Reminiscences of a Mis-Spent Youth

As recent copies of the magazine have been a bit thin, I have been asked to pad it out with a few of’ the sometimes scurrilous tales that occur in the civil aviation business. I will have to dig back many years for some stories, partly to pad things even rote, but also because some of the people flying in those days would not be tolerated how and their behavior would have led to a rapid boot-assisted take off. The arrogance of some of the old timers was beyond belief – as in the case of the Flying boat Captain who returned the aircraft to the mooring because his bag of aniseed balls was missing. Some of them were, of course, great old men. It was that attitude, however, that resulted in an occasion when a flying boat moored up to a buoy, a little motor dinghy chugged out and the crow got in, the Captain still being on the aircraft. After a short wait the first Officer said O,K., take us ashore, the Captain will be walking over”.

At one stage of it’s chequered history, many land planes crows wore transferred to flying boats, almost all against their will. You either veto a webbed foot or you weren’t. If you were, you were on them already:. Anyway one flying boat was heading West across the desert West of Basra against the customary winter headwinds at it’s usual 8000 feet or so, when the Captain in Command noticed that the one in the right hand seat, an ex-York Captain who was on a familiarization trip, was gazing fixedly down at the ground. “What are you looking at? “Camels’ “Good Lord man you’ve soon camels before “Yes, but not overtaking us”.

Many of the incidents that are part of this article occurred in the U.S.A. Partly this is because so much flying happens there and partly because of the tradition of the smart wisecrack. Apart from the professional need to Monitor several channels at the same time, there is often a bonus in what is heard. Remarks are quick and brief. On one occasion we were letting down over Long Island on a sunny day, Swarms of light aircraft are in the air on such occasions. A.T.C. cleared us for the usual approach with the routine advisory “Numerous small targets in all directions heights unknown”. Our skipper acknowledged and added “going down with our heads lowered)”. Over the air came another aircraft “Chicken”. The skipper back “Yeah, but an old chicken”.

New York was a scene of many remarks. When the Bristol freighter first arrived there, the Tower operator stopped laughing for long enough to ask “ Say, what kind of plane is that?” A rather offended British voice replied “A Bristol Freighter”. In a tone of awe the Tower asked “Did you make it yourself?”. On another occasion when one was parked on the apron the crew were asked if it was an aero plane or the box that one came in.

More recently the VC10 became well known at New York. Ground Control is always busy at JFK and their instructions are terse. One American operator, was taxiing out, and instructed to wait for, and follow, British VCIO to departure position. He acknowledged “OK follow eyelevel grill”.

Rather surprisingly perhaps, quite noticeable speech impediments do not prohibit one from using the r/t. In tact, one or two bad stutterers used insist on waffling on when a few seconds of their co-pilots time would have got the message over. One of our aircraft, when inbound to New York, over the Maritimes, was called by Moncton with a re-route. The Captain acknowledged receipt, then laboriously suggested an alternative routing.. This took, several minutes during which the channel was tied up, other operators were chafing and Moncton was going berserk. At the end of his transmission the Captain asked “Have you got all that Moncton?”. A weary .voice came back “Got It? We’ve carved it on stone”.

Another Captain ,who unfortunately had no speech Impediment whatsoever, but switched to continuous transmit as his eyes opened, was letting down into Calcutta. He also acknowledged instructions and started to suggest. a better idea. An excited Indian voice broke in “Shut up Speedbird shut up. I know you – you are Captain … . BOAC – natter, natter, natter”. His crew loved it – the Captain was quiet for several minutes. On a later occasion, the same Captain was taking off from  Prestwick to London in a very lightly 4oaded DC7. These aircraft  were quite lively at low weights, he pulled her off the ground and passed the end of the runway at about  1000 feet’. Excitedly he called the Tower “How about that Prestwick, 1000 feet, climbing at 2500 feet/minute.” and. so on. There was silence for a moment and a slow American voice came on the air “Yeah, there’s one in every Company”.

While most of these stories inevitably concern Captains (the best target draws the most shots) we did feature one (among a Low) incredibly thick First Officer. Relationships between Flight Deck and Cabin Crow arc prickly sometimes, and senior cabin crow naturally resent being patronized, On a 707, on arrival at a terminal, the Senior Steward, who had probably flown more years that the First Officer had lived, was just leaving the flight deck after settling some problem in discussion with the Captain when this First Officer, who was very junior at the time, casually handed his brief case to the Senior Steward and said “Take this off for me”. The: Steward took brief case, walked to the head of the steps  –  possibly twelve feet above ground, and dropped it, He then returned to the Flight beck and calmly announced Your brief case has gone off sir”. To our  Surprise and relief this First Officer left us and went to Pan Am in a training position. This did make us wonder even more about the ‘most experienced airline ‘ bit. One night in the emptiness. south of Teheran a BOAG 707 eastbound was called  by Pan Am Westbound “Hey BOAC, we’ve got one of your guys – name … Do you him?”. Flatly the B0AC reply came “We know bin,”. Long pause from Am then “It figures”.

And at our own beloved London Airport, remarks are sometimes made too. One Am jet was taxiing when he was startled to see a police car on the taxiway. “He called the Tower “Hey London, there’s a car on the taxiway”. The Tower cane back rapidly “Yes, it’s a police vehicle entitled to use the taxiways. Did he cause you any inconvenience?”. Pan Am “Well, no, but it’s hardly cricket”.

All aircraft carry a transponder. which is set to any number combination on instruction from ATC so that the aircraft may be identified among all the radar echoes. This is called a squawk box from the audio noise of interrogation (a saw tooth audio note not audible in modern boxes). Air Canada awaiting taxiing instructions were told to “Follow Lufthansa 737 to departure position.” Air Canada acknowledged “OK follow Clockwork Mouse to departure”. A very affronted voice immediately cane over the air “This is not a clockwork mouse it is a Lufthansa 737”. No more was said until the 737 was on the runway and the Tower’s departure instructions were “Lufthansa Flight … clear for take off turn left after take off and  squeak alpha 2371”,

One chap did get into trouble at London. Things were a bit busy and after turning off the runway at the end of the landing run ho switched to Ground Control who asked “Have I given you a stand yet?” his reply “Not with a voice like that” was not appreciated.

A BOAC plane approaching London asked for a time check, The Tower asked which airline was calling. The Captain irritably said “What difference does that make?”  “Well” said the Tower “if you are BOAC it is twenty past two. If you are Pan Am it’s twenty after two. If you are Aer Lingus the big hand is on four and the little hand on two”. Incidentally, Aer Lingus Captains are recognizable by the four gold bands around their wellies.

And finally, a nasty racist one which has been engraved in the history of the business. Due to the high fuel consumption of big jets when idling (ticking over is not quite the phrase when the high pressure compressor is running at 6000 rpm) there is a planned system where you call for start up clearance about fifteen minutes before you expect to be ready to go. Any subsequent delay must be reported to allow reallocation of start times. One night at New York (of course) Lufthansa had been given a start time and realized that they were not going to be able to make it. They called the Tower -“Kennedy Tower Lufthansa .. we will not be ready for start at (specified tine) we have lost two passengers and are looking everywhere for them” An American voice came over the air “Try looking in the ovens”..

If you are in the business, and possibly if not, all the above are chestnuts and old hat. I hope one or two are new to someone or other. If anyone recognizes themselves, I just say, Hi, to them, And if no stories are told against flight engineers in this article, then to rephrase that famous lady supporter of prominent Tories, of a decade or two ago, “I wouldn’t, would I?”.

Doug Mepham G4ERA – November 1978.

Return to the index of Vital Spark articles.

G3MGQ’s Month on the Air

Prepared by the clubs RSGB trainer, G3MGQ, you will find the latest DX contests including the ones to shoot for as well as ones to give a wide berth. Why not download the latest edition of Month on the Air and enjoy your DX just that little bit more.

Become a member of HERC

Join the Hastings Electronics and Radio Club.

Why not join one of the largest and most established Radio clubs in the South East of England? Very low joining cost, and free for a year to new licencees.

Vital Spark Archive

Vital Spark newsletter articles

Take a look through a large selection of articles written by club members over the years which have been published in the monthly Vital Spark newsletter .

Used Ham Radio Equipment

View HERC's Used Ham Radio Equipment for sale list..

Every four weeks, HERC's Used Ham Radio Equipment for sale list is updated on the site. Bookmark the gear for sale page to re-visit easily and take advantage of the used equipment on sale through the club.

Club Photographs

HERC Image Galleries.

Here is the official HERC photograph archive which contains multiple image galleries spanning several decades since the club was formed many years ago. Enjoy the images!

UK Amateur Radio Repeaters

UK repeaters

Click button above for full list, or a local repeater callsign below for info.

GB3EB 2m in Uckfield- Active
MB6EB 2m DStar Node in Eastbourne - Active
MB6RY Wires-X DigiGate in Broad Oak - Active
GB3HE 70cm in Hastings - Active
GB7HE 70cm DStar in Hastings - Coming soon
GB3ZX 70cm in Eastbourne - Low Power
GB3JT 23cm ATV in Hastings - NoV cleared
GB7RY 70cm X-Wires Repeater Rye - Active
GB7ES Eastbourne - DSTAR Rpt. - Active
GB3ES 2m in Hastings - Active

For a complete list of repeaters, head over to
the UK Amateur Radio repeaters list.

Popular pages

Get your amateur radio licence - Find out more about amateur radio licence training.
Month on the Air - G3MGQ's popular monthly DX contest/expedition list.
Wilf Gaye Memorial Cup - The clubs annual operating event in the memory of Wilf Gaye M0GYE.
St. Richard's College Buildathon/STEM/ARISS - HERC attends St. Richard's Catholic College for their various events surrounding the Tim Peake ARISS contact.
G3BDQ - John Hey's Rare QSL Cards.
Sussex Electronics Radio Fair - SERF Sussex Electronics Radio Fair 2016.
Vital Spark - A selection of articles re-published from the Vital Spark.
RSGB News - Find out how to get RSGB news on your mobile or PC.
Experimenters Corner - A selection of Proteus projects by Bob Gornal (G7DME)
BBADL - Bath Based Distance Learning Course.
Conquest Hospital Radio - Presented by HERC member Antony (G4CUS).
Radio Rallies 2016 - An up to date list of radio rallies scheduled for 2016.
Club QSL Cards - A selection of QSL cards the club has received over the years.
Other Newsletters - Excellent newsletters and magazines from other clubs.
TX Factor episodes - Take a look at the TX Factors YouTube videos.
John Taplin - A bio of the late John Taplin.

Amateur Radio Resources

Other Radio Clubs & RAYNET

BSARS - Brede Steam Amateur Radio Society

RAYNET - The Hastings and Rother RAYNET Group.

HERC members sites

Sigord - Gordon Sweet
Hastings Radio Comms - Andrew Haas-Campbell
Hoofbags - Liz Costa