Did I make the cut?
– My RAF Journey Part 16
Did I make the cut?
One thing that saddened me about FSS was that going solo was not part of the program. As it was a Flying SELECTION Squadron, and not intended to be a dedicated developmental course, it was designed to ‘select’ those who were fit to invest in full flying training and to discard those who were not up to the required standard. We sat nervously after our last flights as we were called in, one by one, to hear the verdicts. When I heard I had made the cut, my immediate empathy went to those who didn’t. Unlike the private pilot process, where you could just keep throwing money at the system until proficient, this was sudden death at the first hurdle. But some of those ‘Chopped’ at Swinderby went on to great heights in the civil aviation industry. I am proud to be their friends to this day.
That night in the mess pub, Cattle winked at me, clinked my beer glass and whispered, “Best ever”, but did not elaborate. I never fully internalised those two words, but I hoped it meant what I assumed it to have meant. I held on to that possibility throughout the journey ahead.
RAF Church Fenton – JP Mk3/JP Mk5
I was posted to No. 4 Flying Training School at RAF Church Fenton in North Yorkshire, equidistant between Leeds and York, and due to report to the base two months after Swinderby. Whenever there was a gap between courses, we were sent on a ‘holding post’ to become immersed in the operational end of the service. My holding post was to RAF Lossiemouth in the far north-east of Scotland.
Lossiemouth had a rich history of action, the most notable being the launch base of 617 Squadron Lancaster bombers in the sinking of the Turpitz in a Norwegian fjord in 1944. During my time, there was a multitude of strategic objectives for the base: Buccaneers in anti-shipping operations, tasked to destroy Soviet ships by toss-bombing ‘sticks’ of high-explosive weaponry in the event of a ‘hot war’ to deny their fleet access to the Atlantic and to laser-designate in support of two Squadrons of Jaguars in ground attack operations, also based at Lossiemouth. A Squadron of Shackletons was active in the role of maritime patrol to monitor Soviet submarine movements and Sea Kings in Search and Rescue operations. It was a massive, highly social, bustling base, where the bagpipes played at dusk and I got my first taste of the ‘sharp end’ of the RAF’s purpose.