Page 4

1981

Station exercises, oh! joy, back into NBC suits, tin hats, respirators and the thought of not getting home for a few days, some of the tasks given to us ranged from guard duty to shelter marshal and beyond. Airfield installations were part of our remit, although could never figure what we had RAF Regiment personnel for. If you were lucky or were in with the right people, being part of the ORP (Operational Readiness Pan) teams was a good number, basically being a flight line mechanic somewhere the other side of the airfield on a aircraft pan, complete with fuel bowser and driver.  The idea was that the squadrons would prepare an aircraft ready for battle, send it up to our little pan on hold awaiting permission to launch, sometimes engines still running and we would be there in case some more paraffin was needed to top up the tanks. "Go" from the Control tower and we marshalled the aircraft a short distance onto the main runway and the thing was into reheat and airborne before you had time to clear the fumes from your throat. Then of course the next aircraft would arrive and go through the same procedure. All rip roaring fun for an aircraftsman.


And here we have me doing just that very task

As I said earlier, we had to stay on base during these games, accommodation was for the best part either in a room in the hangar on the floor, or if you had a mate on the squadron who was single and had his own room, you could arrange to be on the opposite shift to him and use the hot bed swap method, as you were going off shift your mate would be coming in to work and hand you his keys, so thanks to the two mates who kept me in luxury and comfort during my stay on 5 squadron, namely Ron Morrell and Ian Morrison.

I had enjoyed 3 years of being an NCO at Corporal rank, doing the job I loved best, working on aircraft and now due promotion to SNCO and Sgt rank, all exams had been completed and I also got the much needed annual assessments to further my career. Normally the promotion was automatic with the criteria above being met, but the goal posts had been changed yet again, as so often happened as time went along. Now before being promoted, it was compulsory to attend a Management and Infantry type course of a month’s duration, learn to manage and also lead a bunch of troops into battle, just an extension of yet again working with pine poles and puzzles to work out with the extra regiment training of learning marching formation use, weapon husbandry, how to make the best use of a bang stick and maintain same, with radio procedures and other non aircraft tasks. Can you tell I was not the slightest bit interested in this? good guess and you were right.

Just as I was contemplating this course, at RAF Hereford, also the home to the SAS, an opportunity came my way in the guise of a free intensive driving course, the line were in need of drivers to tow ground equipment around and the line chief was asking for volunteers to attend and pass their driving tests. Volunteer, a subject that more often than not is not a thing you do, but in this case was going to be an advantage to me personally, no more would I need to use the train or coach to move about between units, it would be a lot easier chucking all my gear in the boot of a car and at my leisure drive to wherever, RAF Hereford which would be my first move by car, even if it was the Avenger we still had from Germany. So it was I departed by train for RAF St Athan, the RAF driving school being there. I was given single room accommodation of course and excused the PT lessons each day that the junior airmen had to do, cushy number indeed. We all had to pass the highway code exam before being allowed to set foot in a vehicle at all, but this was achieved. Each driving instructor was allocated two trainees, a half day each at the wheel. Two weeks later they suggested that I was ready for my test and set the ball rolling, the test was to be in Cardiff, driving through the multi lane city center as part of it, and no, we did not have the luxury of our own RAF test examiners either, it was the normal test route by government inspectors. Just before I set out on my test, my instructor gave me the nod and wink about what my test inspector was keen on, road junctions were his thing and no way would he pass anyone who failed that aspect. Everything went to plan, and I passed first time, vowing never to drive through the center of Cardiff again.

Back to Binbrook, thinking that I would be used as a driver now, wrong, the only driving I did was to drive an MT driver round the airfield to make sure I understood the traffic light system for crossing the airfield and get signed up with an airfield permit. One other occasion when I had to drive a land rover from the line to the Mess for supper one deployment and that was the extent of my RAF driving. But the plan worked, I had a full driving license, no stopping me now.

Next move off to RAF Hereford for a month, drove down there in luxury, not having to manhandle bags and cases for the first time was a great feeling, also meant I was not stuck at any unit at weekends, I could drive home now. I won't say much about my time at Hereford, other than I hated every minute of it, playing soldiers in the winter was no fun either, the pine poles seemed to have got heavier from what I remember when doing the same exercises at Swinderby in Sherwood forest. The infantry training was downright boring, although we each had to take a spell as being troop leader during a 36 hour role play scenario, even being issued poncho's to try and keep the rain off. It was so cold and miserable that the Instructors called a 2 hour break to let us try and get our kit dry and also authorised a rum ration and the mess brought a huge tray of hot mince and spuds, speak about being spoiled rotten. The ration packs we were given, were surprisingly good and use of Stoves, Hexamine a must learn subject. Classroom subjects in management were to prove helpful later on, so something good came out of it all. Finally the course debrief and interviews, surprisingly we lost a few candidates early in the course, those that were not willing to put up with the bullshit. Ordeal over and back to RAF Binbrook.

Everyone who completed the Hereford course was handed their Sgt's stripes on the last day, and the last evening was party time with our instructors where we had a chance to have our say on the course content. Nice now shiny stripes sewn on to my uniforms and back to the squadron. I knew of course that  it was routine procedure on promotion to SNCO that I would not be allowed to stay on the Squadron, for reasons which seem obvious now, too familiar with the lower ranks being one and a new start being the other. However the first priority was being introduced to the Sgt's mess, something I looked forward to. Had a great introduction from not my own squadron WO, he was tied up with work, but from the rival squadron's WO Tex Williams, who did me proud, looked after me and filled my glass as required, so thanks to him for a most enjoyable if not hazy recollection of events.

Now a fully fledged member of the elite an interview with the Squadron bosses and what to do with me followed. Luckily for me, Lightning technicians were few and far between, so I was offered the chance to stay at Binbrook and move along to the next hangar which was   LTF (Lightning Training Flight), here they had more T5 Lightnings as it was a training flight after all, but still had the single seaters. I was given the post of Electrical Trade Manager, with 8 electricians in my charge. This was where my management training came in handy, I was able to arrange shifts, allocate tasks for my crew and also with this managerial post came the task of writing annual assessments for each of my team. I still got my hands dirty though and thoroughly enjoyed the new responsibilities. Along with the promotion and Sgt's Mess facilities allotted, there was a less enjoyable side to promotion, namely Inventory Holder of which I was given the LTF Hangar furnishings inventory for my sins. Just when I thought I had it sussed, another responsibility came my way in the form of SNCO i/c Barrack Block, responsible for monthly block bull night supervision and task allocation and ultimately accountable to the Officer i/c Barrack Block. Only had to charge an airman once in my career and this was it, an airman who's room was inspected the morning after a bull night at which the Officer i/c instructed me to charge the airman. It was an experience, must admit, but the guy got off on a technicality.

Life on LTF followed the same pattern as my last position, but was more relaxed and not so many detachments as before. It helped that I knew most folks on the unit, made life easier all round. There is nothing worth writing home about for this 3 years on Lightnings and I started getting the urge to move on to something a bit more modern, when  came word got around that the RAF were to replace the ageing Shackleton Fleet with a modern Airborne Early Warning aircraft, namely the proposed Nimrod AEW, this interested me due to the fact that when the Aircraft was commissioned, it would be operating from RAF Waddington which was in Lincolnshire also and that meant not having to move house. I forgot to mention earlier that in 1980 we did buy a brand new house in Louth and moved out of RAF Manby quarters, a semi but with a big garden which was put to good use, greenhouse and all the rest, obligatory shed of course. I digress, application duly submitted for a posting on the new aircraft was accepted and a course arranged at RAF Kinloss which was operating the Nimrod

1983

Now while enjoying my new found role as Electrical Trade Manager on LTF and the challenges that it entailed, there was still something missing. Detachments that I had come to enjoy while on 5 Squadron out to Akrotiri, now sadly were not part of LTF duties, but a surprise followed that allowed me one more trip to Cyprus and the sun.

One of my friends who had been on LTF as a Corporal, Tony Barnes who now promoted to Sergeant and working on 5 Squadron, came and asked me if I would like to take his place on detachment for reasons unknown. The swap was arranged between our respective bosses and so it was I was able to enjoy my last Cyprus detachment from RAF Binbrook.

We ran a two shift system and I was Leckie Sgt on one of them, it was good to be back working with lads I already knew and the time passed far too fast with little problems from the aircraft. Then on the last day of flying, the squadron as was usual, planned a ten ship formation flypast, always with the possibility that not all the kites would make it.

True to form, 9 kites started and taxied off while one “Alpha Charlie” refused to start and the pilot  Dave Carden sadly walked back to the crew room dejected. At this stage of events, I had dismissed my leckie team mates who had hotfooted it up the runway to get some photos, leaving me to try and figure out why no start. However after finding out the malfunction symptoms and checking the inevitable fuse, which was found to OK, this is where knowledge gained over the years kicked in and of course the panel which needed to be removed to check this out, was one of the biggest panels secured by high torque screw (numerous).

Panel removed and up the A steps, trained as a contortionist, gained access to a plug I had suspected was the culprit, and low and behold the plug was virtually ready to fall out of its socket. Two or three minutes screwing the thing back in and a quick phone call to get the pilot back down to try a start ensued with haste. All strapped in, a start was attempted and bingo No1 roared into life, followed by the No2, meanwhile the panel we had removed was now being fastened back, engine guys working as fast as they could and the kite was taxiing off to join the others.

Outcome was that Alpha Charlie did manage to rendezvous with the others and complete the display. One of the many times job satisfaction was at its highest. Below are photos thanks to  Jerry Steventon  of the fix it team doing up the panel and another of the kite taxing off 

1984

Much to my regret and in hindsight, I applied to work on the AEW Nimrod and was accepted.

Prior to me departing on the Nimrod course at RAF Kinloss, a replacement for my post had been drafted in, a newly appointed Sgt just completed his courses and a fresh outlook for him, although he had never worked on Lightnings at this point. Normally anyone posted to Binbrook would have had some Lightning experience. The next few months was handover time and it went well too. Off to Kinloss and the mighty hunter called the Nimrod, RAF Kinloss was very similar to my experience of being at Lossiemouth, both bases situated on the Moray Firth, but Kinloss had the edge, a piper would play his bagpipes each morning at dawn, just to make us feel at home, north of the border.

The course would last for four weeks, quite intense, with a one week visit to RAF Woodford where the first two prototypes of the Nimrod AEW were being fitted out with Avionics equipment, and trial run. It was impressive to say the least, such was the enormity of the new power required for this machine, that completely new alternators had to be designed and built, we did get the chance to view the new power being tested on rigs, where all components of the power system could be tested, down to all the new indicators that would eventually adorn the cockpit. With all this newly completed course work under my belt and meeting the other course members who I would eventually be working with on the creation of the new Nimrod AEW squadron at RAF Waddington, we were officially given a "Q" qualification to state that we has passed requirements.

Thanks to this photo by Paul Nann, you can see what the AEW looked like before the project was shelved shortly afterwards. The new AEW would be built by Boeing at Seattle instead.

Duly returned to LTF at Binbrook and was informed that pending my posting to RAF Waddington and the Nimrod AEW in the near future, I would be posted from LTF due to the new lad taking over. In fact I was moved from LTF to ASF (Aircraft Servicing Flight) as electrician assisting the modification team which was a civvy outfit, doing wing root repairs to extend the fatigue life of the Lightning, this involved disconnecting and connecting electrical items that had to be removed from the aircraft to enable the mods to take place. I was given an airman of the same trade to do the work, and my job to supervise and countersign documentation for the work we did. All in all a boring job with virtually nothing to do mostly, but it was a case of finding stuff to keep us going. Shortly after this move, I was to be informed that the whole Nimrod AEW project was being scrapped and that my future at Waddington was cancelled. Unfortunately for me, the RAF Personnel department were doing a manning exercise and decided that they could not justify me being at Binbrook and came up with a way to make the most of my talents, yes another posting, this time to RAF Sealand somewhere not too far from Chester, in Deeside, this was to be a non squadron posting and the end of my career as I had known it. RAF Sealand or 30MU (Maintenance Unit) was where I was headed, TD&S (Task Development and Support wing). First let me explain, 30MU did electrical and avionic equipment deep strip and rebuilds on just about every piece of equipment used in the RAF, a factory floor environment with 50% RAF and Civvy workers my allocated task was to update and write servicing schedules for the electrical equipment, from Generators to actuators, a mind numbing paperwork exercise, sitting at a desk mostly, typing revised schedules for the shop floor.

I could not contain the excitement of leaving behind squadron life for a mundane and to my mind pointless waste of the money and time they had invested in my training as an engineering  technician, to being suddenly being dumped in this unfamiliar territory.  So with heavy heart I set off for RAF Sealand in 1985, my glory days on a fighter squadron over, I had hoped at some stage to be able to return to the life I had been living, and it was this hope that kept me going. On arrival at Sealand, I found out that my post was in fact as a servicing manual rewrite and revision one, basically updating the manuals that were used to service all the shop floor equipment of the electrical kind and that meant sat on my ass for 95% of the day at a desk, armed with sellotape, correction fluid, typewriter, drawing pins, I think you will have got the idea. The wing I was working on was TD&S Wing do you notice how it fits the bill exactly, just read as tedious wing and you have got the idea.

I was accommodated in the Sgt's Mess, a room to myself of course and the mess food was very good too. My life was to be 3 and a half years living in that room Monday to Thursday night and a long drive back to Lincolnshire each Friday. I negotiated a deal that if I stayed late one evening and did some work, they would let me leave Friday after lunch, so got a good start to the weekend. My family at this stage had no intention of following me down the Deeside, the kids were getting ready for their GCSE exams at school, and my wife had a job in Louth at the time, so my spell here was destined to be living as a scaly, a term derived from the  Scale E that of a married man. I met a guy who as it happened found himself in the same predicament as me and we struck up a good friendship while here. I started trying to dig a tunnel, without success, but a stroke of luck came one day, I got wind of another airman who enquired about getting a lift back to Grimsby at the weekends, he was willing to share the petrol costs, and also it would be a bit of company for me, great arrangement. This guy also worked on the shop floor, so a word to him about getting moved from my desk job seemed to do the trick and I found myself working as a supervisor on the electrical shop floor, not ideal, but better than sitting on my ass being bored. I was involved with electrical linear and rotary actuators, deep strip, rebuild and testing thereof at least a bit of job satisfaction.

 No point in dragging this post out, it was the same routine for the whole tour and finally managed to apply for my last tour of duty, at the four years remaining  point, so I obviously applied for anywhere in Lincolnshire, where my wife and kids still lived. I knew Binbrook would have been my choice, but the station was due to close and little chance anyway, so applied for Waddington and Coningsby which at least were in the same county as my family. It was while I was stationed at Sealand that 15 years service had passed by and the RAF decided that as I had been a good boy, was presented  with a medal LS&GC ( Long service and good conduct)

It seems you get medals for anything these days, but we had a good day out, the Station Commander presenting the medals. and of course we all had a few sherbet's later to celebrate.

Just found some interesting items from one of my albums, record of my attendance at yes, a Military Hospital, we did have them back then, now I believe military personnel have to share a hospital with civilians and even then the troops are given grief from the civvies, no respect at all, how times have changed, and not for the better either, but suffice to say my stay in this hospital was a happy one and  the treatment second to none.

1989

Life at RAF Sealand continued without incident and I had expected that my last tour of duty application would yield a good result especially after being denied my squadron life for the last 4 years. but out of luck yet again it seems and the nearest they could get me to Lincolnshire was Norfolk and the only place in the RAF that I had hoped to escape RAF Swanton Morley the graveyard unit where even more paperwork and all the aircraft servicing forms were collated, add to this the provisioning of aircraft spares and there you have it, the nightmare posting of all time. One concession allowed me was that because I was not granted my choice of last tour, the RAF would pay for my removals and disturbance allowances when I was demobbed. So no pressure, and from the wording of it all, no chance of moving elsewhere, I was well and truly shafted. What a prospect for the end of an exciting career.

Before setting off for Norfolk, I had tried my utmost to contact some mates who I knew would like to get back home to the county, but no joy, they were either farther away from Lincolnshire or not interested in swapping. Looking on the bright side if there was such a thing, the life of a single airman was coming to an end, my wife applied for a move from working in Louth Job centre to a transfer to Norwich, and for the last time ever, I applied for a married quarter, the waiting list was small, so it was not a long wait envisaged.

My very last arrivals procedure went well, taking a day to complete, thought if this is my lot, then it will be in my time for a change. It was a very relaxed RAF Unit, most of the inhabitants were Senior NCO's, with just a token of junior ranks stationed here. Now for where I was being sent to work, at General Office, the first bad vibe was that they had not got me marked down as being posted in here, so being pissed off at not even having a post to fill, did ask if they were not expecting me, could I go and wait on another posting coming up, this remark went down like a lead balloon and after a few phone calls I was sent to Initial Provisioning Flight and wandered around till I located the said building. It was as expected an office block with computers, filing cabinets, aircraft spares manuals and all manner of stuff. I was interviewed by my Flight Sergeant who had not been expecting a new posting either. IPF (Initial Provisioning Flight) were responsible for the provisioning of aircraft spares on new aircraft builds for a period of 18 months, the predictions being calculated for each spare part by computer mathematical modelling software, backed up by manufacturers data and reliability figures. Thought to myself, what the hell have I got myself into here.

Nice bunch of guys working here though and they had each got their own aircraft type to work with, me, I had nothing and as it turned out, no new aircraft expected in service either. Anyway that would get sorted out later, now it was time to go down the Sgt's Mess and get myself a room for the duration or until I was given a married quarter. Got a lovely room in the annexe, backed up my car and unloaded my gear, this would do for now, very comfortable thanks. Familiarised myself with mess procedure and took a walk to the NAAFI for provisions. Sampled the evening meal which was presentable and retired to my room to unpack and make myself at home. Tomorrow I would find out about the rest of the station and meet my Flight Commander hopefully. IP Flight airmen were nomadic by nature, spending equal amounts of time on unit and visiting other units, MOD in London, manufacturers and many other exciting places.

Had a nice quiet evening in front of the TV, reflecting on what I would be getting into at work, but now it was reality and meeting my Flight Commander for his welcome to the unit. During the conversation, I once more enquired why I had been sent here, had I upset the cart/someone, me, never. The rehearsed answer was on the lines of, "you have had a varied career and obviously experience that makes you a prime candidate for Swanton Morley" so that was that, stuck in a job which seemed to me pointless, why couldn't they have recognised my technical skills and posted me to a squadron instead, well enough moaning from me, think you will have got the drift by now.

Back into the office now and introduced to the gang, well half of them, the other half were on the road somewhere doing what they had to do, all on rates of course. The idea of getting paid rates was at least appealing, and the prospect of getting out of the office and off the unit also. Easy now my son, walk and run syndrome. What I wanted to know was what am I to be set to work on? it did not take too long to find out, my Flight Sergeant had a project he was working on, Spares provisioning for the E-3D Sentry our new airborne early warning platform, ironic really as the scrapping of the AEW Nimrod was my downfall back in 1985. This new Boeing was being built out at Seattle, USA and my job would be to liaise with the seconded RAF team who were working out there with the Americans (some folks have all the luck it seems)and get all the information required to supply enough spares for this machine for the first 18 months of its life when the first squadron was formed back at RAF Waddington as 8 Squadron (my very first squadron on Shackletons back in 1974-76). The Americans had successfully been operating the E-3 AWACS for a few years themselves, and our variant being built, just had a few different avionic components, but the airframe side of things already had a lot of serviceability history, which made spares provisioning that much easier. Communication was done by email mostly, me sending of queries by day, and getting replies by the following morning.

I would like to add a few comments about my career so far, as we all know in peacetime we in the military play at practice wars, scenarios that could happen at any time, all very well and probably necessary to remind us that first of all we are members of the armed forces, and secondly we are tradesmen, the first option often put to one side. During my time at RAF Sealand, we had the Falklands War, albeit a short war due to our superb troops handling of the situation and swift resolve. Many men lost their lives in defence of this outpost island and it's inhabitants,  I would like to pay them all tribute. My belief was that this conflict was justified.

I was not personally involved in this war, why. will always be a mystery, maybe my age, maybe the fact I had not worked on any of the aircraft employed in this theatre, I just don't know. But my skills at RAF Sealand were utilized as well as all the airmen and civvies working on the shop floor, we worked overtime most days, to produce the serviceable aircraft spares needed to support the ground crews down south.

 What made me remember about circumstances in the paragraph above was, that now as I sat at my humble desk, typing and emailing away, we had just heard of the upcoming 1st Golf war and the RAF were busy sorting out the personnel that would be required to play their part in this conflict. I was sure that I would be going to this one, having worked on Buccaneers and knowing that they would be deployed. A tense time, wondering if my name would be picked out of the hat, while I played at being a desk pilot. However I was not selected as a player, and put this one down to my age and having been away from Buccaneers since1979. I had all the experience and qualifications of Nuclear/Conventional weapon systems under my belt, that was why I was certain I would be picked, but to no avail. You may think I have been extremely lucky in missing these events, but I'm sure I had played some small part in my own way.

I managed after a few months to secure a married quarter on base, my wife successfully transferring from her job in Lincolnshire to Norfolk, my son came along for the ride as he had been made redundant from his job earlier. So we had a nice little 2 bed roomed semi from which to carry on as a family. My own property back in Lincolnshire being let till my discharge from the RAF in 1993. My son actually had a few jobs in Norfolk, before returning to Lincolnshire about a year before I was demobbed, he lived in our own property which was now empty of tenants, and made me damn sure I would never again let out any property of mine, the tenants did not do a good job of keeping the property particularly clean, and the Estate Agent we employed was just a waste of space, with it would appear, no routine inspections. You live and learn I guess.

 

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