The 1980’s; who knew what was in store?
One thing was for sure I was continuing my flying lessons; January 8th I was back in the pilot’s seat of G-AVLT with Danny sitting beside mw while we went off for 55 minutes practising Exercise 19 (whatever that was?). Parts of Essex along the River Blackwater were becoming very familiar although I didn’t want the familiarity to breed any contempt.
On the 9th Chris and I went out for a little drive in the country, first stop was Hatfield where I saw a Westland Whirlwind of Bristow Aviation registration G-AODA. We then moved on to Luton where I have to say there wasn’t anything of interest.
On the 12th I paid a visit to Stansted airport; parked on the North side of the airfield were a VC-10 and Hercules of the Royal Air Force. The VC-10 departed to Bedford as Ascot 940 and the Hercules to Lyneham as Ascot 970. A Douglas Dakota callsign CL2891 also departed but didn’t give a destination. To this day I still do not know the serials of these aircraft, which is rather frustrating.
Following my flight on the 8th it would then be another nine days before I was strapped back into the seat of a Piper Cherokee, this time it was G-AVPU with and Instructor who I know only as Mr Burnham. We went off for another forty five minutes practising Exercise 18.
Another seven days passed (24th) and I was back again at the Flying Club strapped into G-AVTK with Danny alongside me for twenty five minutes of Exercises 12 & 13 and circuit checks. I annotated in my log book that I did two landings that day as part of the circuit check. The third landing would have been a full-stop landing and the end of the session with Danny. Later the same day having dropped Danny off at the Flying Club I again went solo; I began to taxi towards runway two four (240 degrees magnetic) but thought it prudent to give way to a bright orange coloured English Electric Canberra of the West German Air Force who had moved unannounced onto the taxi-way in front of me. I’m glad I held back, even so I could feel the effects of those two jet engines rocking my little Cherokee. The Canberra departed without further ado and I was given my line up clearance. I took off and for the next forty five minutes practised Exercise 12 & 13 with four landings as part of the Exercises.
“it was an oh s**t moment”
The following day which was the 25th I was back at Southend at the Flying Club. Danny took me on a ‘solo check’ in the Cherokee G-ATVK to see if I was self-confident and capable to do a cross-country flight, all seemed to have gone well. At 11:15 local time Danny sent me off solo on a cross-country navigation exercise he’d briefed me on earlier. I was to fly out towards Chelmsford, around Hanningfield reservoir and back into Southend. So here I was yet again setting off for the reservoir, I felt on top of the world albeit I was only 2,500 feet above ground level (a.g.l.). I did all the necessary post take-off checks, all the in-flight checks and the pre-landing checks. I called ATC and was given clearance to land on two four and began my descent. I set flap 15, then as I drew closer to the airfield to flap 30 (these are degrees) and finally full flap, thing were “looking good”. The next thing I remember is the aircraft hitting the runway with an almighty bang the propeller coming to a halt and the aircraft sliding along the edge of the runway taking out one of the runway edge marker lights.
My immediate thought was that fuel was still being pumped to the engine; I turned off the main battery and anything else I could and that would turn off I did. I exited the aircraft and could hear the sirens of the emergency crews racing towards me. I was deflated, embarrassed and all the things you feel after such an incident. Danny came over from the Flying Club to see if I was okay; yep one very bent plane and pride but I was okay. Danny took me back to the Flying Club where I experienced a thorough de-brief by Danny and the owner of the club Mr Edward Clack. Just thirty minutes after my heavy landing I was strapped into another Cherokee this time it was G-AVPV, Danny sitting beside me; I had to do four circuits totally unaided but watched over by the Hawk that was sitting next to me. I have to say that each and every landing was a ‘greaser’ as they were really smooth. After I’d touched down I’d have to accelerate up to take-off speed and haul us into the air one more time. I still can’t fathom out what I did so wrong earlier in the day; the AAIB classed it as a heavy landing, while I classed it as an ‘oh s**t’ moment.
“see it, I was that pilot”
After the session with Danny I bade my farewells to all assembled and offered my apologies to Mr Clack. I then headed for the Restaurant in the Terminal. I took a seat next to the window so that I could watch the planes. My waitress took my order engaging me in conversation she said did you see that plane crash a couple of hours ago? Laughing (well sort of) I looked her square in the eyes and said “see it, I was that pilot”. She fell about laughing and retold my story to all assembled which fortunately were few. It would be three weeks until I was back at the Flying Club.
The 25th wasn’t all doom and gloom for me; just before I left two DHC-6-300 Twin Otters landed, they were 5A-DCX and 5A-DDD. It transpired that they were on delivery from DeHavilland Canada to a Libyan customer.
Undaunted and luckily unhurt I set off on the 26th with Christine for a day at Heathrow. Only one or two of interest to me on the 25th one being a Boeing C-137B of the US Presidential Flight (the last time I saw this aircraft it was at the Pima Air & Space Museum, pimaair.org Tucson Arizona in May 2014.) I think we must have stayed out with friends nearby as we were back there on the 27th as well but not until 21:00.
That was it for January 1980, not a very auspicious start to the year but one I wouldn’t forget or be allowed to forget for many a long year.
February: this got off to a relatively slow start, well me it was slow. The first ‘prize’ of the month was a Kuwaiti AF McDonnell-Douglas C-9K (DC-9) serial KAF320 which I saw at Stansted Airport. In the 1980’s pre the Internet it was difficult to find out why planes like this were visiting. One could only assume that a Head of State etc. might be visiting.
Five days later I was back at Stansted, this time I was intrigued when I heard a civilian registered Boeing 707 call Stansted Tower and give an Israeli AF call sign. The Boeing was registered N90827 which was a Boeing 707-328B. I thought no more of it for several years. I was doing some research on another Boeing and remembered this one. It turns out that this one was going to Israel and took up the Israeli AF serial of 120 / 4X-JYP having been converted to an RC-707. The aircraft according to recent research was withdrawn from use (w.f.u.) in 2008. The aircraft had been constructed in 1960 with construction number (c/n) 17921. It was designated a Boeing 707-328B powered by four (4) Pratt & Whitney JT-4A Turbojet engines. It had been previously registered in Belgium as OO-SBR and in France as F-BHSN before delivery to the Israeli AF. The aircraft eventually left Stansted in March 1980 using a full Israeli AF callsign.
Three days later i.e. 14th I was back at Southend Flying Club where I spent 35 minutes in the company of the CFI Mr Edward Clack. He accompanied me while I flew a Piper Cherokee 28-180 G-AVPV practising exercises 12 & 13 including two landings on runway two four (240 degrees magnetic) at Southend. I have nothing in my notes to say whether I enjoyed this flight or not!
On the 15th I was back at Stansted for a few minutes. Today I was fortunate to see a Lockheed L-100-20 which is the ‘civilian’ version of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. This aircraft was owned and operated by Southern Air Transport and wore the registration N9232R. Rumours abounded at the time (1980’s) that SAT were operating on behalf of the United States Government / Military being allowed to enter countries under a civilian guise whereas under a Military serial / callsign etc. they would be barred.
On the 17th my first port of call was at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, nothing there to ‘grab my attention’ so it was off to Staverton in Gloucestershire where there were only a few Putt, putts that once again weren’t attention grabbing. I’m pretty sure I coincided this with a visit to friends in the Gloucester area as on the 18th I found myself at RAF Little Rissington. Sadly this was closed and there was nothing outside to see so I moved on to the next port of call which was back to RAF Brize Norton. A couple of RAF HS.748 (Andover’s) and two RAF Vickers VC-10’s into the log book before moving on yet again.
Next stop was RAF Abingdon here the Gate Guard was a Spitfire serial number PK624. On the airfield two Bristol Bulldogs of the Oxford University Air Squadron (UAS) sat patiently waiting for trainees, they wore serials XX667 / A, and XX661 / B. Also on the airfield were two dumped EE Canberra’s WH869 / 8515M & XA536 / 8605M, the M numbers were their ‘maintenance numbers. Both aircraft were in use for Battle Damage Repair Flight (BDRF) training.
From Abingdon it was a quick trip over to RAF Benson where there was nothing visible apart from the Gate Guard which was another Spitfire, this one wore serial PM651. According to my log book there was “nowt else on the airfield”.
There followed the drive back to Heathrow where there was an eclectic collection of civilian airliners from all over the World.
My next stop was at Leavesdon aerodrome where there were a few pond hoppers and puddle jumpers but nothing to really get excited about.
Final stop of the day before the push home was at Luton airport and here again nothing to grasp my interest apart from a couple of Business Jets. So that was it, home beckoned me!
On the 22nd I found myself at Chepstow Racecourse, quite why I still don’t recall. However I was extremely pleased to see one of The Queen’s Flight Helicopters (TQF) in the shape and form of XV733. The helicopter first flew in 1969 having been constructed by Westland Helicopters at Yeovil, Somerset where it was given construction number WA628. The helicopter was painted in the distinctive to TQF, dark red with a blue cheat line. At the time I saw it TQF was based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, where only four days earlier I had visited. XV733 was transferred to 32 (The Royal) Squadron based at RAF Northolt which lies about 7 miles to the north of Heathrow. It was operated by 32 (TR) Sqn until March 1998 when it was withdrawn from service and flown to DARA at RAF Shawbury for storage pending disposal. In November of 2001 it was purchased by The Helicopter Museum located at the former RAF Locking, Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset. hmfriends.org.uk
Meanwhile back at Stansted on the 25th there was only one aircraft that slightly interested me that being a Boeing 707 wearing registration SU-BBH. Try as I might then, and to this day I cannot find any details of this aircraft apart from the fact that it was allegedly registered to Egypt.
I moved from Stansted on to RAF Mildenhall which had a very pleasant mix of KC-135A Stratotankers and C-130 Hercules. I’m guessing for me that day the star of the show was KC-135A tail number 57-1503 which was from the Tennessee Air National Guard (ANG). It was always the done thing to drive from Mildenhall to RAF Lakenheath, today was no exception to that rule. However it was a little disappointing as there were only three of the then based F-111’s out and a visiting F-15C Eagle from the 36 TFW 525th TFS coded BT (Bitburg AB Germany). Withdrawn from use on the airfield was a Lockheed T-33A tail number 51-4050 ad that as they say was your lot for the day.
Needless to say that on my way home back to Harlow it was rude not to call into Stansted again. Couple of civil registrations for me one being G-BBSZ which was one of Laker Airways DC-10’s. That bought February 1980 to a close.
This got off to a great start when I witnessed the delivery of a TB-29A 461748 coded ‘Y’ in the markings of the 307th Bomb Group (BG). It came on delivery from China Lake, California, USA. For delivery purposes it had been placed on the U.K. register as G-BHDK, it was really strange when they called Duxford Tower as George-Brian Henry David King as these bear no resemblance to our phonetic alphabet. If it was as in U.K. phonetics it would have been Golf-Bravo Hotel Delta Kilo. Yet again I had witnessed a small but none the less significant piece of history. The TB-29A is today (2017) on show in the American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. Iwm.org.uk
On my way home from Duxford I stopped off at my ‘local’ of Stansted, interestingly here was a Convair VT-29A / CV240 which had once served with the United States Air Force where it wore a serial of 50-0183. When I saw this aircraft the serial had been (badly) painted over and it wore the US civil registration of N39414. Files show that the aircraft was scrapped I 1983.
Two days later I was back at Southend Flying Club, little did I know that day was going to be my last day learning to fly an aircraft. The flight was in a PA.28-140 Cherokee registration G-AVLT with an instructor whose only name I have is Skelton. I was airborne from 11:55 to 13:10 local practising exercises 17 and 17a.
Believe it or not on my way home to Harlow I called in at Stansted on a ‘just in case’ basis. On this occasion I was to be disappointed. However seven days later I was back at good old Stansted and very pleasantly surprised to see an Algerian Air Force Antonov An-12BP bearing civil registration 7T-WAC and coded (presumably its AAF serial 514). The An-12 could easily be mistaken at first glance as the Lockheed C-130 Hercules except the C-130 does not have a glazed rear turret! It has to be said that my interest in the Military side of aviation was getting stronger by the day.
As I look through my log book for 1980 I see that I saw many different types of Boeing 707’s and 720’s at Stansted. Amongst the most notable were YA-HBA a Boeing 707-331 of Ariana Afghan Airlines and another Boeing 707 of Air Berlin USA, registration N767AB which was scrapped by Aviation Traders Engineering Ltd (ATEL) at Stansted in 1981.
Another interesting aircraft seen during March was a Shorts SC.5 Belfast C.1 registration G-BEPE and owned by Heavylift Cargo Airlines. I had first seen this aircraft on August 21st 1975 when it was with No. 53 Squadron Royal Air Force based at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire.
The 18th was another interesting day for me, as a result of a phone call I made my way to Stansted airport where I was witness to the delivery of two Westland Sea King Mk.42A’s to the Indian Naval Aviation, the serials were IN551 & IN 552 both coded ‘W’. I was fortunate enough to be ‘air side’ when these helicopters arrived and even more fortunate to be permitted to look inside one of them (IN552) alas the privilege came at a price that no photographs were allowed. For me though it was a great experience to be there for their delivery and to be able to go on board and see for myself how they were equipped. If I remember correctly Heavylift Cargo Airlines delivered these helicopters using the Short Belfast’s.
I treated myself to a day out which took in Heathrow and Luton in the same day, bearing in mind that in 1980 there was no M25 Motorway it was an arduous trip whichever way you looked at it. I also dread to think what my monthly fuel (petrol) bills were like, if I hadn’t of done so many days out I would probably be significantly financially better off.
Just two days later i.e. the 24th I took myself out for the day, first stop was Stansted nothing of great interest there. Next stop was RAF Mildenhall, here there were at least 14 KC-135’s of differing marks (Mk.s) half a dozen Lockheed C-13 Hercules, a lone Lockheed C-141 Starlifter, a Lockheed C-5A Galaxy and two USN C-131 Samaritans which were based at the Naval Air Facility, Mildenhall.
Onto RAF Lakenheath, here there were thirty six of the based General Dynamics F-111F’s (nicknamed Aardvarks) to be seen. RAF Lakenheath was home to the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) and in 1980 it comprised of four Tactical Fighter Squadrons. They were the 492nd which wore a Blue fin band, 493rd which had Yellow, 494th wore Red and the 495th wore a green fin band. Today the 495th are no longer at Lakenheath, the 492nd and the 494th retain their fin band colours but now fly the F-15E Strike Eagle and the 493rd retain their yellow colours but this is on a black background and they fly the F-15C/D Eagle.
My next stop was in search of what we called a “Wreck and Relic”, the plane I wanted to see was a Gloster Meteor NF.14 serial number WS774. This aircraft was listed in one of my books as being a Gate Guard at the RAF Hospital in Ely. I am very pleased to say that I was successful in my quest to see this aircraft.
Next stop on this day out was RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire; it was at the time of my visit home to Nr. 51 Squadron RAF which flew the Hawker Siddeley / BAe Nimrod R.1. Today I arrived just as XV664 was being towed back into its very secretive Hangar. RAF Wyton was also a home to a Squadron of English Electric (EE) PR.9 Canberra’s, the PR standing for Photo Recognisance, seven of which were on the ground at the time of my visit.
From RAF Wyton I drove across to RAF Alconbury which at the time was being used / operated by the United States Air Force (Europe) with the 10th TRS (Tactical Recognisance Squadron equipped with the McDonnell-Douglass RF-4C Phantom II and the 527th Tactical Fighter Training Aggressor Squadron who were using the Northrop F-5E Tiger II. As they were a designated ‘Aggressor Squadron’ they were painted in all sorts of colours to resemble Russian and other Eastern Bloc countries markings. The 527th TFTAS would fly dissimilar air combat training missions against aircraft like the F-4 Phantom, early marks of the F-15 Eagle and the early F-16 Fighting Falcons on missions over and area of the North Sea specifically designated for such manoeuvres.
To conclude this rather long day out I did of course stop off at the old faithful Stansted airport on my way back to Harlow, my home town.
Just four days later on the 28th I received a phone call from a friend to alert me to the fact that another Indian Navy Sea King helicopter was being delivered. I immediately made my way to Stansted where to my delight I saw the Sea King marked as IN553 and a delivery registration of G-17-17 (which I do believe is still in use for deliveries to this day). This was a great end to the month of March 1980.
The rest of 1980 was going to be pretty much the same as every other year so far. There would be visits to Heathrow, Gatwick, Lakenheath and Mildenhall as well as the regular haunt of Stansted Airport. It was here that I made another first, both in airline and in type. Delivered through Stansted was an ALYEMEN DHC Dash-7, alas at the time I didn’t have my trusty camera with me.
In May I went to the Biggin Hill Air Fair and from memory had a great day out, taking in the sights and sounds at the famous World War II airfield. In July of the same year I made the yearly pilgrimage to RAF Greenham Common for the International Air Tattoo, this was another show that never failed to entertain surprise and delight the Aviation Enthusiast.
June 13th a Friday! A few weeks before I had been to The Ash pub at Stansted with my friends Bob Robinson, one who I will refer to as Triple R and a chap called Roy. I think it was Triple R who suggested that we find something exciting to do on our days off. A couple of weeks later he phoned me to tell me that we were going parachuting!
It was a two day course which included our first descent (allegedly you’re not supposed to call it a jump) On the Thursday (12th) Roy picked me up from home and off we went to Peterborough Parachute Centre based at Sibson airfield near to Peterborough. We met Bob and Triple R there; all checked in we began our instruction of how to descend from and aircraft flying at 2,500 feet above the ground! After a hard day’s training we all cleared off to a local pub, needless to say we all drank responsibly – yeah right! On the way to the pub we’d noticed that the fog was rolling in and thus we ‘thought’ we wouldn’t be flying or jumping out of a perfectly serviceable aircraft.
Friday 13th dawned, the fog was still lingering on the airfield, jubilant at our stupidity to even consider doing this parachute thing we prayed the fog stayed. We endured more training on the fan trainer in the building that resembled a hangar, we rolled on the floor simulating how to land. We were all convinced that we wouldn’t fly and were about to call it a day when Dirk our South African Instructor came in and said “gear up, we’re off”. There was a sudden realisation on all our faces that we were off to do the ‘jump’. By now the weather was beautiful, crystal clear skies as far as you could see, well we’d paid for it so might as well enjoy it!
There had been about 24 training for this event in our lives, there were four groups of six and our group was to be the last of the day. So we sat in the sun watching the others descend back to mother earth courtesy of a piece of silk and some strings! You could feel the tension in all of us when Dirk came over to collect us.
The engine of the aircraft a Pilatus PC-7 Porter (G-BHCR) was still running, I was nominated by Dirk to be the last man out. I sat next to the pilot facing backwards while the other six which included Dirk sat either facing forward or with them facing the door. The take off an climb were impressive and soon we were circling over the airfield at 2,500 feet a.g.l. The first two were dispatched without problems; I could see their chutes open shortly after exiting the aircraft. We had all been attached to the aircraft by a static line which on exit automatically opened you chute.
The next to go was a guy unknown to us, he sat in the doorway and froze, but not for long as Dirks size 10 boot pushed him out of the plane. The next out was a young Nurse who didn’t hesitate having seen what happens when you freeze in the doorway.
On the third circuit it was just Bob and me left, I saw Bob disappear and his chute inflate, I was hurried to the door way and with those immortal words ‘oh fuck’ I launched myself out of the PC-7. The first thing I did was look down, that was wrong I should have been looking up to check that my chute had opened. I think looking up was about the third thing I did, Yes it was open and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I had to remember to turn off the automatic opening device of my reserve parachute, this thankfully I did. I say thankfully as if I hadn’t then the reserve chute would have opened and probably tangled with the main and who knows what would have happened then.
I began to enjoy the descent and started to look around me picking out landmarks that I knew including RAF Wittering just a few miles away down the A1. Back to reality and I had to aim the chute of the drop zone. Not as easy as it might seem, you have to guess how strong the wind is by looking at the windsock then try coming in down-wind and all the time you are travelling at a terminal velocity of 32 feet per second squared! Luckily I made it albeit a few feet away from the centre of the DZ (Drop Zone). Having gathered my chute together I was picked up by the school’s transport and taken back to the packing sheds.
Here under strict supervision you are required to pack the chute you’ve just used lest you wanted to make another descent that day (which some did). No my idea was for the four of us to go to the pub and celebrate our stupidity …….
My critique for that descent was “flat looking down rest good”; it didn’t instil too much confidence in my ability to make another. A great experience and one I was not too keen on repeating anytime soon.
June 19th, another day out with my long suffering girlfriend Christine this time it was RAF Waddington as our first port of call for the day. This followed by a visit to RAF Finningley and to finish the day off at Appleby, Cumbria I found a Wreck & Relic I had been looking for in the shape of a Vampire T.11 WZ576. Christine and I were heading to Carlisle for my friend Peter’s wedding where I was to be his best man.
After the Wedding and a break I drove the short distance to RAF Carlisle for a couple of Wrecks and Relics. From Carlisle it was on to RAF Catterick, down to RAF Linton-on-Ouse, RAF Church Fenton and RAF Scampton. We also stopped off at RAF Waddington (again) the Lincolnshire Aviation Museum near to RAF Cranwell before ending the spotting part of the drive home at RAF Coningsby. At the time the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom was in service with the Royal Air Force and it was a delight to see the operation ramps of Coningsby full with Phantoms. The RAF gave the Phantom the title FGR.2, which means the Photographic Ground (Attack), Recognisance Mk.2, whatever way you looked at it the Phantom was a Phabulous aircraft.
July 21st London Gatwick; Christine and I were to fly in the British Caledonian Airways Sikorsky S-61N (Civil variant of the Sea King) helicopter from LGW to London-Heathrow (LHR). I recall we took the train from Harlow to London then another to Gatwick; obviously we arrived in plenty of time to do a bit of spotting before the flight. We departed Gatwick on the 14:20 BR085 flight to LHE where we landed just 20 minutes later at 14:40. From there it was more train journey’s back to home at Harlow. That was another first of type for me; I was really beginning to get the ‘bug’ for flying in helicopters.
I’m not sure who talked me into it but on July 31st we were back at Sibson aerodrome and the Peterborough Parachute School. Yes you’ve guessed it I was going to make another parachute descent!
At 14:45 that day I yet again climbed back into the same Pilatus Porter G-BHCR and took off for yet another go at this parachuting lark. The critique for this descent was even worse “flat looking down, grabbed risers, no count, stable” time I thought that I quit before I got hurt.
On August 23rd there was an Air Fete at RAF Mildenhall; not surprisingly there were aircraft from NATO Members, non-NATO and of course the three United States Services. It was yet another very memorable day out.
As was tradition then the SBAC show was held at Farnborough in September, and yes I spent a very enjoyable day at the show reliving memories of the first time I had ever been there just eighteen years previously with my Uncle Gordon Maggs.
September 16th; Back at Gatwick airport and it was time for another go on the British Caledonian inter-airport flight to Heathrow. Again it was flight number BR085 and take off was behind schedule at 14:25 landing just 15 minutes later at 14:00 at Heathrow.
But this was not the end of my ‘spotting’ year the best was still to come!
October 1st 1980, the dream was about to come true.
I boarded my flight, number BR231, this was going to take me from Gatwick to Atlanta Georgia, USA, my dream was about to come true, I was finally going to the United States of America.
This was an organised tour with Andrew Marsh / Alpha Mike Tours; it was going to be an experience I’d never forget.
I took my seat in the Economy section of the British Caledonian DC-10-30, settled back and enjoyed the eight hour fifteen minute flight to Atlanta safe in the knowledge that Captain Meyers and his crew were in full control, at least I hoped they were.
My first sight of Atlanta-Hartsfield airport was from the planes window as we taxied to our stand. It was massive, bigger than anything I’d ever seen before and it seemed that we’d spent at least 10 minutes finding our way around to our parking stand. I’d made it albeit thirteen years too late for everything that was happening on the West Coast, but I had finally made it to the USA.
Atlanta-Hartsfield (ATL) was bustling with aircraft, predominantly Delta and Eastern airlines. Of course when we arrived we were five hours behind U.K. time and there was spotting that needed doing. Another guy on the trip I think his name was Graham (or it is now) and I found a decent place not too far from our hotel that overlooked the airport.
I’m guessing we hadn’t been there more than twenty minutes when we had our first encounter with the Police. The Cop was bemused with what we are doing and asked us all sorts of questions about the hobby and why we wrote all the tail numbers (registrations / serials to us) in our notebooks. Graham and I tried our hardest to explain about the hobby but I fear it was a little lost on the Cop. He asked for ID so we handed over our Passports (always carry your Passport with you in the USA, actually anywhere outside the U.K.) and he asked if we had any other ID. With this I produced my Police Warrant Card, with this we suddenly became ‘best friends’ and he offered to buy Graham and I coffee and a snack as he was about to go on a break. Well who am I to refuse such and offer; Coffee and real American Donuts with a Cop in Atlanta, oh Yes. We exchanged names and addresses and I honestly thought that was the end of it. Not so for weeks after I returned to the U.K. there was a letter from him which contained one of his shoulder patches. Wow a friend who was a Cop in Atlanta Georgia USA, I was on a roll.
Day 2 in the USA: we all started off the day with a bit more spotting at Atlanta-Hartsfield before boarding our bus for the next part of the day. The destination was Air Force Plant 6 at Lockheed Marietta, part of Dobbins Air Force Base (AFB). Here we were given a guided tour of the plant which at the time was still re-working the C-141 Starlifters and manufacturing the C-130H Hercules. If my log book is correct there were fourteen of the C-141’s in the building and around it. There were ten C-130 Hercules also on or around the buildings including a number of Libyan Air Force C-130H’s that has been stored due to an embargo on them being delivered.
The tour of Lockheed finished we were then taken in the same bus to Atlanta Naval Air Station (NAS). This was an amazing sight, a Douglas C-54 on the gate, rows of Marine Corps OV-10 Broncos, and about a dozen or more Bell AH-1J helicopters. Stored on the Naval Air Station were a Peruvian AF C-130, three Indonesian AF C-130s, a Zaire Government C-130 and a Malaysian C-130 as well as at least ten C-141 Starlifters and a C-5A Galaxy. Amongst all these aircraft were also two United States Navy (USN) C-130 Hercules and two LTV A-7 Corsairs.
From the NAS it was time to move on to Dobbins AFB, home then to the 116th Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW), Georgia Air National Guard (GANG). The Gate to Dobbins AFB is guarded by an F-100 Super Sabre. The mount of the 116th TFW was the F-105 Thunderchief or as it was called in USAF service the Thud. I think judging from my notes that there were about twenty of the Thuds on the deck at the time of our visit.
From Dobbins AFB it was also possible to see the majority of the aircraft used by the Georgia Army National Guard. They included the OV-1 Mohawk, the Bell OH-58 Kiowa and the Bell UH-1 Huey or as I’ve heard them described ‘chocolate mice’ due to their chocolate brown paint scheme in use at the time. Alas all good things come to an end and it was time to leave Dobbins AFB, it had been a very memorable experience.
In the afternoon we had a visit to the maintenance facility of Delta Airlines. At the time I was ‘spotting’ both civil and Military aircraft so this was a bonus, or so I was told by the civil element of the group. In the 1980’s Delta Airline operated a very mixed fleet of aircraft ranging from the McDonnell-Douglas DC-8, DC-9, Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, and the Boeing 727. The Lockheed TriStar was the mainstay of Delta’s long haul fleet and they were seen regularly at Gatwick airport.
From Delta’s maintenance facility our next port of call was Charlie Brown’s Airport (Fulton County) where there was an eclectic mix of aircraft. The aircraft ranged from Piper PA-28 Cherokee’s to a Convair 400. It also provided me with some interesting US Army helicopters and fixed wing airframes.
Our final airport was once again Atlanta-Hartsfield International (ATL) where I think we ‘spotted’ until it was too dark to do so.
3rd of October we were ‘spotting’ back at ATL, in fact looking at my log book for that time we seem to have spent all day there. The airport was dominated by airlines like Eastern, Delta, Piedmont, and a new one to me (well all the US carriers were new to me that didn’t come to the UK) was Wien Air Alaska who operated the Boeing 737.
During the course of the day we were on the airfield and went to the hangar where Coca-Cola had three Grumman Gulfstream II aircraft. They were all sequentially numbered, N678RW, N679RW and N680RW, I along with others was privileged to go on board 680. It was an amazing sight, cold plated taps in the toilet, luxurious carpeting and the smell of leather exuded from the interior. How the ‘other half’ live……….
October 4th; another day of spotting at Atlanta which filled quite a few more pages of registrations and serials in my log book. That evening we boarded our flight to Tampa, Florida (FL). The flight was on a DC-8-61 of Delta Airlines and the plane was registration – tail number N1300L. The flight number was DL965 which lasted 1 hour and 10 minutes.
As it was quite late when we arrived spotting was short and sweet; airlines using Tampa (TPA) included American – Boeing 727, Delta Boeing 727 & McDD DC-8, Northwest Orient Boeing 727, Braniff Boeing 727, and United, also the Boeing 727.
October 5th; our first stop was at Herndon Airport, here there were small planes such as the Piper PA-28, medium sized like the Rockwell Commander but no really big planes. Then it was back to TPA or as it was known then McCoy International. Another feast of tail numbers into the log book.
We also visited a museum while in the area called the Wings & Wheels Museum which at the time had 27 exhibits including a Junkers Ju-52 tail number N99234 which was previously used by the Spanish Air Force and wore serial number T.2B-148. Today November 2017, I can find no trace of the Museum on Google.
October 6th; another bit of my dream came true today. We were permitted access to McDill AFB. This was home at the time to the 56th Tactical Fighter Wing, they were in transition from the McDonnell-Douglas F-4D Phantom (nearly 50 on base) to the General Dynamics (now Lockheed-Martin) F-16A Fighting Falcon of which there were about forty (40) on the air force base at the time of our visit.
The Phantoms and the F-16’s were coded MC denoting they belonged to the 56th TFW at McDill AFB, Florida. I have in my notes that two of the F-16A’s one of which was 79-0291 went to “HL” which is Hill AFB in Utah and another tail number 78-0112 an F-16B to AESC/ADTC which would have been Edwards AFB in California.
Time was as always very tight on these bases visits so after a couple of hours on base it was time to bid farewell. Our next port of call was Tampa International Airport (TPA) for a couple more hours of spotting. At this time I ‘spotted’ everything that flew and I soon realised that my log books were going to be pretty full by the time I left Florida!
From Tampa we were driven across to St. Petersburg / Clearwater where we had a tour of the United States Coast Guard Unit. Of course as this was my first visit to the USA then everything I saw was going to be ‘new’ to me. Here at Clearwater USCG base I saw most of their fleet which comprised the venerable C-130 Hercules and the SH-3 Sea King all resplendent in their white and dayglow orange colour scheme. Visiting Clearwater that day was an NP-3D Orion tail number 158227 of the United States Navy. Little did I know at the time that years later I would see this same aircraft in AMARC / Aircraft Maintenance And Regeneration Centre (it’s now called the 309th AMARG) in Tucson AZ.
A short distance away was the Clearwater Air Park which contained 100+ airframes of all shapes and sizes, but predominantly small aircraft like the Cessna and Piper aircraft. After filling our log books we stayed overnight in St. Petersburg in a very pleasant hotel that was on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
October 7th; back on the bus, our first stop of the day was at Sarasota, Bradenton Airport. Once again a rather lot of small aircraft located here but I suppose for me the stars of this visit were the Douglas DC-3’s. At least belonging to Florida Air Lines – The Connection was in full working condition whilst a couple of others that had once belonged to Shawnee airlines lay withdrawn from use (w.f.u.). Visiting on this day was a USCG C-130 Hercules; there was also another ‘first’ for me in the shape of a Douglas DC-4. The day had got off to a very good start, but better was to come or so I was told.
Continuing down the Gulf of Mexico our next stop was at Venice Municipal Airport; yet again it was packed with light aircraft of all shapes and sizes. Next stop was Fort Meyers International; there was a Douglas DC-7 in the processed of being scrapped and yes the place was full to the brim with light aircraft of ever make. As well as the ‘what was large’ DC-7, Fort Meyers had two Boeing 727’s ones from Delta Airlines and the other from United Airlines dropping off and collecting passengers.
Further down the coast we stopped at Naples airport; here there was yet another ‘first’ a Curtiss C-46 Commando which as far as I could see and can remember was still in flying condition. Interestingly to me were three Douglas DC-3 Dakotas and a Beech 18 that were used by the Florida Mosquito Control organisation. It wasn’t until talking to one of the locals at the airport I realised that Mosquitos were such a problem in Florida.
From Naples we set off for our next destination Miami, but we had to cross South 41 to get there. About half-way across it was decided that we all need a respite break so we pulled in to the service area. Unlike U.K. rest stops this one was on the edge of the Everglades National Park. Well we succumbed to the sales pitch and a group of us (with permission from the tour leader) set off on an airboat into the Everglades. The ‘boat’ is a flat bottomed affair with a large very noisy engine attached to a huge fan at the rear of it. The helmsman sits atop this engine and steers the boat using two ‘fins’ rather like how the Hovercraft is directed. After 10 minutes of skimming across the water and the reeds, the boat comes to a halt and the engine is stopped. The ‘driver’ then asks if anyone wants to walk back to the rest stop, adding that if the Gators don’t get you the snakes and or the mud probably would. There was a one hundred percent rejection of his offer; engine started and back towards the rest stop; shame not a sign of one Gator.
Now back on the bus and we’re heading for Miami International Airport (MIA). On arrival we were taken straight onto the ramp area in our bus! What a delight we had; Bolivian Air Force C-130 Hercules, Guatemalan AF DC-6 and a Venezuelan Air Force Beech B.80, what an excellent end to the day and what a welcome to Miami.
The hotel was on Collins Avenue and was only a few hundred yards off the beach. The rooms were all air conditioned which you needed. When you left the room you immediately became aware of the humidity in Miami, your dry shirt / tee shirt suddenly became drenched in your sweat. It was from memory a three or four star and suited us by now weary travellers.
Day eight which coincidentally was October 8th; our first port of call was Fort Lauderdale where there must have been in excess of 200 airframes of one type or another. They ranged from the DC-4, DC-3 down to the Piper PA-28’s and the Cessna two and four seat types. They were a real eclectic collection of planes from all over North and South America.
From Fort Lauderdale we made our way back to Miami International Airport (MIA); here they was another eclectic mix of airframes ranging from McDonnell-Douglas DC-10’s, L.1011 (Lockheed TriStar) and Boeings of every type as well as a number of DC-4’s and DC-3’s. Nestled in amongst these aircraft in the Cargo area where todays star prizes, a pair of Mexican Air Force Lockheed T-33 Shooting Stars. Little did I know then that I would see one of the two again in thirteen years’ time!
We ended the day back at the hotel by the beach, albeit by the time we got there it was dark. A really full day of plane spotting our note books brimming with registrations and serials.
October 9th; this was a day off from the organised tour and I had arranged a visit to Opa Locka to meet the Dade County Public Safety Department (read Dade County Police Department Aviation Unit). However this was also home to the United States Coast Guard, I saw several of their Convair 440’s and their Sikorsky HH-3 Pelicans prior to arriving at the Police Aviation Unit. Opa Locka is also a storage area for a number of extant airframes so I wasn’t too surprised to see a number of stored Convair 440’s and Douglas DC-3 Dakotas.
Arriving at the Dade County Public Safety Department (PSD) I was met by Officer (Captain) Ron Burgamay. Officer Burgamay then gave me a short history of the Dade County PSD Aviation Unit and showed me the Bell 47G helicopter registration N8185J that they had.
After the briefing Officer Burgamay offered a Coffee and Donuts, how could I turn down such an offer? Officer Burgamay then asked if I’d like to fly with him that morning, again how could I turn down such an offer. I was given a flight safety briefing and then I assisted to remove the Perspex doors from the helicopter. It reminded me so much of the television programme M.A.S.H. who also used the Bell 47G during the Korean War.
The aircraft ready I was soon strapped into the front port side (left hand) seat, Officer Burgamay went through the pre-flight and pre-start checks and started the single Franklin or Lycoming piston engine of the helicopter. After some post-start checks Officer Burgamay pulled on the collective and we were airborne.
We hadn’t been airborne long when a call came over the Police radio that cars were in pursuit south along Interstate 95 (I-95) of a vehicle the occupants of which were responsible for a robbery (I think the Officers called it a 2-11). The pursuit was short lived with the vehicle being stopped and the occupants arrested. However we did circle a couple of times over the scene of the ‘stop’ to give Officers on the ground some reassurance.
From the scene of the stop we flew further south coming over an area of scrubland where illegal aliens were supposed to be inhabiting. Officer Burgamay landed in a fairly clear area and shut the aircraft down; it wasn’t too long before we came across a makeshift home in the thick undergrowth. A note of the approximate location was made on the Officer’s map.
From there we flew further down the Atlantic Coast and did a couple of circuits around my hotel asking if I’d like to be dropped off there. I think he was going to land on the beach adjacent to the hotel if I’d said yes please. Instead I opted to stay with him and go back to Opa Locka. In total I had flown with Officer Burgamay for one hour forty five minutes (1 Hr 45 mins) and been party to two incidents involving the Aviation Department. I arranged for a cab to come and get me from Opa Locka and take me back to the hotel, it had been an eventful morning and now it was a little bit of ‘me’ time resting by the pool with a cold drink.
Over the next few days a couple of us set off for a visit to the Kennedy Space Centre where we were privileged to walk amongst some of the Space hardware that had been in earth orbit and some had even been to the Moon. We stood in close proximity to Launch Pad 39A where the first mission to the Moon was launched. It was and still is a very memorable experience.
As with all good things it came to an end; my flight home was via Atlanta-Hartsfield, the flight was on a Delta Airlines Lockheed L1011-1 TriStar registration N728DL from Miami International (MIA) to ATL which took just 1 Hour 25 minutes.
Two hours and 50 minutes later we lifted off for ATL on A British Caledonian DC10-30 registration G-BEBL bound for London-Gatwick airport. We arrived somewhat deflated at being back on British soil after fourteen days on US soil, bringing back some memorable experiences and I’m pleased to say many rolls of film. Alas through the ravages of time and house moves and fluctuating temperatures most if not all of the pictures have gone, but the memories are still here.
To finish off 1980 I made just two visits to London Heathrow airport during November and one visit to Stansted and Luton in December. That was 1980 ……………
Having recovered from Christmas and the New Year of 1980 to 1981 my first Adventure was a quick visit to London Heathrow and I must admit that my interest in civil aviation was on the wane at this time. The two weeks in the United States of America had converted to me to the Military!
In late January I made my way to both RAF Scampton and RAF Waddington both of which had a number of AVRO Vulcan’s on their dispersals. However a note in my log book shows that the weather (WX) conditions on that day were far from favourable so I didn’t get a complete log of everything I’d seen.
Early February saw my only flight on the year it was in a Piper PA-28-140 Cherokee registration G-BHYY. The flight lasted for thirty minutes flying from Stapleford aerodrome (EGSG/SFD) in southern Essex just a few miles north of Romford. I had met the pilot a gentleman I know only as Nigel whilst I was on Traffic Patrol in that area. After a brief conversation with him he invited me at the end of my shift to go flying with him, an invitation like that one cannot refuse.
February was also my next Military Adventure with a visit to both RAF Mildenhall and Lakenheath. By the look of my log book I’d taken my girlfriend with me as the serials are all very neatly written (big smile).
Later in the month I did a day trip taking in London-Gatwick and Biggin Hill but really not a lot to attract my interest at either airport.
March and my girlfriend and I set off for the Malvern Hill where we had friends. Of course on the way down there were several stops including Kidlington, RAF Brize Norton (where she got a ticket for speeding!!) the airfield at Staverton, Gloucestershire. After a couple of nights in the Malvern’s it was back to Essex with only one detour via Kidlington.
It was mid-April before the next Military Adventure; once again with the girlfriend scribing it was time to visit RAF Mildenhall to see things like a US Navy KC-130R (160628 / BH) of VMGR-252 and numerous KC-135’s, C-130E’s and a C-5A Galaxy and a C-141B Starlifter all on the ramp space.
RAF Lakenheath provided nothing new for me and there were no visiting aircraft so it was a little disappointing. We set off across country to visit RAF Wyton where we saw just six 360 Squadron English Electric Canberra’s. Once again that was a little disappointing and made our way back to home in Essex.
The rest of the year until August was spent going to the regular haunts of RAF Mildenhall, Lakenheath and Wyton. I also continued for the time being with visits to London-Heathrow and the local airfields like Stansted & Luton.
On August 8th together with my very long suffering girlfriend we went to the air show at RAF Wattisham, in Suffolk. It was Wattisham’s annual air show and there was participation from the USAF with their A-10 Thunderbolts, Denmark with the F-104 Starfighter, the Netherlands with the F-5 Freedom Fighter and I think one of every type serving with the Royal Air Force. They included the Lightning, F-4 Phantom, Harrier, Shackleton, Canberra Hawk, Jetstream, Jet Provost, Jaguar, Sea King and Hawker Hunter. From memory it was a really great day out with a great display by all the participating air arms.
A few days after this event I went to Stansted airport to see three Pilatus PC-7’s that were on delivery to the Bolivian Air Force. For their delivery from Pilatus at Stans-Buochs, Switzerland to Bolivia it was necessary (customary) for them to wear Swiss civil delivery registrations such as HB-HLL. HB-HLL was assigned the Bolivian AF serial FAB-470 upon delivery to the Squadron.
The remainder of the year was spent either at RAF Mildenhall, Lakenheath or Honington. It was for me a very quiet year but none the less very enjoyable. It was made more enjoyable in that my girlfriend of the time often accompanied me on the ‘days out’ to the bases. If nothing else she saw a lot of Suffolk, and other counties in England. J
As is normal with the hobby of ‘Plane Spotting’ the year got off to a slow start, well at least it did for me. My first day out was not until the end of January when I treated myself to a day of ‘civil spotting’ at London-Heathrow. While I was at Heathrow I saw a German AF (Luftwaffe) Dornier Do.28 on final approach to RAF Northolt which lies about 7 miles to the north of Heathrow. I found out later that this was GAF serial 5900 and was using the callsign Delta Charlie November 25.
My next day out came in February when I treated myself, first stop was at Stansted airport where to my surprise and thus delight I saw an Algerian Air Force Antonov An-12 registration 7T-WAB which should be Algerian AF serial 566 or at least is was at the time I saw it. From there I drove to RAF Mildenhall, here was the usual mixture of KC-135 Stratotankers, C-130 Hercules, C-141 Starlifters, and a lone KC-10A from the 2nd Bomb Wing serial 79-1713. Also there was a US Navy EC-130Q serial (Bu. No.) 159348 of VQ-4, the EC- version of the Hercules is denotes that it is used for Electronic surveillance. Sadly the pictures I would have taken on the day have been subjected to a chemical reaction during storage and are rendered useless.
Looking at my flight log book I didn’t fly off anywhere or in anything for the whole of 1982 which to say the least is disappointing.
In May I attended the Biggin Hill Air Fair which provided me with some interesting sights and sounds. Amongst other exhibits were the French AF Display team the Patrouille de France flying their Dassault Alpha Jets. The Royal Air Force Aerial Display Team the Red Arrows were also in attendance. It was an excellent day out made even more enjoyable thanks to the fact that my girlfriend was with me.
Shortly after the Biggin hill Air Show, my girlfriend and I had yet another day out in Suffolk, with visits to both RAF Mildenhall and Lakenheath. The highlight of the day for me was seeing an F-4D from the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) from Torrejon in Spain and an F-15C from the 36th TFW Bitburg in Germany on the same visitor’s ramp. I feel sure it didn’t have the same attraction to my girlfriend as it did to me!
In June, RAF Honington was the centre of my attention for their Air Show. At the time it was home to the TWCU – Tactical Weapons Conversion Unit using the BAe Tornado as their mount. Also based at Honington was 208 Sqn RAF and the 237th OCU – Operational Conversion Unit using the Blackburn Buccaneer S.2A/B. A limited number of Hawker Hunters were also based with 237 OCU to familiarise Pilots to flying the Buccaneer. Other visiting aircraft from the RAFF were the English Electric Lightning from 11 Sqn. Phantom FGR.2 from 43 “Fighting Cocks” Sqn, Jaguar GR.1 from 54 Sqn, West German Air Force Lockheed F-104G Starfighter, Northrop F-5E of TFTAS (Tactical Fighter Training Aggressor Squadron), USAF and an OV-10 Bronco. It was a really enjoyable day out and a great air show.
No day out in Suffolk though would be complete without on the return journey to home going via RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall. The former provided me with three McDonnell-Douglas F-4E’s from the 52nd TFW USAF(E) based at Spangdahlem, Germany. Mildenhall offered the opportunity to see a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird of the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, detached to RAF Mildenhall from Beale AFB, California.
Later that same month I went off to RAF Alconbury where there were eighteen McDonnell-Douglas RF-4C Phantom II’s from Shaw AFB South Carolina (SC) USA. These aircraft all carried the JO tail code which was assigned to the 363rd Tactical Fighter Wing, formerly the 363rd Tactical Recognisance Wing. Later the same year, the 363rd TFW switched to the now standard SW tail code for all its aircraft.
Seen on the same date were two Norwegian AF F-16A Fighting Falcons also referred to as Vipers. There was a lone Bitburg coded F-15C and at least ten more of the based RF-4C Phantoms of the 1st Tactical Recognisance Squadron, United States Air Force (Europe).
From RAF Alconbury, I then drove up to RAF Cottesmore which at that time was the home of the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment or TTTE for short. The TTTE was made up of three partner Air Forces, they being the Royal Air Force, the Luftwaffe and the Italian Air Force, all three air arms were using the Panavia Tornado GR.1 for training purposes. It was easy to distinguish which aircraft were from which air arm, the British (RAF) carried B- and two numbers, the Luftwaffe G- and two numbers and the Italian I- and two numbers.
At the time of the visit the base had a Gate Guard that being an English Electric Canberra PR.7 the PR denoting Photo Recognisance. While researching the fate of this aircraft I found at the time of writing this Blog that the aircraft is now preserved at the Newark Air Museum, Newark, Nottinghamshire.
My next port of call was RAF North Luffenham in Leicestershire where I saw the Gate Guardian a Gloster Meteor NF-14 serial WS776. The NF of this Gloster Meteor defines that it was a ‘Night Fighter’. This aircraft moved from North Luffenham to the Bournemouth Museum where I understand it still languishes today.
I was now on my way home, the next stop though was my final Military establishment / airfield RAF Wyton. At the time this was the home of 360 Squadron and the 230 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) using two marks of the English Electric Canberra, the T.4 and the T.17. The base had two Gate Guards, a Canberra PR.7 and a Canberra B.6. A Comet 2C serial XK697 was at this time in use by the Air Cadets. My research shows that the aircraft was scrapped in November of 1987.
Getting closer to home I stopped off briefly at Cambridge-Teversham airport home of Marshall Aviation and was delighted to see NAF 910 a Nigerian Air Force C-130H Hercules sitting outside the hangars. Whether this was in for or had been refurbished I still do not know.
No day out in the early 1980’s was ever complete for me without a visit to Stansted Airport, alas on this occasion there was nothing to interest me so I made my weary way back home to Harlow. It had in my opinion been a very successful day out, with a lot of different types of current Military aircraft and a number of Wrecks & Relics (Preserved) in to the bargain.
My next day out was to British Aerospace at Hatfield in early July, it was customary in the early years of the eighties for BAe to open their doors (hangars) to the public, it was an opportunity I could not resist.
Seen outside on the airfield were the first two prototypes of the BAe 146-100, registrations were G-SSSH & G-SSCH because the aircraft was being marketed as a very quiet airliner! Also on the airfield were a DeHavilland Comet 4 from the Royal Aircraft Establishment (XV814), the nose of this aircraft is preserved at a location in Chipping Camden, Gloucestershire. Two very early DH models the DH.51 and the DH.83 Fox Moth were also on the outside ramps for public inspection.
There were Tiger Moths, Fox Months and Gipsy Moths in fact all type of DeHavilland Moths as far as the eye could see, it really was a celebration of DeHavilland (now BAe) aircraft and I felt so privileged to be allowed to view this sight.
In the hangars there were a total of 17 complete, semi-complete or components BAe 146’s. However two Blackburn Buccaneers eluded me on that day, I could see them but try as I might to read off their serials I couldn’t and to this day I still do not know their serials. As well as the Moth collection there were other DeHavilland / BAe aircraft on show, comprised of four Hawker Siddeley Dominie T.1 aircraft from 6 FTS (Flying Training School) a lone HS. Nimrod AEW.3, this aircraft was based on the DH Comet airframe but alas never went into operational service with the RAF.
It had been an excellent few hours wandering around history in the form of the DeHavilland Moth aircraft and also looking towards the future with the BAe 146 jet aircraft.
Much later in the same month I was back at RAF Alconbury, this time there were twelve McDonnell-Douglas F-4E Phantom II’s from the 52nd TFW Spangdahlem, Germany visiting and taking part in an Air Exercise (AirEx). Having seen what I wanted to see I then made my way up to RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. More McDonnell-Douglas Phantoms awaited me but this time they were the RAF version and designated FGR.2 (FGR – Fighter Ground attack Recognisance). At the time of my visit RAF Coningsby was home to numbers 29 and 41 Squadrons and to 228 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) all using the McDD Phantom.
From Coningsby I travelled further into Lincolnshire to RAF Binbrook, this was the home of two Squadrons, numbers 5 & 11 and the LTF – Lightning Training Flight all of which used the single seat F.6 version and the two seat (side by side) T.5. During my brief stop at Binbrook I saw about two dozen Lightnings of one mark or the other.
Forging further across Lincolnshire my next stop was RAF Scampton, this was home to three RAF Vulcan Bomber Squadrons, numbers 27, 35 and the world famous 617 ‘Dambusters’. Alas I could only make out four aircraft one from 27 and 35 Squadrons and two from 617 Squadron. I also noted the Gate Guard was a Lancaster BVII serial NX611, this aircraft is in the process of being made airworthy at the former RAF East Kirkby. At the time of writing this aircraft had made several ‘taxi’ runs around the airfield.
Further down the A15 road lies RAF Waddington, this was also a Vulcan Bomber base in 1982. It was home to numbers, 9, 44, 50 and 101 Squadrons, here I saw about two dozen of the Vulcans from all the listed Squadrons. RAF Waddington was synonymous with the Cold War as this is where Britain’s airborne nuclear deterrent ‘Blue Steel’ would be carried underneath one or more of the Vulcan Bombers. Fortunately the occasion never arose that Blue Steel had to be deployed.
However it was from RAF Waddington that the attack on Port Stanley airfield in the Falkland Islands during the conflict (war) with Argentina that the Vulcans deployed from. There is an excellent book written by Rowland White published by Bantam Press called Vulcan 607 that tells the story from take-off to the bombing of Stanley airfield by an RAF Waddington based Vulcan.
Continuing the journey back towards home the next stop was RAF Cranwell this was and still is home to the RAFC – Royal Air Force College. During 1982 the RAFC used the Hunting Jet Provost T.5 as their training aircraft, of which there were at least twenty four present and a lone Westland Puma HC.1
Further down the road so to speak is RAF Barkston Heath, here they trained the ‘baby’ pilots to fly. To achieve this they used the Bristol Bulldog T.1 of which there were only five sitting outside on the dispersal area, together with one Hunting Jet Provost T.5.
From RAF Barkston Heath it was across country and then down the A1 to RAF Cottesmore, it had been less than a month since I had stopped off here but none the less I saw many new Tornados from the TTTE that I wanted to see. My day was made here when an RAF FGR.2 Phantom flew through the base the aircraft by this time had been painted in the Air Defence grey scheme and the serial was in white so it was quite easy to read off.
A quick stop off at RAF wittering also on the A1 towards home was made but only three of the based Harriers were visible, so we pressed on towards home. I had almost been full circle as the next stop was yet again RAF Alconbury and then from there off the RAF Wyton.
Not satisfied with what I’d already seen it was time to press on to RAF Mildenhall and Lakenheath, neither disappointed as usual. Finally I headed home, but no day out would be complete without stopping off at my local airport Stansted. It had been another long but rewarding day.
Just over two weeks later I was back at RAF Alconbury, this time it was for their Air Show. I was not disappointed, the were exhibits from USAF, a WC-135B (an adapted KC-135 Stratotanker) from 55th WRS (Weather Recognisance Squadron), USAF(E), a Bitburg F-15C Eagle and an F-4E Phantom II, from the 52nd TFW, the US Army in Europe, a CH-47C Chinook of the 29th Aviation Company based in Germany. There was a pair of Lockheed F-104G Starfighters from MFG-2 (Marineflieger Geschwader) West German Navy, and a West German Air Force F-4F Phantom II. The RAF sent a Jaguar, Vulcan, Harrier, Nimrod, Jet Provost T.5, Dominie T.1 and Tornado GR.1. The British Army sent a Gazelle AH.1 helicopter.
Of course the base was well represented by their F-5E Tiger II aircraft from the 527th TFTAS (Tactical Fighter Training Aggressor Squadron) and the RF-4E Phantom II from the 10th TRS (Tactical Recognisance Squadron). A very impressive display was performed by the Portuguese aerial display team Asas de Portugal (Wings of Portugal) using their American built Cessna T.37A aircraft.
I know that I had a great day out watching, [photographing and taking in the sights, sounds and smells associated with an Air Show.
A few weeks later and in the company of my then girlfriend we set off for the south coast, stopping off first at Southampton airport, nothing there to really interest me so off we went further down to Bournemouth, here again nothing to interest me so we carried on to Portland. In 1982 this was called HMS Osprey / RNAS Portland (RNAS – Royal Naval Air Station). From memory it was quite late when we arrived there so the majority of the aircraft (helicopters) had been put away. Portland was a dedicated Search and Rescue station and thus two Westland Wessex HU.5 helicopters of 771 NAS (Naval Air Squadron) were on ‘readiness’ 24 hours a day 365 days of the year. The helicopters were painted in a dark grey colour with dayglow red nose and markings around the tail boom, they carried the deck code of PO to denote they came from RNAS Portland. All Naval Air Stations are treated as though they were ships, hence the term deck code.
The following morning found us at HMS Heron / RNAS Yeovilton which is near to the town of Ilchester, Somerset. RNAS Yeovilton at this time was home to FRADU – Fleet Requirements And Directions Unit, they were using the English Electric Canberra T.22 and TT.18. The TT.18’s were used to tow targets so that the fighters from the Royal Navy could do live firing this was accomplished over the English Channel in one of the dedicated danger zones. The danger zones are clearly marked on all aeronautical charts and maps, private and commercial air traffic is prohibited from flying through these zones.
At the time of our visit it was a few months after the cessation of hostilities with Argentina over the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. All three of the British armed services that had been deployed to the Falkland Islands bought back some war trophies. The Royal Navy had ‘liberated’ a Bell UH-1H Iroquois serial AE-422 and an Agusta A.109A serial AE-334. At the time of my visit these two helicopters were stored outside of the Fleet Air Arm Museum which was in the grounds of RNAS Yeovilton.
The following day we were back at HMS Osprey, RNAS Portland, looking over the fence wasn’t the best way to do spotting at this base but when needs must it had to be done. It was during the day this time and there were an excellent number of helicopters for me to see. They comprised the Westland Wasp of 829 NAS, Westland Wessex from 737 NAS and the Westland Lynx from 815 NAS. From here we made our way home to Harlow for a few days!
Just four days after getting home I set off this time on my own to the Farnborough Air Show or as it was called in 1982 the SBAC, Society of British Aerospace Companies. For an enthusiast such as me this was a window on the future of aviation and the aerospace industry. There is an eclectic mix of Military and Civil aircraft and some really interesting displays by some of the new generation of aircraft and helicopters.
It was the first time I had seen the YAH-64A Apache, Sikorsky UH-60A Blackhawk, and the Rockwell B-1A bomber as well as being afforded a reasonably close up of a U-2/TR-1 Dragon Lady high altitude spy plane. You may have noticed that all these aircraft were manufactured in the United States of America.
Number 9 Squadron of the Royal Air Force sent five of their newly acquired Tornado GR.1 aircraft as well as two unmarked (therefore unknown Squadron) Tornados. I suppose the highlight of the show had to be an exhibit from British Aerospace, it was a BAe Hawk Mk.60 which was destined for the Zimbabwean Air Force it wore the Zimbabwe AF serial 604 and the test registration G-9-490. This is the Hawk the picture is the copyright © of Don Hewins whose permission I have to publish it here.
Apart from the Tornados, which actually were not wholly a British design there was very little from the British aerospace construction companies such as BAe. The Tornado started life as the Panavia MRCA, Multi Role Combat Aircraft in a tripartite collaboration comprised of Great Britain (BAe), MBB – Germany and Alenia – Italy. All the British Tornados were assembled at the BAC – British Aircraft Corporation later BAe facility at Warton (Preston) Lancashire.
After the air show at Farnborough I drove home collected my long suffering girlfriend and headed off to Newbury in Royal Berkshire where we spent the evening or what was left of it with friends. The following morning with my friend driving the four of us set off for Southampton Docks. On this occasion it was more about the ship that we were going to see rather than aircraft for this was the maiden cruise / voyage of the SS Canberra since the end of the Falklands ‘Conflict’ as it was now being called. It was really a very emotional time seeing the endless streamers coming down the side of the ship and as she steamed out of Southampton dock she was over-flown by the Army Air Corps Silver Eagles display team in their Westland Lynx Helicopters (6 helicopters).
My friend then very kindly drove me to RNAS Lee-on-the-Solent where I saw a rather unique Royal Navy asset in the form of an SRN-6 Hovercraft serial XV859.
He then drove us to RNAY – Royal Naval Air Yard at Fleetlands where all I was able to see was the Gate Guardian a Westland Wessex HAS.1 XS868.
From there it was back to Newbury and dinner with friends and another overnight stay and then home the following day.
On the 13th of the month while at home I was treated to the sight and sound of an Iraqi AF Ilyushin IL-76M registration YI-AKX transport plane flying over the house en-route to Stansted airport for runway 05 (zero five).
This photo is the copyright of Fergal Goodman and is used with his permission
As can be seen from the photograph the Ilyushin IL-76M (M – Military) was carrying Iraqi Airways titles and a civil registration. Research though shows that this aircraft was actually part of the Iraqi Air Force and was assigned to 33 Sqn at Al Bakr Air Base (Tikrit).
Three days after seeing the Iraqi AF IL-76M on approach to Stansted I was off on my travels again although this time I had two companions, one a work colleague, Martin and another whose name I cannot recall.
Our first stop this day was at RAF Wattisham where we saw only five RAF FGR.2 Phantoms of 23 & 56 Sqns and a still to be identified C-130 Hercules that was painted in an overall grey scheme.
Going across the county of Suffolk our next stop was RAF Honington where we saw a number of Tornado GR.1 aircraft of the TWCU (Tactical Weapons Conversion Unit) together with a number of Buccaneers of 208 Sqn and 237 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit). Also present on that day was an AVRO Vulcan (XL388) and two Hawker Hunters from the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), both these still remain unidentified to me. Moving on from RAF Honington we arrived at RAF Mildenhall and were treated to the sight of numerous KC-135 Stratotankers, C-130 Hercules, three C-5 Galaxy’s, three C-141A Starlifters, an SR-71A Blackbird and two US Navy KA-3B Sky Warriors of VAK-208 (Tactical Aerial Refuelling Sqn -208) these carried the US Navy Bureau number (Bu No) 147657 & 147666 the latter carried the code AK-308 on its tail.
We carried onto RAF Lakenheath where it was only possible to see four of the based F-111E ‘Aardvarks’ of the four Squadrons of the 48th Fighter Wing. So we pressed on to the next airfield which was RAF Marham in Norfolk.
We saw but did not identify six Handley Page Victor B.1K Tankers of 55 Sqn and two English Electric Canberra’s of 231 OCU, they being WJ877/BC & WT478/BA. However we did manage to identify two aircraft, one a HP Victor XL158 which was being used for Ground Instruction (GI) and a Canberra WH703 which was also being used for GI.
Pressing on and further into Norfolk we stopped off at RAF West Raynham to note the Gate Guardian, this was a Gloster Javelin FAW.9 serial XH980. Once again we pushed on and this time stopped at RAF Sculthorpe, now disused but still operational as a relief landing ground there were several former French Air Force Dassault Mystere IVA scattered around the airfield as ‘decoys’ when the airfield was going to be ‘attacked’ as part of a training sortie.
Next stop was RAF Coltishall it was very disappointing as I think we only saw one of the based Jaguar aircraft and a detached Sea King Helicopter which was part of the Coltishall Search and Rescue Unit. On the way home we made a brief stop at Norwich airport for the benefit of Martin as he collected civil registrations, from there it was home sweet home.
Just six days later I was back at RAF Wattisham, together with my girlfriend. In my log book she had written “THE DAY OF ACTION! but not in AJ’s case). I was indeed a day of action as Exercise Priory was going to be taking place albeit unbeknown to me before I set off from home.
During the course of the morning the airfield at RAF Wattisham was ‘attacked’ by a lone Harrier GR.3, four SEPECAT RAF Jaguars, two Buccaneer S.2B’s from RAF Honington and three F-15’s which I understand recovered to RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk after the attack. On the ground at Wattisham were five Phantoms of 23 & 56 Squadron and another two in the special QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) barns towards the 23 end of the runway. It was for me an extremely exciting time watching RAF Wattisham being attacked.
Post the attack we moved off to RAF Honington where yet again we saw a lot of the based TWCU Tornado and 208 Sqn Buccaneer aircraft. From there it was customary to visit RAF Lakenheath and Mildenhall and by the look of my logbook I was reading off the serials and codes and my girlfriend was writing them down very neatly for me. Prizes of the day went to two VC-135B aircraft these being serial number 62-4125 and 62-4126 both from the 89th Military Airlift Group (MAG) 58th Military Airlift Squadron (MAS) out of Andrews AFB Maryland, USA. I guessed from their presence that someone very important was flying to or from the USA.
Two days later I was out on my own again and headed for RAF Cottesmore and the aircraft of the TTTE and nothing exciting for me there. From there I dropped down to RAF Alconbury only to find that all the aircraft had left the base as the runway was being resurfaced. This had been a bit of a disappointment so I decided to cut my day short and head home.
My next outing wasn’t until October 23rd when I went to Stansted airport and much to my surprise and obviously delight I saw two former Danish Air Force DC-3 / C-47 Dakota aircraft. They had sequential serials of K-683 and K-684 both these aircraft were en-route to the USA where they took up civilian registrations of N3293W and N324DF respectively.
Mid-November was my next time out, the first port of call was RAF Wyton where due to the runway being resurfaced at RAF Alconbury were a very nice selection of McDD RF-4C Phantom II’s of the United States Air Force 10th TRS (Tactical Recognisance Squadron) all coded AR (RAF Alconbury). Alas there were only five of the based 231 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) BAe Canberra’s on the airfield at the time of my visit.
From RAF Wyton I made my way up to RAF Cottesmore to see the Tornados of the Tri-National Training Establishment (TTTE) with aircraft from Great Britain, Italy and Germany. All the aircraft from these three countries could be identified thus: B = Great Britain, G = Germany and I for Italy, the letters would also have two numerals after them i.e. B-01.
Moving on from there it was a bit of a slog across to RAF Lakenheath home of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing with four Squadrons of General Dynamics F-111F swing wing aircraft. The visit did also provide four visitors to RAF Lakenheath, two CT-133’s (Canadian AF Lockheed T-33’s) who were based in Germany and two McDD F-4 Phantom’s from Spangdahlem, Germany.
The penultimate stop for the day was at RAF Mildenhall which as usual had a very interesting and varied assortment of Boeing KC, EC and RC-135’s, four of the KC-135’s were the ‘Q’ model used exclusively for refuelling the Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird also based at RAF Mildenhall at the time albeit not seen by me on this occasion.
The final stop for this day was once again ‘home turf’ of Stansted airport however there wasn’t much to interest me so I headed home after a rather long but none the less interesting day out.
That was also my last run out for 1982, after all I did have to do some work in-between plane spotting.
Using modern technology I have calculated that at a minimum I would have covered 256.8 miles that day, no wonder I went back to work for a rest.
1983; the dawn of a new era
Plane spotting is an unusual hobby to the majority at least it was back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It is common place these days the first two or three months of the year normally get off to a slow start this was the case in 1983, or at least I thought it was.
On February 25th I’d been invited to spend a ‘shift’ in the Control Tower at London’s Heathrow airport. The shift was from 14:00 to 22:00 and the invitation was to witness the British Airways Concorde take off at night. I met up with my friend at the appointed time and place and was taken to what is called the Visual Control Room (VCR), or as we call it the Control Tower, the VCR is the glass sided part of the tower and from its location on the airport can see the whole layout, parking stands, taxi-ways etc.
The excitement rose just after 18:00 local time when through the headset I had been provided I heard “tower Speedbird Concorde one requesting push and start”. To the layman this probably means little to me it represented that Concorde was asking for clearance to push back from the air-bridge and start its four Rolls Royce Olympus engines. Push & start clearance given the next request from Speedbird Concorde one was for taxi clearance to the active runway which if my memory serves me was two eight left (28L). Concorde was given a route of taxiways to follow towards the holding point for runway 28L. The call from the Tower came, Speedbird one line up and hold, the Pilots of Concorde replying to acknowledge Speedbird Concorde line up 28L. With this the British Airways Concorde taxied into position on the runway, take-off clearance was given, the dark sky was illuminated by the afterburners of the four Olympus engines and the noise level in the tower went right up as Concorde accelerated along the runway the four sheets of flames lighting the runway behind the jet. The aircraft rotated off the runway and continued to climb on the runway heading, the afterburner flames still clearly visible. At 2,000 feet the flames went out and Concorde continued its climb towards its cruising altitude of 55,000 feet (FL550 in aeronautical terms). Ninety seconds after Concorde departed the next aircraft rolled down 28L and climbed more sedately and far less noisily away from Heathrow.
Later in the evening I saw a group of Royal Air Force Officers being shown the ‘Tower’ and I learnt afterwards that they were from RAF Northolt some seven miles distance to the North of Heathrow. Little did I know then the significance of seeing them and one Officer in particular?
After the privilege of being permitted to spend a shift with the Air Traffic Control officers it is customary for the individual visiting to buy a round in a local hostelry. Tonight was no exception so after the shift finished we headed off out. My friend and I were enjoying a pint when one of the RAF Officers that had been on their visit to the Tower came over and spoke to my friend. He said something like “Your friend here (Indicating to me) is he interested in aircraft? My friend damn near spat his beer out trying not to laugh and or spill his beer, I think the Officer got the impression I was J We introduced ourselves and after a brief conversation the Officer (Andy) asked what I did for a living. I told him that I was a Traffic Officer and worked for Essex Police in the town of Harlow.
What came next I can honestly say changed my life, ‘would I be interested in volunteering at the International Air Tattoo, being held at RAF Greenham Common in July that year?’ Metaphorically I damn near ripped the Officers arm off with acceptance. We exchanged contact details and my friend and I made our way back to his in Reading Royal Berkshire.
My very first International Air Tattoo (IAT) had been as you will have previously read back in 1974 when it was staged at North Weald Bassett, in Essex just a few miles to the South East of my home in Harlow. Since that time I had been attending what was then a bi-yearly IAT at RAF Greenham Common. However there were one or two trips out that would happen before I got to volunteer for the IAT.
On March 2nd I took myself out for the day, my first pot of call was RAF Wattisham in Suffolk which at the time of my visit was the home of 23 and 56 Squadrons flying the McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II which the British designated as the FGR.2 (Fighter Ground attack Recognisance Mk.2) The British version of the Phantom had the Rolls Royce Spey engines fitted as opposed to the American General Electric versions. Alas there were on nine of the Phantoms on the dispersal so I moved on.
Next stop was RAF Bentwaters and the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW), this base was operated by the United States Air Force (Europe) and they flew the Fairchild Republic A-10A Thunderbolt II (often called the Warthog or Hog for short). In total I saw some twenty eight of these aircraft at this airfield.
Moving swiftly on I went over to RAF Woodbridge also part of the 81st TFW flying the A-10A, alas here it only yielded eight aircraft as most were parked up or away in their Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS). It had been a tiring day so I decided to drive home to Harlow.
April 9th 07:15 Hrs, I was at the fences of RAF Mildenhall where I saw a nice mixture of KC-135 Tankers, C-130E/H Hercules a lone E-3A AWACS and a couple of US Navy C-12’s. Next stop was RAF Lakenheath just a few miles away from RAF Mildenhall, here only one of the based F-111’s was out but a bit of a prize for me were two McDD RF-4C’s from their Spanish base of Zaragoza as well as nine of the former French Air Force Mystere aircraft that were in use on the base as decoys.
Moving on again the next stop was RAF Honington which gave me only two aircraft, one the Blackburn Buccaneer Gate Guard and the other a Royal Navy Buccaneer, still it was a bit too early for pilots to be out and about!
RAF Sculthorpe (Norfolk); this was for me very exciting at the Ohio Air National Guard OH ANG were detached there from their home base of Springfield-Beckley with their A-7D Corsairs, in all I saw twenty of these aircraft.
RAF Marham (Norfolk) had an open day this day so it was rude not to stop by and take in the sights and sounds. I think that there was about one of every type of aircraft flown by the RAF on show or displaying that day, these included the Bulldog, Tornado, Lightning, Phantom, Harrier, Jaguar, Victor, Vulcan, Nimrod, Buccaneer, Canberra and Hercules albeit a totally different version of this aircraft to those being used today (2019). All the other types listed have long since left the service of the RAF and Royal Navy.
The USAF (E) provided a Kaman HH-53C helicopter from RAF Woodbridge, a KC-135 Stratotanker from RAF Mildenhall, two Fairchild Republic A-10’s from RAF Bentwaters. The Ohio ANG sent one of their A-7D’s down from RAF Sculthorpe.
Not content with my haul of serials for the day I went back to RAF Mildenhall on my way home to see if anything new had arrived. I was in luck, two Lockheed C-141cStarlifters, a McDD KC-10A and five ‘new’ Lockheed C-130 Hercules had arrived since I left some eight or nine hours earlier
A couple of weeks later I had yet another day out; first stop was Heathrow for the civil element, then onto RAF Odiham in Hampshire where only two Chinook helicopters could be seen, undeterred I continued down to Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton (RNAS VL) which in those days was a very busy Naval Air Station. A great mixture of aircraft types including the Hawker Hunter, English Electric Canberra, Westland Gazelle, Westland Sea King and Westland Lynx (the last three all being Helicopters / Helos). Star prize of the day must have go to the Indian Navy Harrier (IN601) and the two Royal Netherlands Air Force Fokker F-27 Friendships.
I have to presume from my notes that I was going down to Devon to spend a couple of days with my Brother Tony at his home near the town of Cullompton. I made the return journey to home on April 25th and my first stop was at the Army Air Corps airfield of Middle Wallop Hampshire. Alas I only managed to see seven aircraft here which included a Westland Lynx operated by the Royal Marines (RM) and a Westland Gazelle operated by the resident Army Air Corps (AAC).
Next stop was a return to RAF Odiham where this time I was able to see seven Helos which included four Boeing (Vertol) Chinooks, a Westland Puma and two on the fire dump being a Westland Whirlwind and Westland Wessex as well as a visiting RAF Lockheed C-130 Hercules.
I stopped briefly on my way home at Heathrow and also at British Aerospace facility at Hatfield (Herts).
Less than 30 days later I was travelling again, this time in the company of my then girlfriend Moira. Her family home was on the Isle of Wight, this afforded me the opportunity to visit Southampton airport on the way down to the port and also to visit the factory of Britten-Norman at their Bembridge (IOW) works. Here I was able to ‘log’ a number of their BN Islander and Trislander airframes. We only stayed one night at the family home before returning to Moira’s home in Southend.
Not wishing to miss an opportunity I visited Southend aerodrome the following day and made a few entries into my log book. Nothing really outstanding of note though.
May 28th; the annual Mildenhall Air Fete was on, together with my friend from Cumbria (Peter) we arrived early for this show. This show never failed to surprise or please, the surprises were normally aircraft that I had not previously seen from countries that I had yet to visit.
To list all the aircraft would take forever and a day so if you are interested in what we saw take a look at the Show Reports on scramble.nl However, we saw at least 12 Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers, a lone Boeing RC-135 (this is the Recognisance version of the C-135 family) a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, McDonnell-Douglas KC-10A (based on the civil DC-10 airframe), two Lockheed P-3 Orion’s, one from the US Navy and one from The Netherlands Navy. There were numerous aircraft from the RAF, Royal Navy, French Air Force, West German Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, Belgian AF, and of course the United States Air Force (USAF), USAF (Europe – USAF (E)) and the United States Army (USAR) and United States Navy (USN). As always it made for a great and exciting day out for us ‘enthusiasts’.
The following day Peter and I found ourselves at the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon, North London. This was at a much slower pace than our day at RAF Mildenhall spending time looking at and photographing the exhibits of the RAF aircraft over the years gone by. I feel pretty sure that we would have also had lunch there to make the most of our time visiting this museum.
Nothing really exciting happened then until Sunday June 5th, I recall the day vividly as I was assigned to patrol the M11 motorway between junction 7 at Harlow and junction 8 at Birchanger and close to Stansted airport. Understandably traffic was very heavy this day as the Space Shuttle ‘Enterprise’ was going to be arriving piggyback style on one of NASA’s Boeing 747’s special converted to carry the Shuttles to and from Cape Canaveral (or Kennedy as it is today) in Florida.
As it drew closer to the time that the Boeing and the Shuttle were due the traffic got slower and slower, the exit road towards the airport off the motorway was solid with vehicles all trying to get to the airport. We tried in vain to stop parking on the Hard shoulder of the M11 but in the end had to give up due to the sheer volume of traffic.
Then right on schedule the Boeing carrying Enterprise appeared; todays runway in use was zero five (05 or 050 degrees magnetic). The entire M11 came to a standstill, there was nothing I/we could do but join in and watch the sight of the Boeing 747 carrying the Space Shuttle Enterprise approach to land at Stansted airport.
Interestingly Enterprise was the only Shuttle never to go into space, but had flown piggyback style during its then short career; Enterprise never actually made it in to space.
Below is an extract from Wikipedia in relation to Enterprise.
Space Shuttle Enterprise (Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-101) was the first orbiter of the Space Shuttle system. Rolled out on September 17, 1976, it was built for NASA as part of the Space Shuttle program to perform atmospheric test flights after being launched from a modified Boeing 747. It was constructed without engines or a functional heat shield, and was therefore not capable of spaceflight.
Originally, Enterprise had been intended to be refitted for orbital flight to become the second space-rated orbiter in service. However, during the construction of Space Shuttle Columbia, details of the final design changed, making it simpler and less costly to build Challenger around a body frame that had been built as a test article. Similarly, Enterprise was considered for refit to replace Challenger after the latter was destroyed, but Endeavour was built from structural spares instead.
Enterprise was restored and placed on display in 2003 at the Smithsonian‘s new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Following the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet, Discovery replaced Enterprise at the Udvar-Hazy Center, and Enterprise was transferred to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, where it has been on display since July 2012.
Once the Boeing 747 / Shuttle had landed we then as Traffic Police Officers had to try and sort the traffic out, no easy task and we spent at least a couple of hours getting things back to normal then and only then we managed to go to the airport and see it on the ground for ourselves.
At the end of my shift I went home, changed into some civilian clothes and boarded a bus that was running from Harlow to the airport specifically for those that wanted to see the Shuttle. By the time I got home it had been a very long but exciting day and I was due back on shift the following day once again at 06:00!
Tuesday June 7th was departure day of the NASA Combo of the Boeing 747 / Space Shuttle and yes I was once again on duty on what we called the ‘strip’ i.e. the M11 Motorway. It wasn’t as hectic as the Sunday but still the roads surrounding Stansted airport were jammed with those who wanted to see it take off, luckily I was one of those fortunate to be paid for such an event.
Also at the airport on that day was an Algerian Air Force Antonov An-12 (7T-WAC), to look at this aircraft you could at first mistake it for a Lockheed C-130 Hercules. The main difference between the An-12 and the C-130 is that the former has a gun turret at the rear and a glazed nose cone as can be seen in the attached picture.
Towards the end of June I received my joining instructions for my voluntary work at the International Air Tattoo (IAT) at RAF Greenham Common, near to Newbury, Royal Berkshire.
My first day was Monday July 18th, where I got to meet the other volunteers on the Transport Section (which I’d volunteered for) and was allocated my call sign for the duration of my stay being Green six. I have to say my fellow colleagues shared a very similar interest to me and also the same warped sense of humour!
To familiarise ourselves with potential pick-up and drop-off places we bundled into a minibus driven by one of the ‘old sweats’ and off we went. First stop was at RAF Odiham where I saw ten RAF Puma Helicopters (Helos), from there a little further south to the Museum at Lasham, Hampshire where I saw a former Royal Danish Air Force Hawker Hunter amongst the other exhibits.
From there we went back to RAF Greenham Common and our billets. The following day a few of the display and aircraft that were destined to be on static display at the show started to arrive amongst them were three Pitts S-2A Specials and a Britten-Norman Islander of the Royal Jordanian Air Force (RJAF). I learnt later that the Pitts Specials had been flown in a RJAF Lockheed C-130 Hercules to RAF Lyneham (Wiltshire), re-assembled and then flown into RAF Greenham Common. The Britten-Norman Islander had apparently been flown from Jordan several days prior to the Hercules.
A lot of the time on Tuesday was spent getting to know the various parking spots, taxi-ways and drop off points of RAF Greenham Common.
Wednesday 20th; things started to pick up big time, one of the first aircraft to arrive was a Chilean Air Force Lockheed C-130 Hercules, closely followed by a German Navy Breguet 1150 Atlantic serial 61 13. Unfortunately the brakes on this aircraft locked up on touch down causing the runway to be closed until such time as it could be towed off, then the runway inspected for any damage and subsequently re-opened. This did take at least two hours to accomplish but thanks to the Engineering Operations Service and Volunteer personnel it was accomplished without causing too much delay.
With the Breguet Atlantic off the runway I was detailed to go to where it was parked and collect the crew for onward transportation to the on-site Air Crew Reception (ACR). It was there that I first met Lieutenant Commander (Lt Cdr) Peter Witte, a man I had to look up to as he was about 1.98 m or 6’-6” tall. His crew consisted of Ziggy, Klaus and Charly. Little did I know at the time that all these years later I would still be in contact with them.
Once re-opened it was like the flood gates had been opened and aircraft started to arrive fast and furiously. Highlights for me being four West German Air Force (WGAF) McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II’s, three Royal Jordanian AF Mirages, four Royal Netherlands AF Alouette helicopters and seven Cessna T-37 aircraft of the Portuguese AF, two of which collided on the runway, one running into the back end of the other. Yet again that day the runway had to be closed for a small duration while both aircraft were towed off etc. It had been an interesting day in more ways than one!
Thursday I was dispatched to Aldershot Barracks to collect something so on my way back to RAF Greenham Common I took advantage of passing Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough (Hampshire).
Meanwhile back at Greenham Common there had been another influx of aircraft for the show. These included three Royal Netherlands AF (KLu) F-16A Fighting Falcons, a former Argentine AF Puccara that had been bought back to the U.K. post the end of hostilities in the Falkland Isles. Eleven MB-339’s of the Italian Frecce Tricolori display team and several more McDD Phantoms of the WGAF. The ‘winner’ of the furthest distance travelled went to the Royal New Zealand AF (RNZAF) Boeing 727. It was beginning to look like an air show.
One morning one of the RAF lads asked me if I’d like to fly in a Royal Navy Helicopter, apparently he’d been offered the opportunity but wasn’t that interested! I almost snapped his arm off at the opportunity the only condition is that I had to wear the Corporals overalls and conceal my own IAT identity badge. The story in regard to my beard was that I was about to be medically discharged as the Petrochemicals I was in daily contact with were affecting my skin (hence the beard). Just after 08:30 I climbed aboard XT459 a Westland Wessex HU.5 taking to the skies around the area for twenty minutes. My seat was opposite the large door on the starboard side and fortunately as it transpired the headset didn’t work so I didn’t get any quizzing about my beard and RAF uniform.
There’s a saying that lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, well I stand to correct them as later that day I was in the right place at the right time. I was detailed to move the crew of a USAF Boeing B-52G Stratofortress serial 59-2601 [also called the BUFF]. In those early days of volunteering at the IAT (now RIAT) I tended to ‘push my luck’ such was the case on this day. Having arrived at the BUFF I met Major McKinnon and Captain Cooper and they explained what they were about to do, I then very cheekily asked if I could ride in the cockpit of the BUFF and one of the non-essential crew drive the mini-bus. It was agreed and one of the crew was given the fastest briefing on how to drive a ‘stick-shift’ mini-van as they called it. I then ascended into the cockpit and sat on the jump seat in between Major McKinnon and Captain Cooper.
I must have done a good job on the briefing the driver as we witnessed the mini-bus going across towards the south-side of the runway where we too were eventually going. Back in the cockpit Mac and the Captain began the process of starting up four of the BUFF’s eight engines for the crossing to the south-side. The noise was intense so I was really pleased to have my ear defenders with me for the taxiing process. In total it took some twenty minutes to move from our current parking spot to the new one; what an experience and what a privilege.
It was the most enjoyable time I’d had at an air show, being up so close and personal not only to the aircraft but to the men and women who flew and worked on them. It sadly came to an end after ten days, but it was the end that was to be a new beginning for me.
I was fortunate to meet the IAT Airfield Manager a Flight Lieutenant (Flt. Lt.) Andrew ‘Andy’ Walton. Andy was based on 32 Squadron at RAF Northolt in North London, not too far from London’s Heathrow airport. It was while I was refuelling my vehicle at Greenham Common that he asked if I’d give him a lift home to RAF Northolt at the end of the show, how could I refuse? On the last day we set off in my Triumph 2.5 PI for RAF Northolt, we arrived at his quarters just off base around mid-afternoon. Of course during the relatively short drive from Newbury (RAF Greenham Common) we spent the entire time talking about aircraft and our respective interests etc. Little did I know at that time what the future had in store for me?
Just three days after getting home I was flying once again, this time it was after an early turn shift (06:00 – 14:00) in a small aircraft called a Cessna FRA.150L registration G-BANE from Stapleford Tawney airfield in Essex.
That was it as far as flying was concerned for 1983 but I know that I had numerous days out touring the UK countryside either alone or with my very good friend Martin (MAF) Faulkner. It will also go without saying that Andy and I kept in regular contact during the remainder of that year.
1984: Can it get any better?
In Aviation Enthusiast terms January and some February are ‘slow’ months either being too cold or too dark to spark much interest, oh but this was no ‘ordinary’ year.
I received a phone call from Andy in the latter part of January as a result of which I had to produce myself at RAF Northolt shortly after lunch-time on the 31st. Little did I know what lay in store; shortly before 14:30 we (Andy, me and another Flt. Lt.) walked towards a BAe.125-700 serial ZE395 I was about to fly for the first time with 32 Squadron! My excitement level was shall we say pretty high bordering on extremely high.
Flt. Lt. X sat in the left hand seat, Andy on the right and me on the jump seat between the two of them. At 14:40 local we took to the air our callsign being Ascot 730 (RRR731) on a navigational exercise climbing initially to 6,000 feet and turning right and heading towards Clacton-on-Sea on the Essex Coast where we crossed it at around FL350 [35,000 feet amsl). From there we headed out towards a reporting point called Gabbard (GAB) then on towards another called Dandi and finally another left turn as we headed up towards the Norwegian Coast line before turning left towards Scotland. Having traversed Scotland from the East to West coast it was a sharp turn left down the west coast of England and back into RAF Northolt where we landed 17:50 local time. I had to make a very hurried phone call to work as my shift began at 18:00 (smiley face here)
Just after 20:00 I drove in to work to be met by my Chief Inspector who shall we say was not overly amused by my late arrival. My penance was crewing with him for the next two hours while I explained to him how, where and why I had been and was late. It was as they say, no easy task but I feel by 22:00 he had come to believe me!
After his 45 minute break he told me that I was able to go out on my own, I knew then that I had convinced him that I was one hundred percent genuine about what I had done. That time alone in the car gave me the opportunity to calm down from the excitement of flying not only with Andy but also in an RAF executive jet.
My next adventure at RAF Northolt was on April 3rd once again following a phone call from Andy. This time I was going to be flying rotary wing, a Westland Gazelle HCC.4 serial XW852 flown by one of 32 Squadron’s Squadron Leaders. Taking off at 10:00 local as Ascot 710 (RRR710) we headed for the River Thames and then due east following it until we reached the River Lea where we traversed the Lea Valley towards Harlow. That was really one of my first opportunities of navigating to a location from the air, it certainly is difficult but none the less I we successfully located my Police Traffic Garage in Old Harlow. An orbit or two of the premises to allow me to take some photos and we were off again this time across country to near Reading in Royal Berkshire and the home of the pilot. Once again a couple of orbits around his house and we departed back to RAF Northolt landing at 11:30L. In those ninety minutes we had covered a vast area and showed me just how versatile the Helicopter was from an observation platform perspective.
We had lunch in the Officers Mess at RAF Northolt and then part two of this day’s adventures began. Along with Flt. Lt X we took a stroll towards a BAe.125-700 serial ZE396. Andy was supernumerary crew o he and I sat in the back for the take-off phase. Lift-off was at 14:35L and once again we climbed initially to 6,000 feet and began the right turn towards the Clacton VOR. Once again we went out over the North Sea, toward The Netherlands, then a left turn up towards Norway and further left towards Scotland. It was on this leg of the flight that another dream came true. Unbeknown to me the QRA Squadron at RAF Leuchars [43F Fighting Cocks] asked Flt. Lt X and the other pilot if they could use us as an interception ‘target’, permission was granted. Suddenly as if out of nowhere came two McDonnell-Douglas FGR.2 Phantoms and they sat alongside our port side for a few seconds (seemed a lot longer in reality) before banking away and lighting the afterburners as they headed back down towards ‘the weeds’. What an experience to be so close to flying Phantoms and alas my pictures of them will have perished due to my poor storage and many house moves. However you cannot take away those memories which will be there forever in my mind.
Just 3 hours and 10 minutes after take-off we landed back at RAF Northolt at 17:45L, but today there was no panic phone call to the Traffic Garage as I had arranged a day off especially for this occasion.