(declared April 2008)
It's story does need to be told. I do feel rather lucky in that, of the three Observers that shared a cabin when 893 first embarked for six months on Ark Royal, I am the only one who completed my service. The other two, Tony Russell (my best friend and the best man at my wedding) and John Harvey were both killed in accidents in the Sea Vixen."
In August of 1961, HMS Centaur had been ordered to the Persian Gulf to "show the flag" after Kuwait's declaration of Independence from Iraq following which Saddam Hussein had threatened to invade Kuwait. Our Sea Vixen FAW1s had been plagued with various electrical problems of generators not coming back online after an engine shutdown and also fluctuating voltages. The latter incident that affected me, at night, followed right after one of our aircraft that had a complete electrical failure and it forced us to divert to Aden, as a precautionary measure. We returned during daylight hours the next day. Our other serious problem was with the frequent failure of a fuel pump resulting in unusable fuel. This was a serious issue that affected the landing weight limitations especially when the temperatures in the Persian Gulf were 100+ F and there was rarely any natural wind.
On the 9th of August we were flying on patrol along the Kuwait/Iraq border, unarmed of course so as not to provoke Saddam, when we realized that we had three fuel pumps that were U/S. This would put us well over the arrestor gear limits upon our return and so we were instructed to divert to Kuwait to have the tanks de-fuelled. Unfortunately, they didn't have a Palouste Starter and so we had to stay overnight until one could be flown in from Centaur. We were accommodated, very comfortably so, at the Kuwait Oil Company's Guest House.
The next day, a starter was flown in on a Gannet but it too was U/S on arrival. By this time, the temperature was over the limit for the Gannet to start it's engines and so we all had to stay overnight again. Unfortunately, this time, there was no "room at the Inn" and so we had to bunk down on cots at the airfield. By this time, nobody would come too close to us because of our "reeking" flight suits. The next morning the Gannet went back to Centaur and returned with another starter and off we went. Once airborne we quickly discovered that the U/C would not come up. A quick calculation of the fuel usage told us that if we went out to Centaur and could not land-on, we would not have enough fuel to get back to Kuwait. We requested instructions, expecting to be told to return to Kuwait. However, much to our surprise, the Ship, obviously not wanting to have to send ground crew ashore to fix the problem, told us " Come on – we'll take you".
We arrived at the ship and set up several approaches as the Ship searched for some natural wind. Each time we were waved-off. The Ship kept turning to check out the ripples, as reported by the spotters, on the sea surface. After several wave-offs we advised the Ship that we could make only one or possibly two more passes. We were told to come on in. I'm glad to report that my Pilot, Dick Slatter, made a perfect landing and the arrestor gear held up. We reported in at the Ready Room to bring to an end "just another day at the office". The second is is a brief description of his time with " C Squadron" at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire UK.
I arrived at Boscombe Down after my tour with 893. I was well received because of my Sea Vixen experience and level of enthusiasm for the Sea Vixen. This allowed the other Observers to do most of the flying in the Buccaneers. The appointment to "C" Squadron had to be one of the best available because of the wide variety of the work being done. There was still a lot of activity for the FAW1s before the first FAW2 arrived in October of 1963. All the handling trials with a wide variety of configurations were performed with specific highlights that included LABS with 2000 lb Bombs, LEPUS Flares and the Auto Throttle. The latter culminated with a few days of MADDLs after every sortie and then embarking on Hermes, with XN919 and XN920, for a few days in Feb of 1964.
My primary assignment was for the Red Top System. It started immediately after XN684 arrived with the first firing occurring on 18 Feb. 1964. My Log Book is filled with very many Red Top flights and several missile firings with the ultimate flight being the one, with David Eagles, that destroyed a Meteor Drone Target over the Aberporth Range. Naturally, none of this was "seen" by the "Observer". It was somewhat of an anti-climax for me since I was only able to watch the "blip" on the radar. Some of the maneuvers were quite exciting during this program. I say this with "tongue –in-cheek" since, after locking the radar on to the target, it was a matter of "holding on for dear life" as the specific parameters of the sortie were carried out. The most violent/extreme ones were for the "Snap Up" and "Snap Down" profiles. The latter gave me many minutes of "negative G" time.
I have to say that I never felt uncomfortable or un-safe in the Sea Vixen. That may have been because most of my flying was done with "experienced" Pilots. I flew with Dick Slatter in 893 and this had the extra interest of doing most of the Maintenance Check Flights since Dick was also an Engineer. It was a pleasure and a privilege to fly with all the Test Pilots (including Dick Slatter) at "C" Squadron, Boscombe Down. The work was of such a variety that it was never boring. I felt very proud to have had the experience of the Sea Vixen (and the Buccaneer) and it was somewhat hard to walk away when my 8-years service ended in 1966 and I moved to the USA.