Ahead of the curve or oblivion?

– My RAF Journey Part 19 

Guy Martin Staying ahead of the drag curve RAF Harrier

Ahead of the curve or oblivion?

I was acutely aware of the success rate on entering the jet phase: percentile-wise in the single digits from ab initio to the serious top-end jets, and the bitter taste of failing at Cranwell for two thirds of officer’s training served as a rude wake-up call to avoid revisiting such depths of dejection. As part of the technical training at ground school, we learned about the mechanics of ‘getting behind the drag curve’ (where resistance to thrust becomes exponentially outweighed by drag) and I consciously used this principle as a metaphor to ensure that I never got behind in the jet training program, where recovery could be impossible. A cut-out cockpit of a JP Mk3 was housed in the ground school block and every night, after dinner, I took my Flight Reference Cards (FRCs) and drilled myself in the cockpit checks by tapping on the instruments in the prescribed disciplined sequence until my fingers hurt. I felt the pain would make it indelible. None of my peers were this obsessed.

We were introduced to our QFIs (Qualified Flying Instructors): a primary instructor and a secondary instructor. Mine were Johnny Houlton and Dick Bardon. Johnny was an ex-Canberra jock (RAF slang for pilot) and Dick was a ‘Creamy’ (Creamies were ‘creamed off’ immediately after Wings qualification on Hawks and recirculated back into jet training via the Central Flying School (CFS) as instructors by virtue of their technical flying prowess, with typically less than 250 hours under their belts and around the same age group as us student pilots). Johnny and Dick couldn’t have been more different, and I was glad to be on the receiving end of both contrasting styles. Johnny was a product of conservative old-school RAF stock and a stickler for detail with relatively little imagination, while Dick was a spindly party animal, naughty as hell, with an easy demeanour, hysterical laugh and a natural flair for flying. As a free spirit, I strongly sensed that Dick would find himself in all kinds of hot water in his career ahead, little realising that I was to find myself in very hot water in my own career ahead.

Johnny made a point of connecting with me on a ‘hail-fellow-well-met’ basis as his first student pilot after his own training stint as a QFI at CFS. I think we were both equally nervous and he was determined to make a success out of me for self-serving motivations, which clearly suited me. He sat me down and laid out the game plan. “Martin, you have to go solo in under 15 hours, unaided and unassisted, proficient and safe or you will be receiving a train ticket home”. What, to Joburg? But I held back the sarcasm. “You will be assessed on your abilities to advance to fast jets only if you maintain aggregate scores of above 70%, otherwise your options would be streaming onto multi-engines, rotary wing or oblivion in that order. Stick to me like glue”. The latter three were inconceivable for me.

Guy Martin is the founder & Managing Director of Blueprints: Which has enabled business leaders to drive measurable high-performance across 130 blue-chip organisations in 36 countries