Confessions of an ex Armourer

28 September 2022


Valiant Bomber 249 Squadron.

Ejection Seat chain of events.

I completed Boy Entrant training as an armourer at 16 years of age in 1960 and was posted to RAF Marham where there were squadrons of Valiants. It must have been difficult for the armament officer as I was still treated as a Boy Entrant and could not be allowed to work unsupervised until I reached 17 and 6 mths.

One job that I was given was called Det Prep, basically I had to prepare the explosive detonators that were used to blow the explosive bolts on the aircraft canopy just prior to ejection. A further job was to issue new sets of ejection seat cartridges on receipt of old sets. A simple enough task, open the tins holding the new sets, one set for each seat, and scratch the date on each cartridge, 1 Primary, 4 Auxillary and 1 Drogue gun and exchange them with the old.

On the day in question an armourer from 249 Sqdn turned up with the old cartridges and after a short chat went off with what should have been the new cartridges. Unfortunately it was not until close to packing up for the end of the day that I found that the new cartridges were still on the bench, the armourer had gone back with the old set. What to do?

I told a chief in the armoury, who simply advised that I tell the squadron, he was probably ready to go home at the end of the day. I contacted the squadron and spoke to the Crew Chief responsible for the aircraft in question who simply said best get over to the squadron and change the cartridges. On arrival at the squadron I found that the armourers were not there, but the Crew Chief was adamant that I replace the cartridges as soon as possible.

To change the cartridges means that the ejection seats have to be removed, and unlike the Vulcan, the seats had to be partially dismantled and lifted out through the cockpit, impossible for one man, let alone a 16 year old boy. I chose to replace as many cartridges as possible namely the Drogue guns and the primary cartridges, thus leaving the auxillary ones in place as they were impossible to get to.

Having done as much as I could I simply reported back to the crew chief, explaining what I had done, who said ok and let me go.

I had not signed any paperwork, nobody checked my work, and to my knowledge the armourers on the squadron were never informed.

I spent the next six months worried sick , praying that nothing happened to the aircraft., which fortunately it didn’t.

A fine example of senior people who should have known better totally ignoring regulations, just because they could not be bothered to take a real interest in the problem.

Many years later, when I was a Chief on a Phantom squadron, I became suspicious that a set of Ejection seat cartridges had not been correctly replaced, my immediate reaction was to ground the aircraft and have the seat cartridges checked, and found one cartridge had not been replaced with new. As the saying goes “what goes around comes around”.

Canberra B15

Almost a SNEB Matra 155 Rocket Pod disaster.

In 1962 I was in Cyprus on 32 Squadron with Canberra B15’s

The Aircraft was a Modified B6 that had wing pylons capable of taking 1000lb bombs or SNEB Matra rocket pods. For training purposes the reusable Matra Type 155 pods that could take eighteen 2” rockets were loaded on the two wing pylons. The system was capable of selective firing, from the cockpit of an eighth, quarter, half or a full load of rockets.

Testing of the system prior to loading of the rockets required the aircraft armament safety devices, preventing firing of the rockets on the ground, to be removed.

On this particular day I an SAC was working with an armament Sergeant. We were to test then fully load the two pods with 36 rockets. I was in the cockpit selecting the tubes to test and pressing the trigger, whilst the sergeant was checking each tube in sequence with a test rocket for a firing indicator. I duly worked through each check firstly on the port side then over to the starboard side, with the sergeant shouting ok on each test before moving the test rocket to the next tube.

On completion of the tests I jumped down from the cockpit to find to my astonishment that all the tubes were full with live rockets. As the safety devices were not in place, if I had inadvertently selected a tube that was already tested, a rocket or number of rockets would have fired, probably killing the sergeant and anyone else in front of the aircraft. Needless to say I was very angry and shaken, and couldn’t resist shouting at the sergeant , who didn’t seem to understand the problem. On this occasion he was supposed to be the supervisor.

25lb Practice bombs back to front.

I can’t remember how many 25lb practice bombs could be carried in the bomb bay of the B15 Canberra, but I believe it was 16 or 20. On this day I had been bombing up a number of aircraft on my own each with full loads of bombs.

When the aircrew arrived to take a particular aircraft that I had bombed up, the navigator looked under the aircraft to check the bombs and remove the safety devices. He did a double take, looked out of the bomb bay then looked back, asking me if I had bombed up, which I said yes. At this stage I still did not grasp what the problem was, he suggested that I look out of the bomb bay, it was then that I realised that I had put every bomb on backwards, I must have become disoriented in the bomb bay. Fortunately the navigator said not to worry the bombs will still hit the target, which after the flight he confirmed that it was the best bombing that they had ever had. Perhaps all bombs should be loaded backwards.

Once again what happened to the supervisors checks, after all he signed to confirm my work.

Phantom FGR2

The Rotary Cannon fright.

From the Canberra I moved on to Jet Provists, Lightnings and then finishing up on Phantoms. I spent quite a lot of my career servicing ejection seats, becoming quite an expert. I also became an expert on the servicing of the SUU23A gun pod on the Phantom. This is a rotary cannon capable of firing 6,800 20mm rounds per minute, making a lot of noise when it does.

I especially enjoyed giving talks on the SUU23A, always culminating in a demonstration of its operation, by running drill ammunition through it at half speed, the noise it made was tremendous and on every occasion the whole audience jumped, great fun. One day my boss noticed that their was a very elderly gentleman in the group and sidled up to me suggesting that I explain that the noise will be very loud and quite frightening, which of course I did. The gentleman simple removed his hearing aids and didn’t jump when I pressed the firing button..

Well done boss you may have saved a life.

I spent 24 years in the RAF so if these are the only maintenance issues that I remember over that period it demonstrates that although mistakes are made that the RAF training in those days was pretty good and it probably still is.

Patrick Coyne – Ex RAF Armourer.

Tags: CanberraPhantomValiant

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