Night flying

FIIA, 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit

On completion of a Flight Mechanics course at No 6 School of Technical Training, Hednesford, I was posted to 1651 HCU at Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire. The unit was equipped with Short Stirling bombers, which to my unaccustomed eyes, looked and were; very huge monsters.

I had not been on the Station long when it became my turn for night flying duties. This meant being among other things, on standby in the Flight Hut to answer requests from the pilots for a supply of compressed air. In the night flying operations the aircraft were doing ‘circuits and bumps’ continually throughout the night to bring the pilots and crews up to the standard required for operational duties. The small engine driven pumps which were fitted to the aircraft could not maintain enough compressed air in the storage cylinder to cope with the continual application of the aircraft’s air brakes.

After a number of landings and take offs, the cylinder would need replenishing. My job would be to meet the aircraft on the perimeter and top up as necessary. Rather than wait in the cold Flight Hut for a call out, many of us would join the aircrews, with a fully charged air cylinder and enjoy the thrills of night flying. When the top-up cylinder was empty we would leave the aircraft and return to the Flight Hut and await the next call.

At the end of the night flying operations the next task would be to meet the aircraft on the perimeter and guide it to its dispersal point on the Flight. On my first occasion the Duty Corporal took pity on me and told me he would delay my introduction to this task as long as possible. Whether he doubted my competence I knew not! Suddenly there was a flurry of activity with the phone ringing continuously, airmen gathering up torches and disappearing into the night and I found that I was the only one, apart from the Corporal, left in the hut. The phone rang and reluctantly the Corporal handed me two small torches and told me to guide ‘G’ George to its dispersal point with some brief warnings of the possible dangers!

Out I ventured into total darkness to meet this huge monster towering above me on the perimeter track. Armed with my two torches and waving them in the prescribed fashion I gradually bought the aircraft, with its roaring engines and red hot exhausts to the dispersal point. Now came the tricky bit where it was necessary to turn the aircraft in a complete circle on the ‘frying pan’ to be ready for re-fuelling. One had to be careful to keep in full view of the pilot and not to stumble or trip up otherwise one might be run over by the tail wheels as the aircraft turned around in a tight space.  With heart thumping and nerves frayed I managed this without mishap. I often wondered if the pilots ever thought how vulnerable the poor ground crews were when carrying out this operation. Back in the flight hut I don’t know to this day who was more relieved, me, or the Corporal!!!

Bob COURT, FIIA, 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit