June 2011, Archive Story
Joe Dickerson's Memories of Lightnings at Coltishall
I really appreciate your attitude - and what you are trying to accomplish. You are absolutely right on about "tell us your memories no matter how mundane you think they are" - the fact is we were young at the time and took everything for granted. I have a photo of the whole of 65 squadron sitting on and around XM994 (T.4) and I look at it today and, sadly, have to admit that I cannot remember the majority of their names - however their deeds, both on and off work, remain vividly in my memories.
I arrived at Coltishall as a 112-entry L-tech graduate in May 1970 and was assigned a position at #1 ASS which became 65 Sqdn and I stayed there until October 1974. When I got the job as a debriefer/liney first maintenance I had about 90 minute's notice of any T-bird that was going to fly "strapped up" (i.e. one empty seat) and I always made sure that if any of the ground crew wanted a "ride" they got one. If there were no takers I snagged one for myself (If I could be released). I managed 6 rides - what an experience! The raw power, the G-force, waving at the aircrew of a Russian bomber at the 200 mile limit, and of course the landing when your arms and legs fly forwards when the brake-chute opened (not so the pilot - he knew what was coming).
I was there when we trained the Saudi pilots and the week after the London car show the parking lot of the 2(T) squadron hangar was full of Lamborghinis, Porsches, Jaguars and Ferraris - while my rusty 1961 Mini rested on the parking lot outside the Number One Club waiting for pay day so I could pay my overdraft, and buy a new (or used) alternator.
I was there when it was announced that an American F-111 was going to do a demo fly-by (remember that was going to replace the Lightning). It flew over with an "old" F.1 as escort and did a tail up - the F.1 went up on it's a*se and screamed up and up and leveled off, waiting for the F-111 to catch up! I am sure to this day that the event was part of the reason that we did not buy that one. "Rather have a Phantom with British donks!"
I remember the week that a new MO got posted
to Colt. Our C/O (Wg Cdr McDermid) invited the good doctor for a "spin".
We strapped him in to a T.4 and watched them taxi out. The reheat
take-off was impressive, the kite took a steep take-off, leveled off,
circled and landed immediately - that was really quick! To his
good credit, and with typical officer stiff upper lip, the good doctor
insisted that he clean up his own vomit from his face mask which had
completely plugged up!
I also remember (and so will many others) when Prince Phillip was due to visit Coltishall. One F.3 from the "other squadron" was removed from the line and we all had to take turns doing a polishing job. The kite was surrounded by scaffolding and everyone from every crew on the station had to do their hour of "bull". This went on for about a month. I am sure that there is a picture of it somewhere - the thing was a flying mirror!!!! Anyway the Duke came - he got a free air show - then he was ushered to the 2(T) hangar, looked at the shiny kite, and the proud officers around him, and said "What a complete waste of time and manpower!"
However, most of the fun and laughter that I look back on was the "sit-com", had-to-be-there situations - and there were lots of those! The F.1s were running out of airframe hours and technology was overtaking us. They took one of our kites (XM171 I think) and stuck it on a pole at Coltishall's entrance. The end of an era. I got sent to Lossiemouth to do a Jaguar course in 1974 and I went back to Colt in 1975 for a month with 6 Sqdn - but it wasn't the same. I was posted to Brüggen and we commissioned the Jags that came from the factory. 17 Sqdn was great, I had fun but I knew it was over. I had a chance of a good job in Canada and took advantage of the defence cuts of 1975, and was released in November 1976.
I have spent the last 28 years as a Control Technologist in a major Canadian nuclear power facility, and I am ready to retire. I live on the shore of Lake Huron about 120 miles west of Toronto. I would like to hear from anyone who I worked with, or was even around me at the time. I feel privileged to have contributed to the absolute success of the last all-British fighter jet that was ever made - and it definitely did its job.
1028 Huron Terrace