This year started as did 1978 i.e. slowly; My first Military sighting was on January 12t at Stansted, this was an RAF Andover C.1 serial XS610. Three days after and while on duty (Motorway Patrol – in 1978 the M11 extended only from junction 7 at Harlow to junction 8 Birchanger) we called in to the Airport Police Office. A colleague took me out to a Shorts Belfast C.1 that was still in RAF markings and wore a serial of XR362. I say ‘still’ in RAF markings as a number of these aircraft were sold by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to a Stansted based company called Heavylift. They were a cargo airline that used a mixed feet of the Belfast’s and a plane called a Conroy CL-44D. The CL-44D had a hinged nose/front end to allow loading of oversized loads. It was strange to look at this aircraft when the nose/front end was at 90 degrees to the rest of the fuselage. The airport colleague and I were given a full tour inside the aircraft by one of the ground crew. For me that was a great start to the New Year.
For the rest of January and early February it was time once again to go to Luton and Heathrow as well as while on or off duty to Stansted. On February 25th I went out for the day with Christine, by the look of it we spent most of the day at RAF Mildenhall watching a mixture of Lockheed C-141 Starlifters, Lockheed C-130 Hercules and a plethora of Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers coming and going from the airfield. From my log book I see that I was reading off the serials / tail numbers and Christine was writing them down into the logbook; such excitement for her!
On March 20th I ventured a little further afield, this time my attention was to the civilian aircraft at Norwich. I suppose the star of that visit had to be a Fokker F.27 registration VH-CAV. The VH- told me that this aircraft had been on the Australian civil register prior to making the long journey to England to become part of the Air Anglia fleet. I’m guessing here that I stayed in the Norwich area overnight as the next day I was back at Norwich airport before moving on to RAF Coltishall.
RAF Coltishall’s Gate was ‘Guarded’ by a Spitfire serial SL542 which was painted in 595 Squadron’s colours and an English Electric Lightning XM172.
Coltishall was at that time home to three Squadron of the Sepecat Jaguar; SEPECAT was an Anglo-French partnership. The three Squadrons equipped with the Jaguar were No 6, 42 and 54. On the day of my visit there had to be nearly three dozen of the Jaguars on the flight line, sadly I only identified five of them. Having failed miserably to identify the Coltishall Jaguars I made my way across Norfolk to RAF Sculthorpe.
At RAF Sculthorpe there were 12 Handley-Page Victors of both 55 & 57 Sqns as well as four English Electric (EE) Canberra’s of 100 Sqn. Seven of the 57 Sqn Victors went unidentified, such is life.
I must have spent another night somewhere in the Norwich area as the following day I was back at RAF Coltishall and identified seven more of the Jaguars and failed to identify another four. Highlight of that time at Coltishall was being buzzed by two Northrop A-10A Thunderbolt II’s from RAF Woodbridge or RAF Bentwaters serial numbers 77-0236 and 77-0238. I have recorded both these aircraft as coming from the 92nd Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) 81st Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW). In 2001 both these aircraft were noted in AMARC now called the 309th AMARG.
The following day I returned to RAF Coltishall and saw a few more Jaguars of various Squadrons. I/we moved on down towards home in a sort of cross country way stopping off at RAF Honington on the way. Honington was home then to some of the RAF’s Blackburn Buccaneer Squadrons including number 12. According to my log book for that day it seems that I only saw one which was serial number XT287. There was also a visiting Hawker-Siddeley HS.748 of the Queens Flight resplendent in its red and white colours, serial number XS790.
Moving closer to home or so I would have her believe the next stop was RAF Lakenheath; the visitors here on that day were two Italian AF Lockheed F-104 Starfighters, to McDonnell-DouglasRF-4C Phantom II’s from nearby RAF Alconbury and a Royal Air Force HS Dominie. The latter was based on the Hawker Siddeley 125 Business Jet but in RAF service it was used to train up and coming Navigators. Also visible were a smattering of 48th TFW General Dynamics F-111F’s the swing wing aircraft that replaced Lakenheath’s F-4D Phantom II aircraft.
A short drive to RAF Mildenhall, what an assortment I saw there! The most prolific were the C-130 Hercules, seven of type and the KC-135’s of which there were eighteen. Add five Lockheed C-141A Starlifters, a Lockheed C-5A Galaxy, two Convair C-131 Samaritan’s of the United States Navy Air Facility based at Mildenhall. Add a Beech C-12 from a European base and you’d get some idea of how crowded RAF Mildenhall was daily back in the later ‘70’s. What still eludes me to this day was a lone F-15 Eagle coded BT which began with the fiscal 77-, most frustrating as it was never to my knowledge ever reported in any Aviation Enthusiast publications.
I spent the majority of April going from Stansted to Heathrow and Luton airports in search of civil aircraft. Heathrow yet again up trumps with the only Military aircraft I saw that whole month. It was a Boeing VC-137A serial 58-6970 of the VIP Wing of the United States Air Force. The C-137 is yet another version / derivative of the Boeing 707 airliner.
A few days later while at Stansted I saw another Military type, this was a McDonnell-Douglas DC-9 of the Kuwait Air Force, serial of this was KAF 920. Quite why it was at Stansted remains a mystery to me to this day, unless of course it was the close proximity to London. Even so as far as I can remember the M11 only went from Birchanger (Stansted) to Junction 7 at Harlow.
May 1st and it was back to RAF Mildenhall, yet more KC-135Stratotankers, more C-130 Hercules, C-141 Starlifters and C-5A Galaxy aircraft adorned the ramp space. The most interesting to me that day was a ‘new’ type to me the Lockheed C-140 Jetstar. This aircraft was based on a civilian model of the Jetstar and Militarised and given the designation C-140. The aircraft serial 61-2489 was most recently seen by me (2014) in the Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona, USA.
From there I drove the short distance to RAF Lakenheath, this time there were an awful lot of the based (LN coded) F-111F ‘Aardvark’ out on the various Squadron ramps. Noted amongst them was a lone RF-4C Phantom II coded SP which indicated to me that this was from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany and was from the 52nd Tactical Fighter Wing.
On the 19th of the month I was a Biggin Hill for their Air Show. It was as ever and excellent day out with loads of things and planes to keep me amused. The RAF were there, with a Jaguar GR.1, two Harriers from number 233 Operation Conversion Unit (OCU) which is basically where they trained pilots to go from flying fixed wing aircraft such as the Jaguar to fly this short or vertical take off aircraft. There were also a couple of the new BAe Hawk T.1’s resplendent in their camouflage colour scheme.
The Royal Canadian Air Force provided five of their Lockheed CF-104 Starfighters and the Belgians sent three of their SIAI Marchetti SF.260MB training aircraft. The USAF sent a Rockwell OV-10 Bronco serial 67-14621 and the British Army sent a couple of helicopters. Biggin Hill was awash with civilian registered aircraft from all over the UK and Europe. It really was a most enjoyable day out; the air display given by the Canadians had to be one of the best I had yet seen.
On the 25th it was time once again for the Air Fete at RAF Mildenhall, and yet again it did not disappoint. Another eclectic mix of flying machines from the USAF, USN, US Army, RAF, Royal Navy, West German Air Force, Royal Netherlands AF, Royal Norwegian AF, and the Royal Canadian AF ensured this was going to be a great day out.
What better way to start the day than a Bud and a ‘wet’ Burger fresh off the improvised BBQ. I saw improvised as it had started life as a 45 gallon / 204 litre drum of something, then cut in half length ways, a couple of hinges attached and a grill laid across the bottom half. Charcoal was place under the grill and Burgers, Polish Sausages and other meat delicacies all on the grill. The Bud and soft drinks had been sitting in a variety of cool boxes (Coolers) which this time was filled with Ice and this was all ready by eight in the morning when the gates to the base were opened to the public!
From my perspective the Canadian display team yet again stole the show with their display involving six Lockheed CF-104 Starfighters. The Starfighter was powered by just on General Electric J79 Turbojet engine. The Starfighter could fly in excess of Mach 1 (Speed of sound) but of course for air shows and displays was prohibited from doing so. The F-104 Starfighter also had a unique sound to it, when the engine was throttled back the air inlet control vanes created a kind of ‘wowling’ sound. It really was to me a great sound and I sadly miss hearing and seeing the F-104 Starfighter at modern day air shows and displays.
RAF Mildenhall was home to a very special plane, the SR-71A Blackbird. As Aviation Enthusiasts we all knew that there were always two Blackbirds based at Mildenhall part of the 9th Strategic Recognisance Wing whose Head Quarters was at Beale AFB in California USA. The SR-71 was at the time the fastest plane ever to fly, exceeding speeds of Mach 3+ (three times the speed of sound) and a service ceiling of 80,000 feet plus (still classified in 2016) The Pilot and his back seat colleague the Recognisance Systems Officer (RSO) sat in tandem the RSO behind the Pilot. They both wore space suits for the duration of their flights.
The 9th SRW as stated was and still is as the 9th RW Head Quartered at Beale AFB, CA and there were two detachments, one at RAF Mildenhall in the UK and the other at Kadena Air Base, in Japan. From these three locations they could cover the world gaining valuable intelligence from the on-board sensors and cameras. During their service life no SR-71 Blackbird was ever shot down as basically no enemy had a missile or plane capable of the same speed or was able to reach the altitude that the SR-71 flew at. It really was the first of the ‘Stealth’ aircraft given its shape and size.
Sadly it would be many years before the USAF would publically acknowledge the use of the SR-71Blackbird from RAF Mildenhall and it would be many more years before we saw one at an Air Fete. Needless to say we didn’t see one at Air Fete 1979. We did see though a number of the SR-71’s KC-135Q tankers. These carried the special JP-7 fuel required for the Blackbirds. The JP-7 fuel had a far higher flash point than that of the usual JP-4 fuel as used in the KC-135Q tankers.
An excellent read is “Flying the SR-71 Blackbird” written by a former SR-71 pilot Colonel Richard H. Graham, USAF (Ret.) I have a personally signed copy of this book in my collection.
An example of the SR-71 Blackbird can be seen at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, Cambridgeshire, in the U.K. I suggest you visit www.iwm.org.uk for details of opening times etc.
After a long and exciting day at RAF Mildenhall it was time to brave the traffic and try to exit from the airfield. I would learn in later years to either “cut and run” before the end of the show or latterly to stay well beyond the end of the show and crawl out when the majority of visitors had left the site. I have to say that nowadays I tend to stay until almost required to leave.
I spent the rest of May and the beginning of June going back and forth to Stansted and Luton. On June 6th while at Luton I saw a DHC-5D Buffalo registration A4O-CE and thought nothing of it until recently when I happened to do a Google search on the registration. To my delight I found that this aircraft was in fact on delivery from de Havilland Canada to the Oman Police Air Wing where it took up the serial of 95 as well as retaining A4O-CE. A picture taken by Photographer Peter Davis of the same aircraft is seen here in the foreground 22 days after I saw it at its new home of Muscat-Seeb International (OOMS) Oman. Peter Davis has given me permission to publish his photo which remains his copyright.
A couple of days later I went to an evening air show that was held at The Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden, Bedfordshire. This was anther first for me watching a show as dusk came down around the myriad of Vintage and Veteran aircraft displayed. The most prolific visitors who flew in were from West Germany in a selection of Cessna aircraft. From memory it was a very enjoyable and different perspective to an air show.
Another few days passed and again I was to be surprised; on the 14th I was on patrol close to North Weald Aerodrome, when a formation of 12 aircraft comprised of four Buccaneer’s, three Vulcans and five Phantoms overflew the airfield going in a generally easterly direction towards the County Town of Chelmsford.
I think I must have been on annual leave again as on the 15th I see that I was once again at Heathrow with my girlfriend Chris. The 16th it was the RAF Waddington, Air Show with a friend and fellow Police Officer Peter S. Nicholson. There were at least eighteen AVRO Vulcans on the airfield four of these were going to perform a spectacular take off and departure later in the show.
As one would expect in those times the RAF well represented, with examples of the English Electric Lightning which would have been based at RAF Binbrook (Lincs.) The Phantoms from RAF Coningsby, SEPECAT Jaguars from RAF Coltishall and BAe Harriers from RAF Wittering. Add a couple of Sea Kings, Hercules, Bulldogs and Chipmunks and you begin to see how many types were in use with the RAF at that time.
The USAF (E) were represented by an F-15 from 32nd Tactical Fighter Squadron based as Soesterberg in The Netherlands serial of this was 77-0089 coded CR with an orange fin tip colour. The 81st Tactical Fighter Wing based at RAF Woodbridge / RAF Bentwaters in the UK sent two A-10A Thunderbolt II’s 77-0235 & 77-0237 coded WR and the 527th Tactical Fighter Training Aggressor Squadron (TFTAS) from RAF Alconbury sent an F-5E serial 74-(0)1550 which was coded 50 and which was painted in an ‘aggressor’ colour scheme.
This day was also very special in more ways than one today I experienced for the first time ever a flight in a helicopter. The flight was only five minutes long, a quick circuit of the airfield before the show started. The aircraft was a Bell 206B Jetranger registration G-BAKF. After the flight I was ‘hooked’ from now on rotary was going to be the only way, well at least that’s what I hoped.
The air show too was spectacular, highlight for me and I’m sure thousands of others at the show that day was a launch of four AVRO Vulcans, one from each of the four Squadrons based at RAF Waddington. The first aircraft to take off kept in the climb and straight ahead, the next turned to the left and the third to the right. The fourth also went on runway heading i.e. straight ahead. They then played catch up and formatted on each other into the four ship formation. The noise while they were taking off was to say the least deafening and that day the earth really did move under my feet! In a very short space of time the noise was incredible again as these four aircraft thundered overhead the airfield at fairly low level before running and braking to land. I’d never seen anything like this before and to be honest not since.
Of course other aircraft did display during the course of the show but nothing was ever going to compare to the display by the Vulcans. The Hawker Harrier did a very impressive display as did the Royal Navy display team the Blue Herons with their Hawker Hunter GA.11 aircraft.
As with all good things it had to come to an end; the exit was horrendous and it seemed like forever getting out of the airfield and on to the A15 for the long journey home. I did break my journey with a stop at what I now call a PUTT field. This was Peterborough Connington where I could see only two aircraft, a Cessna of some description and a Piper PA-23 both of a company called Fenair. From Peterborough it was route one for home, well almost as I had to pass Stansted airport, I say pass as it would have been rude not to call in on the way home!
I couldn’t have been at home for long as my log book shows that I was at Heathrow the very next day. In 1979 I was still a ‘civvie spotter’ which basically meant if an aircraft carried a registration I’d note it in my notebook (log book). Things were going to change significantly as you will see later in the Blog. There were some very interesting Business Jets at Heathrow this morning (17/6/79) with a Gulfstream II from the Ford Motor Company, another Gulfstream II from Uganda. There was one Military Biz-Jet which was a Hawker Siddeley 125 Mk. CC.1 serial XW788. This aircraft was from No. 32 Sqn RAF which was based at RAF Northolt just a stone’s throw from Heathrow. Northolt is to the North of the A40 near the town of Ruislip, it is synonymous with the Second World War and the Polish Squadron’s that were based there. There is a War Memorial to the Polish pilots that flew from RAF Northolt located to the east of the airfield at the junction of the A40 and West End Road.
Civil wise there were at least four Lockheed L.1011 TriStars; one from the Saudi National airline, Air Canada, Trans World Airlines (Teeny Weeny Airlines as spotters referred to it) and an American company called Eastern Airlines who at the time had an affiliation with British Airways.
On the 23rd of the month I was back at Heathrow, the log book shows I was there at 03:15, the reason for this is that I was on my way with my friend Peter Nicholson to the International Air Tattoo which in 1979 was held at RAF Greenham Common. The show was another great adventure not to be missed and this year it did not disappoint. There is an excellent check list of participants on the Scramble website scramble.nl under show reports. There are far too many aircraft to list here; a couple of highlights for me were seeing sixteen (16) US Army AH-1S helicopters from the 503rd Avn Company (based in Germany) together with three Boeing CH-47C Chinooks from the 295th Avn Co. (based in Germany) and eight OH-58C Kiowa’s also from the 503rd Avn Co.
Apart from the United States Army Helicopters I suppose the biggest highlight has to go down to just three aircraft; an EE Canberra B82 of the Venezuelan AF serial 1233 and its support aircraft a Lockheed C-130H Hercules serial 4224. The third was the Argentinian AF Lockheed C-130H Hercules serial TC-67.
From the UK another Hawker Siddeley 125 CC.1 XW790 from 32 Sqn and XV733 a Westland Wessex from the Queens Flight which at that time was based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. The aircraft was painted in a bright red colour scheme and to say it was highly polished is an understatement.
As I alluded to earlier I was there bright and early, early enough to witness a Grumman F-14A Tomcat land and taxi towards its position in the static park. However to the rear of where it was going to be parked where a number of those portable toilet units, as the aircraft swung into position there was a small incline so the pilot of F-144A Tomcat serial number 159441 / AG-110 of VF-143 gave the throttle a little bit extra, hilarious results as these portable toilets went flying off towards the perimeter fence. I’ve never witnessed spotters running away so fast from the perimeter fence!
1979’s International Air Tattoo (IAT) was all about the Lockheed C-130 Hercules.
The RAF sent four Hercules C1 aircraft from the Lyneham Transport Wing (LTW) and a joint venture by the RAF and the Meteorological Research Facility (MRF) sent the only Hercules W2 on the UK inventory.
Australia sent one example a C-130H from 36 Sqn RAAF, New Zealand also one aircraft a C-103H from 40 Sqn, Brazil sent a C-130H from 1°/1° GT, and the IDAF sent a lone C-130H from 103/131 Sqn (IDAF is Israeli Defence Air Force) There were the two from Venezuelan AF and the Argentinian AF already mentioned. Belgium provided one another C-130H and the Portuguese yet another C-130H in support of their display team. 16 Sqn of the RSAF (Saudi AF) provided another C-130H
The United States Navy (USN) sent a C-130F from VR-24, the United States Air Force (USAF) sent eight comprised of one C-130A from the 105th TAS TN ANG, one C-130D from the 139th TASS NY ANG, another C-130A from the 64th TAS AFRC, three C-130E’s one from a yet unknown Squadron / Unit and one each from 37th TAS & 39th TAS. The 67th ARRS sent and HC-130N & HC-130P from their base at RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk, England.
IAT 1979 was certainly going to go down in the annuls of air show history.
After a long day off spotting there could be nothing better than relaxing with friends and mulling over the day with them over dinner and a couple of beers. My thanks here again to Karen and Roger Cooper for their hospitality that evening, this made my day complete.
The display teams came from the Austrian AF with their SAAB S105OE aircraft as Team Karo AS, the Swiss sent their Team, Patrouille de Suisse comprised of seven Hawker Hunter F.58 aircraft. Asas de Portugal represented their country with their Cessna T-37C aircraft. The UK was represented by the Royal Navy, 705 NAS, had five Westland Gazelles called the Team the Sharks. FRADU*/Blue Herons used five Hawker Hunter GA.11’s. *FRADU is/was the Fleet Requirements And Directions Unit of the Royal Navy.
The German AF and Navy were well represented. One of the finest flying displays I have even seen was given by two German Navy, Lockheed F-104G Starfighters of Marinefliegergeschwader (MFG) 2 / Vikings.
After a long day off spotting there could be nothing better than relaxing with friends and mulling over the day with them over dinner and a couple of beers. My thanks here again to Karen and Roger Cooper for their hospitality that evening, this made my day complete. Tomorrow was another day ………………………
The following day Peter and I set off on the return journey to Harlow, however as is the case it is never as straightforward as going straight home.
The first stop for us was Blackbushe aerodrome in Surrey. Amongst the civilian small aircraft lay three former Spanish AF C-47 / DC-3 Dakotas, two former Spanish AF CASA 352L / Junkers Ju-52’s, two former Moroccan AF T-28 Fennec / Trojans’ a sole Moroccan AF C-47 / DC-3 and two North American TB-25N Mitchells. All the Moroccan aircraft carried US civilian registrations as did the two TB-25N Mitchell’s.
The Spanish aircraft were all registered on the U.K. civil register but I’m lead to believe they too went on to become registered on the US civil register.
The two T-28 Fennec / Trojan’s were destined for Honduras but here again I am reliably informed that they never made it to their intended destination.
From Blackbushe our next stop was another Putt field called Fairoaks, here there was absolutely nothing of interest to me, it was another brief stop! We moved on ever closer to home stopping this time at a far more reasonable hour of the day at Heathrow. Another eclectic mix of Boeing and Lockheed aircraft filled the airport.
Final stop of the day was at Leavesdon aerodrome, yet another small airfield that yielded for me nothing of interest. From there it was home to Harlow and more food but most importantly sleep.
I seem to recall that Peter and I went off to Stansted the following day which is where we parted company. He went on his way back to his home in Cumbria and I went home.
June 26th; Luton airport and sitting in amongst all the Biz-Jets was a French Navy Nord 262A number 75. The French Military aircraft are all numbered after their Construction numbers (MSN / Manufacturers Serial Number). Sitting not too far from it was a Swedish AF C-47A (based on the DC-3 Dakota) serial number 79007 coded 77 and 13, the 13 was the Wing the aircraft was from.
My next trip out was on July 14th once again to Luton. Alas there was nothing of interest to me sitting amongst the Biz-Jets or the airliners.
Over the next two months I went back and forth to Luton, Kidlington (Oxfordshire), Staverton (Gloucestershire) Heathrow, Denham, (Buckinghamshire), Luton, and Stansted but found nothing the whet my appetite.
September 11th found me rather us back at Heathrow, the ‘us’ being me and Chris as we were off on holiday. Our flight was aboard a Boeing 727-256 of the Spanish National airline Iberia. Flight IB507 took us from Heathrow to Valencia where we had to de-plane clear Customs etc. then get back on the same plane for the next sector of the flight to Ibiza. I do recall that when we landed at Valencia it was dark, way too dark to do any spotting but I could just make out the silhouettes of some Spanish AF Mirage’s or were they F-4 Phantom II’s parked up not too far away from where our Boeing 727 was parked. The same applied when we finally touched down at Ibiza airport, too dark to see anything if there was actually anything to see.
I was lying by the hotel pool one day during the holiday when I heard the sound of a helicopter. Foolishly I hadn’t taken any binoculars or a telescope with me to the poolside, well you wouldn’t would you? Needless to say the codes on the side of the dark Helo were white and rather large so 005/7 was later identified as serial HS-9.7 which made it a Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King. I didn’t even have to put my Gin & Tonic down to read those codes!
Alas holidays always go too quickly; 18th we were back at Ibiza airport ready for the short back to Valencia. This time our ‘ride’ was EC-CBA another Boeing 727-256 of Iberia. After take-off from Valencia we turned sufficiently for me to be able to see two Canadair water-bombers and at least 12 F-4 Phantom II’s sitting on the Military ramp; how frustrating was that?
After the holiday the rest of the month was a bit anticlimactic, going back and forth from and to Stansted. October got off to a slow start, with visits only to Luton and Stansted.
As from the 15th life was to rapidly change for me; during the morning of the 15th I was strapped into the left hand seat of a Piper PA-28-140 Cherokee G-BBIL, my Instructor I’m going to call Fran. I was about to have me first flying lesson and boy was I nervous!
Fran quickly put me at my ease running through the before flight checklist before she called the Tower and asked for taxi clearance. After the power and carb checks were completed we asked for clearance for take-off, this was given for runway two four (024). Fran advanced the throttle and we rumbled down Southend’s runway I’m not sure of the speed but Fran gently pulled the nose of ‘IL’ off the runway at 13:35 and we began the slow climb up to 2,500 feet. For the next 50 minutes Fran demonstrated the aircraft and what it handled like and exactly what I’d have to contend with when I eventually went solo (yeah some hope of that I thought at that time!). They were called Exercise 1 – 5 that I had been shown and instructed on. I always knew when I was going to get on well with the instructor from the days of my driving courses; Fran and I instantly ‘gelled’. After 55 minutes we were back in the club house and I was still taking in the awesome feeling of actually having been given control of the aircraft. I’m still smiling while typing this; such was the rush of adrenaline and thrill of flying.
It was going to be a couple of hours before I flew again, this time it was a night flight with Fran, again in G-AVPV also a Cherokee 140. At no stage on this flight did I have nor was I given control as it was at night, from 18:30 to 19:30 and night flying is prohibited for those learning to fly but you have to know what it’s like! The familiarisation was for exercises 6I & 6II.
It had been my intention to drive back to Harlow and return the following morning to Southend but I was offered accommodation for the night in nearby Westcliff on Sea and who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth? (Wry smile on face at this time)
The following morning we were back at the airfield or rather I was and so was my Instructor Fran. First flight after a pre-flight briefing was again in G-BBIL taking off at 11:10 practising exercises 7, 8, and 8II and taking some revision of the previous days exercises. We landed again at 12:50 onto Southend’s runway 24. After lunch at the small cafe in the Terminal building it was time to go back to the flying club for yet another pre-flight briefing. Strapping into ‘IL’ once again at 15:20 Fran got us off runway 24 and we climbed away north of the airfield to practise exercise 9 with an introduction to exercise 10. An hour later Fran landed us gently back onto runway 24 and taxied us back to the club house. After a de-brief I packed up my stuff, said my goodbyes and headed home to Harlow.
Eight days later I was back at Southend, pre-flight briefing, strapped into another Cherokee 140 this time it was G-AVTK. At 14:15 Fran lifted ‘VK’ off the runway and yet again I/we climbed back up and over toward north Essex where it was time for exercises 12 and 13. One hour and 15 minutes later Fran landed us back at Southend. At 16:25 we were airborne yet again in ‘VK’ revising all the previous exercises and concentrating a little on Exercise 10I; if only I could remember what all the Exercises were (big smiles). Landing back at 17:50 I thought I was done for the day but I was offered a flight this time purely as passenger with Fran and another Instructor I think whose name was Danny. Take-off was at 18:30, we flew up to and around Clacton then back to Southend taking at total of one hour to do so. In those days it would have taken about a bout four to five hours by road! I dread to think how long it would take today with the increase in the number of cars on the road.
It must have been another over-night stay in Westcliff as it appears I was back fairly early at the Clubhouse. It wasn’t actually a flying day as I spent just fifteen minutes with Fran learning how to taxi the aircraft; it’s not as easy as pilots make it look! By mid-afternoon it was time once again to say goodbye to everyone and head back to Harlow and I guess work, oh yes that little thing called work that got in the way of a very pleasurable social life and hobby. J
I rounded off October with a flight with a friend of mine from my days in Grays, a very affable guy called Ray. He had part-ownership in a Piper PA.23-160 Aztec, on this particular day he flew us over Essex for 30 minutes taking off from Stapleford Tawney at 16:00 and landing back on at 16:30.
November 1st saw me back at the Flying Club in Southend; first flight of the day was with Fran in a Piper Cherokee PA-28-140 G-BBIL for a total time of 1 hour 35 minutes revising Exercise 10 II over the Essex Countryside.
The second flight was yet again with Fran this time it was in another Piper PA.28-140 G-AVLT. It was an hour in duration working on Exercises 12 & 13 for an hour once again over part of Essex to the north of Southend.
The “spotting” was taking a hit while I was travelling back and forth to Southend Flying Club from Harlow.
All that said it appears from my log book that Christine and I made a visit to Heathrow on November 3rd where to my disappointment there wasn’t one Military aircraft to be seen. Still it was a day out and I’m sure we enjoyed the drive to and from the airport.
I was back at Southend on the 5th this time we were in G-ATVK airborne for 1 hour 15 minutes practising Exercise 18a and a cross country exercise. The latter was designed to test my map reading ability. I never got lost, I was only temporarily unsure of my location. Little did I know in 1979 just how much use this map reading stuff was going to assist me later in my Police career?
Two more days passed by before I was yet again back at the flying club and once again leaping into the wild blue yonder in a Piper Cherokee with Fran. Actually it wasn’t so much a ‘leap’ as a slow and steady climb to about 2,500 feet above ground level (a.g.l.) where we’d level off and run through previous exercises or start new ones.
The day after this I was there very early for a 09:25 take off in a Piper Cherokee G-ATVK but this time not with Fran but Danny. Danny was my co-instructor and he was also cross-checking the exercises that Fran had thus far taught me. We were airborne that morning for another 1 hour 15 minutes basically revising exercises 12 & 13. After the post-flight debrief and lunch Danny and I took to the skies above Essex once again, this time it was back to G-AVLT and yet more revision and practice of exercises 12 & 13. The exercises I was being taught were all taken from a book called “Flight Briefing for Pilots 1” written by N H Birch & A E Bramson published at the time by Pitman.
The 8th of November 1979 at 14:05 hours was going to be a very, very special time and day in my life; for 2 hours 15 minutes that day I’d had Danny sitting next to me in the cockpit. I was told to taxi the aircraft back to the flying club and bring the engine to idle. Danny unstrapped himself and let himself out of the cockpit making sure his door was closed before signalling he was clear of the aircraft. Just before he left me alone in the aircraft he said something like “you’re on your own from here”. I was about to embark on my first ever solo flight!
I called the Tower and asked for permission to taxi from the flying club towards runway 24 (the active). I was cleared; I proceeded along the taxi-way in front of the Terminal buildings and by the Tower. I held short of the runway and went through all my pre-flight checks; the adrenaline in my body was pumping like never before. Checks completed I asked for permission to take off, I was given clearance to enter the runway I lined up on the centre line and awaited my clearance to take off. Across the headphones came “LT you are cleared for take-off, climb straight ahead to 2,500 feet then right turn” I acknowledged the instructions. Holding the aircraft still I advanced the throttle to full power, released the brakes and sped down the runway watching for a speed of 80 knots, when I gently pulled the nose wheel off the tarmac. I’m very pleased to say that the rest of the aircraft followed (loud sound of laughter). I did as instructed and continued straight ahead until I’d reached 2,500 feet a.g.l. and commenced my right hand turn. I continued to fly parallel to the runway and went through my post-flight and pre-landing checks. I sought permission from the Tower to land and was instructed to fly as I was then turn base leg and finally finals for runway 24 (pronounced two four) at Southend. I slowly reduced height above ground level and lined up nicely with the runway centre line; 15 minutes after take-off I made what both Danny and Fran said was a ‘more than acceptable landing’. Feeling rather pleased with myself I rolled along the runway and taxied back to the flying club. I went through all the shut-down checks and shut down “LT”. It had taken Fran and Danny just 14 hours 15 minutes before they felt I was capable of flying solo; I was alone in the air for just fifteen minutes which in hindsight seemed like the longest fifteen minutes of my life.
As I walked back to the Flying Club the Chief Flying Instructor (CFI) Mr Benham was there ready to shake hands as were Danny and Fran. I had the extra ‘luxury’ of a very warm long hug from Fran. A post-solo debrief followed with the CFI, Danny and Fran, from there we all adjourned to the on-site bar; It was my round.
The euphoria over I had to make my way back home to Harlow, where I proudly revealed to my Mum & Dad what I had achieved that day. I naturally phoned my Uncle Gordon to tell him of the achievement.
November 9th I was back at the Flying Club in Southend, a little later than the day before. Another session in ‘LT’ with Danny for revision on exercises 12 & 13. That same afternoon I was off on my own in ‘LT’ revising and using exercises 12 & 13. If my memory serves me well I took off from Southend, turn right towards Chelmsford (the County town of Essex) and headed for Hanningfield Reservoir a rather large expanse of water than one should not be able to miss from 2,500 a.g.l. Luckily my map reading skills were working well and I circumnavigated the reservoir before heading back to Southend airport. I cannot begin to describe the feeling of being alone in an aircraft; you are totally ‘in charge’ save for Air Traffic Control, it is your responsibility to remember all the pre-flight, in-flight and pre-landing checks and once down all the post-flight things you have to do. But it’s bloody awesome …………….
On the 10th I was back in the air with Fran; more time in ‘LT’ and this time it was being examined on exercise 11 the Stalling one! If there is one exercise that was my least favourite it was this one and Fran knew this. I forget how many times she made me do that exercise but each time the hard-deck was about 3,000 feet a.g.l. and we’d have to start off at about 6,000 feet a.g.l. I remember saying to her once we’d completed the flight why did I have to practise that so much. A wry smile came to her face and said actually we didn’t you’d passed on the first one the others were just for fun. I can laugh now and I did with her later that day over a cold beer.
The 13th I was in the air one more time with Danny in ‘LT’ for just 25 minutes practising exercises 12 & 13. Later that day I was dispatched in ‘LT’ on my own to yet again go over exercises 12 & 13 for 1 hour and five minutes. After lunch I was yet again alone in the wild blue yonder this time in G-BBIL and yes it was practising exercises 12 & 13.
It was going to be over two weeks until I flew again; December 3rd 1979 with the CFI Mr Benham in G-ATVK for just fifteen minutes going over exercise 12 & 13. To finish off the day I went solo for another 45 minutes to hone exercise 12 & 13.
My private life was taking a bit of a bettering and Christine and I weren’t getting on too well (understatement), the spotting had almost stopped and I was feeling pretty low even though my flying was going really well. I phoned a friend of mine who was living in The Netherlands and asked if I could go and spend a couple of days with him and his family.
At 10:20 on December 28th I boarded a DC-8-63 registration PH-DEB of KLM at Heathrow airport; forty minutes later I landed at Amsterdam Schiphol airport where Jim met me. He then drove me to his home in a town called Alphen-a/d Rijn not too far from Rotterdam.
I had a very enjoyable time with Jim and his family for those three days. Jim dropped me back off at Schiphol in time for my 12:10 flight back to Heathrow; this time it was a Hawker Siddeley Trident 3B registration G-AWZF of British Airways. I landed back at Heathrow at 12:50 and made my way home to Harlow.
That was the end to 1979.