Monday, 21 January 2013


I remember when this beautiful beast - XV424 - a Phantom FGR2, turned up at RAF Wattisham in 1979. She was a 56 Squadron aircraft then (she did get around a bit, and belonged to various squadrons and OCUs at different times) , and I worked with 56 and 23 - possibly the two most famous fighter squadrons in the history of our great air force. Squadron Leader Alcock was the pilot, he was one of our more popular officers, and he was also related to the great John Alcock who made that first trans-Atlantic flight (along with Arthur Brown) back in 1919 which made him a special sort of a dude in our eyes.

XV424 was a pleasure to touch, but she had a sticky G90 - which worried me a great deal, as it was my job to deal with it. The G90 was a gunsight camera, but it was effectively just a training aid in real life. The only time it was ever really used properly was on Armament Practice Camp (APC) at Akkers (RAF Akrotiri) in Cyprus. The power cable just never sat right. It used to cause me a certain amount of stress. We used to process the film on something called an ML16. That was a pain in the arse as well, especially at Akkers, because the heat and humidity could cause static electricity flashes that could effectively wipe out the film. Try explaining that to the aircrew. Having just done a mock dogfight over the Mediterranean they never quite understood the subtle technical aspects of that f***ing disaster no matter how hard we tried to spin it. Squadron Leader Alcock probably does not remember me as fondly as I remember him!

But XV424 looked lovely. And this was at the time when the Tombs were being repainted from the traditional camouflage  to the 'ghost' grey. XV424 was the first one I saw painted this way. Beautiful, and on full afterburner she sounded magnificent!

XV424 is a museum exhibit now, and you can see her at the RAF museum at Hendon. She is in the ghost livery. When I visit, if the staff are not close by, I must admit that I like to cloae my eyes and touch her - it all comes back. TACEVALs (Tactical evaluation exercises) at Wattisham, gas masks and secondary duties with the station EOD (bomb disposal) team, APCs at Akkers. Great days.

Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I do miss the Cold War sometimes. At least we knew who our enemies were back then!

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