Radschool Association Magazine - Vol 21    

Page 9

  Figuratively Speaking


                 Frank Alley

In 1964, during my third year as a teacher in Sydney, I decided I wanted to be a pilot in the RAAF. I went through all the tests, interviews and finally the medical examinations. I remember that the chairman of the interview panel was the charming Wng Cdr Knudsen who was at that time the CO of the RAAF Academy at Point Cook. He was later known when retired and over 60 years old,  as a successful ultra-marathon competitor on the north coast of NSW. Sadly, for me at least, my eyesight was not good enough and I went for the alternative, to join the RAAF as an education officer.Frank 1965


In December 1964 I found myself (that's me in 1965, all decked out in my super duper 1A's) posted to Richmond awaiting an expected posting to Wagga to teach maths and physics. There I was in the officers’ mess at Richmond a complete sprog. They didn’t even have the correct size uniform trousers and told me to wait till I got to my new posting to get a proper uniform. My first breakfast was a fiasco. I didn’t know that I shouldn’t take my hat into the dining room, but had left it out of the way in a corner. Soon a steward excused himself and told me that Wng Cdr Timms (CO of 2AD) would like to speak to me.
‘You brought your hat into the dining room!’ he accused. ‘Yes sir’ I replied and explained that I didn’t know what to do. After breakfast a flustered mess secretary cornered me and told me off. It seems that Timms had stern words with him for not helping this sprog. I was criticised for having a new shirt which looked new! I was given an iron and ironing board and told to get rid of the creases.
Anyway, my new posting came through and I was shocked to see that I was off to Laverton and the School of Radio. Didn’t these people know I knew absolutely nothing about electronics? Later in December I stepped off the railway platform at Laverton and made my way across  the highway to the front gate, past the old Meteor. Suddenly I heard and saw something that really surprised me, a U-2 took off and spiralled ever upwards over the hangars at 1 AD. I was, in time, to become friendly with the U-2 pilots in the mess. More of that in coming issues.  

The next morning I found myself at Radschool meeting OICTF (Officer in Charge of Training Flight), Sqn Ldr Dennis Bolam RAF.

‘Pilot Officer Alley, what qualifications in radio do you have?’ ‘None sir’.
‘Any experience in radio?’ ‘None sir’.
‘What do you know about radio?’ ‘Nothing sir’.
‘Interested in radio?’ ‘No sir’

I wonder what he must have thought of me. The year that followed was one of the most exciting of my life. The course I was due to take had already started without me, being taught by Flt Lt Brian Doulis, who it seems was not a particularly good teacher. The troops were pleased to get a teacher even though he knew bugger all about radio. So I put my head down and learnt all I could. I was lucky to be taken under the wing of Flt Lt Jack Saunderson who had been an NCO Radtech in a former life. Jack taught me the practical aspects of radio and I preferred to do the lab classes with the troops instead of just sending them off to Nick Carter or Ivan Spiller.
In that first year I got to teach all the courses up to and including Rad 6 (Pulse Techniques) and thoroughly enjoyed myself. As a trained teacher I was somewhat against the idea that students could learn 8 hours of radio in 8 hours of classes. Clearly the people running the place knew nothing about educational theory. Those of you who may have been my students will remember that we had periodic class discussions in which we would argue the toss over many subjects. This was to finally get me into a little strife because some do-gooder spread the word that I was a communist! More about that later. I believe the discussions (arguments) helped with logical thinking and I am happy to say that after 3 years at Radschool I had only one student fail an examination. This bloke deliberately failed because he wanted to re-muster to General Hand as (he thought) that would give him more of a chance to be gunner on a helicopter. Perhaps he was keen on killing.
I must digress here and tell of my experience at OTS (Officers Training School), which was three months from January 1965. Here we learned ‘couth and culture’. There were 2 other education officers on the course and all three of us were considered to be not quite up to scratch. We had the bad habit of questioning authority. The other two went and became navigators and I went back to Radschool. The highlight of those 3 months was meeting a guy who had been a mid-upper gunner on Lancasters during the war. He had flown on the Dresden raid and said that you could see the fires soon after take-off over England. He also remembered seeing the ME 262’s and said that he couldn’t traverse his guns fast enough to keep track of their movement across the sky. It was an interesting time in the RAAF because some of the old shell-backs were still around and had amazing stories to tell.
At OTS we were required to write an essay which would be assessed on its literary merit, or so we were told. I was an innocent amongst barbarians. My topic was the North-west Cape US navy communications station, the one which would give the signal to go to war to US Polaris missile submarines in the Indian Ocean. I suggested that such an establishment made Australia a nuclear target for nuclear missile carrying Russian submarines. Well, I was rapped over the knuckles for that. Since those times such a belief has been widely held, but I was perhaps a little too far ahead of the times.
By the second year at Radschool I was no longer teaching RAD 1 to 5, but was exclusively teaching Pulse Techniques, Radar, and Control Techniques. As always I plagued the experienced guys for practical applications and stories. The signallers had a couple of officers who had flown on ASW aircraft (Neptunes etc…) and one of them, I think his name was Moody, had flown on Shackletons with the RAF. He had hair-raising stories to tell about a particularly Shack captain he flew with who seems to have been a crazy. This guy actually flew at 50 feet in fog through a Russian naval exercise! He dropped an active sonobuoy (still secret at that time) into the water above where a Russian submarine was in some national waters. The submarine surfaced, picked up the sonobuoy and submerged. This was of course during the time of the ‘cold war’.
One of the ex-signallers got the key to A89-301, a Neptune out of airframe hours and parked outside 1AD. He showed me over the thing and from then on I would take my Radar students for a similar excursion. What a fabulous teaching aid! 
In the picture to the left you can see the APS 20 (belly pod), APS 31, (left wing pod) MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detector, the sting at the back) and the ECM antenna covers. The starboard wingtip housed the searchlight. You will note the line down the fuselage showing when the big prop would be rotating. Apparently when the engines were turned off after a full stop, the big prop would continue to turn. At Richmond an LAC forgot and they found pieces of the poor man scattered over some distance. The rule for the aircrew when coming down through the hatch was to walk forward and touch the nose wheel. I believe this aircraft ended its days as a subject to be destroyed in training fire crews. It started its life as a bomber with a gun turret on top and underwent many upgrades such as the fitting of the Westinghouse jet engines.
After a relatively short time I got to know the U-2 pilots. They were not your run of the mill steely blue eyes. All were very experienced, not so young and I would say well educated. One of them used to play classical music on the mess piano. I got to know Major Pat Halloran, a charming guy who took me down to the 1AD hangar to watch the preparation for the day’s flight. The pilot was actually interviewed by a doctor and given an examination. Then after he had all his suits on, but not wearing his space helmet he was helped to a vehicle where he was driven to the aircraft. After they got him settled into the cockpit, the faceplate of the helmet was put on and he sat there breathing pure oxygen for 20 minutes to expel any nitrogen that might be in his blood. After all, he was about to ascend at a high rate and there was the danger of bends, suffered by unlucky divers.


The U-2, which was built by Lockheed, had two inline wheels under the fuselage and 2 detachable outrigger wheels on the wing tips. All fuel was carried in the wings because the thing was really just a huge engine with a cockpit and wings attached. The same engine was used in the F-104 Starfighters (widow makers). Engine started, a lot of bloody noiseU2 and the thing taxis with two airmen walking alongside the outrigger wheels. At the threshold of the runway, the airmen take the outriggers off and hold a wingtip each. Full power, brakes off and the two airmen run like hell holding the wingtips until it can be kept straight and level. And then it just spirals straight up and disappears. About 5 hours later the U-2 returns. They had no fuel gauges and so the pilot had to distribute fuel from each wing by feel and balance. Because they are gliders they are actually difficult to get back down after the fuel tanks are depleted. The pilot has no downward and very little forward vision and necessitates another U-2 pilot in the control tower to ‘talk him down’. Remember, no wheels on the wings. These crème de la crème pilots were able to land the aircraft, taxi it to dispersal and a wing tip would slowly drop to the ground. Hence the need to balance the fuel use.
Pat Halloran had been one of the U-2 pilots who flew the spy missions over Cuba during the missile crisis. He retired as a general.
Remember the unit parades every Tuesday morning? We officers would line up hoping to be a supernumery and not have to lead a flight of troops, but sometimes I would be unlucky and find myself at the front. So there we go, marching towards the saluting base with Bon Hall (Wng Cdr) taking the salute. I would give the ‘eyes right’ order and march on all alone out there. After one march pass I found that the flight marker slowed down and the flight finished up over 20 yards behind me. Aaahhhh, sprogs! The next time, as I was giving the order the ‘quick march’ I said out of the corner of my mouth ‘keep up this time’. OK, I asked for it, they stayed within one yard of me during the march past!!!! I could hear them breathing down my neck. At least they weren’t carrying rifles and bayonets, heaven forbid.
Which brings me to a passing out parade, in more ways than one. I think it was April when the first course of AEO’s (Air Electronic Officers) graduated. We were in winter uniform and it was a warmish day. There I was in 1A’s with gloves and sword and in front of a flight of troop with muskets and bayonets. Some Air Vice Marshall made the presentations and gave a speech, finished and then thought better of it and went on talking. It was hot, we were all sweating and then I heard it…clatter….groan…thump behind me. Helpers from the side of the parade ground rushed on and carried the ‘body’ away for treatment. It was infectious and they started going down all over the place. We had to do the ‘review in advance order’ and found ourself marching the 15 paces forward, ready to salute and present arms, stepping over bodies and fallen rifles. What a shambles. But it really was bloody funny!
I was unlucky enough to be in charge of a block of living quarters and had to do those inspections after each parade, with a senior NCO escort. You all no doubt remember those annoying words ‘re-panic!’. At one period there seemed to be a bunch of new guys who were a bit of trouble and it was rumoured that they had connections with some crims in Melbourne. I appointed their ‘leader’ as block orderly. Never again did I have to use the word ‘re-panic’! My worst moment was having to do a kit inspection of a troop who had been complained about. He apparently wasn’t washing himself or his clothes. I was embarrassed.
One week I saw air force justice at its most savage. Some students clearly had a dislike for Ivan Spiller, who really was a stickler for rules. One Radmech wrote some insulting comments about Ivan on a lab report. Ivan naturally took offence and showed the script to his boss and up the line it went. By that afternoon the Radmech was given a Radmech trade test, failed it, was remustered to general hand and found himself on the end of a broom in hangar at Richmond, later that afternoon. I think the details are correct, but in essence that is what happened.
One morning during a break in the lessons, one of the troops looked really happy and seemed to be bubbling with glee. I asked him what was going on. He told me his brother had just been promoted to Captain. Zanko Barbadin’s brother was a fighter pilot in the Russian air force! Zanko was as Aussie as they come, but I saw the chance to have a bit of fun with the unit CIO (Counter Intelligence Officer) who was inclined to take himself rather seriously. Wickedly I told the CIO about the security problem we had and he frothed at the mouth and luckily nothing came of it.
Every so often, routinely we had to take the OO armband for a day and be Orderly Officer. You would be on edge all day and night. For years after I left the RAAF, I couldn’t bear the sound of a telephone. At 10 PM, close the airmen’s boozer and try to avoid the drunks. At 11 PM, go to the corporals’ club and lock the beer gun away, but we knew they had a second beer gun hidden from the orderly officer. And of course, never go near the sergeants’ mess, strictly off limits. I didn’t have a lot of time for the service police and had the pleasure one night of walking into the corporals’ club and finding two spits with cards and money on the table. Boy, did they look sheepish, so I went outside for 5 minutes, went back in and lo and behold, a clear table. The phone rings at 3 AM one winter’s morning, go down to the guardhouse and lock up some poor bugger who had been AWL for 350 days. They picked him up in Perth. I took his belt and shoe laces off him.


Our greatest fear was an aircraft crash. Even an AOG (aircraft operationally grounded) was big trouble for the OO. One night in the mess, phone rings, steward answers it and calls ‘Orderly Officer’, take the phone. A lady is complaining about the sonic booms over her farm because the sound is upsetting the chooks, the cows and her husband, in that order. As luck would have it, a test pilot was drinking next to where I was standing ‘I think this is for you’ says I. Hand him the phone and listen to a cock and bull story about the defence of the nation and patriotism. It seemed to do the trick. The only advantage the OO got was the special treatment from the stewards and mess staff. There are strange rules in the mess, such as coffee must be consumed in the ante-room, never in the dining room. Except for the OO, who had his coffee brought to him by a steward.
Naval officers would never speak in the morning until they had finished in the dining room and had drunk their coffee. Then you would get a response if you said ‘good morning’ to one of them. Army officers always deferred to he with the senior rank at the dining table and laughed, on cue, in unison - when appropriate. The RAAF guys found all this amusing. Sadly I spoke to a young navy aviator and a young RAAF pilot officer the night before they were both killed in the crash of a navy Vampire on take-off. John Broughton (ex-Radschool) tells me that he was playing hockey at the time and witnessed the crash. He ran to the burning aircraft and could see the two crewmembers who, were at that stage still alive. I later heard that the aircraft’s main engine bearing had failed some time before and was running on the auxiliary bearing, which failed on that take-off. Navy Vampires had ejector seats that could be used at ground level, but I suspect that it all happened too quickly
By my third year at Radschool I decided to apply for a transfer to the engineering branch and so I became a radio officer and was posted to ARDU at Laverton. While there, a job was planned where I was required to fly in a Vampire with Geoff Trappett. I wasn’t impressed when I had to do the ejector seat training and realised that if I had to bang out I would probably die of fright. I had asked the trainer what I would do if the seat did not automatically detach itself from me. His explanation of the procedure in such a case left me with little confidence of survival.


I noted when watching the SBS TV program ‘Real Top Guns’, an experienced pilot stating that the ejector seat was there to save your life, and injury might still result. He said that in some cases the pilot who had ejected might be a couple of inches shorter for some time and some were deemed medically unfit to fly again. Good grief!


I really enjoyed my time at Radschool. I have to say that although I made a lot of friends amongst the education officers. These included Bob Hunter, Ken Scott, Sam Gamalatge, Greg Knott, John Hurley and Richard Jones. The greatest help and support came from the radio officers and Radtechs. I remember such guys as Flt Lt’s Jack Saunderson, Arthur Ellem, Arthur Gentle, John Townsend, Flt Sgt Ivan Spiller, Sgt Nick Carter, Cpl Stan Buswell who were all a great help to me. There was also a red headed WO in exam flight, Blue someone, who was also great. I was very young (in fact, I was the youngest EdO in the RAAF) and some of the students were older than me, but I feel that it was some of the best and most rewarding teaching I ever did.


A young police officer from Chatswood police station attended an accident on the corner of Mowbray Rd and the Pacific Highway (north Sydney) last Monday week. After taking statements from both drivers he approached a pedestrian who had witnessed the accident from the foot-path. "What's your name and where do you work" he asked the pedestrian, "we may need to get in touch with you". A few days later the officer conducts a follow up and phones the Spotlight store where the pedestrian said he worked and spoke to the receptionist. "Do you have a Shagbrake there" he said. "Geez", she said, "since John Howard brought in that new Workchoices legislation we don't even get a bloody lunch break any more".

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