Introduced by Ambrose
Barber, Air Vice Marshal George Black came to Kingston on 14 May with
flying reminiscences (he has 9,000 flying hours in 150 types) from his
long and distinguished career in the Royal Air Force which he joined in
1950. After flying training in Canada he was posted to No 263 Squadron
at RAF Wattisham as a National Service Pilot. On completion of National
Service he joined, as was his obligation, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force
in 1952 and the following year rejoined the RAF returning to No 263
Sqn. He was seconded to the Fleet Air Arm with NAS 802 then went to the
Central Flying School becoming an Advanced Flying Instructor in 1959.
In 1961 he was with No 74 Sqn introducing the Lightning into service.
Reflections On Hawker Thoroughbreds
Other appointments included CO (Commanding Officer) of No
(Lightnings), Chief Flying Instructor at the Lightning Conversion Unit,
CO of No 5 Sqn, Station Commander RAF Wildenrath, Group Captain
Operations at HQ 38 Group, Field Force Commander of the RAF Germany
Harrier force, Group Captain Operations No 11 (Fighter) Group,
Commander Allied Sector One, Brockzetel, Aide de Camp to HM the Queen,
Commandant of the Royal Observer Corps and finally Deputy Chief of
Operations at HQ Allied Air Force Central Europe from which he retired
in 1987 to join Ferranti Defence Systems becoming Director of Military
Business Development for GEC-Marconi. He is currently Defence
Consultant to Selex Airborne Sensor Systems at Luton.
earliest experiences of Hawker aeroplanes were with the Armstrong
Siddeley Sapphire powered Hunter Mks 2 and 5. They were, he said, a
delight to fly but were plagued by engine vibration and other problems.
During intensive flying trials five engine failures were experienced.
He personally made a dead engine approach in manual to a successful
landing at Woodbridge but not everyone was so lucky. Coincidentally the
squadron had the first UK supersonic ejection when a Flt Lt Headley
could not pull out from a dive because he had flaps selected.
Whilst on his Fleet Air Arm exchange George flew 800 hrs on
and made 300 deck landings during 15 months at sea. A nice thing about
the Navy was that you kept your own aircraft. This was, he said, "The
most delightful aeroplane I have ever flown", echoing 'Winkle' Brown's
sentiments in his talk to the Association. It was a "pilot's aircraft"
in which one felt "at home". George thought the Sea Hawk to be ideal
for carrier operations and a big step forward from the Supermarine
Attacker. When deck landing it was very steady on the approach at
108-110 kn and using the mirror landing aid usually caught the third
wire. As a ground attack fighter the Sea Hawk had excellent handling
qualities, from its positive manual elevator and easy powered ailerons,
which conferred accurate weapon aiming characteristics. Catapult
launches, at 3 longitudinal g giving 150 kn in 150 ft, were made with
the hood open in case of ditching. George was on HMS Albion during the
Suez war flying 25 sorties in 5 days attacking Egyptian Air Force
targets. Some Sea Hawks were lost due to debris ingestion during low
level attacks with two 500 lb bombs and the four 20 mm cannon. Night
attacks were made by following Glow Worm rocket flares fired from
Venoms or Avengers.
Hawk never let him down although
he did bend someone else's aircraft when the nose leg failed to lower
and he scraped the nose on the runway. Whilst operating from a carrier
in the English Channel his tail hook failed to extend and when he made
it to RNAS Ford his engine stopped on the runway, totally out of fuel.
Aircraft were often launched in sea conditions so rough that
bow was down heavy spray swept along the deck. The launch officer would
try to time the catapult so that the bow was up on departure but ship
motion is not accurately predictable - they can dwell bow down - and
George did on occasion experience close-up views of the waves. There
were very few problems with the "very well designed" Sea Hawk but, of
course, like all aircraft, more thrust was desirable.
was Chief Flying Instructor at RAF Coltishall one of the 'perks' was
being permitted to fly the Battle of Britain Flight (not yet Memorial)
aircraft which consisted of Hurricane LF363 and two Spitfires. The
Hurricane, said George, was very simple to operate. These aircraft were
loaned to the film company making "The Battle of Britain" and were
returned in a rather sad state in spite of the fact that they should
have been repainted in their original schemes. However, the film
company did give the Flight a Mk II Spitfire at the end of filming.
While George was at Coltishall the Lancaster was added to the Flight
and he flew in the first Hurricane + Spitfire + Lancaster formation.
Turning to the Harrier he opened by stating that it was a
"World-beating concept". It served with the RAF as part of NATO, facing
the Warsaw Pact forces in the East, during the Cold War, the aircraft
at RAF Wittering covering NATO's flanks, those with RAF Germany
dedicated to field operations, initially from RAF Wildenrath. However,
from Wildenrath it was 150 miles to the forward bases so the support
logistics problem was exacerbated. A forward deployment involved 400
vehicles, 4,000 people and ten train loads of weapons. Consequently the
Harriers were moved to RAF Guttersloh where the distance was now only
five miles; a very considerable improvement. Here, George was the Field
Force Commander with at any one time six sites, each with six Harriers,
ready to move every 24 hours to new sites. The weather could be very
wet reducing the fields to mud. The STO/VL mode of operation was from
200 m aluminium planking strips and a Royal Engineers' MEXE mat.
Concealment by camouflage was vital; the strips were painted green and
hides in woodland were employed, effectiveness being checked by recce.
aircraft. An early problem was unsatisfactory tow vehicles. With an
aircraft stuck in the mud a local farmer was persuaded to bring his
Mercedes Unimog along to help; it proved to be ideal so eight were
ordered for the Harrier force. In the event of war the peacetime
practice sites would not be used; other sites were reconnoitred for
the Harrier's war load and wide
array of weapons, but the cockpit was not up to the standard of the
rest of the aircraft, and poor-weather flying was difficult; it was
"not easy in IMC". Little use was made of the FE541 inertial nav/attack
system when operating in the field because there was no time to get a
full alignment and because it was not always tolerant of the low
altitude highly manoeuvring flight patterns employed. The Wittering
aircraft flying greater distances at higher altitudes made more use of
it. The FE541 was, it must be remembered, a pioneering analogue system
full of little gears and shafts. With its built-in F-95 camera the
Harrier was an excellent ground attack and reconnaissance aircraft.
Very high sortie rates were achievable; for example, 400 sorties in one
day from 36 aircraft with 30 minute turn-rounds (refuel and rearm).
Aircraft difficulties included bird strikes down those huge
leading to compressor stalls and the loss of aircraft. An early
operational difficulty had been communications with the Army field HQ
but this potential Achilles heel was solved by moving Army liaison
personnel into the sites. In peacetime the RAF was prohibited from
using 'war stock' weapons so the Harriers flew with and fired the
reusable Matra 155 68 mm rocket pod and not the definitive Matra 116.
However, the Field Force Commander insisted that 'war stock' M116s be
tried. It was found that the weapons could not be mounted on the
Harrier because one bolt was too short; lesson learned.
finished with the story of the Harrier UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle, in
today's parlance.) Following an engine surge and failure to relight the
pilot ejected at 15,000 ft whereupon the engine restarted by itself
causing the Harrier to fly on for 25 minutes getting ever closer to the
East German border. Unsuccessful attempts were made to shoot it down
but fortunately it crashed in friendly territory.
very well illustrated talk George answered many questions from the
floor, the answers to some of which have been included above. The vote
of thanks was given by Ralph Hooper.