keeping a good look-out (we would be liable to be 'bounced' at any time).1
of the sun and cloud, techniques for low flying and tactical approaches to targets,
aircraft and army vehicle recognition, the use of camouflage, and much else which
we needed to know to be able to use our machines both aggressively and
defensively. This was all to be put into practice in the air.
Major Mercer was the ALO
and was responsible for the military aspect of our training.2
He had a lazy, evil-smelling, pet spaniel which accompanied
him everywhere. It was a most objectionable creature when it was wet. It spent
much of its time lying down and its master was wont to slide it across the floor out
of the way with his foot.
My second flight, five days after the first, was solo and was primarily a Sector Recce lasting 55 minutes.3
The same day I flew twice more: solo aerobatics for 40
minutes, all the while keeping an eye open for any other aircraft which might
'attack' me. The third flight was to be a first, loose, battle formation
practice but was
aborted after just 15 minutes in the air. This day was the first of many on which I
was to suffer neck-ache with having to swivel my head round so much and so often
in order to keep a vigilant look-out.
Low flying, in the Exmoor low flying area, was practised both alone and in line astern battle formation
. It was usual to do a formation take-off and drop into line
astern low level battle formation
before we had even climbed to 500 feet. Our leader,
always an instructor, would typically turn south and drop to sea-level when we
would wave-hop towards the Somerset coast. The leader's down-wash was often
visible as ripples as we flew over the water. On approaching the coastal cliffs we
would climb over them to continue our exercise. We made use of surface features as
cover on approaching for mock attacks on 'chance' targets announced by our leader
over the R/T
. The order "Not below 250 feet" was, frankly, not ignored but
forgotten. These flights were darned hard work and showed us what to expect if
ever we were to become involved in enemy interdiction work.4
One such flight nearly ended in disaster. We crossed the Bristol Channel very low and, as a formation, left it late to pull up over the Somerset cliffs. There was a
down-draught which caught the four of us. The leader shouted "Pull up" over the
. Two of our number flew through the bracken but didn't hit anything solid. The
was definitely non-standard for a moment or two. The sortie was temporarily
abandoned while we composed ourselves before carrying on. At debriefing we were
told never to try flying lower than that!
I usually flew two or three sorties on each flying day on the course.5
Most flights had an element of battle formation
flying and tactics at various altitudes from
low level to over 40,000 feet. In this way we could discover for ourselves and adjust
to the change of handling characteristics with altitude.
There was the usual IF
check for each of us and then we moved on to tail chases. I had two IF
flights 'under the amber' in a T11
. Why I had two, and the others mostly only one, I have no idea, especially when I told of my IF
at Merryfield. Maybe no-one believed me!
It was usual to fly as a pair for a tail chase, with an instructor leading while I, as a student, would try to stay on his tail during which time he would be doing
anything in the book (and often not in it) to shake me off. On one such flight I
caught his slipstream when close astern and flicked over on to my back to start an
incipient inverted spin. I don't know how I recovered, but recover I did. There was no let-up
1 Bounced: To be the target of a mock (or real) attack by another aircraft.
= Army Liaison Officer.
3 A reconnaissance flight over the immediate area around base.
4 Interdiction = taking out bridges, interfering with enemy supply columns and trains, also tank-busting, etc.
5 None of us flew every day.