Brief résumé of service Career
Posted 39 Sqdn Malta from Halton 1959-1963 interruption
early on due to car crash.
’63 – ’65 60 MU Salvage & Transportation Flight Dishforth.
’65-‘66 Borneo 66 Sqdn Belvederes - Forward Element Kuching.
’66-’76 Hercules Colerne/Lyneham/Thorney Is and back to Colerne.
’76 – ’79 CSDE Propulsion System Sqdn Swanton Morley
Theme throughout career – have suit case will travel.
Thirty-Nine Squadron was operationally under NATO HQ Scilly. Twice a year the Sqdn operated at Eskisehir in Turkey and Larissa in Greece. The Sqdn had its own hanger in both locations. It was a case of, ‘jump off’ the Hastings and the Sqdn WO would unlock the hanger and within minutes we would have the kettle on.
On 60 MU your life was in your suitcase. Laundry could follow you for weeks.
Belvedere operations included heavy lifts away from Kuching. Not every one wanted to fly in a Belvedere but ‘fly aways’ for a few days at least made the time appear to go faster.
Hercules First Line was almost a ticket to anywhere. Watching the 6 O’clock news in the evening, at times, told you where your next detachment would be. Off route aircraft would often go U/S. Nice Airport at midnight in the rain in October trying to sort out an intermittent Fire Warning was no holiday. It’s very similar to Blackpool prom in the rain. In both cases the rain comes in off the sea.
Technically I have landed in 33 countries but many of them I never went outside the airfield/airport.
39 Sqdn Malta, Canberra’s. Friday morning twenty minutes before lunch when the F/S remembered that the T4 required ground runs (aircraft technically in temporary storage waiting for bang seat bits). Irish engine Sgt grabs me and we rush out to aircraft. I, thinking Paddy will carry out the ground run start to check starter motor mushroom valve on port engine.
“Don’t bother with that we haven’t got time, it’ll be alright, get up in the cockpit I will get the fire bottles”
I get into the pilots seat and suddenly have one of those feelings that something is going to go wrong! I open shut off cock, adjust throttles and press starter button.
One milli second after the BANG, cocks were closed, power off, and I was outside the aircraft looking at the spray of fuel from holes in the port side of the fuselage caused by the starter motor turbine blades which had penetrated number one fuel tank! At this point I realised that I was going to spend anything from twenty-eight days to life in the glasshouse.
Three milli seconds later Tojo, our beloved F/S was asking Paddy had he checked the mushroom valve? Paddy looking as innocent as only an elderly ruddy-faced Irishman can look said,
“I did Flight Sgt”.
“What with?” said Tojo sternly.
Paddy, then, from the depths of his brown dustcoat pocket, showed approx two and a half inches of regulation broom handle. The Flight Sgt did not challenge Paddy with the fact that it actually took eighteen inches of broom handle to check the valves!
By now we were surrounded by everyone of any importance on the Sqdn, including the Wing Commander.
“Did you do this?” he said looking at me. “Yes Sir”. “Well you broke it you had better take it back to Safi (Malta’s MU)”.
The aircraft had only left Safi the previous week after all three fuel tanks had been replaced. The cockpit/nose of the aircraft had to be taken off to replace number one fuel tank!
I towed the aircraft to Safi where I faced a collection of rigger Chiefs and Corporals who looked as if they were ready to eat me. One Cpl looked at me and almost with tears in his eyes said “ Do you know how many ******* bolts hold the nose on?”
I was not charged. How lucky can you get? But it did teach me a few things – firstly never work with an Irishman, you may not always be lucky!
Happiest RAF Posting/Station and Why
RAF Dishforth 60 MU Salvage and Transportation Flight. That Flight must have been the only flight in the RAF where airmen went to work on Monday mornings with a suitcase containing sufficient clothing for minimum of a week. You never knew where you were going until you read the ‘Gang’ list. I saw a great deal of the North of England, Wales and Scotland. I had a F1629 for every vehicle up to Bedford 3 tonner’s. So, if there was no crash work on I became a ‘Technical’ MT driver, I drove all over the north of England and Scotland. On the aircraft side I learnt things that Halton never taught. There is an alternative way to take the wings off and engines out of a Vulcan!
I worked on a Stirling, albeit the pieces were not very big but there was still fuel in at least one tank. We were convinced at first that a still inflated smooth tyred main wheel was a bomb! It is surprising how fast you can climb a 15-foot trench wall. Never a dull moment except perhaps when we were on our way back to Dishforth and called in for fuel at RAF X only to be told to return to RAF Valley. Yet another Gnat had crashed, the third one that summer, due to the canopy detaching itself in-flight I think. Proved in the end to have been problems with the canopy runners. Salvage and Transportation Flight was not every one’s cup of tea, but if you wanted action and something different every day, then Salvage was a good posting if, only to learn how aircraft are put together and occasionally taken apart in the approved manner.
That Unexpected Decision (by someone other than you) that changed your Career Direction
At the end of my tour in Malta 1963 I filled in my choice of posting form and as first choice put down any MRU. This I understood to mean a Mountain Rescue Unit. When my posting came through it was for an MRU, it was called Maintenance Repair Unit 60 MU RAF Dishforth.
That Moment you thought your Career was over.
Whilst carrying out a Primary Star on a PR3 Canberra I was up the jet pipe with a torch checking the rear turbine when I heard the banger boxes being operated!
I cannot remember how I extricated myself from the jet pipe but it was done very quickly. I had hung the usual notice on the control column.
‘DO NOT ACTIVATE BANGER BOXES OR MOVE THE LP COCKS - MAN UP JET PIPE’
The Maltese electrician had removed the notice and proceeded with his electrical checks. I was restrained from exercising some form of physical punishment. The electrician was interviewed by the Squadron electrical Sgt.
That Moment you knew your Career was over
CSDE Propulsion Systems for my last three years was a different air force. The experience of Chief Technicians was respected and used extensively by our commissioned ‘brothers’. I had been selected by interview for a posting to Prop Systems because of my knowledge of Modular engines. Once into my slot I was then told my job. Design from scratch Deep Strip Bays (in fact a total engine facility for the RB 199 for the Tornado) for every Tornado station. I was somewhat surprised when, after being told which RAF station was to be handled first I was advised to go and look at my hangar! It was a very interesting job and the first time the RAF had carried out such a task. It was required because the ‘total’ engine handling equipment would be ‘rag bolted’ to the floor of the facility. Three years on and my impending departure from the air force was drawing very close. My Flt Comm. had been warned of his posting to HQ NATO Italy (Panavia Dept) and he asked if I would like to go with him! This is not the place to explore my feelings of a Flt Lt who had seen very little front line RAF service and had only served at RAF Cranwell and Swanton Morley (CSDE). I therefore declined the offer.
So I soldiered on, the fateful termination date becoming ever closer. I knew what my final financial terms would be and my wife and I planned where the surplus money would be spent, new car, white goods, the usual things.
Then, out of the blue, six weeks before ‘my date’ a personal letter from RAF Records office! Would I consider signing on! There was a vague promise of promotion and a long paragraph extolling the benefits of extending my career.
I thought deeply, why now? The first Tornado stations were ‘coming on line’ including Germany. Did I want to be a Flt Sgt in charge of a Tornado Engine Facility that I had designed? I decided, with my wife, that we did not want to sign on. The job did not frighten me but it was so potentionally full of traps that it could have ‘made’ my career or it could have conversely ‘damaged’ it irretrievably. I decided that my health and family were worth more than a possible enhanced pension and weekend trips down the Rhine!