Chapter 14 Appendix

REMEMBER THE AHLHORN

On 16th June, 1961, an exciting weekend was in store for those lucky members of 92 Squadron whose turn it was to go away as support for an aerobatics display.  It was customary on the squadron to share out the perks, and this weekend was no exception.  It was to be a long weekend, with visits to Wattisham (Suffolk), Wildenrath and Ahlhorn (North Germany).

The ground party was taken by coach from the home-base at Leconfield, to Wattisham to prepare to receive the Hunters, there to refuel them, give them after-flight servicings and put them to bed.  A pleasant evening beckoned.

Wattisham, of course, was the base of 111 Squadron, which most people knows was the famous “Black Arrows” aerobatics team for many years before 92 took over the mantle.  As usual, a display was planned before the aircraft landed that afternoon.  Needless to say, many critical eyes would be watching, so it was especially important that the display should be of the highest quality.

In due course, the Hunters swept over the airfield in formation and proceeded with their display.  To the writer, it seemed to be as good as ever, but the pièce de résistance was to be the loop in line abreast that (so far as he was aware) the Black Arrows had never performed.  Up, up into the loop the aircraft flew, changing position as they went until, at the very crest of the loop, all were perfectly in line.  Super!  But hardly had the brain absorbed this when the end man on the left suddenly fell as if out of control.

There was a heart-stopping moment until at last the pilot seemingly regained control and without delay, came in to land.  In the meantime, the other aircraft scattered like quail, and shortly thereafter they too landed.  The remainder of the display was abandoned.

In the meantime, the groundcrew stood by the chocks awaiting the incoming aircraft, and very soon were marshalling them into position.  The writer was not one of the marshallers, but waited with a ladder ready for the passenger of the T7 two-seater.  The T7 swung into line and approached the chock.  It was customary to halt the aircraft a couple of feet short of the chock before inspecting the condition of the tyres, before beckoning the aircraft to its final position, when the rest of the tyre could be seen.  Obediently, the T7 stopped for the first time, but thereafter refused to move despite the marshaller’s instructions.

With the general melée and din of twelve Avons running, the marshaller was unaware that the T7’s engine had stopped.  Eventually, after a few seconds, a chock was put into position and the occupants attended to.  When the noise had subsided, the pilot (Sqn Ldr Mercer) was asked what was going on, but he confirmed that the engine had just stopped!  Strange.

After refuelling the aircraft, the groundcrew went to tea, then returned to the flight line to put the aircraft to bed.  What a tale of woe awaited them.  First of all, the aircraft which had fallen off the end of the line had had a total hydraulic failure.  Fortunately, the controls were only power assisted and not fully powered (else the aircraft would probably have been lost).  Nevertheless, the fault had to be found and repaired, and the complete hydraulic system had to be refilled, bled and purged, and tests of the controls carried out.  This meant jacking the aircraft up and fitting various external rigs to the aircraft.  Secondly, the T7 was found to need an engine change due to a broken quill-drive, with ground running tests and a compass swing to follow.  It was fortunate that the display had been halted when it did, as otherwise that engine would have stopped in flight.

The problems didn’t end there.  One aircraft had landed hard and had recorded 9g on the nosewheel.  This needed to be looked at, and to cap it all, one of the pilots, on unstrapping himself, had accidentally smashed a gauge-glass with the parachute buckle.  It looked like a busy night was in store.

And so it turned out to be.  The best that the groundcrew could manage in the way of rest was camp-beds on the hangar floor while waiting their turn to work on the aircraft.  Heavy-landing checks on the hard-lander showed that the aircraft was OK generally but the nose undercarriage leg had to be changed.  The canopy and ejection seat had to be removed from the gauge-glass aircraft, and after the gauge had been changed a thorough vacuum cleaning of the cockpit was required to remove the last vestiges of broken glass.  It was well after dawn before all these jobs were finished.

After breakfast, the aircraft were prepared for the afternoon’s displays which were at the nearby USAF air bases of Bentwaters and Wethersfield.  Before-flight inspections were carried out and the aircraft “derved up”.

The writer must now digress for a moment to describe the means by which smoke was produced by the Hunter during aerobatic displays.

Derv (diesel fuel) was used by the aircraft to produce white smoke.  A 40-gallon tank manufactured by station workshops sat in place of the normal ammunition tank, and this had to be filled before a display.  Derving-up was an armourer’s job.  The normal source of diesel fuel was a Bedford QL tanker which was allocated to the squadron for UK jobs, and it was customarily driven by an MT driver corporal, also attached to the squadron. 

The smoke installation was an ingenious bodge-up which had been inherited from the Black Arrows.  It seems obvious that it was designed for one season’s use only, and then was expected to last for ten.  The tank was made of galvanised steel sheet, adequately baffled inside to minimise sloshing, held together by thousands of copper rivets, with the joints then soft-soldered.  Fixed to the bottom of the tank was a Meteor centre tank booster pump which fed into a globe valve which could be turned on and off by a spindle with a screwdriver slot.  At the bottom of the globe valve was a short length of one inch diameter brass pipe to which was attached a length of reinforced rubber hose, held on by a Jubilee clip.  The hose led to a gate valve which was attached to the rear bulkhead of the radio bay, immediately aft of the gun pack bay. 

The gate valve, and most of what remained of the system, was part of the aircraft’s gun purging system, whereby pressurised air bled from the engine’s compressor was ducted forward during gun firing, to sweep the gases from the gun pack area to minimise the risk of gun bay explosions.  In this case, however, the pipework was re-routed not to the compressor, but to join a long length of one inch diameter pipe which exited immediately above the jet pipe efflux.

When the pilot required smoke, he had first of all to operate the armament master switch, which turned on the gate valve.  Then at the required instant, he pressed the gun trigger, which fed 28 volts to the Meteor pump (The RAF were into recycling before it became fashionable), which fed the derv out into the jet efflux where it vaporised.  Hey Presto!  Smoke.

During this detachment, the armourers would not have the benefit of the Bedford so Plan B was put into action. 

A number of full 40 gallon drums were manhandled onto a bomb-trolley, and the trolley pushed between aircraft when the derv would be decanted using a manually-operated semi-rotary pump.  With all the aircraft requiring a total of about 300 gallons to transfer, it was a muscle building operation.  The drill was first to remove the starboard radio bay panel (the rear portion of the “Sabrina” ammunition link collector).  Then the globe valve had to be turned off using an old penny or a GS screwdriver.  The rubber hose was removed from the stub-end of the pipe, the armourer thoughtfully allowing the half pint residue of the derv remaining in the pipe to run into his jacket sleeve.  The hose from the Bedford or semi-rotary pump can then be connected to the pipe stub and secured with a Jubilee clip, and pumping commenced.  There was no contents gauge, but the sound emanating from the quarter-inch overflow pipe gave a fair idea when the tank was close to full: the hissing noise would stop immediately before full.  Readers of a technical bent would have already noticed that the disparity of inlet and overflow pipe dimensions made it essential that the pumping is stopped IMMEDIATELY the hissing stops, or one (or both) of two things will happen.  There is an almighty BONG! as the tank billows, usually adding to the already generous leak-rate of the tank, or the hose flies off, covering the hapless armourer with derv.  So listening to the hiss became very important.  On a busy flight-line this can be difficult, so it was essential to put one’s ear very close to the end of the overflow pipe.  Most found the best position of all was with the end of the pipe pointing between one’s neck and the collar of one’s shirt.  This had the additional benefit on foreign airfields of preventing spillage of overflow diesel onto the ground, where contamination of the concrete might be criticised.

In those days, a 92 Squadron armourer was easily recognisable:  he invariably was of good physique, reeked of diesel oil, and on rainy days his passage was marked by an iridescent trail, the like of which in later years would result in tanker captains being taken to court.  Needless to say, the armourers never suffered from skin diseases.  Why not?  Because they were armourers!

While the aircraft were away doing their display, the groundcrew busied themselves preparing for their return.  One further job to be done was to start loading the equipment into the Beverley, which would take them to Germany.  One bit of good news was that for the whole weekend it would belong to 92, and therefore the groundcrew could use it as their waterproof storehouse close to the flightline.

The Blackburn Beverley was one of the writer’s favourite aircraft.  It was a monster of a thing, a veritable flying barn.  Inevitably, it had already gathered its own folklore.  It was reputed to have a takeoff speed of 120 knots and a cruising speed of 118.  One pilot reckoned that flying it was like driving a block of flats while looking out of a fifth-floor toilet window.  Navigators loved it:  one reason was because it was so slow and they could take their time, another because it halved the workload:  they had to navigate as usual on the outward journey, but on the return they could sit up in front and direct the pilot to follow the oil slick laid by the engines on the way out.

Looking out of the windows, the passengers could experience how it was like flying in the R100 or Hindenburg, watching the scenery drift by – backwards if there was a strong headwind.

After the Hunters landed it was all action as usual.  Happily, there were no unserviceabilities and the turn-round inspections were done without any problems.  A small party was left on the flight-line to see the Hunters off to Wildenrath, while the remainder of the groundcrew went off to have some tea.

Alas, they were destined not to finish their meal.  Hardly had they sat down when a call came to jump aboard the buses for a rapid return to the flightline, where, it was said, the Beverley was waiting with its engines running to take them immediately to Germany.  Not quite; the Beverley was taxying towards the runway.  Fortunately it stopped long enough to allow the men to clamber on board, and then they were off.

Much later, but still the same day, they arrived at Wildenrath and parked the Beverley adjacent to the Hunters which had been “seen-in” by the Wildenrath squadron people.  After-flight inspections were done immediately, with drop tanks removed before refuelling.

Although aerobatics can be done satisfactorily with drop tanks fitted, it was much preferred that they be removed, so when it was convenient to do so, this was done.  “The book” said that special trolleys should be used to support the drop tanks before they are released.  There was no likelihood of more than one trolley being brought, and with upward of 24 drop tanks having to be removed, this was out of the question.  The practice was for one man to hold the front of the tank and a second to hold the tail fins while a third pressed the manual jettison button on the pylon.  It was wise to check that only a small quantity of fuel was in the tank before doing this, otherwise the front man received a strained back and the rear man got severely grazed shins as well as a strained back.  There was also the chance of a damaged tank, which was much more serious.  A couple of light raps on the side of the tank using the handle of a GS screwdriver told a discerning ear the approximate contents.  In cases of doubt, leakage (or not) from a loosened securing screw a couple of inches from the bottom would give confirmation.

After putting the aircraft “to bed”, the men looked forward to a night out on the town.  For most, their hopes were dashed.  The person charged with ensuring that sufficient Deutschemarks had been obtained (who shall be nameless) had a pretty poor estimation of what “sufficient” meant.  Instead of sharing the sum out equitably, it was a case of first come, first served.  Consequently only about five lucky fellows got to go down town, the remainder had to be satisfied with “BAFs”, which were only spendable on camp.

In those days, British forces in Germany were paid primarily in “BAFs” (or BAFSVs to be more correct).  These British Armed Forces Special Vouchers were currency of equal denomination (and equal value) with pounds, and were valid only in service establishments and shops.  The purpose was to minimise the risk of black marketeering with the German nationals.  For those readers who are interested, in 1961 twelve Deutschemarks would get you £1-0s-6d (£1.02½ in new money).  Despite this, there were no complaints about “the strong pound” in those days.

So that evening saw groups of 92 Squadron groundcrew doing some intense drinking in the NAAFI, Corporals’ Club and Sergeants’ Mess.  Still, there was less distance to travel to fall into bed.

The following morning, with an unaccustomed headache due, no doubt, to the strange effects of German potato crisps, the groundcrew wended their way to the flight-line.

Before-flight inspections were done and signed-for, and the line tidied up ready for the afternoon’s display which, once again, was to be flown away from the airfield.  The Beverley was a boon for all this, as it was a good deal closer to the workface than the hangar was back home.  But the men were in for a shock.  At about 11 o’clock they were told that the Beverley was to be emptied as it was required for an important mission.  The important mission was to take an Army captain down to the USAF base at Wiesbaden.  As Wildenrath was the home of the RAFG communications squadron, with a fair number of Devon and Pembroke aircraft, it seemed a little “over the top” to send a whopping great Beverley down there.  However, “Your wish is my command”, so the Beverley was emptied onto the flightline and away it went.  About two and a half hours later it returned, and was re-filled again.

The afternoon’s display went off successfully, and on the aircraft’s return, they were “turned-round”, tanks fitted, refuelled and derved-up.  After tea they were seen off on their way to Ahlhorn.  Then the groundcrew loaded the remainder of the gear aboard the Beverley, climbed aboard and headed off.

Ahlhorn was going to be the crowning event of the weekend.  That evening, a dance was to be held in one of the hangars, and 92 Squadron were to be the guests-of-honour (so they were told).  After the earlier disruptions of the weekend, all were looking forward to this part.

Upon landing, the Beverley taxied to the dispersal where the Hunters were situated.  German marshallers had directed the aircraft to their allotted spots and had assisted the pilots to dismount (not having the proper ladders).  A marshaller was on hand to see to the Beverley, and he attempted to direct the pilot into the dispersal bay just along from the Hunters.  The Transport Command pilot would have none of it, and drove straight past, the marshaller throwing down his bats in frustration.  However, immediately he had passed the dispersal, the pilot brought the aircraft to a stop, and, under the direction of the loadmaster who was hanging out of one of the parachute doors like a bus conductor, smartly reversed the Beverley into place.  Apparently this was their party-piece.  The marshaller was mightily impressed, it probably being the first occasion he had come across an aircraft with reverse pitch propellers.

Although by this time it was getting into late evening, nonetheless the Hunters had their tanks removed, were refuelled,“after-flighted” and had their cockpit covers and engine blanks fitted.  The men were anxious to get to their accommodation, washed shaved and changed for the evening’s entertainment.  The pilots had already been taken by bus to their mess, and the bus should be returning shortly.

After a half-an-hour’s wait, with no bus in sight, a fractious discussion started:  would it be better to start walking, and which way round the peri-track was quickest? (none had been to Ahlhorn before).  The hangars and maintenance site could be seen in the distance, but it would be a four to seven mile walk to get there.  And what if the bus should come in the meantime?

In the end, the Squadron Warrant Officer, “Gary” Cooper, settled the matter.  He would walk, the remainder should stay.  If the bus returned in the meantime, it would be directed to follow the same route as the warrant officer, and pick him up on the way.

Darkness fell, with no sign of the bus.  One wag, no doubt thinking of the squadron members back at Leconfield, remarked that “Men still abed in England would think themselves damned lucky they were not here”.  At last, just before midnight, a bus arrived, and before long a sombre group of airmen were being taken around the peri-track to Lord knows where.  It didn’t help matters when the bus passed one of the hangars which was just decanting groups of revellers;  the dance which all had been looking forward to was over.  Finished.

Luckily, the German Orderly Sergeant was on the ball (sorry!) and was able to unearth the Duty Cook, who, cheerfully under the circumstances, opened the restaurant and produced a fine meal.  Comfortable rooms were found, too, although the men by that time could have slept soundly on broken bricks.

However, the following morning, it was found that breakfast had been set out in the hangar which had been the venue for the previous night’s dance.  This in itself was no bad thing, but the remains of paper streamers, empty bottles and so forth were unpleasant reminders of what the men had missed.  Some of 92’s pilots were already breakfasting, and of course had no idea why their groundcrew had not turned up to enjoy what had been a pleasant evening.

The remainder of the week-end was an anti-climax.  Yet another display and, after a “turn-round”, tanks on, etc, the Hunters were away back to Leconfield, shortly followed by the lumbering Beverley.  All was not finished, however.  As protocol demanded, Customs officers were waiting.  As was also customary, they asked for a number of Hunters to be set aside for searching, and, equally traditionally, they were given three aircraft that had not flown that weekend.  The men in turn were asked what they had to declare.  On being told that there was nothing to declare, not even “duty-free” (they had had no time to buy any), the Customs men became more ratty than usual.

At this stage, it must be said that in those days, Customs officers were quite harsh, and especially to members of the Armed Forces.  Relatively few people went overseas for their holidays, and it would seem that Customs officers regarded soldiers and airmen as being unfairly privileged.  Add to that the fact that they had to uproot themselves from their comfortable surroundings in Hull docks or wherever, and submit themselves to the dubious hospitality (read hostility) of an RAF station for the afternoon, the scene was set for a tense confrontation.

Seeing the dearth of booty as some conspiracy to cock a snook at HM Customs and Excise, the Customs officers engaged upon Phase 2.  Search of Personal Effects.  By this time the groundcrew were becoming quite cheerful.  Something to do with unity against a common enemy.  By the time the customs inspection was finished, any residual dissatisfaction the groundcrew might have had about the quality of the weekend, had been totally transformed into laughter, while the Customs men grew steadily more frustrated.  Eventually they went away with glum faces and empty cash-boxes, no doubt feeling that it had been a pretty poor weekend.

But for a long time afterwards, men on 92 would raise their glasses and say  “Remember the Ahlhorn!”


Extract from 92 Squadron Form 540 (Operations Record Book)

RAF Leconfield, June 1961 – SQUADRON COMMANDER’S COMMENTS

June has been a very busy month in the aerobatic role.  Nine displays were given using 12 aircraft and this has necessitated a tremendous amount of work by the ground crew in keeping up the progressive servicing and rectifying unserviceable aircraft.  For instance, on the 16th of June all our groundcrew on detachment to Wattisham had to work all through the night to rectify aircraft for the four displays over the weekend.  From the 5th of June until the 30th June there was not a single day when at least a third of the Squadron personnel were not working.
Both the aircraft and the men have stood up to the task very well.
Due to poor weather five displays were done without any looping manoeuvres, but the three subsequent shows were all unlimited by the elements.
The Exeter display on the 24th June was a particular success.  The organisation was first class and the hospitality of the local civilians was magnificent.  This was in direct contrast to organisation at Ahlhorn the previous weekend.  We have done very little operational training this month due to the heavy aerobatic commitments, but we should do much more during July.

(Signed)  B.P.W. MERCER
Squadron Leader
Officer Commanding
No. 92 (F) Squadron

 

Operations
General. Our first month’s operations from Royal Air Force, Leconfield have been very successful, with 519 sorties flown and 9 aerobatic displays completed.  This achievement has been made possible by the exceptional work put in by the ground crew, the high degree of co-operation attained with Leconfield, and the fine weather.
Aerobatics
The following displays were given during the month, by formations of 12 aircraft:-

7/8th  Royal Air Force Ouston Initial clearance for formations of 12 aircraft.
11th  United States Air Force Weisbaden Armed Forces Day
13th Royal Air Force Coltishall NATO Press Day
17th United States Air Force Bentwaters
       United States Air Force Wethersfield Armed forces Day

18th Munchen Gladbach
       Ahlhorn Air Base German Aero. Club
Open Day
24th Lulsgate (Bristol)
       Exeter Air Day
RAFA Day

Due to bad weather most of these shows had to be flat-pattern, but apparently satisfaction was given in all cases.

Operational Flying
With a month of nearly perfect weather for aerobatics, relatively little operational training was completed.  The film taken on the 17 cine sorties that were flown, however, confirmed that the Squadron’s operational status has not declined due to lack of practice.


Appendix B to  No. 92 Squadron Op. Order 8/61 dated 7th June 1961


BEVERLEY AIR PARTY

Wg Cmdr Leggett
Flt Lt Vickery
Flt Lt Stoker
Fg Off Griffiths
Fg Off Griffiths
Mr Gaskell
560591 W.O. Cooper
1860856 F.S. Ware
571890 F.S. Rutter
543272 Chf.T. Bowtell
4144662 Sgt Barron
4169618 Cpl O’Connor
1927787 Cpl Abbey
681875 J.T. Walker
1928993 J.T. Holmes
681842 J.T. Little
683544 J.T. Raiseborough
4187758 SAC Butterworth
3527213 SAC Harper
1923565 Cpl McPhail
4194183 J.T. Davis
4176392 J.T. Sant
683544 J.T. Mullen
1931869 SAC Harkness
1922237 Cpl Raine
3526780 SAC Parsons
4025333 Cpl Cooper
1939412 SAC Thomson
1939663 LAC Jones
2489063 Cpl Drackford
1935257 SAC Horner
4242973 Cpl Cooper
SAC Dann
681745 Cpl.T. Hutchinson
682224 J.T. Singleton
1672802 J.T. Hocking
4185663 LAC Curbeson

The above party will move to R.A.F. Wattisham on Friday 16th June 1961 in two parties.  A Valletta aircraft has been provided by Headquarters Fighter Command Communications Squadron.

The Beverley aircraft will position R.A.F. Wattisham on Saturday 17th June at 11.00 hours E.T.D. Wattisham for Wildenrath 18.00Z

Beverley return flight from GAF base Ahlhorn Monday 19th June 1961 E.T.D. 13.00Z E.T.A. Leconfield 16.45Z





Meherabad

“You three have to go back to Meherabad” said the Flight Sergeant, shortly after we had got off the Hastings at Diyarbakir, in southern Turkey.

We had just learned that one of our Hunters had not made it to Diyarbakir because the undercarriage had failed to retract on take off from Meherabad.  The aircraft had insufficient range to get it to its destination.  Moreover, it turned out that the pilot had jettisoned the four drop tanks.  This was a complication that we did not need.

Of course “us three” couldn’t go directly back to Meherabad; there were no scheduled flights between the two airfields.  We had to fly onward to Nicosia and start our journey from there.  Us three were a sergeant electrician, a corporal airframe man, and myself, an armourer.

We were sufficiently wise to check with air movements to confirm that our visas for Iran were still valid.  Definitely, said the air movements man.

It was a few days before we got flights to Meherabad.  It turned out that the journey involved a twenty-four hour stopover in Beirut, in Lebanon, involving two different types of aircraft belonging to two different carriers.  The first part was on a Middle-East Airlines (MEA) Comet 4C and the second was on a Trans World Airways (TWA) Douglas DC8.  The three of us spent the night in a four-star hotel that had a very entertaining and enjoyable floor-show which included a singer, a comedian and an illusionist/escapologist.  We spent most of the following day exploring the city of Beirut.  I should say here that in 1961, Beirut was the commercial and banking centre of the Middle-East and was a very well-appointed city.  The years of trouble, of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, of Yasser Arafat and of Hizbollah, which so ravaged the city, were still years away.

We flew out of Beirut late the following evening, and it was soon dark.  Somewhat to my disgust, one of the hostesses, seeking to calm us passengers, insisted that the frequent gouts of yellow flame ejected from the jetpipes were “quite normal.”

Arrival at Meherabad was straightforward initially.  Two of us went through border control without comment, but the third not.  While the official seemed to be having some difficulty with our colleague’s passport, the pair of us stood waiting while the rest of the passengers walked past us towards “land-side.”  The official saw us standing there and beckoned us over.  He then examined our passports for the second time, told us that our visas had expired, and told us to wait “over there”.

About half an hour later, getting towards midnight, no-one had shown the slightest interest in us.  We, or at least I, were getting somewhat anxious, but fortunately in a little while an RAF flight lieutenant appeared.  The three of us thought that he had come for us, but he hadn’t.  He had, in fact, come to greet other arrivals on a later aircraft, and knew nothing about us.

However, the sergeant explained the situation to him and he told us to wait.  He would take care of the other people, who appeared to be personal friends, then he would come back for us.

He did.  He turned out to be the deputy air attaché, and he became our guardian angel.  After speaking to the border control official (another one), we were all shown into an office where an important person was seated.  There ensued a fierce argument between our officer and this man.  At first he refused to let us into the country in any circumstances because of the visa offence.  He knew why we were there, and knew that we had been there not more than five days earlier, associated with the air display that he himself had watched.  But he was adamant.  Eventually, after being ground down by the persistence of the flight lieutenant, he agreed to let us in – with conditions.  The conditions were that we had to surrender our passports to him, and that the flight lieutenant would have to monitor our movements closely.

The latter condition was a boon to us because we now had a taxi (a Land Rover) and driver all to ourselves.  The flight lieutenant would take us to and from the airport and the hotel, and wherever else we needed to go.  I don’t think we abused this arrangement.

Our Hunter needed to be fixed as soon as possible.  It turned out that the problem was electrical but further than that I have no recollection.  I was greatly impressed to find that locally, on that airfield, was a comprehensive inventory of RAF ground support equipment, which was kept in good working order.  It appears that BOAC had some sort of contract to do this, and in our case they did it well.  The local manager was a chap called Sharif Ascari, and nothing was too much trouble for him.  We had to use jacks, a hydraulic rig and a Houchin power set.  He delivered these to us and they all worked perfectly.  We did the necessary tests and reported the serviceability of the aircraft.

Of course the aircraft couldn’t be flown out yet; it didn’t have any drop tanks.  As BOAC didn’t have any they would have to be brought in.

Now Sqn Ldr Mercer was supposed to have a good relationship with 43 Squadron at Nicosia.  Personally I have my doubts about that because of the zapping that went on between us.  But nonetheless they agreed (or maybe they were told) to send down two of their Hunter FGA9s to help us out.  The nice thing about the FGA9 was that they had good, strong wings which could carry 230 gallon drop tanks on the inboard pylons whereas ours couldn’t.  The idea was that the three of us could remove the four 100 gallon tanks from the outboard pylons of these two aircraft, and hang them on our Mark 6.  Then the three aircraft could fly back to Nicosia together, presumably staging through Diyarbakir.

So we had a period of leisure waiting for the FGA9s – and our pilot.  The pilot who had brought the aircraft in (I’ve no idea who it was) being a valuable resource, had cleared off soon after he’d landed.

Because of the visa/passport problem we spent most of our time around the hotel.  At that time the Shah was still running the country.  There was no sign of Islamicism, so far as we could see.  Alcohol was freely available at the hotel, indeed we had been advised to bring a few bottles with us to hand over behind the bar, and these were gratefully received.  Evenings were usually spent in a separate bar, in the garden next to the hotel.  The bar was populated by pleasant young ladies whose English was limited to “You drinka whisky me?”  Needless to say we did drinka whisky them and we got on fine.  We did understand that they regarded their Shah with affection as well as respect.

I remember particularly three other people who visited the bar: the first was on our first visit, before the Hunter went sick.  She was a British lady who was teaching at a school in Teheran.  She was the widow of an RAF pilot who had been killed in a flying accident, had heard that 92 was in town and felt compelled to seek us out.  It turned out that she had grown up next door to someone I worked with at Sylt, a few years before.  It’s a small world.

The next person was an obnoxious oil man, an American, who sat next to us.  He had a loud voice which he used constantly.  He too drinka whisky her, but it was obvious that he wasn’t just interested in her company.  He was steadily getting plastered whereas the young lady remained demure and composed.  Eventually, he reached across and tasted her drink.  “This is not whisky!” he shouted, stilling the bar chatter.  “Here, taste this” he said, thrusting the glass at me.  “What do you think?”  I knew very well what it was, but made a great play of sniffing it, swirling round the glass and sipping it.  “Aha,” I said, “You’re obviously used to Bourbon.  This, I would say, is a fine single malt, a true Scotch.  You ought to try it sometime.”  That fettled him.

The third person was the pilot who came to fly our aircraft out.  He was Flight Lieutenant Bill Stoker.  I thought it was very decent of him to come to see us, especially as he was staying in a different hotel some distance away.  We were glad to see him in that respect, but not in another: the girls gave all their attention to him, ignoring us totally.  Very unprofessional of them, I would say.

The following day, the FGA9s arrived.  We did our bit with the tanks, serviced the aircraft and saw them off.  All we had to do then was to get back home.

Easier said than done.  Our guardian told us that the ministry would not fund our return by civil airline; we would literally have to hitch-hike, which we tried to do.  It was about four days later that a Hastings aircraft landed.  It was on a routine circuit, delivering diplomatic mail to embassies throughout the Middle-East.  The captain agreed to take us back to his base, Northolt.  So far, so good.  Oh yes, we mustn’t forget our passports!

Our flight lieutenant taxi driver took us to the important person to get the necessary documents, only to be faced with another angry confrontation.  Apparently the official had expected us to obtain valid visas during the time that we were in Teheran.  As we had not got the visas, we were to stay until we did get them!  He refused to hand over the passports.  There cannot be many instances where you have to have a visa to leave a country, surely?

The flight lieutenant must have been well trained, as he won in the end.  We got our passports and thanked the fellow.  I remember thinking then that British civil servants, thankfully, tempered the rule book with common sense.  Perhaps the Iranians were years ahead of us.

At the appointed hour we presented ourselves at the Hastings, bade goodbye and thanks to the flight lieutenant, and climbed aboard.  The door was closed, the engines were started, and then stopped again.  The captain told us that we were too close to other aircraft for safe taxying, and that we’d have to get out and push the aircraft back ten yards or so.  Easier said than done; the stairs had been removed and the marshalling crew had disappeared.  It’s quite a height from the ground to the door but we managed it, both down and up again.  Then we were off.

We didn’t go all the way with the Hastings.  There were passengers of higher priority came aboard at Nicosia, and we were “bumped”.  After a few days we managed to get on a trooping flight on a Monarch Airlines Britannia - this time somebody else was bumped, (it’s a cruel world) – which took us to Stansted.  Then it was railway and bus back to Leconfield.  The rest of the guys had got back weeks before.



AIRCENT FIVE

It was early in the New Year of 1962, and Sqn Ldr Mercer realised that before the year's end he would have to give up his job as boss of 92 Squadron.  Instead, he would - he believed - be in a desk job in some headquarters.  It was a prospect he did not look upon with enthusiasm.

Many people would have reckoned that Brian Mercer was a very lucky man to be in charge of one of the best squadrons in Fighter Command, for however short a period.  The chance to command a Hunter Squadron was beyond the hope of most other, equally talented, officers in the Air Force.  Even at that stage of the RAF's history, contraction was taking place.  Fighter Command was reduced to only 14 front-line fighter squadrons.  Second TAF in Germany had six more, and there were another five scattered around the Middle and Far East.  Certainly not enough squadrons to satisfy the ambitions of all those potential squadron commanders.  So Brian Mercer had to move on and let someone else have a chance.

One thing was clear to Brian Mercer, however.  He had only one more year to make his mark.  The previous year it was perhaps fortunate that his promotion and posting to 92 coincided with the decision to make that squadron the RAF's official aerobatic team for 1961.  On the other hand, there may have been some plan at work, as Brian's previous job had been a flight commander of 111 Squadron.  111 Squadron, you may recall, was for many years until 1960, the celebrated Black Arrows, accepted by most as the finest aerobatic team in the world.  It was decreed that in 1961, 111 would re-equip with the new Mach 2 Lightning.  Consequently it would be too busy to satisfy any commitment to aerobatic displays.  That was Brian Mercer's good fortune.

His experience on 111 was put to good use on 92 during 1961.  Most of the 21 aircraft (some of them being transferred from 111) were painted by Marshall of Cambridge in royal blue overall with a thin white line running fore-and-aft either side of the fuselage.  The sides of the nose were adorned with the squadron badge - a cobra twined about a brace of maple leaves - bracketed by two red and yellow chequered bars - the squadron’s colours.  With these distinctive aircraft the RAF's name had been taken far and wide during the year, culminating in a grand celebration at Mehrabad airport near Teheran.  Squadron Leader Mercer had not been content to repeat the display sequences evolved during 111's years, but had introduced some of his own.  These had been well received by the crowds, and at the close of the season he had good reason to be satisfied with his achievements.

But at the beginning of 1962, Squadron Leader Mercer was anything but satisfied.  There was no chance that 92 would bear the mantle of aerobatic display team for another year.  Not that anyone was dissatisfied, you understand, but it had been accepted by everyone that 74 Squadron would inherit that job.  By the spring of 1962, 74 would have become proficient in operating its new Lightnings and no insuperable difficulties were expected in coping with the intense logistic and maintenance problems that are inevitable with an aerobatics squadron.

For 92 Squadron, though, it was going to be dull, run-of-the-mill squadron life.  A life of five day weeks interspersed with the odd major exercise and an occasional week-end's work, but mainly just routine training:  Cross-country navigation, one-to-one combat exercises, occasional night flying, gunnery training over North Sea ranges, and the other stuff that keeps a fighter pilot at the top of his performance.

Mercer was no fool.  He realised that despite the good work he had done already, he still had the wherewithal to do more.  But only until the end of the year.  There was little chance of him making a mark while driving a desk at HQ Paperwork Command.  It was now or not at all.

His resources were impressive:

1 His aircrew.  There were probably no finer pilots anywhere.  Fit, confident and skilled in handling their aircraft.

2 His groundcrew.  Expert Hunter men, resourceful and used to working long hours in rough conditions.

3 His aircraft.  Attractive, distinctive Hunter Mk 6s.  Four 30mm Aden cannon.  In tip-top condition, particularly in precision of the flying controls (they had to be, for the close formation flying of the class of the Blue Diamonds).

4 His ambition.  And the determination which stemmed from it.

5 His management skills.  Proven.

These would have to be sufficient in the twelve months left to him.

The opportunity presented itself:  In each of the previous four years, Allied Air Forces Central Europe (AAFCENT) had run an air firing competition between its constituent air force fighter arms.  All four competitions had taken place in France, and on each occasion the winners had been the Royal Canadian Air Force.  Other competitors were from Belgium, Norway, Denmark, West Germany, the Netherlands and France.  The Royal Air Force had submitted two teams for the first three years - one representing Fighter Command and the other Royal Air Force Germany (The British could do that sort of thing in those days!).  In 1961, the RAF had declined to attend.  As usual, a competition would be arranged for 1962, this time to be hosted by RNeth AF Leeuwarden, in Holland.  This was the opportunity that Brian Mercer grasped.

It didn't come to him on a plate.  It seemed that the RAF's powers-that-be had not considered entering the 1962 competition.  So Mercer pre-empted them by volunteering 92 Squadron for the task - to be carried out in addition to their normal duties.

The Brass's response was not entirely to Mercer's satisfaction:  The offer of the squadron's aircraft and groundcrew was accepted with alacrity, but to be fair, and so that the team would be seen to represent the whole of the RAF, the pilots would be the pick of all the fighter squadrons of Fighter Command and RAF Germany.  If 92 Squadron's pilots wanted to be among that select bunch, they would have to prove themselves.  In a couple of months' time there would be a shoot-out to pick out the best.  To press the message home, the shoot-out would be held at Leconfield, using 92's aircraft and groundcrew.

To Mercer, this was not even a draw, let alone a victory.  The prospect of the team being led by anyone else but Brian Mercer was totally unacceptable.  When he received the decision he called his Engineering Officer, officers of the station support organisation and his groundcrew chiefs and told them of the development, and of what would be required of them.  Before the AIRCENT competition there would be a period of intensive air-to-air gun firing practice for the chosen pilots.  Mercer was determined that 92 Squadron pilots would be the chosen ones, and to ensure that they were going to be the best, he instituted forthwith a private, 92 Squadron only, air-firing programme.

In February, the rules of the competition were received:  Each team was to nominate six pilots, six aircraft and a small groundcrew team.  During the competition only five pilots could enter their cockpits and start engines.  Only four pilots could take off.  These concessions gave some latitude for last-minute unserviceabilities.  The target would be a standard air-to-air 'flag'- a fabric sheet twenty feet long and five feet wide, weighted so that it would present a target in the vertical plane when towed behind an aircraft.  Two aircraft from the same team would be allowed two attacks each on one flag - no ‘dummy runs’.  A maximum of one hundred rounds of ammunition could be carried by each aircraft.  During each attack firing would be permitted at ranges between 300 yards and 100 yards.  Any firing outside those ranges would result in disqualification of that shoot, with no appeal.  Fair play would be monitored by flying umpires and optical assessment of gunsight recorder film. A ground umpire from an opposing team would monitor the application of the rules on the ground.  Scoring of the flags would be an the basis of the number of complete holes in the flag.  Hits on the edge would not be counted and holes longer than a certain size would also be ignored.

For the RAF team these rules meant that two out of the four 30mm Aden guns would be used, with fifty rounds each.  To distinguish the hits from one aircraft's guns from those of its team-mate, the projectile noses would be dipped in a special paint a few days before the shoot.  This would allow the paint to dry but not be too hard, so as to leave a trace on the fabric when the projectile passed through.  Only two attacks with firing to take place only between 300 and 100 yards posed a dilemma for the pilots.  The rate of fire of the guns (20 rounds per second each) combined with a reasonable attack speed gave a very small margin between on the one hand disqualification for out-of-range firing, and on the other ceasing fire before all the rounds were fired.  Needless to say, aircraft and guns had to be on top form for the duration of the contest.  There would be little opportunity to catch up from a lost shoot.

A little way into the New Year, Leconfield’s Station Flight was supplemented by a couple of Meteor T7 target tugs.  These were to tow the flags to a range over the North Sea, then, after the shoot would return to drop the flags on the airfield before landing to repeat the process.  A ground party would pick up the flag and carry it on a trailer to the hangar for assessment.

For most people, the first sight of a shot-at flag is a disappointment.  On most squadrons, the sight of half-a-dozen holes is grounds for congratulation.  The object of practice is first of all to hit the flag, and then to improve on these meagre numbers.  92 Squadron was to improve on them in an impressive way.

With the arrival of the Meteors, practice got under way in earnest.  From early morning until teatime (sometime between five and six o'clock) between two and four Hunters would do continuous sorties 'on the flag'.  The rest of the squadron would carry on with 'business as usual'.  To those unfamiliar with the Hunter, its gun installation is unusual in that all four guns and the associated ammunition is contained in a removable pack situated between the cockpit and the engine.  The object of this is to speed up rearming:  a spare pack can be filled and the guns cocked in the armoury before being wheeled out to the flight line to await the arrival of the aircraft with its expended pack.  It is then a few moments work to swap packs, whereupon once refuelled and checked over, the aircraft can return to the fray.  A practised and confident Hunter rearm team can button-up an aircraft in a little over two minutes after it hits the chock.  This is a lot less time than it takes to refuel it.

For five months the squadron and station armourers worked on the rearming from Monday to Friday, then spent the weekend servicing the guns and packs, and harmonising them ready for the following Monday.

During this time, the problem of firing off all the rounds before disqualification started to assert itself.  There was little that could be done to increase the rate of fire of the guns (this was being addressed, however) so minds were brought to bear on a means of indicating to the pilot that the limits of his firing window were approaching.  One end of the window was already in place.  Two small lamps on the right of the pilot's gyro gunsight display could be set to light when the radar detected break-off range, i.e. when the attacking aircraft was getting too close to the target.  This distance could be preset.  What was now needed was some device to indicate the 300 yard open-fire range.  A junior technician (Les Crinson) solved that one.  A single wire routed from one of the radar ranging black boxes to intercept the pilots tele-mic (radio) lead ensured that a loud buzz was heard at the required time.

Meanwhile the 92 Squadron pilots were gradually improving their confidence and their scores.  The armourers, getting to know their guns' personalities were cutting down the stoppage rate and to a small extent increasing the fire rate.  It had been long known that an Aden gun is happy to fire with no return springs fitted - for a while.  A well set-up machine gun is a harmony of moving parts, with organised transfers of energy taking place between them at appropriate intervals, the aim being to achieve a balancing of the forces to minimise wear and damage.  The Aden gun return springs are needed to load the ammunition, but during firing, cam action between the reciprocating and rotating parts is enough to pull in the belt, de-link and ram home the rounds and return the slides and cylinder to the firing position.  Leconfield's armourers, under the tutelage of Chief Technician ‘Jock’ Ettles tuned their guns.  By identifying the return springs, then by listening to pilots' reports and counting the unfired rounds from each gun were able first of all to determine the performance of each gun, then by swapping springs they were able to see the particular effects of each spring.  It was found thus that their guns could be 'tuned' quite accurately.

Jock Ettles hadn't exhausted his ideas yet.  There is a concept in aircraft armament called harmonisation.  An infantryman peers along the barrel of his rifle, aligning the backsight with the foresight, and if the sights are correctly set for the distance to the target, crosswind and weapon characteristics, he should hit the target.  With an aircraft the 'weapon characteristics' are much more complicated.  For a start, a pilot cannot look along the barrel.  His line of sight can be several feet away from his guns.  Each gun can point in a slightly different direction.  The object of aircraft harmonisation is to select a point in front of the aircraft, and then adjust the guns and the gunsight, and the gun camera (if one is fitted), so that when in flight, the guns' projectiles will arrive at the point the gunsight is indicating to the pilot.  There is always a degree of compromise to harmonisation.  The gravity drop of the projectiles increases with range; there is bound to be a divergence of the projectile path with distance; there are questions as to whether it is better to get all the projectiles in a small area in order to improve the chances of delivering massive damage, or to increase the spread to better the chances of a hit in the 'quick-squirt' situation.  Usually these factors are taken care of by an official decision, and are not left to the whim of individual pilots.  Within Fighter Command the official decision was specified in Engineering Staff Instructions.  For the Hunter in 1962 that instruction was Hunter Harmonisation Diagram Issue 7.  Jock Ettles considered that whereas Issue 7 might be OK for squadron pilots engaging in combat, it was totally unsuitable for the AIRCENT Air Firing Competition.  He determined to make a diagram which was suitable.

Jock had a chance to explore his idea when he was given the opportunity to set up the six chosen aircraft.  The 1000-foot stop butts at Boscombe Down were made available to him for a firing-in session on the ground.  The purpose of this was to find the best combinations of gun and pack to fit each of the six aircraft.  It may seem to the observer that with the interchangeability of guns and packs between aircraft, one should be as good as any other.  In general, it was, but there were subtle differences which might have meant the difference between success and failure in a competition.  There were some top brass who were now taking an interest, and such facilities were made available, so they were used.

At the stop butts a huge hessian target was erected, divided into squares.  At the firing point the aircraft- flown down by the squadron weapons officer Flight Lieutenant Channing Biss for the occasion - was jacked up and secured to ground picketing-rings.  Ammunition belts were prepared with dummy rounds interposed at intervals among the live ones, notably the first round was live, the second was dummy, the next two live, another dummy and so on.  The purpose of the dummy was to stop the gun at the appropriate interval.  The live rounds were colour tipped, those for the Port gun being a different colour to the Starboard.  When all was ready the first rounds was fired from both inner guns.  A long pause ensued while the target was examined to compare the sighting points with the actual points of impact.  When all was recorded, the guns were cocked once to eject the dummy rounds and another burst was fired.  And so it went on.

The noise of the firing attracted the attention of one of the Boscombe Down armament officers (Sqn Ldr Watson) who inquired of the purpose of the activity.  Jock explained his quest for a more appropriate harmonisation diagram. The officer was astonished.  There was no need for such nonsense, he assured Jock, everything about the Hunter and its guns was known in total detail - all that was required was to study the files at Boscombe Down.  Jock ignored this wisdom and carried on until all the packs were fired, then the team packed up and returned to Leconfield to examine the data.  Jock made several phone calls.

A week later the team returned to Boscombe Down and the butts.  The same afternoon a Hunter flew in and was jacked up.  A few bursts were fired in.  When Jock examined the target he asked "What colours are in the guns?"  "Red in Port, Green in Starboard", came the reply.  "Are you sure?" "Positive".  “OK, then.  We'll pack up and go home."

What Jock had discovered was a characteristic of the Aden gun that would seem not to have been understood by the experts who formulated FCESI Harmonisation Diagram Issue 7.

With this newly discovered secret, Jock requested permission to modify the harmonisation diagram for the competition aircraft.  After some misgivings, Headquarters' response was favourable

A couple of days later a group of anxious armourers watched a Hunter taxy out and take off.  Within the hour it returned.  Shortly afterwards the Meteor arrived with the flag.  As the flag was unrolled on the hangar floor, the group watched with growing astonishment as the holes were revealed.  There were seventy-six of them!

The game was on.

The constant practice undertaken by 92’s pilots paid off.  When the intra-RAF shoot-out was over, the chosen RAF team included three pilots from 92 Squadron, In the lead was Sqn Ldr Mercer, with Flt Lts Don Oakden and Tony Aldridge.  The other members of the team were Flt Lt Piet van Wyk from 19 Squadron and two from RAF Germany, Flt Lt Pete Highton and Fg Off Walker.

The groundcrew were flown by Transport Command aircraft to Leeuwarden, and after putting the Hunters ‘to bed’, were taken by coach to their billets.  As the coach passed beside one of the hangars, one of the armourers noticed a target flag secured to the hangar wall.  Nudging his companion, he asked the reason for it being there.  “Look at the sign”, said his oppo, “It’s last year’s top flag”.  “How do you mean, top flag”, said the first, not wanting to believe what he was hearing.  “I can’t see any holes in it”.  A Canadian in the seat in front swung round and glared at him.  In truth the poor armourer had only seen holes made by the 30 millimetre projectiles, and never the much smaller ‘point five’ bullets fired by the Canadian Sabres.  But it was the Canadian who was going to learn a lesson.


The Aircent 5 Team with two of their Hunter 6s

Over the next couple of days, while the pilots got accustomed to the local geography and procedures, the groundcrew busied themselves preparing the equipment, unboxing and tipping sufficient ammunition for the first few days of the competition, and preparing the flags.  Jock Ettles decided there would be sufficient time between shoots to permit some of the guns’ springs to be replaced, and for a quick check-harmonisation to be done.  The gun-pack harmonisation board had been brought, as had a couple of the associated ‘shufti-scopes’ (optical gun-alignment gauges).  Jock had been careful to brief all the armourers on his new, unofficial, harmonisation diagram, by process of marking the new aiming points using chalk.  When Jock was satisfied all his men could remember where the chalk marks were in relationship with the permanent marks, he rubbed them out!  Provided no-one blabbed, his secret would be safe.

During the competition, a ‘ground umpire’ from an opposing team was appointed to see that fair play was observed: for example, to see that no extra rounds were loaded.  The umpire allocated to the RAF team was a Belgian armament officer, Captain ‘Eddie’ Brocken.  Eddie was known to some of the RAF armourers as he had spent a number of years at the RAF Armament Practice Station at Sylt, in Northern Germany.  He was totally familiar with the Hunter and RAF armament procedures.  Little would pass his notice.

Suddenly, it was time for the first ‘live’ sorties.  The guns were loaded, pilots strapped in.  Groundcrew smart in white overalls (Sqn Ldr Mercer insisted on ‘bull’ whenever the public or foreign forces were watching) and the Line-Chief (Sergeant Tom Barron) with his ‘conducting batons’.  As one, the engines on five Hunters started up.  The groundcrew were too busy to feel self-conscious, but they were well aware that many eyes were upon them.  Several of the opposing teams had not been convinced that 92’s blue Hunters had not been specially painted for the occasion.  Five Hunters taxied out, with the ‘Boss’ in the lead, and in a few minutes, a blast of noise signalled the take-off roll, followed by the sight of four aircraft with undercarriage retracting, already tucking into tight formation for the trip out to the range over the North Sea.  Two RNethAF Hunter T7’s had already departed, each towing a flag, and accompanied by a third T7 manned by the flying umpires.  A lonely Hunter returned from the end of the runway, not needed on this occasion.

Soon, the groundcrew looked up to the familiar sight of the returning fighters as they peeled off for the landing.  While they taxied round from the runway to the servicing area, the ‘tugs’ and umpires returned, flying in arrowhead formation with the umpires to the fore.  Simultaneously, the flags were released from both tugs, to flutter gracefully to the ground.  92 weren’t the only ones who liked to put on a show.

All were busy as the aircraft taxied into place.  First thing to be attended to was the making safe of the guns, with the pilots holding their hands aloft while the armourers unplugged the electric cables from the packs.  To his surprise, the armourer attending to Flt Lt Aldridge’s aircraft found that all his ammunition was expended.  “Cutting it a bit fine”, he thought, aware of the fine line between ‘all-fired’ and disqualification.  “Guns clear”, he shouted above the moan of the engine as it spooled down.  “Of course”, replied Aldridge, who cut it equally as fine for the rest of the competition.

But it wasn’t Aldridge that was disqualified, it was “The Boss”, on his very first shoot!  Somehow, analysis of the gunsight recorder film had shown that he had opened fire too soon.  He was furious, of course, but he decided that he had been so keyed up that the normal reflex-time between hearing Les Crinson’s buzz and him opening fire had been halved.  Luckily, only that shoot had been disqualified, and he could continue the competition.  The marks lost could never be recovered, however, and the team now had a built-in handicap.  Sqn Ldr Mercer calmly told Les Crinson to “wind his gadget in a bit”.

Of course, the other teams were having their own dramas, and the air was thick with the noise of arriving and departing aircraft.  Those that could spare the time would wander over to the marking bay, where the flags were hung up and the holes counted.  Had a certain Canadian airman paused to look at an RAF flag, he would have been in awe at the effect of the 30mm projectiles on the target.

Within the day, anyone looking upwards would have seen a strange development in the tug/umpire flag ceremony.  Whenever the RAF flags were returning, instead of being in arrowhead formation, the two tugs would be in line abreast as usual, but the umpires’ aircraft would be far behind - between the flags, in fact.  The umpires were previewing the scores, and the enormous holes were allowing them to do so.  On one occasion, the Master of Ceremonies apologised over the PA system for the late arrival of the RAF flags as they were “...so heavy with holes.”

And certainly to some degree the pilots’ success acted against them.  There were no more disqualifications, but such were the numbers of holes in the flags that many did not return.  Pitiful tatters of material attached to the spreader bar bore witness to the fact that the most successful flags were lying at the bottom of the North Sea.  More flags had to be prepared for reshoots, which in these circumstances were allowed.  That unseen hero Junior Technician Sargent, who of necessity worked far from the rest of the team, worked miracles in preparing new flags.  The armourers, too, sweated as they unpacked and tipped more ammunition, and serviced and loaded the packs.  In the meantime, Eddie Brocken, no doubt under pressure from other teams, paced around the team area, his eyes darting here and there.  He was observed closely examining the harmonisation board, and there was little doubt that he had suspicions, but the armourers were careful to keep their shuftiscopes away from his prying eyes.

For what it was worth, the RAF had already gained the “top flag” with 114 allowable hits out of two hundred rounds fired against it.  The moral victory had already been gained, but the record book still had to be satisfied.  The Canadians had completed their quota of flags, but the RAF team still had one remaining.  As that final flag was carried to the marking bay, everyone without exception ran to see it.  As it was hung into place, all could see that the marking was a formality.  The flag was still in one piece, but only just.  There were masses of holes in it, and without waiting further, Eddie Brocken broke out a box of huge cigars and handed them round to the RAF groundcrew.  Any protesting that he didn’t smoke was silenced by the cigar that was rammed between his teeth.

Inevitably, the Canadians came second, and the Belgians took third place with their Hunters.  Capt. Brocken was curious to know what the differences were between the RAF and Belgian teams which might account for the disparity.  He invited Jock Ettles and his armourers over to the Belgians’ area for a chat, and confirmed that the Belgians were using (in his belief) the same harmonisation diagram as the RAF team.  Jock was asked to check the harmonisation of one of the Belgian gun-packs, and was delighted to discover that the shufti-scope the Belgians were using was out of adjustment, the cross-hairs being out of concentricity with the barrel mandrel.  After showing the Belgians how to correct this anomaly there were handshakes all round and the RAF men returned to their area with broad smiles on their faces.  No doubt the Belgians now believed it was all down to the superior skills of the RAF pilots and groundcrew.  Which of course it was.

The prizegiving was performed by HRH Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.  Also attending was Air Marshal The Earl of Bandon, RAF., who earned the devotion of the RAF team when he arrived to review them.  As his car was driven to the front of the assembled ranks, he jumped out and with his arms outstretched in greeting - no formal salute from him - he cried “BLOODY good show fellers!”

On their return to the UK, the team carried with them the Guynemer Trophy.  Each member had also been given a small plaque to commemorate the event.  Squadron Leader Brian Mercer also brought with him the satisfaction that once again, his not inconsiderable efforts had been crowned with success.

A little while later a letter arrived for Sqn Ldr Mercer.  It was from Sir Sidney Camm, the chief designer of the Hunter.  In it he thanked Mercer for showing the world in a conclusive manner the high quality of the aircraft and its armament installation, particularly in view of the severe problems experienced in the early years of the Hunter’s life.

 

 

 


F/O Winegarden RCAF being presented with his prize for top scorer by HRH Prince Bernhard.  The Guynemer trophy is seen at left, and Air Marshal The Earl of Bandon is seen in KD behind the Prince.

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