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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

Old 20th Dec 2012, 20:51
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Danny goes Off into the Wide Blue Yonder.

The cockpit held no new terrors: the Sperry panel in the middle was the same as ever plus a Machmeter and, IIRC, the only engine instruments we had were the Jet Pipe Temperatures down below and the RPMs very much up top. Curiously, these were not %-calibrated, but two three-needle instruments exactly like an (old style) altimeter. I think we got 14,700 rpm for take-off, 14,550 was climb and 14,100 continuous, Flight Idle 8,000 and Ground Idle 3,500.

The three-needle ALT was a death trap for some new (and old) boys, as you came down at 8,000 ft/min (almost as fast as you went up), and in cloud poor Bloggs could be so concentrated on the hundreds whizzing round, and the thousands no slouches either, that he did not notice that the small 10,000-er had crept from one side of the "1" to the other.

At the bottom were the aforesaid JPTs, u/c indicators, brake pressures and (most importantly) the twin fuel gauges. The normal fill was 2 x 160 galls, this would give you about 45 min safe endurance. You must get back in circuit with 60/60, this would allow for two missed approaches. A ventral plus two tip tanks would add up to a total of 505 gallons, and you could do an hour with that.

There must have been a week of groundschool first, and on 6th Feby I climbed in with P2 Willis. He lined up on the runway, checked that the brakes would hold at 11,000 rpm, then pushed the throttles the rest of the way. The thing accelerated smoothly, no drama, no vibration, not all that much noise inside. Nosewheel off at 85 kts, the rest about 125 (IIRC). I noted with some concern u/c and flap (side by side) flick up as soon as we were clear of the ground. Up to now, we'd always waited 2-300 ft with the flaps in case the aircraft sank a bit, but the Meteor just shrugged it off.

He reduced to 14,550 and held it down till 270 kts, then pulled the nose up and up until I was "sitting on the back of my neck" (like a glider winch launch). "Zoom climb", I thought, "can't keep this up for long", and waited for the speed to drop off. But it didn't. The ASI stuck at 270, the aircraft stayed in this ridiculous attitude and the rate-of-climb was jammed against the top stop. We were punching up through the cloud layers like a rocket.

Its climb was the Meteor's party piece; the initial rate must have been around 10,000 ft/min., and as it went up it didn't seem to slacken much. "Pilot's Notes" told you to maintain 270 up to Mach 0.7, then carry on at that. Of course, the T7 was the fastest climber of the lot, having no armament or armour to carry.

After three minutes or so of this "homesick-angel" act, he levelled off at 30,000; now we're out in the blazing sun, the tops of the winter cloud far below us. Reducing to 13,500, we cruised nicely at 250 kts (Mach 0.65 ?) and he handed over to me. It handled nicely enough, but (I thought) with a strange wooly "dead" feel, far from the razor-sharp responses of a Spitfire. He took back control, throttled one engine to idle, trimmed out the yaw and gave it to me again. I was quite surprised what little difference that made: it handled exactly as before, and didn't lose much speed.

Then we tried teasing the dreaded (in those days) "Sound Barrier". Up there, knots are of little interest, what matters is the Mach number (which had its own clock on the panel). Pushing the power back to 14,500 (on both now, of course), and lowering the nose slightly, we crept slowly up to 0.76 before things ("Compressibility Effects") started to happen.

The first sympton was a curious "snatching" at the controls, as if some mischievous imp were sitting on the wing tip and idly kicking the ailerons. At 0.79, this was followed by the pressure instruments "flicking", and at 0.80 the whole airframe started to vibrate violently, but only in fits and starts. I believe 0.82 was as far as you could get before some nameless disaster would overtake you. (0.80 was reckoned to be "Fast Enough for Married Men").

We now decided discretion might be the better part of valour, having poked a finger in the eye of Providence quite far enough for one day. But before proceeding further with the exercise, we had to call for a "Steer". The limited endurance of the Meteor meant that you dare not stray far from home, so as to be close to overhead when it was time to go down, and every minute would count. A demonstration high-Mach run such as we'd just done might well have taken us 25-30 miles away. Right through all your exercises, you'd call for a "Steer" every few minutes to keep near to Driffield.

So before I describe our descent, which would prove to be as Gadarene as our climb had been rocket-like, I am next time going to bore you stiff with an account of the early days when the CR/DF (later CA/DF - same difference) and the Voice Rotating Beacon (VRB, ask Grandad) stalked the land. For, as a rule, Grandad could not mapread for toffee, and even if he had a Radio Compass (v. rare in singles) would have no idea how to use it, so he needed assistance from his friendly Air Traffic Control Officer (Advt) to guide him home to roost.

Bear with me for the next Instalment,


Waken up at the back, there ! The End of the World is Nigh !

EDIT: Chugalug,

Thanks for the steer ! (intended to see that programme, things intervened, Short Term Memory Loss took hold - again). Will enjoy at leisure in New Year (DV), seems thing is on tap to 19.12.13.

Yes, I think they would be Aussies. Can you remember the buttons ? What would the badge be, do you suppose (surely not a 'roo !)

EDIT II: Of course ! - Google: "Grants Militaria WWII Air Force Uniforms Australian" tells all. Shows black buttons. These chaps probably wore brass pre-war and still had them in France. Cuff badge was dark bronze eagle & crown ("roo" indeed !)


Last edited by Danny42C; 20th Dec 2012 at 23:54. Reason: Additional Material.
Old 21st Dec 2012, 07:35
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(Do you remember the character in Doctor in the House (was it "Benskin" ?) on whom an incautious aunt had settled an allowance of £1,000 p.a. so long as he remained a medical student. He became a professional exam-failurerer !) EDIT: (until his fiancée made him buckle down and qualify !)
It was Kenny More's 'Richard Grimsdyke' character - and the aunt was 'Mrs Rivington-Lomax', who'd left him £500 p.a. whilst under training to become a doctor. Hence he kept failing his exams.

The 'C' exam was always a Bête Noire to many of us. Dealing with matters at Secret level on a daily basis, answering questions for some blunty's benefit at unclas level seemed daft. They did actually bin the 'C' exam eventually and people were allegedly promoted on merit. If you got a Spec Rec, you were supposed to 'go up' on the next list. But not so - it took me 3 consecutive SRs (and, as I later found out, "Why hasn't he been promoted?" enquiries from an AVM....) as a Spec Aircrew Flt Lt before I eventually a Blue Envelope*. I guess I should have volunteered to be the OM House Member or something similar.....

Great thread this - Geriaviator's Battle photos are an absolute treasure and I'm sure that the RAFM Hendon or the IWM would be very interested in copies.

*I gather that this hallowed tradition no longer exists in what passes for today's RAF...

Last edited by BEagle; 21st Dec 2012 at 07:38.
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Old 21st Dec 2012, 11:50
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Thanks for setting me right about Grimsdike/Benskin. It was a long time ago !

The exam "B" held no terrors for me, for it was (for a variety of reasons) never in my sights. There was a general belief at one time that, in order to get a PC (and, by extension, having a hope of S/Ldr), you needed to (a) be a member of the RAF Club and (b) have played rugby for (at least) your Station (Group/Command/RAF so much the better).

Probably sour grapes !

Old 21st Dec 2012, 13:17
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It got worse than that Danny. The rugby ball and Bible brigade ran Bomber Command. Career advancment was the priority. You would have Flt Lts who had passed the 'C' exam having their Flt Lt braid spaced two inches apart to let the world know they were expecting their scraper in the next List. Some used to remember their Air Force List column number to assess seniority. If anything went wrong, anything, you good sense career warning lights flashing all over the place.

Luckily when the Valiants folded I was packed off out to Borneo.
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Old 21st Dec 2012, 13:29
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I would not hold your breath about Bomber Command Heritage winning the bid for Bicester!
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Old 21st Dec 2012, 15:29
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Ice, enemy of every airman

Danny, and other piston drivers of yesteryear, please can you give your memories of icing? I read somewhere that the weather may have claimed more Allied aircrew than the Luftwaffe, and a greasy paste was the only protection against icing at least in the early years.

For those who have not been terrified into a change of underwear, as I was, around freezing point and below the tiny droplets of water in a cloud turn to ice when an aircraft hits them. The resulting layer of ice destroys the aerofoil shape of the wing so it loses lift, it chokes air intakes, unbalances propellor blades so the aircraft shakes like a giant rattle, jams controls and generally spoils one's day.

In well over a thousand hours I encountered severe icing only once and thereafter took great care to ensure that the closest I got to ice was that in a small glass, well diluted with suitable antifreeze. Those five minutes on a November day still fill me with dread, but your generation took off to face icing and other perils night after night. I salute you all.

Last edited by Geriaviator; 21st Dec 2012 at 15:30.
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Old 21st Dec 2012, 22:51
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With much the same total as yours, can only think of one occasion when I was seriously troubled by ice, but that was rather odd.

After our 30-minute exercises up high in the T7, we were strongly advised to get down on the ground as quickly as possible. It seems that the airframe, perspex and front panel would be "soaked" in cold from the -50 degrees up there. If you came down slowly into warmer and more humid air, hoar frost would be apt to form inside the perspex and front panel (IIRC, not heated in any way). as fast as you could scrape it off. This left you blind.

It happened to me one day and was quite frightening. There was, I'm fairly sure, a small openable panel just to the left of the front screen. I didn't open it (think of the draught !), but scrabbled a small hole about 6 in wide, just enough to fly a circuit and put it down. Of course, if I'd had plenty of fuel, it would have been no problem, I'd just hang around for ten minutes to let it melt. But I didn't have ten minutes !

I've never been able to understand how you could "beat the frost to it" in this way, but you could (it's counter-intuitive). Can any reader enlighten me ?

Old 22nd Dec 2012, 11:06
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I'll leave it to others to explain the hoar frost query, other than to conjecture that with a very fast descent through such a warmer and wetter air, the air inside the cockpit might still remain dry enough long enough to delay its formation and hence prevent it? My query is not with the aircraft so much as with yourself. With a non pressurised cockpit your body, and in particular the ear drums and Eustachian tubes, was experiencing directly the effects of "off the clock" climb and descent rates. Any hint of a cold would surely have led to burst ear drums. Were there any such cases? Was the "Can't clear your ears, can't fly" rule rigidly enforced or was that yet to be learnt the hard way?
Do you remember the BBC series "War in the Air" (all 405 lines of course, so even if recorded not good enough for transmission these days). The opening sequence showed a flight of Meteors getting airborne and being held down just as you describe to attain the required climb speed in order to zoom heavenward.

Last edited by Chugalug2; 22nd Dec 2012 at 11:11.
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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 11:17
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Your comments at 3309' on the triple pointer altimeter are so true. Luckily when I had my salutary experience in a T7 at Worksop there was a QFI on board. I believe a number of Canberras went into the Drink at about the 10,000 foot point to the East of Binbrook; perhaps some ex-Binbrook Canberra ppruners could comment. I understand it took a lot of effort for their Airships' to be persuaded there was a much better and safer presentation.

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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 16:15
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....talk of many things...


Never got to Borneo myself. Was on standby, though, remember they bought me a beautiful blue-and-gold passport (one of the last of its kind - in the days when the Foreign Secretary of His Brittannic Majesty spoke and the world trembled) and jabbed me like a pincushion.........D.


After mulling over your suggesion re Frost, think you may well be right. Funny thing, I can't recall any form of heating or ventilation in the T7, but we only wore flying overalls over shirt sleeves yet were not cold. I suppose the radiant heat from the sun was enough, and we were only up there half an hour anyway. And we were on full oxygen from ground up, would that keep you warm ? If there was no contact with the air outside, a sort of warm cocoon would develop in the cockpits and this micro-climate last long enough to hold the frost at bay for the three minutes or so necessary. (Is there a MET man in the house ?)

As for ear-drums and Eustachian tubes, my recollection is that nobody bothered very much. In the VV we came down at 20,000 ft/min, but only for 20 seconds (and I can never remember having a cold out there). In the UK, I think it was just left to a chap's common sense whether he flew or not "bunged up". If he bust an eardrum, it was his own stupid fault.......D

aw ditor,

Sadly, the digital presentation ALT had not got into the T7 when I last flew it in November '54; the old 3-pointer was still claiming lives. Did the civvies have it ? - Flight Levels came in when ? Not in my time !.........D.

Now a Merry Christmas and my wishes for a Happy New Year to all PPRuNers (and my special thanks to the Moderator(s) for their patience in allowing so much slack to an old man who Gained His RAF Brevet in WW2),

Old 22nd Dec 2012, 16:32
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Regarding de-icing the inside of the transparencies of the Meteor our local mod was a small canvas bag attached to a suitable place in the front cockpit which contained on a piece of string a small sponge from a dinghy pack soaked in glycol. The other alternative was to romp around for a few minutes at low level and high speed (400 kts-ish) whilst watching the fuel gauges unwind !

On one occasion the pitot heater failed and the asi and the vsi (or should that be, for the politically correct, rcdi?) gave up the ghost above some embarrassing cloud whilst I was conducting an IRT. We let down using the flap indicator which, if 1/3 flap was selected, showed the flaps being blown back up above 230 kts or so. The cloud base and fuel state were fortunately sufficient for a high speed romp around North Devon to thaw the ice before joining the circuit.

Those of us familiar with Hunters will no doubt remember romping around at high power and low level with as much flap, airbrake and u/c as could safely be extended to burn off excess fuel to get down to max landing weight, which if you had two 230s, 2 100s and 560 rounds equated to min circuit fuel. Happy days.
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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 17:19
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I can't recall any form of heating or ventilation in the T7
Never fear Danny, for the web as ever will answer your every query. Herewith Pilots Notes for the Meteor T7 amended up to 1970, c/o Avialogs.
2499 todo
I'll leave you to lovingly recall all the technical detail over the next few days, unless you have something else lined up. You have? Christmas? Oh, then may I return your festive greetings and thank you sincerely for the wit and detail with which you have described all your yesterdays? May there be many many more!
Merry Christmas Danny,
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Old 22nd Dec 2012, 19:12
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Merry Christmas to all you worthy gentlemen! Perhaps as you sit back with a quiet drink your thoughts will roll back to very different Christmas times?
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Old 23rd Dec 2012, 12:26
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More pictures: 142 Sqn in France, 1939

More pictures from my father's Brownie, but one photo is annotated that his camera cost 25s, double the 12s 6d quoted by Danny! Either Danny had good contacts or (more likely) the Andover chemist who doubled as photographic dealer in those days saw Dad coming.

My father was also angered by the treatment of the erks, or LAC gunners. He recalled that they were expected to attend morning parade after (or if) they returned from night ops. On one occasion a particularly thick F/Sgt of prewar days wanted to charge a gunner who was late on parade after an op, though this was too much even for the boneheads in SHQ who told him to forget it.

Shortly after changing their Hawker Hinds for Battles the squadron was posted to Montrose on the east coast of Scotland. The aircraft were fitted with mysterious underwing drums from which a yellow substance could be sprayed during flight. Ground crews were told not to worry about German gas attack as Britain had ample means of retaliation.

Spraying exercises along the shoreline culminated with an attack on an Army base which may have been Fort George at Inverness. It was timed to coincide with a big parade, and the unfortunate and heavily bulled Pongos were sprayed with yellow gunge from low-flying Battles.

My father took this pic of Plt Off Roth’s aircraft near Andover 1938. It shows Battle crew positions pilot, navigator, and w/op air gunner. Roth was shot down in 1940 while attacking German columns and taken POW.

My father, Sgt Pritchard, and A. H. Tomes after the sortie. He thought Sgt Pritchard was shot down in France. Funnel object above their heads is the venturi which produced vacuum for air-driven instruments.

Arrival at Berry-au-Bac, November 1939. Heighton, Jones, my father, and Theobold, having camouflaged the Battle with branches taken from the roadside hedges.

More pix to come shortly. Meantime, Merry Christmas, everyone, especially Santa's senior captain, now in the jet age!
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Old 23rd Dec 2012, 22:24
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Days long gone.


Thank you so much for my "Pilot's Notes". After a cursory look-through, note that (as amended to 1970), much has changed since my time 20 years before (in particular, Intentional Spins are now prohibited - and a good thing, too !)

How did we learn all this stuff in a few days ? I have signed a certificate (as we all had to do, and a copy sits accusingly in my log), to the effect that: "I fully understand:- (1) Fuel and oil, (2) Hydraulic, and (3) Pneumatic Systems, (4) Emergency Operation of Flaps and Undercarriage, (5) Action in the event of Fire, and (6) Method of abandonin (sic) aircraft, in respect of Meteor 7 and Vampire aircraft".

They'd covered themselves pretty comprehensively, wouldn't you say ? (what had the poor Electrical System done to be missed out ? - but to compensate, they'd thrown in the Vampire, which I'd never even touched !)

Now anything which happened to the aeroplane must be my fault..........D,


Too true they do !........(Absent Friends)......D.


What a feast is laid before me !......Where to start ?..... In order, therefore:

Dad will be right (but 25 bob was a lot of money - say £60 today).......
The whole thing has a strange feel of being just an extension of peacetime (the "Phoney War"?). The F/Sgt hadn't taken it in that they were in a life-or-death struggle - he was in peacetime mode still......
Now I sit up with a jerk (almost spill my cocoa): if it looks like mustard, sprays like mustard etc, it certainly was mustard. Pongos were sprayed ! (No, surely not - this cannot have happened ?)
And how come I'm doing exactly the same thing six years later in Cannanore ? Do we ever learn ?.........D.

now the lovely photos:

Was there ever a longer canopy - you could put two more chaps in there. Gunner has got his Vickers G.O. in with him ? Looks like a loaded 11 lb practice bomb rack under the wing, yet something odd about it. What put the neat hole in the fin - mice ?.............
Again the quiet, relaxed, "summer afternoon" feel about this. Your dad is still in his old "button-up", the Sgt-Pilot has swung rank on the store-basher. Belts are worn tight this year. Cary Grant (aka Tomes) looks v. debonair. Anyone for tennis ?..............
Am I alone in seeing disembodied head over Gunner's canopy ? Your dad - Officer Material if ever I saw it ! Heighton, where did you get the swagger stick ? Theobald, wouldn't stand around like that for long, if I were you !........D.

God rest ye , merry Gentlemen all, now - and (especially) then,

Old 27th Dec 2012, 18:19
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Danny Finds his Way Home (with help from his friends).

Last time, I threatened to bore you. I am a man of my word.

From the very earliest days of radio, the possibilities of Direction Finding by this means had been exploited. But the old manual D/F rigs needed forever and a day to give you a bearing, and even then you were never quite sure that you hadn't got a reciprocal.

Enter the Cathode Ray Direction Finder. Fanfare of trumpets for the finest piece of navigational (ground) equipment that the RAF has had in half a century ? Not a bit of it ! I cannot find (Google/Wiki) a definitive date for its introduction in service, but in early '50s some places had got it, and some not, and Driffield was one of the lucky ones. And they were still going strong (as Commutated Antenna Direction Finders - UHF had come in) when I retired in '72. They may be going yet, for all I know....... Anybody ?

Some seven years after Driffield, a USAF Colonel came round Strubby to have a look at our gear. Uninterested in the old MPN1 Bendix radar truck (outdated US stock anyway), his gaze lit on the CR/DF tube. With growing fascination, he watched a highly skilled operator (modesty forbids) safely gather in a mixed bag of Hunters, Canberras and Meteors out of the winter murk (and feeding them into GCA if required) with practised ease. "That", said he finally, with obvious sincerity, "is the best Goddam aid I ever saw !" Hard to believe, but the USAF had (then) nothing to match it.

One of his compatriots had even more reason to admire the system at that time. The obvious extension of the service from simple airfield recovery was to be the bedrock of the VHF Emergency system (on 121.5). Three or more CR/DFs, widely dispersed, transmitted their bearings by landline to a Rescue Co-ordination Centre, There they flashed up onto a screen, intersected, and showed an instant "fix".

Our chap was very high in the Blue Yonder over the North Sea. The thing he was in spontaneously combusted and he had to get out very fast. He put out a Mayday, but got no further than "May" when the flames licked his bottom and he had to break off the conversation. But it was enough.

And it so happened (it really was his lucky day) that a S&R Helicopter was going out on an exercise, and was pretty well on the spot. It hung around until they saw him floating down and positioned themselves. They fished him out of the North Sea before he finished spouting out his first mouthful. (Pity they didn't have a sort of big butterfly net available, he wouldn't even have had to get wet). He sang the praises of the Limeys to his dying day (or so the story went).

As I have said, you called for steers repeatedly and, as everybody else in the upper airspace was doing the same, the poor Approach Controller was working like a one-armed paper-hanger. A way to automate the job was urgently needed; the boffins turned up trumps. They devised the Voice Rotating Beacon (VRB).

A ground transmitter near the airfield put out a rotating narrow beam signal. This was synchronised with a closed loop which carried a R/T recorded message in such a way that a listening pilot would hear only a short message, telling him his "Steer" (to the nearest ten degrees). With your fuel contents needles almost visibly moving down as you watched, this was a great comfort. It worked like this:

On its own frequency, (of course) you would hear faintly, (say) "Zero Three, Alpha", then much louder: "Zero Four, Alpha", then faintly again: "Zero Five, Alpha", then silence for half a minute while the radio "lighthouse" was going round, and then a repeat. "Alpha" was the ident, (there were several VRBs in the UK and it was advisable to be on the right one).

In the case given, you'd turn onto 040°. As you approached your field, the accuracy would increase and when you passed o/head, the QDMs would suddenly reverse and you knew where you were. Below cloud, you would have seen your field and joined visually.

The beauty of the idea was that it could serve an infinite number of customers at once (like a GPI). But this was to prove the Achilles' heel. A number of aircraft might be at the same height in poor visibility, pilots head down in the cockpit, fixed on their D.I.s, all homing onto the same point.

There were a number of spectacular near misses (as the system was not controlled in any way), but I don't think there was ever a collision. The risk was reduced by making people fly quadrantals, but could not be eliminated. Eventually the JP came into the schools, they got their own CR/DF and took over from Driffield and its VRB.

The VRBs were phased out, but not forgotten. The quicker thinking of our readership will have realised that the basic principle was ripe for development into the VOR, with only the voice element being replaced by a transmission which actuated the aircraft panel instrument.

The last VRB was in operation in the mid-'60s. I hunted it down on a quiet weekend ATC watch in Shawbury and found it (in RAFAC) somewhere in W. Africa (Ghana, I think). Long gone now, of course, but it was a Good Idea at the Time.

Now you have all been such good boys, and not fidgeted too much, so we shall go back to our Meteor next time.

Au revoir,


(he has been at the Fine Ruby Port again)
Old 27th Dec 2012, 19:10
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... just the shape of the leaves, not a disembodied head, Danny, 'tho that Ruby Port may have had an influence! ... and if that's NOT the rest of him perched on the wing between those still on terra firma!
May I add not only belated Christmas greetings but also a Happy and Healthy New Year to you and that gallant (dwindling) band that form the kernel of this thread.

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Old 27th Dec 2012, 22:10
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Taphappy here, still vertical and above ground, may I wish a belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all Crew room members.
I have been followiing your post war exploits with great interest and it is great to see such places as Driffield and Strubby mentioned which bring back memories.
Your last post has blinded me with science so perhaps I made the right decision by not staying in the RAF.
A few posts ago you made reference to the Polish aircrew who stayed in the RAF after the war and I can only second your comments as quite a number of the staff pilots at 5ANS in 1946 were Poles who because of the political situation could not return to their homeland. They were great guys and gave great service to the RAF
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Old 29th Dec 2012, 08:53
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have you even been to Berry au Bac ? Whilst I appreciate the Sqn was operating out of fields there may well be someone there who remembers which one. Thank you for the pics and the story.
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Old 29th Dec 2012, 12:05
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There is still an aerodrome north of Berry au Bac, next to the road as described by Geraviator. Googlemap will find it, but I can't seem to post a link! I have been to Berry au Bac, but only on my boat.....
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