Flying the BAC 167 Strikemaster Mk88 in RNZAF Service: Part 2 Feb – Jun 82
Home to New Zealand from USA – I had my last flight in a USAF Phantom F4D on my exchange posting to USAF Homestead Air Force Base (HAFB), Florida, USA, on Tuesday 26 Jan 82; having flown a total of 717.5 hours in the F4E and D models of the Phantom, of which 412.1 were as an Instructor Pilot (IP), my next assignment was to be Commanding Officer 14 Squadron (CO 14 Sqn) at RNZAF Base Ohakea, flying the BAC Strikemaster Mk88. With my family, we left HAFB after 2 years and 10 months of service with the 31st Tactical Fighter Wing and flew by commercial airline from Miami to Los Angeles where we connected with an Air NZ DC10 flight to Hawaii – it was good to hear a Kiwi accent again aboard the DC10, and to have a welcome can or two of Kiwi Steinlager beer!
After a few days of rest in Hawaii we travelled on to Auckland, New Zealand, arriving on 6 Feb 82 and there we stayed for a few days with family before traveling on to RNZAF Base Ohakea. I was appointed CO 14 Sqn with effect from 7 Feb 82 but it wasn’t until a few days later that we moved into our new rented home, RNZAF Married Quarter (MQ) 9 in Witako Street, a nice two-storied house on base at Ohakea opposite the Base Hospital. Getting our girls into school was the first priority for my wife, Joanie, and me – Tracey into the 3rd Form at Palmerston North Girls High School, with Nicola and Stephanie enrolled at Clifton Primary School in the nearby township of Bulls. We also needed to buy a car, as well as get our furniture and effects out of long term storage and delivered to set up house in MQ 9; only then would I begin to learn about the requirements of my new post as CO 14 Sqn.
The Squadron had 3 flights: – a Training Flight where student pilots completed the Advanced stage of their pilot training course before graduating with their coveted ‘wings’, an Operational (Op) Flight where qualified pilots learned to use the Strikemaster (SMR) aircraft operationally in air-to-air, and air-to-ground weapons and tactics (sometimes referred to as Fighter Lead-in Training [FLIT]) before a posting to fly A4 Skyhawks, and a Maintenance Flight responsible for servicing the SMRs for use by the Training and ‘Op’ flights. As CO 14 Sqn I would need to fly when required with both the Training and Op Flights, as well as to ‘run the Squadron’, just as all other Commanding Officers needed to do – a busy time lay ahead.
The following narrative of my flights as CO 14 Sqn extends to many pages, so I have broken it down to Part 2 Feb-Jun 82, Part 3 Jul-Dec 82, and Part 4 Jan-Jun 83; and without knowing what individual readers would like to read, I have included ‘the lot’, so there should be enough for the aviation historians to delve into, as well there being a more general story for others. In my period of some 16 months as CO 14 Sqn, I can attest that life was never dull! Read on for the story…
Conversion to the Strikemaster – I had last flown the SMR in June 1978, nearly 4 years ago, and with a total of only 18.6 hours flying in the ‘Blunty’, as the SMRs were known, I couldn’t by any means have been considered an experienced hand in the small jet trainer. Back in 1978 I managed only a very short conversion to be qualified ‘first pilot-day’, plus an Instrument rating, but had I no night flying or any weapons and tactics experience in the SMR – that lay ahead.
February 1982 – my SMR ‘Re-Famil’ and Op Conversion begins
My first ‘re-familiarisation’ flight on the SMR at Ohakea was on Monday 22 Feb 82 with Flt Lt Nick Pedley (the RAF Exchange officer serving with 14 Sqn) who was IP in SMR NZ6362 for 1.2 hours – we did ‘Convex 1’ which my pilots logbook records included ‘effect of controls, stalling, aeros, spinning and circuits’. I have to say it was quite a change to be flying the small and simple Blunty compared to the F4 Phantom! My next flight was on Tuesday 23 Feb 82 where I did ‘Convex 8’ (whatever that comprised of, as my logbook doesn’t tell) in NZ6362 for 1.2 hours with Flt Lt Paul Martin as IP; and on the same day I flew an Instrument Flying (IF) sortie in NZ6372 with Flt Lt Ross Drysdale as IP – I was ‘under the blind flying hood’ for 0.9 of a 1.1 hour flight that included an NDB letdown and a TACAN approach.
March 1982 – SMR Conversion before IP duties began with Training and Op Flights
My next flights started one week later where on Tuesday 2 Mar 82 I flew for 1.2 hours with Flt Lt Nick Pedley as IP in NZ6374 to do an airtest following a major servicing – that in turn required a functional check of aircraft handling and spin recovery, plus some aeros. A second flight on 2 Mar 82 was in NZ6367 with Flt Lt M.E R. (Mike, or ‘Merp’) Panther as IP for 1.3 hours doing more instrument flying. On Thursday 4 Mar 82 I flew NZ67373 with Flt Lt Scott Glendinning (Flt Cdr 14 Sqn Training Flight), as an approved Instrument Rating Examiner (IRE), for 1.4 hours to do my Instrument Rating Test (IRT) including an NDB letdown, TACAN and SRA approaches – I passed!
On Friday 5 Mar 82, I flew for 1 hour with Flt Lt Garry Rasmussen (Flt Cdr 14 Sqn Ops Flight) in NZ6366 to observe a 4 v 2 Air Combat Manoeuvres (ACM) sortie – and here I saw the need for a more structured approach to ACM training, based on what I had learned and taught when flying the F4 Phantom. Monday 8 Mar 82 saw my next flight, this time in NZ6365 for 1.2 hours with Flt Lt Gavin Howse as IP wherein we did ‘Convex 3’ including advanced handling, practice forced landings (PFL) and low flying. On Tuesday 9 Mar 82 I flew as aircraft captain for 1.4 hours in NZ6376 where I was ‘Safety Pilot’ for Sqn Ldr I.G. (Iggy) Wood while he was under the IF hood. I then completed a 1.2 hour ‘Standardisation Check’ and ‘Right Hand Seat Check’ on Wednesday 10 Mar 82 in NZ6374 with Flt Lt Scott Glendinning, before a night flight check ride for .9 hours, also on 10 Mar 82, in NZ6365 with Flt Lt Gavin Howse. I was now qualified as First Pilot Day/Night, Instrument Rated, and right hand seat (IP) checked – but my SMR operational check-out, including navigation, close and tactical formations, air combat tactics, air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, all lay ahead.
I completed a close formation and tail chase flight of 1.2 hours on Thursday 11 Mar 82 where I was solo in NZ6376 as number 2 of a 2 aircraft (2 of 2) formation; and then flew with Flt Lt Dennis Green (RAAF Exchange officer) in NZ6370 on 11 Mar 82 for 1.5 hours in doing a High Level/Low Level (Hi/Lo) Navigation exercise (NAVEX) – and that completed two of the tasks on my conversion ‘to-do’ list! Then it was into air-to-ground weapons at Raumai weapons range that itself was located on the coast to the west and near Ohakea: – I flew on Monday 15 Mar 82 with Flt Lt Garry Rasmussen as IP in NZ6372 for 1 hour firing 7 x 2.75 inch Rocket Projectiles (R/P) from a 20 degree dive at the R/P target, and fired 100 x 7.62 mm rounds from a 10 degree dive onto a gunnery target.
Two days later, on Wednesday 17 Mar 82, I flew solo in NZ6371 for 1 hour doing weapons at Raumai – 4 x Mk106 Hi-Drag practice bombs (HDB), 7 x 2.75 inch Rocket projectiles (R/P), and 200 x 7.62mm bullets from a 10 degree gunnery pattern. That night (17 Mar 82) I wore my ‘IP hat’ to do a night check flight in NZ6373 for 1.2 hours on Lt Quek (Republic of Singapore Air Force, or RSAF). Quek was a pilot trainee student of No 181 Pilots Course undertaking the Advanced stage of his Pilot training with the Training Flight of 14 Sqn – and so I recorded my first Dual Instruction flight on the SMR.
Two short flights were flown solo to Raumai, one on Thursday 18 Mar 82 in NZ6368 for .5 hours wherein I dropped 4 x Mk106 HDB individually from level passes at some 50 feet above ground level (AGL), 4 x Mk106 HDB from a 10 degree dive, and 200 x 7.62 mm gunnery from a 10 degree dive – and I repeated the same weapons load and profiles on Friday 19 Mar 82 in NZ6370 for .6 hours.
On Monday 22 Mar 82 it was back to the Training Flight to fly as IP with Fg Off Howard North, who was a 181 Course student, on a Hi/Lo Navex for 1.6 hours. On Tuesday 23 Mar 82, I flew a monthly staff continuation sortie with Wg Cdr (Dr) White as passenger – the really likeable Dr Alan White was an RNZAF Reserve medical officer who had been ‘called up’ to the active reserve for some two weeks to be the Medical Officer at the Ohakea Base Hospital: he was a private pilot and took every opportunity to fly while on active reserve.
A return flight to RNZAF Base Wigram was undertaken on Thursday 25 Mar 82 – flying NZ6373 I flew to Wigram in 0.8 hours taking Sgt Morton as passenger (pax), and returned to Ohakea with Sgt Dingwall (who was posted to the Sinai) taking 0.7 hours. Then it was back to the Training Flight on Friday 26 Mar 82 as an IP to take Flt Lt (Dr.) Sandy Dawson of 181 Pilots Course for 1.4 hours on his second of a number of close formation flights; a second close formation flight followed on 26 Mar 82, this time in NZ6370 with Officer Cadet Dean Clisby for 1.4 hours.
Exercise Southern Safari ’82 – Now it was back to the ‘Op’ flight where on Monday 29 Mar 82 I flew NZ6373 for 1.3 hours, with Flt Lt Dennis Green as pax, to Wigram to position for Exercise (Ex) Southern Safari ’82 that was underway at the Tekapo training area. A second flight was undertaken on 29 Mar 82, this time I was solo in NZ6365 for 1.5 hours, as 2 of 2, taking off from Wigram to undertake Forward Air Controller (FAC) simulated strikes at Tekapo, and then return to Wigram. I flew two flights on Tuesday 30 Mar 82 to Tekapo and return to Wigram – the first one was solo in NZ6361, as 1 of 2, for 1.3 hours, and the second in NZ6361, again as 1 of 2, for 1.5 hours but with Plt Off Trev Marsh of the Op Flight as pax. On Wednesday 31 Mar 82, I flew NZ6373 for 1.6 hours, with Sqn Ldr Peter Garnett (OC Pilot Training Squadron at Wigram – Pete and I were on the same Wings course in 1967/68, as well as the same Flying Instructor’s Course (FIC) in 1976) as pax, to do a handling famil for Peter including aeros, circuits and instrument letdowns at Christchurch International airport, and at Wigram. On Thursday 1 Apr 82, with Ex Southern Safari now concluded, the four 14 Sqn SMRs returned to Ohakea – I flew NZ6361 for 1 hour, as 1 of 4, with Fg Off Ian (Wally) Walls as pax.
April 1982 – low SMR availability, airframe fatigue, popups, FHTs, Ex Falcons Roost 15, 181 Pilots Course graduation
SMR availability problems – Having now had some 6 weeks as CO 14 Sqn, I was becoming more aware of a worrying trend: – that was, of the 16 SMRs the RNZAF owned, we at 14 Sqn actually flew very few SMRs to fly at any one time; and the few we had were used extensively by both the Training and Op Flights until we ‘ran them out’ of flying hours, such that they were then pushed into the back of our hangar awaiting a slot for a scheduled servicing. And while there may well have been a servicing plan for the induction and completion dates for individual SMR servicing at Ohakea’s Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMS), and for deeper level ‘group’ servicing RNZAF Base Woodbourne, in reality and for a variety of reasons SMR servicings were seldom being completed on time.
At 14 Sqn we were given fixed dates by which to complete each ‘Wings’ Course, so if SMR availability numbers were down, we were compelled to prioritise whatever aircraft we had to keep the Wings course sortie count on track to meet course graduation dates – which in turn meant that Op flight had often had insufficient aircraft to meet their operational training needs, such that junior pilots sometimes went without enough flying experience to be ready for onward posting to A4 Skyhawks. All this seemed to be a simple management problem, and it seemed I was the only one who worried about it because I was the one who had to justify why we were not meeting the allocated monthly flying-hour task.
I called in my 14 Sqn Maintenance Flt Cdr, Flt Lt Mike Dekker, and asked him to find out and tell me where each SMR was currently located between 14 Sqn, AMS and Woodbourne, then tell me what in/out servicing date had been set for each aircraft, and how each one was progressing against that plan. The outcome to Mike’s report was not good news, so I went to see OC Tech Wing, Wg Cdr John Kelly, and laid out the problem to him. I have to say that from that point SMR availability slowly improved!
SMR airframe fatigue – It also appeared to me there was no apparent fleet fatigue management programme tailored for each individual aircraft wherein airframe fatigue needed to be spread, or managed, to ensure no one aircraft was overly used on the more aggressive aircraft fatigue incurred in flights by Op Flt weapons and tactics sorties when compared the generally lower fatigue count in flights of the Training Flt. But, at that time, airframe fatigue management continued to be an ‘unsighted’ problem that was not properly addressed until later in the life of the SMR.
Reconnaissance at Hokitika – On Monday 5 Apr 82, I flew to Hokitika and return to Ohakea in a 42 Sqn Cessna 421 Golden Eagle NZ7940 with Sqn Ldr Ross Marbeck as Captain. Ross took me, along with 5 others from 14 Sqn, to do a ‘recce’ of Hokitika airfield and environs as a precursor to the 14 Sqn Ex Falcons Roost 15 tented camp, due to take place from 20th – 29th Apr 82. Appointments had been arranged to talk through a range of issues including the location of the camp on the airfield, crash/fire support, and food and beverage suppliers in support of the tented camp compromising some 120 RNZAF personnel.
Pop-up Attacks – Back at Ohakea on Tuesday 6 Apr 82, I flew SMR NZ6372 for 0.5 hours, with Op Flight pilot Plt Off Mark Tapp as pax, to do the first trials in a SMR of ‘Pop-Up’ attacks at Raumai range. Popup attacks to drop or fire weapons at a target were a means of minimising the exposure of the attacking aircraft to the threat of surface to air missiles (SAMs); popups replaced the practice of orbiting a target for multiple weapons attacks as in the earlier FAC controlled ‘Vietnam wheel’ of the 1960s and early 1970s. I had gained considerable experience in popup attacks while flying the F4 Phantom when on exchange with the USAF; the popup attack itself started from a pre-planned Initial Point (IP) and the pilot flew over the IP at low level on a pre-planned compass heading at a pre-planned speed for a calculated elapsed time until a ’popup’ climb was initiated to allow the pilot to visually acquire the target; on reaching a calculated ‘pull down altitude’ the pilot would then bank and turn the aircraft as required towards the target attack heading, allowing the aircraft to apex before settling onto the desired dive angle for weapons release on the target, followed by egress from the target area back down at low altitude. Hopefully, this process would minimise the time an attacking aircraft was exposed to SAMs. In the sortie on this day, 10 degree and 20 degree attack profiles were flown in the SMR using 8 x BDU33 SDBs that were dropped at the rate of one bomb per popup pass.
After tasting the challenge of trialling popups at Raumai, it was back to the Training Flight for me on Wednesday 7 Apr 82:- in NZ6365 I was the IP for the ‘Final Nav Test’ by Off Cdt Mike McConnell of 181 Pilot’s Course who flew a Hi-Lo Navex for 1.5 hours. A second flight on 7 Apr 82 saw me solo in NZ6364, as 1 of 2, for ‘pairs popups’ at Raumai with 8 x BDU33s dropped singularly in each of 8 passes; it was important for the second aircraft to be separated by at least some 20 seconds over the target from the Flight Leader’s aircraft in order to avoid flying through the fragmentation blast of the Leader’s bomb.
Flight Tests with Training Flight – On Thursday 8 Apr 82 I flew another Final Nav Test, this time in NZ6366 for 1.7 hours with Lt Quek RSAF of 181 Pilot’s Course. Final Handling Tests (FHTs) for some of 181 Pilot’s Course students were next on my schedule, and for each of the hopeful grandaunts, this was their ‘biggie’ flight. Whilst in the student’s minds this was a ‘pass, or fail their Wings course flight’, in practice it was more a formality to check that each student had reached a proficient and safe level to be awarded his air force pilot’s wings. First up was Flt Lt (Dr) Sandy Dawson in NZ6361 on Wednesday 14 Apr 82 for 1.4 hours, followed on the same day by Off Cdt Dean Clisby in NZ6364 for 1.4 hours doing his FHT. Two more FHTs followed on Thursday 15 Apr 82, the first being Off Cdt Neil Kenny in NZ6367 for 1.4 hours and then Lt Quek in NZ6368, also for 1.4 hours. On Friday 16 Apr 82, I flew with Off Cdt Peter Lee in NZ6373 for 1.4 hours to complete his FHT. Flt Lt Scott Glendinning flew FHTs with the remainder of the students before we compared notes and rated each student in graduating order for their flying proficiency skills – they all graduated and were awarded their wings at a Parade at Wigram on Friday 23 Apr 82. By now, I had accumulated a total of 65.4 hours in the SMR, of which 18.5 hours were dual instruction – and my total flying hours on all aircraft types to date was 3658.6 hours.
Exercise Falcon’s Roost 15 – Hokitika – With the 181 Pilots ‘wings’ course now completed, and before the next course arrived, it was time to extend 14 Sqn’s flying beyond the bubble of operations out of Ohakea. The Sqn aimed to deploy twice annually to operate from a tented camp of some 10 days at a regional airport in New Zealand; the deployments were named ‘Falcons Roost’ exercises and these provided a good opportunity for Training Flight IPs to broaden their skills by learning more about flying the SMR on sorties other than those of the wings course, as well as a chance to take the ‘Op’ flight pilots away to fly in a different operating area. Normally around eight SMR aircraft would be taken, together with about 120 personnel – who would provide all support services such as rectification and maintenance of the aircraft, refuelling, catering, security, medical, and admin. Camp stretchers and sleeping bags were the norm for all, as were bucket hot showers, plenty of good food, and a bar for the after-hours enjoyment of all.
On Tuesday 20 Apr 82, flying NZ6373, I led a 9 aircraft formation of SMRs on a 1.5 hour flight via various places enroute to Hokitika airfield, and a landing on runway 03/21 of 3780 feet/1152m in length; the runway was only about one-half the length of the main 09/27 runway at Ohakea. An advance party had already positioned at Hokitika with support vehicles including fuel tankers, an ambulance, and some cars and vans; the Squadron Warrant Officer had set out the marker pegs for layout of the camp, and a 40 Sqn C130 Hercules had already positioned pallets of tents for accommodation, flight line maintenance, storage, cookhouse and mess tents. A second ‘Herc’ brought SMR support equipment as well as the balance of the camp personnel, so after the arrival of the Bluntys, all hands set to and erected the tents for the camp. In record time, the camp cooks whipped up plenty of good food for the hungry young and youngish folks, and by late afternoon all individuals had helped to erect the big marquee tents, plus their own shared accommodation tents fitted with camp stretchers complete with sleeping bags and extra blankets. It was now time for some camp grub and a beer!
Flying NZ6361 for 1.2 hours, as 1 of 2, on Wednesday 21 Apr 82 with Flt Lt Scott Glendinning as my ‘pupil’ I introduced him to low level tactical formations and ‘com-out’ 90, 180 and 45 deg turns; ‘com-out’ (i.e. no radio) was another procedure I learned with the USAF, so I began to introduce it to both Op Flight and Training Flight pilots. On that flight, we also practiced close formation on a RNZAF Friendship aircraft in preparation for a flypast. Also on 21 Apr 82, I flew NZ6373 for 1.4 hours on a ‘Navex to Sim Strike’, followed by FAC controlled Strikes.
I had two flights on Thursday 22 Apr 82 – the first in NZ6373, as 2 of 2, for 1.1 hours to introduce Training Flight IP, Flt Lt Dennis Green RAAF, to 1 v 1 ACM; and the second sortie was in NZ6368 for 1.2 hours, as 2 of 2, with Fg Off Kenny of the local ATC Sqn as pax, on a photo flight in the Mt Cook area.
While I am not sure of the date, I think we chose Thursday evening to hold our Camp Cocktail party so that we could thank the local dignitaries and community for their support of the Camp. In preparation for the party, we chose to dump a couple of truckloads of sawdust on the floor of our biggest extender tent as this would at least provide a more sound footing than the slightly boggy and damp surface – but even this did not prevent the ladies from sinking their high heels into the ‘floor’. Kitted out in our long sleeved blue airforce shirts and with ties affixed we of 14 Sqn looked the part; we welcomed the visitors while serving them drinks and canapé finger food that was expertly prepared by our very capable mess staff. With speeches completed and formalities over, it was time to party, and that we did including being joined by the famed Kokatahi band with their somewhat strange collection of instruments playing West Coast ballads from the gold digger’s era. What a ‘pinch yourself’ night – a memorable party inside a tent on an airfield on the remote West Coast of New Zealand; ladies in their finery on a sawdust floor, with the Kokatahi band playing and the beer flowing, and even as the event hosts, we felt privileged to enjoy plenty of the warm West Coast friendship.
181 Pilots Course Graduation at Wigram – On Friday 23 Apr 82 in NZ7373 I led a 4 aircraft flight of SMRs on a 0.7 hour flight to land at Wigram for the Graduation Parade of 181 Pilot’s Course. We had to take our No. 3 dress uniform to wear at the parade, plus our white-jacketed Mess Kit with white shirt and black bow tie to wear at the 181 Course Graduation Ball that was held that evening in No 2 Officers’ Mess at Wigram. On Saturday 24 Apr 82, we four SMRs departed Wigram for the 0.7 hour flight back to Hokitika – flying NZ6373 again, as 1 of 4, but this time with Fg Off Dave Brown as a pax, I had said we would all wear our white mess kits with black bow ties and cummerbunds in the SMRs for the flight back to Hokitika. After landing on the short sealed 03/21 runway at Hokitika and turning off the runway to taxy back to the 14 Sqn flight line, I ensured the Ejection seat safety pins were inserted in both seats, rolled back the canopy, assigned the taxying duties to Dave Brown while I stood up in the cockpit to ‘take the salute’ like ‘General Montgomery did in the Desert’. However, I was not aware that this antic was being filmed, and so I was a little embarrassed a few days later when the movie was played back in a local Hokitika pub in the presence of visiting AOC Operations Group, Air Cdre Bernie O’Connor! He smiled and took it all with good humour, probably wondering how a white Mess kit had been approved to wear as flying clothing, complete with flying helmet (known as a ‘Bone dome’) and oxygen mask!
Two more flights followed on Saturday 24 Apr 82 – the first was in NZ6374 with Flt Lt Scott Glendinning as my ‘student’ to fly across the Southern Alps, as 1 of 2, on a 1.2 hour sortie to Danger Area 71 (Tekapo); at Tekapo we dropped Mk 106 HDB from 10 deg passes, as well as doing two FAC strikes, before returning to Hokitika. My second flight was in NZ6370 with Flt Lt Keith Pollock, a Training Flight IP as ‘student’, and we flew the same sortie profile and for the same duration as the earlier Tekapo flight that day.
Sunday 25th April 82 was ANZAC Day and we eventually flew a 4 aircraft flypast over the Hokitika Cenotaph at the time the local RSA parade members, having marched from their clubrooms, laid their wreath. I say eventually because in NZ6370 I had already led a 4 x SMR formation to Tekapo for 20 deg SDB, and FAC Strikes, before returning to the Hokitika area to ‘hold’ while awaiting advice that the RSA parade had formed up at the agreed time and was marching to the Cenotaph. Well, we held and we held, and as we were by now all getting very low of fuel, I asked our Flypast Controller (Flt Lt ‘Merp’ Panther, who was at the RSA) for progress on the parade – he radioed back to say they were all still inside the RSA clubrooms having their ‘last beers’. I replied to say if they didn’t get outside ‘quick chop’, form up and march the short distance to the Cenotaph, there would be no flypast because the SMR jets were now thirstier than the RSA members! As said, we eventually did the flypast as part of a flight of 1.4 hours. I completed a second flight on 25 Apr 82, this time as 1 of 2, and flying solo for once, in NZ6374 for 1.3 hours doing 10 deg HDB and 20 deg SDB at Tekapo, as well as some FAC strikes.
I didn’t fly on Monday 26th April (perhaps we all had the day off from flying?), so my next flights were on Tuesday 27th – my first sortie was with Air Cdre O’Connor as pax in NZ6361 and we flew for 1.4 hours, as 2 of 2, to Tekapo for 20 deg SDB before returning to Hokitika via the scenic route at low level through the Southern Alps.
My last flight of the exercise was for 1.3 hours in NZ6368 on Tuesday 27 Apr 82 with Flt Lt Scott Glendinning as pax – we were the ‘bandit’ to seek out and ‘gun down’ SMR Black formation of 4 aircraft that had flown to Tekapo and return; Scotty and I managed to find and notionally ‘kill’ a few of them, but there was growing consternation on my part when I landed behind the last of the four SMR aircraft only to find there was a rapidly decreasing amount of runaway remaining as each successive aircraft braked a little harder than the one in front. The Blunty’s toe-actuated wheel brakes were quite good but with no anti-skid system a pilot had to be careful not to stomp too hard on the brakes least a wheel stop rotating resulting in a blown tyre. I managed to stop NZ6368 without blowing a tyre or ramming the aircraft ahead!
With no flying planned on Wednesday 28th April the day was spent dismantling all that could be dismantled of the tented camp, ready for our return to Ohakea the next day. That meant we would have a Hangi-cooked meal for dinner that night so that the cooks could dismantle the camp kitchen, and the big marquee tent that housed it, to be packed on pallets with other equipment ready to be loaded into C130 Hercules when it arrived early the following day. At the Cocktail Party of a few days ago, we had invited many guests including a local helicopter pilot called Colin Tuck. At the Pub one night after the Cockers Party Colin approached me and asked if he could come to the final night Hangi party that he had heard about: if invited he offered to bring something to eat, which I said was a kind offer but not necessary. Anyway, while the tented camp was being dismantled, our erstwhile chopper pilot hovered over to our campsite with the wild deer hanging on a strop below his little chopper. “Where’s your Boss”?, Colin the pilot shouted down to an airman below, whereupon I was pointed out to Colin the chopper pilot and he hovered over to me and asked where I wanted the deer to be dropped? “Over there”, I said pointing to the site of the Hangi that was about to be put down. So the deer was plopped down at the Hangi pit and Colin the pilot yelled out he’d be “back soon” – which he was, but this time he had a wild pig as an underslung load that was also destined for the Hangi! We all ate well that evening, such to the generosity of Colin the local chopper pilot!
After a week of fantastically fine and sunny weather, light rain greeted us as we woke on Thursday 29th April at Hokitika; at the cold breakfast available for all, the weather forecast was studied and a rapidly deteriorating weather situation was revealed. With our accommodation tents now dismantled and the kitchen and toilets also dismantled, it was clear we couldn’t stay on at Hokitika – and with some 120 now homeless souls I said we’d better get the SMRs airborne for Ohakea as soon as possible in order to avoid the worsening weather. And so we did with the SMRs taking off in pairs at appropriate separation and climbing to altitude enroute to Ohakea – I flew NZ6364, with Flt Lt Ross Drysdale as pax, taking 1 hour for the flight. Unfortunately we had to fly through the approaching cold front and icing build-up was experienced by some aircraft that resulted in damage to some engines – but the Blunty fitted with the Rolls Viper engine was tough old nut so thankfully all aircraft recovered safely to Ohakea. I recorded that we flew a ‘Diamond 9’ close formation flight over Ohakea upon out arrival, with me as 1 of 9. And so endeth Falcons Roost 15 where I had flown 14 sorties for 16.6 hours, and I now had a grand total of 82 hours in the SMR.
May 1982 – weapons Raumai, CGS Annual planning exercise, ACM & DACT
Now back at Ohakea, flying for me in May began on Monday 3 May 82 where I flew NZ6361 solo on a short 0.4 hour weapons sortie to nearby Raumai range. At Raumai I fired 6 x 2.75 inch R/P from a 20 deg dive to record 13 metre Circular Error of Probability (CEP), and fired 100 x 7.62 gunnery rounds from a 15 deg dive to score 21 hits on the target (or 21%, which was not a bad score). Having fired the guns, standard procedure was to join downwind before landing back at Ohakea, rather than do a ‘buzz and break’ before landing. Apparently at some place in the world a SMR once inadvertently fired a 7.62mm round while doing a buzz and break, so we did not do buzz and breaks at Ohakea after firing the guns! To work out the CEP for 6 x R/P, we deleted both the worst and best rocket scores from the bracket of 6 x R/P, and then repeated the process again by deleting the next worst and next best scores in order to be left with just two scores – these were added together and then divided by two in order to arrive at the CEP for that bracket of 6 x R/P.
On Wednesday 5th May, I flew NZ6374 for 1.0 hour doing a Navex ending with a First Run Attack (FRA) – [or, an unscientific popup] at Raumai before entering the weapons pattern. For my FRA, I was 12 seconds late on my nominated Time on Target (TOT), and my 20 Deg R/P score was tidy 14 metres at 6 o’clock on the attack heading to the target. The CEP for my remaining rockets was 14 metres, and I scored 21% on the three allowable passes to fire 100 x 7.62 gunnery bullets from a 15 deg dive.
On Thursday 6 May 82, I flew in Boeing 727 NZ7272, captained by Wg Cdr Ken Gayfer, CO 40 Sqn, from Ohakea to Whenuapai (Auckland) and then positioned at Papakura Army Camp in South Auckland ready to participate in the Chief of General Staff (CGS) annual army planning exercise. Over the next few days I the participants were firstly given a campaign brief (I think it was on Gallipoli) before a planning exercise on a mythical target began – and I was providing input and advice about air strikes into the battle area. With the CGS exercise complete, I returned to Ohakea on Sunday 9th May on C130 Hercules NZ7004 captained by Flt Lt Crosby.
Air Combat Manoeuvres (ACM) – I had four SMR flights over the next week, three of them doing ACM with other SMRs; the first was on Tuesday 11 May 82 when I flew NZ6376, as 3 of 4, for 1.0 hour doing 2 v 2 ACM – it was normal for each pair to be separated by an Ohakea radar controller before being vectored back together to ‘attack’ each other. My second flight was on Wednesday 12 May 82 in NZ6371 for 0.8 hours, again as 3 of 4, doing 2 v 2 ACM; and the third flight was on Thursday 13 May 82 for a 3 v 4 ACM sortie in NZ6370 for 1.0 hour – I was 1 of 3 and leading the ‘attackers’ against the 4-aircraft SMR formation. Adherence to good flight discipline and safety protocols was even more important when 7 x SMRs were involved in a big ‘fur ball’, and keeping track of who was a ‘goody’ and which ones were ‘baddies’, when all aircraft were of the same type, was equally taxing.
On Friday 14 May 82 I undertook an IP upgrade flight on Flt Lt Gavin Howse in NZ6366, taking 1.1 hours – Gavin was upgrading from B2 to B1 Instructor status. After successfully completing their Flying Instructors Course (FIC) at Central Flying School (CFS), Wigram, new instructor graduates were awarded B2 Instructor status; and after about 100 flight instructional hours (if I remember correctly) as a B2 Instructor a formal upgrade flight was undertaken to ensure the new instructor’s pre-flight briefing and in-flight instructional technique were up to the required standard – Gavin passed! And on Monday 17 May 82 while flying NZ6368 for 1.2 hours, I did a B2 to B1 Instructor upgrade flight on Flt Lt Ross Drysdale, and Ross passed, too!
Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics (DACT) – My next flight was on Thursday 20 May 82 in NZ6368 for 1 hour – initially I was a solo ‘bounce’ aircraft against a pair of SMRs doing ACM, and after some 20 minutes we three SMRs engaged in some Dissimilar Air Combat Tactics (DACT) against a flight of four A4 Skyhawks of 75 Sqn. The pre-flight briefing involved all seven pilots and the Rules of Engagement (ROE) and Safety procedures were reviewed and emphasised. The Skyhawks held the advantage of having more power giving higher speeds and a much better rate of climb, whereas the Bluntys had a slower inflight speed but a tighter turning radius; and pilots of each type needed to be mindful of the need to preserve their advantages while attempting a gun kill on an adversary. I was therefore disappointed to see some Skyhawks pilots sacrificing their speed advantage while trying to turn tightly with a better turning SMR; and another pilot lowered his undercarriage “because that is what you do when slow.” At the debrief after the flight I emphasised the importance of total energy conservation – converting speed to height and height to speed etc, but not sacrificing speed to turn against a better turning aircraft. And while I couldn’t believe that an operational pilot of 75 Sqn would even consider lowering his undercarriage in a fight, it did highlight to me the poor understanding and teaching of the basic principles of Air Combat. I resolved to do something about this unsatisfactory situation and began soon after to increase pilots’ academic knowledge and awareness, as well as introducing better ACM in-flight teaching and training. (The paper I wrote later while at Staff College in 1984 was entitled ‘The Need for Structured Approach to Air Combat Training’.) A second DACT flight was flown on Friday 21 May 82, this time in NZ6374 for 1 hour where I was 4 of 4 SMRs fighting 3 x A4 Skyhawks.
Two further flights wound up the month of May for me – the first was on Tuesday 25 May 82 in NZ6370 for 1.2 hours where I was 2 of 2 carrying out ‘bounce’ on 4 x SMRs doing a Simulated Strike (Sim Strike). The second flight was on Friday 28 May 82 where I was flying NZ6366 for 1.6 hours, as 1 of 4, doing a Sim Strike on the Seddon road bridge in Marlborough. In the month of May I had 11 SMR flights totalling 11.3 hours, giving me total of 93.3 hours in the SMR, of which 28.5 hours as a SMR IP.
June 1982 – air-to-air gunnery, mid-phase checks on 581 Course, weapons Raumai
June was a busy month for me with 22 SMR sorties, and 19.4 hours of flying. My first flight was on Tuesday 1 Jun 82 in NZ6370 for 0.6 hours with Flt Lt Garry Rasmussen as IP – he showed me the techniques in the SMR to do air-to-air live 7.62mm gunnery firing on a banner target towed by another SMR in the danger area over the sea to the west of Ohakea. I had first done air-to-air live firing some 12 years beforehand in the 1969/70 period that I was flying Vampires, so I was at least familiar with what was required.
In order to keep the target towing SMR and the two attackers within the Danger Area, Ohakea Radar positioned the banner-towing SMR up the middle of the designated Danger area, that extended from about abeam Wanganui in the north to about abeam Foxton in the south; the ‘fighters’ normally operated in pairs with Ohakea Radar splitting the pair so that one SMR searched the sea for fishing boats to the north of the centre of the danger area, and one SMR searching to the south. Once the area was confirmed to be clear, the pair joined up and positioned on the landward side of the SMR ‘Tug’ whether the Tug was heading northward, or southward, inside the Danger area – in that way bullets when fired would always be fired away from land. The fighters set up a ‘perch’ position some 1500 feet above the Tug’s altitude and about 750 metres abeam the towed target. After rolling in towards the target to attack, a fighter would then counter turn and approach the banner from the aft quarter at some 45 degrees angle off from the Tug’s heading and fire the guns when in range – but at no stage get within about 30 degrees angle off from the Tug’s heading least a stray bullet be shot at the Tug aircraft. Without a Gyro stabilised lead computing gunsight in the SMR actual hits on the banner were few – I recorded only one hit from the 100 x 7.62mm rounds fired on this my first SMR air-to-air sortie!
My second air-to-air sortie on Tuesday 1 Jun 82 was in NZ6375 for 0.7 hours, and having been ‘cleared solo’ by Garry Rasmussen, I flew what I no doubt thought was the ideal profile – but recorded only 2 hits on the banner! I had two more air-to air flights on Wednesday 2 Jun 82 – the first was in NZ6368 for 1.0 hour, as 1 of 2, and this time I more than doubled my best score to record 5 hits! And my second flight that day was in NZ6375 for 0.6 hour, as 1 of 2, for 7 hits. Thursday 3 June 82 brought two more air-to-air live firing flights – the first in NZ6375, as 1 of 2, for 0.8 hours where I scored 8 hits; and in NZ6375 again for 0.7 hours, I gave Flt Lt Glendinning some dual instruction – and we recorded 11 hits! And that was the end of the air-to air live firing week for me.
A new week saw me on Tuesday 8 Jun 82 in NZ6375 for 1.1 hours, as 1 of 2, doing Air-to-Air cine tracking before some 1 v 1 Basic Fighter Manoeuvres (BFM) – I was giving dual instruction to a young 14 Sqn Op flight pilot in a second SMR. My second flight on 8 Jun 82 was solo in NZ6366 for 1.1 hours doing a night flying continuation sortie – I recorded that I flew two x TACAN let-downs into Precision Radar Approaches (PRA), and one Ground Controlled Approach (GCA), with night time circuits to finish off at Ohakea.
On Wednesday 9 Jun 82 I flew with Flt Lt Garry Rasmussen in NZ6375 on a 0.8 hour sortie, the purpose of which was the check the low level aerobatics routine Garry proposed to fly at a Tauranga airport’s 50th Anniversary airshow. Safety checks such as this one were a regular part of building a polished but sensibly safe display for the public, remembering it is smartest to do simple things well and thus appeal to the 98% of onlookers who know little or nothing about the complexity and difficulty of a routine, rather than try to do a complex and high risk routine to appeal to less than 2% of the audience who profess to know a little about low level aerobatics.
Thursday 10 Jun 82 brought a SMR flight, as 1 of 2, with Flt Lt Garry Rasmussen in NZ6376 doing air-to air cine, plus 1 v 1 BFM. Gary was the 14 Sqn Op Flight Commander responsible for teaching weapons skills to young Op Flight pilots, and this flight was part of my intention to teach Gary the teacher the key principles of what and how to teach air-to-air skills. I followed this theme of teaching Garry the teacher in my next flight which was on Tuesday 15 Jun 82 – in NZ6376 we flew, as 1 of 4, for 1.4 hours on a Sim Strike on the Wairareki Hydro power station.
Backing up a day to Monday 14 Jun 82, I had the pleasure of welcoming to 14 Sqn both the incoming Ohakea Base Commander (BCDR) Gp Capt Stewart Boys AFC (himself a former CO 14 Sqn back in the early 1970s), and the outgoing BCDR, Gp Capt Fred Kinvig AFC. Having given the two Gp Capts a tour of the squadron, we three posed for a photograph in front of the 14 Sqn badge that was made by the then Sqn Ldr Boys when he was CO 14 Sqn.
Then it was back to Training Flight duties for me on Thursday 17 Jun 82 in NZ6370 with Off Cdt Wade Quickfall of 581 Pilots Course to do a mid-phase check in a sortie of 1.4 hours. Another mid-phase check was flown on Friday 18 Jun 82, this time in NZ6373 for 1.2 hours with Off Cdt Craig Symmans of 581 Pilots Course. These flights were undertaken to give independent opinion as to a student’s progress on the SMR Advanced phase of their Wings Course – the sortie profile normally involved takeoff and climb to medium altitude to demonstrate general handling including stalls and recovery, steep turns, aerobatics, an ‘emergency’ such as a practice forced landing to touchdown at Ohakea, followed by flapless and glide approaches and normal circuits with touch and go landings.
I had two flights on Monday 21 Jun 82 – the first was a solo flight for 0.6 hours in NZ6368 to Raumai range for 10 degree Mk106 HDB, where I scored a CEP of 9 metres for the first 4 bombs, and 16 metres for the second 4 – or 13 metres for the 8 bombs. Good scores! I completed a PRA approach back to Ohakea – often we were asked to do PRAs, where possible, by Air Traffic Control so as to keep Controllers skills alive. My second flight was in NZ6375 for 0.8 hours with Flt Lt Garry Rasmussen, this time to check his low level aeros routine was safe for clearance to operate down to a base altitude of 1000 feet AGL.
Tuesday 22 Jun 82 brought a busy sortie for me, as 1 of 2, at Raumai in NZ6370 for 0.7 hours; here I dropped 4 x BDU33 SDB from a 20 deg dive, 2 x Mk106 HDB from a 50 foot level profile, and pairs pop-up attacks from a 10 deg HDB profile. Results were 27 metre CEP for the 20 deg passes; 34m at 4 o’clock for the first popup, and a direct hit (we called it a Barrel) on the second popup.
I flew two more weapons sorties on Thursday 24 Jun 82 – the first in NZ6368 dropping 4 x BDU33 SDB from a 20 deg profile, and 4 x Mk106 HDB from 10 deg passes: – results were 20m CEP for 20 deg SDB, and unknown for 10 deg HDB. My second flight that day was in NZ6367 for 0.5 hours firing 5 x 2.75 R/P from a 20 deg dive, and 200 x 7.62 mm gunnery from a 15 deg profile. Results were 18m CEP for R/P, but unknown for the guns. A final flight that week was on Friday 25 Jun 82 in NZ6367 for 0.6 hours – at Raumai I fired 5 x 2.75 inch R/P from a 30 deg dive, and 200 x 7.62 mm guns – results were 16m CEP for R/P and 44 hits or 22% for the gunnery.
On Tuesday 29 Jun 82 I flew NZ6373, with Flt Lt Garry (Raz) Rasmussen as Safety Pilot, on a 0.9 hour sortie with me ‘under the instrument hood’ to land at Nelson airport. After refuelling, Raz flew the return trip, via the RNZAF Base Woodbourne camp at ‘Dip Flat’ in the Wairau Valley, then to Ohakea, taking 0.9 hours. That night I flew as IP in NZ6368 with 581 Course student, Off Cdt Wade Quickfall, to Napier for an NDB letdown and circuits before returning to Ohakea, and a sortie duration of 1.7 hours at night. My final flight for the month was on Wednesday 30 Jun 82 in NZ6371 with Flt Lt Raz Rasmussen doing a short 0.4 hour test flight after an engine change. During the month of May, I flew 23 sorties for a total of 19.4 hours, giving me a running total of 112.7 hours in the SMR, of which 34.3 hours were as a SMR IP.