Ushering in the Phantom Era
This entry has been made possible by Willie Felger, who was on the Squadron during the changeover from the Bloodhound missile to the Phantom.
We knew from the beginning that Dink Lemon was destined to form a new squadron but nobody knew officially exactly what form it would take. Early in 1972 we heard that it was indeed to be No 41(F) Squadron under the command of Wg Cdr Brian “Dink” Lemon. In due course several crews, including Tony and me, we were released from our units and gathered in a brand new hangar (now occupied by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight) to re-form this famous squadron. At the same time NCOs and airmen arrived from other units and assembled under the tender mercies of Warrant Officer Arthur Mulvana. The new hangar had empty rooms and offices with bare walls, basic furniture but no budget for decorations, so we had to set to and build our own. We scrounged timber and found the old copper top from the officers mess bar which had recently been replaced, and built our own crew room. We all mucked in and were well on the way to becoming a close-knit team. Similarly WO Mulvana set to knocking the ground crews into shape, starting with early morning parades. The story goes when first interviewed by the Boss – Mr Mulvana said the he knew nothing about Phantoms, but a lot about airmen, so if the boss would please look after the aircraft and the officers, he would sort out the troops – maybe one of his victims could elaborate. On the assumption that nobody would have willingly given up their best people WO Mulvana and the Engineering Officers did a superb job and the sqns reputation soon soared.
The squadron’s role was currently held by a Bloodhound anti-aircraft missile squadron at West Raynham in Norfolk, and we were duly despatched for a hand-over ceremony to transfer the squadron Standard to our base at Coningsby. Having done it before I had the honour of being the Standard Bearer – a duty I carried out with respect, enthusiasm and, having been trained at Laarbruch by the RAF Regiment Queen’s Colour Squadron, no small amount of bullshit! With the Standard came boxes of memorabilia which were carefully secured in an empty room until much could be displayed around the squadron. The troops had a huge cross of St Omer fashioned out of railway sleepers and this was painted red and conspicuously fixed to the side of the hangar along with a large name plate.
The squadron was famous for being in the thick of the Battle of Britain flying Spitfires out of Hornchurch in Essex. Many of its pilots were Polish and their hatred of the Luftwaffe showed in the results they achieved. Their wartime combat report originals were carefully kept in arch files by the Intelligence officer, who was Flt Lt the Lord Guisborough – apparently known as “Gizzy”! Some of the pilots had quite thick files whilst others, sadly, had only one or two entries.
Forty-one was a unique squadron because it had two operational roles at the same time – and was declared to NATO as dual role in reconnaissance and ground attack. This was huge fun but tricky to do as it was quite demanding to stay current both by day and night.
But, we were a small team and we worked hard, led by an outstanding boss in Dink Lemon. He was calm and never lost his cool, but it was very plain when he was displeased and the culprit was made to feel ashamed that he had let the side down. It did not happen very often. He was a natural leader with a great sense of fun. Above all, he was utterly professional in his approach to the serious business of being the best. I remember one disgruntled OCU instructor muttering that he hated elites. “Yes, they are a real bastard” one of us replied – “particularly when you’re not part of it”!
The squadron navigators became expert at using the Inertial Navigation and Attack System (INAS) which had been a rather inconvenient aid to basic navigation on our course. However, we now studied the beast and learned to use many of its facilities to good effect and became good at the black art of flying at low-level at night and in cloud – quite challenging and not inherently safe! Crew cooperation and trust in each other’s ability was paramount and it was a real act of faith by our pilots to fly accurately on instruments when we could sense high ground to the side and above us! Perhaps surprisingly, there was not a single accident. Night low-level – sometimes at very high speeds to test the ability of our recce sensors, particularly the Infra Red Line Scan, to cope - was exciting even over flat ground and I remember very clearly Tony and I flying up to 600 knots at 400 then 200 feet at night!
A huge benefit was that we could display the INAS target on the Low Map facility of the radar and the 25 mile scale coincided well with a 1:250,000 topo map. Nevertheless, we navs still used a 1:50,000 OS Map for target runs.
Route flying was done in multiples of 60 knots groundspeed so that timing was kept as simple as possible; 360 knots = 6 miles per minute, 420 = 7, 480 = 8 and so on but we were really guzzling fuel by then.
A few 'corrections/reality'....Mr Mulvana was not well like for his early attempts at 'discipline' and early morning parades...he 'grew' on the groundcrews over time....
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