My old friend and fellow Scot, Roy Bowie, who had joined me on No 54
Squadron as a brand new squadron pilot when I was becoming aged and experienced
as an aerobatic-team member, had been running a desk in the Air Secretary's
branch of the RAF. And I believe it was he who, in April 1954, got me the post
of Flight Commander of a flight of Vampires and Meteors at the RAF Flying
College at Manby in Lincolnshire, to instruct senior officers on the 'pfc'
(passed Flying College) course in the arts of air defence and land/air warfare.
(On graduation, these officers could wear the letters 'pfc' as a qualification.)
The set-up at Manby was that half the tuition time dealt with ground
instruction at the unit's Tedder Block on Air Warfare matters, and the other
half on flying instruction to give the students a refresher on handling jet
aircraft and their use in bomber and fighter operations. My task was to run a
flight to produce enough serviceable aircraft to satisfy the demands of the
flying programmes for the refresher and fighter phases, and to give lectures on
'weaponeering', and also to assess each student's performance in the air
defence and land/air warfare phases - in other words, a mini PAI course. In the
bomber phase, Canberra B2 aircraft were used in another Flight, both Flights
coming under the command of a squadron leader who was not qualified to impart the
specific instruction on these phases. The students' progress through the
syllabus was handled by a few syndicate leaders who were QFIs, each controlling
a batch of pupils. These pupils were senior officers, the majority at Wing
Commander level with a few Squadron Leaders and a few Group Captains. The whole
show had at its head an Air Commodore Commandant named Augustus Walker.
When I arrived on the Station, I reported to the Squadron Commander in
charge of my flight (I will refer to him as Squadron Leader 'x' to save writing
his appointment each time, and because he might not like his name to be
mentioned). Have you ever gone into your new boss's office, taken one look and
said 'Hello, there may be trouble ahead'?. I was given a brief outline of the
job, then I got out and authorised myself for a sector recce in one of the
Vampires. I swanned around for a bit, looking at the nearby Theddlethorpe
firing range layout and memorising the main navigational features in the area.
Then the aircraft's pitot head suddenly failed and I had no airspeed
indication. I called Manby tower and asked if they had any aircraft in the
vicinity capable of leading me in to land. Someone intercepted the call to tell
me that he was in the area and was flying a Meteor. I got back over Manby to
rendezvous with him and told him the speed I wanted on the approach and to
let me know when he was about to deploy airbrakes, flaps and undercarriage. The
Manby runway was quite short and I needed some accuracy in airspeed from the
Meteor, but it all went quite well. I thanked the Meteor pilot on the radio and
when I got back to the crewroom, asked the tower to give me the pilot's name so
that I could know who it was who had helped. "Gus Walker" was the
reply. Gus then rang me to ask if I had any problems with his approach.
"Absolutely perfect" I said. Knowing Gus later, I realise he would
have been very bucked by my reply. I tried to convert him into a guns/rockets
fighter ace with several sorties on the firing range, but he was a dyed-in-the-wool
bomber who preferred flying on instruments. A more pleasant fellow would be
hard to find.
Gus Walker became famous for his bravery when he attempted to prevent a
major catastrophe at RAF Syerston where he was Station Commander in 1943. He
was observing a raid of Avro Lancasters taxying for take-off with another being
readied as a reserve; this aircraft was loaded with incendiary bombs and one
4000lb 'cookie', and its bomb doors were still open. Some of the incendiaries fell from their containers and ignited
on the ground. Gus rushed to the scene in his car with the fire tender in
train. He seized the tender's long rake and started to clear the burning
incendiaries from under the aircraft when the 4000lb bomb exploded and as well
as inflicting other serious injuries, severed his right arm above the elbow. In
due course Gus recovered and continued his flying career using a mechanical arm
in conjunction with a mechanical 'hand' clamped to his aircraft's control
column. Gus had been a well-known rugby player, capped by England and the RAF.
He became a respected referee.
The length of the Manby course was just under one year, although subsequent
courses were whittled down to six months. I had about two months to get the
flight organised and was rather worried about the lack of aids to back up the
lectures and sorties, and there was not even an exercise-completion display to
show what was outstanding for each student.
While I had been beavering away at getting things ready for the next course,
my Squadron Leader 'x' had been beavering too. He asked for, and obtained, a
second PAI - Charles Maugham - who happened to be senior to me in the Flight
Lieutenant list. I was told by 'x' that Maugham would be superseding me. I was
devastated. I badly needed a command post to enhance promotion and realised
that the Squadron Leader's act had probably killed my chances. At this stage I
had been studying hard to attempt the 'Q' examination which was a requirement
for selection to a Staff College, which in turn was a 'must' for promotion. I
continued with my studies, however, and hoped for the best despite this
set-back. I took the 'Q' exam early in 1955 and the subsequent Air Ministry
Order announcing the successes showed that I was the only Flight Lieutenant to
have passed the exam, amongst a list of more senior officers.
The course intake of students arrived. The jet flying part of the College
had been moved to Strubby (about ten miles south of Manby) which had longer
runways. Maugham and I had completed a reasonable set-up for our main phases of
their tuition. Camera projectors and film assessment had a special room
allocated. But we had a problem which took some solving. Prior to this course,
rocket firing had been done in Vampires which had a valid sight-setting for rocket
aiming; but the Vampires had been replaced by the Meteor VIII aircraft which
did not. The gyro gunsight graticule used for rocket firing was a centre dot
with a set of six diamonds around it (refer to Figure 10). The requirement was
to switch the graticule to a set position at which one of the surrounding
diamonds (the aiming mark) was positioned below the centre dot at the six
o'clock position, by an amount which represented the gravity drop of the
rocket. But we had to discover the correct value to employ. We telephoned
frantically to the manufacturers, to the Leconfield gunnery school and even to
Australia House in London (the RAAF had been using Meteors for rocket attacks
in the Korean war). But nobody knew. The Australians had been firing their rockets
in salvo, with sight aiming accuracy ignored. I tried mathematical solutions,
but did not know how to calculate the curved bunt manœuvre of the ideal attack.
In the end we flew rocket sorties galore until we achieved a reasonably
accurate solution and locked the associated equivalent range value on the range
drum of the Meteor's gunsight.
Figure 10 - Rocketing Sight Picture
When the 'weaponeering' phase of the course arrived, Maugham and I were
heavily employed in briefings and in dual flight demonstrations for all of the
forms of attack. The students were paired throughout the course, to fly
attacker or target for the many sighting exercises (and also in the bomber
phase in the Canberra, where they took turns as pilot or navigator). The
majority of the students had difficulty with these exercises, having not used a
gunsight or fired a cannon for years. A few, however, had been able to keep
their hand in and a competitive spirit ensued between them and the PAIs. On a subsequent
course I had great, but friendly, rivalry with a pilot known as 'Big Sandy'
(Wing Commander Sanderson) whom I had known at Odiham; we fought tooth and nail
to achieve the best gunnery and rocketing scores. I confounded 'Big Sandy' on
one shoot-out on the air-to-ground target using the guns, with a score of 100%.
Try as he might, the wing commander never equalled it. But he was a great shot
nevertheless, especially using rockets.
The climax to our phases was a mini air battle between the Manby fighter
defence and the Canberra force of Bomber Command plus the Manby Handley Page
Hastings and Avro Lincoln. The local GCI (Ground Controlled Interception) radar
was used to track the incoming 'enemy', passing the order to the Strubby
Operations Room (Maugham and myself) to scramble the pairs of Meteors we had
standing by on the Operational Readiness Platform (ORP), which was an extended
part of the runway-in-use. It was all great fun and I am sure enjoyed by the
students. We also arranged ground targets for close support work, where two
pairs of our pupil attackers would be given an order requiring one of them to
brief the sections on the tactics to be employed, then all to hare for their
aircraft, take off for a low-level run to the target area, pull up at a briefed
point and carry out a ciné-gun simulated rocket attack, all within a strict
time limit. Also good fun. That part of the syllabus ended too soon and the
syndicate instructors took over for the final stages of the course.
Maugham had been selected for the RAF Staff College course and disappeared
from the scene before our next intake arrived. I assumed that I would
automatically take over command of the flight. But 'x' had other ideas. A new
PAI was posted in to take the vacant slot. I was told by 'x' that the new chap
was to replace Maugham as flight commander, and I again cursed my luck. We
employed some staff navigators in the Canberra flight and, after the newcomer
had settled in, one of the navigators looked him up in The Air Force List of
permanent officers, to find that the new chap was junior to me. I was dumb-struck.
I immediately asked for an appointment with 'x'. I asked him what the devil was
going on and showed him a copy of the List. I sought an explanation there and
then, but all he was able to say, rather lamely I thought, was that the
students on the course did not like me. I knew this to be untrue and said so.
He asked me to accept that although I could be senior to the newcomer (who was
a Cranwell College graduate) in all flying matters, he still wanted the
Cranwellian to be the nominated flight commander. I could not believe what I
was hearing and walked out in anger.
Next day, I put an application for a posting in an envelope addressed to the
OC Flying ('Fitz' Fitzpatrick, a good pal of mine) through 'x', rather than to
'x' himself, to ensure that the OC Flying actually received it. A week later
the situation was reversed, but I knew (and so must 'x' have known) that my
Confidential Report (Form 1369) - which 'x' had completed and despatched prior
to all this - would have finished my promotion hopes for good. The 'course does
not like you' accusation was seen to be manifestly untrue when a former student
of the Manby course telephoned me after his subsequent posting to command the
RAF Handling Squadron at Boscombe Down, to ask if I would like to fill a vacancy
he had on his squadron. I knew that an atmosphere like that of Boscombe Down
was just the uplift I needed then.
My Squadron Leader was posted at the end of that course, but to become a
pupil on the pfc course about to begin, so he was going to see for himself how
well or badly I could run the affairs of the flight. I deliberately set out to
show him the error of his poor assessment of me. The performance of the flight
on that next course went like clockwork. Squadron Leader 'x' apologised at the
farewell party to celebrate the end of the course, but the dirty work had been
done by then, and could not be reversed.
The final course of my tour was blessed by the re-equipping with Hawker
Hunter Mk 4 fighter aircraft, but my mind was on the opportunity I would have
to fly the many different types available at a ‘grown-ups’ station, Boscombe
Down. I was finished with instructing.
William C. Wood 1997.