Category Archives: Aviation

RAF Lossiemouth

My overwhelming impression here is a sense of direct connection with the fighting spirit of the past in a modern world still sadly filled with uncertainty and threat. Having close-up tours of the Typhoon and Tornado brought to the fore that unbroken link of innovation and development which means that, surprisingly, I can now see as many of the similarities as differences between these fast jet fighters and the Spitfires, Hurricanes, Beaufighters, Defiants, Typhoons and Tempests of seven

Sgt Stuart Smylie, presenting me with a print of the Typhoon behind me, signed by crew of II (AC) Squadron.

Sgt Stuart Smylie, presenting me with a print of the Typhoon behind me, signed by crew of II (AC) Squadron.

decades ago. At first, it seemed to me that all had changed and the old planes were unrecogniseable in the new, but beside the computer screen displays in the Typhoons, you open a tiny flap to discover three small instruments dials, by which the pilot can bring the plane home if the computer system should fail. The glass screen that displays green-lit information between the pilot and the bubble of the cockpit canopy are showing him the old instrument information in a different visual format, generated by computer, but still the same information, albeit with loads of other stuff available at whim.

My father wrote a long description (in Flying Blind: The Story of a Second World War Night Figher Pilot, Fonthill Media) of chasing a Heinkel bomber across the English Channel, with his Radar Operator, Deryk Hollinrake, struggling to keep its ‘blip’ on his small radar scanner; and the desperation to get a visual on the aircraft, as this was the only means of shooting it down. The old Mark I Eyball, as they say. Today, suffice it to say, it’s very different indeed. As the amazing technology was explained to me (a little), I kept thinking, ‘What would Dad have said to all this?’

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Controls, Beaufighter 1943

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Controls Typhoon 2015

One thing has not changed in all the years: the RAF family here – and elsewhere – has made me feel I belong, even though I know that belonging is because of my dear father, because of those years he served in the 1940s, and for whom it really was a family in more than just name.

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Filed under Airfields, Aviation, Aviation history, RAF history, Royal Air Force, Second World War

Flying Blind publication

FlyingBlindCoverFrontThe book of my father’s memoirs, ‘Flying Blind: the Story of a Night-Fighter Pilot’, is now at the press and is likely to be available from mid-October.

The book is published by Fonthill Media.

Watch this space!

Or if you would like to subscribe to my email newsletter ‘Flying Blind’ to keep up to date with developments on the book, its publication and feedback afterwards, just complete the following form. I only send newsletters from time to time when there is something to impart, and you can unsubscribe easily at any time using the link at the bottom of each edition.

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Filed under Aviation, Aviation history, books, Second World War

£200.00 in donations

I have now collected a total of just over £200.00 through the Where They Served project, some of which has gone to the RAF Charitable Trust as part of the Pre-War Prescott ticket donations, but the majority of course is for the RAF Benevolent Fund. My thanks to all those who have donated so generously so far.

It may seem as if things have gone quiet at the moment, but in fact it is all very busy behind the scenes. The airfields tour proper is scheduled to start in April 2015, and currently Ground Control and I are working on the itinerary, which is quite a big job.  On the vehicle side, Thetford Engineering have booked Chattie into their vintage car workshop for a complete assessment and overhaul, which will happen, hopefully, at the end of September, and work on the car will I suspect be continuing throughout the Autumn months, as we also have to try and fit her with an all-weather hood.  I am also working on raising sponsorship for next year.  If you can help with this, or are interested in sponsoring Where They Served for the national tour next year, please get in touch.

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Filed under Aviation, Aviation history, Second World War, Singer Le Mans, Uncategorized, vintage cars

Coming Clean

OK, it’s confession time.  Here’s my experience in full of offloading Chattie for the first time ON MY OWN. It was at the Royal International Air Tattoo .  Read carefully if you want to learn how NOT to do it, and avoid the most basic mistake.

After my two-hour drive to Fairford, I had arrived in the Sprinter, with Chattie strapped on the back, to the place on the airfield allocated by RIAT for trade vehicles.  I was the only person there, among a few parked trucks; so with a bit of relief that there was no one to watch me, I put my swede gardening gloves on to protect my hands, and tackled the businsess of unloading the car.

I was being so careful about the webbing straps, which had taken us (Ground Control and I) so very long to do up and get right the night before, that I concentrated on getting them undone in the right order, leaving Chattie’s left front wheel to the last, as it was towards the highest point on the flatbed, nearest the cab. I had forgotten the most important bit of all, which was to attach the winch before unstrapping ANYTHING.  I thought I was doing really well.  But when I loosened the last webbing strap, it started paying out and the car itself moved backwards, beginning a roll down the flatbed. I had put on the handbrake, but obviously not enough to hold it on the slope.  Talk about panic feeling! I immediately felt the webbing paying out through my left hand; meanwhile my right hand, which had just opened the ‘spindle’ out to ‘unlock’ it, wasn’t strong enough to pull the lever to re-cock it again. With my left hand I was pulling with all my might to try and stop the strapping from paying out further.  Inch by inch I was losing, and I just couldn’t get the handle to go back to the ratchet point.  I’d like you just to imagine the situation.  One 1935 vintage car on a flatbed trailer about 2.5 feet off the ground, heading inexorably towards the two narrow tracking planks, but not necessarily properly lined up.  If I couldn’t stop the car going backwards, it was going to plunge off the treads and fall damaged amongst them.  My only hope was to let go of the webbing with my left hand and use both hands as quickly as I could to get the webbing ‘spindle’ (I don’t know what it’s called) to lock.  Even then, would one web-strapping hold the whole car?

At this point, a friendly voice behind me said cheerfully, ‘Do you want any help?’  Without turning round I instantly recognised the voice of Christian, a RIAT volunteer who had shown me to my place. ‘Yes!’ I shouted. ‘Please can you put that chock there under that wheel!’  He did so, and immediately I was able to put both hands to the spindle and ratchet the thing back a little, then lock it. ‘Thank you!’ I said, with great feeling. ‘Perhaps it would be a good idea to put it on the winch?’ said Christian in as tactful a way as it would be possible for anyone do say so under the circumstances.  That young man knew absolutely it would be a good idea, but showed what I consider to be the most exceptional tact and diplomacy I have come across in a long time.  ‘Absolutely it would!’ I said, ‘I was just about to do it!’  Christian, I think you saved my life that day.  I’ve thanked you several times, but here’s another for the road.  You were an angel in disguise, sent to rescue me from total disaster, and I’ll never forget it.

I truly believe I will never forget this lesson, either.  I will NEVER loosen up the strappings on the car UNTIL I’VE ATTACHED IT TO THE WINCH FIRST.

I know some of you men out there will be chuckling at tutting at me, but I don’t care – I’ve come clean now so that some poor soul following me won’t make the same mistake.

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Filed under Aviation, car, Singer Le Mans, vintage cars

Mercedes-Benz

Ground Control and I are going back to Kidderminster tomorrow to pick up the Sprinter (still loaded up with Chattie) after its service. A rather expensive service, as it turns out, but at least we know the Sprinter is good and roadworthy. We had to take it to the Mercedes-Benz dealer, and as I chatted to their Service Advisor, Andrew Brown, he said, ‘My father was in the RAF, too’.  Turns out his father, Thomas Royster ‘Roy’ Brown, was a Ground Crew engineer with one of the reconnaissance squadrons.  ‘In fact,’ said Andrew, ‘It’s funny you should come today, because I’ve got this with me; it’s from a Spitfire’ and he reached down beside the desk and picked up a piece of equipment that looked like something you might use for technical drawing. See photo:

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Andrew Brown, with equipment from his father’s Spitfire reconnaissance squadron, used to translate the photographic information into accurate compass bearings and miles to target.

Andrew explained that his father worked on the photographs brought back by the reconnaissance Spitfires, taking the plates off the aircraft and analysing them, in order to work out the distances and degrees on the photographs and translate them into miles and readable navigation routes. These would then be fed back to the bomber squadrons, pinpointing the target and how they were going to reach it: a vital part of the ability of Bomber Command to get its planes to target successfully. This piece of equipment Andrew is holding, calibrated for this purpose, was used in this way by his father.

Meanwhile, Chattie is in good – if rather overwhelming – company!

SprinterInRecovery

 

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Filed under Aviation, Aviation history, Second World War, Uncategorized

Do Tiger Moths use Tom Toms?

Having got on the wrong side of a GPS system over my Pre-War Prescott weekend, when it led me and my carrier up a very narrow, very steep road instead of the sensible way round, I wondered how one navigates when flying a pre-war plane like Paul Harvey’s Tiger Moth.  Do you use pre-war navigation techniques, and if so, what are they (looking over the side, for example, to see where you are!); and if you use modern navigation techniques, what does that involve?  Do you use a kind of ‘aviator’s Tom Tom’?  Excuse me asking this daft question, but I’m not a pilot, not an aviation ‘buff’, so the only way I can find out is to ask…

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Filed under Aviation, Aviation history, Uncategorized

Prescott Tiger Moth disappointment

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Tiger Moth G-AFWI, known in Dad’s log book as BB814. Photo courtesy of owner Paul Harvey. She is in her pre-war livery.

Of course the big disappointment for me and my cousins was the fact that the Tiger Moth, G-AFWI/BB814, in which my father learned to fly, was not able to be flown over from Norfolk by its owner Paul Harvey because of the bad weather.  My brother Andrew, who lives in the States, was also unable to get over for Pre-War Prescott, though he would absolutely have loved to see the Tiger Moth.  Also rained off from the event were my father’s two step-brothers, Derek and Chris, and their wives, and Harry Birkner, a relative on our Grandmother’s side, all of whom were aiming to join us for today. However, we’re hoping that we can meet up with Paul and the Tiger Moth sometime next year, and if Andrew can get over at the same time, that would be fantastic. I will now work on the schedule for next year and see what we can come up with.  All heartfelt thanks to Ian Grace of Pre-War Prescott and for Paul Harvey for attempting to make this dream possible – we still hold out for next year!

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Filed under Aviation, Aviation history, Uncategorized, vintage cars

Royal International Air Tattoo

What a weekend.  Near-perfect weather and for someone who has never seen a real airshow at all, it was wonderful to start with probably the best in the world. The Red Arrows – thrill, precision and an excellent commentary from ‘Red 10’, the airbus with its ponderous bulk and fluked tail graceful in the sky like a whale in the water; the grace of the Polish formation – grey-glint and silver gleam against the cloud base; the flamboyant Italian display generous in sweep and character and a commentary that delighted with enthusiasm – ‘There he goes!  Up! up! up into the sky!’; the sheer power and bone-rattling noise of the jets conveyed not so much through the air as in immediate and direct connection through the ground and our very bones – all this was thrilling. But the highlight of highlights for me was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight: Lancaster majestic in the air, accompanied by the iconic Spitfire and Hurricane – the note in the drone of their engines we all recognise, even though we weren’t there then. Thank you everyone who put the show on for us, and the tremendous staff and volunteers who were utterly exceptional (thanks, Christian, for your help over the weekend). See my Facebook page facebook/wheretheyserved for more pictures. Here’s just one:

Chattie watches Lancaster and Spitfire overhead

Chattie watches Lancaster and Spitfire overhead

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Filed under Aviation, Aviation history, car, vintage cars

Night Fighter Navigator by Dennis Gosling DFC

Again, at Shobdon, I was talking to a lady whose relative had been a radio operator during the war, and this brought to mind a great book I have read recently: “Night Fighter Navigator: Beaufighters and Mosquitos in World War II” by Dennis Gosling DFC.  I was particularly interested in his account because in many ways it mirrors that of my father, who also flew Beaufighters and Mosquitos as a night-fighter.  His long-standing navigator was Flt Sgt Ralph Gibbons, and Dennis Gosling’s book gave me a rare glimpse of the story from the navigator’s point of view.  My father’s experience of the RAF was almost universally positive and friendly; Dennis Gosling’s was not like this at the beginning of his wartime career but later he realised he had been unfortunate and his later squadrons were much more welcoming, with the social integration of rank and class more like that of my father’s remembrance.  I found it a good page-turner, even though it’s not a traditional ‘action-packed’ account of war, and would recommend it for an interesting and touching read.

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Filed under Aviation, Aviation history, Second World War, Uncategorized

Royal International Air Tattoo

Chattie and I have been very kindly invited to be present at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) Fri 11th to Sunday 13th July at Fairford, Gloucestershire.  Chattie will be proudly on display in the Cotswold Club area of the site, next to the runway.  I would love to meet anyone who cares to say hello to me while I am there. 

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Filed under Aviation, Uncategorized