Caravanning and RVing in Australia
Our second pilots were fully qualified on smaller planes but not allowed to fly the Hastings for take-off or landings and had to fly Tiger Moths and Chipmunks to keep their hand in. I used to ask to go with them sometimes for the heck of it and one day a very experienced ex-fighter pilot who was returning to flying after a long spell, offered me a trip in a Chipmunk.
I thought I had a strong stomach but Murphy thought otherwise and set out to prove it. As soon as we had climbed to a safe height the pilot let me take the controls and I enjoyed myself hopping over the little puffy clouds and then flying around a beautiful estate with a stately home set in lovely gardens. Taking the controls back my friend said, Lets have a proper look! and stood the plane on one wing while we went round and round in tight circles.
Then we did some aerobatics. A loop first and he urged, Follow me through! I did put my hands and feet on the duplicate controls in the rear of the cockpit where I sat pale-faced. You do the next one, he ordered. I did a very shaky loop-the-loop and then he and Murphy threw in their piece de resistance a slow roll that left me hanging upside down in my straps and quite incapable of answering his question of, Uncomfortable isnt it? Swallowing furiously I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed down. I didnt eat lunch that day!
They say that only men and birds fly and birds dont fly at night! On a training trip one night the pilot made an exceptionally bad landing and in the silence that followed the third and final bounce and the wheels settled on the tarmac, our signaller plaintively enquired, Signaller to Captain what day does laundry go Sir?
During night continuation training it was the job of some unfortunate ground crew rigger to stay near the end of the runway and inspect the aircrafts tyres after each landing. He signalled the captain with his torch when he had finished his check and we were clear to go. The propellers are almost invisible when the engines are running and quite impossible to see in the dark. One night one of our engineers was sent by his skipper to find out why the tyre-checker hadnt given the all clear signal and found the poor chap with his head in one place and his body in another having walked into a prop.
Sometimes there was no checker available and it became the engineers job to climb down the ladder and go forward to check the tyres for cuts. One dark, cold night I nearly walked into a prop myself and the sudden realisation of what I was about to do washed over me like a bucket of icy water. Murphy obviously didnt wish to lose such a perfect butt for his pranks so soon.
Singapore used to be a much different place than the sparkling clean, modern city of today and back then colourful, sprawling Chinatown teemed with people and little shops. I had bargained with an old woman for a huge bunch of sugar bananas and had eaten a good many when suddenly the call of nature made me look for a public toilet. There wasn't one to be seen anywhere and most people seemed to be doing various ablutions over the huge open drain that ran along the side of the road. No-one spoke English to answer my, by now, almost frantic enquiries for a comfort station and I was greatly relieved to spot the Raffles hotel. Dashing into the first toilet I could find I was startled to see Murphy had exchanged the toilet bowl for a tiled hole in the ground!
During one visit to Singapore I bought a calender with lots of Chinese writing around it. Arriving back in England in winter, the change of climate affected my stomach and I had to make an emergency toilet stop as we drove down to Mum and Dads home for Christmas. The public loo was handy but Murphy had taken all the paper so I used December from the calender. I gave the calender to Mum and told her that the Chinese only had eleven months in their year. She believed me and was horrified when I told her the truth some months later as it turned out she had proudly related the tale to many friends and neighbours in the meantime.
Talking about Chinese reminds me of a trip to Hong Kong with two pilots, one being Flt.Lieut. McAdam who was the skipper I flew with most of the time, and Flt. Lieut. Red Bennett who hadn't been to Hong Kong before. RAF regulations required pilots to do training with an experienced pilot at Hong Kongs Kai Tak airfield before going in themselves as the captain. Kai Tak was a difficult airfield with hills on two sides covered by flimsy residential apartment buildings and the harbour was on another side. Unless the wind was right, landing was very tricky as the Hastings didn't have enough power to climb over the hills if the landing had to be aborted on one runway.
On our training day for Red we did a number of landings and between each landing a touch and go which meant you did all the things for a proper landing but as soon as you were safely on the ground you opened the throttles and took off again. The Hastings had pneumatic brakes and the rubber sacs in these had a nasty habit of burning out if they got too hot and this was the reason for alternate touch and go landings to give them time to cool down.
We made our final landing and Red applied the brakes to slow down as we approached the end of the runway. No brakes! Murphy at his best! The runway ended at the harbour and it looked like a wetting coming up. With no brakes we had no steering so Mac tried to raise the undercarriage to drop us on our belly and avoid going into the drink while I concentrated on shutting down the engines, turning off the fuel cocks and disconnecting the electrical system to prevent a fire if we crashed. With weight on the wheels, a safety solenoid prevented the undercarriage lever from moving to the Raise position and Mac couldnt operate the over-ride mechanism. By a miracle we hit a drainage depression and this slewed us away from our track towards the water and instead we trundled towards a large hangar where a lot of chinamen were working building boats. As we hit the building with one wing I glanced out of my window and saw workmen fleeing in all directions. Mac led the way as we all raced to get out of the plane via the rear entrance but there was no fire and although the plane was badly damaged no-one was hurt and we all travelled back to England as passengers as it was a year before that Hastings was airworthy again.
Since those days the runway has been extended on a causeway out into the harbour and landing at Kai Tak is no longer the adventure it once was.