'SPECIALLY SELECTED' - MY EYE!.

By John Gornall.Instruments.


TASS (Transport Aircraft Servicing Specialist) COURSES (Aug1960-Jan 1961):

Several Corporals, all Instrument Fitters General, gathered at RAF Lyneham in August 1960 having been 'Specially Selected', or so we were told, for training to be annotated on our F4820 as: TASS (Transport Aircraft Servicing Specialists). Curly Knowlton, Fred Goldsworthy, me and one other were ex-Halton apprentices, which in itself would account for us being specially selected. Conversely, I think we were only told this to placate us and forestall any objection to being shuffled around from pillar to post over the next five months. Little did we know what we were in for - a Cook's Tour of courses around the South of England to no less than nine locations both Service and civilian. We would at least be expert in map reading and temporary/transit accommodation. Here are some of the 'highlights'.

Filton, Gloucester (8-19 Aug 60):

We started with a course on Britannia Instrumentation at the BAe factory at Filton in the north of Bristol. This was a well designed course beginning with a week on the whole aircraft followed by a week on the instrumentation. In addition we had a walk through the first Concorde which was being built in the next hangar. The first drawback was that we were billeted at Rudloe Manor near Corsham some 22 miles from Filton and we were condemned to an hour's drive, morning and evening, in an RAF bus. The second problem was that we were billeted at HMS Royal Arthur. Now, as you may know, Naval shore bases are run like a ship and we had to 'Salute the Quarterdeck' (Flagpole) when ever we walked past it, If we walked on the grass we invited a call of "Man overboard" and we could not leave the base unless a Liberty Boat (Local bus) was on hand. This was a good introduction to the comings and goings of the Course.

Yeovil, Devon (21 Aug-9 Sep 60):

We moved on to Westland Helicopters at Yeovil. What had helicopters to do with Transport a/c you might ask? Nothing, as the course was in fact two one week courses on Britannia and Argosy pressurisation systems given by Normalair Ltd a subsidiary of Westland. Here again we fell foul of the Navy in the shape of RNAS Yeovilton or HMS Heron as it was then called. Being a larger station than the previous one there were additional pitfalls for the innocent airman. The main one Being that seamen were not allowed to wear civvies unless 'on a run ashore', so we were constantly being picked up and bawled out by the duty CPO for wearing civvies and dismissed with "Oh! Blinking RAF!" or words to that effect. However, the perk at Normalair was that the firm took its customers on each course for lunch at the Mermaid hotel in Yeovil and as this comprised two separate courses we had two separate lunches at this excellent establishment.

On our weekend off between the two courses, we drove down to Weymouth and on towards Portland Bill we saw a sign to a naval dockyard. The approach was along a narrow road with a cliff on the right and the sea on the left. When stopped at a check point we ask innocently if we were cleared to drive round the docks. The Mod Plod, pointing to a roundabout some 50 yards away said; "Turn round there." What he meant was "Turn 180º and clear off." what we thought he meant was "Turn left at the roundabout." So in we went, turned to the left at the roundabout and started rubber-necking the ships. About 2 minutes later there was the sound of sirens and vehicles came towards us from several directions; needless to say we were turned round and waved farewell at the gate. We thought no more of it until some months later the Vassal spy scandal broke in the press. He was a Russian spy operating at, amongst others, the RN base we had driven into!

Lyneham, Wilts (5 Sep-21 Oct 60):

Next we spent a couple months at the Lyneham Ground School on a Britannia course which included some 1st line shift work so that we didn't become too settled. There were three things worth mentioning here. Firstly, our accommodation which was usually the transit block was miles from the cookhouse - no fun on a wet day. The transit block was being renovated which meant that the water was turned off at odd times and one occasion I saw someone washing in a fire bucket. On one occasion we were moved to another room in the block where the only heating was by a coke stove and we first had to clear a starlings nest from the chimney. Because it was a wet day we could find no dry coke or kindling so we liberated a shelf from one of the bedside lockers. This worked very well but we had not considered the varnish on the wood, which gave off a terrible smell as it burned. Just as we were congratulating ourselves on our initiative an Admin Sgt stuck his head round the door and asked what the smell was. We said we had just achieved the impossible by lighting the stove and we just had to burn some of the furniture. At this, and without registering, he left us to it. Which just goes to show that, if you want to get away with something illegal do it in the open - so if you want to pinch a 3-tonner drive it out of the main gates and they will stop the traffic for you! (Or, like a certain UK based USAF SNCO some years back, by himself, started up and taxied a C130 to the active runway, asked for permission to take-off, got it and so did just that - the flight ended badly for him but that's another story. Does anyone know more about this event? Brian)

Aylesbury, Bucks (31 Oct-4 Nov 60):

Other courses began with short one at Negretti & Zambra on Britannia fuel gauges, all of which were assembled by a little man in a little air conditioned workshop in the back streets of Aylesbury. This gave us a billet on Halton and the opportunity to see the station from the other side.

Brentford, Middlesex (7-18 Nov 60):

This course was on the Zero Reader Flight Director at Sperry Gyroscope Co Ltd and we were installed in the Union Jack Club on Waterloo Road, just south of the bridge. Do you remember the rubber sheets on the bed, the bunks open all round at ground level and the huge coked breakfasts? It is far different today, modernised to hotel standards and taking in Eurostar drivers and such like. In 1960 it was for us an introduction to commuting by train out to Brentford and back daily.

Harlow, Essex (22-25 Nov 60):

So we moved on to British Oxygen, for an introduction to Liquid Oxygen (LOX ) a gas at Minus 273 Degrees). It was here that I witnessed what I have always maintained was the best Training Aid I have ever seen. The objective was to illustrate how dangerous a LOX spillage could be especially if it got on your clothes. At the start of the lesson the instructor had two balls of cotton wool about as big as a small fist and a flask of liquid oxygen (LOX) on his desk. He picked up one of the cotton wool balls with a pair of tweezers and dipped it in the LOX, waved it in the air to dry and put it back alongside the other one. During the lesson we learned about the properties and dangers of the using LOX; hardening a tennis ball so that it shattered when hit with a hammer. Then, at the end of the lesson, the instructor returned to the danger of getting LOX on the clothes even after some time. He picked up the uncontaminated ball of cotton wool in the tweezers and, when a flame was held to it, it flared up and burned quite quickly. He then picked up the ball of cotton wool that had been dipped in the LOX some 20 minutes earlier. When he applied a flame to this one there was a small explosion and, in an instant, there were only a few flakes of cotton wool in the air. This could have been the leg of you overalls catching fire as you sat next to a smoker in the crew room. Point made, I think!

Abingdon, Oxfordshire:

On relatively familiar territory we briefed each other on the ins and outs of the Beverley. We came to the conclusion that you had to be a cross between a steeplejack and a potholer just to access equipment fitted in the wings behind the engines or in the boom.

Colerne, Wiltshire:

This was also familiar territory and quite a change from the modern world of LOX systems but would comprise most of our work down route.

Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Ltd, Coventry (16th -20th Jan 61):

Argosy Instrumentation was the title of this course. There was a small static display outside the ground school with some interesting aircraft including an F105 Widowmaker. But, and this is the best part, we were given an admin break after lunch where they showed films of the Monte Carlo motor races. This allowed us to knock out a few quick ZZZs and be fresh for the afternoon session.

Finale:

In summary, not one of these courses included an exam of any sort as I can recall and the TASS training turned out to be one of the best 'Jollies' of my 33 years service. To cap it all I, as a singlie, was posted to RAF Nicosia, Cyprus, and spent most of the next 2½ years playing football, swimming and snorkelling. Curly, by then married, spent the same time at RAF El Adem in Libya living in a primitive hiring in Tobruk. I have always felt a little guilty about my luck.