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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 28th May 2017, 09:59
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Climbing out of Cologne one day in a BAC1-11 with the cockpit door open, at about three thousand feet there was a large bang and a ball of energy slowly left the flightdeck and made it's way down the aisle to finally disappear near the tail. The stewardess, a very pretty girl with a shortish hairstyle, unstrapped herself from her seat in the galley and came into the flightdeck "asking what was that?" not realising that her hair was now standing upright like a field of corn. Oh how we laughed!
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Old 28th May 2017, 10:11
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It might have been Ian Mackersey's book "Rescue Below Zero" published first in 1954 that first told the story of the Hastings stranded on the Greenland ice-cap.

The detailed recall of some of the others here is amazing. To remember what people said when you were five, equally so. All I can contribute along those lines is knowing what an Avro York was when aged five. My cousin, five years older than me, lived downstairs with our grandmother. One day in their kitchen, Richard, the cousin, was playing with a model plane on the floor. It was a die-cast model of a silver coloured York with the registration in big black block letters right cross the upper surface of the wings. The G- part has stayed with me down the years. But when seeing Richard again after the passage of some fifty years, he had no memory at all of the occasion or even ever owning a die-cast model plane. (In my case, I left school, then went on to work my way up the ladder of civil aviation in Australia, enjoying every moment of a sometimes pretty colourful - and hairy - flying life. Poor Richard, for his entire working life, worked for a produce store in the country.)

The late Ian Mackersey, by the way, when he had finished his biography of Charles Kingsford Smith, asked me to read his draft and make any comment or suggestion i felt warranted. It was an honour, I thought to be so asked. The only correction I suggested was that in Australia there are no 'ranches', as in the States , but stations, as in cattle station or sheep station. Meentheena was the name of such a station in the Pilbara of Western Australia. Smithy wrote to his mum in 1922, saying "Nice girl at Meentheena" Their wedding and subsequent reception, (or monumental piss-up) in the Ironclad Hotel in Marble Bar, lasted for two days and two nights. An affair Ian Mackersey described with characteristic verve and aplomb. Forty years on from that doomed marriage, I'd overnight in the Ironclad, while flying for an earth-mover with plant all over W.A. The publican was 'Smokey' Dawson. His Pekinese spent half his life on the bar. He'd lap up the beer slops from a big old battered brass ash tray that was his at the end of the bar. I'd turn in, imagining I could hear Smithy, singing a raunchy song to his ukulele, a skill he perfected during his time in the RFC in the war.
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Old 28th May 2017, 11:23
  #10743 (permalink)  
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26er (#10762),

I don't wish to be "hogging" this noble Thread, but in my Page 124, #2462, I relate:
"...There was an amusing (for the bystanders) incident in which this Spit was involved. An armourer was tinkering with the firing button in the cockpit. A second airman walked past right in front of the aircraft when the guns unexpectedly fired. As he was exactly in line with the nose, the rounds passed harmlessly either side of him and off to the Welsh hills. The gun camera (in the port wing root) still had film in it, it worked and this was developed. Seemingly, the prints clearly showed his hair standing on end!..."
So it's not an old wives' tale ! If I were ever confronted by ball lightning (or an erect Cobra), I don't think that that would have been by only physiological reaction !

Old 28th May 2017, 16:35
  #10744 (permalink)  
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NO SIREE. . . . . the main pain is usually the laundry bill.

There was a security man in Melbourne once on his 2 am patrol He told the story of entering at the building of a big corporation on Collins Street. On muffled feet he climbing several flights of the internal staircase till emerging at say the sixth level he was aware of the faint flickering of torch light. He stood at he door of the MD's office, wide open, watching a man rifling through a filing cabinet drawer. Barry stood there watching the invader for minutes. Finally the man, as it turned out a high ranking executive of a rival firm, turned round and saw Barry. "He closed the draw " said Barry " a small selection of files tucked under his arm, saw me, and filled his pants."

Whenever there is talk of the BAC1-11 I think of the story when the VIP squadron of the RAAF (No 34) based at Canberra pensioned off its last BAC1-11. The CO brought the aircraft back to base, sans passengers, immediately before it was made ready for despatch to an oversea buyer. That skipper's name was Terrell, from memory. He requested a run down the runway at 3000 feet agl. At the best moment for display he hawled the nose up into a climbing turn which merged into a graceful barrel roll, a la Tex Johnson of 707 fame. (Done by Tex in Seattle and again over Port Philip Bay, Melbourne. And by Alex Henshaw at Castle Bromwich in a Lanc on a test flight. Delightfully recounted in "Sigh for a Merlin",)
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Old 28th May 2017, 17:48
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I don't wish to be "hogging" this noble Thread
Perish the thought, Danny, you're its mainspring! And long may your clock continue to tick. Your postings bring smiles to all our faces, as they have done for years.
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Old 28th May 2017, 19:12
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All aircraft will do barrel rolls with sufficient speed and power. A rolling turn with sufficient pitch up is enough as the aeroplane has no idea which way is up. The thing to remember is NOT to push the stick forward when you are upside down.
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Old 28th May 2017, 22:01
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Supermarine fouled it up with the Attacker.
In the second half of the War,Supermarine had put a lot of time and effort into a Spitfire "replacement" with a re-designed wing with a higher critical Mach number, the Spiteful.
When this was overtaken by the development of the jet, they used the wing, married to a new fuselage with a jet engine, and this became the Attacker. The wing had been designed with the main wheels forward, to go with a tailwheel (perhaps to give ground clearance for a big prop?). Re designing the wing to move the main wheels aft to go with a nosewheel would have involved an unacceptable time delay.
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Old 29th May 2017, 12:27
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Continued from #10736 page 537, the adventures of a five-year-old in RAF Poona, 1946

POP, our Indian bearer, is a wonderful story-teller. Sometimes Mummy and Sgt James next door listen too as Pop tells how the Lord Shiva fought lots of battles, the monkey god Hanuman gets up to all sorts of mischief, and the elephant god Ganesh gave me a ride on his back when we went to the circus in Poona.

Pop shows us pictures when he tells the stories, one god is a very cross lady sticking out her tongue which I'm not allowed to do, she has lots of arms so she looks like a spider. Pop says she is called Kali and she is a friend of Lord Shiva. The Indians have lots of gods but the padre tells us in Sunday School that we have only one god, so we seem to be missing out.

My close escape from the cobra causes a stir in our little European community, and at the RAF school the headmaster calls us all together to warn that Indian snakes are very dangerous, if we see one we should keep well away and call a teacher. In Sunday School the padre says that the Lord must have been looking after me, so today we are going to have a lesson about the serpent. He says the god put two people called Adam and Eve in a garden with a serpent. We all ask what is a serpent and the padre replies that it is a snake. Now I get it, I say, Mannassa the snake god put the people there and didn't bite them, but the padre says there is no snake god, the Lord protected you from the cobra. Relieved, I agree that the Lord Shiva protects me as long as I don't go under the bungalows where he can't see me.

No no no, says the smiling padre, Shiva is an Indian god, it's our good Lord who protected you from the cobra. But the Lord Shiva stopped the snake from biting me, he was a very bad snake, koborrah sneep bahut burraburra hai. I figure that I'd better throw in some Hindi just in case Lord Shiva is listening and feels left out of the discussion. We speak in English here, says the padre, now you're being a little naughty. For Lord Shiva's information, I translate naughty: yoo ********* ****.

The padre's eyes widen, the Sunday School teacher turns pale, I'm seated in the corner until Mummy arrives to collect me, the padre speaks to Mummy in low tones and her face turns red before she hustles me homewards and bedwards. You're a very bad boy and you can't go back to Sunday School again, she says. Thank you Lord Shiva, I say as my bedroom door closes, and I fall happily and deeply into sleep.

Next instalment: Geriaviator ( aged 5) concludes his memories of RAF Poona 1946 with the day he was bitten by the aviation bug. Alas, 70 years later, he has never recovered.
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Old 29th May 2017, 14:44
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Oh that gave me a joyful 'LOL' on a wet, dismal, Bank Holiday afternoon. Nice one, Geriaviator, you naughty little ****** ***
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Old 29th May 2017, 17:01
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Another howler ! Poor padre, he must've felt he was on a hiding to nothing with you in his Sunday School !

Of course "****" is the last Taboo that even the BBC cannot break - but it calls to mind another apocryphal story which used to be well known in the RAF in my day.

The scenario: the airmen are filing into Church on a Church Parade. One chap has forgotten to take off his beret as he mounts the steps . "Take yer 'at off in the 'Ouse of Gawd, XXXX !" bawls the Sergeant. ......

À propos of Church Parades, Geriaviator (Jnr), in a later environment, has told a tale to chill the bones of any padre, and no doubt he will tell it again in due course, but of course I would not dream of "shooting his fox !"

Old 30th May 2017, 11:27
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Topcliffe September 1953. There were two Neptune Squadrond, 203 and 210. I was crewed up with a very experienced NCO Captain and we took part in the B of B fly past over Buck House. Soon after I was to be co pilot to another very experienced Coastal Captain, and took him up to Kinloss for him to convert and flew together for three months when I was sent with another " newcomer" to the Joint Anti Submarine School at Londonderry for a month. HMS Sea Eagle was a "stone frigate" on the main road out of Derry. Very comfortable. We had many lectures, took part in the School. In the school was HMS Rocker, a frigates bridge on hydraulic rams and we all took part as Navy. People sometimes got sick if the "sea" was too rough. The "submarine" was the size of a telephone box, on intercom to a WREN, Who, if she liked you, would be very helpful as she knew far more than we did. We flew on exercises with the schools tame frigates and submarines, and also went out in them to see what went on from the other side. After exercises we all went to the lecture hall where the captains and navigators plotted our courses and had the wash up in front of the school staff, the submarine and frigate captains and navigators. The crews were in the dress circle with the school staff and the Captain and Group Captain, and we captains of the aircraft would stand on the main floor, announce who we were, and then have to justify our actions. The Captain would say " Move to so and so" and Wrens in bell bottoms, white shirts and white plimsolls would dash nd move various models etc to the next position, stared at by a hundred eyes!! It was all good fun and we did this course every year, and operated our aircraft out of Ballykelly. Sometimes the ships would be from the Home Fleet, and so we were all against the school which was even more interesting. I was given a Captaincy in February 1954. Then our navex's began at Great Ormes Head if we were going south west!! We also went for a month each year to Malta to the AS School there to operate with the Mediterranean Fleet.Gradually we had more people coming from conversion in Kinloss, and so the two Topcliffe Squadrond were poached to form another Squadron 36.
Our operating area was supposed to be the North Sea but we used to take Mail out to the Weather Ships in th North Atlantic, India in the Bay Of Biscay, Juliet 400 miles west of Ireland at 20W, and Kilo in the Denmark Strait west of Iceland.. a popular task. We practiced interceptions in the North and Southwest Approaches, and shadowed our"friends" up the coast of Norway. Sometimes out of Orland near Trondheim. All very interesting, and in Coastal we captains were given a great deal of initiative. A very happy time.
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Old 30th May 2017, 11:50
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Supermarine fouled it up with the Attacker
I'm pretty sure I read the Navy wanted a tailwheel as they didn't know if tricycle undercarriages would be suitable for carrier operations. Presumably the jet blast wouldn't bother an armoured deck too much, unlike grass or tarmac.

No idea why as Capt. "Winkle" Brown had already landed both an Airacobra and a Vampire on deck with no problems.

Re earlier discussions mentioning the Hermes, Duxford has the last remaining fuselage on display. Unfortunately the rest of the airframe was scrapped.
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Old 30th May 2017, 13:25
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I got involved in a hilarious discussion this morning with my Skyways York guru with reference to who did what with the throttles on civilian Yorks. It was quickly established that the captain did his own throttles on take-off.

"So what happened when it was the co-pilot's take-off"?

"Ah! Well when it was the co-pilot's leg he would move over to the left seat".

"So what did the guy in the right seat do"?

"Well nothing, he was now in the left seat"!

Much hilarity.

"So, did the guy in the left seat also do his own throttles on landing"?

"No. Because the throttles were too stiff coming back and both hands might be needed on the control column".

"So, who did the throttles on landing"?

"The guy in the right seat"!

And here comes the punch line:

"What was the flight engineer doing while all this was going on"?

"We didn't carry flight engineers"!!!!!!!!!!!

That had us all lying on the floor laughing.
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Old 30th May 2017, 14:29
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Ormeside28 (#10752),

Your: ".... We flew on exercises with the school's tame frigates and submarines, and also went out in them to see what went on from the other side ...."

In my p.220 #4383 & #4385, I give a full account of a Submarine Instructional Visit (aka "Jolly"), ca. 1959, to which we (Thorney Island ATC) were kindly invited by the True Blue of HMS Vernon (Portsmouth). Very interesting - but alas no WRNS aboard then. But having married one (ex) by then, perhaps shouldn't be greedy.

Safer on top of the water, for me !

Old 30th May 2017, 15:58
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Ormeside, your account of RAF maritime ops emphasises the close relationship you had with your principle customer, ie the Royal Navy, and perhaps implies a certain separation therefore from the rest of the RAF.

I'm not trying to be divisive here, but having never served in Coastal Command I can only draw on impressions gathered over the years. As a Captain for instance you sat in the LHS, but I understand that the a/c captain can/could (?) be not a pilot at all, but one of the rear crew. Is that right? The only time that ever applied to me (as an ex-Transport Command captain) was if the Nav Squadron Cdr was part of the crew. He would invariably forgo the privilege, content for a change to let someone else spell out what was to be done and what time to report for briefing, transport, etc.

In short, I wonder if the Coastal life was more akin to the RN, or were the differences with other RAF Commands merely determined by the role? To be fair, there were differences between many transport squadrons, mainly reflecting a boss's preferences. Some liked to crew up their aircrew for instance, others to roster crews as individuals so that SOPs were adhered to rather than let any crew familiarity breed contempt for them.

Given the parlous situation today, whereby the RN is denied this essential support from the air UFN, should it have had possession of land based Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft all along? Might it have taken greater care therefore to see that such aircraft were up to the mark, rather than ending up as recycled parts from a previous existance?

Sorry, contentious stuff I know, but the RAF seems to have made a right pig's ear of this essential component of Air Power, particularly for an island nation!
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Old 30th May 2017, 17:21
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Thrills and (almost) spills with a Beverley

Thanks JW411, Skyways did seem to indulge in a rather unnecessary game of musical chairs – why couldn't the pilots remain in their usual positions, after all the York had a full set of dual controls? On the other hand I think it was probably good practice for the flying pilot not to handle the throttles on landing; not only was placing the bird on the deck better done as a two-handed job on the control yoke, but due to the throttles being roof mounted and thus moving in an upwards arc as they closed they were better handled for landing by someone giving his full attention to that task.

Mention of flight engineers reminds me they were not initially part of the Beverely crew, and anyway could not handle the throttles as each pilot had his own set – captain to his left hand, and co-pilot on his right. Which further leads me on to an account of an exciting few minutes in that likeable monster:-

The Transport Command Examining Unit was carrying out the first of its usual bi-annual visits to RAF Abingdon since conversion of no. 47 Squadron to the Beverley. So, having self-authorised to undertake a Categorisation Test Parts 1 & 2 on one of the squadron flight commanders, Sqdn Ldr 'Eddie' Sleeman, the bright, clear morning of 28th January 1957 found us taxiing towards RW18 for a simulated instrument take-off and departure. Additional to the normal crew we had on board a third pilot who, awaiting type conversion, had volunteered to earn his passage monitoring the engine oil temperatures. I was only too glad to have this boring but essential task taken off my hands for, what with watching Eddie's performance and taking notes thereon, setting throttles, props and other ancillaries according to his calls plus maintaining a general look-out I had more than enough to do; for the Beverley flight engineer lay some years in the future, while thanks to a (typically British) lack of forethought so also did the autopilot.

Engine and other checks completed we taxied into position on RW 18, halting a moment while Eddie donned the dreaded 'tin hat', a metal visor supposedly restricting the candidate's field of view to his flight instruments. This curious contrivance, bodged up in station workshops, was secured (?) to his cranium by means of a large spring clip that was either uncomfortably tight or so loose that it tended to fall off; it was also a flight safety hazard, causing an inevitable blind spot on the wearer's side of the aircraft. In later years the advent of flight simulators thankfully relegated this awful object a dark corner of aviation history.

Take-off and initial climb were normal and on passing 200ft agl I switched off the No 4 ICO, a legitimate training exercise at that time. I had previously briefed Eddie that practice engine failure(s) might occur at any time after attainment of a safe height and he coped well enough, correctly identifying the 'failed' engine and calling for the correct feathering and shut-down procedures to be carried out. However no sooner had I done this than our third pilot reported the no 3 oil temperature uncontrollable, the cooler flap wide open with the gauge needle hard against its stop; so, advising Eddie of my actions, I unfeathered no 4 and then killed 3 once 4 was restored to climb power.

By the time we had struggled to 800 ft or so it was painfully clear that not only were both port engines now showing similar signs of distress, so was the recently restarted no 4 while during this excitement the tower passed the glad tidings that all our engines were trailing black smoke, thus suddenly making thoughts of terra firma highly appealing. Time to revert to reality I thought, telling Eddie to remove his visor and continue ahead in level flight while I assessed the rapidly deteriorating situation. All oil cooler flaps were now wide open to no avail, and with all oil temperatures off the clock (and yes, the cylinder heads going the same way) it was obvious the engines would not last much longer - so, on the principle that any help was welcome I restarted no. 3 and advised Eddie to make an immediate 1800 turn, at the same time telling the tower we required an emergency landing on RW36.

So, levelling off at 1500ft we staggered back towards the airfield, meanwhile keeping a wary eye open for sites possibly suitable for what our forebears aptly termed a 'pancake' landing (presumably meaning 'spread thinly all about', our possible fate). Mercifully our engines kept going and, knowing that the Bev was closely related to the Hamilcar glider, I advised Eddie to keep some height in hand while making a semi-glide approach: which he did very well, using minimum power all the way down and turning off at the 26/08 intersection. Miraculously all four motors were still turning, but clanking and clattering in the most appalling fashion with the highest oil pressure indicating 5 psi – the idling minimum being 80!

All four power units were subsequently changed, filters and oilways clogged with shredded metal and vast amounts of carbon “burnt” off the engines' innards by the gross overheating. As always follows such incidents there were many willing to point the finger alleging that the oil cooler controls had been incorrectly operated, however similar but less serious incidents involving other aircraft soon afterwards forced the official mind and others to apply intelligence rather than innuendo. Plainly, either contaminated fuel or oil was the likely culprit and it was soon established that avtur had somehow got into the avgas storage, but in the longer term there seemed to be a conspiracy of silence on the whole affair and only much later did I get the true story.

This was years later in Changi Creek's Sundowner Bar, when a Rolls Royce (Bristol) engine rep gave me the sad tale. It seems a tanker driver delivering a load of jet fuel was mis-directed by the guardroom, emptying bis load into the avgas storage bunker to the subsequent great discomfiture of the Beverely fleet. The resultant witch's brew caused severe detonation followed by gross over heating, resulting in heavy carbon deposits (mainly from beneath the pistons) breaking up and choking oilways, filters etc. What little oil did find its way through was anyway grossly overheated, insufficient for proper lubrication and heat-degraded so that the engines were not far off total failure by the time we got XB264 back on the ground. We had indeed been very lucky not to have become headline news on the day rather than some months later, and it was fortunate the extra pilot had been on board – for without his undivided attention to the vital oil temperatures, the unfolding drama may well have gone un-noticed until too late.

As for the afore-mentioned reference to a later time, following a fatal accident near Abingdon soon afterwards the Sunday Express somehow got hold of our story and gave it full frontal treatment, serving it up as a general condemnation of the Bev's alleged lack of airworthiness in a typical piece of yellow press muck-raking. To my intense chagrin I was given the hero treatment while Eddie, who had done all the hard work, was not even mentioned!

In later years the questionable practice of actually shutting down engines during training flights (except for demonstrating engine re-start, and then only in level flight at a safe altitude), was rightly prohibited. For my part, from then on I never, ever, simulated loss of power at any stage of flight until a reasonable time had elapsed since the first take-off and all systems proven to be in proper working order.
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Old 30th May 2017, 19:05
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Harrym, your wonderful account and your remarkable recall had me holding my breath. Would it seem greedy to ask for more? Thank you ...
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Old 30th May 2017, 19:44
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Danny, Chugalug and Harry's, what a great crew Room! Coastal was run by joint Maritime Headquarters, usually, in my time, with Maritime HQ at Northwood with the C in C Coastal and a Vice Admiral. 19 Group at Mountbatten and 18 Group at Pitreavie, near Rosyth both commanded by a AVM and a Vice Admiral. We all got on well and I never remember any problems with joint operations as most of our operations, shadowing, Anti - sub etc were ordered by the Navy. I do not think, certainly in my time, that either side wanted things changed.
Back to Topcliffe. In August 1957 203 disbanded and those staying in Coastal went to 210 or 36. As my wife was pregnant my Group Captain, without my knowledge, arranged for us to be posted to 120 Squadron at Aldergrove, to be converted to Shackletons on the Squadron and the Station leaders, so by passing Kinloss. Very kind. After my conversion I was given a Captaincy and we settled in a hiring near Belfast.
Soon after settling in at Aldergrove the Vulcan crashed at London airport. It had been supported on its trip to Australia and New Zealand by a Shackleton from 120. So that crew arrived back with lots of questions asked. Then one of the Topcliffe Neptunes on the JASS course at Londonderry, crashed on the Mull of Kintyre. You will remember the Captain, Danny. Shortly after that, the Suez war started and our Shacks were used as troop carriers with 25 soldiers sitting on the floor! The ones I brought back were very disillusioned!
By this time those from the Neptune Squadrons were arriving in the Shackleton Squadrons having been through the Shack conversion and I was able to meet old friends again. We had a Meteorological Squadron of Hastings at Aldergrove which carried out weather trips out in the Atlantic.
Again our trips were similar to those that we had done from Topcliffe, but we went further north and west. Still carried on our weather ship mail drops. Operations in the Mediterranean, shadowing east and north. One notable trip was to the U.S. Naval bases. Stephenville, Norfolk, Guantanamo, Key West, Jacksonville and Brunswick. Followed by two weeks with the Canadians at Greenwood.
Towards the end of my tour with 120, a pal I/c postings at Command asked me if I would like to go to 205,converting from Sunderlands at Seletar to Shackletons at Changi. So it was up sticks again. Northern Ireland was beginning to suffer from terror. Coming back from Aldergrove late at night after flying, we would see road blocks in the road and hope that those manning it were the B Special Police and not the opposition. Sea Eagle closed down shortly after we left, the ships left Londonderry. (Lots of unemployed). The Navy left Eglinton, we left Ballykelly and Aldergrove. Sad! I will tell about 205 and Gan next.
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Old 31st May 2017, 19:13
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Ormeside28 (#10579),

..."Soon after settling in at Aldergrove the Vulcan crashed at London airport. It had been supported on its trip to Australia and New Zealand"...

This will be the 1st October 1956. I pray in aid my p.207, #4137 (and two later Posts on this Thread; this is inordinately long, but four men died in the course of it, so I hope you [and the Moderator] will indulge me):

...Danny sees an Enemy in the Camp.

(This is taking me away from Sleap and my main thread, but that's my own fault, I started it, so I must tell the whole story)....D.

Of course the challenge was taken up; Providence put a hidden gremlin into the mix. After each "run", Tracker spins his little wheel down ready for the next customer. He would appear at the limit of range, say 7-8 miles. Director would have the aircraft down to 1500 ft at that point, at circuit speed, cockpit checks complete and three greens for landing (or whatever), ready for his handover to Talkdown at 6-7 miles.

But at 7 miles Glide Path is at 2100 ft, so Tracker's blip is so far down under that even at maximum depression he can't get his line onto the blip until, with the reducing range, the blip plods along (right to left) till it approaches the sloping GlidePath. * Then, as the range continues to close, he winds up steadily to keep his line exactly over the blip. That's all he has to do.

* ILS Glidepath needle (noted by one who has only ever "flown" them in the Link) behaves in a similar way.

Talkdown has one eye on his own blip, and the other on the Errormeter. When his blip first appears at limit of range, E/mtr needle will show at bottom stop. Then as range closes it rises steadily until at 50 ft below G/Path, Talkdown will say: "Do not acknowledge further instructions, you are five miles from touch down, commence descent at your normal rate of descent" - and the game's on, to end (you both hope) 2½ minutes later with the rubber on the runway and another Satisfied Customer.

Our Gremlin bides his time.

He is crafty beyond belief. Unerringly he goes for the weak point - the Tracker's cursor. (Surely not !) After each run, Tracker spins the little wheel down. Sometimes (repeatedly ?) it hits the stop with a bit of a bump. The pea bulb in the cursor may be jerked just a wee bit out of position. This may introduce a danger out of all proportion to its insignificant cause.

The light is, as it were, "contained" inside the cursor, but behaves in strange ways. With the pea bulb dead centre, the scribed line should get all the illumination, the top and bottom edges remain unlit and invisible (or at least faint) over the tube. But if it's out of position on Tracker's cursor? A case can arise (and cases had arisen at Sleap) in which the top or bottom edge of the Cursor was so much more brightly illuminated than the scribed line that it could easily be mistaken for it. It was not uncommon for two lines to appear at the same time; Tracker could interpret these as top edge over scribed, and so follow the lower, whereas what he was actually seeing was scribed over bottom, and he was following that.

Suppose this went unnoticed in the darkened Truck, what would be the effect ? Tracker would wait for his next blip as before. His false line is lower than the true one, so the blip would meet it sooner (by about half a mile, but that need not worry him, the aircraft is not always exactly at 1500 ft when it appears). Talkdown's E/mtr would bestir itself a bit early, no cause for alarm, the system should easily accommodate a bit of deviation if it is properly set-up.

Now the situation would develop with all the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. Everything would look and sound absolutely normal to any observer. The aircraft continues on the G/path - E/mtr says so. Talkdown is happy, Pilot is happy.
But he's on a false glide path - about 150 ft below the true one. If he continues on it, head down in cockpit on instruments until told to "Look ahead for the Runway" (as a good Pilot should be), he will touch down among the approach lights about a half-mile short of the threshold. And no one can work out why.

Ring any bells, anyone ?

From an armchair, it is easy to pick out "Why didn't"s. Why didn't Tracker see that his line no longer met ground at touchdown, but half a mile before, while Talkdown is saying "you're on the glidepath ?" (but Tracker's orders are to keep the line on the blip, nothing more, all the time - he is to mind his own business, and nobody else's).

Why didn't Talkdown query the aircraft height when it looked to be meeting G/path half a mile too soon ? (why should he, talk-down would last about 15 seconds longer, but that was all).

IMHO, it could all so easily have been avoided. That was the real tragedy.
More about that next time, to round off a story in which four good men had died.
(I must make it clear that my attribution of this cause to the accident in question is entirely subjective - I cannot prove it, but I firmly believe it, and it was a belief shared by all the Sleap instructional body at the time).

Goodnight once more, chaps. Danny42C.

For the want of a nail.....


Danny42C #4147

Danny has a Sad Story to tell.

The trouble was that this snag was so easy to fix. Off with the cursors onto the bench, out with a half-round file. File a "deckel-edge" along both sides of the cursors. Now you can't confuse it with the central line. The "mod" was so quick and easy that no one saw any need to put it up for official adoption.

The word quickly got round all the MPN-1s in the RAF and you just did it. After the Sleap GCA School, which first recognised the fault, the two MPN-1s I later worked (Strubby and Gatow) had this "mod" done before I got to them. But there was an MPN-1 which (AFAIK) hadn't. And I believe it wasn't a "Bendix", but was from another maker, but exactly to the same pattern.

This was the one at Heathrow. They had ILS, of course, and I would think that 99% of their traffic preferred this. Not that their GCA was idle, far from it. It was used (on the "belt and braces" principle) to monitor the ILS approaches. If the approaching aircraft were coming in too far adrift, they'd give Approach a shout. They'd done thousands of such "dry runs" over the years this way, but relatively few "real" ones. And their cursors had not been "modded".

I do not know why this was so. Their GCA was operated by the MCA, or the MoA or the BoT, or whatever. Either the RAF had not told them about this, or they had pigeonholed the advice (as being Not Invented Here ?).

Our gremlin waited.....One Day.

The day came on 1st October, 1956. The Vulcan which had been out to NZ and back on a flag-waving mission had behaved perfectly; our friends had been heartened and our foes dismayed. It was returning home now in a blaze of glory. The co-pilot was Air Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst, newly appointed CinC of Bomber Command.

Mindful of the enormous cost of the new Vulcans to the hard-pressed taxpayer, he had recently issued a fiat: "There are to be no more flying accidents in Bomber Command". A poster was issued round his Stations to that effect (this I would not believe until I saw one).

"Ah, luckless speech and bootless boast
For which he paid full dear".
(Cowper: John Gilpin's Ride)

The original plan had been that it should return without fuss to Lyneham. You never know, it might have disgraced itself, and be coming home under a cloud. But now all doubts were stilled, here was a fine photo opportuity for the Government to seize. It would come in to Heathrow and get the full red-carpet treatment, and be welcomed by the Great and the Good. All the freeworld's air attachés, their Press and cameramen were invited; this triumph of British aeronautical engineering would be displayed for all to see.

The Vulcan had ILS, of course, but this had to be re-tuned to each of the airfield's ILS it might need to use en route. This was then not a matter of merely punching a button or twiddling a knob. Separate discrete crystals had to be manually fitted at every stage. Of course, they had set out with a full kit of crystals for all the airfields on their itinerary, plus likely diversions. But it had never planned to use Heathrow: they didn't have the crystals for that, and for some reason (short of time ?) they couldn't get them now.

No problem, we'll use the GCA if the weather's bad. And it was, and they did.

Google will tell you what happened.

("Vulcan Crash Heathrow" will start you: there is interesting meat in all the links in the list, but I found it helpful to start with:

"VULCAN AIRCRAFT CRASH (REPORT) - Hansard 1803-2005").
and read in conjunction with my previous Post #4126 p.207, in particular:
("he will touch down among the approach lights about a half-mile short of the
threshold. And no one can work out why").

Post mortem and wrap-up and my comments (for what they're worth) next time,

Cheerio to all, Danny42C.

.....the horse was lost.

12th Aug 2013, 17:35 #4161

Danny Sums Up and Delivers Judgment.

Before I start pontificating on this accident, and to avert accusations of the dreaded "sciolism", I must emphasise what I told Chugalug many moons ago, when this my tale was yet in its infancy. That is, I am not, and in no way hold myself out to be, any form of authority on this (or most other) subjects. It is nearly all hearsay and therefore not evidence.

I merely retell what I heard, or was told at the time (and the accuracy of my memory of even that cannot be guaranteed), or read in the newspapers. The only thing I am certain about is my description of the Truck interior, the CRT tubes and the Cursors (and the Funny Things which Happened on the Way to the Theatre). With that disclaimer firmly in place, I'll begin.

Reading the "Statement in the House", and the comment on the Dr.Touch report (did it ever see the light of day, or is it under some 50-year wrap ?), it seems to me that nobody had the problem by the throat. "Tracker" merits only one passing mention in the Parliamentary Report. There seems to have been some inconclusive references to what Talkdown said and when he said it (were there no tape recordings then, and was nobody monitoring his transmissions ? Was there no transcript ?).

Talkdown is totally reliant on his Tracker for Glidepath information. If there is anything wrong with that, go straight for the Tracker. I was told at Shawbury (and I think my Course lasted a week or two after the incident) that RAF Shawbury had tentatively offered the bottom-edge-of-cursor hypothesis to the CoI. But this was dismissed on the specious ground that the Tracker in question was highly experienced, having clocked up thousands of runs: it was inconceivable that such a person could commit so simple an error.

If this response from the CoI be true (and it rings true), then I can only say that it would not be the first time in the history of aviation, and it will not be the last, that such a thing has happened.

And now we have to take a look at the Heathrow MPN-1 (must have been that, as it had a Tracker) and how it was operated. From what I was told, it did almost all its "runs" in the ILS-tracking mode. Actual GCA approaches were few and far between, as naturally all the civil traffic inbound would go for the well-used and trusted ILS with which all its pilots were familiar. I would guess that the odd "full" GCA would only be on request from a RAF visitor, and even then only if ILS was not available for some reason (as was the case with our Vulcan).

It probably follows that they were well out of practice on the real thing. It made little difference to talkdown; he would be quite familiar with the ILS-following blips coming in at a slightly offset angle. But it was different for Tracker. If he fell into the bottom-cursor-edge trap (which, if the "deckle" had not been done, was more than likely), then the first time the E/Mtr reported "150 ft above glidepath", it would be passed via Approach to the incoming Captain, who would indignantly deny it, telling Approach that its ILS G/path must be "up the wall". The mechs would be hastily summoned to check the supposedly incorrect ILS - for this is very serious for Heathrow. Recriminations follow when it was found to be a false alarm.

When they got that sorted out, and the cursor error quickly discovered, Tracker would have his ears firmly pinned back. But in a "real" run there is no such "check and balance". We know what had been demonstrated in practice: now we had had the real thing.

All this begs a host of questions. Was there a radar alt on the panel ? If so, who was watching it ? Why were they in that pickle at all ? What about "Minimum Approach Heights" (or whatever we called them then ?). It is hard to avoid the conclusion that in the end it was a fatal case of get-home-at-all-costs-itis that was the proximate cause of the accident. The bottom-edge-of- cursor gremlin just tipped the balance, and sealed their fate. Without it, they might just have brought it off.

And I'm convinced that that's the way it was. And now it's nearly 57 years ago, Sir Harry is dead, S/Ldr Howard (the Captain) would be older than I, so he's almost certainly dead. Now the last crew of XA897 are together once more. R.I.P.

As for me: back to Shawbury and Sleap next time. Goodnight, all, Danny42C .

"Resume normal navigation"
........................................................THE END.
Old 1st Jun 2017, 08:04
  #10760 (permalink)  
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: West Sussex
Age: 82
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harrym, a narrow squeak indeed! Bulk deliveries seem to be a constant weakness in many on site safety systems, witness the Camelford incident contaminating drinking water with 20 tonnes of Aluminium Sulphate in 1988. It also reminds me of the Ernest K Gann incident in Fate is the Hunter. One after the other of his engines quit immediately after take off, bar one. Turning back so that this engine is outboard of the turn, he somehow gets the aircraft back onto a cross-wind runway, shuts down, and signing off the aircraft snags the three failed engines. A technician approaches, not aware of the foregoing drama, and thinking him about to depart apologetically informs him that though they have fitted new design spark plugs to three of his engines they had insufficient for all four...

Ormeside, thanks for yet more of your nautical reminiscences. It seems from what you say that UK Maritime Air was in good hands in those early Post-War years. Would that it were still today!

Danny, Air Officers should simply be pax in large aircraft and never operating crew. If there were weaknesses at ground level then they were also airborne as well at Heathrow on that fateful day. Until they weren't of course...

Last edited by Chugalug2; 1st Jun 2017 at 09:53. Reason: Wrong year
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