The Shackleton Association

The Shackleton Story by Bill Billings (continued)

Part Five

All of the time, more and more equipment was being added, increasing the maximum permitted all-up weight. This was pre Viper time, and with Kiwi Manning, who had succeeded Don Wimble, as Captain.

We did the first 100,000lb take-off. The maximum AUW went on rising, and eventually, using the Vipers, 115,000 became the max(unless anybody can contradict that). The ultimate result was that Mk 3s reached their maximum fatigue life before the remaining Mk 2s, and also the early T4s, converted from our old and friendly (if not loved) Mk1s. Later, the Mk 2s were converted to Maritime Trainers or to AEW versions.

We non-AEW people rejoiced in saying ‘And we thought that our ordinary Mk 2s were a bit ugly, but...’ And many died in the wool Maritime Shack people insist that applied to the AEW crews as well.

A mention of Daring Rescues by Dashing or Iconic/Ironic male demi-gods in blue (oily, perhaps). Women’s Own magazine actually featured ‘the bravest handsomest men of all’ (including, to my knowledge, Harry Fisher and Derek Francis! Excruciating. Enough of them, and more of me.

The first Daring Rescue of which I had personal knowledge, was for two young children who had stolen a dinghy from Bexhill on Sea (The address indicates that they were pretty posh, if delinquent). Anway, after a suitable absence, their own absence was seen to coincide with that of the dinghy.

It was a dark and stormy night (as such stories commence), in January 1957. The local lifeboat requested help from Mountbatten RCC, and our 220 Sqn crew were scrambled from St Mawgan. It was my second ever squadron trip. Exciting!

We actually picked up the dinghy, homed in the lifeboat, illuminating with flares. RTB, with two senior Flt Lts, (models for Tiny Potters’s drawings of Shack crews in the MOTU Coffee bar in the 60s over 12 years in the rank, each with 3 rows of medal ribbons, non for bravery), at the controls. Landing from the Trebelzue end of the short runway, an overshoot first time and another approach. Last words before rounding out from the Captain ‘What a **??!! Awful approach’. As we hit, the port tyre burst and the port leg collapsed (not necessarily in that order). Down in the area of the flare dischargers, everything stopped going forwards and changed to a sideways direction, causing painful blows to Dave Winks and myself as the empty flare cases hit us. As we came to a halt, the expected rush to the back door. Here is a useful object lesson; the rear door jams when the aircraft has contacted the ground like that. Pulled the jettison handle, by which time Bobby Langton and Colin Hayday were climbing onto our shoulders. Out with the door, which was very closely followed by Dave Scarle (How did he get in front? Experience!). Result was no more opportunities for daring rescues for a few weeks, pending Board of Enquiry. Thanks from grateful parents etc? you must be joking. After repairs and reallocation the aircraft was agreed as ‘never flying proper’ again and it was eventually sold for Airfield Fire Service Training of the CAA. I arrived at Stansted Airport in later years, just hours too late to snaffle the Maker’s Type Identification plate from down near the Elsan, where it was placed, presumably to provide reading matter while in repose or having a honk. I actually saw it go up in flames, deliberately started, as opposed to the usual method.