Dave Fowler remembers what went on when P.1127 XP831 became the world’s first jet V/STOL aircraft to operate from an aircraft carrier…

Many years ago now, in the winter of 1963, I was privileged to see the first deck landing of a V/STOL aircraft. One Sunday we travelled by train on the old Southern Railway route via Okehampton to the now-closed Plymouth Friary station, and went aboard the ‘Ark Royal’. We sailed out of the harbour on Monday morning but the February weather was too bad for the trial to take place all that week.

We sailed up and down the English Channel with Buccaneers and helicopters carrying out their exercises, and there was some excitement when we were called to the aid of a Norwegian ship whose deck cargo of wood had shifted. However, our help wasn’t required because an Australian destroyer got there first.

Behind The Scenes With Dave Fowler


On the Saturday morning we took on 4,500 tons of fuel oil from a tanker sailing alongside in the fog and then anchored in Weymouth Bay for the weekend. Some people went ashore by boat for an evening’s entertainment but I was glad I’d stayed on board because they couldn’t get back that evening and had to sleep in a church hall.

When they did arrive back at Ark Royal on the Sunday morning a sailor failed to catch one of the ropes which then wound itself round the propeller, so the small boat was crashing against the ship in the rough seas. The officers weren’t too pleased about civilians watching their difficulties but they eventually did get things under control again.

The weather had improved on the Monday morning and they decided to sail…but they couldn’t get the anchor up and we sat there all day. Then the same thing happened again on the Tuesday. We did manage to sail on the Wednesday and the trial was arranged for Thursday morning.

Everything went off successfully and they started to ferry the civilians back to the shore by helicopter but the ship was then ordered to sail to Gibraltar for catapult repairs, so by the time my turn came we were out of range. During the night, however, orders were changed again and I disembarked in Portsmouth Harbour on the Friday afternoon.

My mess bill for the thirteen days of the one day trial, horse’s necks included, was just over twelve pounds!