From the Cockpit

Ray Brown’s Story

Thanks to Mark and Ray (RNZAF 921305) for sharing both the overall view of the Vampire in the context of the post-war NZ air force, and his experience of flying the aircraft. All photos from Ray’s collection.

RNZAF TERRITORIAL AIR FORCE SERVICE YEARS

Ray Brown 1

Joined December 1951 through C.M.T (Compulsory Military Training) which involved 3 months of initial training including ground service training:

  1. Small arms – pistol, rifle, Sten gun, Bren.
  2. Parade Ground – drills, handling of men in squads, orders, route marching etc.
  3. Service life – Rank and pecking order, motor transport, accommodation and Barracks: Discipline, cleanliness and efficiency, unarmed combat, P.T. and housekeeping.
  4. Airmanship – Theory of flight, regulations and rules of the air, engines, navigation, Morse code and signalling.
  5. Initial Flying Training to solo on Tiger Moth. Take-off and landing, air manoeuvres and forced landings, aerobatics, lookout, safety around aircraft, meteorology, medical aspects, first aid, fire fighting, including duty on fire watch (living in the fire section).

Squadron Posting No.4 TAF

At the end IFT ‘selected’ cadets were offered Air Force careers either permanent Air Force or in the case of University students, The University Pilots Scheme trained student pilots to Wings standard and occurred in University vacations, with rank of Acting Pilot Officer achieved over 1.5 years. Training commenced on the Harvard at the No4 Squadron base RNZAF Taeri the IFTS aerodrome, every weekend, followed by vacation training RNZAF Wigram near Christchurch, which advanced the various skills already introduced, and then progressed to Air Weapons and night flying, along with long distance navigation, to the extent of the Harvards range, and formation flying including take offs and landings in pairs. In my case, every opportunity for extra flying was taken advantage of, including formation aeronautics and instrument flying with a sympathetic instructor, who enjoyed my enthusiasm. Instrument time on the Link trainer was invaluable and paid dividends when the crunch came – above 10/10ths cloud at high altitude and no radio for homing radar vector back to base. Training was completed and wings awarded.

In the course the Mustang had to be introduced, with a whole new set of capabilities and enjoyment. The Mustang was fast, beautifully manoeuvrable and had superior armaments and abilities. The cheerful, bombastic roar of the Merlin, the six Browning 50 cal machine guns and the ability to carry rockets and real bombs was inspiring, a real fighter-bomber. Low-level 50ft formation fours under radar were particularly exciting if stressful, especially over the sea in hot weather. Air to air, air to ground Rocketry and 60 degree dive-bombing were taught exercising and perfecting our reason for existence. There were annual camps at RNZAF Ohakea, where all four Squadrons could be used as individual units or as a wing with “under radar” instruction to ground attack targets, or in high altitude interceptions with 75 Squadron Mosquitoes.  Head on interception was scary and dangerous with 700 mph closing speed. The Mustang could catch or outrun the Mosquito, but the “wooden wonder” could out turn the F51 with its light weight and twin engines producing a lower wing loading and stalling speed. When pulled into a tight turn at 30 – 40,000 feet the Mustang would flick off into a stall while the Mosquito kept turning and could eventually bring guns to bear, briefly. Air weapons training was kept up between annual camps, along with long distance navigation and night flying, so that the Squadrons were ready for deployment at any time. Since the Korean War was raging, that was the obvious destination, to fly alongside the RAF, RAAF and RCAF from American bases. This did not eventuate for the RNZAF as an Artillery Regiment was the preferred option.

The Vampire

Following the decision to withdraw the Mustang from service, the four Territorial Squadrons were given dual instruction on the De Havilland Vampire, initially using the Mk 55 and Mk 52 to convert to the single seat FB5 and FB9. The Vampire was to be used as a jet trainer for the Venom, which was being flown by the RNZAF in Cyprus, Malaysia and Singapore, alongside RAF and RAAF Squadrons.

Initial Impressions: With dual on the Mk 55 and Mk 52, and working through the conversion exercises brought home the impression of a very different aircraft to the Mustang. The Vampire was fast, but had an unholy thirst! Fuel consumption at low to medium altitude was ferocious, and is still a concern for all jet aircraft, military and commercial. The flying “position” was very different with the cockpit and the short nose a long way ahead of the wings. The solo aircraft accentuated this and with its very light controls, the impression of sitting at the front end of a flying lamppost was very real. The biggest single impact was fuel – 330 gallons used at the rate of 300 gallons per hour at low to medium altitude, with the desirable 100 gallons in reserve for instrument / weather approaches meant 40 minutes flying time maximum, including take off and climb and descent and landing. With much lower fuel consumption at medium to high altitude (20-30,000 feet) a rotate and fast climb was the main aim with low level flying kept to a minimum, depending on the exercises being worked on. As instructed, the pilot should keep “ahead of the aircraft”, and shorten exercise times, with instrument / radio range approaches in bad weather always in mind.

Ray Brown 2

The safety aspect was also different; the main problems of engine failure (or fuel exhaustion) and fire being handled by bail out. The light (plywood) construction of the fuselage (and the cockpit) meant that engine fire was a really serious problem, and bail out the only option, with its own problems. Cockpit: In early dual models (Mk 55 & 52) both pilots had to bail out through the canopy top and the only chance of survival was by inverting the aircraft and falling out, preferably at low speed, hoping to miss the tail plane. Ditching was bad news with seconds only after the splash for floating, “they float not neither do they spin”. Orders for engine failure – Bailout! In a K-Type dingy in anything more than a dead calm one was not likely to survive let alone hoisting the sail as instructed and proceeding to port.

The Martin Baker ejection seat was good to have at low level (shot you 200ft from the ground – don’t activate in the hanger!) At high speed, the “blind” pulled down over the face and the ankle straps kept arms & legs from flapping and barometric opening at 10,000 ft meant the parachute would still open if you were unconscious. The jet whine was different to the piston / propeller roar but was still comforting. Take off acceleration was much less than the F51 but the thing would do Mach .48 without falling apart. The T11 dual seat trainer was a big increase on the F51’s 505mph max dive speed before compression effects compromised control surfaces.

Ray Brown 3

Flying Limits

We thought the aircraft was docile. We didn’t know about the flat inverted spin that concerned and fascinated Ted Arundel and others later. We avoided spins as we were accustomed to do with the F51, which took 12,000ft to recover from a stable flat spin. We dared each other to do gliding loops in the Vampire – throttle closed 350kts downwards then pull up hard. The danger was falling off into a spin and / or engine flame out. “If there’s no noise, then shits are trumps”: old airman’s proverb. If the Goblin engine wouldn’t re-light – dive steeply for engine revs, then apply start up procedures engaging the starter motor. High airflow blew the fire out. Taxiing for formation take-off with a lot of stops and starts could drain the compressed air bottle – no breaks was no joke! The breaks worked on rudder pedals for left / right application with a small lever on the control column for intensity, followed by a reassuring “pssht” from the pressure release – no “pssht” from the pressure release – no breaks (no air). One would have to wait some 30 seconds for the bottle to charge up from the engine driver compressor.

Challenges

Although there was no duel instruction on the Mustang F51, the transition from Harvard to Mustang was relatively painless, given the airmanship generated by the study of the A/C systems and the pilots notes, and a personal small hand written card in the flying suit pockets with speeds power / flap settings etc along with the suppression of the “Cowboy Syndrome”. “There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots”. The speed on first final was the scariest bit and the feeling that you would run out of runway especially on grass strips generated a tendency to stand on the brakes on approach. However with full flap, nose up and a bit of power the aircraft slowed remarkably, and fell out of the sky when the throttle was closed. Respect for instructors, with whom I was very fortunate, also played a large part in easing the transitions. Whatever ‘Sir’ said was usually right. Taking control of the aircraft alone and in adverse conditions, bad weather, night flying, etc requires confidence generated by having done the training to your own and your instructor’s satisfaction. Being settled on instruments at the desired speed (which may also be a range of endurance settings) before entering cloud is all-important for a cheerful outcome, particularly if radio navigation aids are unavailable or unserviceable. These considerations are further stressed with the low fuel capacity of the Vampire. Wing mounted drop tanks or tip tanks were not standard due to their limitations due to Mach runs at 35000 feet but outer wing panel internal tank could have helped, although the Goblin engines thrust was probably insufficient for heavy load take-offs.;(Six rockets, 500 rounds of 20mm ammunition and a full fuel load). Jet aircraft have good fuel consumption rates when cruising at high altitude, but very poor (high) rates at medium (10-20, 000 feet) altitudes and horrific rates at low level where armaments and aerobatic training is carried out. So the Vampire was particularly sensitive with regard to fuel consumption when undertaking air to ground rocketry dive-bombing with repeated climbs to altitude and low flying. You could almost hear the tide going out in the fuel tanks.

Challenges for RNZAF

The most noticeable difference with jet aircraft was the fuel consumption. Very similar looking tankers would have AVTUR (Kerosene) or AVGAS (90 Octane Petrol) with the same fuel nozzles, so it was possible to put the wrong fuel into either types. I well remember an Airspeed Oxford being topped up with AVTUR and melting the piston crowns in the Cheetah’s from detonation, which was inaudible in the cockpit. A forced landing resulted. Engine fire was likely in the jets if petrol was put in, among other possible results. There was also a change of culture and a “modernisation” from propeller to jet, but still no cockpit pressurisation which made flying above 25,000 feet a cause for concern even on 100% Oxygen. The Mustang had “pressure breathing” in which the Oxygen was “blown” into the mask and kept the pilot wide-awake and functioning, for short periods above 35,000 feet that may occur, and for long distance escorting of bombers in Europe and the Pacific (B29s).

Servicing tools and spares were very different for jet engines compared to piston engines, as was British vs. American bolt sizing, parts and design. Training of Fitters was different, with the gas turbine being far simpler in design, but very temperature sensitive with a very high speed in rotation – 20,000 rpm and more, compared to 3000 max for piston engines. There was also the tricycle undercarriage which generated a better and different landing / taxing attitude, and the possibility (not unknown to 747s) of dragging the tail on take-off or even in low or no flap landings (hydraulic failure). Take-off, rotation and steep climbs, to get to altitude and the much lower fuel usage rate quickly meant a further hazard with engine failure on take-off, where the aircraft was very nose up and fresh out of noise at low level. Making a successful straight ahead landing usually downwind on the same strip took a lot of luck. The Marten Baker ejection seat made this situation so much better and although afterwards the pilot may have a shorter spine, he wasn’t crunched or toasted. The loading of rockets was always fraught with danger.  The missiles were brought under the wing, which was close to the ground (600 – 800mm) and mounted on zero length launchers supported by wires threaded through brackets. The tricky but was connecting the “pig tails” to the aircraft socket. If there was any voltage, stray or otherwise, the rocket was likely to fire, barbequing the armourer, and flying parallel to and across the ground at speed to demolish anything in its path – including the Officers’ mess. The 20mm Hispano cannon were also deadly and everyone concerned was scrupulously careful with arming switches while the aircraft was on the ground. With tail dragger aircraft the problem still existed but guns, rockets, etc were pointing upwards at 20 degrees or so, so those in danger of accidental discharge were further away (by miles) and widely spread.

Electrics, electronics and radio were British and different from the American and the fuselage was plywood, which had its own repair problems. Luckily 75 squadron had flown the DH Mosquito for some years and the existing skills for DH aircraft came in handy.

The Vampires were mostly second hand Royal Air force, and had had a life already, as had the spares, some of which were complex such as the Martin Baker ejection seat, the Lucas fuel pump and the Hispano cannon. It took dedicated, experienced and versatile Fitters to keep all the balls in the air. As with most pre-loved aircraft there was a margin for age and error, which led to a good bit of finger crossing when signing the form 700 (maintenance release). In the post war period several aircraft types were “used” when the RNZAF got them – Sunderlands, Mosquitos, Vampires, Venoms, Dakotas, TBFs and others were often “high mileage” vehicles. Metal fatigue was inspected for, but sometimes not detected, as with the Bristol Freighter that lost a wing on approach to Harewood (Christchurch) Airport due to metal fatigue. Not unknown today as shown by cracks in A380 wing roots.

Crash/forced landings were dangerous as there was no engine in front to protect the pilot from trees, posts, brick walls etc. The “forward” cockpit meant that there were only a few bits of plywood between the pilot and the crunch!

Very engine rotation speeds meant enormous “out of balance” forces for the motor assembly if the engine shed a compressor blade. This could destroy the aircraft, particularly the types that had “embedded” engines. – Comet, Vampire/Venom, etc, a situation common to all jet fighters. Cargo aircraft, commercial and some bombers benefitted from a “pod” attached by a drag strut to the wing, as in the recent A380 engine failure. The kinetic energy of the rotating mass is such that early jet engine testing for design and overhaul purposes was carried out in underground concrete vaults when blade materials were not as reliable as they seem to be now. It was not unknown for piston engine failures to vibrate the engine out of its mounting but like the jet pod the engine was not situated just below the pilots crown jewels. Perhaps a little learning is a dangerous thing in this context but careful watch was kept on jet pipe temperatures (below 700 degrees C) to protect turbine blades.

Air Weapons

Air to air, air to ground, dive-bombing, low level bombing, rocketry and cinecamera were all taught using live ammunition, smoke bombs and rockets with 60 lb cement warheads. The six 50 calibre (half inch) Browning guns in the Mustang fired high velocity tungsten carbide cored bullets, and the 20mm Hispano cannon in the Vampire had a variety of munitions. Seeing the results of air to ground firing, with all guns harmonised at 600 yards, on 4 inch water pipe target frames which were torn apart like cardboard motivated the pilot to keep away from the sharpened end of other aircraft.

In air-to-air firing, using a towed banner, the attackers were warned to break off quarter attacks when the approach angle to the line of flight of the target was 25-30 degrees. This hopefully kept the stream of deadly projectiles away from the target towing aircraft, and the back of the pilot, cowering behind his half-inch thick armour plate shield. Because competition was encouraged thru sweeps, rewarding the most strikes on the banner, ammunition belts were coiled into a cylinder and the bullet points dip-coated with coloured paint, so that each pilot’s strikes could be counted. This was good feedback; generating confidence in one’s shooting. It was not unknown for keen sweepstake competitors to fly alongside the banner and count the hits to be prepared to up the ante before the official tally after the banner was dropped back at the aerodrome. Normally four aircraft at a time would enter the firing range and space themselves in an oval pattern for air to air or air to ground being controlled by the Range Safety Officer who saw to the security of the range, repaired targets etc. Each trainee took a turn at being the duty controller. Firing was normally directed out to sea on a coastal range and a lookout was kept for coastal vessels, fishing boats, etc. Low level bombing was carried out at 50 feet and as there was no bombsight or other aiming aid, the pilot would guess- “I can hit the barrel (painted white), with a stone about now!” Dive-bombing and rocketry were practiced from a 60-degree dive; dipping in at 4500 feet and using the aircraft nose at a sight. Rarely 250 kg live bombs of wartime stock and past their use by date were allowed as a special treat. However Stations Commanders, Orderly Officers and Armourers were naturally on tenterhooks until all ordinance was safely expended, and not dropped on the innocent citizenry, or their property.

Ray Brown 4 sml

Rockets were surprising in their accuracy. The heads projected forward of the wing on each side and could be fired singly, in pairs or salvos. On firing, the rocket would break the retaining wire and “waffle” off into the countryside to be lost against the background. With a little practice and average of five yards from the target could be achieved, compared to about twenty yards average with dive-bombing. The positioning of the aircraft, altitude, attitude, speed and steady aim (different in bumpy weather) would do the trick. One of our ranges had a dead tank as the aiming point, and the results of our attacks with only concrete warhead rockets were sobering to see. Bullets decelerate after firing due to “air resistance” or drag induced by their forward velocity and the spin imparted by the rifling. Bombs accelerate due to gravity after release and strike, with the additional speed of the aircraft in the dive, with frightening penetration. Rockets are even more scary since they accelerate continuously until the fuel burns out, often hitting with “supersonic plus” velocity and in the case of armour piercing and/or explosive warheads, demolishing armour plate, reinforced concrete, gun emplacements, ships, etc with equal ease. The trick is to hit the target, which may be firing back, in bumpy conditions, so confidence in the weapons, the platform and the training are all important.

Social Aspects

Living in an Officers Mess where one had a batman (in our case shared by four Officers) a Mess Bill and various duties and events outside flying was very English Public School. Drinks were paid for personally by members whereas food was supplied, visiting cards left for the CO and PMC (President of the Mess Committee) when arriving on station. Dining in nights, where invited guests (Lord Mayor, Members of Parliament, visiting actors and musicians such as Nat King Cole or the Folies Bergere, etc, or visiting royalty such as prince Phillip, were entertained or did the entertaining. Mess games like “Sofa Rugby” or Cardinal Huff were boisterous (Prince Phillip as CO of HMS Magpie got his shirt torn) and had grown out of pre-war and wartime letting off steam and stress relief. Duty as Orderly Officer was a bit like the fagging system at a public school, where the O.O handled off duty emergencies (fire, AWOL, accommodation for visitors, blocked sewers, raising the flag on parade each morning, inspecting and sampling the O.R meals, misdemeanours, etc. The organising of a garden party for the Ladies was one item on the agenda, looked forward to with mixed feelings!

Conclusion

Air force training, and other service training was certainly character and confidence building for any young educated and physically fit person. The boundaries of High school life were stretched physically and mentally. For example, the experience of Decompression, the opposite of deep sea divers Recompression or Hyperbaric chamber operations, where the Bends, blackouts and even more serious effects are studied, monitored by doctors, and treated as a necessary study with practical limits to performance in a high altitude pilot/navigator/crew member role.  Some people are particularly sensitive to decompression effects and all are trained to recognise symptoms during their own decompression exercises.

The Service experience, particularly in peacetime, was and is a privilege granted to few and as such is “the Sport of Kings”.

A New Pair of Gloves

Gloves & scarf, along with flying suit and helmet are what keep the flash of fire away from ones skin in the event of a fiery crash.

It was time he had some new flying gloves, his were worn and torn. An idle thought that wandered through his head as he climbed the short, steep stairway to the cockpit, his face mask caught briefly by the gusty wind that was herringboning the puddles on the drizzly wet concrete apron destroying the reflections of the few patches of blue sky that remained to the East in the gathering gray. He shivered a little as the cold filtered through the flying overalls – the weather was “clamping in”.

The duty airman placed the safety harness over his shoulders, removed the locking pin from the ejector seat and closed the canopy. The familiar cosiness of the airplane closed in around him and he began once more to feel part of the complex and intricate mechanism that was about to be awakened. Checking the controls, he glanced back along the smooth slim wings set so far behind him and over the short tapering nose towards the runway, then ran quickly through the pre-start checks with the swift ease that flowed from many hours spent in the Vampire. As the Goblin turbine came to life he was aware that he felt very much at home in this aircraft. It had never let him down and had always responded to his wishes, a friendly, docile but agile creation, a joy to the eye, yet filled with surging energy and purposeful power when it was needed, and plenty of firepower, when that was required. He called for taxi clearance, waved away the single chock, eased the throttle forward and moved away from the line of parked aircraft, pivoted left using rudder pedals and break lever on the control column and with a faint hiss of compressed air from the released left handbrake, trundled off smoothly along the perimeter track towards the duty runway. He performed the pre-take off drills as he taxied out to the cross wind holding point and glanced up at the new Perspex above and around his head.

It had been fitted the day before as a replacement for the canopy he had lost at altitude. Several of the squadron’s aircraft had been fitted with a new type of canopy, which incorporated an anti-icing system in which warm air was circulated between inner and outer layers of Perspex. The previous canopy had disintegrated at 38,000 feet causing a startling decompression and a rapid decent to a much lower level. Today he would test the new one at maximum altitude and speed to ensure its reliability.

Calling for take-off clearance, he started moving onto the runway and aligning the aircraft with the centreline. “Samuel 49 clear” pulsed through the headphones nestled beneath the silver-grey crash helmet as he released the brakes and eased the throttle forward to maximum power and coaxed the nose wheel from the runway. The mounting urgency of the turbine soon became a thrill of power, and in another second he was airborne, and climbing as the undercarriage thudded home. The long runways and their green backdrops fell steeply away as he pulled up into a climbing turn, headed for a break in the clouds above the river estuary.

“Samuel 49 cleared channel Delta” came clear from the control tower, passing him over to Regional Control. He climbed quickly, shooting up into the brilliant sunshine and was launched into a new world. Great masses of dazzling white Cumulus rose above and around his fleeting aircraft while a raft of stratus lay away to the West with huge cumulonimbus towers rising from it. This was his Kingdom! This weird, wild, restless world of blinding white and limitless blue was his element, the world he was created to inhabit, the endless CAVU! Levelling off at 45,000 feet, under a sky that was now blue black, and so far above the cloud-shrouded earth, he checked the harness, oxygen and fuel, tested the dive breaks and tipped the sleek airplane into a gentle dive, easing on the power. The Mach meter needle swiftly approached Mach 0.77 and with a slight tremor started to experience compressibility effects. At 0.79 he eased the nose up to the horizon, reduced power and extended the dive breaks, bringing the speed to a steady 295 Knots. So far so good-the canopy was firm and solid to the pressure of his gloved hand. He glanced at the panel -mounted clock, and allowing for his descent to base checked the fuel. 200 gallons should be plenty to play with and there was room for a few minutes of sport before his return to earth, to enjoy again the sheer excitement of flying.

Pushing over into a 30 degree dive and easing the power on he pulled the nose up into an impeccable loop followed by a careful barrel roll, a four point slow roll and an Immelmann, then launched over into the base of a graceful Cuban 8, once so difficult in the days of piston engines. Throttling back he extended the dive breaks and headed down towards the cloud that now stretched unbroken from horizon to horizon. “Samuel 49 request controlled descent” brought no reply. “Delta Control do you read” was similarly silent as were all other channels. “Tower, Samuel 49 radio receiver failure, will continue to transmit. Present altitude 30,000 feet, estimate 8/8ths cloud at 24,000 feet, propose descent through cloud over ocean on Westerly heading to 12,000 feet then 180 degree turn East and descend to 2000 feet will make regular calls and advise changes. Will use 215 Knots endurance speed. Fuel now 150 gallons, Samuel 49 over and out.” Knowing that his Mach run had been to the South and the subsequent aerobatics and descent had been to the North, he guessed that his position when entering the cloud would be nearly above the station, and normally he would use the radio range to approach and locate the aerodrome. Now with no radio reception, he would hope to be in the clear before he reached 2000 feet heading East for the station. Settling himself on instruments while still well above the cloud he proceeded to use the fuel pumps and cocks to drain the fuselage tanks, with the aid of the fuel pressure warning light. As time passed at the slow endurance speed, he tried not to think of the fellow pilot who had crashed on the slopes of a nearby 9000-foot mountain due to a radio problem and subsequent disorientation on instruments in cloud – a chillingly similar situation. Then came the inevitable plunge into the cloud, he reported his turn to the West as he continued through the featureless gray world to 12,000 feet, and then he turned East towards the coast.

His concentration was bred of long experience and many gruelling hours of simulated instrument flying, with clusters of black, white and luminous green instrument dials and indicators, setting out with perfect accuracy the speed altitude rate of descent altitude and direction. All instruments were steady and under the continuous control of his hands and feet. No matter what his body and mind perceived to be the correct attitude he must focus on and believe the instruments and resist the tendency to “lean” to one side or the other, or to pull up or push down against the steady indication of the artificial horizon. His indicated fuel reserve had been 110 gallons at the turn to the East, and would be 75 or so at 2000 feet – not as much precious fuel to allow for any miscalculation in finding the aerodrome on its river terrace with the very real possibility of having to overshoot or go around again if a landing was balked for any reason. He had still received no radio contact, despite his continuing transmissions. As he passed through 2000 feet a sinking feeling set in as the world outside the canopy remained unchanged, a solid element of murky gray. He held his breath as he extended his descent down further into the abstract world. The aerodrome was about 150 feet above sea level, but his altimeter had not been reset to allow for barometric pressure changes (QGH) so it would be reading high by some hundreds of feet! He wondered what to do in this terminal descent, as “fuel waits for no man”. There was still no break in the cloud as he approached 1000 feet in the groping decent. As the needle on the altimeter shuddered at 600 feet there it was! An unforgiving grey sea swept by heavy rain, white caps and a relentless wind. Now the aerodrome, a sanctuary perched on its river terrace needed to be found by locating the river among endless sand dunes – was it North or South of his present position? Suddenly the familiar river mouth formed in the canopy from the blurry topography. He turned up the river feeling relief at being over land and now the controls responded to his reflex guidance of his precarious but dependable machine towards home.  Having followed the river for 10 miles he lowered the flaps and undercarriage, which clunked as the gear locked home and he transmitted for “straight in approach”. He scanned the glistening runway as it loomed in front of him and was relieved to find no traffic inhabiting its aprons or base plate. As he gingerly lined up the aircraft on the centreline, adjusting for gusting wind he throttled back and then to idle as he gently flared the aircraft and “greased” it onto the strip with an almost effortless action followed by a smooth roll to the taxiway. He opened the throttle to taxi the Vampire towards the hangers but there was no response as the hungry engine consumed the final vapours of fuel. As if in a trance he climbed out of the cockpit and sat on the wing waiting for the Tow Tractor to arrive. He blankly scanned the rain soaked aerodrome as he slowly removed his helmet and gloves. He definitely needed a new pair of gloves.