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January 2013 Archive Story



I joined the RAF as a Halton Aircraft Apprentice in August 1950 when I was 16 years old.  At Halton, I trained as a Fitter Armourer, soon to be redesignated Armament Fitter.


After training, my first squadron in the real world brought me into contact with the Meteor 8.  Before working on the Lightning variants, my only other aircraft were to be the English Electric Canberra B2 and the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation F-86 Sabre.  Those two aircraft were modified to carry the Blue Jay (later renamed Firestreak) air-to-air missile on trials in Australia.


In 1955 I was posted to No 12 Joint Services Trials Unit, where I was promoted to Corporal, and then detached to RAF Yatesbury to learn about AC Theory, RAF Melksham to learn about Processing Gyros and them on to De Havilland Propellers Ltd to be taught about the Blue Jay air-to-air missile.  I was married in 1956 and my wife and I then spent three years in South Australia where I worked on live firings of Blue Jay at Woomera.  During this time I was promoted to Corporal Technician.


Returning home in 1959, I was posted to the GW Section at RAF Coltishall in May.  The following July found me detached to English Electric at Warton to learn about the P.1B Weapons Systems.  Returning to Coltishall saw me posted to the Air Fighting Development Squadron, with whom I remained until July 1965.


Brian Bamforth, around 1960


At first I worked on the Javelin Mk 8 (not an error, AFDS had Mk 8s) which carried four Firestreaks.  In December 1959, AFDS received its first pre-production Lightning, XG334. The OC was Wing Commander D Simmons.  In time we received XG335 and XG336, followed by F.1s XM135, XM136, XM137 and XM138, and I was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.


In March 1962 part of the squadron was detached to A&AEE Boscombe Down for Firing Trials and the armourers, two SACs and myself were told we would be on detachment for as long as the trials lasted.  My wife elected to go home to her parents house, as we had recently moved from a hiring in Wroxham when our second son was born to a hiring in Norwich, and having a 2-yr-old and a 1-yr-old without neighbours we knew seemed a little too much.


The trials ended in August 1962 and the squadron, under their new CO, Wing Commander John Nicholls, moved to RAF Binbrook.  Knowing of the move in advance, my wife had returned to Norwich given up the hiring and, with help from the squadron, had moved to an AMQ at Binbrook where I joined her.


At this time AFDS had a new Senior Engineering Officer, Major Ed Saylor USAF.  It would be at this time that AFDS received F.3s and Major Saylor decided to open what he called 'The Trials Office'.  The idea was that all relevant information on engine, airframe, instruments, radar and weapons systems would be collated there and forwarded to CFE for their input before further action was taken.  This was to be a two-man job and it was Flying Officer B R Knight and myself who wrote the subsequent reports.  Frankly, I learnt a lot about the Lightning in general, not just about the weapons systems, and I was also taught about many procedures by Flying Officer Knight.  I am still in touch with him - Group Captain B R R Knight, OBE RNZAF Ret'd.

Wing Commander Nicholls subsequently handed over to Wing Commander John Rogers, both these gentlemen eventually attaining Air Rank and a knighthood.   Major Saylor was promoted to Lt Colonel and returned to the USAF.  Brian Knight was promoted Flight Lieutenant and got a posting to the United States, whereupon the new Senior Engineering Officer, not seeing any use for the Trials Office, sent me back to normal missile duties after undergoing a Red Top course.


I was then posted to RAF Tengah in Singapore, where I met two of the Flight Lieutenants of AFDS, one now a Wing Commander, Ken Goodwin, and the other a Squadron Leader, Norman Want, both on 74 Squadron.  I was promoted Chief Technician.


My return to the UK in 1968 saw me posted to the Fighter Command Missile Practice Camp, so I never actually worked on the Lightning again although I prepared missiles for 5, 23, 29, 56 and 111 Squadrons etc.


In the 1980's I was fortunate enough to attend THE LAST OF THE LIGHTNINGS.  I had by this time received a commission in the RAFVR.  On the first day I wandered into the Annexe and there was one chair in the centre of the room.  Sitting on it was Brian Carroll, whom I had known at Dhahran.  He asked if I knew of any other Lightning guys attending and I mentioned Paul Hobley.  At that moment from the direction of the bar a voice thundered 'WHEN DOES THIS BAR OPEN?'  Brian and I looked at each other and both spoke at the same time, 'HOBLEY IS HERE.'  As far as I recall he was asking when the flying boots would be taken off the ceiling in the Mess and transferred to the Blacksmith's Arms at Rothwell.

That was a brilliant weekend and ended my association with the Lightning.


Brian in 2009




Shortly after arriving at Boscombe Down the Armament Officer, Flight Lieutenant Dalgleish requested all the SNCOIs to be in their accommodation for a briefing.  The object of the detachment was outlined to us.  The trial was to be live firing of telemetry Firestreak missiles at Aberporth.  To this end, telemetry sets were to be obtained from RAF Valley in North Wales and returned there for servicing every weekend.  SNCOs were required to volunteer to take turns driving to Valley while the rest of the detachment, if they wished, could return to Coltishall for the weekend.


Prior to leaving Coltishall, Flt Lt Dalgleish had informed me that I would be required for the whole of the detachment 'because of your experience gained at Woomera on the live firing of Blue Jay' (the codename for Firestreak).


To the amusement of some of my colleagues, I volunteered to do all the weekend runs to RAF Valley.  I gave my reasons that, as my wife and I did not live in quarters but in a hiring in Norwich, we had two sons aged 26 months and 11 months respectively.  My wife had decided to return to her parents home for the period of the detachment.  Although I knew that Flt Lt Dalgleish was aware of my circumstances I did not divulge the fact to my colleagues that my wife's parents lived in Betws-y-Coed, a village on the route to RAF Valley.  Everyone was dismissed and Dalgleish asked if we could use my bunk for a briefing of what was to happen.


Never a man, in my experience, to give instructions without explanations, the Flt Lt told me that refuelling arrangements had been set up with RAF Bridgnorth, a Recruit Training station between Kidderminster and Shrewsbury, it being deemed more on route than RAF Shawbury.  My route from Boscombe Down was from Amesbury to Swindon, then Cirencester, Gloucester, Worcester, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster. Bridgnorth, Shrewsbury, Llangollen and then carry on down the A5 to RAF Valley. (Remember this was before the days of the motorways).  My vehicle was a Land Rover.


I would leave Boscombe on Friday after lunch and the sets were to be delivered to No 1 Guided Weapons Trials Section (later known as Fighter Command [then Strike Command] Missile Practice camp).  It was anticipated I would arrive at GWTS by 21.00 hrs that evening. I would pick up the serviced sets at 21.00 hrs on Sunday evening.  Refuelling would be either on arrival at GWTS on Friday or before leaving on Sunday.


After my first journey, before I got used to the route, all went very well.  The MT section at Bridgnorth was 'on the ball' and refuelling was no problem.  Being a Recruit Training Station there was always a Guard on the gate, to whom I showed my F1250 before booking in at the Guardroom.  On the first occasion, I had to be shown how to get to the MT section, but once there I had no problem refuelling.  The same happened at RAF Valley, though more often than not I had to drive to the main RAF Valley MT to get fuel, not the GWTS motor pool.


One Monday morning after going to bed about 06.00 hrs, I was awakened by someone knocking at my bunk door.  It was Flt Lt Dalgleish.  There was a small problem, four extra telemetry sets were required.  I was ASKED if I would return to RAF Valley, leaving after lunch and then return to Boscombe Down immediately afterwards.  Even though I was asked and not ordered, the result was the same - I set off for Valley.  I did get time to have a quick meal at Betws and drove on to GWTS where they were waiting for me.  Once the Land Rover was loaded, I set off back to Boscombe.


The return journey was without incident at first, apart from a Flight Sergeant at Bridgnorth remarking on the fact that they did not usually see me mid week.  Obviously there hung an unasked question which did not receive an answer.  I don't suppose he really expected one!  All went well until I was driving in the region of Netheravon when I heard a persistent rattle. I thought it was the telemetry sets.  After several more miles I suddenly noticed in my offside wing-mounted rear view mirror a flashing blue light!


"BD to Z-Victor 1!", Ford Zephyr Mk.III


I pulled over when it was safe to do so and the police car stopped behind me.  Both officers got out and the driver came out with the old chestnut 'Where's the fire then?'  The other officer told me they would have booked me for speeding if only I had not cleared a 30 mile limit before they entered it. Apparently they had chased me from Netheravon at speeds in excess of 80 miles an hour?!  '80 miles an hour, not in this old thing,' I said.  'It won't do 70, even downhill.'


RAF Land Rover


The officer then asked me for my Form 658, F1629 and FMT3, the last being an accident report!  This told me he knew something about driving RAF vehicles and that I should have authority to be on the road.  When he looked at the F658 he remarked 'RAF Valley, isn't that near Holyhead?  You left at 21.15 hrs, stopped to refuel at RAF Bridgnorth and it is only 0500 hrs now.  How many times have other forces stopped you?'


The driver chipped in with 'We'll book him for dangerous driving and report him to his CO.'

No 2 Bobby then asked me the name of my OC.

'Major Cato is the Detachment Commander,' I replied.

Bobby 2 then said, 'Don't give me that load of b****cks, I know RAF ranks and Major isn't one of them.  Come on son (getting friendly!!) what is the name of your CO?'

'Major Bill Cato, United States Air Force,' I told him and with that the driver said 'A Yank, no chance of him accepting a driving charge, better let our Superintendent handle it - off you go Sergeant, you will be hearing from us.'


As I had pulled up by Bulford Army Garrison I was soon at Boscombe Down.  I reported myself and the situation to Flt Lt Dalgleish who was waiting by my barrack block.  He told me to get to bed.  Later in the day I was told not to worry, the major had cleared it.  What is more, the message from the major was 'Thank you, but if we had missed our slot because you were slow in arriving then you would have had something to worry about!!'


There was another altercation between a Cpl DI at RAF Bridgnorth and myself.  It was an extremely cold night, ice on the ground and the Land Rover did not have heating, therefore I was wearing a Cold Weather jacket, which had no badge of rank.


I would not have minded too much being pulled up by the DI if he had asked for an explanation of why I was wearing Cold Weather gear instead of swearing at me.  His words were rather choice as well as obscene, so I ignored him and walked to the guardroom where I removed my coat.  He follows and on entering asked where the f***ing driver was.  When I said 'I'm here, Corporal' his face was a picture when he saw my chevrons.


I took him outside as I had no desire to humiliate him in front of other airmen but I told him that if I was not on schedule I would have charged him for using insulting language so he should consider himself fortunate.  I added that my schedule had me at Bridgnorth every Friday and Sunday and if I heard him using that sort of language again I would have his name on a R252, schedule or not.  I did see him again once, he just looked away and I chose to ignore him.


Well not exactly LIGHTNING TALES but without the Lightning detachment there would have been no stories to tell!


Brian Bamforth

Chief Tech 586246


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