I joined 148 Squadron, Valiants at Marham in July 1957 when another short service officer was due for demob. It suited me as I had completed an Apprenticeship at Vickers-Armstrong’s (Aircraft) Ltd, Weybridge and had worked on the Valiant Underwing fuel tanks and the Bomb bay fuel tank in the drawing office while completing my studies to Grad: I Mech:E and Grad: RAeS level. I then had to do National Service for two years or volunteer for a 3 year short service commission. I chose the three year option.
After Officer Cadet training at Jurby, Isle of Man, about 2 months at Odiham, when I got a flight in a Vampire T11, and a 3 month Engineering course at Henlow, I was posted to Hemswell but in September 1956 I was posted to Marham at the time of the Suez war. This ended soon afterwards.
In July 1957 we (the engineers of all ranks in 148) flew to Malta in a Blackburn Beverley Transport. It was my first visit overseas. At that time we kept 4 V Bombers in Malta at all times. I decided that I would try to arrange a flight in a Valiant so asked Sqn Ldr Trevor Ware if I could fly with him. He had already given me my first flight in a glider at Marham. My very first flight was in a De Havilland Rapid at white Waltham in 1946.
The first flight in a Valiant XD814 was short as we had a problem with the warning light on the main door. On the second flight in XD 820 we went to the El Adem bombing range near Tobruk. From there we flew along the North African coast at 49,000Ft. Later, when we were nearing Italy, Trevor came down from his sear for some soup. He then said ‘Would you like to sit up front for a while,’ I said Yes please’ very quickly and found myself in the Captains sear. only later did I realise that I had been sitting on an ejection seat with no straps on. I thought there is only one question left to ask, so I said to the co-pilot ‘Can I fly it please?’ He said ‘Yes, if you like.’ So I took the controls and made careful course corrections at the request of the navigator. I found the Valiant easy to handle and responsive to the controls. It had what was known as ‘Q’ feel as the controls were powered.
After a while Trevor said it was time he got back to his seat so my time as a pilot came to an end.
It was a glorious sunny day with Italy on the left and Albania on the right. On leaving the aircraft I heard a cheeky navigator say ‘There goes the rock steadiest pilot in Bomber command’. This pleased me considerably as they called us engineers ‘Penguins’ because we did not wear wings. We told them flying pay was danger money but they insisted it was for skill!
It was a very enjoyable day. In August 1957 we flew back to Marham in a Comet 2 (A Comet 1 with reinforced windows and Rib 7 in the wings). We inspected them carefully.
In January 1958 we went to Malta again in a Beverley. I had one more flight in a Valiant, XD875, the penultimate Valiant made. At the end of January 1958 we came home in a Handley page Hastings, which was warm and comfortable. Having worked in a Design Office I found that operating experience was very useful. It taught me that more consideration needs to be given to access during maintenance for aircraft, cars, washing machines and everything else.
Soon after that I left 148 and was attached to ‘B’ flight of 207 Squadron for the first ‘Exercise Dispersal’. This was done to see how fast we could disperse our aircraft around the country if International Relations deteriorated and a Nuclear war was considered possible. We had to move 4 Valiants and all essential ground equipment to Cottesmore and stand by for a scramble. We had just got to bed when the bell went and we did scramble 4 Valiants in the 4 minutes warning we expected at about 23.00hrs.
Being part of the V Force was an exciting time. It proved that deterrence is better than war.