On 12th March Dunsfold test pilot, Bernie Scott, came to tell
Members about his 50 years of flying, and very remarkable they were
too. We listened with delight as his story unfolded, leavened with many
humorous anecdotes which, sadly, space prevents recording here.
Bernie was born and grew up in Gosport, a Royal Navy and Army town
blessed with two airfields, Gosport itself and Lee on Solent, so there
very many opportunities for an air minded boy to see and get amongst
aeroplanes; in fact his first flight was in a wicker-seated Dominie
from Lee. His father, who had joined the RAF under age as an air
gunner, was his inspiration. Bernie built models including a Jetex
powered Hunter from Eagle Annual plans and retrieved aircraft parts
from compounds of wrecks. In the Air Training Corps he learned to glide
at Tangmere and went solo at 16 in a Kirby Cadet. Thus enthused he
joined the RAF and at Church Fenton Elementary Flying Training School
he learned to fly Chipmunks; a sheer pleasure, he said, because it was
a low wing monoplane with a long engine cowling like a Spitfire (or
"Hurricane !", as someone shouted from the audience). Next it was
Linton on Ouse and the Jet Provosts JP3 and JP5; nice aeroplanes, easy
to handle and forgiving, with Bernie flying with the Blades aerobatic
team as a passenger on training flights.
After receiving his wings he moved to RAF Valley and the fabulous
Gnat, very light and fast. The downside was the complicated
longitudinal control system; Hobson motor with swash plates driving a
hydraulic motor powering the tailplane plus elevators. The failure
procedure was both complex and critical and it had to be got right to
avoid disaster. The standard first solo was once round the island as
students sometimes got lost.
After a spell at Bristol with 3AEF (Air Experience Flight) on Chipmunks it was back to Valley to fly the Hunter for six hours after which Bernie was posted for a spell to 79 Squadron at Chivenor where all the pilots were senior officers very experienced on Hunters, many of them ex-Aden. So it was in at the deep end with no briefing firing his first rockets which, not unsurprisingly, missed by a large margin!
Then to 45/58 Squadron at Wittering with immaculate Hunters;18 per
squadron, and tons of ammunition. A big thrill was firing all four 30mm
Adens which filled the cockpit with cordite and gave huge deceleration
whilst, to the despair of the range officer, took out three targets at
once. Afterwards it was necessary to work out which circuit breakers
had tripped before landing! Jaguars were supposed to be coming with
Warton producing twelve per month. This rate did not materialise and
introducing the aircraft into service was a nightmare.
So Bernie was very happy to go to 233 OCU Harrier Operational
Conversion Unit, also at Wittering, before a posting to No.1 Squadron
where he was quickly off to tropical Belize after arctic Norway. With
tankers the Harriers had crossed the Atlantic to Bermuda and then took
off for Belize in central America. Just east of Cuba the tankers,
completely unplanned, departed, low on fuel advising "you're on your
own, just fly 275 deg". The leader knew roughly where Belize was but to
be sure laid off 5 degrees to the right, and turned left when they hit
the coast. It was still not easy because the entire coast is jungle.
However, they arrived safely and Bernie did the first hover there.
Belize is all jungle, and when it's not nice and sunny it becomes a
rainy quagmire, and Belize City houses all have corrugated iron roofs
with each panel bearing the owners name for when the hurricanes blow
them off. Bernie ejected over the sea whist in Belize and showed an F95
camera sequence from ejection to rescue by a Puma (the first ever).
Back in the UK he did hang gliding in home-made machines which, to
start with, had rather low aerodynamic efficiency - a 30 second glide
followed by 1 ½ hours carrying it back up the hill. He took them with
him wherever he was posted.
In 1977 he volunteered for and was accepted into the Red Arrows as
the youngest entrant ever - 25. The squadron was at Kemble and still
had the Gnats. It was "a dream come true" for Bernie who flew his first
season in 1978 in the "lovely aeroplane". Without the slipper tanks the
Gnats were very light and very fast and Bernie reached 65,000ft.
However, low fuel capacity was always a problem and the code for being
out of fuel back on the runway was to call for a tow because of "brake
fade". The Gnat was exceptionally easy to fly low and could be flown in
the ground cushion with the pilot's head at standing height. Gnats were
flown so low across wheat fields that they flattened the crop! The last
Gnat show was at Jersey before the Hawk arrived in 1984. It was "a
revelation" as it could "fly for ever". A problem was the slow
acceleration of the Adour, even after modification, so the airbrake was
used to keep the engine rpm in the responsive region. The Hawks were
very reliable; Bernie flew XX260 and experienced 100% reliability. This
and the range allowed the team to travel the world.
Next to the Netherlands as an exchange pilot on the F-16, the Block 10 model initially. Bernie learned Dutch and was appointed a flight commander. The Harrier was "the love of my life" but the F-16 was "just amazing". The bubble canopy gave a wonderful all-round view but at night at high altitude it was "spooky"; you could feel as if you were outside the aircraft. It was fast, Bernie saw 846 kn at sea level (and 64,500 ft). The 25,000 lb of thrust and the aircraft's agility led to the standard airtest take-off technique, for safety reasons, of a 60 degree climb because in the case of an engine failure you could turn round and land back on the reciprocal. The later Block 15 model had a bigger tailplane and was cleared for tailslides; the squadron never had a radar failure in the three years Bernie was there. It was very quiet in the cockpit and "a delight to fly".
Bernie was asked to apply to the ETPS but was sent to learn French
to go to the EPNER (Ecole du Personnel Navigant d'Essais et de
Reception) at Istres. It was an engineer-led course where the engineer,
test pilot and instrumentation technician worked together; and it was
all in French. Bernie flew the Alphajet, "a nasty piece of work" with
an evil spin and transonic aileron reversal, but a good TP school
machine because of its faults; and the Mirage 2000 which had "superb
handling qualities" and could be pulled to 11g for operational
Next it was Boscombe Down and the A&AEE, flying the Harrier GR5
and 7 working with NVGs (night vision goggles), laser pod, FLIR and
guided weapons. Bernie thought that the GR7 set the standard for a
really good pilot's cockpit. He also flew the Tornado with new weapons
and sensors, the Harvard, and micro lights, the latter at very low
level on Salisbury Plain by day and once by night with NVGs. The first
Tucano at Boscombe required a lot of inspection and work before it
could be flown. It had bad spinning characteristics, the first flat
spin taking 13 turns to recovery. Bernie was hugely impressed with the
EAP (Experimental Aircraft Prototype), the forerunner of the Typhoon.
Retiring from the RAF Bernie joined the Dunsfold TP team, Heinz
Frick, Chris Roberts, Graham Tomlinson et al. The great thing about
Dunsfold and Kingston was that, unlike other companies, people always
were willing to talk about things; a "terrific community". He flew the
Sea Harrier FRS2, which had a good radar, the Hunter T8M and the Indian
FRS1s and took the Hawk 100 to Australia on a world tour. He visited
Warton to fly the Harrier T10 and managed one low level flypast before
it was banned as being "too much fun". He was on the Harrier GR7 and
GR9 programmes at Dunsfold until the site closed. The 9 was, he said,
at its peak as an electro optical aircraft - FLIR, TV, LGB, laser
designator pod, all the elements for success in Afghanistan - when it
was taken out of service.
A neck problem forced Bernie to stop flying fast jets and as he had always had an ambition to fly large aircraft he joined Airtours with Chris Roberts to fly the Airbus A320, 321 and 330, "fabulous aircraft". The Airbus design goal had been full automation, not even a landing gear handle (there would just have been a landing configuration selector) and full Cat 3B (zero visibility) landings and ground operations, the aircraft following cables buried in the taxiways. However, they backed off from this goal because the pilots felt out of the loop and the airport infrastructure costs were prohibitive, but retained some 85% of the capability. Consequently the Airbuses remain highly automated and very easy to fly - until things start to go wrong. For example the air data system can fail, due to freezing in the metal tubing, in which case the aircraft reverts to direct control laws ignoring the three inertial navigators and the three GPSs i.e from "fully auto to junk!" The system could be arranged to go to, say, fixed gains allowing the crew to sit it out until the system comes good utilising all the available data. This won't happen until there is a commercial case.
Back at BAE Systems Bernie was on the Nimrod MRA4 programme for 18
months flying worldwide, from Nashville to the south of France. Apart
from some safety issues most problems had been solved. A huge expertise
in system development and anti-submarine and surface vessel warfare was
thrown away when the Nimrod was cancelled and the team broke up. At
this point Bernie retired to occasional communication flying for BAE
Systems in the BAe 146, and finished his talk.
In his vote of thanks Martin Pennell said the audience had been
treated to a superb lecture by a 100% professional. The Editor would
add that Bernie was a perfect example of the enthusiast who gets
something positive out of everything he does, as well as lots of
amusement, all of which he passed on in this talk. If you missed it a
DVD can, as usual, be borrowed from Richard Cannon.