The Shackleton Association

The Shackleton Story by Bill Billings (continued)

Part Four

Another feature now entered the Mk 3 Shackleton story. The South Africans had been looking for a Sunderland replacement and had decided upon the Shackleton. Following the development progress, and with greater interest in the Shackleton that had derived from experience of goodwill visits by Mk 2 equipped squadrons (42 and 204, I believe), the South African Air Force (SAAF) in March 1954, placed an order for eight Mk 3 aircraft, for delivery in 1957. In February of that year, the SAAF contingent underwent intensive familiarisation with the type at Woodford, and then, after the first flights of the first two of their allocation, they took them to St Mawgan on 21 May and participated in a joint exercise with Coastal Command. I can vouch that members of the then 220 Sqn, who hosted the SAAF, felt considerable chagrin at seeing the first Mk 3s being flown by and delivered to another nation.

The Mark 3 could even be described as a smooth and handsome aircraft. An improved canopy, getting away from the old war-time styled cockpit appearance, Tricycle undercarriage, with twin, smaller wheels, Nosewheel steering , tip tanks, nose hatch, it looked purposeful on the ground. Maxaret brakes and power assisted controls made it popular with most pilots. The Maxaret brakes (also) worked through the Parking brake. We noted this on landing a new delivery from Woodford, with the Parking brake on. It was probably the shortest landing run ever, and a super method of clearing up all the loose articles – rivet heads, split pins, bits of wire etc – that were in the aircraft. They were deposited ready for collection in the nose bomb-aimers position. Apart from that, landings were as a matter of routine so smooth that the pilots no longer got caustic comments from the back. After a couple of Mk 3 conversion first trips, captained by one Flt Lt Holmes, a genuine Shackleton expert and owner of probably the best collection of Shackleton photographs in existence conversion of many of the 220Sqn pilots was carried out by our captain, Don Wimble, in October 1957.

Teething problems arose with the new Mark. At the drop of a hat, I can, and will, tell about landing with the nosewheel unlocked on two consecutive trips, but that has appeared before. It was reported elsewhere as due to hydraulic failure following leaks, but it was certainly not (Ask Felix Smith, verified by the late Roger Bowen and the pilots who were actually on the trips concerned). One cause was found to be slight airframe distortion in the nosewheel bay, with the result that once unlocked for ‘wheels up’, the nose wheel could not be locked down again, as the geometric lock could not function. The second one had been set up with insufficient ‘override gap’ for the geometric lock to be made. Neither failure had anything to with the hydraulics, but, on the first one, we had to follow the drills and try emergency air. All that did was to leave insufficient residual hydraulic fluid in the system to get full flap down…… We also had to land downwind, due to fears that we would go off the other end and explore the valley; while landing downwind, we had lots of overrun at Trebelzue. Next time, no Emergency Air, and came to rest before the end of the runway, well short of Trebelzue. There were several other instances of nosewheel problems later, and a new drill was introduced whereby the Eng had to keep feeler guages in his trusty Eng bag (instead of his car toolkit at home), and check, every so many landings, that the override gap in the gear had not reduced below a specified figure. I do not know if this was still in force after 1960; perhaps some of the Engineers can let us know.

Another phenomenon, not at all welcome, that arose, was the odd engine fade/failure on take off (and at other times, too). A bit hairy, making our crew glad of Don Wimble (captain), ex NCO, and Norman Skivington, then a F.Sgt, as co-pilot, both of whom had bags of experience and knew what to do, aided by Smudge Smith, the Eng. Anyway, it was decreed that the squadron would do some intensive flying trials, to get all matters sorted out, with a special procedure of purging the fuel system of vapour before take off. No really dramatic trips during the trials, but a history of odd engine faults took some time to be sorted out.

Another new, non emergency related, situation arose with the Mk 3s. The station at that time was not equipped to change the tyres of the new aircraft! Ma-in-Law’s department had not thought about it. At least two wheels were taken down to Hawkey’s garage in Newquay to have the tyres changed. Just as well that the wheels could easily be removed from the aircraft and taken to the garage in an RAF 3 tonner.