Cosy hypoxia in an English manor

– My RAF Journey Part 18 

Guy Martins cosy hypoxia in an english manor RAF Church Fenton

Cosy hypoxia in an English manor

RAF Church Fenton remained operational after the Second World War, operating early-generation jets – the Gloster Meteor and Hawker Hunter – until 1957, and then mothballed until repurposed as a jet Flying Training School in 1979. As such, the infrastructure had recently been refurbished and pretty much restored to the way it had been during the war. I loved the officers’ mess in particular – a cosy English manor house with all the trimmings and comforts that went with it. It felt just like home.

The 16 of us on our course were assigned to three months of ground school. After the exhausting stresses of Cranwell and FSS Swinderby, the change of tempo brought about a welcome breather before jet training began. It felt like being back in a school class, with all the puerile boyish antics that went with it – throwing paper darts at each other, spontaneous outbursts of childish humour, copying each other’s work, giggling during exams and being admonished by the teaching staff.

Subjects included: Aviation law, Principles of flight, Aeronautics, Navigation, Meteorology and Human Performance & Limitations. We were dispatched to an offsite RAF aviation medical centre and kitted out with flying suits, flying jackets, helmets, oxygen masks, flying boots and kid gloves, and ushered into a decompression chamber, where the oxygen was extracted while we had to conduct a series of mathematical problem-solving exercises in a state of hypoxia (oxygen starvation) of up to two minutes to experience the decline in cognitive abilities under those conditions. It was psychologically euphoric as hypoxia set in, but intensely painful physiologically as oxygen was reintroduced. The gibberish of our mathematical workings, witnessed first-hand after restoration, hammered home of the hazards of hypoxia, which was a useful simulated experience for its early detection if deprived of oxygen at altitude in the real world.

Socialising was a top priority – the intimate gathering and building of clanship. We were donned in formal suits every night and gathered in the mess pub before and after dinner. Alcohol was, in retrospect, consumed in copious quantities and formed an essential feature of RAF social life. It was de facto mandatory to fully participate in drinking multiple pints of beer at every mess gathering to develop ‘collegiality’, whether you were inclined to do so or not. To abstain was unthinkable and would render you to an unstated pariah status, unfit for operational squadron life: AKA unlikely to be sustained in the pilot program by way of ‘cultural incompatibility’ with a likely outcome of being ‘edged-out’ of the system. John McFadzean, Ian Burberry (a Londoner) and Julian Lewis (streamed into the RAF through University Air Squadron) were my kindred spirits at the time.

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