in it to await the arrival of the air/sea rescue launch which was always on patrol when firing was in progress. When it did arrive it couldn't reach him; the water was only two feet deep!
One day they brought out the few winged target aircraft they had. These were small gliders with a wingspan of less than 20 feet and were towed by the Tempests in the same way as the flags. They proved easy meat for the Vampire's 20mm. cannon shells and were quickly disposed of. It was some thrill that was, seeing them break up in the air rather than having to wait till you got back on the ground to know whether you'd hit the target or not.
Sylt did eventually get a two-seat Vampire T.X1, but I had only a couple of rides with a PAI
(pilot attack instructor) during the three-week attachment. The following true story illustrates the disadvantages of missing the training at an Operational Conversion Unit.
Disadvantages of Missing Training at an Operational Conversion Unit
On May 30th 1953, I was a Flying Officer with 112(F) Squadron
RAF, flying Vampire Mk V's and based at Jever in northern Germany. Sharks' teeth painted under the nose distinguished our aircraft. Our squadron badge shows a black Egyptian cat and the motto underneath reads: 'Swift in Destruction
'. I was 21 and midway through my first tour on a fighter squadron. For the last ten days we had been detached to the Armament Practice Camp at Sylt, flying two or three sorties daily, trying to punch 20mm cannon shells through a fluttering fabric flag towed by a Tempest. Using the old ring and bead gunsight, the flags were no easy targets. My best score to date was 4 hits from 50 rounds. It was considered I might benefit from some dual instruction under a PAI
(Pilot Attack Instructor).
A Vampire T.X1, WV477, had recently arrived on station for that very purpose. On the morning of the 30th I had flown two solo sorties, registering 2 hits out of 50 rounds on each occasion. In the afternoon I was to fly with a PAI
, Flying Officer Jenner, in the T.X1. The ranges were two miles out to sea, requiring us to sit on rock-hard dinghy packs rather than the soft sorbo-rubber cushion we were used to. Most of us ignored the rules and dispensed with the dingy, figuring we could always glide to the nude bathing beach and plop down among the sand dunes should the need arise. Since we wore little but underpants beneath our lightweight flying overalls we would soon be able to mingle in with the crowd. I did not wear the dinghy pack on this occasion, and it was not until we reached the ranges and extended the retractable gunsight that I realised the error of my ways - I could not see through it without standing on the rudder pedals - all because, said Jenner, I wasn't sitting on a dinghy.
The result was an aborted sortie. You cannot fly a decent curve of pursuit while standing on the pedals; any rudder movement would induce yaw spreading the shells over a wide area of sky. Jenner was most displeased and the atmosphere in the cockpit on the short return to Sylt was distinctly cool. Down came the wheels at 600 feet on finals - two greens, one red! Since we were not talking at the time, I failed to mention the missing green until we were down to 100 feet and a red Very light issued from the caravan.
Back up at circuit height, several recycles of the gear lever failed to resolve the problem. I was instructed to pump down the offending wheel using the emergency