Thursday, 20 September 2012

Test Pilot - John R Blatch

I recently exchanged a few tweets with Andre about the sale of XL164 at Gatwick. My father, John R Blatch, flew the jet in the 1960s and Andre asked me to write a brief blog about his time.

Flying Officer John R Blatch in front of his
Vampire Mk 9 (WR244) at RAF Deversoir circa 1953
Typically I suppose, I was rather dismissive of my father’s career when I was younger. Now, as an adult with my own children I look with some wonderment at his flying log books. After starting out as an apprentice mechanic, he became an RAF fighter pilot and went on to spend most of the 1960s flying pretty much everything the UK had as a trials pilot at Boscombe Down.

His log books would make most modern day RAF pilots misty eyed. I counted 8 different aircraft in ten trips in June 1959 alone. Types flown include 748, Anson, Argosy, B-47, Canberra, Devon, Dragonfly, Gannet, Gnat, Hastings, Hunter, Javelin, Fairey Junior, Lightning, Lincoln, Meteor, Tipsy Nipper, Oxford, Pembroke, Seahawk, Shackleton, Swift, Sycamore, Twin Pioneer, Valetta, Vampire, Venom, and of course the mighty v-force: Valiant Victor, Vulcan. That, believe it or not, is not a comprehensive list!

Two of his ‘V-Bombers’ Victor XA918 & Vulcan XM648
 from Boscombe Down circa 1965
Of the V-Bombers, he flew the Victor the least, but took up 10 different airframes, of which XH673 survives as a gate guard at Marham and the aforementioned nose section of XL164 is up for sale…

Victor XL164, Farnborough 1960s

His Victor trips include log book comments such as ‘Auto Pilot Stability’, ‘Handling – 180,000 lbs’ and ‘Window Drop’.

Vulcan XH534 at Farnborough 1960
I continue to trace the aircraft he flew, I have a pretty comprehensive list that shows most ended at the scrap yard, some were lost in accidents but a surprising number remain in tact, with one Harvard KF183, still in service I believe.

A more varied flying career it would be hard to find. Dad is still going strong by the way, now 81.

James Blatch

Monday, 17 September 2012

Major Fairy Tales from the land of Dragons!

It’s October 1982, the Falklands Conflict has come and gone and a new fresh faced J/T arrives from his fitters course. St Athan, near Rhoose Airport (as then) South Wales was like Marmite to RAF Technicians, it was either you loved it or you didn’t. Other words do come to mind I recall hearing from others but I loved it. This was a choice to return to Saints as I came from Devon, was currently seeing a girl in Devon so was easy to get home for weekends, hours of work were regular, even flexible, you got pestered by an odd exercise and Mineval/Taceval, but I was happy, Saints was a chosen posting since I was there before as a mechanic and knew the score.

No3 Sqn Vulcan Majors Patch

To others, Saints wasn’t their idea of fun, many a time new “fellows” would come to say they wouldn’t be there long, it wasn’t the real RAF and they would escape!
3 Sqn RAF St Athen patch

As a mechanic I was on No3 Engineering Sqn Vulcan Majors. I spent a happy time there, good mates; wonder where they all are now. 
No 3 Engineering Sqn Vulcan Majors

No2 Sqn
Victor Majors Patch
I gained experience and was selected for and completed my fitters course, returning to unit and be posted to, what, no Tin Triangles?.... but No2 Engineering Sqn Victor majors. No difference you may say, but yes, Vulcans were maintained by an all RAF techie force, Victors were maintained by half RAF, half civilian. This meant my boss was a TTO III, a Welshman to boot!

So, the Victor Major service, the details, I can’t recall how long we had them for, (two at a time I do remember) 3 month turnaround comes to mind. Jobs to do, strip out LRU’s for bay servicing, system inspection, rectification and modification. Ah the mods, we had good ones to do, (translates to awkward), SRIM 3992 the removal of defunct “Blue Saga” and fitting RWR and PWR, sounds simple.

No2 Engineering Sqn Victor Majors
The wiring went from the nose to the tale, the top of the tail, we all know the “pointed bits on the tail”. So remove all the trunking along the route, days tasks in itself, sort the cabling, loom it in; without twists. Oh what fun, lying behind the Nav’s desk laying cable in the summer, all day, hey I was slim then! The mods involved all the trades, leckies for the power supplies, riggers for the airframe mods to accommodate our kit, so all in all a team job. It was always a sense of job well done when it all worked, oh apart from a leckie who set off the fire bottles with a Megger as he was testing the fire wire, but that’s another story, I can still see the image in my mind of the jet emerging from the haze of the extinguishant and a red faced leckie...oooopps.

Some jobs on the SRIM were good some were bad, I always enjoyed putting the looms into the rear freight bay as it allowed me to make a tidy job with lacing cord! I have satisfied my OCD in 231’s cabin even now on one of the main visible looms in the roof and over the door! Even now I’d say I could spot “one of mine”. To a point when I started helping out on XL231 I looked in the back of the freight bay to see; I found the looms, but I already knew 231 hadn’t come through Saints in my time on 2Sqn, it came just after I went, (to No4 Engineering Sqn Phantoms in 1985 as a docs controller with Cpl tapes!) There were Tywraps used to attach the looms, ohh a gash attempt it was too! Some months later, back in the freight bay I was fitting the RWR Receiver and PSU we had obtained, cutting off the protective bags around the plugs and sockets I found some masking tape around the cables. We used to identify the cables with written masking tape as connectors were only on one end and we had to attach the other end on. Removing and unwrapping the tape i see the writing, shock of shocks it was mine! We would have numerous mod kits and prep several at once so it must have been one I had prepared and done before moving to Tooms! (4 Engineering Sqn Phantoms)

My time on Victor Majors was enjoyable, the mix of RAF and civvie worked well mostly, England and Wales Rugby match weekends increased the banter somewhat. I bumped into one of the boys some years later at Lyneham, he had gone from being a Radar J/T to being Capt on Fat Alberts,(Hercules) he did well!

So now comes the question I guess, which was best, my Vulcan time or the Victor ones? Having worked on both and frequently hearing comments that the Vulcan was better. I am firmly going to sit on the fence, on paper the Victor does perform certain tasks better, but I still look at the Vulcan in the sky today fondly, and my times and experiences were equally memorable.

Rick Gill