Trials and Errors: Experimental UK Test Flying in the 1970s

Trials and Errors: Experimental UK Test Flying in the 1970s

by Mike Brooke


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750961608
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 09/15/2015
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Mike Brooke joined the RAF in 1962. After serving on the low-level strike/attack squadron, Brooke became a flying instructor and experimental test pilot. Further test flying tours followed, but in 1984, after 22 years in flying appointments, he was sent to the RAF Advanced Staff College. He was promoted to Wing Commander and took command of flying at RAF Farnborough, leaving the RAF in 1994. Brooke then became a test-flying consultant, finally retiring in 2004. In 1984, he was awarded the Air Force Cross by HM Queen Elizabeth. He is the author of A Bucket of Sunshine and Follow Me Through.

Read an Excerpt

Trials and Errors

Experimental UK Test Flying in the 1970s

By Mike Brooke

The History Press

Copyright © 2015 Mike Brooke
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7509-6314-5



So here I was on another threshold – the door to the ETPS Ground School. It was a cold January day at the beginning of 1975 and I had walked the mile or so down from my married quarter on the top of the hill on which Boscombe Down airfield is spread, like a concrete and grass tablecloth. I was chilled, not just from the weather but also from apprehension of what was to come. In the summers of 1973 and 1974 I had undergone the rigorous examination of the two-day selection procedure to get here not once, but twice. I had been successfully selected the first time but illness prevented me from attending the 1974 course. But, because the selection procedure was competitive, I had to do it all again in the summer of that year. Thankfully I was reselected, but with one proviso: due to my relatively basic level of mathematics I needed extra tuition before the course started in early February. Because I had joined the RAF at the minimum age of 17½, I had left school after just one year in the sixth form. I had, therefore, only an O Level GCE in maths, although I had subsequently completed one year of instruction in calculus.

My results in the selection board maths paper had reflected my lack of depth in this area. So here I was, ready to receive special attention from the teachers of such mysteries as polynomial equations, differentiation and integration. I was not totally alone as a couple of other guys with a similar background and lack of achievement in sums were here for the same treatment.

We were soon directed to the classroom. I noticed that there was a great view out to the north, over Salisbury Plain, beyond the busy major trunk route to the southwest, the A303. I wondered how often I would be looking at that view over the following year. But there was no time for that now. A shortish, balding man in a white coat entered and stood on the slightly raised 'stage' in front of a huge roller-style chalkboard. He had the air of a hospital consultant confronted with a small group of patients who were not going to understand a word of his diagnosis and treatment. He was actually Wing Commander John Rodgers, the Chief Ground Instructor (CGI). He started the morning in the way he meant to go on, taking no prisoners and rolling the blackboard at a frantic rate, while writing all sorts of barely comprehensible symbols and numbers in rapid succession.

Later we would come to know, and sort of love, him as 'Chalky' and become well accustomed to his many catch phrases, such as 'I've done nothing wrong', usually to the accompaniment of erasing something from each side of an equation. There was also his uncanny knack of asking the only person who had not followed what he was doing to explain how he had arrived at some esoteric conclusion. Too often that would turn out to be me.

We did not spend all day and every day in the classroom. That would have been too much for our tiny minds. There were other things to sort out up at the ETPS Fixed Wing Flying HQ, which was situated in offices along the front of one of the hangars. The windows there overlooked the countless acres of the concrete parking area used by the many and varied types of aircraft at Boscombe Down. We had to be issued with flying kit, including bright orange flying suits, anti-G trousers, helmets, lightweight headsets for flying the transport types and an assortment of connectors and other bits and pieces, the purpose of which would eventually become clear. The very affable man in charge of our flying clothing, including anti-G suits, was most appropriately called Tony Gee. His small empire's HQ was located in a wooden hut in front of the second set of hangars. Like all the ground support personnel Tony was a civil servant; however, the majority of the ETPS staff were service personnel.

The Officer Commanding (OC) was a group captain, with a wing commander Chief Test Flying Instructor (CTFI) and four fixed-wing tutors, three RAF squadron leaders and one US Navy lieutenant commander on an exchange appointment. There was also a Qualified Flying Instructor and Instrument Rating Examiner (QFI/IRE), who was there to help with conversions to type for everyone and keep the flying standards up to snuff. The Adjutant was Sgt John Hatschek and the Ops Clerk was LAC Bill Anderson, known ironically as 'Flash'; because the only time he moved faster than a slow trot was when he drove the CO's staff car! The Operations Officer, who helped to ensure that the daily programme ran as planned, was a civil servant called Ted Steer, who could be relied upon to point us in the right direction! There were also three air engineers who helped with the running of the school's Armstrong Whitworth Argosy C1 turboprop transport aircraft and many other ancillary tasks within the school. They were Flt Lts Len Moren, who could often be spotted wearing carpet slippers, Terry Colgan, also the school's entertainment officer, and Terry Jones, who, like us, had just arrived. On the other side of the airfield was the rotary-wing element, manned by RAF and RN (Royal Navy) tutors, plus a Qualified Helicopter Instructor (QHI).

To be ready to fly the diverse fleet of ETPS flying machines we were to be issued with a barrow load of Pilots' Notes and checklists, known as Flight Reference Cards (FRCs). There were also a handful of small, neatly typed cards that gave the essential information on flying each of the half dozen aircraft types. All these documents had to be digested rapidly, but thoroughly, before each conversion flight. Unlike the normal RAF practice of taking several months to be taught how to fly a particular aircraft type, we would only be given a maximum of two flights under instruction before we were going to be allowed off the ground as captains of these aeroplanes. The ETPS fixed-wing fleet of the day was:

• Beagle Basset – two examples; one the standard, twin-prop, piston-engined, 5-seat light communications model and the other a specially modified version to demonstrate in flight the effects of changing parameters of aircraft design and aerodynamics. This one was known as the Variable Stability System or VSS Basset.

• Jet Provost T5 trainer.

• Canberra T4 and B2 twin-jet bomber and trainer.

• Hawker Hunter T7 and F6A fighter and trainer.

• Argosy C1 four turboprop transport and air-drop aircraft.

• Lightning T4 twin-jet, supersonic trainer.

The Ground School was challenging enough, but when I took the assorted volumes of aircraft knowledge home and thought about how much there was to learn in such a short time I began to wonder what I was doing here! However, that anxiety was offset by the frisson of excitement at the thought of being, eventually, let loose on such a wide range of aircraft. And it wasn't long before that started. I was at the hangar offices of the school one morning, my head reeling from the latest mathematical revelations from Chalky. While I was enjoying a restful coffee one of the tutors, Sqn Ldr Duncan Cooke, a South African-born, ex-Harrier pilot, walked in. He had a brisk way about him and, with a friendly smile, he said, 'I think that it's time that you had a break, young fellah me lad. How's about you and me flying the Hunter together this afternoon?' My immediate response was a big grin. 'I'll take that as a "yes" then. Get your flying kit sorted, read what you can of the Pilots' Notes and I'll see you in the Ops Room after lunch.'

It was 16 January, thirteen years to the day since I had joined the RAF and still more than two weeks before the course would start, and here I was getting ahead of the flying game as well as the academic one. This was more than all right by me. The flight in the Hunter was going to be pretty intense, very little of the usual demonstration followed by practice and correction. There wasn't time for all the correct Central Flying School (CFS) instructional procedure that I had come to know so well over the past eight years. This was the start of test pilot training, so finding out for oneself was at the top of the agenda!

I had flown in the two-seat, dual-controlled version of the Hawker Hunter on three previous occasions: twice during a visit to the Royal Navy's Fleet Requirements and Direction Unit at RN Air Station Yeovilton and once when I visited the RAE at Farnborough. I had gone there before I attended the ETPS Selection Boards to find out what the test pilots at Farnborough did to earn their crust. One of them was Flt Lt John Sadler, an old mate who had been on No. 16 Squadron at RAF Laarbruch in Germany with me. When I had flown the Hunter T7 with John we had climbed out over the English Channel so that we could make a dive and go supersonic without annoying people with our sonic boom. That was the first time I had seen a Machmeter exceed one; admittedly by not very much! During those three trips the pilots had let me fly the aircraft for some of the time.

Now I was walking round the very attractive aeroplane that was one of Sir Sydney Camm's aesthetic creations, being shown what to check before getting on board. Once that had been achieved I strapped into the left-hand seat and then looked around. It all seemed somewhat familiar because the seat procedures and the cockpit layout reminded me of the Canberra T4 trainer in which I had spent so many hours in the last three years. The view of the outside world was a little better, but not much, especially when the cockpit canopy had been lowered and locked into position. The Canberra familiarity continued when starting the engine. Essentially it was the same R-R Avon engine that I had used in the Canberra B(I)8 and was started by the identical cartridge system. All the flight and engine instruments were about the same; the only difference was that the aircraft was controlled from a single central stick, and not a yoke, and there was only one throttle.

By the time we had reached the holding point of Boscombe's south-westerly runway, I had got used to using the handgrip brake and rudder to turn the aircraft. After carrying out the pre-take-off checks we lined up for departure. One new principle was that I didn't need to learn the checklist sequences, in fact it was positively discouraged. Because we students would be flying a multitude of very dissimilar types, often three on the same day, then the FRCs were the only way that we could be sure that we had done everything correctly.

Another new approach was that there would be very little demonstration of techniques. Accordingly, I lined up the Hunter on the runway and Duncan just monitored things as I did the take-off. The acceleration was much like a Canberra: positive but not startling. At the briefed speed I moved the stick back, quite a long way it felt, and I was a little taken aback that nothing happened. Soon, though, the nose wheel started to lift off the ground. I held the slight nose-up attitude and at about 150kt we were airborne. Then I squeezed the brake lever and raised the undercarriage. At this point a gentle side-to-side wing rocking started, which I couldn't seem to stop. In fact my attempts at correction were making it worse so I just held the stick central while the landing gear retracted. Once it was up I raised the flap.

The wing rocking had stopped and it was now very easy to hold the aeroplane still and let it accelerate to the climbing speed of 350kt. The wing rocking after take-off was all down to the relationship between the higher breakout force to initiate movement of the ailerons and the very low friction once the stick was moving. Like all Hunter pilots before me, I would see for myself that pilot compensation was the cure and after a couple of sorties I knew what to expect and how to avoid it instinctively. It was my first lesson that no aeroplane ever built is absolutely perfect in every respect.

The flight itself was an exploration of the Hunter's flight envelope, although we didn't go supersonic. We stalled, with the wheels up and down, the flaps up, part down and fully down. At best the stalling speed was about 110kt. Then a few aerobatics, looping from 400kt, rolling at 350kt and all the while the control forces were very light. Hard turns revealed that the maximum rate of turn at about 360kt was found as the airflow started to separate from the back of the wings, which caused a very clear and perceptible vibration, known as buffet. The resultant increases in G-force inflated the anti-G trousers, squeezing my legs and my lower abdomen: another new sensation for me. It was great to be zooming around considerable amounts of sky in such a responsive and exciting jet.

Probably because I was enjoying myself too much Duncan said, 'OK, let's fly straight and level at 300kt.'

I duly adjusted everything and then Duncan reached out and selected two double-pole switches from the up position to down. The controls stopped working. The control column became a rigid rod sticking up out of the cockpit floor.

'That's what it's like when the hydraulics fail,' explained Duncan. 'Now try a turn.'

I forced the stick to the left and pulled slightly to hold the nose up and stop the jet descending. 'Roll into a turn to the right,' came the next instruction. I had to use both hands to do that. A gentle chuckle with a slight South African accent emanated from the right-hand seat. Eventually we slowed down, dropped the undercarriage and then the flap and manoeuvred some more. After five minutes of this my arms were getting tired, particularly after dealing with the changes of trim with the flaps moving up and down.

'Right, that's enough,' Duncan said. 'Switch the hydraulics back on and we'll go home and do a few circuits. On your next trip you'll do much more of that. I would have thought that a Canberra pilot would have found that flying in manual quite easy.' My wry look at him across the cockpit was sufficient answer.

Soon enough I flew the Hunter T7 again, with lots of manual flying and practice of the forced landing pattern onto the airfield; no landing this machine in fields like I had practised and taught in the Chipmunk! The Practice Forced Landing (PFL) was quite a plunge at the ground starting at about 6,000ft over the upwind end of the runway and ending with a rapid and steep descent at the other end. Once the flaps were fully down it was very easy to unintentionally initiate a wing rocking motion and firm but careful use of the stick and rudder was the only way to stop it.

I was also introduced to something called the One-in-One radar guided approach, used when the engine has failed and the weather precludes the visual PFL overhead the airfield. This involved matching the distance to touchdown given by the controller with the height: 1,000ft for every mile. No great mental strain then, but plenty of physical strain flying it in manual. Nevertheless, I must have done everything to my mentor's satisfaction because, a week later, I walked into the Ops Room and found my name on the programme board to fly Hunter F6A XE 587.

I had already been warned to read up the Pilot's Notes and so I felt ready to take to the air for the very first time in a single-seat jet. As I walked out to the pretty red and grey painted fighter I felt like a kid in a sweet shop. I made sure that nothing was obviously amiss, that it had the right number of wings and wheels and then climbed the short, narrow ladder to get aboard. After the ground crew had helped me strap in I took a minute just to look around the cockpit. Some things were very familiar, some new. There was a switch marked BRIGHT/DIM. I didn't know what it did but I set it to BRIGHT; I didn't want to be dim today. The starting system was different in that it did not use cartridges but AVPIN, a very volatile liquid. I had experience of this system when I had flown the Canberra PR9, which had the more powerful Avon 206 engines. The Hunter 6 also had more thrust than the T7, another thing to look forward to.

After start-up, with the engine idling nicely and all the electrical and hydraulic systems checked I put my oxygen mask on and switched on the microphone. Oh, no! I thought. The wretched thing's not working. I can't hear myself. I hate it when the jet's all ready to go and something breaks!


Excerpted from Trials and Errors by Mike Brooke. Copyright © 2015 Mike Brooke. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 11

Introduction: What is a Test Pilot? 13

Prologue 17

Part 1 Learning to Test

1 Getting Ahead of the Game 19

2 And So to School 25

3 A Plethora of Planes 29

4 So Much to Learn 37

5 Out of Control 42

6 The Lighter Side 53

7 Travelling Light 59

8 Rocking and Rolling 74

9 Beavering About 77

10 A-Buccaneering We Will Go, Me Lads! 80

11 Graduation at Last 94

Part 2 Testing to Learn

12 Farnborough 100

13 Settling In and Dropping Fish 106

14 Dropping Bombs 110

15 Not Only Owls Fly Low at Night 120

16 Varsities 125

17 White Hot Technology 128

18 Playing With the Navy 132

19 And the Army 137

20 Other Hotspots 142

21 Over the Pond 145

22 Becoming a 'Truckie' 152

23 A Miscellany of Work and Play 156

Part 3 Researching Radar

24 Into the Black 185

25 A Unique Flying Machine 191

26 Whirlybirds Are Go! 199

27 Variety is the Spice of Life 206

28 Fiasco 217

29 Moving on Again 220

Part 4 Back To School

30 Back on the Learning Curve 226

31 Tutoring and Other Flying Stories 228

32 American Visits - USAFTPS 237

33 American Visits - USNTPS 252

34 European Tours 257

35 Operation Corporate 266

36 Anniversary 270

37 Choosing a New Path 273

Appendix A A Brief Lesson in Aerodynamics 276

Apendix B Cockpit Illustrations 280

Index 286

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