Only a month after being disbanded No 92 Squadron was again in being, formed from a nucleus of No 91 Nigeria Squadron at Acklington on January 31st 1947 and receiving jet fighters for the first time. The Gloster Meteor F Mk III, with two Rolls Royce Derwent turbo jets, had become the standard RAF Fighter and it was this aircraft that the Squadron (which moved to Duxford on February 15th) flew under the command of Squadron Leader E.W Wright DFC DFM.
The severe winter was the worst in living memory and the great thaw did not set in until late March, with the result that flying was on a reduced scale until mid April.
On the 18th April a formation flypast, led by the CO, took place over Halton, which was being visited by the Prime Minister, the Chief of the Air Staff and a French Air Force Delegation.
The excellent weather of the summer months gave the opportunity to resume normal training and to restore the Squadron efficiency. In July normal routine flying was enlivened by Exercise ‘Seaweed’, a naval/air exercise with the Home Fleet. Together with the intensive flying, the Squadron also kept the flag flying in the sports field. 92 were top of the station cricket league and second in the annual athletics meeting.
August was spent preparing for an Armament Practice Camp (APC) detachment to Lubeck, on the north German coast. At this time one of the glossy weekly pictorials produced a series of art studies, in which glorious examples of womanhood disported themselves with quite unusual and unbelievable abandon, on the sands of Lubeck itself. The already keen interest in shooting became noticeably enhanced.
Eight aircraft made the trip, via Eindhoven early in September and firing started on the 8th. In the first week thirty two effective air to air sorties were flown and the next fortnight was spent on air to ground, resulting in a Squadron average of 35.7 per cent. The aircraft serviceability at this time was remarkably good with only one ever unserviceable following the discovery of a cracked stern frame bracket.
The weekends were spent making excursions to survey the local area and on one occasion to the Travamunde Country Club (an Army Club run by the 10th Hussars). After a lunch time sherry session one Saturday which developed into a frantic party the Squadron’s officers decided to cool off in a nearby lake.
Apparently the pilot of a glider soaring overhead nearly crashed when he saw a procession of fully dressed officers marching gaily off the end of the jetty.
Also during the month it is recorded that the station ration store was broken into and sixty thousand cigarettes were stolen. Not a bad haul when one considers that one cigarette was worth seven Marks or almost half a crown on the Black Market.
The final four weeks of the detachment were spent in direct close support exercises with the Army. This was the Squadrons first experience using jets in a ground attack role and the realistic exercises laid on by the team of Army Liaison Officers under Major G Wegmouth CBE, were very good training value.
On 23rd October, a visiting party of fifty Naval Officers witnessed a flying display and were suitably impressed. The aircraft flew back to the UK on 30th October and the ground crews returned the following day in Dakotas. The detachment was followed by a much needed recuperative stand down of ten days.
By this time the markings on the aircraft had changed. During the war the Spitfires were marked with the letters QJ in front of the RAF roundel on the fuselage, each aircraft had a single letter aft of the roundel. The markings on the meteors were the figures 8L aft of the roundel with a different letter in front for each aircraft. These markings remained the standard Squadron markings until 1953 when the colourful red and yellow chequers appeared, which have adorned the Squadron’s aircraft since.
At the end of November 1947, the Squadron flew to Tangmere to join 266 and 222 Squadrons in a bomber affiliation exercise, which was made extremely pleasant by the good weather. The CO was posted to 247 Squadron to be their new commander and as the year ended Squadron Leader F.A. Robinson DFC arrived to take command of 92.
With only eight short range aircraft the monthly flying target was one hundred hours. January and February 1948 brought good weather and a total of one hundred and ninety nine hours five minutes were flown in two hundred and seventeen sorties. A large number of these sorties were practice interceptions against B29s and Lincolns and in addition with the rest of the Duxford Wing they attacked a Lancaster stream in strength. The instrument rating scheme was introduced into Fighter Command and four pilots obtained their ratings, whilst the others were practicing Instrument Flying to gain their ratings.
In March, the Squadron was detached to Lubeck again for another APC of two months. The first fortnight was spent on close support work, a popular phrase with all pilots, but sadly marred by the death of Flying Officer Belshaw who pulled out too late from a straffing attack. Continuity of training was spoilt by the enforced grounding of all aircraft awaiting modification acting from 28th March to the 18th April, as a result of which very few pilots managed to fly more than two air to air and air to ground sorties. Firing was resumed on the 20th April but the disappointing low scores achieved were witness to the need for unbroken practice.
At this time Meteor Mk IIIs were being replaced in regular Squadron’s by the superior Mk IV and during April several pilots went to RAF Bentwaters to convert to the new mark.
Early in May, the Squadron moved to Martlesham Heath while the runway at Duxford was repaired. They returned home in June by which time the ground crews had sorted out the teething troubles common to re-equipment.
July 1948 was the first uninterrupted month of full flying since February, much of which was spent giving formation flypasts. The fortunate recipients included the residents of Gatwick, RAF West Malling and Odiham and in addition, a visiting party of Italian MPs.
It was the immediate post war custom in Fighter Command to ‘stand-down’ each unit in turn, for two weeks block leave each year. This year 92s turn fell due in the first fortnight of August, a heart warming proof of the Air Staffs solicitude. The rest of the month was spent preparing for Exercise ‘Dagger’ which took place in September. This was a realistic defence exercise involving three days of dawn to dusk readiness. The Iron Curtain had not yet descended across Europe but it was becoming increasingly obvious that the Threat was now the Communist block countries and frequent scrambles were ordered to intercept B29 low flying intruders and Lincolns which represented the enemy forces.
92 Squadron played a fitting part in the annual commemoration of Battle of Britain week. The aircraft were displayed on the ground and in the air at various airfields and formed part of the mass flypast over London. The close of the month saw the departure of the CO, who had commanded the Squadron for eleven months. He was succeeded by Squadron Leader P.H.G. Wintle, DFC and Bar, who had been the personal pilot to the Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Lord Tedder.
In October the high number of one hundred and fifty seven hours were flown which included many sorties of the ‘snake’ method of climb and descent. They also practiced firing the guns at thirty thousand feet and one notable Wing head-on attack, against a USAF B29 formation, which was equally terrifying to both sides.
In November the target was increased to a hundred and sixty hours, a figure within reach since the one hundred and seventy five gallon ventral tanks had been fitted. During the poor weather for the remainder of the year emphasis was put on practice interceptions Ground Controlled Approaches to the runway at Tangmere and air-to-air ground firing at Dengie Flats.
1949 started with an intensive cine-gun programme with the emphasis on simulated drogue attacks in preparation for the APC at Acklington in February. Being blessed with good weather the APC was a great success and the air-to-air average of 7.6 per cent was, at the time the highest recorded by a Meteor Squadron. Before returning to Duxford 92 attempted by means of flypasts to persuade the citizens of Glasgow and Edinburgh to join the happy throng.
On the 8th April, the departing Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief (AOCinC), Air Marshal Sir William Elliot, visited the Squadron to say goodbye; and since the AOCs annual inspection was due the same month, sounds of sweepers and polishers filled the hangars. Despite the very poor visibility on the day, the flying display met with his approval.
At about this time the flying target was raised to one hundred and seventy six hours each month. It should be recorded that since the war all major servicing known as ‘second line’ servicing was not done by the Squadron itself but on a centralised basis. There were several good reasons for this, but there was an inevitable loss in efficiency, which resulted from the absence of Squadron spirit among the servicing teams, who were working on a conveyor belt system. It was a long time before the Squadron Commanders could make their cries heard and eventually regain control.
In May, an experimental five day week was introduced. This system and the good weather, accounted for a total of two hundred and three hours. Apart from normal training, these hours were made up by a series of rapid landing trails, which was a phase of a much larger trial organised by the Central Flying Establishment at RAF West Raynham.
During the month, new and old met face to face, when the ‘A’ Flight Commander of 1918 landed in his personal pale blue Spitfire and spoke to the present day pilots. He was of course Air Chief Marshal Sir James M. Robb, who having formerly been CinC of Fighter Command, was now the Commander in Chief Air Forces Western Europe.
By July 1949 the Iron Curtain was down and all aircraft from there to Ireland were involved in a three phase six day exercise codenamed Exercise Foil. A genuine heat wave lasted through the exercise and the pilots were nearly roasted in their cockpits while sitting on readiness at Martlesham once again. During the exercise the new CinC, Air Marshal Sir Basil Embry, visited the Squadron at dispersal and talked to the crews on standby.
On the 22nd of the month another new mark of Meteor, the Mark VII, took to the air for the first time with 92 Squadron. This two seat model was flown by Pilot 2 Blackwell with a somewhat apprehensive Aircraftsman Noden occupying the rear seat.
On the 17th August four aircraft flew to Sweden for a ten day goodwill tour of Scandinavia. The CO, Squadron Leader Wintle, Flight Lieutenant Browne, Flying Officer Williams and P2 Blackwell (1) flew to Ihorslanda via Eindhoven and Sylt and spent one day at each of several airfields in Sweden and Norway. Despite the most generous hospitality these stalwarts managed to give aerobatic and formation displays at each station.
This was a new non commissioned pilot rank introduced about this time. A PV pilot was just out of training and therefore ate in the Airmen’s’ Mess. Whereas a PIII was allowed in the Corporals’ Mess. A PII was equivalent to a Sergeant and a PI the equivalent of Flight Sergeant or Warrant Officer; they were both members of the Sergeants’ Mess. This unpopular system did not work and the ranks were later replaced by that of Sergeant Pilot, then Master Pilot.
After a day of joint aerobatic displays on the 19th, 92 with their Meteors and the Swedes with their prototype Jet fighter the Saab, they went on a tour around the Swedish forests and a glass factory followed by a very alcoholic party in the evening. Next morning they had their first experience of the Swede’s hangover cure, a Sauna bath.
More sightseeing tours of Stockholm and the Royal Swedish Navy followed, on the Monday morning they took off for Oslo. Lack of organisation and perhaps too many parties in Sweden caused the drop tanks to not be refuelled before takeoff. Unfortunately this was not realised until approaching the rendezvous with the Norwegian Vampires and rather hurried landings had to be made by 92 Squadron. Then Flying Officer Williams experienced an undercarriage failure and had to do a belly landing wrecking his aircraft. The Norwegians were delighted at this misfortune as they wanted the aircraft for their museum. The only loss was to 66 Squadron as it was their aircraft.
September saw the usual Mass Battle of Britain formation flypast practices and on the day the Squadron was in the centre of the third wave of aircraft over London.
Towards the end of the month, it was decided that the Duxford squadrons should move to RAF Linton-on-Ouse-on-Ouse, near York, while the runway was laid at Duxford. This came as a sad blow, for Duxford had long been regarded as ‘home’. Officially it was to be a detachment, but rumour, that most maligned jade, insisted that they should stay up north and so it proved. On 6th October, 92 flew up and found the station itself to be a very pleasant one, inhabited by a wing of Intruder Hornets consisting of Nos 64 and 65 Squadrons while Nos 19 and 41 were nearby at RAF Church Fenton.
The CO was posted on the 7th October and left to take up a post at the American Embassy in London. He was succeeded by Squadron Leader Ray Harries DSO and 2 Bars, DFC and 2 Bars. Ray Harries, known as the ‘Welsh Wizard’ was an ‘Ace’ fighter pilot during the war, having more than twenty enemy aircraft destroyed to his credit. The Squadron had hardly unpacked at Linton-on-Ouse-on-Ouse before its presence was required again for APC at Acklington. This time there were many new pilots and the average of 7.75 per cent air to air and 14.49 per cent air to ground were considered reasonable in the circumstances. Perhaps it should be explained here that a percentage score does not indicate the percentage chance of hitting the target. In the case of air to air firing the target is a banner, towed by another aircraft, which measures six feet by twenty four feet, about a quarter of the area of another fighter. Each aircraft firing at the banner (and there are usually a maximum of four) has its ammunition dipped in a different coloured dye. When the banner is dropped back at the aerodrome, the number of holes of each colour are counted and the percentage is worked out depending on how many rounds the aircraft fired. In a normal sortie six to ten firing passes would be made, so out of a hundred and twenty rounds which would be fired an average 9.3 rounds would hit the banner. This might represent one or two rounds on each pass, enough to destroy the target every time.
On returning to Linton-on-Ouse-on-Ouse after this APC, it soon became apparent that the local weather and the nearby hills, in combination with the limited Airfield Approach Aids, would seriously reduce the flying effort during the winter months. However, there was much work to be done in settling in. Manpower in 1949 was always critical, but a new low was reached in November, when the total strength of ground crew fell to twenty three men whose job it was to maintain eight aircraft. Ancillary tradesmen were at a premium and would be borrowed or ‘press ganged’ from one unit to another, their postings being secured by lurid stories put out by older hands, of unlimited forty eight hour passes on 92 Squadron.
1950 found the Squadron happily settled at Linton-on-Ouse-on-Ouse. A new innovation was a monthly party at the “Olde White Swan” in York, otherwise known as “The Mucky Duck”, which did much to maintain morale.
On 16th January, Pilot Blackwell caused many an anxious minute when he was attempting a single engine overshoot. The Meteor was a notorious aircraft for this particular manoeuvre which involved cutting one engine to idle RPM to simulate an engine failure then making an approach and overshoot on the good engine. The effect of the good engine, mounted in the wing, was to cause the aircraft to roll in the direction of the failed engine unless one held full rudder in the direction of the good engine to oppose the roll. The value of this exercise was somewhat dubious as more people were killed practicing it than in the real case. The worst time an engine could fail was on take off and on the only occasion that this happened on 92 Squadron, the pilot managed to kick the rudder hard enough to save himself and the aircraft.
On the occasion when Blackie was practicing his single engine overshoot, his aircraft rolled on its back and was seen to disappear behind some trees on the far side of the airfield, to be followed by a puff of smoke. Needless to say when his friends arrived at the scene they were relieved to find him alive and kicking although his aircraft was a total write off. He was taken to York Hospital but they found no bones were broken and he got away with a cut face.
In February the fist “Auxiliary Weekend” of the year took place. This involved 607 and 608 Spitfire Squadrons of the Auxiliary Air Force being attached to No 92. The Squadron sallied forth on both the Saturday and Sunday to teach the Auxiliary chaps all they knew and it was rounded off by a highly successful affiliation in the bar.
Also during the month Flying Officer “Happy” Day was married. An amusing entry in the Squadron Diary records his return from his honeymoon with the following:
“He is looking little worse for wear; the only noticeable difference is that the passionate hungry look which was present a fortnight ago, has been replaced by a satisfied smirk. Squadron Leader Harries took the opportunity to present “Happy” with the tankard which the pilots bought as a wedding present. “Happy” Day was touched, Mrs Day was touched and we were all touched to pay for the darn thing.”
The remainder of the winter passed as usual with lots of poor weather. To while away the hours a series of spontaneous lectures were given by each and every pilot on the Squadron. An early stack to the bar was not uncommon where on one occasion Squadron Leader Harries decided to instruct his officers on the mechanics of golf. Aided by a brassiere and a drawing pin he managed to prove ‘Harries’ law’ which was: “When standing in the Northern hemisphere with ones back to the NAAFI, a golf club swing down to the left is two inches shorter than when swung up to the right.”
Tragically this very popular CO was killed on May 14th when returning from Biggin Hill in a Meteor Mk IV above 8/8 ths stratus cloud. He was unable to obtain a radio bearing from Linton-on-Ouse-on-Ouse or Church Fenton and whilst being ‘homed’ to Waddington called up to say that he was out of fuel and abandoning his aircraft.The average flying time of a Meteor IV was about 40 minutes (unless using a ventral tank) and many flights were only 30 or 35 minutes.
The aircraft was soon reported as having crashed near Rotherham. The local police had search parties out looking for “the Boss” and it was some time before it was learnt that he had gone in with the aircraft, the parachute being entangled with the tail plane. He may have had an ejection seat, but many pilots distrusted them and baled out 'normally' only to be caught on the high tail fin of the Meteor IV. Pitiful that a man who had gone through the whole war and collected a chestful of medals would be killed simply because he ran out of fuel.
Squadron Leader Harries DSO and Bar DFC and 2 Bars had been on the Squadron since October 1949 and it wasn’t long before his personality and seemingly endless energy made the Squadron a fine, united body of men. His decorations in themselves speak as to his capabilities at his job and on the ground he was a hard man to beat whether it was golf, squash, badminton, shove ha’penny or any other game.
The Squadron had indeed lost a very fine “Boss” and friend.
On June 1st the Squadron was taken over by Squadron Leader A.G. Conway DFC, from the Southern Sector Operations Centre.
At about this time Sergeant Pilot W.H.G. Freeman was posted to 92 Squadron. Sergeant Freeman was to serve six years on this tour and returned later in 1961, commissioned for a further two years service as a member of the ‘Blue Diamonds’ aerobatic team. ‘Taff’ saw the Squadron reequip five times during his record service and he served through the ranks of Sergeant, Flight Sergeant, Flying Officer and Flight Lieutenant. An exceptional pilot and gentleman, the high standards he set were a fine example to the younger pilots on the Squadron, who all benefitted from his wise counsel.
Rehearsals for the Royal Air Force display at Farnborough in July 1950 absorbed much flying effort for several weeks. 92 Squadron was chosen along with No 66 Squadron to put up six Meteors to oppose simulated attacks on the aerodrome by Hornets and Mosquitos. This was led by Flight Lieutenant Taper MBE as a command performance for His Majesty the King on the 7th July and by Flight Lieutenant Browne on the 8th.
After the display was over a Squadron All Ranks Party was held in York. Unlike parties these days which consist of all Squadron member and their wives or girlfriends going out for a meal and ending up with plenty of drinking and dancing, in the 1950s they were strictly “Stag” occasions. The party would invariably start with a visit to a theatre, usually the Empire in York, to see a Cabaret then they would sally forth to the airmen’s pub, the Coach and Horses. The drinking session which ensued on this occasion was not so much of a stag event as those of the past, as several Squadron members managed to procure women from somewhere. Two pilots were seen on this hunt hanging around outside the ‘Ladies’ for their prey. The Landlord was in rather an ‘anti’ mood all evening and was finally heard to mention that he didn’t want dogs on his piano, ‘Chiefie’ Hardwick who had been rendering yeoman service all evening took the remark as a personal insult; it turned out however that the Landlord was niggling about a notice concerning dogs that had been removed from outside his establishment, by the two pilots mentioned before and stuck on his piano. However, everyone was persuaded to climb aboard the coach to return to base, with the exception of one lad of the ground staff who was carried aboard after a short sharp argument with a civilian over who was taking his girlfriend home.
With only slight hangovers the boys managed to make it to work the next morning where the job of painting the Squadron crests on the aircraft was going on, even though not at a high rate of knots.
After this work was completed they had to get to work with the preparations for the Air Officer Commanding (AOC’s) annual visit. The Station Commander’s orders were clear if not original. “If it moves salute it, if it doesn’t move pick it up and if it’s too big to pick up, paint it.”
The end of August 1950 according to the Squadron records, marked the last time pilots flew for love, for from Friday 1st September they were paid 8 shillings or 9 shillings a day, depending on rank. Naturally everybody insisted upon flying everyday to make sure they earned this money but with twenty pilots and only four aircraft this was sometimes a little difficult. However in October the Squadron officially doubled and was reformed into two flights ‘A’ and ‘B’. By the end of October the Squadron was reequipping with the more powerful Meteor F8 and all pilots agreed that it was a very different aircraft. The fact that the new aircraft were without ventral tanks was enough to make a difference in the fuel but the elevators were so light, many thought they were dangerous. However, they soon got used to them and agreed that it was a pleasant aircraft to fly. Also for a change, they were spanking brand new.
The Mark VIIIs which were used for the first time at the APC at Acklington in November were also more popular with the pilots as they were fitted with ejection seats. Unfortunately there was not enough safety equipment for the new aircraft and only four were fitted with the correct dinghy pack and parachute and these were borrowed from other squadrons. In the other nine aircraft the old type of parachutes were still in use and the dinghy recesses in the ejection seats had to be filled with blankets.
In the New Year ventral tanks were fitted which improved the range considerably and helped in the forthcoming exercise ‘Fabulous’. The next exercise of note was a rapid take off and landing trial which took place at Boscombe Down on Thursday March 3rd. The object was to find the minimum time needed to scramble the wing of twenty four aircraft, climb to twenty thousand feet and from up in Battle Formation, then descent and land.
For the purpose of the trial they scrambled from the side of the runway making full use of its width. A pair of aircraft took off from each side simultaneously and all twenty four were airborne in one minute five seconds. It took another five minutes eleven seconds to form up in Battle Formation at twenty thousand feet then they turned through 180 degrees, let down, then ‘broke’ into the circuit. Again the width of the runway was used to and four aircraft abreast and the time from the first to the last aircraft down was one minute thirty four seconds. The fastest time in Fighter Command.
In May the Squadron was detached to RAF Manston in order to participate in a four wing flypast over Hyde Park where the King was to present his colours to the Royal Air Force. The flypast took place on the 26th and everything went according to plan. The pilots were able to watch the flypast and march past on television when they returned to Manston. The King was suffering from ‘flu’ so the colours were presented by Princess Elizabeth.
The Squadron was detached to Holland for a Sector Exercise on the 1st August 1951 and when they returned there was the Battle of Britain Day formation aerobatics display which required some practice.
This gave impetus to the chaps, who were keen to get started and led by Ken Goodwin, Taff Freeman, Harry Rayner and Brian Wass started to work out a routine.
The remainder of the Squadron carried on with the normal training flying with the accent on Practice Interceptions (PIs) at thirty thousand feet. One of these sorties on Thursday 23rd August ended in the tragic death of Sergeant Johnny Stewart who was killed when his aircraft crashed about twelve miles North East of Leconfield. He had called up saying he believed he was suffering from anoxia (lack of oxygen) and was seen dropping below the formation. A witness of the crash said there was a loud explosion rather like thunder before the aircraft crashed. It was thought that the aircraft had reached compressibility, that is transonic speed, in the uncontrolled dive and the tail came off. The remainder of the aircraft came down in a very shallow spin and hit the ground flat, right side up. Johnny was found in the ejection seat on the nose of the aircraft having been ejected through the canopy. It was not discovered if he had ejected himself or whether the crash detonated the cartridges.
Sergeant Stewart had joined 92 Squadron in 1948 at Duxford and had been for some time the oldest member.
The year ended with Frank Haward, a highly experienced and deeply respected Flight Sergeant, leaving for fresh fields and pastures new. The Central Flying School (CFS) web which he and successfully dodged until now had caught him up and he departed in deep disgust for Little Rissington to train as an Instructor. The Squadron bid him farewell and wished him happy landings albeit from the back seat of a Harvard.
1952 started with the natural enemy, weather, the prime malefactor; icing and poor visibility reduced the month to only 10 days available for flying. One useful exercise was carried out using Lincolns as targets and the usual training flying was carried out including low level formation and cross countries, asymmetric approaches and rollers.
This month for 92 Squadron was rather spoiled by a fatal accident which occurred on the 7th between two completely new pilots. They collided turning on the downwind leg, one rejoining the circuit and the other overshooting. Flying Officer Charles Shurman, ‘A’ Flight commander on his first trip in a Mk VIII was killed when his aircraft which lost its tail, spun into the ground and exploded. Pilot Officer Wardell, whose aircraft had no starboard aileron control, force landed it very successfully and walked away with no injuries. On that very same day the RAF wrote off 1 Mosquito, 2 Vampires and 3 Meteors with the loss of 2 pilots; a bad day for the Royal Air Force.
The next APC to Acklington followed in the February and resulted in an improved score of 9 per cent using the Gyro Gun Sight. Then by way of a change they did some glider shooting. The glider was towed up to about twenty thousand feet and released. Installed in the fuselage was a small transmitter and as the glider slowly dropped into the sea, a pair of Meteors would take turns to shoot at it. The glider transmitted the sound of the bullet strike to a tape recorder on the ground which could then be played back at a slower speed to afford greater accuracy in counting.
In April the CO, Squadron Leader Conway DFC, was posted to Staff College. On the 25th a farewell party was held in the ‘Mucky Duck’ and the command was taken over by Squadron Leader Jagger from 600 Auxiliary Squadron at Biggin Hill. The new CO’s first task was to set about forming an aerobatic team of six aircraft to compete against all the other squadrons in 12 Group in the annual competition. The aerobatic team tried to get in at least one practice per day in an endeavour to beat the 66 Squadron team for the honour of representing the Station. The Royal Observer Corps Day on July 13th was chosen as the day for the “fly-off” and of course no doubt existed in the Squadron pilots’ minds as to who would win.
92 Squadron’s team gave a wonderful display consisting of a series of loops, rolls and horizontal eights which secured them first place. Then Squadron Leader Jagger gave a very forceful display of individual aerobatics including a stall turn followed by a half aileron roll downwards then an inverted “push through” which ended up with him flying upside down along the runway.
Unfortunately in the following month he “tent-pegged” into the ground while doing this manoeuvre at RAF Coningsby and was killed. John Finney, a National Service Pilot serving on 92 Squadron at the time remembers the accident and this is his account.
“ The CO had asked me to look after two new pilots, get them used to the squadron and take them for a gentle flight to point out the main landmarks. He also said to me privately, ‘See if they are any good at formation flying’. I briefed them to formate on me in a tight Vic after takeoff. We would then climb to 20,000, open up into a much wider formation while I pointed out the Humber and the canals which are such a landmark in Lincolnshire.
“We took off and number 3 tucked neatly on my port wingtip. However number 2 was all over the sky – sometimes he was a hundred yards behind us and sometimes two hundred yards behind. Clearly he was panicking so, to calm him down, I ordered them to spread out while I showed them the sights. I was concerned that number 2’s frantic attempts to formate would have used a great deal of fuel, for any touch on the throttle of the Derwent sent gallons of fuel into the engines. Number 3 still had plenty of fuel left, but number 2 reported that he was almost down to the minimum which would allow a landing and one possible overshoot. We turned back to Coningsby and I asked for permission to land. Control asked if I could postpone landing ‘because there is a display in progress’. This was the first I had heard of it and, because number 2 was clearly having difficulties, I asked if we could come straight in. Control agreed, and we landed normally. I noticed as we landed that there was a black plume of smoke directly beyond the end of the runway. I thought nothing of it, assuming the local farmer was burning some rubbish.
“As soon as I got out of the cockpit the ground crew said, ‘There has been an accident – the CO’. Everyone was in shock.
“I pieced the story together. As I understand it, a number of NATO brass had made a mistake with their diaries and turned up on the 14th August to watch the mass squadron takeoff only to find that they were a day late. Our CO, on the spur of the moment, said he would give an acrobatic display so that they would go away happy.
“He apparently gave his usual polished display which ended with his usual manoeuvre. He came across the airfield at full throttle and daisy cutting height. He then pulled up vertically and did a wingover at the top. Then came his specially. As he came down vertically he did a half turn and pushed through inverted and flew back across the airfield upside down before circling round to land. This meant a large amount of negative g, and I have seen his eyes as pink as a salmon when he landed after such a display.
“On this occasion he seems to have misjudged the height of the wingover. He did his half turn, thought he was too low, tried to correct it but had not the height to pull out normally. He crashed into a field of cows 200 yards from the southern end of the runway. He is buried in the cemetery a few hundred yards away.
“Since I was on a different radio channel I had no idea of the drama that was unfolding. It may have been that, in order that our three planes could land he hurried and his run across the airfield was not fast enough. His wingover may therefore not have been high enough to allow his half turn and push through. We shall never know.
“After the losses of aircrew during the war the numbers killed after the war seem less. However they were not that much less: the official history describes them as ‘horrific’. ‘Last Take Off’, compiled by Colin Cummings, lists all accidents in the four years 1950-1953. During that period the RAF had a strength of about 4000 aircraft – and there were over 1800 accidents which were serious enough to write off an aircraft. Inevitably most accidents happened to the fighters who were the first planes of the jet age: 436 Meteors and 279 Vampires were written off. In particular the numbers of accidents during flying training are frightening: such planes as Oxfords, Harvards and even Chipmunks and Tiger Moths had a high accident rate. However it was the conversion to Meteors and Vampires which was particularly dangerous. Not many people walked away from a crash in a jet.
“Looking back I am surprised how calmly we took this all too frequent death of friends and comrades. I suppose we were brought up in the war years where death on active service was normal and the Korean war was raging at this time. The possibility of nuclear war seemed all too possible so the loss of one pilot seemed of small importance.
“We toasted the death of J.J. in the usual way by going to the local pub that evening and getting legless. Tomorrow was another day.”
One month later a Command Instruction was issued that one thousand five hundred feet was the minimum height below which pilots must not descend whilst giving aerobatic shows. The reason was not difficult to understand as quite a number of pilots had recently killed themselves while doing aerobatics near the deck. However the instruction went on to say that during normal squadron training no aerobatics would be performed below ten thousand feet. The reaction to this was quite remarkable:
“This is ridiculous it’s hard to believe that this can happen in Fighter Command” wrote one pilot. Another wrote:
“It is widely felt that far from decreasing the present appalling accident rate, it will be increased in the long run if Command clamps on the only means by which a chap can acquire confidence in both himself and his machine.”
“General opinion is that Air Ministry is putting the cart before the horse in clamping and restricting the natural inclinations of fighter pilots. The damage to morale will be irreparable, especially in the case of new pilots who will not have the opportunity to learn to fly their machine to their limits.”
Squadron Leader G.R. Turner from the Central Flying Establishment was posted in to replace Squadron Leader Jagger as CO and the leader of the aerobatics team became the ‘B’ flight Commander, Flight Lieutenant S.J. Hubbard DFC AFC. ‘Stan’ was on loan to Fighter Command from the Test Pilots world in order to learn and appreciate the problems of the modern fighter pilot and therefore, to advise on future requirements.
July 17th 1952 was a normal English summer day. John Finney remembers it well:
“A cold north-easterly was blowing thick low cloud from the North Sea far inland. 92 prided itself as being an ‘all-weather’ squadron and was not going to be deterred by a bit of cloud. It was decided that four of us were to fly – Blue section was to act as the ‘target’ and Red Section as the ‘attackers’. I was number 2 to my Flight Commander, Brian, in Red section. Immediately after takeoff we were swallowed up in cloud and it was over 20,000 feet before we emerged. Control was to direct us onto the ‘target’. We knew the voices of all the controllers but there was an unfamiliar voice in our headphones. He told Red Section to head out over the North Sea on 80 degrees, and gave complicated instructions to Blue Section. We climbed up to 35,000 feet in a clear blue sky though there was severe clear air turbulence and it was like driving along a cobbled street: we did not at the time realise its significance.
“We plugged on. Red 1 asked for confirmation – ‘Maintain height and course’ said control.
“After more than fifteen minutes Red 1 felt something was seriously wrong and we turned 180 degrees back towards the coast for we were now far out towards Denmark. Brian reported what we had done – the only reply was ‘Roger’.
“A little later a familiar and more senior-sounding voice came from Control – ‘Identify yourself: turn 90 degrees to starboard and then resume your present course’.
“Control came back to us, ‘We do not have you on the scanner: maintain course’.Brian replied, ‘Roger – we are experiencing much turbulence’.
“Control – ‘I now have you on the screen; maintain course and I will divert you to another airfield. Reduce height to 20,000 feet.
“A little later he came back, ‘All alternative airfields are closed in by weather: maintain course’.
“After what seemed an eternity as I watched my fuel gauge nearing zero, we began a controlled descent through cloud. We came lower and lower and the cloud became thicker and thicker: at times I could hardly see Brian’s fuselage a few feet away. I knew that if I lost sight of him I was unlikely to survive. We came out low over York and I saw the towers of the Minster flash by almost on our level. Being number 2 I had used more fuel than Brian and I landed straight ahead. I just managed to taxi back to flights before my port engine stopped for lack of fuel. My log book shows I had been in the air for one hour 25 minutes – far longer than any other flight I did in the Meteor. Most others are well under an hour.
“The episode led to an enquiry and it was determined that we had encountered the jet stream, a phenomenon we had heard nothing about in our met. lectures and our ground speed had been over 150 knots higher than shown on our ASI. This had whisked us off the screen of the inexperienced control officer. Red Section had also been confused with Blue Section so that Blue had been religiously following the instructions which were intended for us. Fortunately the senior control had recognised the implications of Brian’s reference to turbulence and brought us down to 20,000 feet so that we could fly back under the main jet stream. In those days we saw the jet stream as a strange and unusual phenomenon - though the Japanese knew enough about it during the war to use it to float fire balloons to the west coast of the US.”
On September 20th the new boss was introduced to the “Mucky Duck” and a Squadron Plaque was unveiled to mark the occasion. However the plaque was not destined to hang in that pub for very long as the tenants, George and Grace, soon moved to the “Black Horse” in Tollerton. Although the “Mucky Duck” in York was regarded, even by the locals, as 92’s pub, it was hardly the same without Grace to preside over the Squadron’s alcoholic activities. There was in fact a move afoot to up anchor the trophies and pictures and transfer them and the Squadron’s allegiance to the “Black Nag”.
Back in the air John Finney was in a four ship formation returning from air firing at full speed and very low level across the North York moors. Suddenly the number 2 shot upwards and disappeared behind them. The leader circled the remaining formation round to see what was the matter. The number 2 was at about 5,000 feet and had reduced speed to just above stalling. At first sight nothing seemed wrong. Then they saw that the whole of his cockpit perspex was missing. After he had landed they found a jagged bit of perspex imbedded in his headrest. At the moment the perspex shattered he had been leaning forward to adjust his gun sight. If he had been in his usual flying position he would have been killed. Investigators from Glosters came to inspect the plane and it led to a redesign of the cockpit. It also explained a number of recent high-speed crashes when Meteors had ploughed into the ground without apparent reason. The incidents had previously, of course, been put down to ‘pilot error’.
The next large exercise was in November when twelve aircraft went to Oldenburg in Germany on a twenty four hour visit. Their object was to test the defences of Holland and North West Germany on the way out and our own defences in the North of England on their return. The outward journey was made for the most part with a 130 knot tailwind and although aircraft from Oldenburgh were scrambled to intercept them, 92 Squadron landed one hour ten minutes after leaving base, without being intercepted.
The journey back to base was quite uneventful but before crossing the English coast a Squadron of Meteors passed directly overhead of them on a reciprocal course. These aircraft later proved to be No 66 Squadron who had been scrambled to intercept the ‘attackers’.
One more exercise took place in the month known as a Rat and Terrier exercise, where 92 Squadron played the part of the terriers hunting a flight of ‘enemy’ aircraft. They were directed by Ground Control Interception (GCI) and the Royal Observer Corps who had to use the most inaccurate method of pointing out the direction of the Rat with Verey cartridges.
The New Year of 1953 brought word that the Squadron was to be one of two in Fighter Command which were to be reequipped with the F86E or Mk 4 Sabre in the near future. This was to be for an interim period until the Hunter was ready for service. This exciting news was received with great enthusiasm by the pilots who began to look forward to flying this famous aircraft.
1953 was also a year of detachments; these included APC at RAF Acklington resulting in an average of 9.6 per cent which was double the score of the previous best Squadron for the year. Then there were visits to RAF Wildenrath in Germany, RAF Thornaby for another Rat and Terrier exercise and RAF West Malling for Exercise ‘Fabulous’ on Coronation Day. In June the Squadron was detached to RAF Honily for the Royal Review Flypast over Odiham on July 16th and to RAF Waterbeach in late July for Exercise ‘Coronet’ which consisted of Wing high altitude formations simulating a mass bomber raid attacking Germany. The Squadron was intercepted by aircraft of the Second Tactical Air Force, then they were “turned round” at RAF Wunsdorf near Hannover prior to their return.
In September RAF Coltishall was again the temporary home for the Battle of Britain Flypast. The latter part of the year was mainly occupied with air to air firing; the October average being 11.8 per cent, November 16.2 per cent and December 17.8 per cent, a steady improvement.
1954 started with the normal quota of fog but despite this they achieved 12.7 percent on an air to air firing programme in January. This time on the ground was spent cleaning the aircraft prior to despatch as the Sabres would be arriving during the next month. On any normal foggy day at Linton-on-Ouse-on-Ouse, the pilots could be found in the hangar, in overalls, sleeves rolled up with rags in abundance and several cardboard canisters labelled ‘Vim’ – yes, they were that dirty. The lucky recipients of 92’s Meteors received aircraft, part worn, but with a gleam on them as bright as the day they were new.
Memoirs of a National Service pilot: by John Finney.
“The Berlin Airlift followed by the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 emphasised the need for constant readiness. The RAF realised that they needed a reserve of aircrew who could be called on in an emergency and therefore began to select National Service personnel for aircrew training in the summer of 1950. At the same time the Commonwealth Air Training Programme which had been finished at the end of the war reopened as the NATO Air Training Plan.
“I began my national service in August 1950 and was selected for pilot training. After introductory training at Feltwell, 40 of us were sent overseas as the first group of would-be pilots. We ended up flying Harvards at Gimli in the snow swept heart of Canada. After gaining our wings we returned to England where a month was spent at Digby getting used to the cloud and misery of an English November. Meteor training began for us in January 1952 at Middleton-St-George with 205 FTS. We were then passed to the Operational Conversion Unit.
“However I was not to be at OCU for more than twenty four hours. Four of us were summoned into the Wing Commander’s office. He informed us that there had been four ‘sudden vacancies’ and that as an experiment we were to miss out OCU and proceed directly to our Squadrons ‘because you are supposed to be good at formation flying’.
“I therefore arrived at Linton-on-Ouse-on-Ouse to join 92 Squadron feeling half trained and very apprehensive. People greeted me surprisingly warmly for I learned that the ‘sudden vacancy’ was due to a collision on the circuit at which FO Charles Shurman had been killed. He had been a popular flight commander and it was clear that their first National Service pilot was a poor substitute. Nobody seemed to know what to do with me and I kicked my heels in flight for a couple of weeks without getting into an aircraft. Eventually I bearded the C.O. (Sqn Ldr J J Jagger) and asked for a flight. ‘Get your gear and meet me outside in ten minutes’. The briefing was short: ‘When we get to 10,000 feet get on my tail and stay there’. Once at height he proceeded to throw his plane around, including a flick roll which I did not think was possible in a Meteor. I clung grimly to his tail. Then he said, ‘Formate on me’. I did as I had been told in training and settled down ten feet off his wingtip. ‘Get closer’ – I did so. ‘More’ – and it was not until I was in formation with him with my wingtip behind his aileron that he was satisfied. He said, ‘Stay there’ and then led me round a barrel roll. We landed, he smiled broadly and said, ‘You can be my number two’.
“I cannot blame him for his hesitation. 92 Squadron was already making a name for itself for its formation flying and J.J. was an expert solo acrobatic pilot. My log book shows that after that initial flight with the CO virtually every flight included some close formation. 92 Squadron went on to follow 111 Squadron as the RAF display team and be christened the ‘Blue Diamonds’. That in turn, of course, led onto the Red Arrows.
“In August we visited Coningsby in Lincolnshire for a week. We lived in the mess, but our ground crew lived in a number of tents near the end of the runway. The object was to show to the top brass a way of getting the largest number of planes into the air as quickly as possible. The Russians were sending over high level bombers to test our defences and the concern was that a large number of such bombers could swamp us.
“In 92 we had, as a matter of course, taken off in pairs, with number 2 formating on number 1. When doing so Number 2 was oblivious of what was happening around – he glued his eyes on number 1, lifted off when he did, raised his wheels when he did, turned when he did. However then there was a considerable gap before the next pair lined up at the end of the runway and took off. Getting a complete squadron into the air needed considerable time and if the squadron was to act together the front pairs had to circle in order to allow others to catch up.
“We began to experiment with taking off in fours, with the second pair following only 20 yards behind the first. We found it was possible if the second pair avoided some of the slipstream from the first pair by taking off from the edges of the runway.
“Four became eight. It was very bumpy indeed but seemed to be possible, especially if we took off at a higher speed than usual so that we had some flying speed before taking to the air.
“Eight became sixteen. None of us enjoyed the experience for being buffeted by the slipstream from every Derwent in front of you was not easy when your airspeed was so low. It would have been easy to catch a wing on the ground or for one plane in difficulty to have caused a major pile up. However we persevered and found that it was possible.
“We were not the only ones to find it interesting. For those on the ground the noise of 32 Derwents at full throttle was deafening and the sight of 16 planes clawing their way into the air and climbing straight away was awe-inspiring.
“Then another thought was added. If the planes were parked in arrowhead formation at the end of the runway, eight on each side, it would be possible to turn directly onto the runway in pairs as soon as engines were running. We needed a wide runway and found one at the bomber base at Coningsby. We did a number of practices, and then, on August 13th the top NATO brass came to see us do our party piece. I remember that we were determined to get our time down to the minimum and that the record from the time when the first plane moved to when the last plane left the ground was 58 seconds. It probably still stands for I never heard of this take off being repeated elsewhere. Almost certainly it was felt to be too dangerous for squadrons which were not so used to formation flying. (92 persisted with squadron formation flying and years later claimed the world record for the largest number of planes (18) doing the loop in formation.) “