LIFE AFTER THE RAF

By Martin McArthur.Instruments

Towards the latter end of my time with the RAF I was stationed at Rheindahlen working in the Harrier Engineering office as AirEng3C1. I was the assistant to a Sqn Ldr who was the Avionics and Electrical manager for the RAF Harrier fleet. Sadly I cannot recall his name, it was nearly 35 years ago, but the Wg Cdr's name was Graham Morgan. The job was a real eye-opener to me, engineering on paper, clean hands, working in a warm and dry office with regular hours, superb!

At this time my wife and I lived on camp in a MQ; Rheindahlen was an 'open' camp so the roads through the married patch were open to the public. At that time the ira (I won't give them the prominence of capital letters) were active, so before you got into your car, parked outside your MQ, the car had to be inspected to ensure you had no nasty surprises under it. Guard duty, as guard commander, was a frequent occurrence, Orderly Sergeant came round just as frequently and I felt that I was constantly wearing 'cabbage kit' and carrying a respirator. This was no longer the 'flying club' I had joined back in the fifties, nor was it a suitable environment for my wife, or my daughter when she was home from boarding school, so I felt that it was time to go.

There was a bar to easy departure: anyone applying for PVR (Premature Voluntary Release) had to spend six months in the Falkland Islands before they would be released. This embargo had been in place since the end of hostilities but there was a rumour that it might soon be stopped. The rumour turned out to be true and on the day the embargo was lifted it saw me in SHQ filling out my application for release. It all happened very fast after that: My Sqn Ldr boss was away somewhere, as was the Wg Cdr; I had to apologise to both for not having the courtesy to give them advance notice; that was my only regret. Soon I was attending pre-release presentations and was offered a pre-release course in the UK. There was also the MQ to give up, clear from the Station, a farewell party to attend and gifts to accept: a painting of a RAFSA yacht by Clive Brooks (our Airframe Chf Tech) and a Photo of a No. 4 Sqn Harrier signed around the fuselage by all members of staff; these two, framed, still adorn the wall of my study.

Suddenly, almost anyway, I was a civvy. I attended my pre-release course at Catterick army camp; I had opted for the course leading to the Certificate of the Institute of Supervisory Management. This course taught me all about what I had been doing since my promotion to Sgt. There was a quick visit to Innsworth to hand in parts of uniform they wanted back and to exchange my 1250 for a temporary piece of paper. I was now a Chf Tech (Rtd.) after very nearly 30 years, and I had to find a job!

I started scouring the jobs' market, signed on as unemployed, and queried about what assistance I might get to help with my mortgage, only to be told by a snotty nosed clerk that they didn't support scroungers!!!! I was furious but did nothing about it, maybe because I had a suspicion that I wasn't entitled to help as I did have a big lump of money and a pension? I filled in a lot of job applications, wrote my CV and printed dozens of copies. On the day I finally left the RAF I had been on terminal leave, plus the remainder of my annual leave, and I was living in Fife in a little village called Freuchie, near Glenrothes. On that day, GEC laid off three hundred men in Kirkcaldy! Shock, horror, I had been banking on getting a job in Fife, either in Glenrothes, Dunfermline or Kirkcaldy, now the rug had been well and truly pulled from beneath my feet!

Good fortune took care of me (my late step father used to say of me "Martin, if you fell in a bucket of ordure [not the word he used] you would come out smelling of violets!"). My wife had been looking at an advert in the Sunday Post about a leather three-piece suite and wanted to go to Larkhall, a place on the M74, south of Glasgow, to look at and, most likely, order it. About the same time came an offer for a job interview at Yarrow Shipbuilders. The job offer had been obtained by a job agency in, or near, Huntingdon; I do not recall ever registering with them, but they had turned up trumps. My view was that I didn't want a job with Yarrow Shipbuilders, too far away, in a Glasgow (No Mean City) full of razor gangs. Remember I was born in Edinburgh, a much superior city! And what did I, an aircraft electrician and one time general instrument fitter, know about ship building, or ship weapon systems? Nonetheless they would pay for travel to the west; the interview would be a good experience, and after it we could go and look at that three-piece suite. I arrived at Yarrows and was directed to the offices of a group called COMSEC (Combat Systems Engineering Centre), set up to be a centre of excellence in combat systems engineering where a lot of the staff had been members of the Royal Navy (as weapon systems engineers). I was to be interviewed by a retired RN Cdr but, at the last minute, he was called away to some emergency relating to the contract he was running. His replacement was a professor with no experience of ship weapons' systems; his expertise was in computing and he was not really competent to interview me? The interview went surprisingly well; firstly he was impressed that I had a home computer (a Tandy model 4, with fixed keyboard, green screen monitor, two floppy disc drives and a dot matrix printer. Then I told him I could write simple programmes in BASIC; it was a good start. Next he started talking about synchros and resolvers and was astonished when I said that they were quite old hat. I had covered synchros and resolvers when I attended the Mk1 Lightning course; remember the smell of violets? I was offered a job! It carried a much reduced salary to what I had been getting as a Chf Tech, However I had my pension and gratuity and I did manage to get a promise of regular salary reviews. Altogether I was unemployed for only two months. Stick the mortgage assistance in with the monkey nuts!

My first job was as a Weapons Systems Engineer on the Ship Weapons Systems Engineers (SWSE) for Type 22 B3 (Batch 3) Frigates. My boss was a retired Lt Cdr, Bill Atherton, who admitted that he had no idea how he could employ me as a systems engineer as part of his team. His team comprised Jackie Cowan, an old(er) and very knowledgable shipyard employee, George Lambert, a very experienced weapons systems engineer, Bill Ednie, a retired chief (ex navy weapons man). Bill said that the only thing he could give me to do was, as I as a computing 'expert' (?), input SWSE data into the company mainframe computer. Fundamentally I was logging mail in and mail out, i.e. the team clerk? There was a big advantage to this: as I was an 'expert' I was left to my own devices and after conferring with real computer experts in the computing department we devised a programme that made my job very easy indeed. In later years this was to pay major dividends as we had started an embryo system that was to prove invaluable to us and to the Ministry of Defence (smell of violets?). The Type 22 B3 was a stretched version of the basic Type 22 Frigate stretched to accommodate four new weapons systems: Harpoon, Goalkeeper, an updated Seawolf anti-aircraft missile system and an uprated 4.5" gun with a (new) GSA8 control system. I kept my simple mail logging job for six months, all the time reading everything that came in and went out. When the boss said that he wanted me to look after some weapons systems I felt sufficiently knowledgeable to cope. He gave me the 4.5" gun, GSA8, the 30mm guns, ammunition routes, wind speed and direction system and the ship's log. Our job as systems engineers was to provide 'guidance' for the installation of new(er) weapons systems and/or changes to existing weapons systems in Type 22 B3 Frigates. Essentially we worked, on contract, to the Weapons Systems Manager, a Cdr in the Ministry of Defence. On occasions we would have to attend at the ship when it was being inspected by the Captain Weapons Trials Authority (CWTA) for acceptance. We were there as we had produced the guidance that was provided to the shipbuilder so that the new system could be installed as a change of contract. Occasionally the shipbuilder would be in disagreement with CWTA regarding the way in which equipment had been installed, we had to adjudicate and, where necessary, provide further guidance to resolve the problem. There were some times we put on our shipbuilder's hat to pose a question, then our Ministry hat to answer our own question. What fun!

My first big job was to introduce a change to the GSA8 system. This system was a development from a control system for anti-aircraft missiles used in airfield defence and was still under development. The change involved the inter unit cables proved by the shipbuilder, particularly special cables and the pin to pin connections; very complicated and it involved a subcontractor.