Chapter 17 Appendix
On 10 November 1976 I took Corporal Rob Wharton of the RAF Police for a flight in the T4 “T” XM 995 and 37 years later he has kindly repaid me by writing this article. I’ll print it exactly as he has written it but if any Lightning pilots read this we didn’t actually do a “touch and go” it was a very low overshoot. We only got a few landings out of a set of tyres and the RAF didn’t like us to waste money by doing “touch and goes”.
THE COBRA AND THE SNOWDROP.
Rob Wharton ex R.A.F Gütersloh Police Flight 1973 – 76.
I arrived at R.A.F Gütersloh in November 1973, having been posted to the Station Police Flight. I had previously been stationed at R.A.F Binbrook with 5 and 11 Squadrons, and had more recently completed an emergency tour at R.A.F Salalah in The Sultanate of Oman. Upon my return from the crack and thump of Salalah, and still being a bit bomb and bullet happy, I had just about done all my washing when my orders came thorough to prepare to leave for Germany.
Upon my arrival at Gütersloh, I soon made myself quite a reputation, but sadly not a good one, for booking anything that moved. The Squadron “Lineys”, soon nicknamed me “Billy the Kid” and I was reliably informed that they were laying bets as to who would lay me out the quickest. Fortunately this never happened, but it has to be said, if the Station had had a list of the most popular people at B.F.P.O 47 I would definitely have not been on it.
I had developed a love of flying as soon as the ink on my I.D card had dried, and made every effort to scrounge “Jollies” on every station I spent time on. Consequently I had flown in a Chipmunk, a Jet Provost, I had more trips with 18 Squadron in their Wessex than I could have reasonably expected, and had done both “Wet” and “Dry” winching as a “Survivor” with the Air Sea Rescue Whirlwind at R.A.F Leconfield. The “Wet” bit was a bit more uncomfortable than the “Dry” as it involved being launched into the North Sea just off the coast at Bridlington, clad in an immersion suit clutching an aircrew dingy then waiting until the Helicopter circled around, then being winched back up, “on the strap”.
It was always best to attempt to hold onto the dingy in some way; otherwise the downwash from the main rotors always blew it topside over apex, and if there was any kind of swell, turning the thing over then mounting it could prove rather arduous.
We did this a few times then did a low level run along the beach waving at the kids whilst we were sat in the open doorway. I always found this bit quite emotional because during my childhood, my family and I took our holidays in Bridlington, so years ago I was the kid on the beach waving at the guy in the Helicopter, who I was convinced, was just waving back at me!
I had always wanted a Lightning trip more than I could explain; the sight of them at anytime only served to deepen that desire. I had “flown” the Lightning simulator at Binbrook a few times, albeit only on instruments, and with one of the Simulator staff talking me through it. One occasion was better than the rest because the guy, who was talking me through the final approach and landing, announced that I had managed to land on all three legs and was still shiny side up. Success thinks I, he then he blew my illusion completely by announcing that as I was two miles short of the threshold and parked in some farmer’s field perhaps I wasn’t destined for an aircrew commission after all!! Still it was very enjoyable nevertheless.
But deep down inside I still craved the real thing. I spent hour after hour trawling the Squadrons, so much so in fact, I do believe there were times when some people actually thought I must have remustered to a ground trade.
Towards the end of my tour, it looked as though my dream would remain unfulfilled, after all by this time I had spent most of my time based on stations which flew Lightning’s, and was not far short of completing five years service. But, as the saying goes, “Everything comes to he who waits”.
I had just completed a night shift and was fast asleep in my pit, when all hell broke loose and someone is giving my room door the fast, loud and furious. I dragged myself out of my chariot and opened the door.
“You the Snowdrop who has his name down for a jolly in the T bird??” asks the bloke at the door.
“Yes, I sure am” I stammered, not sure if I was dreaming or not.
“Could I please invite you to get dressed and present yourself at the Squadron dispersal, suitably attired, in the shortest possible time, as today you are to experience the pleasure of a trip in the finest aircraft in the R.A.F.?” he said.
Well, he didn’t actually use those words, but I’m sure he would have on other occasions. What he actually said used words not allowed in this book. Words which are bad and which we must ensure our wives and children do not hear. He used words which referred to me hauling the part of my body normally used to sit on, prefixed with a word normally used to describe the act of copulation, down to the Squadron lines, as soon as ,(the naughty copulation word again!) possible.
Not the Queens English I grant you, but concise, precise and straight to the point nevertheless. I still have a vague recollection, whether or not it’s true, of actually running and overtaking this bloke who was on his way back to the dispersal, whilst I was still putting my shirt on!!
Arriving breathless at the appointed place, I was quickly fitted up with a full set of flying kit including a “bonedome”. I was also given a small brown bag, and told to put it in my flying suit pocket. When I asked what it was for, all I was told was to keep it handy as it was a racing certainty I would need it. I did as I was told and followed the Sergeant Armourer out to the aircraft, on the way out; he explained he was going to strap me in. He told me that I must not touch anything, actually he said “Keep your, (copulation word) hands to your, (copulation word) self”, and don’t touch (copulation word again!)) all,” by now I’m beginning to convince myself this word is actually an aeronautical term and is not the normal swear word I had believed it to be and which is widely used by the rest of us!!
Before I climbed up to the cockpit he explained that there were various handles and bits and pieces within the cockpit which were marked yellow and black, he explained in great detail that if I touched, pulled or twisted any of these items, bad things would happen to me and if I survived I would find myself in trouble of the deepest kind. Although I seem to remember the word trouble was replaced with a word normally used to describe the bodily function which takes place when one makes a sit down visit to the toilet. Nevertheless, I got the message.
As I sat down the Sergeant Armourer began strapping me in, by the time he finished I literally could not move. I could just about raise my head enough to see out of the windscreen. My mentor then explained I must keep my (copulation word) hands on my (copulation word) knees, and only move them when instructed to do so by the pilot. He also explained that at any time during the sortie I heard the pilot say “Eject eject” I was to reach above my head for the ejector seat handle, sit as upright as I could and pull. Alternatively I could reach between my knees and pull the handle situated there.
As there was no way on earth I could get my arms higher than my shoulders the seat pan handle would have to by my only option. He leaned in quite closely then and said rather malevolently, “Just remember son, if the jockey says eject eject, and you turn and say, I beg your pardon, you’ll be talking to your (copulation word) self!!
By the time Flt Lt Simon Morris, who was to fly the aircraft, climbed in I wasn’t quite sure if I needed, a sit down visit to the toilet, shave or a haircut. (Sorry folks, that’s the most graphic description I am allowed to use!!)He explained what we were tasked to do and when his explanation was received by a blank stare, and obviously thinking he was dealing with an idiot he very patiently re-explained it in more basic terms. We were to take off, fly tactically to a point where we would “bounce “an enemy aircraft, in this case a Northrop F5,”shoot him down” by taking pictures with the on board camera, and fly back to Gütersloh. Simple as that No problem there then!!
Simon started the engines and began to taxi out to the runway, I’m sure he was describing everything to me in order to ensure that I would get the most out of this once in a lifetime experience, but nothing was registering with me.I was completely overawed. My eyes were going round like the proverbial racing dogs testicles, and were bigger than the Squadron cat’s saucer, and I was just in a daze.
We reached the threshold and lined up on the centre line, we received permission to take off and when Simon pushed the throttles fully forward, the effect was indescribable. The brakes were fully on as the engines increased in power, the effect of the engines straining against the brakes was astounding. Astounding, yes, but nowhere near as astounding as what happened when he released the brakes.
The aircraft actually seemed to leap forward, the acceleration would have taken my breath away, but that had been severely restricted already by the strapping in procedure! I could not begin to believe what was happening, I was pushed back into my seat by the most powerful force I could have imagined, and before I realized it we became airborne and were screaming into the sky.
I couldn’t take my eyes off what was happening both inside the cockpit and outside but such was my excitement nothing was registering with me, I was excited, elated, confused, and frightened all at the same time. We hurtled away from the ground, and Simon began to guide us towards our interception.
Now when you watch films of Fighter pilots, such as Top Gun it all seems remarkably civilised, aircraft blasting through clear blue skies, accompanied by loud thumping pop music, pilots throwing the aircraft all over and it all seems so natural. I was about to find out that in reality this is not so.
As we were flying tactically, Simon was jinking the aircraft through various manoeuvres; well to be honest he was throwing it about the sky like they had just had a row, and he was punishing it for misbehaving. Port, Starboard, up down then doing it all again. But he was doing it like the aircraft had to be taught a lesson, and a severe one at that. As we hurtled through the low cloud, the fried breakfast I had consumed prior to going to bed seemed to have been a very poor idea. Suddenly, I became very warm, the smell of the oxygen mask became stronger and more pungent, and it was then I realised what the little bag was for. What was even more disturbing was firstly I couldn’t remember what pocket I had put it in, and secondly I wasn’t sure I could reach it!
Thankfully the bag was located, the mask was removed and the bag used for the purpose for which it was intended, just in time. I’ll spare you the details as I’m sure I wasn’t the first, and even more certain that I won’t be the last, so no further explanations are needed, but thank goodness I had kept it.
Suddenly Simon said, “Quick look up, there he is”, I did as instructed and was treated to the sight of the twin tail exhausts of out target aircraft directly in front and above us, no sooner had I seen them but Simon put on a full and severe right hand turn as we “shot’ him with the camera and turned away. To say we seemed close, would be an understatement but that’s how it appeared, I know nothing about air to air tactics and taking into account the state I was in, I was convinced we were so close I could have hit the F5 with a 9mm pistol.
Having completed the mission, Simon very kindly began to demonstrate what the aircraft could do. Firstly he brought us straight and level, and explained the acceleration attributes of this fantastic aircraft, and then he showed me.
He told me to keep my eyes on the Air speed indicator (A.S.I) and pushed the throttles wide open, this time the kick in the back was even more powerful than the takeoff. The A.S.I increased at what can only be described as an alarming rate 250kts indicated, to 600kts indicated in about as much time as it takes to tell you, perhaps even faster. Absolutely fantastic.
Simon then asked me if I would like to fly the aircraft, well I have to admit that at this time, feeling very ill, confused and disorientated, and clutching my “barf bag” in my hot sweaty little hand, I thought that it was probably not such a good idea, and politely declined. Simon had other ideas, “Corporal Wharton, get your (copulation word) hands and feet on the (copulation word) controls and do as I say.”
I duly obliged and found myself in control albeit under close supervision, thank goodness, of the most powerful and frightening piece of machinery God ever created. My memories blur with time at this stage, but having experienced my “clutch “time, I handed control back to Simon and concentrated on enjoying the rest of the ride.
We recovered back to Gütersloh, and as we had spare fuel, we received permission to complete a “touch and go”, we approached the runway, Simon acknowledged three greens, and brought the aircraft in to land. No sooner had the main undercarriage touched the runway closely followed by the nose wheel, than Simon pushed the throttles forward and we were off again. Once again, the force of the aircraft accelerating to take off speed took away what little breath I had and pinned me back in the Martin Baker seat. We then completed one circuit of the airfield and came into land. As we taxied in, I realised that whatever happened to me in the future, I would never experience anything like the previous forty minutes ever again. What a blast!!
We unstrapped and left the aircraft, as we walked back to the line hut, I discreetly disposed of the little brown bag containing my fry up in the nearest dustbin.
As Simon was signing the aircraft back in, the line crew members in the office must have noticed the colour of my face and began asking me how things had gone. I managed to stammer that it had been fantastic, I noted that I was speaking louder than normal, but quickly realised that it was nothing to do with the noise of the aircraft engines, but designed to cover up the distinct sound of my knees knocking, for knocking they surely were.
As I handed my flying kit back in, I sincerely hope I thanked Simon for the experience he had just given me, in reality I hadn’t a clue where I was, who I was or what I was supposed to be doing, such was my euphoria. And so it was with light heart heavy trousers and wobbly legs that I went back to my bunk, with what must have been a dangerously high level of adrenaline pumping round my body.
It took about a week to wipe the smile off my face, and I remember being told more than once to “Shut the (copulation word) up about my (copulation word) flight”, by the rest of my colleagues. But I couldn’t have given a toss, I had done it, I had achieved my ambition and ridden the “Aluminum pursuit ship", as the Lightning was affectionally referred to, and thanks to the generosity of a very kind, helpful, talented and exceptional pilot, Flt Lt Simon Morris, and the kindness of 92 Squadron R.A.F, I had been provided with an experience which gave me memories to last a lifetime. Thanks again Simon, it was (copulation word!!) brilliant.