The Blue Diamonds
Squadron Leader Brian Mercer AFC took command of the Squadron in October 1960. He came from No 111 Squadron where he was a Flight Commander and deputy leader of the Black Arrows. Before the end of the year all but five pilots had been posted and several other experienced aerobatic pilots from ‘Treble One’ were posted in, the remaining vacancies were filled by ‘volunteers’ from Fighter Command. Formation practice began immediately and continued until the end of the year.
In mid January 1961 the Squadron was detached to Cyprus for two months in order to work up the team in good weather conditions. However, the first month was given over to air to air and air to ground firing, just to keep the Squadron’s operational standard up to scratch. The second month was devoted entirely to formation flying and before 92 left Nicosia an aerobatic nine had been approved.
During this time the Hunters were ferried to Marshall’s at Cambridge where they were painted Royal Blue with a thin white flash running down the side of the fuselage. This colour was chosen as being the most practical and different from the black aircraft of ‘Treble One’. The aircraft were also modified to take diesel oil in the gun packs so that smoke could be produced by pressing the gun trigger which would discharge the paint coloured oil into the jetpipe.
The return from Cyprus was in March and soon several displays were flown both at home and abroad with nine aircraft.
One afternoon a parcel arrived from Cyprus containing the ‘tailor made’ white flying suits which had been ordered for the team members. This provided an afternoon of laughter as they were all far too short in the body and fit no one.
Still, fully operational, the Squadron took part in Exercise ‘Matador’ in May and as proof that formation flying is a good way of keeping a fighter pilot ‘sharp’, a good number of ‘kills’ were claimed.
On 25th May the Squadron moved from Middleton to Royal Air Force Leconfield where it took over the quarters vacated by No 72 Squadron. It was a welcome change to get away from the industrial ‘smog’ of Middlesborough, Stockton and Darlington but now the eternal crosswind at Leconfield became somewhat of a hindrance.
At this time the Squadron were searching for a title by which they could be known to the public. Several alternatives were offered including the ‘Falcons’ and the ‘Flying Cobras’. Even a competition was organised by a well known National paper to try and find a nickname; all were rejected. It was only after a spectacular and thrilling display in front of a vast crowd at Mönchengladbach on 18th June that the German press christened 92 ‘Die Blauen Diamanten’ a name which was entirely acceptable and was immediately adopted.
The next morning they arrived at their aircraft to find that No 74 Squadron had put L plates on them during the night. They returned to England to give a display at Bentwaters which had its exciting moments. Tony Aldridge had a hydraulic failure at the top of a 7 line abreast loop, Robby Robert went into manual on touchdown managing to register – 10G and the two seater T7 flamed out after landing. However, the pilots had a very pleasant evening being entertained by the USAF 92 Fighter Bomber Squadron.
The following evening the ground crew had repaired all the aircraft including an engine change and the Squadron were able to fly out to Germany again, this time landing at Wildenrath. There they kept the Commander-in-Chief, the Air Officer Commanding, the Senior Air Staff Officer and the Haupt Burgermeister waiting for an hour and a half. These gentlemen wanted to present the pilots with a shield and say how wizard they were and that the common cooperation and friendship which existed was all rather marvellous. Instead the CinC made one or two pointed remarks about punctuality before the pilots could adjourn to the bar.
During the Squadron’s last visit to Cyprus one of the aircraft had become unserviceable, due to a collision during formation aerobatics and had to be left behind. It was with great regret that the news was received that it had crashed soon after takeoff for an air test. The pilot, Flying Officer J. Cleaver of No 43 Squadron, had time to report an explosion but he was thought to have drowned after ejecting.
June saw the Squadron working long hours in order to get a sixteen aircraft formation cleared for public display and the effort was rewarded when permission was granted on 18th July, in time for the 1961 SBAC display at Farnborough and Battle of Britain ‘Open’ Day at Biggin Hill where 92 returned after twenty years, still a crack squadron and top attraction of the day. For Farnborough, the squadron was based at Hawker’s Dunsfold airfield for the pre-show practice and for the show itself. The airmen were billeted at Bordon Camp.
Shortly after Farnborough it was learned that the re equipment of Squadrons with the Lightnings was to be delayed to major modification action and it was probable that 92 would continue aerobatics for another season. A decision enthusiastically welcomed by the pilots.
The displays were not without their minor incidents and mishaps, for example during one show on September 8th the Boss led a ‘diamond sixteen’ loop which vanished into the biggest blackest cumulus cloud in the sky. The visibility was zero and a ‘bag of nails’ fell out of the bottom composed of fifteen very scared pilots. However the join up was completed in ten seconds and the rest of the show was alright.
On the following day a show was put on for the television companies which ended with a Hunter ‘writing’ 92 in the sky with smoke. This trick was to last for the rest of the season.
After Battle of Britain Day the Squadron flew to Munich for a Gross Flug Tag and of course a visit to the Munchener Hofbrauhaus. There were no less than eight aerobatic teams performing and on landing the pilots were presented to the German Minister of Defence and odd Generals, before a ‘Hail Heroes’ drive past the cheering crowd in open cars.
October was taken up by a tour of the Near and Middle East and displays were given in places as far away as Meherabad in Iran and Elefsis in Greece. To reach Mehrabad, Iran, the Hunters staged through Diyarbakir, Turkey. Owing to runway maintenance they had to land on the parallel taxiway. As always, 92 proved to be fine ambassadors and this tour did a lot to foster good relations with all the countries they visited. In Cyprus they were chaperoned by Israeli Beauty Queens before flying onto Turkey then Iran which provided good views of Syria and Russia on the way.
On the way back from Iran they put on a show in front of four hundred top brass of Greece and Allies in Elefsis near Athens. The bomb burst was most impressive – so much so that the dignitaries leapt to their feet as one aircraft vanished in a cloud of smoke just over their heads. Afterwards they were presented to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Constantine of Greece and had yet another reception party on the airfield.
The return home was made via Malta and Orange but due to technical problems only eight aircraft arrived back in England. The rest of the Squadron’s aircraft and pilots spread about Persia, Cyprus, Malta and France.
November saw the Squadron back at base and back to tactical training and operational work after the year of aerobatics. December suffered from the usual poor English weather and the records show that only normal high attitude training took place.
In 1961 had been a great year in the Squadron’s history and it is impossible to record in detail all flying displays which were given, let it suffice to say that as the Royal Air Force Representative team they gave over forty five breath taking displays.
The New Year brought fresh honour to the Squadron when its Hunters were selected to represent the Royal Air Force at the annual NATO ‘Aircent’ gunnery competition and the team was to be commanded by Squadron Leader Mercer. The ‘shoot’ was to be held at Leewarden in Holland in June and work on the aircraft and selection of the team was to commence immediately.
By the end of February the Aircent team had been selected. Places were open for all ‘Ace’ shots of Fighter Command but out of the final team of four, three were from 92 Squadron. The CO, Flight Lieutenant Tony Aldridge and Flying Officer P Van Wyk. The remaining place and the reserve slot were both filled by instructors from the Hunter Operational Conversion Unit at Royal Air Force Chivenor.
Serious practice began in April and in order to facilitate this extra commitment, two distinct flights were established; one to carry on with normal training and the other for the team to concentrate solely on gunnery and cine weave at high altitude.
Training continued in May and the hard work and sacrifice paid off in June when the team were triumphant by a comfortable margin, beating the Royal Canadian Air Force into second place. The victory was all the more sweet as the RCAF thought they owned the trophy by right, having won it since its inception four years previously. It was note worthy also since the Hunter gun pack installation had given serious teething troubles in its early days and now the perseverance had paid handsome dividends.
Formation aerobatics practices began again in July with nine aircraft and displays were given at Middleton on the 5th, Marham on the 6th and Cottesmore on the 12th. Sixteen aircraft were worked up again for Farnborough during August and as No 74 Squadron were also performing in the show with a formation of seven Lightnings, a combined formation was devised. The Lightnings formed up in ‘vic’ with the sixteen ‘Blue Diamonds’ attached behind, was some formation and it is whispered that they even looped this lot one day but for the show, a steady flypast was all that was attempted before the respective formation split up for their various displays.
Soon after this an attempt was made to fly a ‘diamond 25’ formation. Although the very bumpy conditions made it extremely difficult the idea was from then on definitely out. However, as usual the press and television men were there to watch the attempt and a seventy three year old photographer from Pathe News flew in the two seater to get some shots from inside the formation. As one of the pilots said at the time he deserved a medal for flying at all, let alone on formation aerobatics.
The sixteen Hunters which took part in the 1962 Farnborough Air Show took off at one second intervals for the first time. This technique they found was definitely ‘not on’ as one Hunter was caught in the slip stream. Tony Aldridge found his nose wheel was ‘cocked’ and he had to fly to Odiham and bounce it on the runway to free it before joining in the show.
September saw the Squadron again at Biggin Hill for Battle of Britain Day and this was virtually the Blue Diamonds ‘swan song’ as shortly 92 were to reequip with Lightnings.
The sixteen with 2 spares left for Biggin Hill in mid morning in perfect weather and went through a few manoeuvres on arrival which were as near perfect as they had ever been. The Blue Diamonds were ‘on’ after lunch but as so often happened a large black cumulo nimbus cloud rolled up and the Boss had to lead a completely ‘off the cuff’ show. This went well until they went into a fast sixteen roll under the cloud; Chris Strong at outside left then inadvertently lowered his undercarriage and promptly left the formation. He rejoined the formation but had difficulty living it down when they landed.
After this display a brilliant display of individual aerobatics was given by Flight Lieutenant D. S Bridson. Doug’s display ended with a 660 knot high speed run literally six inches above the runway which was appreciated by all but the “wheels”.
Several honours and awards were showered on the Squadron in 1962 for the previous two years aerobatic displays and the ‘Aircent’ success. The CO received a Bar to his AFC; the Engineering Officer, Flight Lieutenant Griffiths, was awarded the MBE; and Flight Lieutenants Tony Aldridge and Frank Grimshaw were given the Queen’s Commendation. Mention should also be made of the men behind the machines who worked extremely conscientiously in keeping the large number of aircraft serviceable, especially Warrant Officer Cooper and Flight Sergeants Ware, O’Brien, Rutter and Webb.
In October the CO reached the end of his tour which by this time had been reduced to only two years. He could look back on an exciting tour and a job well done. He had led No 92 Squadron in probably its finest hour since the War and he enhanced the already high reputation wherever he took it. He was succeeded by Squadron Leader Paddy Hine who came from the Lightning Flight Simulator Unit at Middleton so was highly qualified to take over the Squadron at this time. His presence was extremely welcomed by the golfers on the Squadron as he was an ex schoolboy champion and won the Brabazon Trophy in 1949 at the age of seventeen. Alas, his Royal Air Force service had blunted his game and his handicap was now up to three.
The Hunters had only a few more months to serve on 92 but the bad weather restricted the flying effort towards the end of the year and this gave a foretaste of the foul winter which was to come.
At the beginning of 1963 the snow which completely covered the country severely curtailed flying at all stations and Leconfield was no exception. Some weapons training was achieved but all the pilots were now going on various courses prior to Lightning conversion.
The weather cleared sufficiently in March for a good month’s flying, the emphasis being on night practice interceptions and dive circle type recoveries. The Hunters were gradually replaced in late March and April and some final aerobatic sorties were flown as a composite formation with the new Lightnings and some excellent photographs were taken by Mike Chase the well known photographer from the Public Relations Branch.
The Wing Commander had a few words to say on landing which left everyone in no doubt that that was the last mixed formation aerobatics that would be flown.
After seven years stalwart service on the Squadron the Hunters were dispersed but later one T Mk 7, two seat trainer, "V" XL 571 was returned for the Lightning pilots to fly and enjoy as an extra bonus to their training. The groundcrew treated this aircraft very much as a pet. Its gun installation was probably in the best condition of any T7! "V" flew in the RAF for many more years until it crashed in the Welsh mountains in 1977. For some very rare footage on You Tube. Click here: Blue Diamonds
For a Ground Crew perspective of the Blue Diamonds days see Kevin Hutchinson’s memoirs in the appendix to this chapter.