Friday, 3 February 2012

When I first met 231……………………………by Mike Beer

We first met in 0ctober 1964- an encounter which could have resulted in the quickest aircrew tour in history. I was a 20 year old Pilot Officer first tourist AEO arriving at Wittering from the Victor 2 Ground School at Gaydon to do my simulator and flying training on Victor Training Flight before joining 139(Jamaica) Squadron. I had already acquired the trappings of a young officer- a written off car and an outstanding loan. I now drove a badly dented 1946 Bentley bought for £30 in some rugby club. The Bentley was a pig- nothing much worked and had a pre-selector gear box. Pre start checks were difficult- the electrics were shot so I had to raise the bonnet, set the throttle by jamming a book under the linkage and swing it on the starting handle.

On my first day at Wittering, I was scheduled in the simulator, down near the Ops Block, a distance from the Officer’s Mess. I awoke late, a few too many Norwich’s the night before and rushed the niceties of hygiene and into uniform. To get to the sim quicker, I decided to use the Bentley. I did the pre starts in the car park and shot away to the Ops Block. It was a frosty Winter morning and the car was iced up. As I searched for a car parking spot at Ops, I slowed down and the bitch died on me in the road. My slot time was not far off so I left the cab hurriedly, rushed to the bonnet, jammed In the book and swung the handle. It roared into life- excellent I thought until it started off down the road on its own- I had left it in third gear.

In a panic I tried restraining it, hands thrust forward. By the time I worked out that I needed to be in the cab, it was going too fast and brushed me aside. And off the Bentley set, unmanned with Pilot Officer Beer in pursuit on foot. The road ended in a T junction. Straight on was the apron of a hangar and the taxi way. I looked at what lay straight ahead. And that’s when I first set eyes on XL231.

She had been towed out of the hangar and parked on the apron. The Bentley set course to the aircraft like a dog on heat. Bugger I thought- my first day at Wittering is shaping up to be my last. She picked up speed, reached the T junction, tore across it, mounted the kerb and onto the grass heading for the apron. A collision between car and undercarriage seemed inevitable. I watched in horror- convinced my third party insurance would need talking up for the impending disaster.

But lo- she began losing speed- could it be my career was on track again. Yes- the Bentley was definitely running out of puff. She reached the edge of the apron and quietly halted in trail to the port undercarriage. I dashed down the road and there was my book- the throttle jammer- lying on the grass dislodged by the jolt mounting the kerb causing the throttle to close and cold engine to stall. Quickly looking around noticing that the debacle had no witnesses, I crewed in, gear to neutral, did the pre starts and drove it back to Ops. I made the sim slot on time- but my underwear needed changing.

On 16 November 1964 I completed my first solo sortie as a Victor 2BS AEO- in 231. She bore no malice and I swear she was smiling.

Congratulations to Andre and his hard working team. 231 is a magnificent aircraft which I have been privileged to fly as a B2 and K2. Long may she trundle the runway.

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