Fighter All Weather (FAW) of the Fleet Air Arm.

RAE Bedford Catapult Procedure

It was policy of training for all Fleet Air Arm Pilots to experience a catapult shot land based before embarking on an Aircraft Carrier. This was practiced at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) Bedford.

This was conducted for all Sea Vixen pilots and later for Phantom F4K pilots.

The custom built steam catapult was constructed a few meters high at the threshold of the short runway, approximately aligned 240 degrees for the prevailing winds. The aircraft would taxi up a steep ramp on to the catapult. A lot of power was required to do this and the pilot had to be very quick to throttle back on achieving the horizontal, thus avoiding disasterous overun consequences.

The Flight Deck Officer (seen here in his Dress No 5 Uniform) would marshal the aircraft to the correct position. The hold back would be secured and the aircraft would be connected to the catapult with the wire strop (seen on the ground).

The shore based catapult shot was a hard and severe ride for large and heavy aircraft such as the Sea Vixen. It was however a much smoother ride that the original hydraulically powered catapults of the earlier Naval Aviation era. Aircraft carriers had wind over the deck as high as 50 kts or so. Here at Bedford the catapult had to achieve flying speed (130kts or so) from zero, with little or no natural wind. The aircraft would sometimes sink and glance main wheels on the runway if end speed was not sufficient.

"At the time it was installed the catapults on all RN carriers were to be 150ft. The Bedford catapult was 200ft long and was raised to allow the correct launch speed to be determined by finding out at what end speed the aircraft sank below the catapult. This was carried out before any type of aircraft carried out trials on a ship. No pilot that I had spoken to in my time at Bedford thought that the boost was harsh compared with an actual carrier launch, indeed many considered it to be smoother than the previous hydraulic catapult design."

(personal testimomy of George Ray. ex Bedford Catapult Team)

Interesting to note here in this film archive is the civilian catapult crew and onlookers who are apparantly unaware of the dangers of jet engine noise to hearing. Only one is wearing ear defenders. The noise was enough to make ones insides rumble and vibrate.

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