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15 October 2014
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“Some Fleet Air Arm Memories”

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Ken Hutchinson
Location of story: 
UK and Mediterranean
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
A4456307
Contributed on: 
14 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by June Ogonovsky from Sidley UK On-line Centre a volunteer from BBC Southern Counties Radio and has been added to the website on behalf of Ken Hutchinson with his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

Having served in the Fleet Air Arm for nearly 5 years it is not surprising, that like other Servicemen, I have memories of the time. Three incidents, occasioned by human error, are recalled to mind.

1.

During a training air-gunnery flight, in a Fairey Swordfish, which was an open cockpit aircraft, as the two crew members were changing places for the firing exercise, the pilot “banked” the plane. One of the crew fell out over the side - which would not have happened had he not released his safety hook too early. I leant out of the cockpit and held on, initially, to the airman’s boots, but as these are looser fitting than shoes, he began to slip out of them. I had to stretch further out and managed to grab his belt, and eventually to pull him back in. In those days there was no “mike” contact in a Swordfish, simply a rubber voice pipe, which had to be held to communicate. So the pilot knew nothing until the rescue had been successfully carried out.

2.

Some 18 months later, when the squadron, which consisted of Barracuda torpedo bombers was taking off, intending to fly in formation in groups of 3, one of the pilots in the second group indicated that he would be delayed in take off. The Commanding Officer acknowledged and told a pilot in the third group when airborne, to take over the vacant space in the second group. Despite that instruction the delayed aircraft took off, without confirming his intentions, and flew over the top of the squadron and came down to fill what he believed was his original position. Of course he landed on top of the other aircraft, and both planes crashed through the squadron damaging two others. This resulted in the loss of life of five aircrew, apart from injury to one other.

3.

About a year later, when serving in the Mediterranean on a carrier, as a squadron of Barracudas we had taken off with bombs for a particular target. Having got airborne it was found that one of the wheels of my aircraft would not retract in to the torsion box. Not matter how we tried it would not go. Not surprisingly, the Captain of the carrier would not put the ship at risk and change course to land on one plane. So we flew around for over an hour — a sitting duck really — until the squadron returned and then they and we were able to land safely back on board. The reason the wheel would not retract was because a fitter had left his canvas tool bag wedged in the torsion box preventing retraction. This human error could have cost lives, but fortunately did not. What it did was to ensure improved maintenance checks — as the Captain made an order that all fitters and airframe ratings would be required to fly on a ‘rota basis’ as Squadron CO’s determined.

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