MOVE OVER RED BARON
by John Laming
|visits since 12 August 2000|
In 1951 I joined the RAAF as a nineteen year old trainee pilot with an ambition to gain my wings and be a second dickey on a Dak. That was cool language for copilot on a Dakota DC3. Whilst not an impressive ambition in retrospect, it was probably coloured by my experience working as a general dogsbody, lunch boy, and loader with the Sydney Morning Herald Flying Services based at Camden, N.S.W.
The company owned two Dakotas and three Hudsons. These were used for flying newspapers to various towns in northern N.S.W. The papers were sometimes dropped by air into fields near Armidale, Glen Innes, and Grafton, and one of my tasks was to go along for the ride and tip these bundles out of the cargo door of the aircraft. As a reward for making inflight coffee, the pilots would let me fly from the right hand seat. They were mostly ex RAAF types who had flown on operations in Europe and the Pacific in Hudsons, Mosquitos, Wellingtons, Beaufighters, and Beauforts. The Chief Pilot was Captain Harry Purvis AFC, who had been the RAAF senior flying instructor on Lockheed Hudsons during the introduction of these aircraft into RAAF service early in the war. He was a famous pre war pilot and engineer who flew with Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. A captains salary at the SMH Flying Services was about 80 pounds a month for flying four days a week, and there was direct evidence of mutual attraction between this breed of men and the attractive nurses from the nearby Camden hospital.
In view of these potential advantages, I decided to become a pilot, and bought a pilots' logbook and a manual on how to seduce females. With immaculate penmanship, I had logged 160 hours as second (or, more honestly, third unpaid unlicensed) dicky on a Dak, before receiving a telegram from the RAAF pointing out that somehow I had fooled the interview board into believing that I was the Right Stuff, and would I kindly care to present myself at No.1 Flying Training School at Point Cook for Aircrew training. The date was October 1951. This news more than made amends for the complete lack of success that I had at attracting nurses.
After three months of square bashing, morse code, grenade tossing, aerodynamics, navigation, and other kindred subjects, we were sent by train to No. 1 Initial Flying Training School at Archerfield to be flight graded into pilots and navigators. The basic handling that I received on Hudsons and Dakotas helped me obtain a reasonable pass in flight grading on Tiger Moths, and from there we were posted to No. 1 Basic Flying Training School at Uranquinty, NSW. Several months later, and with 60 hours of Wirraway time in my log book, our course continued on to No.1 Advanced Flying Training School, at Point Cook, for graduation as a sergeant pilot. Having seen Mustangs gracing the skies over Archerfield, I soon discarded the idea of the right hand seat of Dakotas as the pinnacle of ambition, and decided to be a fighter pilot. I thought twice, however, after an episode at 4000 feet over Little River training area.
Whilst formation flying, gunnery, and divebombing were all part and parcel of the pilots course, we were not trained in formation aerobatics. One morning I was on a solo formation exercise in a Wirraway, with another 160 hour student in the second aircraft. The leader usually flew at slightly less than cruise power in order that the other formation members could have speed flexibility in turns. It was my turn to be follower and the course idiot in the front machine indicated that I should get in line astern for a tail chase. The manner of signalling, I recall, was to pat the top of the head as though one were patting a dog. A similar gesture today indicates that someone is slightly bonkers, which was an accurate assessment of the leader that day.
Shortly after I had settled into line astern, it became apparent that the lead aircraft was easing into a dive. Determined to stick on his tail, I was slow to notice that he was now going from a dive into a steepish climb. Hauling back into ever increasing "g" forces, I also failed to see the now rapidly decaying airspeed until too late I realized the sod was inverted on top of a loop, with my propeller a few feet from his rudder.
Suddenly my Wirraway shuddered in the throes of a high speed stall, the stick was whipped from my grasp as the ailerons snatched, and the aircraft flicked violently into a power on spin. I lost sight of the other bloke, who must have spun off the loop a fraction of a second after I flicked. The twit had obviously gone into the loop at reduced cruise power, wiping off most of his airspeed with "g" force as he was inverted. He came perilously close to wiping me out too. How we never collided whilst out of control I shall never know, but after recovery in and out of cloud several thousand feet later, I declined his invitation to rejoin formation for the return to Point Cook. A new caution was born in me, and I secretly wondered if I really wanted to be a fighter jock with all this hack, flick and zoom stuff.
Nevertheless, when we were asked to nominate our choice of posting after graduation, I put in for fighters. The final recommendations were made by our flying instructors, although this was weighted by operational manning factors. Casualties amongst pilots in the Korean war meant that many of my course went to the fighter training base at RAAF Base Williamtown in NSW. I graduated on No. 8 Post War Pilots course on the 8th December 1952, and was posted to Williamtown in February 1953 for fighter training. Immediate volunteers were needed to go direct from graduation to Williamtown, but my lady friend threatened withdrawal of privileges unless I took 3 weeks leave which was due to me. Hormones won initially, but love of flying soon had me on a train from Sydney Central to the RAAF base at Schofield, where I sidled up to No.22 (City of Sydney) Fighter squadron and begged for a trip in a Wirraway. There were Mustangs at Schofields too, and armed with a thermos of tea and sandwiches I sat in the cockpit pretending to learn my cockpit drills, but in reality breathing in the smells of high octane fuel,engine oil, and daydreaming in the warm sun.
I had just returned from a back seat ride in Wirraway A20-340, when the Flight Commander F/O Milton Cottee asked to see me in his office. He casually suggested that as I was going to fly Mustangs at Williamtown, I could if I wished, go ahead and take Mustang A68-144 for a ride that day. An hour later I was airborne,climbing at 2500 fpm to 15,000 feet. I spent the next 20 minutes belting around the sky like a mad dog, graying out in steep turns and rolls off the top, spearing out of shockingly performed barrel rolls and generally horsing around from 100 to 300 knots.
Back up to fifteen grand, I had a quick look around, closed the throttle, and at the point of stall eased on full left rudder and back stick. The Mustang reared up and fell into a classic spin. After five or six turns, I took recovery action to pull out after losing nearly 8000 ft. Back for the fighter buzz and break, called on initial approach three miles out, down low over the runway at 250 knots, close the throttle to the accompanying crackling of the Rolls Royce exhausts, rack the beast up and around, drop the gear at 145 knots then problems! The gear has stayed up in the wheel wells. I climbed to 3000, and spent anxious moments pulling "g" whilst skidding the rudders and generally wondering how I was going to waste four hours to burn off fuel for a belly landing. Eventually the gear fell down normally, and I landed safely of a very sedate circuit.
My leave completed, and with everything cosy on the home front, Williamtown fighter base beckoned me. I caught the train to Newcastle, with a bus connection to the RAAF base. As I stepped off the bus weighed down by the kit bag slung over my shoulder, the heady aroma of kerosene fumes pervaded the air as several single seater Vampires bustled along a nearby taxyway. I had never seen a jet before, and I was intoxicated by the shriek of the Nene turbines. I now knew how the children of Hamelin must have felt when they followed the Pied Piper as he merrily led them away from their homes forever. I was in my paradise here, and getting paid for it!
The Orderly Sergeant showed me to my quarters, whilst giving a disapproving glance at my carefully crumpled service cap (spring backing removed by judicious use of a razor) and the top button of my battle jacket casually undone fighter pilot style. The modern generation of schoolboys affect an equivalent dress style by sauntering around in public with shirt tails flapping outside their trousers. As I tipped the contents of the kit bag on to my bed, I heard the wonderful sound of massed Rolls Royce Merlins getting closer. I raced outside in time to see a formation of four Mustangs flash overhead at 200 ft and peel off at 5 second intervals in a buzz and break landing manoeuvre. A tight glide pull up to wash off speed as quickly as possible, was made to the accompaniment of crackling and popping of throttled back Merlins. Returning to the other end of the hut, I got there just in time to see the first Mustang curve onto short final, landing gear spread wide apart, full flap down and speed bleeding back to 105 knots. The leader floated into a beautiful three pointer, whilst the remainder landed tail high presumably to keep the aircraft in front in view for as long as possible.
The following morning, after signing for our parachutes, mae wests (life jackets), flying helmets and goggles, we attended the initial briefing on fighter combat tactics. The Commanding Officer, a gently spoken Royal Air Force Battle of Britain veteran, was Wing Commander Peter Ottewell. As he walked through the doorway of the flight hut, we were called to attention by the CFI Flight Lieutenant Ross Coburn. Chairs were shuffled noisily on the wooden floor as we stood up, and as the CO turned to make his opening address of welcome, we were momentarily silenced by the sight of vivid burn scars which covered his face. We were told later that Ottewell had been flying a Spitfire over Italy when he was shot down in flames. He must have been an incredibly brave man to return to flying fighters after recovering from those disfiguring injuries..
When the address was over, we met our Fighter Combat Instructors, known as FCI's. All had completed tours of Korea in Mustangs or Meteors. Most wore World War 2 campaign ribbons on their uniforms, with the occasional DFC and DFM to be seen. Years later I reflected upon those early days at the fighter school, and I felt that we could have learnt so much more from the combat experiences of those instructors if only they had been willing to open up more to the students. Perhaps it was the fear of being labelled a lineshooter that prevented them from describing their personal experiences to us. There was also a military induced class distinction separating officers from " other ranks" which inhibited some instructors from opening up. Whilst planning this story in mid 1994, I read a fine book by David Wilson entitled "Lion over Korea". In researching the combat history of No.77 Fighter Squadron 1950-53 in Korea, The author interviewed several pilots and I quote in part some of their recollections.
"...Very little training. Almost laughable when you reflect on it. We graduated on Wirraways say in December - then we went to Williamtown and did about 25 hours on Mustangs and 20 hours on a single seat Vampire - we didn't have duals at this stage. And that was that....We went to Iwakuni..a rough introduction to the Meteor..then off to 77 Squadron. We thought we were really proficient combat pilots, but we were far from it."
"The Operational Training Units did not prepare pilots to the standard required for combat even as late as 1953...the standard of replacement pilot is slightly below that desired...training not organized, wasn't structured. No tradition of air to air doctrine....fighter training consisted of attacks on Lincolns which came down from Amberley occasionally. We'd do rolls from height and quarter pursuit shots, and some Mustang versus Mustang, but very little of it. No coaching. We'd just go up. You broke up, one would head that way and the other this. At a set time you'd turn toward each other and get into it. There was so little of it, we were not fighter training.."
As a new pilot, it seemed to me that the Operational Training Unit was custom built for someone like me to indulge, Snoopy like, in fantasies of being a fighter ace. Except we had real fighters to fly. Later in the course we fired machine guns, shot off rockets and dive bombed. Yet to me it was all a wonderful game, and I gave scant attention to the thought that in a few weeks some North Korean gunner would be doing his best to cause me grievous bodily harm.
During the next few days, we were briefed on fighter tactics, including battle formation (a wide spread pattern, rather than the close in display type called pansy formation). There were lectures on air to ground gunnery, dog fighting, rocketry, and low level navigation techniques. We read combat reports and real life escape and evasion stories, yet received precious little advice on the realities of being shot at. After knock off time, the Sergeant Pilots went back to the Sergeants Mess, and the instructors and Pilot Officers on the course returned to the Officers Mess. I believe we lost invaluable bar talk time because of this.
One morning, during a coffee break in the flight hut, I overheard Squadron Leader Bill Bennett DFC, a highly experienced fighter pilot, chatting to another instructor on the subject of how to avoid being shot down by radar controlled anti aircraft fire. Bennett had flown Spitfires in Europe, and Meteors in Korea. From what I overheard, one should never fly in a straight line or constant altitude for more than a few seconds lest predicted fire should lock on to your aircraft. Now this was vital information, yet I felt too shy to join the conversation between these two officers. Fortunately, due to circumstances I shall describe below, I was never to use the little knowledge that I gained from eavesdropping on the two instructors. Apart from nearly 40 years later that is, when avoiding being clobbered by radar flak in Mig Alley (a computer game in which my 12 year old daughter shot me down in a sneak high quarter attack).
Enter Flight Lieutenant Peter Middleton DFC. He was one of the instructors on our course. I use the term instructor in general terms because few of the staff pilots were Qualified Flying Instructors (QFI) and in any case our Mustangs and Vampires were single seat aircraft. You read the Pilots Notes, climbed into the cockpit and flew solo.
Middleton was tall, sported an impressive moustache, and looked every inch the true fighter pilot image. An experienced combat pilot, he had just returned from flying Meteors in Korea. He held a degree (or whatever) in martial art skills and was well respected for obvious reasons. He also owned a dashing looking bone dome (crash helmet), which was painted with blue and white polka dots. I suspect he nicked it from the Yanks in Korea, as bone domes were not then standard issue in the RAAF.
It was to be my first sortie involving formation flying in the Mustang, and the briefing was concise and to the point. After engine start, I was to follow my No 1 ( Middleton ) to the runway, observing radio silence after the initial radio call to check radio serviceability. Before take off drills were to be done after the engine run up. It was to be a formation take off, battle climb to 15000 ft, then general formation practice. This was to be followed by a line astern tail chase in VMC (hopefully). Depending on the weather, we would return to land off the standard buzz and break. If the weather was marginal then we would carry out a formation VHF/DF instrument approach, culminating in a Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) to 200 ft. With only 210 hours in my log book, I hoped that I wouldn't have to test my instrument flying skills whilst in tight formation!
During pre flight checks of my aircraft, I noticed that Middleton was already strapped in and obviously impatient to get under way. He wore a RAAF issue red silk scarf (in case one needed to attract attention if you were shot down), and real aviators sunglasses. Now in the cockpit and hastily doing pre start drills, I pumped the primer a couple of strokes too much and was rewarded for my inexperience at starting the Rolls Royce engine by the sight of terrifying tongues of flame licking from twelve open exhaust pipes. Despite starting many Rolls Royce Merlins since that day, I never failed to get the shivers when the bloody things caught alight. This was despite the fact that the flames were more spectacular than dangerous.
I returned Middleton's thumbs up, indicating I was ready to taxy and with a burst of throttle, my leader swung out of the flight lines. When taxying the Mustang, Middleton preferred to raise his seat to full extent, so that he could see over the top of the bullet proof windscreen. With one gloved hand resting on the canopy frame, his scarf fluttering in the slipstream and his oxygen mask hanging loose to reveal a fierce moustache, Middleton looked like the original Tall in the Saddle cowboy.
I followed a respectful distance behind, most of the time losing sight of his Mustang despite my obligatory weaving of the nose. I decided to emulate Middleton, and jacked up my seat to full extent in order to (a) look cool and (b) to obtain better forward vision. Within seconds I had nearly ground looped the Mustang as I attempted to apply corrective rudder and brake to control a rapidly developing swing. The Mustang was built for six footers, and to reach the rudder pedals I needed a well padded cushion behind my back. The seat was fixed horizontally, and I already had the rudder pedals fully extended towards me. With full up seat I could only just reach the pedals with the tips of my toes, and as for depressing the brakes, then forget it! I desperately unlocked the seat raising lever, and with a jolt the seat hit the lower stops, causing me to look like Chad (that mysterious cartoon character of years ago, who was pictured with his eyes and long nose peering over a wall). I now had no forward vision beyond the gyro gunsight, although on the positive side I at least limited rudder and brake control.
My pride somewhat dented, I managed to stop the aircraft at an angle to the taxyway and claw my way via the seat raising lever to a respectable position in the cockpit as befitted a cool trainee fighter pilot. Middleton, whose callsign for the flight was Red One, had been blissfully unaware of the minor drama which had unfolded behind his tail, and had received a green light from the control van to line up on the runway for his run up. He was in the course of opening up to high power as I taxied behind him in order to position myself on his right wing for the formation take off.
To my dismay the slipstream from Middleton's propeller hit the tail of my Mustang, causing the beast to weathercock viciously towards the tail of his aircraft. I almost dislocated my toes in jamming on full right brake to stop the swing, and Red One never knew how close the 4 bladed propeller came to clobbering his rudder. At this stage I began to regret not volunteering for the position of second dickey on a Dak.
So much for checking all clear behind before run up, I thought grimly, but one never criticizes a Red Leader who has a degree in martial arts. Not to his face, anyway.
At this point, perhaps I should briefly explain that the engine run up on a Mustang includes checking the propeller operation at high RPM, testing the supercharger controls, magneto drop check, noting temperature and pressures with an especially careful note of the glycol coolant temperature. On the ground, where airflow through the engine radiator is reliant mainly on the propeller slipstream, it was important to be pointing into wind to keep the coolant below 110 degrees centigrade. If over that temperature, the chances were that on take off,the coolant would boil and eventually cause engine damage. Such were the vagaries of powerful liquid cooled engines. Battle damage to the coolant system on these Rolls Royce Merlins invariably meant engine seizure. The options then remaining were to abandon the aircraft by parachute, or to attempt a crash landing.
Now back to the story, where I had now closed the canopy, set the park brake, and commenced the run-up. With only two Mustang rides under my belt, my cockpit checks were still hesitant and perhaps a trifle longwinded. Red Leader DFC clearly thought so anyway, because when we received a steady green light from the control van, he waved his gloved finger in a circular motion at me, which was the signal to increase engine power to 30 inches of manifold pressure before commencing the take off. Forty years on, I was to see a similar finger gesture from my family doctor as he prepared to do a prostate examination!
The canopy of Middleton's Mustang was closed, the flashing arc of the huge propeller solidified at 2000 RPM, and the man was ready to roll. I was still trying to scratch an itch in my bum, and apart from checking all clear behind before run up,( my old Point Cook instructor would have been proud that I remembered that one),I was nowhere near ready to take off. I gave Middleton a furtive and somewhat embarrassed thumbs down to indicate that I was not yet ready, and went heads down to scan more instruments and test more switches.
Seconds later, a sense of foreboding made me look across to Red One, where I saw that Middleton now had his canopy open, oxygen mask undone and was glaring at me revealing bared teeth below his black moustache. He again furiously waggled his gloved finger in a circular fashion indicating he had been sitting on "hack" power (a chopping motion of the hand to indicate brakes release for take off) for some considerable time - probably with rocketing coolant temperatures. I gave another regretful thumbs down, and undoing my oxygen mask, I attempted to convey via lip language that I needed a little more time to complete my checks.
This thoughtful gesture on my part clearly upset Red One, because he mouthed an obscene word or ten in my direction, clipped his oxygen on, slammed the canopy shut, and ruddering furiously to counteract the torque of a probably overboosted engine, he roared off down the runway. With his Mustang barely inches off the deck, I saw his undercarriage retract inwards in a classical "scramble" fashion.
At this stage I shall freeze the story and revert back to the first few days of my arrival at Williamtown. I had arrived a day or so earlier than scheduled, and as I was keen to listen to real fighter pilot talk, decided the best place to be was in the control tower. I was fascinated by the clipped and seemingly terse radio transmissions, in particular the macho callsigns such as "Taipan Formation" or " Tiger Leader, 4 out with 4 (which I think meant that a formation of four aircraft was four miles out, inbound). Before taxying the formation leader would call up his men, and say things like "Black Section- Check in". In reply, each member of the formation would mutter into their microphones "Black Two- Fives, Black Three- Fives" and so on. No one would ever dream of giving an accurate assessment of radio volume and clarity such as " Three by Five" lest they be ostracized for life. On receiving the dutiful replies from his brood, the leader would say in an affected and mournful way "Black Section- All Fives". Heaven only knows why the leader would repeat what was already known, which was that all radios were operating normally. But that's the way it was done. The taxying would then begin.
The Vampires were equipped with pneumatically operated brakes, and as smooth and gentle braking was not fighter pilot image, one saw Vampires weaving and bobbing along the perimeter track, as their pilots pedalled the ineffective rudder bars and squeezed the brake lever on the control column spade grip. Ham fisted brake use would soon deplete the air pressure supply, which meant one could run out of braking capability altogether. When stopping the the aircraft, it seemed good form to apply harsh braking, causing the nosewheel oleo strut to bounce up and down making the Vampire nod it's nose prettily. This was preferably done when given the stop sign by the marshaller in the lines. It really was schoolboy nonsense, but we all did it.
Back on the runway, with the dust from Middleton's departure still settling, I had just given my harness a final tweak, when I heard a voice which sounded like "get your arse into gear Red Two". I wondered momentarily if I should acknowledge the call, but could not think of an appropriate phase, especially as the transmittee was an officer (maybe not a gentleman though) with a martial arts degree.
The controller in his little van had by now tired of giving me steady greens, and as radio silence had been effectively broken by my leader's impatient remark, I was cleared for take off by radio, finally catching up with Middleton around 5000 ft. There were no niceties, no leisurely practice at pansy formation changes. No time to marvel at the beautiful view of a Mustang close up, with the Pacific ocean and white cumulus clouds as backdrop. Just a hard voice on the radio saying "go line astern, Red Two, and stay on my tail". I dutifully did a text book drop back and slide sideways, until Middleton's Mustang filled my windshield.
I called that I was in position, and barely had the words been uttered, when the aircraft nestled so sweetly in my gyro gunsight and which had been barely 50 feet in front of my propeller, just disappeared upwards. I swivelled my head in all directions, ripped into steep reversal turns, looked up through the canopy, and generally felt a right twit for losing my leader so quickly. All of my previous tail chases had been in Wirraways with the front bloke being an amateur like myself. I flew in circles trying to spot my leader, finally deciding he must have gone home.
There was no point in wasting a nice day, so I found a fluffy cloud and joyously flung my Mustang directly at it, rat-tat- tatting into my oxygen mask and generally playing Red Barons. I had just completed a 250 knot lazy barrel roll around my cloud, when a voice cut across the air with, "fight, you yellow bastard! fight!". As my call sign was actually Red Two, I felt that the owner of the voice on the radio was a bit offside until I looked into the rear vision mirror and saw a large blue spinner. The spinner was attached to a silver Mustang and behind the gunsight the occupant of the cockpit wore a blue and white spotted bone dome and I swear I saw a glimpse of red silk scarf.
After the initial shock and embarrassment, I decided to do serious battle and flung my Mustang all over the Williamtown training area trying to get Red One off my tail. I remembered once reading Pierre Closterman's book, "The Big Show", where flying a Tempest, he turned inside a German Focke Wulf 190 fighter by dropping a few degrees of flap to lower the stall speed - just enough to get the required deflection for firing. I hauled around in a limit turn, felt the Mustang shudder at the stall onset, groped for the flap lever to drop the flap that few critical degrees, and to my chagrin, flicked inverted. I had missed the flap lever and inadvertently selected the adjacent carburettor control lever. Upside down in the flick roll, I caught a momentary glimpse of Middleton's Mustang rapidly rolling away from me to avoid a collision. He disappeared from view and I clearly remember the lines of his flap on the underside of the wing. They were 10 degrees down and I remembered instantly that Middleton had fought in Europe.
They were happy, carefree days at Williamtown. News of pilots being shot down in Korea were received with some misgivings, but we felt invincible and relaxed in the knowledge that it couldn't happen to us. I saw a spectacular prang while watching a twelve Vampire formation take off. The take off was done vic formation, with the second, third, and fourth formations rolling at 10 second intervals. An aircraft in the last formation was barely airborne and as the gear retracted, was caught by jet wash from the preceding aircraft. It sank back onto the runway on its belly, and broadsided across the grass strip with great clods of dirt and dust being kicked up by the jet blast from its exhaust. The aircraft stopped within a hundred yards, and I thought I saw a flash of flame in the cockpit area as the pilot hastily wound the canopy back and exited stage right. In fact the flame was not fire at all, just the pilots' bright red survival scarf. Damage was slight and the Vampire was flying within a week. The pilot escaped unhurt, but within a few weeks was posted missing believed killed following a midair collision in cloud with a Mustang. Pieces of wreckage from both aircraft were later washed up on the shores of Morna Beach near Newcastle but the pilots were never found.
After 30 hours on the Mustang I became quite competent on the aircraft, with respectable scores on air to ground gunnery, rocketry, and dive bombing. The course allowed for just one hours of night flying and that really did test our handling skills. With the canopy open, the forward vision could be a little improved whilst taxying by simply weaving the nose. No such luxury was available for takeoff and with only one runway flare visible on each side, the temptation to get the tail up quickly to get a better view was overpowering. The penalty was always a harsh swing caused by a combination of torque and gyroscopic effect. The single landing light also reflected back from the propeller disc and the flickering blue exhaust flames caused a distracting glare. Perhaps more frightening were the tongues of red flame that I have described earlier, licking several feet from the exhausts in an overprimed start. If starting into any sort of wind, the flames reached perilously close to the cockpit and on more than one occasion I hurriedly wound the canopy closed in fright.
My one night flight was uneventful. We were briefed to climb to fifteen thousand feet and generally get accustomed to the sensation of night flight in a Mustang. Following that, we had to descend into the circuit and carry out a few touch and go landings. However, the lack of forward vision on my first night take off put the wind up me, and I decided to do one landing only - the final one. On a previous course, a new pilot lost forward vision on a night take off. Following several wild swings, he closed the throttle and abandoned the take off run. The Mustang careered into trees at the far end of the aerodrome shedding various parts including the two wings. The cockpit remained relatively intact and the pilot was shaken but unhurt. The aircraft was a write off, but the accident did no harm to the pilot's career as he eventually reached Air Marshal rank! Accordingly with that accident firmly in mind, I flew up and down the coast with the lights of Newcastle in view until my hour was up. There was no way I was going to stretch my luck by carrying out touch and go landings!
During the climb I had a minor fright when I felt hot air coming from somewhere around the throttle quadrant and convinced myself that where there is heat, there may be a potential fire. Fortunately I was wearing gloves which protected my wrist but it was not pleasant feeling. After I did my one landing, I realized that the previous pilot had left the cockpit heat selector to full on and I had failed to notice this during the night pre start drill.
Midway though the course we were given the Vampire MK 30 Pilots' Notes to read. There was no engineering course on the aircraft, although we received a useless lecture on the Vampire fuel pump. I recall something about a swash plate incorporated in the said pump, which if it failed would cause a flame out of the engine. Precious little else was passed on in the way of how to fly a Vampire, so I knew a bit about swash plates, but SFA about high Mach number handling characteristics. On two previous courses, three new pilots had been killed when their Vampires speared in vertically following high altitude manoeuvres involving aerobatics and practice interceptions. There were no ejection seats on the early Vampires, so there was no way of getting out of the cockpit at high speeds.
The problem was caused by compressibility shock waves over two engine air inlets on the fuselage immediately behind the canopy. These air intakes known as Elephants Ears were a modification to improve engine efficiency in the Rolls Royce Nene engine. Beyond about Mach 0.80, shock waves would form on the curved intakes, affecting the smooth airflow over the tailplane. The loss of elevator effectiveness would show up as an ever increasing nose down trim, exacerbated by the increasing speed in the subsequent dive.
If the pilot was too slow in closing the throttle and extending the dive brakes to prevent further speed build up, it was curtains, as the Vampire would pitch over into a vertical dive. Later aircraft were modified by putting the air intakes under the fuselage, which apparently cured the shock wave problem. Both the modified Mk.31 and dual seat Mk.33 Vampires then exhibited a strong pitch up change of trim on reaching Critical Mach, which of course slowed the aircraft naturally. Eventually ejection seats were also fitted, which gave one a sense of relief.
A recent book by Group Captain "BlackJack" Walker, who test flew these early Vampires following the fatal accidents, described how he climbed to 40,000 ft, and deliberately dived at high speed to investigate the reason for the compressibility problem. In discussing this experience he wrote, "I put it into a very steep dive, as steep as I dared, with not too much power, about three quarters, because if anything was going to happen I wanted it to happen fairly quickly. I soon found out. Once the aeroplane went over Mach 0.8, the nose got heavier and heavier and the aeroplane kept on endeavoring to go past the vertical and the controls were largely ineffective. So I closed the throttle and put on the dive brakes immediately and this would have been around 27,000 ft. The aeroplane had to be got out of a very sticky situation....It was pretty close and as the characteristics were so different to the English Vampire at high Mach numbers, it seemed to me it must have something to do with those wretched Elephants Ears on the upper surface of the fuselage."
Now with an instructor leaning over the cockpit to show us how to start our first jet engine, we were sent off solo, with instructions not to go beyond Mach 0.75, lest the dreaded compressibility lurgy get us. Initial climb speed was 290 knots, to be attained as soon as possible after wheels up. This was a wonderful excuse to hold down at tree top height after take off until hitting 290 knots. It was good fun at the time, although common sense should have dictated that it would have been prudent to climb a little more steeply initially, to allow a safer ejection or bale out altitude in case of engine failure.
My overriding recollection of the single seat Vampire was the fantastic 4000 fpm rate of climb, and the absence of engine noise, particularly after the Mustang. Apart from a strong nose up trim change on selecting full flap, the landings were easy. It was the first nose wheel aircraft that I had flown, and one had to watch for tailscrapes if the aircraft was held off too high. A late go around from a long float could be dicey, as the turbine was slow to wind up to take off power from idle. The aircraft would mush just above the runway in a no man's land of high induced drag, flaps at barn door setting with the pilot wishing he had ate baked beans for breakfast to help with the thrust! Eventually the Jet Pipe Temperature needle would head for the red line as the turbine would rumble its way through several potential compressor stalls on the way to 12,000 rpm and the Vampire would be away.
One experience I had of the slow spool up characteristics of those early gas turbines was in 1960, when I had to ferry a Group Captain from Laverton to RAAF Base Richmond in a dual seat Vampire Mk.33. He was a large man who had some difficulty fitting into the right hand seat. There was much heaving on parachute and ejection seat straps, and some un-officer like language as oxygen and radio leads became entangled around his bone dome. The weather forecast for Richmond indicated dense cloud en route, with rain for our arrival.
With external fuel tanks fitted under the wings, there was enough fuel to get to Richmond and if necessary divert to Williamtown fighter base with perhaps 15 minutes fixed reserve. As we climbed through 25,000 ft en route Laverton to Richmond and in heavy cloud, the VIP in the right hand seat clutched his head and complained bitterly of a severe headache. This bitching occurred again in the cruise, and I murmured sympathetically. Approaching Canberra at 31,000 ft, I was having my own troubles with precipitation static causing squealing noises on the VHF and rendering the radio compass as useless as the proverbial whatsits on a bull.
The Group Captain was getting very annoyed, and testily knocked my hand from the ADF switches whilst shouting at me through the intercomm to stop the racket coming through the earphones. Again he complained of a headache, and I suspected he might be suffering from lack of oxygen flow. Approaching Richmond, the tower advised us of low cloud and visibility half a mile in heavy rain, but that a Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) to 200 ft was available. I knew that the GCA radar was prone to losing the target due to rain attenuation, and decided it would be safer to divert from overhead Richmond at high altitude to arrive at Williamtown with reserves intact. The Group Captain, who had quietened down and was content with mumbling into his oxygen mask, suddenly came to life. He demanded that I attempt the GCA, as he had an important engagement that day. I tried to explain that the weather was bad news, and that we could be critically short of fuel if we failed to get in first go.
The Group Captain was normally a most pleasant chap to work with, but his irrational manner throughout the flight reminded me of a fighting drunk. I reluctantly went along with his demands, and we pitched over from 31,000 ft into a 4000 fpm initial rate of descent. I mentally went over the missed approach procedure as we were guided by GCA on to final approach. At 500 ft, GCA advised that visibility had dropped to under half a mile, with indeterminate cloud base. The missed approach required an immediate left turn through 90 degrees, and I remembered that with external tanks fitted, the landing gear had to be selected up without delay otherwise the gear flipper doors would not close. This was because of suction in between the gear doors and the curved side of the adjacent external fuel tank.
At 200 ft, the controller gave us a slight heading change, and advised that as we were now at the minimums we should look ahead and land visually. He was clearly an optimist because I was unable to see anything due to the heavy rain. The time had come to give it away and exit stage left. As I opened up to climb power, the Group Captain grabbed the control column, closed the throttle, shouting that he had the runway to the right. We went into a high rate of descent, as I realized that what he thought was the runway was actually the long parallel taxyway! At this point I thought bugger this for a joke, and pulling aircraft captain rank, firmly told him I had control,"Sir".
Advising ATC that we were diverting, I pushed the throttle fully open, and began a left climbing turn, whilst retracting the gear and flaps. The engine took ages to wind up from the idle closed throttle setting that the Group Captain had left me with, and there was much loud rumbling and rocketing jet pipe temperatures. The port red gear warning light stayed on, so I adjusted the nose attitude to keep the speed back. It was the first time I had done an overshoot with external tanks fitted, particularly in cloud and with an irate VIP sitting next to me.
I was locked on instruments in a climbing turn, when I became aware of my passenger pushing on the stick and saying "watch the speed man, watch the speed". I pointed out to him through gritted teeth that the bloody flipper was not closing and that I had to keep the speed back to minimize the external tank suction effect. To my relief the red light went out, and we soon accelerated to 290 knots as we passed overhead the Richmond NDB en route to Williamtown.
Sydney ATC asked for our ETA at Williamtown, and I muttered that I didn't have a clue, just kindly give me an immediate clearance to cruising altitude. As we climbed rapidly through 20,000 ft the Group Captain began his head shaking and again complained of headaches. He had his problems and I had mine, in particular rapidly diminishing fuel contents. Ten minutes later we got our descent clearance, and with the fuel gauges hovering near empty we were vectored into yet another high altitude VHF/DF let down. We became visual at 1500 ft, and were soon on the runway.
As I taxied towards the tarmac area, the canopy began to mist over with condensation. I was therefore grateful when the Group Captain volunteered to stand up in the cockpit and guide me to the parking spot. He undid his harness, and attempted to stand up, only to be dragged back, garrotted by the radio leads attached to his bonedome. His curses were terrible to hear, and I silently thanked the Lord that the sound of the Nene engine drowned the muffled sound of my hysterical laughter into my oxygen mask.
On the tarmac, and with the engine winding down, I suggested to the Grouper that we could refuel and have another go at getting into Richmond in an hour or so. "Forget it", he said, "I,ll catch a TAA flight to Sydney and get a train to Richmond". With that we went our separate ways.
Whilst the oxygen system was being serviced, an engineer found that the passenger side oxygen hose had completely separated from its supply box. During strapping into the small cockpit of the Vampire at Laverton, the Group Captain had inadvertently pulled his oxygen hose from its supply socket. When he tested the mask for correct flow, all he inhaled was fresh air! A less fit man would have been unconscious at our high cruising altitudes, but in this case the effect of anoxia caused only severe headaches and irrational behaviour.
Back now to the fighter course and fuel endurance was always a problem with the Vampire because on landing after a one hour sortie, there was less than 10 minutes of fuel remaining in the tanks. I recall reading in "Flight" magazine an amusing anecdote where a visiting American Super Fortress pilot in England was offered the opportunity to fly a Vampire. He had been used to flying 10 hour trans Atlantic flights in the B29. On being briefed that the endurance was just over an hour to empty tanks, he became quite worried, and remarked that as far as he was concerned he was in a Mayday situation even before starting the engine!
I enjoyed flying the Vampire, and especially the exhilarating sensation of flying at 350 knots at 50 feet above the sea near Seal rocks during low level navigation exercises. I look back in time, and thank the Lord I didn't hit any sea gulls at that speed. In terms of pure flying skills both visual and instrument flying, I had no problems with the Mustang and Vampire. This was due to the first class training which we received our pilot training course. Simulated instrument flying on Wirraways was done with the use of amber window screens and polaroid goggles, which gave excellent simulation with no peripheral vision. We were taught instrument flying shortly after first solo, and my Wings test at Point Cook included, amongst other things, an 8 turn spin on instruments. This training stood me in good stead when many years later,I had to carry out a steep emergency descent in cloud at night, following a pressurization problem in a Boeing 737.
I encountered the more serious side of fighter training shortly after getting airborne as No 2 to the flight commander Flight Lieutenant Val Turner. He had a no nonsense personality with similar build and features as Alan Border, the Australian cricketer. It was a rainy day, low cloud and windy, and at 500 ft we were still accelerating to 290 knots as we entered turbulence in cloud. I tucked in close and my eyes never left the lead aircraft just a few feet away.
We burst out of the tops at 25,000 ft and I felt very chuffed to hear Turner's voice over the radio saying "nicely flown, Red Two". This was praise indeed, because the flight commander was not known for idle pleasantries. I eagerly mixed with him in yet another line astern chase, before he ordered me to close up in tight formation for an instrument approach. This required us to be vectored by the ATC controller to overhead Williamtown at 20,000 ft, and then with dive brakes extended and throttle back to idle thrust, we would let down at 4000 feet per minute. The formation leader would make all required radio calls to ATC, who would note the aircraft bearing by means of a direction finder in the tower. Our early Vampires were not equipped with ADF and thus we relied totally on the skill of the controller to get us down safely. If the one and only aircraft radio went u/s, then the situation became indeed grim. Baling out was the only option.
Again I hung in there tightly as Turner called for dive brakes extended "NOW". A two second delay on my part would have meant my aircraft shooting in front of the lead Vampire as he rapidly bled off speed with dive brake drag. That would not be worth thinking about, because regardless of the collision risk at being separated in cloud, I was more fearful of a tongue lashing by Turner on the ground
On the inbound descending turn, we broke visual between layers of cloud. Turner now ordered me to take up the lead, and I received swift promotion to Red One. Dropping my voice an octave or two. as befitting a fighter formation leader, I was about to growl instructions to the effect that Turner should get thee behind me Satan - preferably into line astern, when he ordered me to proceed towards a railway tunnel situated conveniently in our training area. After much frantic searching for my map in the pocket of my flying suit, I realized that I had left it behind in the crew room. With some apprehension I advised the boss that I had forgotten my map. His words now, are as crystal clear in my memory as they were forty years ago "So, Red Two (my promotion to Red One had lasted all of thirty seconds)...No map, eh? Well lets go home and have a little chat, shall we?"
We landed, had the little chat, and I mumbled curses as I spent two hours on a solo route march around the airfield perimeter, carrying helmet, goggles, parachute, and Mae West (lifejacket).
One of the exercises in the syllabus was air to air cine camera gunnery. Two aircraft would get airborne, battle climb to 15000 ft, and then split up. One aircraft, known as the "stooge" would fly level, whilst the other would position himself a couple of thousand feet higher and abeam. A diving curve of pursuit would be made at the stooge and when within firing range, the gun button would be pressed as the target aircraft appeared in the gyro gunsight. We were briefed to break off the attack at 200 yards. With a closing speed of around 80 knots, a closer break increased the collision risk, particularly with inexperienced pilots. At the break, the attacking aircraft would push under the stooge, missing him by 50 feet, then when clear would pull up sharply in a steep climbing turn to reposition for another attack.
If the attacker got too close, the merging of airflows and jet efflux would cause a sharp bump to the stooge. I always felt a trifle edgy when operating as the target, because one knew there was an attacker boring in behind unseen, then a sudden thump would rock the aircraft, and the next second the windshield would be full of the plan view of a Vampire literally yards away ripping into a hard climbing turn. The sharp bump was sure proof that the attacker had left his break off too late for comfort, although the occasional cowboy would deliberately try to draw a protest from the target aircraft. But every stooge has his day, as the roles would be reversed a few minutes later!
After landing, the camera magazines would be sent to Photographic Section for developing, and the results analysed. Some of my results were good, but on one sortie the last few attacks on film showed no aircraft in the gun sight, or the target appeared out of effective range.
Around that time, the unit received the first dual seat Vampire Mk 33. Prior to its introduction at Williamtown, fighter pilot proficiency was assessed mainly on gunnery, rocketry, and dive bombing results. Formation flying skills were vital,of course. Thus provided that you could hold your own in a line astern chase, and could put your ammunition reasonably near the target, then one was quids in to pass the fighter course. The arrival of the first two seater Vampire was to be the cause of an unplanned career change for me.
As my camera gunnery results were not good, the CFI Flight Lieutenant Ross Coburn, rostered me to fly in the dual Vampire with one of the instructors, a Flying Officer with a double barrelled name. He was known as "Hyphen", and had recently returned from a combat tour in Korea. I found him a most friendly affable person, and my only misgivings about flying the dual Vampire was that it had an entirely different cockpit layout to the snug single seater that I was accustomed to.
The purpose of the sortie was to straighten out any problems with my cine camera gunnery. I was given no opportunity to sit in the cockpit to familiarize myself with the layout, and in any case Hyphen himself had only a couple of hours on type. We got airborne in formation with Pilot Officer Brian Coleman, one of my course members who was flying a single seat Vampire. The climb to 15000 ft was in battle formation, 100 yards apart. The restrictive view caused by metal bars that formed the canopy frame made outside scanning quite difficult. The aircraft felt heavier than the Mk 30, and the unfamiliar instrument layout made normal scanning of the panel somewhat slower than normal.
We split up on reaching top of climb. P/O Coleman stayed as stooge and Hyphen watched my first few attacks. After the second pass, he took over control and commented that although the attacks were well flown, I should press in closer before firing the camera guns. I pointed out politely that we were briefed to disengage at 200 yards from the stooge. Hyphen replied that regardless of the rule, and to ensure a successful attack, one needed to close well inside that distance before firing. Something like the equivalent of don't fire until you can see the whites of his eyes, except in this case you hold your fire until you can see the burner cans up his jet pipe!
"Watch this," Hyphen said into his oxygen mask as he whipped the Vamp into a steep wingover, smoothly reversed into a text book attack at 300 knots plus, and bored right in towards the cruising stooge. The twin booms of Coleman's Vampire loomed large into my gunsight, and I involuntarily shut my eyes awaiting the inevitable crunch. A second later, Hyphen bunted under the stooge, counted one potato, and pulled up hard into a right climbing turn. I heard a short transmission from Coleman which sounded like "Jesus!
I was none too happy with this game, either. I hardly had time to tighten my oxygen mask, which had been dragged down with 'g' forces, when Hyphen again rolled rapidly into a second attack. Another perilously close, late bunt and this time I swear I saw for real the dancing blue flames of the burner cans. Coleman's startled remark was angrier this time, and ignoring rank, I told Hyphen that I felt we should stick to the 200 yard break off rule.
Hyphen asked me if his attack technique was worrying me.
After I admitted that it certainly did Sir, (Lesson No 1, never admit anything in the Services), he said "let's do one more and then we'll go home." Again he flew the attack, which was useless for me, as I was the one that was supposed to need the practice. It was a re-run of the last two passes,-- hack, flick, zoom stuff which left me cold, as I realized that Hyphen was quietly enjoying himself, at my expense.
Fuel was getting low, so we returned to base in pansy formation, did the ritual 290 knots buzz and break, and I was a spectator to my instructor's immaculate landing. After a short de-brief, with no particular comments on the exercise, Hyphen and I went our separate ways. Several years later, I was on the tarmac at Cairns, when a brand new C130A Hercules arrived on a training flight. The pilot requested permission for a buzz and break landing. It was a spectacular exhibition of pure flying skill, with a short field landing right on the piano keys. With a crescendo of reverse thrust, the Hercules stopped in a few hundred feet, then neatly taxied backwards a few yards, before parking directly in front of an admiring crowd of waiting spectators. As the baseball hatted crew came down from the flight deck, I recognized the captain. It was Hyphen! The memory of that last Vampire flight flooded back in my mind. Unknowingly, I think Hyphen had done me a favour.
The following day I flew a single seat Vampire on another cine gun exercise. With good scores that time, I went to lunch well pleased with myself. Then came a message that the Commanding Officer wished to see me. This seemed rather mysterious, and I felt a bit uptight as the Great Man beckoned me into his office. He explained to me in a fatherly manner that although my flying skills were quite satisfactory, and my armament work generally average, he felt that I was not fighter pilot material just at this stage. Perhaps a year or so later, after obtaining more flying experience (I had 260 hours), I could come back to the fighter school, and do quite well. Meanwhile, he said, I was to be posted to No 10 Squadron, Townsville to fly as second pilot on Lincoln bombers. There was no mention of any specific shortcomings, but it seemed I wasn't quite the Right Stuff..
I left the Wing Commanders office, embarrassed and close to tears. The next day, I packed my kit bag, and set about returning my flying gear to the clothing store known as "L" Group. Whilst waiting for the storeman to return from smoko, I overheard the voice of the CFI Ross Coburn, who was talking to another officer in a nearby office. Neither was aware of my presence, and I was surprised and instantly angry to hear the CFI describing how Hyphen had apparently scared the pants off a young sergeant pilot during a cine gunnery session. The story was exaggerated, and it was only my respect for rank that prevented me from having a few well chosen words with the CFI.
Nevertheless I was determined to get the facts straight with the CO, Wing Commander Pete Ottewell. He listened sympathetically to my side of the story of the instructor's attack technique on the stooge. His eyebrows lifted slightly, when with ill considered bravado, I offered to fly a Vampire inverted across the field at 500 ft to prove I wasn't a wimp! Wisely, and with no doubt a better knowledge of the Vampire fuel system than I, he gently declined my offer, and repeated his earlier promise that I could come back in a year. That was a white lie, of course, because the old boy had no influence on postings. In fairness to him though, he was only trying to let me down lightly.
That evening, my course members were on night flying for the first time on Vampires. I felt out of the club and a bit lonely, and decided to watch the circuits from the control tower. One aircraft floated and touched down half way down the runway. The controller hit the crash alarm when it was obvious the aircraft was not going to stop in time. It crossed the perimeter track leaving a shower of sparks, narrowly missed a civilian on a bike, and finished in an ignominious fashion nose first into the scrub outside the boundary fence. The aircraft only received superficial damage, but the cyclist was most upset at what he perceived to be dangerous driving on the part of the unfortunate Vampire pilot.
As the pilot wound back the canopy to exit the cockpit, the cyclist arrived with a rush looking decidedly dangerous. The now thoroughly alarmed pilot smartly hunkered down into his seat, and slammed the canopy shut. The stand off remained, until with bells and flashing lights, the fire crew arrived to the rescue. The pilot refused to open his canopy until the sergeant in charge of the fire crew shooed the angry cyclist away. It turned out that after selecting full flap for landing, the pilot had inadvertently returned the flap lever to up instead of neutral. This caused the flaps to fully retract, and the aircraft floated far down the runway before touching down.
I was not due in Townsville for another week, and as I hung around the flight huts, pondering the injustice of being scrubbed on the word of one instructor, someone yelled that I was wanted, and fast. I was met by Pete Middleton who said that after lunch there was to be a twelve versus twelve dog fight of Mustangs and Vampires. The Mustang formation was short one man and I was to stand in. Briefing was at 1300, and I found myself allotted to tail- end charlie, meaning No 4 in the last formation. My official position was wingman. Attacking aircraft attempt to pick off the wingman first, particularly a straggler who may be lagging behind. As the Vampires were considerably faster than the Mustangs, it was probable that someone would be aiming at me first. The 24 pilots consisted of all the instructors, plus our course. The CO was to lead the Vampire gaggle, and the CFI was to be the Mustang leader.
The Mustangs taxied out first, weaving like twelve silver chinese dragons around the perimeter track to the duty runway. Run ups complete, each section leader gave the "hack" signal as engines turned up to 3000 RPM and 54 inches of manifold pressure. I stuck close to my section leader as we accelerated down the runway in vic formation. I became airborne at 100 knots, and seeing the spinning wheels of No's 1 and 2 retracting jerkily inwards, I checked that I was safely clear of the deck, before selecting my own gear to up. The Mustang rocked in wake turbulence, and by the time we settled into the climb at 150 knots, the Vampire squadron leader could be heard calling for his sections to check in for taxy clearance.
We did a few crossover turns on the climb to 20,000 ft and I got one minor fright when climbing through 15,000 ft the engine gave a shudder and thump. I realized it was only the automatic supercharger change over from low to high gear, and I reset the power to keep position on the wing. The squadron leader warned us to keep weaving and to watch for the Vampires who doubtless would position themselves up sun. Another crossover turn in battle formation was called, and shortly after we regained position, I caught a glimpse of silver dots barrelling down from behind and above my starboard wing in a classic quarter attack.
My job was to immediately alert the formation leader to the situation but, before doing so, I reefed my aircraft into a limit turn towards the rapidly closing jets. At this stage, no one else in the Mustang squadron had seen the attackers and I clearly avoided being a victim by breaking early. Half way around my turn I called urgently that we were being attacked from the starboard side. The squadron commander called for the Mustang squadron to break right and a melee ensued between the opposing formations. Reversing my turn, I locked fleetingly onto a Vampire but his diving speed was far too great for an effective camera gun shot. I forget the details of the scrap but, as usual, the Vampires soon got low on fuel so we called it a day and all went home. There was much hilarity and hand waving at the subsequent debriefing session as results of the mock combat were discussed.
I sat at the back of the classroom listening to the claims and counter claims, and then decided to slip quietly away without anyone noticing. I felt that, as a last minute ring in and not really being a member of the club anymore, I was not needed. Besides, I had to return borrowed flying gear before the RAAF bus arrived to transport me to Sydney. Just before I could leave the room, the Vampire formation leader (Wing Commander Ottewell) called for a shush to the chatter and asked who was Red Section No. 4. I put my hand up somewhat nervously and admitted to that spot in the formation. "Congratulations, Sergeant", he said. "That was an excellent bit of flying. We couldn't get near you because of your quick break, although I think we clobbered most of you other chaps".
The compliment was not really deserved and I knew it but I rationalized by thinking that it was just a game, with me trying to right a perceived injustice to my pride.
Some twelve years later, I was to fly an RAAF Convair 440 Metropolitan from Richmond to Darwin. The purpose of the flight was to transport officers from Headquarters Operational Command for a large scale mobility exercise involving fighter and bomber squadrons. Looking at the passenger manifest, I recognized the names of several fighter pilots who were now senior officers in desk jobs.
It was a long flight and throughout the night we ran smack into some of the most vicious thunderstorms I have ever experienced. This particular Convair did not have weather radar, which meant that flying in thick cloud, we could not see the lines of storms along our track. Quiet moments with no turbulence would suddenly be interrupted without warning by violent up and down draughts, lightning, and general frontal weather mayhem. After numerous cups of spilled coffee, nature called me urgently and I left the copilot holding the fort while I headed for the loo.
Opening the cockpit door, I saw lots of white faced men, fearless fighter jocks, tightly gripping their seats with some of them holding sick bags. I momentarily sympathized with their plight because everyone knows that pilots don't make happy passengers. They don't like to be reliant on an unknown pilot because each of them secretly believes that no one else can handle dangerous situations as well as they personally can.
I wondered then if my friendly instructor, Hyphen, was amongst that lot. And if he'd remember me.....
© Peter Dunn 2005
This page first produced 13 May 2000
This page last updated 23 August 2005