A DAS Stewards Aircraft Recollections. By Greg Scott. Photos Steve Jeal.
Every time I enter Airspace as a DAS Steward to open Concorde, or the York, Comet, or Hermes I deviate from the direct route to my designated aircraft so that I can stop and look at the 74 Squadron Lightening and the CAA Dove. Both aircraft bring back pleasant memories spanning twenty years or so starting in 1962 when I was posted to RAF Coltishall as a ground radar mechanic.
On arriving at Coltishall in 1962 and about to enter the station guardroom to sign in, I heard an almighty roar from the other side of the hangers and looking towards them I was enthralled. An amazing spectacle of nine Lightnings emerged one after the other almost vertically from the other side of the hangers. It was 74 squadron taking-off to practice their Farnborough Airshow display. Shortly afterwards the Lightnings were followed by the nine black Hunters of 111 Squadron. I thought that Coltishall must be the best posting in the RAF as sometimes the two squadrons would practice their displays on the same day if the weather was suitable.
One of my motorcycling acquaintances was an aircraft engineer on 74 squadron and I was thrilled to sit in the cockpit of one of the Lightnings under maintenance. My normal place of work was the radar truck in front of the control tower so whenever the squadrons were practicing I always had the best view available, although over the years my ears have paid the price!
Despite volunteering for exotic far-east postings such as Singapore and Hong Kong, the RAF posted me to Gibraltar where I helped maintain various radar systems. Station Flight operated a Percival Pembroke and I was keen to avail myself of any opportunity to fly and learned that the Station Pilot was amenable to taking interested personnel up. I made contact straight away and enjoyed flips around the rock several times, always avoiding overflying Spain as this was when the Franco government regarded Gibraltar as their territory despite its international recognition as British.
At about the time that England were doing well in World Cup football, one fine Saturday I was on radar duty and a new RAF Dominie (HS 125) aircraft was on the pan near the RAF Gibraltar Control Tower. In a conversation with the Captain he offered me a front seat while he flew some photographers who were assigned to photograph the Rock. It was such a fine day that the PAR (precision approach radar) was switched off and all landings would be non-radar assisted. Also there was no wind at all, a lovely warm day – beach weather.
We were all strapped in, me in the R/H seat and taxiing out when a call came over the RT for the duty radar technician to return to the tower! It turned out that the SATCO had turned up unexpectedly and wanted to practice setting down the Dominie using the PAR in perfect conditions to maintain his competency and compare its radar return with that of other fast jets. So that was that and I never did fly in the fabulous Dominie.
On another day in Gibraltar with an incoming Beverly on PAR the controller requested the pilot to confirm “three greens” to which the pilot responded “wheels down, locked and welded”. Happily the controller was not embarrassed at all and we all had a good chuckle.
Some eight years or so later, having left the RAF and joined the Civil Aviation Authority I was working at the CAA Evaluation Unit and College of Air Traffic Control at Hurn (now Bournemouth International Airport) near Christchurch). The College and EU work was fascinating as we were using computers to simulate radar returns (radar blips) from computer generated aircraft that needed to be controlled. by trainee Air Traffic Controllers looking at radar screens. ATC assistants ‘flew’ the aircraft boxes from another room and the simulated VHF communications between ‘controller’ and ‘pilot’ were wired via GPO type Strowger frames. Of course the trainee ATCs were aware that they were only controlling make-believe aircraft consequently those trainees who had passed the computer simulated element now needed to practice their new skill with real aircraft to demonstrate competence before being assigned to an operational airport.
The initial ‘real aircraft’ element of the trainee controller’s training was also carried out at Hurn in the control tower radar room. The aircraft used for this was the red DH Dove currently suspended from the ceiling in Airspace.
This aircraft was based at Stanstead but was a regular visitor to Hurn and usually only flown by a single pilot. I made sure that I knew when the Dove would be at Hurn on days that I was ‘off-watch’. As a result I flew around Christchurch and east Dorset many times and made several approaches and responded to the commands of the trainee controllers whilst under the close supervision of the Captain. Interestingly the pilot would often declare himself as flying a different type and vary his airspeed accordingly and deviate from the glide-path in order to prompt a reaction from the trainee radar controller. So again, the DH Dove in Airspace brings back very pleasant memories and I hope that whenever it is lowered for cleaning that I can help, and sit in that RH seat again!
As mentioned earlier the College of ATC and the Evaluation Unit shared the same site at Hurn. During my time the EU was tasked to simulate the integration of Concorde into the Air Traffic systems of the UK, Eurocontrol and some foreign systems where Concorde was likely to operate such as Washington, New York and Bahrain. The computer set up at the EU was complex and required a considerable effort on the part of the engineers (hardware and software) to re-configure and test the set up so that the simulation / test programme could start on time and be as realistic as possible. We were aware of the time-costs involved, that the assigned controllers were taken away from their normal watch routines and above all it was essential that when Concorde entered service it would not adversely interfere with conventional aircraft operations whilst operating effectively itself.
This early involvement with Concorde / ATC operations means that I feel I have a strong connection with Concorde as I remember setting up the systems, the simulations being run, the trial approach by a Concorde at Hurn, and last but not least my unforgettable Concorde flight from New York to London on BA Concorde Alpha Delta which is now on a raft at the Intrepid Museum in New York. I still have the dinner menu, the ticket, and several photographs taken by me and fellow passengers all enjoying a party atmosphere helped by virtually non-stop Bollinger champagne and smoked salmon salads!
I have visited AD on its raft at the Intrepid Museum and viewed it from the platform at the top of the Empire State Building. The aircraft is complete but is slightly disappointing as it is visibly deteriorating. When our cruise ship stopped in Barbados last year I visited their BA Concorde in its purpose-built shelter. It is superb! Clearly substantial amounts have been spent on the display. There are other aircraft on show too, but not many visitors. It is well worth a visit as there were no crowds and plenty of time to see everything. The Concorde at the Fleet Air Arm Museum is like ours but everything is behind Perspex and, when I was there ten years ago, there was not enough information on show. Nowhere near as informative as our Concorde. The French Concorde at the Washington museum was not open when I visited but it did look intact.