Light­ning fast: Pi­lot’s 1,000mph flight, 50 years ago

As the brand new F35 Light­ning jets ar­rive at RAF Marham, Nor­folk flier David Hast­ings re­calls a spe­cial flight he made 50 years ago

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE -

In the six­ties, the Nor­folk & Nor­wich Aero Club mem­bers at Swan­ton Mor­ley de­vel­oped close links with RAF Coltishall, which was to bring huge ben­e­fits for fly­ing in Nor­folk as well as a unique per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence for me. There is an en­try in my log book for Fe­bru­ary 27, 1968 which is still un­be­liev­able.

Un­be­known to me, my wife Jean had chat­ted with Group Cap­tain Mike Hob­son, the Sta­tion Com­man­der at RAF Coltishall, and they had ar­ranged a birth­day treat for me with a flight in the Mk 4 two-seat ver­sion of the su­per­sonic Light­ning fight­ers that were based at Coltishall. I ar­rived think­ing that this would just be a very ex­cit­ing but quick trip. I had the med­i­cal, was kitted out with ev­ery­thing and then had a very full safety briefing from a Flight Sergeant who ob­vi­ously did not like the idea that this mere Royal Ob­server Corps Of­fi­cer in the re­serve was get­ting a flight. In his briefing he pointed out in great de­tail ev­ery­thing that would go wrong if I made a mis­take, and by the time he had fin­ished I was con­vinced that this would be the day when I would have to eject.

Then it was into Mike’s of­fice for the fi­nal briefing where, to my sur­prise, he an­nounced that I was go­ing to join the 1,000 Miles Per Hour Club. I would be the 999th mem­ber. Once Vivi­enne Whyer, the WRAF Air Traf­fic Con­troller be­came the 1,000th mem­ber the fol­low­ing Thurs­day, the club was clos­ing, as by then peo­ple were fly­ing in Con­corde. We were then all go­ing to a great party in Lon­don at the week­end. Re­heat take­offs were ra­tioned be­cause of the noise, but as we walked out to the Light­ning T.4 XM997 on the apron Mike told me he had re­served one for me. I could not be­lieve that this was hap­pen­ing!

The Light­ning is a tight fit with the side-by-side seat­ing and Mike soon got me strapped into the right-hand seat, in­clud­ing the check of ‘am I strapped to you’? A vi­tal check as, if our leg re­straints had got linked, it would have been painful on ejec­tion. I re­mem­ber think­ing that, with my long legs, if I did go out the in­stru­ment panel would take my knees off, but I was warned to re­sist the temp­ta­tion to draw my legs back. I was ner­vous

yet ter­ri­bly ex­cited, but once we went on to full oxy­gen the fear sub­sided and we tax­ied out to the hold for Run­way 04.

If I can re­mem­ber the speeds, the briefing was: line up, ad­vance both throt­tles and check for sta­bil­i­sa­tion, brakes off, then push the throt­tles for­ward and left into re­heat, ro­tate the nose­wheel at 135 knots, lift off at 165 knots, gear up, and then speed up to 350 knots be­fore pulling the stick hard back into your stom­ach. I

can re­mem­ber Mike telling me to pull harder and we rock­eted ver­ti­cally through the low cloud at the amaz­ing climb rate of 25,000 feet a minute. First time in my life I had ever seen an al­time­ter spin round in a blur or seen fuel gauges vis­i­bly drop­ping. Jean, in Sal­house’ (five miles away) ac­tu­ally heard us take off!

I think we can­celled re­heat at 32,000 feet and then zoom­climbed up to 42,000 feet over the North Sea and I was sim­ply stag­gered. What a way to take off, from the ini­tial ac­cel­er­a­tion − which pushed you hard back in your seat − fol­lowed by the amaz­ing rate of climb; it was all just un­be­liev­able.

Mike then said we would do our su­per­sonic run up the North Sea, and to qual­ify as a club mem­ber I had to fly it at Mach 1.6 for a min­i­mum of three min­utes. Into re­heat once more and we eas­ily went through the sound bar­rier with no feel­ing at all, only a slight jump in the in­stru­ments as the shock wave went down the fuse­lage. I held on grimly to the stick, think­ing I would keep straight and level for three min­utes and all would be well, but Mike was not let­ting me get away that eas­ily and told me to move it about the sky. I ac­tu­ally let my air­speed in­crease by mis­take to Mach 1.66, which Mike said was de­lib­er­ate, to match the Bat­tle of Hast­ings’ date in 1066, but this was cer­tainly a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence − I was just so lucky.

When we ended the su­per­sonic run and throt­tled back I was

‘First time in my life I had ever seen an al­time­ter spin round in a blur’

amazed how hard the har­ness cut into my shoul­ders, and then came the only fright of the day. As we started our de­scent back to Coltishall there was sud­denly a se­vere shud­der and noise from the en­gines. “Here we go,” I thought, “Mike is go­ing to say ‘Eject, Eject, Eject’ and I am go­ing out with my bad back,” but he quickly said, “Sorry David, I for­got to warn you that the Rolls-Royce Avons do at times rum­ble on throt­tling back.” What a re­lief!

The de­scent was just as im­pres­sive and we flew a GCA (ground-con­trolled ap­proach) in the rapidly low­er­ing cloud­base, be­fore over­shoot­ing and then land­ing af­ter the next GCA with a low fuel state. Forty min­utes of a truly un­be­liev­able ex­pe­ri­ence for a small air­craft civil­ian pi­lot and I will never be able to thank Mike enough. We tax­ied in with checks com­plete, un­strapped, put in the ejec­tor seat safety pins and then climbed out. I then took off all the fly­ing kit and went down to the Of­fi­cers’ Mess for lunch where I was given my cer­tifi­cate and 1,000mph tie.

Vivi­enne Whyer flew on the Thurs­day, and at the week­end we all stayed at the RAF Club in Lon­don for a party pro­vided by Rolls-Royce and English Elec­tric. At that time the Royal Saudi Air Force were be­ing trained on their Light­nings at Coltishall. Some­how that evening we ended up at the lux­ury Gar­den House Ho­tel in Park Lane, sit­ting on the floor of Prince Faisal’s pri­vate suite, eat­ing what I found out much later were sheep’s eyes and watch­ing a belly dancer. It was then back home to my wife Jean late on the Sun­day nurs­ing a thick head – but what an amaz­ing and won­der­ful week thanks to the kind­ness of Group Cap­tain Mike Hob­son and RAF Coltishall.

ABOVE:Con­tem­po­rary fighter ver­sion, the mis­sile-armed F.3ABELOW:David Hast­ings’ ride was in this T.4, which seated in­struc­tor and stu­dent, or in this case pi­lot and pas­sen­ger, sideby-side

ABOVE:David’s aero club wings and (right) his trea­sured 1,000 Miles Per Hour Club cer­tifi­cate

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