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Enjoying a Barbecue at next doors quarter

Barbecues were a regular pastime enjoyed whilst living on base, and the neighbours were a nice bunch too, this made the move bearable for the rest of our stay at Laarbruch.

One occasion remembered was that a Laarbruch Buccaneer had developed a hydraulic leak during a sortie, and had to divert to GAF Hopsten where a few volunteers, myself included spent a few weeks there, recovering the aircraft. It was in the winter and snow and ice was lying fairly deeply, so cold weather clothing was essential. We lived on the base from Monday to Fridays during our stay and had our own RAF transport to get us back to Laarbruch for the weekends. Eating at the base was very basic fare, as the unit catered mainly for conscripts and sauerkraut featured most of the time. So it was that we had breakfast on base, taking the RAF transport off base to a local pig farm where they had a lovely eating place. The Engineer who was in charge of our detachment spoke German well, this being his third tour over here, so he did most of the lunch menu ordering for us, but insisted that we had to learn to order lunch ourselves and we had a go much to the amusement of the young fraulein waitress. We got the hang of it eventually and tried a few different dishes most we asked to be topped up with a Spiegel eir, which itself got a good few laughs. Days here were spent working as quick as we could to get the aircraft back to Laarbruch and we found that the Germans had the equivalent of our NAAFI wagon which served up hot drinks and snacks at 10am or tea break time. My favourite was zwei  käse brochen and ein Berliner (Jam doughnut) and ein tasse tee, please excuse my spelling of the German language, but it worked at the time. It took 3 weeks of hard work to get the Buccaneer back home safely and had a thoroughly nice time and was good to meet others working there. I believe they closed GAF Holsten back in 2005 and think that they operated F104 Starfighters during our visit.

Getting near time to go now, 1979 and wondering where did all the years go to, it was with sadness that we had to leave this land of plenty and especially the social life that accompanied work, but it had to be, and my application had gone in for my UK tour preferences, bearing in mind we had saved a few quid in readiness to afford a mortgage on our return home, my choices of posting were Finningley, Church Fenton and Linton-on-Ouse. all in Yorkshire, as the house prices there were affordable.

The last few months were spent getting bits and pieces together in readiness for our move, the Removal Van had been booked and confirmed, and this time we would all leave as a family and drive back home, by way of the ferry from Zeebrugge to Felixstowe. All the deep sea crates had been collected and aboard the removal van. the car had been loaded with all the valuables, roof rack for all the stuff that we forgot to pack for removal. and goodbyes were said after handing over our married quarter. On the road again.

Felixstowe port and our arrival, this took an age as we had to declare our car into the UK and while we filled in all the paperwork, the customs decided to empty our car and search for illicit material, solid and liquid, in fact anything to stop us getting on our way, but all was well, the weed was well hidden (only joking), but I knew a mate who used to do regular trips back to the UK with King Edward Cigars, which were sold to local pubs and the like, he had an old Ford Taunus with full length back seat access. a lot of cigars can be fitted in there. Oh! I forgot to mention my destination was, no not Yorkshire, but Lincolnshire and RAF Binbrook, where the hell is that I hear you say, well it is no more, sold off by the MOD in the 90's. It would have been too much to hope I would get one of my choice postings, things never worked out that way in the forces, not unless you knew a man who knew a man. This time though we had been allocated a married quarter prior to leaving Germany, the quarter had been taken over by proxy by a squadron member on my behalf, so all we needed to do now was find out how to get to Binbrook from Felixstowe.

The journey to Binbrook was uneventful, eventually finding where our married quarter was,  took a bit longer, but just before arriving there, had to stop off at a local Spar shop and get some beer, was in desperate need of some by now, well I thought I had bought the shop by the time I came out, prices were not what we had been used to at all, and the days of buying crates were a thing of the past. But I was happy in the knowledge that my 3 years had been well spent, there was no impending nuclear war in the offing, so must have done my bit for Queen and country after all.

Knocked on a door at RAF Manby married quarters, introduced myself to a squadron colleague and after a chat, got handed the keys to our quarter which was just a few doors away. Nice spacious quarter and would do a trip till we got sorted with a mortgage later on.


20 Canberra Crescent as it is 2012

RAF Manby was about 17 miles from Binbrook, I had not been told this whilst in Germany, so for me it meant catching an RAF Coach every morning from Manby, and also returning by the same method, this service was not free either, had to pay a month in advance for the privilege.  I had a few days grace, before having to report for duty, this time was spent trying to get the quarter ship shape, there being just the bare essentials on inventory, our coffee table was an orange box for instance. However it was time to arrive on Unit, and I caught the coach and headed for RAF Binbrook, SHQ and started the slog of collecting signatures on my blue card once more. I had been allocated to 5 (AC) Squadron which operated English Electric Lightnings Mk3,6 and TMk5 aircraft, seemingly the last unit to host these aircraft. I was excited at this prospect, my very first squadron posting.

It took the rest of the day to get all the required signatures and finally I arrived on the Squadron, had a chat with the Squadron boss and ushered to where I would be working, Second Line Rectification with assistance to the flight line as and when required. Met my new trade boss, a Chief Tech called Dick Whittingham, an amiable guy with not many years left till retirement, but had a wealth of knowledge on this aircraft going back many years. I would be doing rectification and modifications mainly and solving flight line problems daily, i.e.  the aircraft won't start etc. Met all the crew and really looked forward to this adventure.

1979

5 Squadron RAF Binbrook My home for the next three years, shift work was normal and one week of days followed by one week of nights. After a time it gets tedious having to wait for a coach back home, especially on night shift as the coach would not leave until all passengers were aboard. that depended on what time the last squadron finished work. There were 3 Squadrons operating out of Binbrook 5, 11 and LTF (Lightning Training Flight), so it was that I bought a motorbike a Yamaha RD 125cc and had some sort of control over travelling, could leave Binbrook when I was finished work.

Work was exciting, learning all about the new aircraft systems, Binbrook being the last Lightning Unit, had its own Training facility and school on base. This aircraft was quite old and spent half its life in servicing, the other half flying, not very economical. but the only interceptor we had in the RAF, and nothing in the world to beat it in a vertical climb. also operating at Mach 3 when required, was an awesome beast. The interceptor role was called on weekly, with QRA (Quick Reaction Aircraft) scrambling to intercept usually Russian Bear bombers which enjoyed testing our defence capabilities. QRA duty was normally a week, where we had a purpose built QRA hangar which housed two serviceable and armed aircraft at all times. Backup was provided by the squadrons in the unlikely case that any of the main two aircraft went unserviceable or needed rectification.


QRA Hangar Binbrook

Me with hands in pockets (disgraceful) having completed servicing of a QRA Lightning. Notice the yellow steel nose wheel guide on the ground, this enables the pilot to make a quick exit from the hangar without having to waste time steering, also avoided hitting the hangar doors. Note the red painted piece of 2 x 2 wedged between the canopy and fuselage, this was to stop the canopy sinking (the canopy ram lock being left off to assist a fast getaway) was elbowed out by the pilot when he departed the hangar. Missiles used were Red Top and Fire streak (Red Top shown on the aircraft.) QRA was one of the best duties, we never left the hangar at all, food was supplied by the mess and was far better than normal, special rations.

Binbrook airfield is situated at the top of a hill, has its own micro climate and could be snowing up there and fine down the hill. There was a great rivalry between the main squadrons 5 and 11, with many a competition from the ground crew trying to outdo each other for speed of turnaround servicing for one.  The Lightning as stated earlier was equipped either with Firestreak or Red Top missiles, also the Mk6 Lightnings had a ventral gun tank fitted, this housed the 30mm Aden gun canons. Missile practice camps were held annually at RAF Valley in Wales, where remotely controlled jindivik target towers would trail flares which when fired up would enable the Lightning pilot to release a missile or two and qualify at this discipline. Gun firing camps were held annually at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, where Canberra aircraft would tow a banner at length and the Lightning pilot would fire his Aden Guns at the target banner, hoping to accrue the highest score on the Squadron. The 30mm rounds would be tipped with dye which came off as the round went through the banner, leaving a hole and a coloured ring. The dye thing was introduced for each group of Lightnings which took part during a sortie. Valley was usually a week detachment, whereas Akrotiri was normally 5 weeks or more.


Jindivik Target Tower

Being the last of their kind, the Lightning squadrons had a vast variety of detachments to European and Scandinavian air bases, practicing their skills against all sorts of jets. I myself did a few of these detachments to Aalborg, Denmark and Leeuwarden in Holland to mention a few

Akrotiri, in Cyprus Finished flying for the day, closed the canopy and posed for this photograph, the sun and heat were what I enjoyed about these detachments. Notice the white painted panel on the aircraft spine, this was to deflect the heat from the contents  beneath, namely the Avpin starter fuel tank. Shift patterns at Akrotiri were 24hours on and 24 hours off which were spent exploring the Island and it's bars.

One such occasion on our day off, trip down to Limmasol beach, sunning ourselves on the beach. The black leather bags were a must have back then, bought at knockdown prices and usually adorned with squadron plastic zaps and the likes, similar to having a suitcase with labels of places visited. The bags lasted for years and got lugged around whenever the squadron went on visits to other locations.


This is the place everyone went to for gifts, brilliant selection of leather goods, something for everyone

This is a NATO Travel Order document that got us legally overseas  without the need for a passport, issued for each trip we made. I managed about 4 trips out to Cyprus during my tour of Binbrook, 3 with 5 Squadron and an unexpected trip also with 5 when I was posted to LTF (Lightning Training Flight) as a SNCO  and a fellow SNCO at the time for domestic reasons could not go, so we swapped duties for that period.

1980

Aalborg, Denmark a short stay detachment with loads of Tuborg Pilsner beer and Schnapps to keep us from dehydrating with all the hard work put in. This Danish base and it's squadron personnel made us most welcome during our stay. Here are two of the squadron patches we collected from them.

During our stay here, we set the current record for consuming the most beer for any squadron that had visited. Our aircraft operated from a HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelter) and I recall it was none too warm in there. One incident or mishap occurred when taxiing our aircraft in front of the HAS, the pilot had been given instruction not to turn the aircraft so that the jet efflux pointed into the HAS, so Murphy's Law applied and he did just that. scattering all the paperwork round the HAS, took ages to collect it all together again. But a successful detachment by all accounts.

RAF Valley, Anglesey, Wales..... This was where we took the Lightnings to allow the pilots to practice live missile firing. A cold damp place at the best of times, situated so that the airfield was virtually on the Irish Sea and the associated wind blowing constantly. Cold weather gear was worn most of the time and it was usually soaking from the damp mist that came off the sea. Nonetheless taking part in this detachment was more or less compulsory, especially if you had been out to Cyprus that year, good with the bad syndrome.

Although this trip was with LTF later on, it is the only picture I have of RAF Valley. This could almost be a "How many people can you get on a Lightning" competition. Needless to say, I don't have much to say about these detachments, and was always glad to get back to Binbrook.

Leeuwarden, Holland....was one of the better detachments, friendly people and did us proud with accommodation too. The base operated F16 Fighter jets and the Lightnings had a great time playing at combat games with them. Here are just a few mementos I collected on the detachment, most of the other ones were drunk long time back.

A very picturesque town which we explored during our stay. Architecture was spectacular to say the least. Museums and the like were visited, as was the harbour area where a NATO fleet were at anchor, just had to take a photograph of this one, the maple leaf of Canada, 5 Squadron crest.

and just another photograph I decided to take whilst the call of nature beckoned one day while out downtown Leeuwarden, made me laugh at the time anyway.

So with a few snaps of my adventures listed, now back to reality and everyday life on the Squadron. The days started with all the serviceable aircraft being towed from the hangar to the flight line in readiness for the daily planned flying program. For me it was getting stuck into the various servicing schedules of the remaining aircraft, repairing, replacing, testing and signing up all the work carried out, pretty routine stuff. This was interrupted regularly by a call from the flight line, where things were outside control of the flight line mechanics, so it was a case of grabbing the ear defenders, a couple of basic tools and heading out to the line to investigate and hopefully sort out the problems, usually whilst the pilot patiently sat strapped into the aircraft, ever hopeful he would still be able to take his toy flying. Mostly the problems were cockpit lighting, bulb changes but occasionally we had more complicated snags like engine start failure where a more in depth diagnosis would be required and dirtier hands than usual. An interesting job in truth and the knowledge slowly built into a database inside the brain, to be called on numerous times.

Tea breaks were a great source of fun, crew room bridge causing more than one fight was normal, Uckers (a LUDO) derivative was popular, as were card games such as Crash and Brag. Darts and dominoes all played their part in daily life on the squadron. Tea Bar committees were a good thing to get into, this meant a trip to some Cash and Carry and a break from work too. All profits made from sales of crisps and chocolate bars were kept for special occasions such as Squadron parties and the likes. Then there was the night shift, normally at work for 16.30 hrs for a hand over from the day shift. First job as an electrician was to was to make sure all the aircraft flying that evening had  external lights that worked and replace/repair as needed, it's amazing how short a time the bulbs lasted, usually down to heavy landings and not sufficient anti-vibration mountings fitted or faulty. After night flying had finished, all the aircraft were towed back to the safety of the hangar and any reported faults rectified. We always had a flight plan and aircraft numbers required for the next days flying, so basically worked till that was met. Knock off time was normally 3-4 in the morning, sometimes earlier, a few occasions we were still working when the day shift arrived, but all to meet the flying plan for the day.

 

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