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FEATURE – IN AT THE DEEP END: DE HAVILLAND VAMPIRE

Photo: A fully kitted-up pilot boarding a Vampire FB.5. KEY COLLECTION

 

Sqn Ldr ‘Archie’ Kinch recalls how one pilot learned the hard way during training to fly jets in the 1950s

 

It was a sunny day in November 1952 and I was sitting on a bench outside the railway station at Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, awaiting the arrival of a vehicle to take me to nearby Little Rissington.

Recently returned from the Far East, my posting instruction was to attend 147 Course at the Central Flying School (CFS) with the aim of becoming a service qualified flying instructor.

The roar of the North American Harvards and the screech of the Gloster Meteors overhead aroused in me a level of excitement I had not experienced since my last sortie in a Short Sunderland flying-boat of 205 Squadron.

While madly keen to fly – and subsequently instruct on – the jets, I wasn’t overly disappointed at being allocated to the Harvard squadron. I was to be married the following year and, as all my contemporaries will recall, the accident rate on the Meteor at that time was alarming.

After settling into the comfortable accommodation afforded by the Sergeants’ Mess, I decided I should try to absorb the information neatly posted on the notice board. Determining the programme for 147 Course, I was delighted to see that the flying aspect was to begin immediately, alternating with the ground subjects.

The students were not, as at previous flying training establishments, to be subjected to weeks in the classroom before being allowed into the air. Studying the list of their names I was somewhat surprised to see that I was the only non-commissioned pilot on the course, although a flight sergeant was to join it somewhat later.

 

Leg-pulling?

After a lengthy disembarkation leave on returning from Singapore, I had already undertaken a refresher course on the redoubtable Harvard T.2B at the CFS Basic Flight at neighbouring South Cerney and completed basic instructor training on the newly introduced Percival Prentice T.1.

My initial Harvard flying at Rissington was progressing quite normally through November and into a cold December, when one morning a Master Pilot staff instructor walked over in my direction and threw me a small blue-covered book: the Pilot’s Notes for the de Havilland Vampire FB.5, the RAF’s early single-seat jet fighter.

Quite matter-of-factly he said: “Read these, you’re down to fly the Vampire this afternoon.” I had heard some vague mention of this requirement earlier in the mess bar, but as a lot of kidding went on in those days I was convinced that my leg was being firmly pulled. It wasn’t until I rechecked the day’s flying programme that I fully appreciated they meant business!

On arriving at the flight crew room, another course student, and former Hawker Tempest pilot – we’ll call him Bill, approached me to ask if I’d ever flown a jet before and to say he was rostered to take off ten minutes after me.

I replied that the nearest I’d ever been to a jet was in Korea when Lockheed F-94 Starfires of the USAF had intercepted my Sunderland exiting and re-entering Japanese airspace, leaving for and returning from a patrol in the Sea of Japan…

The rest of this article is in the August issue of FlyPast. It’s available in UK shops until July 31 and thereafter via the website – www.flypast.com. Alternatively, you can download a digital edition from www.pocketmags.com – simply search ‘FlyPast’.

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