|Mark Stevens | sitemap | log in|
Royal Air Force 3(F) SQDN Harriers
After basic training at RAF Swinderby and Halton ( I passed out a starred mechanic) I served in the station armoury at RAF WYTON. We worked on 39 Squadron and 543 Squadron. 51 Squadron were there too but no-one was allowed to talk about them. 39 Squadron flew English Electric Canberra PR7's and PR9's. Their role was photo reconnaissance so it was only the ejector seats, flash crate flares and engine starter cartridges that went bang. 543 Squadron flew Handley Page Victor SR2's. SR stood for strategic reconnassance. They would fly at height over enemy territory taking photographs with wet film cameras. At night they dropped hundreds of 8'' photoflashes. They practised over the Wash and on cloudy nights we could see the flashes 60 miles away. I once had to don protective gear and wash a Victor that had flown through a mushroom cloud at Bikini atoll. It was fitted with a big scoop to sample the dust.. It was while at Wyton that I volunteered to go to Porton Down.
I was posted to 3(fighter) Squadron in 1974. I was a senior aircraftsman. I worked on 'The line' - I was a 'Liney'. This was the line of aircraft -Harrier GRmk1s' - that sat outside and were flown daily. I would check the aircraft armaments and ejector seat, help the pilot strap in and then signal the pilot through the pins out(safety pins in ejector seat) , engine start, chocks away and marshall out to the perimeter track. One day one of our aircraft hit some birds on take off, the pilot ejected and the Harrier slid down the runway and caught fire. It was quickly put out using gallons of foam. I was detailed to go and make the weapons and seat safe before it could be recovered from the runway. That was a difficult and very dangerous job. It was hot day and I was wearing shorts and shoes and socks. I got back to the line hut stinking like an abattoir. Foam is made from powdered animal offal mixed with water in the nozzle of the fire tender and once it has been 'cooked' gets a bit whiffy. I was sent back to my billet to clean up and have the afternoon off. Several times a year we would 'deploy' into the countryside and hide in the woods. The Harriers would fly from hillsides, roads and steel runways next to woods where they would be hidden. We all had to be trained as semi-soldiers to protect the site if attacked. So camouflage uniforms, SLR rifles, NBC suits and gas masks were the gear. The idea was that the fixed airfields would get nuked by the Russkies but we wouldnt be there. We'd be hiding in the woods ready to clobber their tank regiments when they came over the border. We had to be able to move to a fresh site at a moments notice and had special sleeping bags that opened in jiffy. Except when you got wazzed the night before and had to go for a piss in the small hours. I found myself completely tangled up in the lining.. I would have died under a Russian tank.
I had a great time, learned a lot about life, met some great guys and some complete idiots too. I left after my 5 years were up, retrained as a welder and went back to Scotland to earn big bucks in the Oil industry.
The Squadron has recently returned from a long stint in Afghanistan. They have relinquished the wonderful Harrier and re-equipped with the new 'Tiffy''
March 2011 The Harrier has been retired from the RAF due to cost cutting. Just as we need it to fight Col Gaddaffi. I think 3Sqdn Typhoons are out there.