Bahrain and Luqa. I do not normally have a full list of the crew, due probably to the design of the Crew Flying Logbook, but on this occasion I can list them as Flt Lt AV Rippengal, Master Pilot DV Oram, Pilot Officer HG Stannard Navigator, Master Signaller DH Evans AFM, Sgt MJ Cawsey Air Engineer, and Sgt R Wallis Air Quartermaster.
Tony Rippengal appeared again in my logbook on yet another type, and resides only five doors away from me in his retirement. Australia, Aden and Singapore trips take me up to April when FO Bill Monk captained a trip Adelaide with Captain Fittall of British European Airways in the right hand seat. This was to give him experience as he was going to be the Fleet Manager for the Comet 4B they had on order. Their first aircraft was delivered in November and it was to be the following April when they started it in service. He flew another long route the following month with Flt Lt Roy Harling, who was now my regular captain, Flt Lt Joe Wright became our Copilot, Sgt Brian Dearsley remained our Signaller, Fg Off John Holland was our Navigator, and last but not least Sgt (W) Andy Devine was our Quartermaster.
Andy was a real character, originally a Balloon Winch Operator, she then became an MT Fitter, and came to us following a secondment to Airwork as an Air Hostess when they obtained the Trooping Charter Contract. Six members of the WRAF were posted onto 216 Squadron for duties as Air Quartermasters, and they could be truly called the pioneers of women flying in the modern Royal Air Force.
In May our operations centred on a Far East/Australia Slip Service rather than a slow one and this continued for a year after that the pattern changed. Special Flight 5029 with AVM JF Hobler departed Lyneham under the command of Roy Harling en route for Canada and the USA. This particular flight was an Instructional and Liaison part of the Specialist Navigator Course. First stop was Keflavik to refuel before setting off for Gander, but the weather there was impossible – low cloud, strong winds and driving rain, put the airfield below our limits and when down to our fuel reserve we turned 180 degrees and made for RAF Kinloss, after a refuel there, we returned to Lyneham, for a night stop and to consider our options.
The next morning we departed again for Gander, this time via Santa Maria. From Gander our route took us to Ottawa and Winnipeg, and thence to Travis AFB, Mather AFB, which was the USAF Navigation School and involved a 3 day stopover. From there to Wright Patterson AFB for 4 days, a development and research unit, and finally to Eglin AFB for 5 days and this was the Space Flight Launch Centre. In sunny Florida with lots of water I too launched myself a few times getting airborne after losing contact with my water skis, I cannot say I really cracked water skiing, but I did a much better job driving the power boat and towing the rest of the team around. That flight concluded on 8th July, I had missed my first child’s first birthday by three days, and this was to be a pattern that service wives just had to accept. I did however bring him back a Rocking Horse, which provided hours of entertainment for Martin and the other two in later years, and is still in residence in our loft.
Time now perhaps to reflect on what the Comet II was about and why we were flying it all over the world. I have a very large book with the title Chronicle of Aviation, it was published in 1992 and has a most impressive list of authors and contributors, but try as I might so far I have not been able to find any substantial references to the Comet II, except for a picture of an aircraft in 1953, and details of its maiden flight in August 1953, or even the IA flown by the RCAF. Comet 1, III, and IV are all given reasonably specific cover, and it is for this reason that I am going to talk about the Comet II, for without this machine there could not have been a Comet IV. The Comet I was really the pioneer jet transport – being granted its C of A on 22nd January 1952, and put into commercial service on 3rd May, but sadly it suffered from a number of design problems with the structure and fuselage cut outs or apertures in it.
Additionally a couple of aircraft were lost on take off probably due to the nose being lifted too high and the wing failing to generate the lift required, this problem was generally cured by the development of what was known as a Drooped Snoot where the leading edge of the wing was curved downwards and later models generally had the ability to get safely airborne with the stick held fully rearwards from the start of the TO run.
There were also a series of in flight break ups and after extensive investigation following recovery from the sea bed by the Royal Navy of many pieces of wreckage after one accident, it was discovered that the port wing escape hatch and window had suffered a fatigue crack, leading to a catastrophic failure of the fuselage structure. The Certificate of Airworthiness had been rescinded and reinstated on a number of occasions, but it was now cancelled on 12th April 1954.
At that time BOAC had to reintroduce the Hermes, which was the Civil Version and predecessor of the Hastings. The Handley Page Hermes had a tricycle landing gear, but the Army who had a say in what the RAF purchased demanded a tail wheeled aircraft, with a hook on the back and Glider Towing capability, and so the redesigned Hermes became the Hastings, and the Army was happy – all they needed now was a fleet of gliders?
‘What now’ was the question, many lessons had been learnt and would have to be applied to later models if the Comet was to fly again. Clearly a decision was made that the RAF would take delivery of the majority of the Series Two airframes already in embryonic form on the shop floor, due to the various major airlines who had placed orders not wishing to take them up. Ten airframes went to 216 Squadron recently returned from a Valletta tour in Egypt, some were made into Comet 2Rs, these had different windows, and were used for special duties, and two were extensively modified and fitted with the larger engines to be used in the Mark 4 and they were designated as Comet 2Es, another probably became the Comet 3 which was the development aircraft for the Comet 4, other airframes were used for fatigue testing, and I believe some wings and fuselages were stored at an RAF Maintenance Unit for many years in case the RAF damaged one and needed extensive spare parts.
So a new chapter in the history of military transports started. It was anticipated that the RAF would only fly these aircraft for a relatively short period of time, and the initial crew make up did not include any copilots who would subsequently become captains. Instead the squadron was provided with a number of 2nd pilots mainly NCOs, who were never going to be granted a captaincy and were not provided with continuation training flying hours on type, instead they flew the squadron Meteor to keep their hands in.
The RCAF were flying their modified Ghost powered Comet 1As, and the maiden flight of the Comet 2 took place on 27th August 1953. That said it probably was not the extensively modified models the RAF took delivery of for they were still being constructed whilst I was on the course at Hatfield, and the later ones I think came from Chester much later. In April 1958 the first production version of the Comet 3, which did much of the testing for the 4 came off the line and by August the RCAF and the RAF had accumulated some 13,500 flying hours.
This was very valuable in building confidence for the launch of the Comet 4, which came in three versions. The 4, an Intercontinental version, 4B a Continental Short Range version with clipped wings, and the 4C. An Intermediate version. By the time the Comet 4 was ready for service the type had about 50,000 hours behind it, these additional hours came from the Comet 2Es flying back and forth to Beirut daily on crew training and engine testing. Just to complete the story, as was the wish of the government at the time, mergers were necessary and the De Havilland Company was merged into Hawker Siddeley in December 1959. They in turn produced the Nimrod Maritime Patrol Aircraft, which was based on the Comet, and still in service some 52 years after the prototype flew – the flawed design was most certainly put right. Quite clearly the Royal Air Force had played a major role in proving that the design problems in the worlds first jet powered airliner were overcome by flying the Comet for well over ten years.
The Crewing policy had to change and copilots were introduced in order to provide a stream of replacement Captains as the years rolled by. It is worth adding that the French firm Sud Aviation produced the highly successful Caravelle airliner. It had its maiden flight in May 1955. The cockpit design and nose shape were based on the Comet, the fuselage was the same diameter, and a pair of Rolls Royce Avon engines similar to those in the Comets powered it. The RAF never used the spare major airframe parts, as the aeroplane did not suffer a major accident in service. Towards the latter part of its life some corrosion was discovered in parts of the lower skin, and it was then restricted to a lower pressure differential and shorter routes.
Some consideration may have been given to constructing two new aeroplanes from the spares, but as the Comet 4c was already with the squadron it would probably have been more prudent to order more of them if additional capacity was needed. One incident, which comes to mind involved an aircraft flying in bad weather to RAF Turnhouse, they did not make a landfall with their wheels, but did manage to damage a wing tip and lost a pitot head and its associated instruments when the wing tip struck some high ground during the attempted approach. More impressive perhaps was when the De Havilland Engineers came to assess the damage – they simply applied a power saw to the damaged tip removing it, and said “OK fly it to the factory for repair”.
Our major problem was fuselage damage caused by ground equipment, the aircraft sinking during refuelling and ending up jammed onto something, of vehicles hitting and damaging the skin. Each and every incident needed to be reported back to the stress office at Hatfield, and they produced a detailed drawing for the repair scheme, and little could be done to start the repair until that drawing was to hand. One known and amusing fault could be a stuck Engine Starting Relay, if this happened the ground crew could drop the engine cowlings, give the offending item a tap and the engine would normally start. The amusement of the passengers would take place if it were the No 3 engine where the relay was only accessible from the upper surface of the wing. In this case the flight engineer entered the passenger cabin armed with a fire axe, made his exit onto the wing through the escape hatch, and after gaining access made efforts to reach and strike the relay.
Another problem I remember well was an aircraft at Changi having trouble with its VHF Radios; we had a team in each aircraft and were attempting to communicate in order to prove the system. Eventually the local ATC sent a vehicle to tell us we were blotting out Singapore Centre and would we please stop. It turned out that one ship had a transmitter problem and the other a receiver problem.
Being a new aircraft the ground crew were generally not qualified to run the engines, or if they had been trained they needed revalidation on a time basis. Ground pressurisation runs were necessary after skin repairs, transparency changes and system malfunctions. Again it was usually the crew who had to carry out this procedure. With no airspeed to provide cooling, the air pumped into the fuselage was hot, “Turbo Cold Air Units” were not incorporated in the Comet II, and the cabin temperature reached exceedingly high levels. The atmospheric pressure was increased to over eight pounds above the outside level, and the cabin went ‘Down The Mine’ so to speak. When all the checks were complete the cabin pressure was leaked away via the manually controlled valve. If the cabin pressure was allowed to drop rapidly a fog layer would rise from the carpet, and it was fascinating to drive this fog layer up and down by use of the control. After a ground pressure run whatever items of clothing were being worn would be absolutely wet through.
Revalidation of the Locally Based Ground crew in Engine Running and Ground Pressure Checks was an ongoing process but as there was a time limit on the practical, there was rarely a current member of the team available when the need arose. Earlier I mentioned the Droop Snoot modification to the wing leading edge, which was designed to prevent over rotation on Take Off causing so much drag that the aircraft, does not accelerate sufficiently to get safely airborne.
On a Route Training Flight with a pair of new captains working alternate legs, we got airborne out of Aden, in the heat of the day, and very heavily loaded. After cleaning up and trying to climb away the aircraft would not accelerate nor climb and just sat in limbo dragging along over the ocean. Suddenly the penny dropped and I suggested they lowered the nose and allowed the machine to sort itself out. After some discussion they agreed to try this engineering input and I am glad to report it did the trick. We had been simulating what the droop was supposed to prevent during the TO run. After TO, the Lift:Drag Equation had reached the point where the lift was just sufficient to keep us in the air and the drag was so high that it was matching the thrust, which of course had been reduced for the climb out.
Well now back to the whats and whens, in September I did a trip with FO Reg Wilding from LHR to New York via the northern staging posts of Keflavik and Goose Bay. Our VIPs were the Prime Minister, The Rt Hon Harold Macmillan, Mr Robert Menzies, the Australian PM, and the 14th Earl of Home and Lady Home. After 5 days in New York, a flight to visit the capital in Washington broke our holiday, and eventually a return via the southern stages of Bermuda and the Azores.
My next adventure was a slow flight to the Far East, and included my first visit to Hong Kong and its spectacular vistas. The only runway available in those days, jutted out towards the Gap in the hills on the approach, and visibility is another major problem at Kai Tak Airport. If landing from a straight in approach, the aircraft is aligned at the last minute after passing through the gap. However, if the landing is to be from the inland end and out towards the sea, then a circuit of the harbour is flown and this can only be done in good visibility. After clearing the gap the aircraft is banked left and flies along over the harbour, eventually turning right and aiming for the Checkerboard which is a high visibility panel on the face of a mountain. As the aircraft approaches the Checkerboard it is turned right to align with the runway, flaps are lowered and power set to allow a steepish descent over the flats and to arrive at the threshold passing over the main road and by the flying club. [Historian’s note: Kai Tak closed in Jul 1998)
The approaches and procedures at Hong Kong are necessarily detailed, and all RAF pilots have to be screened into the airport before being allowed to fly in as Captain. All transport aircraft routed through Hong Kong did a training sortie the morning after arrival and practised as many procedures and approaches as could be fitted in. This was a most interesting sortie as well as sorting the Approach Aids and Patterns out it gave a splendid view of the whole area.
Months of regular flights followed, then the Deputy Commander of SACEUR, General Stockwell, was off on a round robin to Paris, Ankara and Nicosia, the captain this time Wg Cdr Norman Hoad our new Squadron Commander.
Five months later, in November 1961, I flew a second sortie with General Stockwell; the captain was Flt Lt Brian Taylor, and the route Orly, Gardermoen, Flesland, Bardufoss and reverse. At Bardufoss more excitement, the approach is almost down the side of a hill, and the runway was covered in ice and snow, the brakes although fitted with the famous Maxaret units did not appear to be very effective and the aircraft was sliding almost out of control. Brian did manage to keep it on the runway, but if ATC had raised the barrier they would have caught a Comet! Quite aptly this particular airframe had a Day-Glo red nose, and red wing tips, this treatment was assumed by the locals to be part of a winterisation Search and Rescue job to enable the aircraft to be found should it happen to come down in the tundra.
In reality it was indeed for high visibility, but for flying the Berlin Corridor, as things were getting difficult again, and BEA were flying their aircraft regularly but with increasing tension and it was possible that the Comet would be called to take over the task. The crew were to carry parachutes, a rope would be fitted to run the length of the cabin as a handhold and escape would be via the rear passenger door in the event that Russian actions crippled the aircraft leading to a bale out situation.
I am pleased to say this situation was never reached. But I often wonder about the Day-Glo trim. Was it to make us a clear and easy target for the Russian fighters, a sort of reverse camouflage, so that they could not claim to have hit us by accident? No doubt one day the secret will be revealed, but I think I shall have lost interest by then.
Another trip followed shortly after with Brian Taylor, it was with Sir Casper and Lady John. He was the First Sea Lord and it was a complete trip around the world. I had previously flown to Christmas Island from the south and returned the same way and also from the north and returned that way. This time it was to be a shooting through as one might say.
Our route started with a positioning flight to Aden in a Britannia, thence to Gan, Changi, and Darwin. All reasonably routine, Gan sat in the Indian Ocean at the northern end of the Maldives, and was now the major staging post in the Indian Ocean replacing the use of Sri Lanka. The runway ran the length of the island, which had been totally made over for Service use. Alongside the runway were the apron, generating plant, Medical Centre, Marine Craft Unit, Signals, Workshops, Operations, Transit Mess, Sgts’ and Officers’ Messes, and even a Civilian Staff Mess, Stores, Air Traffic Control, accommodation blocks and all the other things one would expect to find on a fully-fledged RAF base. There were still some trees left in the residential areas, and at dusk they were literally covered in fruit bats, which took little notice.
In the early days of Gan the locals who did all the domestic work used to arrive and depart in their own variety of sailing/rowing craft powered either by the wind or oars, but as time passed and they accumulated some wealth the crews were given requests to purchase many items in Singapore for them. Not least, outboard motors, which used to buzz incessantly as they now plied their craft across the lagoon by day and night. It was not a quiet place, moored out in the lagoon was a supply ship, I seem to recall one was called Wave Ruler, and that also ran its engine to provide power 24 hours a day, at night it was always lit up like a Christmas tree.
Fishing, swimming and sub aqua or snorkelling, were land based activities, the fish very colourful, under the tropical sunlight, but there were dangers here, Stone Fish on the bottom meant that shoes were always needed for protection. Dinghy sailing was also a very popular activity, but squalls were the great problem to the sailors. If out cruising and one came in sight, then it was time to drop all sail as quickly as possible, and secure them. A capsize was invariably the penalty for not doing so, and no safety boat cover was normally available to help with the recovery.
Another popular pastime was of course golf, but it was not an international course! Crews on arrival would wind down in the Transit Mess with a few drinks and the ubiquitous platter of sausages and chips. This was almost mandatory, but of course a meal would have been provided on request.
After a nights rest our flight proceeded from Gan onto Changi and then south to Australia. After Darwin we had an excellent tour of Australia and New Zealand visiting the RAAF at Richmond, Mascot, Nowra, and Canberra then the RNZAF at Whenuapai, Wellington and Christchurch. We had eight days in New Zealand and the same in Australia and were able to do a few tourist trips and some sight seeing.
After leaving the southern shores there were no more long breaks on the way home through Christmas Island, Hawaii, and across the USA. At Chambers Field Norfolk Virginia, the Imprest Holder was given a problem when they would not allow us any fuel unless he paid for it in cash and this was not our normal payment method, we at that time charged it to the nearest Embassy. Eventually he managed to cash some Travellers Cheques and provide the dollars. After the refuel was complete we were presented with a very large consignment of Trading Stamps (similar to Green Shield), which were donated to a local charity.
We arrived at Gander Airport (known as TOPS short for Trans Oceanic Plane Stop) in real winter conditions, packed snow on the pavements, strong winds and more snow on the way. It was, I recall so cold with the chill factor, that the refuel panel was monitored a few minutes at a time in turn by the ground engineer, a fitter, and myself. Each of us monitoring the process in turn, for a few minutes, before rushing back into the shelter of the aircraft for a little respite from the weather. After the aircraft was serviced we joined the rest of the crew for a meal. The departure weather forecast indicated that there was blowing snow and very poor visibility as a result. We loaded up for the final leg to London and started the engines. Brian rebriefed the weather, and we set off for the runway threshold, following the Follow Me truck, and with guidance from ATC we eventually lined up, there was a long discussion about how far we could actually see, reporting to the tower how many runway edge lights we could count. At last we were deemed to be legal, Brian briefed that we were in blowing snow and as soon as we lifted off we would break out into brilliant sunshine!
So with Engine Anti Icing On and the Airframe De Icing Off, the best we were allowed to do, we set the power for a rolling Take Off as the brakes would not hold us on the icy runway, and gained full power as soon as possible. The aircraft rotated and climbed away into a black sky – there was no sun, alas the blizzard continued, Brian’s face was now nearly as white as the snow that was blasting into us. Power was reduced, and then the Airframe Anti Icing selected but it was not until almost 10,000 ft that we broke out of the snow! So much for the weather forecasters, they have not become any more reliable over the years even with their sophisticated equipment and computer systems. Another epic trip rolled to a close as we touched down without any further problems at LHR, and after the usual formalities with HM Customs, and returning borrowed catering equipment to BOAC we did our transit back to Lyneham, and all dispersed for lunch at home with our families almost exactly four weeks after setting of to position in that Britannia.
Two months later after a very slack March when I only flew once I set off on a trip to Salisbury with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) Sir Richard and Lady Hull. We were based in Salisbury for eight days and did a couple of return trips to Bulawayo. Somewhere I have some colour slides taken looking into the crater on the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, a most impressive sight partially covered in snow at just over 19,000 ft, and not something one can do more than once in a lifetime. For this trip we had to visit RAF Innsworth prior to departure and be fitted out with special Khaki Drill uniforms, I seem to recall that it was the No 6. and that was probably the number of creases per minute it took on board whilst sitting in the crew transport!
For me personally the trip had other highlights as I had new found relatives (Mother-in-Law’s sister and her family) living there and I stayed with them. Given the use of a car I did some driving around the town, and was able to meet the crew when required. Sugar and tobacco were major items being processed and I visited a couple of factories and saw the processes involved. The soil was particularly fertile and gardens produced endless produce for the table. I never was a great card player, but had managed to survive on the Hastings force where Cribbage was the number one game; I had watched it played many times when I worked in a butchers shop before I joined up. Here Canasta was all the rage and I had to take part in their nightly ritual game, I still have the book of rules but have not touched it since.
Outbound we staged through Gatwick, El Adem, Aden, Bahrain, Sharjah and Nairobi, Entebbe was added to the return itinerary. Special flights seemed to become more frequent around this time and my logbook shows Schipol, Orly, and Luqa as short trip destinations before another real big one came my way. This time it was again the Imperial Defence College, Course Tour of Africa, with Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Constantine KBE CB DSO as the VIP in charge of the course. Accra in Ghana was the first stop I had not visited, the apron was loaded with large Russian multi engine aircraft, but they were another political error, there were no crews, spares, or even money to fly them. Sold to Ghana as part of some major deal they were bright yellow elephants.
The mess was very hospitable, and when we eventually retired to the accommodation block we discovered that the ladies of the night were also most hospitable and this seemed to be their terminal resting place each night. Fortunately we were well briefed, and those without carnal desires placed the chain on the door in order to obtain a full night’s sleep.
From Accra we made our way to Lagos, where a special flight was laid on the next day to go and view the Niger Dam, and we had a four-day break taking in the local sights. The itinerary then gave us a day’s break at Kano, before the Brazzaville experience! We had been on route almost two weeks and it was agreed that the crew would party. There was no real security in the hotel and our copilot Phil Barnard who was a South African decided that the safest place for the Imprest that night was with the crew.
The Imprest was carried on all off route trips, a leather brief case or Gladstone bag, which usually contained the projected currency required by the crew, money for fuel, and a Letter of Authority to enable the uplift of funds. We set off to investigate the local night life, visiting a good many establishments, they all had a common theme – loud music, dancing, lights, a bar and local talent. Just like going clubbing in the modern world. Eventually bleary eyed and tired we made our way back to our hotel, and just as we were about to disperse Phil made some sort of unrepeatable expletive, which ended in “the Imprest”.
You have guessed, our mobile security system had failed, and the big question was “Which club or pub was the leather bag in”? “Had it been lifted, or had we mislaid it? We retraced our steps through a number of establishments and found no sign of the bag, and Phil’s memory was decidedly addled about where he last had any recollection of being in possession.
We arrived at the last establishment, only to find it closed and shuttered, and I think all hearts dropped a bit further. We rattled on the shutters and banged on the door making a lot of noise late at night. Eventually a window opened at the top of the building and we made a point about losing a bag. The reply was very positive. “We are shut, the bar has been cleaned, nothing was found, go to bed”. Not willing to give up we rattled and banged again, and got the same answer. After a third attempt banging and rattling, the voice at the top of the building agreed to allow us to have a look at his clean bar. After a wait, which seemed endless the owner appeared at the door and we heard the locks, chains and bars being removed. He again assured us the bar has been cleaned ready for the next day, and said he would put the lights on for us to look in the bar.
In we barged and Eureka, there was the bag propped up against the bar. The floor had been swept and washed and the stools were up on the counter, and our Imprest was in the place at the bar where Phil had been sitting. Another question sprang to mind, could it really have been missed? Was there going to be any money in it when it was opened. We were not allowed to find out- the owner bundled us out mumbling about his beauty sleep, and we were in an unlit street in the small hours desperate to get back to the hotel and do a check on the bag. Luck was on our side the bag had not been tampered with, and its contents fully intact. One question remains! Who was the blind cleaner that swept and washed the floor, and placed the stools and chairs on the tables but did not see or find our Gladstone bag?
Waterkloof, Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town were our stop off points in South Africa. This was rather a difficult culture to live with, and although we had time off for the tourist bit, one had to be extremely careful when talking to locals who were Cape Coloured or Black, in a Police State where fraternisation between white and others was not on the agenda. I had been associated with a Cape Coloured girlfriend some years earlier in London, and she was absolute in her outlook that our friendship could only last as long as she was in London, and now I had a greater appreciation of the problems.
On the return we did a couple of sorties from Salisbury to Livingstone to view the Kariba Dam, and then Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. Whilst at Nairobi I was presented with a signal from the Air Ministry, it simply said. “Fly home soonest fastest” and I was unable to gain any further enlightenment. I had been married four and a half years, had Martin and Sarah and Joan was five months pregnant. What was the problem I just could not find out? During the day I was processed to fly out civil that night on a Britannia to Stansted, with a short stop at Idris for fuel.
That of course left a Comet on a VIP trip stranded in East Africa without a complete crew, and to the amazement of the Captain Flt Lt Deverson and all of us he also had a signal. “Authorised to proceed Nairobi to Kano without a Flight Engineer”. Well this really had to be a first, and Dev carried this authorisation around for a long time as a talking point. Of course it was only an Air Force Insurance Policy, for just as I was flying out civil, Master Engineer Alan Eldridge was flown in to replace me and the authority was never invoked. At Stansted I was rushed off the aircraft and through customs to an RAF staff car. On enquiring where we were bound for the driver said West Ealing, and this was the first indication I had that whatever the problem was it was not with my unit of the family, but with Mum or Dad.
On arrival at 31 The Avenue, West Ealing, I soon discovered that my mother was in hospital with terminal cancer in a very advanced stage, she passed away on November 24th. Almost three months after my compassionate repatriation from Nairobi. I must say the RAF always pulled out all the stops in cases like this, for the final outcome is not predictable and they would always err on the safe side.
As I said earlier Joan was pregnant and expecting in late December, I had a trip scheduled to Idris on 20th Dec, and I could not find a willing engineer to take this trip so off we set. Flt Lt Ron Locke was the Captain, and Flt Lt Mike Hawes the Navigator; Ann his wife was also pregnant with twins, but not quite so imminent. On the return flight we were diverted to St Mawgan, as Lyneham was closed with a major snowfall. After refuelling both the aircraft and ourselves, we again leapt into the air for another stab at Lyneham having left all of our passengers to get the train from Cornwall to their destinations. The snow was making a landing at Lyneham impossible and this time we were diverted to Thorney Island, with no forecast available of when we might get back. It was about 1500 hours when all settled down, at this point I decided that my place was in Lancaster Square at Lyneham, not sitting on the South Coast with the possibility of being there for Christmas.
I told Ron of my intention to abandon them, went to SHQ, and demanded a railway warrant, and eventually I was placed on a train heading for Swindon. Swindon Station at that time had an RTO who sorted out all the transport problems and I was soon on an RAF coach heading back to Lyneham where the snow was nearly two feet deep. My actions had been reported back to the squadron, and the duty crew engineer warned that he was being despatched to Thorney Island to join the crew ready to recover the aircraft when conditions allowed. In the event Master Engineer Colin Symington was despatched, and the aircraft did get back before Christmas.
I tried to drive to Swindon to collect my father, and Joan’s mother and father who were coming to us for the holiday, but could not even get the car out of married quarters – they met at the railway station, and as I had not arrived to pick them up, they made use of the RAF Bus Service. Jonathan was born on 23rd December in our quarter in Lancaster Square; I had been at all three of their births and would not have missed the experience.
Even over this short time scale things had changed considerably, prior to when Martin was born, the midwife delivered a large biscuit tin, and it was packed with dressings, gauze, lint, cotton wool etc. This had to be baked in the oven at a high temperature to sterilise the contents, which smelt of scorched or burnt ironing when it was opened at the time of the delivery. The Gas and Air was delivered from a primitive device, which was charged with a liquid, which smelt like Carbon Tetra Chloride, it worked so well it almost killed Joan who became unconscious due to taking it to excess. That was all part of our first home birth experience. This time the dressings were all sealed up, the gas and air machine delivered from a cylinder, and the midwife was totally indifferent sitting away in a corner, and occasionally coming over to see how things were progressing. All is well that ends well, our No 3 was fine, and we had plenty of help over the Christmas as we settled down to having a bigger family. Does anyone know what third child syndrome is; well it comes back to haunt parents later in life, why have I not got as many photos as Martin, why is my baby book not completed as well as the others, why have I not got a Baptism Certificate, why did I get hand me downs, and an almost endless list of questions about how they missed out on all the good things by being the third child.
In March I did a trip to Paris and Lisbon, and with 4 days waiting time the crew were able to explore this grand old capital city, the Captain was Ron Locke, and the passengers, Deputy SACEUR General Sir Hugh Stockwell, and Lady Stockwell, Rear Admiral and Mrs Alexander, and Air Commodore Innes.
Thinking about Ron, on one Paris trip we did he decided to take Ann his wife as an Indulgence Passenger. All went fine until we arrived at the Hotel where our single crew accommodation was booked, Ron tried to explain in French that he wished to convert his room to a double, and pay the extra charge, he even produced Ann’s Passport, but the proprietor was convinced he had picked this lady up enroute and was trying to use his wife’s passport to cover his planned misdemeanour. The matter was eventually solved with a remark like bringing coals to Newcastle!
As I indicated earlier, the pioneering days of the Comet II brought to light problems which were designed out of the later marks. One crew had problems at high altitude in turbulence, and a special test flight was put in place to try and re-create the problem. Air has to flow cleanly into the intake of the engine, in order for it to be compressed and delivered to the combustion chamber where it is heated and expanded across the turbines which in turn drive the compressor. If the airflow is stable all is well, but if the aircraft suffers a strong gust, caused by an updraught, or even a violent yaw the airflow is partially diverted across the intake and not into it and the engine gets upset. The airflow into the engine and hence compressor delivery pressure is reduced, and the high combustion pressure causes a backflow in the compressor ie its airflow stalls. This can vary in intensity from a mild rumble to a strong explosion depending on the severity of the problem.
The cure is normally to reduce the combustion pressure by closing the throttle and lowering the fuel supply, then reestablishing the original power settings. On this occasion the turbulence was so bad that a complete stall took place followed by a bang surge. Flames came forward with the force of the surge and were visible from the flight deck. Surges can of course create damage to the engine, and during normal acceleration to prevent stalls and surges there is a sequence of Intake Guide Vane movement coupled with air bleeds from the compressor being progressively closed as the RPM increase. This allows the combustion pressure to escape by driving the turbine without stalling the compressor. A violent surge can cause damage to the compressor blades, which could lead to engine failure. After investigation it was decided that extreme atmospheric conditions coupled with the aircraft being at its operating ceiling had combined to cause this incident and it could not be easily reproduced.
Another embarrassing incident early in the life of the squadron was a VIP flight to Moscow, where the engines failed to start for the return flight. The electrical services in the aircraft were provided by AC generators, which were frequency wild. This supply was rectified to provide 28V DC, and this in turn charged the batteries, supplied the DC equipment, and supplied power to various inverters, which in turn provided all of the frequency controlled AC requirements. Down in the Equipment Bay were two banks each of three 24 Volt Batteries, normally connected in parallel to support the DC system. For the technically minded these batteries had no free electrolyte; it was absorbed in a granular material and could not be spilt.
For a normal start up external power was provided via two external sockets. 28V DC to support the DC systems and 112/120V DC to energise the engine starter motors. Needless to say the 120V DC supply was not always available, as is the case when new aircraft and systems are introduced. However, the aircraft had an internal start facility, a manually operated wafer switch, which allowed five of the batteries to be placed into a series connection to provide the 120V DC supply and left a single battery to support the ignition and other services needed during the start up – Radios and Fire Extinguishers for example.
Ready to start the crew ran the checklist, made the Internal Start Selection and pressed the button with great expectations. All they got on this sad and embarrassing occasion was silence, one of the batteries suffered an internal failure and there was no 120V DC supply. This was one of the few real letdowns – spare batteries were flown out and the flight eventually remounted.
In mid 1963 after nearly seven years on this aircraft which was only intended to do a couple of years in the RAF, I converted onto the Mk IV, it was great to be on the newer aeroplane, but my trip allocation changed and generally became more mundane, regular services along the standard routes were the norm as opposed to all the specials I had been allocated whilst on the Comet IIs. With a smaller fleet of only five airframes, the crew pool was also smaller, and to increase flexibility and to save on crews we operated a different system. Two crews would position at Aden, flying out as passengers on concurrent flights, and then fly the next service between Aden and Singapore, the aircraft was flown to Aden and back to the UK on its return by the same crew who had a rest stop whilst the aircraft went to Singapore and back being flown by the previously positioned shuttle crew who took it to Singapore and handed it to the alternate shuttle crew who brought it back to the original crew who then brought it home. This idea meant the shuttle crews were away for longer periods, but one less crew was involved in the service.
A typical service would take up to 17 days involve 4 legs as passenger positioning and returning, and operating 12 legs or three return trips to Singapore. This method of crew usage was widely adopted across the various fleets when they were operating high intensity slip patterns. But there was a of course a penalty; the use of passenger seats to position and recover the crews, and the time spent flying as a passenger instead of working. The main beneficiaries were of course the families who spent more time with their partners.
Life continued with plenty of routine flights and then in May 1965 I was allocated a USA Trainer, these flights had been introduced to ensure that crews were kept familiar with the high pressure flying in the US Airways System and the methods and terminology used by the Air Traffic Control Centres, Our route was from base to Goose Bay and night stop, thence to the Thule AFB, and onto Chicago O’Hare for a further stopover. Then we hit the John F Kennedy airport at New York, and on to Ottawa 90 minutes later followed by a flight to Winnipeg, where we again had a night stop. The last day took us back to base via Thule, providing navigation practice in the northern latitudes and some polar operating practice.
Leaving an aircraft overnight exposed to these very low temperatures could cause many problems with equipment. Simple things like fuse holders had to be individually checked as they contracted became loose and liable to lose contact if not screwed firmly home. Hydraulic oil could become very viscous and systems sluggish until they warmed up a bit through operation. During flight at high altitude, jacks and servo-dynes were kept warm by allowing a small quantity of fluid to pass across the operating piston.
These USA training flights were quite intense for the crews, but on some a few family members were carried, rather a lot of flying for relatively short periods of recreation, with a usually rather tired partner. Those taking advantage of this opportunity were usually those crewmembers whose children were into their teens and able to be left, or those without families. Regretfully we had three young children and Joan was never able to travel on one. One of these days I will try and continue this story, but I find modern memory is not so good.