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July/August 2005, Archive Story

Some time ago Bill Beardsley contacted me through the website, and as soon as I saw the name, bells started to ring. This was Bill Jr., whose father was the same Bill Beardsley who most of you will know of as one of the very popular American exchange pilots who did a tour on Lightnings. Bill Sr. has very kindly written down his memories of his tour, and we present this unique view of the Lightning and life on the Binbrook Wing. 

LETTER FROM AMERICA – BILL BEARDSLEY’S STORY

Greetings from the great American Desert; ie. Palm Desert, CA. A couple of weeks ago our son Bill delivered your e-mail to me. Since then we have been on the East Coast enjoying Maine lobsters and visiting with our youngest daughter and her family. I am going to answer your questions in dribs and drabs as items come to mind. First and foremost, let me begin by saying that my exchange tour was the highlight of my entire USAF experience!!!! Great flying, enough good experiences to last an entire lifetime, some great learning situations and best of all, meeting some really great people.

How did I get selected for the tour? I had been interviewed for an exchange with the RAAF flying Mirages, as Personnel knew that the slot would soon be available. Once the request came down from the USAF, it was stated that they wanted a F-101 pilot. That left me out. About a week later, the Personnel Colonel called my office (I was assigned to ADC Headquarters at the time) and asked me to come to his office. When I got there, he asked if I could speak English. It was a joke, and he did not even give me a chance to answer as he continued on by saying that a 30-month tour speaking English would be good for me and that I might even learn to spell English words. At any rate, he then informed me that the assignment was to AFDS flying Lightnings and doing weapons test work, sort of like our own test squadron at Tyndall AFB. The orders read that I had to get going almost immediately and would be travelling over the Christmas holiday. From that point you know the drill: sell house, get packed, sell second car, say good-bye, deliver car to the port and away you go.

My flying career started in F-86Ds and then overseas flying F-94Bs, back to F-86Ds, some F-86F time and then back to the USA to F-94Cs, then a shot at F-104s, but we closed that Squadron and I moved over to F-89s. Just got going in those and a Squadron on Long Island, NY wanted some experienced single seat Lieutenants. So, five of us were moved up there to fly F-102s. Two years later, we turned in our 102s and moved to North Dakota and transitioned into F-106s. After two years there, it was time for another isolated tour, so it was off to Iceland to fly F-102s again. In all of these assignments I was always an IP or an IWI or both. I was also often involved as a weapons test pilot for birds that had come out of maintenance and was also, as an additional duty, an electronics and weapons maintenance officer. I guess that this background got me the AFDS tour.

Convair F-102 Delta Dagger, the type flown by Bill before his Lightning tour

We arrived in England on a nice cool January morning and were bussed into London. On the way in we saw fields of pheasants. At first I thought that they might be free range chickens, but I was assured that they were in fact just free range Norfolk pheasants and that I would find that bird shooting would be a wonderful sport. That night we were met by Major Dale Zimmerman and his wife. I was to replace him on AFDS. We were introduced to London with an evening walk along Bayswater Road and a few ales in one of the pubs.

The next morning I met my American boss, an Air Force Colonel. Not exactly the way I expected either. His statement to me was ‘When I send for a blond-haired blue-eyed Captain, I don’t want a damn Major.’ I had been promoted early. At any rate, he stated that I would fit very nicely in a T-39 Saberliner at RAF Alconbury. At this point Dale stated that the RAF had been informed that I was arriving as a Major. They had told Dale that they would accept me and that I would hold the position of Sqn Ldr Ops in AFDS. I did luck out.

That afternoon we boarded a train for Binbrook and moved into our quarters. They took us over to a squadron leader’s house and asked if that would be adequate. As you know, a S/L house at Binbrook is rather large, and we respectfully declined and took the house across from the station commander’s quarters, Gp Capt Dalley. I met Sqn Ldr Vickery, boss of the AFDS, and the rest of the pilots. I was then informed of my qualification procedures: Chivenor for Hunter training and learning how to use a hand brake, altitude chamber, and then finally off to Coltishall for Lightning training. And this is where the fun part began.

Ah, Chivenor in the middle of winter. Learn a new airplane, new terminology, new procedures and how to launch darts. My first encounter with my quarters was ‘How the hell does one get this coke stove to operate and keep me warm???’. The batman came my rescue on many occasions. Also, ‘What is a batman? How do I treat a man that is 20 years my senior?’ and a lot of other questions. Gp Capt Neubroch was on the course with me, and he saved me from putting my American foot in my mouth on more then one occasion. Also on the course with me was an Air Commodore, I cannot remember his name. A real gentleman. He flew Beaufighters in WWII. I believe that he went to Fighter Command.

All the instructors, both academic and flight, were great! I rated the Hunter as a cross between the F-86F and the F-100. Enjoyed flying the bird, had a low-level dogfight with some RN Hunters one day under a 1500 ft. ceiling when they jumped me. It was a joy to hear them give the day to me, and it was even better when they realized that I was USAF!

After my short course there and learning to eat pickled onions and drink shandies, I returned to Binbrook. By now my car was in Southampton, so I jumped a train to London and, thanks be to the friendly British, one of businessmen on the train took me under his wing and helped me navigate across London to the Southampton train, as he was going there also. He even got me situated in a hotel until the next day.

After picking up my car, I was directed to drive on the left side of the road, think left, watch the roundabouts and away you go laddie. Guess what, I drove for 30 months, no accidents, no tickets and I only scared half the British population that I encountered. On a few of the ‘country lanes’ that I drove on, I found out that the great American middle finger salute was not understood, as some lorry tried to drive me off the road. Jim Jewell of Coltishall fame, later of the VC-10 fleet and chief pilot for PM Thatcher and now of the B-17/B-25 antique flight, explained to me how I really should be saluting the overly aggressive lorry driver!

OK, so now I am driving on the left side of the road with my American convertible, I can operate a hand brake on an RAF aircraft and I have been through the altitude chamber. So, it is off to Colt. for the Lightning OCU. Two USAF types arrive for the OCU and we are greeted in the Officers Mess for a brew or two. Al Ruth is the other one, and he is to be an instructor at Colt. With us is the officer that Al is replacing. One of the RAF officers asks what we think of the ale that is ‘at room temp’? Without missing a beat the answer comes back ‘Yes, and all the rooms are cold.’ I believe that the comment came from the officer that was being replaced by Al. Everyone had a good laugh, and we continued with our evening.

The next 3 months were filled with Nos. 1, 2 and 3 Sqn requirements. You know the drill, academics, simulator (and we all got a go at the midnight simulator schedule) and eventually we got to go fly the T.4. Some place along about here, the Station Commander asked if I had any high torque prop time and I informed him that indeed I did, and he said that I might be able to check-out in the Spitfire. I duly grabbed a pilots’ handbook and started to study. Leveler heads prevailed, and he decided that I best stick to jets and save the Spit from any dings. So be it.

One afternoon we were standing in front of Squadron Ops to watch a pilot do a reheat take-off. Roaring down the runway, he smartly retracted the mains and settled onto the runway amidst a shower of sparks. He could do it in the Spit and Herc but not with a jet. He was very lucky that a wing tip did not dig in and flip him.

The next incident also had a good outcome for the pilot. It was a Friday afternoon and I was scheduled for a mission, but one of the new lads convinced me that he really wanted the flight. So, off he went, except that the gear refused to come down. All methods were attempted, but nothing worked. An instructor had joined up with him, and it was decided that he would have to bail out. A pre-bailout checklist was accomplished, and much to the pilot’s chagrin he found that his leg straps had not been connected! With that little detail taken care of, he headed for the North Sea and had a successful ejection.

About this time I was scheduled with Don Oakden for formation. I thought that I would have no problems with this phase, as I had always found formation work easy. WRONG!!! Little did I know that Don had been a formation pilot for 26 Sqn. I slid into what I thought was a good position, and Don expressed his disagreement with my position. After much coaching, he took control and showed me the position that he wanted me to fly. I felt that I had just joined lead by climbing into his cockpit. Don returned the controls to me, and I sort of found a position someplace between what he wanted and where I had been. We continued in this vein for the rest of the mission, and Don said something to the effect that I might someday achieve the correct position.

One day I got a call from Binbrook and was informed that there was to be a parade and that my presence was requested - read ‘You will be present.’ A flight sergeant that probably had more flying hours by accident then I had on purpose was sent down to pick me up in a Meteor T.7. Actually, I found out that he had flown in WWII. He stuffed me in the front seat, showed me how to start the beast, gave me some quick performance figures and said that we would do a ‘low level’ to Binbrook. Instant check-out!! Had a great trip, and I was even able to land it without anyone getting any greyer.

The parade was held and it turned out that I, along with a few others, were honoured with ‘gongs’. Mine was for work that I had done at my prior assignment. I was also informed by Gp Capt Dalley that I would no longer march with the troops as I did not march, I ‘strolled’. From that time on, I was on the reviewing stand. The next day I was returned to Colt. via the T-7, and the Flight Sgt. said I could fly his machine any time. Sure, two flights and you’re qualified – highly, highly unlikely.

Off to 2 Sqn and Instruments. No problem - HAH!! The exercise of ‘level at 36,000, accelerate to Mach 1.1, experience the altitude jump, remain at 36,000, execute a 60˚ bank and perform a 180˚ turn, reverse course and roll-out on the original heading. I then found out that plus or minus 150 or so feet was NOT acceptable!!!! My thought, ‘at 36,000, who cares?’ ‘The RAF cares, and you will fly to our standards’!! So be it!! With lots of guidance I finally found myself well within the RAF standards. What a great learning experience. ‘One does not have to be lazy at 36000 ft’!!

Those of us on the course went out to the odd pub. The problem was there was always a scramble to see who did not sit in the right front seat of my car, as it was known as the suicide seat. Ah, the joys of a left hand drive car on the English roads. Eventually I bought a MGB-GT 2 PLUS 2. Yes, it was a left hand drive also. I took it with me when I left in the summer of ’68. One or two asides. I played squash in the US prior to my assignment to the UK. Then I had a very humbling experience. I joined the Colt. squash team as #5. The first match was against a boys school. Yep, another humbling experience. In three games I collected the sum of about 9 points. The Wing Co. who was the team captain said, ‘Nice try, I will turn you over to the WRAF champ. When you can beat her you may rejoin our team.’ Do not remember her name, but she worked on me day after day and eventually I believe that either I beat her or she allowed me to win. It was the end of my three months at Colt, and I am not sure whether I was ever allowed to rejoin the team or not. I did play on the Binbrook team, but the results were not much better for me.

Off to 3 Sqn and Weapons. Now I am really in my element. Wrong again!! An entirely new way of doing things. Turning circle, quiet approaches, below con. level approaches and many new ways of doing intercepts. Some really great instructors in all three squadrons finally got me through, and off to Binbrook I went.

With the completion of Colt, I loaded my car, said my goodbyes to all and headed North to a new experience. Sqn Ldr John Vickery was the boss, with Sqn Ldr Norm Want, Flt Lt Bob Turbin, Flt Lt Al Robb, RCAF, and Flt Lt Pete Ginger. And me, USAF. The mission was to prove the second generation IR missile, the Red Top, at all altitudes in all attack quarters. Al Robb had the stern low level; very low - how about 75 feet over the water! I had the head-on against a supersonic target at 50,000 feet with a snap-up from 25,000 ft. Other attack quarters were assigned to the other pilots. Even so, we all did all of the various attacks during the trials period. This gave a good cross-section evaluation.

Our primary GCI controller was Flt Lt Bill Todd. If not the very best controller that I ever had, then all I can say is that I never met a more consistent controller! He could have you set-up on a final, down the throat heading 100 plus miles from your target. It was a real pleasure working with him.

Shortly after checking in, the boss had me briefed on all the local procedures, fly to the bolt-hole bases and just generally get used to the Mk.6. The first flight went by the book until I was on final in CAVU weather when the Air Data Computer went for a chop and the gauges had me screaming down finals at something like Mach 1. Ah yes, the standbys will show you the way, and they did. Maintenance asked what the problem was and why did I break their machine? I pleaded ignorance, and they converted U/S to an up bird in no time at all.

Sqn Ldr Ken Hayr was head of the analysis group, and he kept us all on our toes as to what missions were going well and where we needed to put more emphasis on our trials flying. Generally speaking, trials flying was pretty routine work, and we had very little in the way of wild occurrences. One day I was flying target at 50,000 ft. at Mach 2 in our Mk.1 when the number 2 engine over-sped to 105 %. I just happened to note the change, no sound or anything to alert me. Pull power back to idle on that engine, out of reheat on # 1 and head for home. On the ground, Chief White stated that as soon as the engine cooled down he would go check the turbine shroud for turbine growth and re-trim the engine, and for me to go have lunch. All was soon fine with the beast, and I test-hopped it that afternoon. Never had a problem with it again.

At this point I wish that I had retained a copy of my end of tour report, because I stated in it that with all the Mach 2 flight time that we garnered, we just did not have problems!! The overall maintenance reliability of our birds, both on AFDS and on 5 Sqn, was superior. Certainly, we lost a bird or two on 5 Sqn, but if you look at the total picture, the birds were very reliable and well maintained. Of course the ‘nut on the end of the stick’, more commonly known as the pilot, did on the odd occasion fail to follow his checklist.

One of the first items that John Vickery insisted that I become proficient on was brewing tea, and I was admonished that the tea leaves were to always go out the window and into the flower beds. Actually, I began to really like tea the way it is prepared by the Brits. Prior to this I had always been a coffee drinker. As an Exchange Officer I had access to a large quantity of booze. My normal ration plus a diplomatic ration. I kept it under the stairs, and if I ran short, a quick trip to Alconbury was always a way to replenish the supply. The base commander there would always authorize me to get an extra ration. Yes, there were a few booze-ups at my quarters.

The trials continued, and as we were nearing the end of our practice flights and Sqn Ldr Hayr was satisfied with the results, we got ready to deploy to Valley for our live firing trials. The trials were to be against Jindivik targets. Bill Todd, of course, was our director. We took all six of our birds over and started doing dry runs against the Mk.1s to get everyone used to the area, and then it was time to have a go at it. I do not remember who fired in which order, except that Al Robb’s low level against a target was MOST impressive. The missile passed so close that the water spout from the missile’s impact with the water shrouded the target in water. As I remember it, Al was very impressed with having to bunt down onto a 75 ft target. The gun camera film was MOST impressive. I did the front hemisphere run and got an 18 ft miss distance. Well let’s put it this way: Bill Todd and the missile did it, all I did was steer the dot. All the other pilots had good runs and we went home.

During the at home trials flying we were occasionally called upon to augment 5 Sqn during air defense exercises. Fun and games for all. Some were day exercises and others were at night. I got to know the troops, and all in all it was always fun to be with the active guys. More on that in a minute.

Soooo, we were now out of a job. Al Robb was to return to F-101s at Comox, BC, Canada. John Vickery posted to Singapore. It was decided that a flyby over Bentley Priory was in order, so off we went on a clear and beautiful day. One restriction, do not fly through the belfry! It was a great flyby, and no one complained that we were rather low.

So what am I going to do for another year or so. My new boss in London asked if I wanted to go to Leuchars and the new exchange officer (a Marine) could come to Binbrook? ‘No’ says I. ‘I know the squadron and its operation, and I would like to stay here.’ ‘Fine’ says he.

By this time Boss of No.5, Tony Winship knows all and he calls me to his office. Says he, ‘Bill, now that you are coming over here I am assigning you to be Sqn Ldr Training.’ ‘But Sir’ says I, ‘you have Sqn Ldr Taylor coming for that job’. Says he ‘He is a Canberra pilot and you are going to do the job’. ‘Yes Sir’ says I.

So, I go across the ramp and join No.5. Small world, I was in the 5th FIS from 1958 until 1962. We were the Spittin Kittens. Long Island, New York and Minot, North Dakota. The QFIs and IWIs on 5 Sqn were first rate, and they really kept the entire training program going. As evidence of this, No.5 won the Dacre Trophy after I left. As I remember, Bob Turbin came over with me. The others I just can not remember right now.

The Dacre Trophy

We had some really bizarre occurrences on No.5 and I will list them as they come to me. Snow and ice on the runway, taxiways and ramp. Sqn Ldr Bunny St. Aubyn was Sqn Ldr Ops and Winship was away. ‘All right, we are going to chip ice, and the truck mounted jet engine is going to blow the ice and snow off the runway and taxiways.’ I sort of mentioned that he was off his rocker and that we should just stack flying for the day and have some academics. Nope, chip, sweep, blow. Sure and what do you get? MORE ICE. It was a futile effort, as you can well believe.

It is now time to do some refuelling cross training with the USAF KC-135. Nice boom, short hose, and in goes Boss Winship while three of us are on the perch watching. A stab here and a stab there, sun flashing on the swinging elevator slabs. Guess what, no contact. Finally a voice comes over the airwaves ‘Sir, if you will hold your position we will back down on you.’ We all maintained absolute radio silence!!! Yes, that got his attention, and he was shortly plugged in and taking fuel. We then each got our turn at that wildly swinging basket and we all got qualified.

Binbrook finally got its tail hook barrier. The boss says, ‘Bill, you go show us how it is done.’ Yeah, sure, the blind leading the blind. Accelerate, hook down and engage the barrier at about 100 knots. Talk about a wild yawing ride. I have had a few carrier traps since as a front seat rider, and it is about the same.

Stew Miller’s ejection up at Lossiemouth brings up another in-flight fire incident. I always thought that this also happened to Stew, maybe not. At any rate, I was the Duty Pilot, and the tower called and said for me to beat feet to the tower. Across the ramp I go, up the stairs and into the tower just in time to hear a calm voice stating ‘ On down-wind, and the fire is out.’ ‘No smoke’ says I, and we now prepare for a heavy-weight landing. The pilot is as calm, at least outwardly, as a refrigerated cucumber. Rolls out on a long final and puts the bird down right on the end of the runway at a nice slow speed, chute out and he rolls to a stop. NICE piloting!

One day I am duty officer and the weather is really BAD, even the birds are walking. We have done our ongoing training and we all want to hang it up for the day. But no one has said, do it. About this time, the gang assembles around the Ops desk and with straight faces they ask for me to tell them what the word is that describes a group of aircraft in a holding pattern at different altitudes. So, being very serious, I state something to the effect that the word is ‘stack’, and that is as for as I get as they say ‘Thanks Maj, we understand and we are stacking.’ So we stacked for the day. Cunning creatures weren’t they!?

Some where along here Murdo arrived to replace Bunny. And he was a breath of fresh air. Do not remember where he came from, but everything was fine. There had been some problems reported with the guidance fin locks on the Red Tops, and Hawker Siddeley asked me to do a low-level high-speed run with some SFIM-equipped missiles. ‘Can do’ says I. I set up a low-level mission and off we went. All was well until I failed to follow the checklist, missed one item and screwed the mission up. I offered to re-fly it but they declined my offer. Even though I said we could do it as part of a regular training mission. ‘Familiarity often breeds error.’

Log books. The USAF uses what we call the Form 5. The aircraft book, one for each aircraft, has a section that has the day’s flights logged. The other section is the maintenance forms; aircraft status with items that are carried forward from flight to flight but will not make the aircraft U/S. Then there is the current status section, ie. any problems noticed on the flight. The pilot’s flight information sheets go to the Form 5 people and they enter this in the individual pilot’s log sheets for the month with running totals. The breakdown is pretty standard, total flight time, night time, hood time, instrument time, instructor time, co-pilot, pilot in command, etc.

While I was with the RAF I mailed copies of my log sheets to RAF Alconbury and they kept track of everything. The one major problem was that they did not have a code for any RAF aircraft, so my Hunter time came out as F-86 time and Lightning time was logged as F-106 time. Crazy? Yes, you could say that! I did not find it out until I got back to the States and reviewed my Form 5 sheets. I had start to keep an RAF log book showing all my training time and any special training like Altitude Chamber, Sea Survival etc, and after I got finished with that I decided not to do double duty by keeping two sets of figures. A few years ago we were visiting Jim Jewell and he showed me his log book with copies of notes from Mrs Thatcher and other memorabilia - I truly wished that I had kept my RAF log book for posterity.

It is a cold winter, and the Leuchars bunch decided they needed a change of scenery, one squadron to Valley and one to the Med. So, we mounted up a move and went North for a few weeks. Beautiful country, but not a great place to grow pansies. Flying is good, I learn to eat haggis on Bobby Burns night and all in all we have a great time. One day we are up doing intercepts and get a GCI call to the effect that the WX is going for a chop. RTB and an approach from the West is in order. I now have a dilemma, my wingman is a young pilot just out of the OCU. Can he stay on my wing in the soup or should I have him lead us down? I decided on the latter. Keeping one eye on him and one on the gauges, down we go. I do not know why I worried, as he did a super job of gauge flying and was smooth as silk as lead.

Always forgetting something. Gail reminded of the electric glow. And she wasn't even there, she just remembered some of my stories. So here goes.

It was said that one could always find there way to the Maj’s house by the glow of the electrics. When I moved in, I had the following ‘White American Elephants’ deftly installed in the quarters - one each 22 cubic foot refrigerator/freezer, one 18 cubic foot freezer, one washing machine and one dryer. These little beauties were each run by a 1500 amp transformer to convert 220 to 110 volt. On top of this there were many 220 volt radiant heaters to keep the quarters WARM. I even built and installed double window cover frames, covered by plastic sheeting and set in with foam stripping to keep the winds at bay. Ah, yes, heat!!

I forgot about our deployment to Malta for a month. Took all our birds and tanked our way across France, down the West coast of Italy and to Malta. The A/Com was in the T.5 with S/L Ops and I was on the wing. As we arrived in Rome Center’s area of flight, lead called them repeatedly. No joy. I ask to give it a go. ROMAAAA Center, this is RAFAAAA jetaaaa, call sign. This in my best American attempt at sounding like a WOP. I get an immediate come back. Roger RAFAAAAA jetaaa, call sign, please state your location and altitude. With that in the bank, we are on our way. Crazy.

Malta was a great place to spend mid-Nov to mid-Dec. Lots of good flying, a good air defense ex., lots of good food and snorkelling along the sea cliffs. We of course brought our GCI controllers with us. One was a gal that enjoyed snorkelling with us. One day as we were swimming down the entrance to the small fjord where there were several fishing boats, one of the skippers was not watching where he was going and ran right up the back of our gal with the full length of his boat. Luckily the prop was shrouded, so all she received were bumps and scratches. That finished our swimming for the day, as we had to make a quick trip to the medico.

As we were preparing to return, the French ATC went on strike - again. What route will we fly home? Through Spain was a long way around, Germany wasn’t much better. I know that we ended up going via France. Whether they were still on strike I do not remember. We all departed and the Boss brought up the rear - however he decided to snap off a probe, so he returned to Malta for another night and a new probe.

A long flight to the Middle East was planned, and one of the other pilots and I got our digestive systems ready for an eight-hour tanking trip around the UK to prove that the RR Avon's could go that long without adding engine oil. Our actual time wheels to wheels was 8 hrs and 4 min. And as you know, that great engine can do it. When the actual mission was laid on, the Boss asked if I wanted to lead. I respectfully declined and asked to go to Cyprus along with the tanking chap, and act as en-route coordinator. A nice place to spend a few weeks. A lot of good Greek and Turkish food, some sailing, a drink or two and lots of sun. I do believe that we even watched the eight of them fly over from our lounge chairs which we set up just outside the radio shack. No problems, except that Turkey decided not to issue over-flight rights. This held until the last possible moment, when they relented. The trip both ways was smooth, and we were able to get booked on a flight home. The only complaint was that 8 hours in the saddle is hard on the butt. Yes, I know, and that is why I declined the offer.

Binbrook had some really great ATC gals, and one of them was especially nice. So nice in fact, that Al Davey married her. A lovely wedding attended by many. And here is the one thing that will remain with me forever. I was scheduled along with Murdo to join up on a Victor tanker as he flew over the runway. Al wanted to do the trip, and he talked me out of it. The drill was to have our birds rolling as the Victor came down the runway with his drogues deployed. They were to then join up and do a flyby at some location. Al was to take the right wing, and as he pulled up into place the tip vortices got him and flipped him at about 500 ft AGL. You can imagine the results.

Lightning XS924
XS924 ‘E’ of 5 Squadron, which Al Davey was flying when he sadly crashed at Beelsby

I declined doing the flyby for his funeral, as I felt that I just couldn’t do it. So, I stayed on the ground and acted as tower officer. Had Al, upon feeling the burble from the vortices, pulled straight up, the results might have been different. We will never know, and what the final accident board said, I do not know. There is just too much power in those low-level high angle of attack vortices for the Lightning ailerons to overcome. A tragic occurrence.

Back to the return from Malta. The trip back was without incident other then Winship breaking off a probe. Upon landing at Binbrook we were met by British Customs. ‘Nothing to declare’ says I, and present him with my Diplomatic Passport. As we were debriefing and having a cuppa, the same chap comes up to me and asks for a private talk. Outside he says that I have imported quite a sum of BOOZE. ‘Not me’ says I. And then we all go have a short talk with the ground crew. Yes, they had loaded the area just aft of the Avpin tank with a number of bottles. Customs and I looked at each other and he walked away with a sly smile on his face. ‘No problem’ says I to the crew, and all is well.

Another flyby is scheduled. This is the 25th anniversary of Dieppe. The Boss wants me to lead; fine with me and I start planning. Then it hits the Boss, the Americans had no involvement with Dieppe. ‘I will lead’ he says, and I will be the element lead with Al Winkles on my wing. This puts me on the Boss’s left wing and Al in the slot for a diamond. I had planned on over wing tanks or, as I referred to them, ‘upside-down drop tanks’. ‘No’ says Fighter Command, as they are not happy with these tanks for barrier engagements. Off to Wattisham we go.

The weather is miserable and getting worse. We refuel, eat and get ready to have a go. In trail, a reheat climb to about 30K, form up and off we go in loose form. Time to go down, move in, and we are heading for the deck. The weather is a little bit better below, and we get in trail with the Belgian F-104Gs. The flyby goes fine and the Belgians head for home. I says to myself - go with them Boss, and we can then fly all the way home after a quick refuel. Not to be! He heads for home with just enough fuel to get us to Bentwaters. Once on top we relax, check our fuel state and of course I am low man on the totem pole. Boss says for Al and me to go down first, so down we go.

GCA is on the ball, picks us up and get us headed for a formation landing. Through minimums – ‘Shit’ says I to myself - not enough fuel to go anyplace. About this time we breakout at about 150 ft. Ceiling over the base is a good 500 ft as advertised. The only problem is that I am lined up with the grass and Al has the runway. Too low to turn into Al, so I tell him to land and I will do a QUICK 180. I ask the GCA for a reciprocal heading at 150 ft. Roll out, count to 20 and roll onto finals. The only problem is that all of this is in the clouds. The 500 ft ceiling is only over the field and I am in the soup. As I roll out on finals, I pick up the runway and Al is well down on the landing roll-out. I land, and the Boss and his wing are right behind me. All is well that ends well. It just scared the living b'jesus out of me. I bowed to the GCA controller for his help and a fine save. After we collected our wits, a little fuel and we pressed on home. Ah, I wish that we had had the big tanks!!

I contacted Fighter Command Personnel one day and asked if I could recommend some pilots for USAF Exchange. They appreciated my offer, but requested that I only recommend one. That put a real crimp in my plans. Now I have to either put forth none or only one. I decide on one and started to review my choices. Very, very hard! I finally settle on my choice and write a justifying letter to Command. All is silent except for a brief phone call thanking me for my input. When I leave in the summer of ’68, I am still in the dark as to what happened to my recommendation.

My follow-on posting was to Clark AFB, Philippines flying F-102s escorting B-52s over Vietnam. We were flying out of 4 different bases, two in Vietnam and two in Thailand. At any rate, after two years of this I came back to the states to Luke AFB, Arizona. And who is there but my recommended exchange pilot. Have you figured it out yet? John Allison. I know that he went right up the promotion ladder and I couldn’t be prouder of him. His wife was a big asset during his time with the USAF. She became very involved with civic activities. If you ever see him give him my very best.

You asked for my impressions of the Mk.6. They were all good. I had flown F-86Ds, F-94B and Cs, F-89Js, F-104s, F-100s, F-86Fs, F-102s and F-106s. In the UK, I flew air-to-air against F-4s and F-104Gs. At no time did I lose a 1 v 1 or a 1 v 2. And I was not very good at air to air. Yes, short legs, but a great turning radius and excellent acceleration, especially when you can unload a little.

4 photos:2 F-15s, an F-5 Aggressor and a Sea Harrier
There’s life in the old dog yet - two F-15s, an F-5 Aggressor and a Sea Harrier caught where they shouldn’t have been by the gun cameras of Lightning pilots of 11 Squadron.

After I retired from the USAF in October ‘75, I went to work in Advanced Design for Northrop Corp. One of the engineers in another department was involved with old aircraft and he had a friend that had LOTS of money and wanted a Lightning. Would I go get it and fly it to the US via the North route, Iceland, Greenland, etc. ‘Sure’ says I. Then they informed me that it had been maintained by the Pakistanis. ‘No’ says I, not unless it has a complete bill of good health from a gang of British maintenance types. At that point I lost interest, and I still do not know if he ever got his bird.

Our best to you and yours, and remember WIWOL. A great experience.

Bill and Gail Beardsley

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