LAST POSTING.

By Ken Francis.Airframes.


In September 1965 I came back from the Far East to the soft underbelly of the UK and to the south coast, namely RAF Thorney Island - a land of water, i.e. sticking out into Chichester Harbour, making it great sailing country.

The unit I joined was No. 242 OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) which was divided into three separate Sqns, each tasked with converting aircrew on to the Argosy, the Hastings or the Beverley aircraft, all three of which were later replaced by the Lockheed C130K Hercules. I was to be on the Argosy Sqn where each aircrew conversion course lasted three months.

I was employed on first line, double day shifts, 'earlies' and 'lates'. I think that the aircraft flew quite locally most of the time, which included lots of circuits and bumps. The Argosies behaved themselves pretty well most of the time. From an airframe point of view hydraulic problems of one sort or another seemed to predominate, particularly internal and external leakage. External leakage could of course be seen, but internal leakage was another thing altogether. I have forever firmly imprinted in my mind a figure of two minutes - minimum - hydraulic cycling time which indicated the internal leakage rate within the system; the greater the internal leakage the lower the cycling time, controlled by an ACO - Automatic Cut Out valve - and thou shall not allow it to go below two minutes on pain of a F700 entry and an investigation!

I digress: each three-monthly course included a two week detachment to Libya - pre Ghadafi of course; we usually went to El Adam, near Tobruk, but on one occasion to Idris, near Tripoli, so my Far Eastern tan continued to be topped up by this frequency, it was a couple of years before it finally disappeared.These two week Libyan sojourns were for the student aircrews to carry out low level flying over the desert and night flying practise - local residents' objection at Thorney kept such activities there to a minimum. During time off I had my first dinghy sailing experience; it was in Tobruk harbour and I think it was in a Firefly, but that's down to memory so I could be wrong.

At this point I must mention that I met Tricia - my wife to be - on my very first night out from Thorney. A couple of friends and I went along to Hayling Island to a night club called the Kon Tiki; apart from my underwear, all the clothing that I wore that evening was borrowed - Borneo rots clothing so I had returned home with just my uniform. Anyway, notwithstanding the ill-fitting and odd clothing, I pulled!

We were married less than two years later. Being near to Portsmouth, I didn't realise initially that I would be marrying into a navy family - in fact I didn't realise initially that I would be marrying at all; but, such is life and now, fifty plus years on, I have not a single regret.

Of course, with married life and a third stripe pending, there was no option but to leave the double shift line work and re-locate into the hanger so as to be on 2nd line servicing and a normal daily shift routine.

My introduction to life in the Argosy hanger was to be taken to a corner and shown the 'Christmas Tree'. This, of course, was an Argosy which had been used as a source of spares for all the others; the main reason for this aircraft being so was that in order to access certain flying control cables the flap torque tube universal joints had been cut through in both wings and the offending torque tubes removed. That was OK and the flying control cables were changed, but the universal joints were unobtainable and had to be specially manufactured; waiting for this to happen inevitably led to it becoming the 'Christmas Tree'. This Argosy was apparently mine to make whole again. There were flaps, torque tubes, and chains everywhere except where they should have been - very encouraging! I was given a Cpl airframe fitter to work with and we set about it - I quickly realised that he was more of a liability than an asset.

Proficiency in man-management and in Argosy flap systems in one was not an easy lesson; nevertheless, with a lot of perseverance and the aid of a pair of super long handled circlip pliers, whilst warding off my 'assistant' who desperately wanted to create better access by cutting holes in the wing, we won through. Having mended that one aircraft I then moved on to the bread and butter of hanger life as aircraft came in for routine servicing or to have problems fixed. The proverbial 'hydraulic cycling time below two minutes' came in with one aircraft; we had it up on jacks with a hydraulic rig connected and running to pressurise the system when, although the undercarriage was selected down, one of the main undercarriage legs started to retract - no ground locks were fitted at the time. What a trouble shooting clue!! A bit of studying of the hydraulic system diagram and I had it down to an internal leak in a nose undercarriage door jack. Correct - we proved one was leaking, changed it and so cured the rogue main leg retraction; it also raised the overall hydraulic cycling time to well within limits. Why the undercarriage should retract due to this leak I will leave those of you with a hydraulic bent to work out!!

My appetite for sailing, having been whetted by the Tobruk harbour experience, I joined the station sailing club. I didn't ever become very proficient at sailing, but Tricia and I enjoyed the social side. My sailing mentor was Dave Hardy - 76/77th? He was one of the top sailors at Thorney - there were quite a few - and, at that time, he was under consideration for the 1968 Mexico Olympics in the Finn class. One winter, to give me more experience, he entered me in the 'Frostbite' series of races at Fareham Creek Sailing Club. The intention was for me to helm and for him to crew; on every race day, however, the weather was too strong for me so he helmed and I crewed. Needless to say we won every race and the series; so somewhere in the record books for the club it says that I won the 'Frostbite' series for that winter - don't believe it!!

Apart from general sailing and racing at different club meetings around Chichester Harbour - generally as crew with various helmsmen - in the club Albacores, I did have a sail one day with our own Albert England, who was on the station for a while; he was a Fg Off navigator at the time.

Other 81st entry members I remember seeing at Thorney were Graham Enfield - briefly - and 'Ginge' Fairless at the far - Hercules - end of our hanger.

The other sport I was involved in was cricket. I played for Thorney all the time I was there and even managed to captain the team for a season before I left.

Life was not at all bad at Thorney; after our marriage Tricia and I moved into a hiring in Portsmouth and I commuted to work in our little MG Midget. We had the best of both worlds as both RAF and Naval social events were enjoyed - the benefits of marrying into a navy family and living in Portsmouth!!

But, overall, I had long since decided that further service life was not for me, so in August 1969, clutching my £195 gratuity - no pension then for only twelve counting years - I wandered off into the civilian sunset, or should that be sunrise; either way it meant off to BAC at Weybridge in Surrey.

I must add that the T63 best blue I handed in when I left Thorney was the original one that I had been issued with at Halton. I could still make out the marks on the arms where the apprentice wheel badges were sewn on; a little bit tighter at the end than it was at the beginning, but I got away with it, and no one in authority ever seemed to notice these marks.

What the RAF did for me was to broaden my horizons to a degree that probably would not have happened had I remained in my Sussex village. Of course Lord Trenchard also set me up with aviation skills which held me in good stead for the rest of my working life. So it was goodbye to Per Ardua Ad Astra and hello to Terra Firma.