See You There!
Well, what a quick two years it has been! Here we are with another Biennial Reunion on the horizon and, at the time of going to press, 35 members and 27 partners are poised excitedly and are ready to travel from all points of the compass to meet up in Blenheim for our Easter Extravaganza! A superb programme has been organised by Graham (Gus) Smart 80th and I am sure you will all join me, in spirit, in thanking Gus for working so hard on our behalf and for producing such an attractive timetable for the Easter meet, so thank you Gus for doing such an excellent job and giving us so much to look forward to! If any of you feel that you will be missing out by not being with us over Easter, we would welcome late applicants to join us, but you will need to make accommodation bookings yourselves and then make your requirements known to Gus without delay.
You will note that full details of the Easter programme have been printed on the last two pages of this newsletter and it is recommended that you take these pages with you, to Blenheim, so that you can follow the timetable and always be in the right place at the right time.
Those of you who are going to the Airshow will appreciate that, although very enjoyable, it will most likely be a long and tiring day and, with ageing bones, it will be a good idea to provide yourself with a chair to sit on. Now before you go down to the old woodshed, take the tatty, old, folding chair down off the nail, flick off the white-tailed spiders and beat off the dust, I would like to advise that latest technology chairs are on sale at Briscoe's and the Warehouse. Each chair folds into a slim nylon bag, which has a shoulder strap and is so light you will not know you are carrying it! These are on special at Briscoe's for $5.99 at the moment. You can get a larger version with arm rests, but these can cost up to $15 and are heavier, but still fit in a slim carry bag. Both are well worth considering.
I am beginning to run short of material for future editions of 'The Wheel' and I must remind everyone that, without your input, this newsletter will die. If you are coming to the Reunion, it will be a golden opportunity to hand over documents, photographs and anything else that you think will be suitable. If you are not coming to the Reunion, just a simple letter to the editor will be acceptable and there must be heaps of stories out there waiting to be told! How about it folks?
Well, all I can say now is that Margaret and I are very much looking forward to being at the Reunion and we hope to see you there! Take care!
David Sykes 68th
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Letters to the Editor
Thank you for my copy of "The Wheel". I think it is an excellent piece of work and I found it very interesting. Gus Smart's comments (Letters to the Editor") were very relevant. I have always been amazed over the number of ex 77th, who I have managed to track down over the years, who didn't want to know. I find it hard to convince their friends at our Reunions that the friend they served with just isn't interested. I sometimes think they believe I am making excuses and that I have not really contacted them at all! I just focus on the ones that are interested and let the rest know what they are missing. This has brought two back into the fold so far!!
Peter (Cas) Brooks (UK) 77th
Another Last Post for Derek Holt, 68th Engines died shortly before Easter this year, having planned to attend the 68th 50th Jubilee of Graduation.
He had lived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for quite a number of years.
Bill Howell 68th
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In the Beginning ...
I joined the Association a couple of weeks before the last Reunion and was told that it had been in existence for about 9 years. I was curious to know the facts surrounding it's formation and so I emailed our President with a number of questions as follows:
1) What motivated you to start the Association?
2) When was it first formed?
3) What was the objective in forming the Association?
4) Were you in co-operation with other prospective members in forming the Association?
5) How did you build up the list of members? For instance, did you advertise in newspapers?
6) How did you form the committee?
David Sykes 68th
Our President answered as follows:
Thanks for your email. On reading it I thought "Those are tricky questions! Where do I start?" and "Odd how it has gone so well!" So, here goes:
I joined the RAFHAAA in 1993 & on reading the Haltonian about the different towns in England that have meetings and get-togethers and groups in Australia and Canada, I wondered how many Members of the Association lived in NZ so I wrote to the Association and asked for a list of addresses and duly received a list of 27 members. In Jan 1994, I decided to send a letter to the 27 to see if there was any interest, which of course there was. One person who replied told me of an Ed Austin, who once had such ideas years ago but nothing came of it, but he still had a list of ex-brats in NZ and which more or less doubled the number that I had. As my first letter was mainly tentative, I decided to go ahead with the idea of a reunion. Mel Innes-Jones got in touch with me and we decided to hold it in Rotorua. Mel volunteered to do the leg-work. He drove over to Rotorua from Whakatane and organised with the RSA for us to use their facilities and use a motel owned by an RSA member. From there on I took over the rest, deciding what we would do on the Saturday and sending out the invitations to all and sundry, with the details of where and when etc. I was surprised by the number of bods I had known in the RNZAF. There was a total of 27 brats plus 15 wives and everything went off very well. I like to keep in the background, so at the dinner Mel was elected President and Ed became Secretary. Then, unfortunately, Mel died and Ed and I decided to nominate Monty Firmin as President, who in turn nominated me and so I ended up as President and Monty as Vice-President. I am only nominal President as I insist all the talking is done by Monty inline with my backroom mentality.
The thing that stands out is the number we get to each reunion, which is consistent at each venue, even though the faces change we have our core of consistent members. I am wondering with the advent of 'The Wheel' and the interest it has sparked in the Association that maybe we will get a larger turnout. Mind you, with the 80th Entry Reunion on at the same time it will be a larger do anyway. Of the original 27 names I got from the RAFHAAA 13 have since died. The entries varied from 6th to the 90th.
Bill Cowham 44th
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It is with sadness that we record the death of the following member. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to family and friends.
Derek Holt (Canada) 68th Entry
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I will be bringing our collection of previous issues of 'The Haltonian' and other books, to the Reunion, to be available for your perusal. Unfortunately, these cannot be loaned out. DS Ed.
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Cyril Laidlaw 74th
Some concern was raised by Hank Goldsmith (UK) 74th about the health and wellbeing of Cyril, who is now living in Tasmania. Both I and Laurie Stormont 71st phoned Cyril and found that he is making good progress and that he sounded cheerful and positive. DS Ed.
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The Dual Relay Valve
Where ever the pilot wants to brake,
A pull on 'lever' he must make
And by this action he is able
To strain upon the bowden cable.
This makes the transverse lever rise
Which takes the pushrod by surprise
And this in turn, to fit the scheme,
Will act upon the floating beam.
Now pivot point of beam you'll see,
At elevator rod will be,
So fluted plunger has to drop
Until it comes against it's stop.
This means exhaust valve has been closed
And it can rightly be supposed
That air, which soon will enter here
Will not escape to atmosphere.
Then pivot point, it may seem strange,
To fluted plunger end will change,
So elevator rod must shift
And cause the inlet valve to lift.
The air comes in, the pressure builds,
So regulator barrel yields
Whilst this goes on, the pivot point
Is where the pushrod makes its joint.
The floating beam thus downward goes
And allows the inlet valve to close.
And when these things have all been done
We can in truth say "Brakes are on!"
'Ode to a Rigger'
Airframe Workshops, Halton
This poem must have brought a nostalgic tear to all our
Ex-Riggers. It has the touch of poetic genius. Does anyone know when it first appeared and more importantly, who wrote it?
The poem was sent to me by Mark Bishop, the autistic son of Stephen Bishop 86th. Mark had written this in beautiful calligraphy, which he does with all his written works. He has sent much useful material to be used in this newsletter and I am very grateful to him for his support. Mark could not speak until he was 12 years old and much of his development is due to the patience and dedication of his father, Stephen.
Mark is a self-taught concert pianist. He began playing when he was given a little plastic keyboard and started working out the notes. Without formal lessons he passed his piano grades up to 8 in two and a half years, building up to a concert repertoire.
Mark is believed to be the first autistic pilot when he flew solo for the first time in 1994. DS Ed.
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Operation 'Too Right'
Operation 'Too Right' was the first overseas flight carried out by RAF V Bombers and was flown by two Valiant B Mk1 aircraft WP206 and WP207 of 138 Squadron based at Wittering, UK. The aircraft were under the command of Squadron Leader R.G.Wilson DFC; the Captain of WP206. Their final destination was Christchurch, New Zealand and they arrived at Harewood Airport on Monday 19th September 1955 after leaving UK on 5th September.
Each Valiant had a crew of 5, with a 6th seat fitted to accommodate the Crew Chief, who held the rank of Chief Technician and was in charge of the technical servicing of his particular aircraft. The aircrew consisted of 1st and 2nd pilots, Radar Navigator, Navigator/Plotter and Air Electronics Officer. The crew were accommodated in a pressurised cabin at the front of the aircraft, with the pilots being seated in ejector seats and with the rear crew members relying on manual evacuation through the access door.
Ground support crews were supplied from 232 OCU RAF Gaydon and were ferried along the route by means of 4 Hastings aircraft, from No 40 Squadron, Transport Command, which were manned by mixed RNZAF and RAF flight crews. These 4 aircraft carried a full range of spares, tools and servicing plant between them. Each trade group was headed by a Corporal and I was fortunate enough to have been chosen to oversee the Instrument Trade. Fellow 68th Entry members had also been chosen, with 'Wally' Hammond in charge of Electrics, Pat Shaw i/c Radio and Phil Croft i/c Radar. It was planned that the Hastings aircraft, complete with Servicing Crews etc, would be staggered along the route in order to keep pace with the faster Valiants and my part in the plan was to be on the last aircraft to be in position at RAF Habbaniya, in Iraq, for the first stop of WP206 and WP207. The other 3 Hastings pressed on ahead and one was in position at Karachi, the next at Negombo, in Sri Lanka and the last at Changi, in Singapore, where we would all gather to carry out Primary Servicing on the Valiants and where we would take a long break for shopping, sight-seeing and relaxation. After staying in Singapore, we would fly to Darwin in Australia, on to RAAF Amberly, near Brisbane, then on to Melbourne and Edinburgh Field, near Adelaide. If I remember rightly, other Hastings, with their servicing crews, were positioned in Sydney and Perth and the Valiants were put on Static Display at several of the main airports and they also did flying displays. All aircraft then flew from Edinburgh Field to Harewood, Christchurch after which we stayed at Ohakea and Whenuapai and programmes were staged similar to those in Australia.
At Habbaniya, we were waiting for the Valiants to arrive, when suddenly we saw WP206 streaking overhead, at high altitude, in the process of breaking the London to Baghdad record. After both aircraft parked, we proceeded to place bungs in the various intakes, replenish and service for the next stage and, during this time, a violent sandstorm blew across this desert airfield, but when the Valiants left for Karachi in the early hours of the morning, followed closely by our Hastings, all was calm. After sitting sleeplessly for some time on our noisy aircraft, our Captain received a signal that both Valiants had aborted and WP207 was back at Habbaniya with pressurisation failure and WP206 had made an emergency landing at RAF Sharjah, in Trucial Oman, with a disintegrated engine. We landed at Sharjah, had breakfast after off-loading the fitters and a spare engine and then flew to Habbaniya to sort out WP207, which turned out to have sand in the combined valve unit. After seeing WP207 off in the early hours, we once more piled on board our Hastings, en-route for Sharjah. We arrived about dawn after 2 nights of almost no sleep and were met at the opening door by the Crew Chief who barked, "Everyone report to WP206 immediately!" As we stormed past him like brainless zombies, one of our group had the temerity to reply "F--- off!" but had the presence of mind to add "Chief!" respectfully at the end. We staggered to the Transit Block and crashed onto the nearest beds we could find. After several hours of badly needed sleep, we started work on WP206.
For the next few days, we were involved in changing No. 3 engine and worked through the middle of the hot, steamy day when everyone else had their siesta or played sport. The Valiant was a superb aircraft on which to change an engine, as no crane was needed. The engine was lowered on winches, which were mounted on a flat beam on the mainplane. We had the spares and winches, but no beam, which, we found, was on one of the other aircraft on the way to Singapore. It was decided that it would be quicker for a Canberra to fly one out from the UK, in the bomb bay and this duly arrived. After successfully changing the engine, the aircraft was painfully refuelled, by a group of excitable natives, from a 3 wheeled bowser that was similar in size to a ride-on mower. On the day of departure, a battery was snatched from every MT vehicle until we had the required 112 volts to start the Valiant's engines and WP206 took off from a runway which was shorter than that recommended in the Operation Manual.
Whilst working on the engine, I had the opportunity to hear the Crew Chief's story and it was as follows: "We were flying over the Indian Ocean when, suddenly, there was an enormous bang, followed by a fire warning in number 3 engine. The Captain gave the order to abandon aircraft and I had my parachute strapped and had pulled the emergency oxygen and was just about to blow the door when he cancelled the order. He declared that the aircraft was handling OK and that he had extinguished the engine fire. We were all very relieved as the thought of splashing down in the shark infested Indian Ocean was not a happy one!
After rectifying the two mishaps, both aircraft performed perfectly for the rest of the trip. We were feted wherever we went and the Australian and New Zealand newspapers covered the event with multiple articles and photographs, but strangely, it is almost as if this trip never took place as far as everyone's memory here and historic records in UK are concerned. Much has been written about the trip by the Vulcans the following year, which culminated in a tragic accident at London Airport. There was also a mishap with a later visiting Vulcan that made a heavy landing at Wellington and later made an emergency landing at Ohakea .That, of course, was also well recorded and in a book about V Bombers, written by a well known, first-class aviation author, it reads: 'In June 1956, Valiants went overseas for the first time when two aircraft flew to Idris, in Libya, to take part in Exercise Thunderhead'. I wrote to the publisher advising of the error and received a brief but polite reply and I could be excused for feeling that I detected a subtle "OK, Smart Arse!" sort of tone about the letter!
The Valiant was the first V Bomber in service and had some unique features, but sadly, the type met a very sudden demise, due to structural failure and the first known occurrence is described in Brian Sidebotham's article, which follows. This aircraft was used as a conventional bomber in the brief Suez campaign and was the only V Bomber to drop nuclear weapons in the trials at Maralinga and Christmas Island. I believe that the Valiants were broken up with indecent haste and, as a consequence, only one example survives, which is on display at the RAF Museum in Hendon.
David Sykes 68th
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A Valiant Ending
The morning in question, in August 1964 at RAF Gaydon, Air Traffic Control Squadron was expecting an average number of Victor and Valiant departures, mainly flying 232 OCU training sorties, which would return several hours later, usually to fly circuits before finally landing. A mix of visiting aircraft types was also likely. I was in our darkened approach control room, on a radar console providing departure control services to the Gaydon four-jet stream. We will give the Valiant in this story the call-sign Tango Echo; the airframe number was WP217, I believe.
The tower building was about 1200ft north of the runway, roughly equidistant from each end. Soon, and despite our sound proofing, double glazing and well padded headsets, Tango Echo, audibly roared past on R/W 27. As the engine noise diminished, the captain's voice came up in my headset for the usual exchange of pleasantries and business before he settled into a climb heading for mid Wales. The captain was Welsh, a well experienced pilot and a popular and respected flight lieutenant. I recognised his unhurried, deep, Welsh voice immediately.
Before long, I used our direct line to Mersey Radar, a long-range 'area' air traffic control radar unit, situated in a bunker under the Cheshire meadows. (One never asked, "Is that Mersey Radar?" because in deference to The Beatles they would usually say, "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!") They were expecting Tango Echo. I identified the radar track to their controller and, there being no other aircraft near the Valiant, I was about to pass handover instructions when the captain called me: "Gaydon, Tango Echo, we've just had a hell of a bang in this aircraft. We all heard it, but the strange thing is everything seems to be OK! We're coming back to Gaydon, it was a very loud bang indeed!" Could they have hit another aircraft .: under the nose perhaps? I was certain nothing else was painting on our radar and Mersey Radar wouldn't have accepted the handover if they could see any other traffic conflicting. A high flying glider, perhaps? Gliders could be 'stealthy', although we didn't call it that in those days.
The Valiant was turning, somewhere near Welshpool, to roll out on a heading, spot on for Gaydon. On the way down Tango Echo reported that the crew had made a thorough check and inspection of the aircraft, as far as possible from inside, and could find nothing amiss. They wondered, therefore, if the dinghy hatch had jettisoned from its location above and behind the crew compartment, an area they could not inspect from inside the aircraft. Our radar director (or marshaller) accepted control from me.
As departing traffic was now light, I was able to observe the progress of the Valiant. I climbed the stairs to Aerodrome Control where a small group of senior officers, engineers and aircrew, were considering the problem. It seemed that they, too, thought the dinghy hatch might have been the cause of the bang and a run past the tower, so that we could see the upper fuselage surfaces, was suggested and accepted by Tango Echo.
Before long, the white painted WP217 came into view and cruised gracefully over Gaydon, to take up a downwind easterly heading, 2000ft above the airfield. We could hear developments as the radar director's frequency was selected on a spare loudspeaker. The aircraft would go some 10 miles downwind, before being turned left onto a northerly heading and then left and left again onto the duty runway heading. Whilst downwind the necessary checks would be carried out by the crew.
Soon the aircraft captain spoke again, "Gaydon, Tango Echo, when we selected some flap just now the aircraft started to roll - so we've put the flaps up again. It looks as if the flap torque shaft might be broken?" Those in the tower seemed a little relieved to hear this possible explanation for the bang. They conferred before saying to the controller, "Tell him we think the torque shaft could have caused the bang, but we'd still like the low pass to have a look at the dinghy hatch." This was duly passed to Tango Echo, who replied, "Roger, but we didn't have any flap selected when we had the bang - there was no load on the flap torque shaft at the time??"
A flapless approach by a Valiant with a heavy fuel load would be a fast approach, but otherwise a fairly routine procedure from our viewpoint. Tango Echo turned onto the final approach heading at a range of 8 nms to overshoot R/W 27. The weather was fine, a typical summer's day in fact, and we could see the aircraft from several miles out. It levelled very low over the runway threshold, dipped the starboard wing slightly, sufficient for us to see more of the upper surface of the fuselage than usual, before sweeping past the tower in a majestic roar of jet noise. The dinghy hatch was firmly in place. I don't think the aircrew were surprised to hear this news; the whole business of the bang was an absolute mystery, compounded by the flap complication. It was decided that Tango Echo would fly flapless instrument circuits until down to a safe landing weight.
We did not know it at the time, but, before long, WP217 was making its very last approach to land. The crash/rescue vehicles were ready to follow the aircraft down the runway from the halfway point (4500ft), so that they could immediately attend, if needed. Two staff cars waited at the upwind end with the executives, alongside a minibus carrying (ex Halton?) technicians. The aircraft landed, touching down fast but gently; soon to be followed by the red vehicles, all in radio contact as a 'combine' with the tower. The landing run was long and, when the aircraft stopped, firemen moved in to look after the brakes which would be very hot. The executives and the technicians walked to the aircraft and we could see people pointing up at the starboard wing root. The captain radioed the tower to say they had shut down all four engines and would be towed back to their dispersal. I never saw the aircraft again, however I was later told that the rear wing spar had broken at the root and was visibly 'sagging'. Many rivets had popped out and the aircraft skin under the wing was corrugated in places!
Investigations began immediately and most Gaydon Valiants were grounded. Nobody really believed that the aircraft would be withdrawn from RAF service, but gradually it became known that this was, indeed, the case. Before many months had passed, the Gaydon aircraft were stripped of useful components and handed over to the salvage men. My last, very sad, recollection of these once proud and elegant aircraft was to see them lying on different dispersals, upside down, wings clipped and with wheels down (so up! - they looked like dead turkeys) and at the mercy of the breakers. Brian Sidebotham (UK) 86th Entry
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