TRAINING THE NAVAL FIGHTER
PILOT - RNAS Lossiemouth 1958
Flight August 1958
SITUATED on the south
shore of the Moray Firth, Royal Naval Air Station Lossiemouth enjoys
the best weather factor (0.8) of any airfield in Britain. That it
should do so is important, for H:M.S. Fulmar, to give the station
its ship name, is the Fleet Air Arm's fighter training school, and
good all-the-year round flying conditions are essential.
Constructed less than a mile to the
west of the little fishing port of Lossiemouth, the airfield was
first opened in 1938 by the R.A.F., and used throughout World War II
by aircraft of Bomber Command. In 1946, after the R.A.F. had
relinquished possession, the station was taken over by the Navy and
commissioned as H.M.S. Fulmar for use as an additional operational
flying school for the Fleet Air Arm.
In February 1950 the Naval Air
Fighter School was established at Culdrose, in Cornwall, absorbing
in the process the old School of Naval Air Warfare, which had
formerly functioned at St. Merryn, and the Fleet Air Arm's No. 2
Operational Flying School from Eglinton.
In 1953, combined as the Naval Air Fighter and Strike School, the
establishment was transferred to Lossiemouth.
The main task of the school today is
the preparation of Naval aviators to take their place in front-line
fighter squadrons. Fleet Air Arm fighter training falls into two
categories : intercepter day fighter and all-weather. After
obtaining their wings at the R.A.F. flying training school at
Linton-on-Ouse, Naval pilots in the making who are allotted to
fighters move on to Lossiemouth for operational conversion to
front-line standard in either I.D.F. or A.W. Selection for the
latter category, which is slightly less than half the total annual
intake, is made at the Admiralty.
Three second-line squadrons, Nos. 736, 738 and 764, are permanently
resident at Lossiemouth for instructional purposes. No. 736 is
equipped with Sea Hawks and Sea Vampire T.22s; 738 has Sea Hawks and
Sea Venoms; and 764 has Sea Hawks only. The Vampires are to be
replaced by Hunter T.8s in the near future, while 764 Squadron will
be getting Scimitars in lieu of their Sea Hawks. Each squadron
maintains a strength of about 15 aircraft. Four target-towing
Meteors are also attached to the station.
The present commanding officer of
H.M.S. Fulmar is Captain F. M. A. Torrens-Spence, D.S.O., D.S.C.,
A.F.C., R.N., who as a Swordfish pilot participated in the famous
Fleet Air Arm raid on Taranto in 1940. It is a far cry from the "Stringbag"
to the Scimitar, but the standard of efficiency as exemplified in
the Naval Fighter School is as high today as it was when a handful
of Naval airmen put an enemy battle-fleet out of action in its own
Commanded by Lt-Cdr. L. E. A. Chester-Lawrence, 736 Squadron has a
complement of ten pilots. Five are qualified flying instructors (two
A2 and three Bi), and four are tactical instructors. One of the
Q.F.I.s is also an air warfare instructor, and two others are
instrument grading examiners. The C.O. flies as an instructor with
the rest of his staff.
The principal task of 736 is the introduction of the I.D.F. entries
from Linton to their first operational aircraft. This part of the
full fighter training course of 21 weeks carried out in Sea Hawks,
totals 50 flying hours. The curriculum comprises the general
handling of aircraft, formation flying, air-to-air cine-gunnery
exercises, navigation and night flying.
Additional tasks which fall to the lot of 736 are the conversion of
American-trained (NATO) pilots to British techniques; dual
continuation training of operational flying school and
American-trained students; jet conversion courses and refresher
flying; dual continuation of first and second-line pilots; forward
Army air controllers' courses; and Fleet Air Arm acquaintance
courses for officers undergoing the long gunnery course. Operational
jet con-version students are given a shortened O.F.S. course of 24
flying hours in Sea Hawks to convert them to British methods and
techniques, but this is preceded by 25 hours flying sorties in
Vampires with the accent on instrument flying.
Following completion of the first half of the course in 736
Squadron, the I.D.F. pupils pass on to 738 Squadron, which is
regarded as the "finishing school" for all Fleet Air Arm student
fighter pilots. Commanded by Lt-Cdr. R. J. McCandless, 738's
instructional staff consists of four tactical instructors, including
one R.A.F. pilot, in addition to the C.O. and senior pilot. All are
experienced fighter pilots who have completed a number of tours in
front-line squadrons. In fact, the combined total of fighter
squadrons in which 738's instructors have served is 20,a figure
which includes almost all the day fighter squadrons and several
night and all-weather squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm.
While the intercepter students have been undergoing the first half
of their course in 736 Squadron, the all-weather trainees have
received similar tuition on Sea Venoms in 738. They are then joined
by their intercepter brethren for the second half of the course.
Part 2 totals 45 flying hours, and includes rocket-firing,
dive-bombing and low-level strafing; fighter combat, using a nylon
banner target towed by a Meteor, the pupils being required to carry
out 40-50 dummy approaches at high and low levels; high-speed
interception; air-to-air firing; army support exercises;
photo-graphic reconnaissance; and advanced night formation flying.
The students also carry out navigation flights and other sorties
designed to familiarize them thoroughly with their aircraft.
Since both the Supermarine Scimitar and the de Havilland Sea Vixen,
when the latter comes into service, are capable of carrying the
atomic bomb, new bombing techniques are shortly to be added to the
curriculum at Lossiemouth.
In conjunction with the flying training a comprehensive
ground-school syllabus is taught, designed to give the students a
thorough knowledge of their aircraft and its tactical uses. The
lectures include air traffic control, meteorology, high-speed
flight, high-level navigation, action information organization,
communications, armament, tactics and army support.
The teaching of the last named is the province of the C.B.G.L.O.
(carrier-borne ground liaison officer), at Lossiemouth a major of
the Royal Scots. The presence of liaison sections in
aircraft-carriers and at Naval air stations today is indicative of
the close inter-Service co-operation necessary to the performance of
Navy's role of mobile task force. The syllabus includes tactical air
reconnaissance, photography, air control team exercises and
controlled ground attack by strike aircraft. At Lossiemouth the Army
officer adds realism to the exercises by taking out a suitcase of
"tanks" made of rubber, which he inflates and disposes strategically
about the exercise area. A number of disused wartime airfields also
play a useful part in this phase of Naval fighter-pilot training.
On the air engineering side concentrated instruction is given on
both the Sea Hawk (Nene) and Sea Venom (Ghost). This part of the
course is in two phases. Phase 1 covers the function, construction
and operation of the engine, airframe, electrical and radio
installations; Phase 2 the routine inspection of aircraft up to
primary inspection standards in the A, E, and L trades. An
examination is held at the end of each phase, the results of Phase 1
counting towards the student's final pass. On successful completion
of Phase 2 each pilot is awarded a certificate of qualification in
first-line servicing of aircraft.
Each of the training squadrons has its own hangar with briefing,
crew and analysis rooms, the latter equipped with wall charts on
which are recorded the progress of the students and the results of
the various exercises. Cine assessment is carried out by Wren
ratings, who also provide a proportion of each squadron's quota of
pilot's mates, air mechanics and air radio mechanics. No. 736
Squadron uses for a simulator the cockpit of a pranged Sea Hawk.
A Sea Hawk belonging to the German
squadron being serviced by German groundcrew. Note the Federal
German Navy anchor insignia. Numbered 654 in its flying days,, this
useful remnant now bears the appropriate number seen in the
The station controls a satellite
airfield at Milltown, some eight miles to the west, which is
equipped with a complete mirror landing installation, and here all "Maddls"
(mirror aerodrome dummy deck landings) are carried out. Here is also
an extensive site for the permanent parking of caravans belonging to
officers and ratings who prefer a home on wheels to married
quarters. The C.O. of 738 Squadron, himself a confirmed and
enthusiastic van-dweller, doubles up as O.C. Caravans.
Lossiemouth is also provided with a
number of first-class ranges for rocket firings, bombing and
strafing, which extend from Fraserburgh in the east to Tain in the
west. As the station is close to the sea (a conveniently placed
18-hole golf course stretches between the perimeter fence and the
shore) the ranges can be reached without loss of time and fuel;
exercises can, in fact, begin within three minutes of leaving the
runway. Air interception training is conducted with the aid of the
Royal Air Force G.C.I. station near Peterhead.
No. 764 Squadron, the third of the
instructional trio at H.M.S. Fulmar, is concerned with the training
of air warfare instructors. One A.W.I. serves as a pilot member of
each front-line fighter squadron in the specialist capacity of
adviser on weapon training and the selection of weapons for various
targets. The squadron also provides refresher courses in ground
attack and air combat for squadron commanders designate.
A.W.I. candidates are pilots of lieutenant's rank who must have
performed at least one tour of duty in a front-line squadron. After
undergoing a course of four weeks' ground instruction on weapon
theory in H.M.S. Excellent, the Navy's gunnery school, the students
do ten week's flying at Lossiemouth. All aspects of weapon delivery
are taught,rocketing, bombing, strafing and air-to-air
firing,together with ground attack and air fighting tactics. One
week of the course is devoted to ground attacks at night. Divisional
attacks and briefing, and exercises in leading a maximum number of
aircraft available in strikes, are also included in the syllabus.
Side by side with the flying training the A.W.I. course includes a
comprehensive ground instructional programme. Pupils are made
familiar with the component parts and stripping of all conventional
weapons, and the theory of air-to-ground and air-to-air fighting.
There are three A.W.I. courses annually, each averaging 15 pupils.
Squadron commanders designate, usually lieutenant-commanders or
senior lieutenants, undergo a modified form of the A.W.I. course,
which lasts six weeks. Here the accent is on leadership in the air,
and the standardization of operational techniques within the Fleet
Air Arm. Ground instruction includes lectures by specialist officers
on subjects of particular application to squadron commanders, such
as organization, administration, correspondence and stores.
Other tasks carried out by 764 Squadron are "flaps" ,front line
armament practices,for the first-line squadrons who come to
Lossiemouth to work up; refresher courses in fighter and weapon
training for pilots who are returning to front-line service after a
spell of sea time or detachment from flying duties, there is usually
a floating population of at least three of these; the maintenance
and flying on a limited basis of a small pool of young pilots
awaiting appointment to front-line squadrons after completing their
operational flying training; and the pro-vision of a comprehensive
ground syllabus on air weapon subjects and the various forms of
Fleet Air Arm air-to-air and air-to-ground attack for General
Service officers undergoing long gunnery courses.
No. 764 is also parenting the German Sea Hawk Staff el, which is one
of the first two Sea Hawk squadrons composing the newly formed air
arm of the Federal German Navy. To the writer it seemed strange to
see, in a Fleet Air Arm hangar, aircraft bearing the characteristic
German black cross and red-yellow-black flag.
A black anchor,the Federal German Navy
marking,is painted on the fuselage, together with a rabbit, which
appears to be the squadron insignia, but repeated questionings
failed to elicit the origin or significance of this emblem.
The commander of the German squadron, stocky Korvetten Kapitan P.
Jung, is 41 years old,considerably over age by British standards. A
former Luftwaffe pilot flying Me109s, Jung was shot down over Crete
in 1941 and spent the rest of the war as a p.o.w. in Australia.
The Staff el has a strength of 12 aircraft, with eight pilots,most
of them too young to have served in the war,an air engineer officer,
and its own ground crew. Initial pilot training was given at
Pensacola, in the United States, on Grumman Panthers. On arrival at
Lossiemouth for conversion on to Sea Hawks the Germans joined 736
Squadron and underwent a course similar to that given to British
But weather conditions in this country, even at Lossiemouth are very
different from those of Florida and the Germans had to be given 25
hours on Sea Vampires, mostly on instrument flying, to enable them
to obtain an Instrument Grading Certificate. This was followed by 25
hours on their own Sea Hawks, the curriculum including general
aircraft handling and tactical flying. No weapon training was given,
however, the Germans carrying out their own programme under the
parentage of 764 Squadron.
The Staffel, which includes one British pilot for liaison duties,
will shortly be leaving for Germany. More German intakes are
expected next year under NATO co-operative policy, but these
students will do all their flying training in this country,
beginning at Linton and continuing with the full fighter syllabus at
In addition to its main function as the Naval Air Fighter and Strike
School, Lossiemouth is also the parent station for three front-line
squadrons doing their own working-up exercises prior to joining
carriers. One of these, No. 803, was re-formed at Lossiemouth early
in June with F.Mk 1 Scimitars. Their work-up period, mainly devoted
to applied weapon training, will last until the end of August, when
the squadron is due to join H.M.S. Victorious. Each pilot is
expected to fly 100 hours during the work-up, including the time
spent in 700X Flight. (Formerly all evaluation trials of new
aircraft coming into squadron service were carried out at R.N.A.S.
Ford by No. 700 Squadron, known as the Trials and Requirements Unit.
Commencing with the Scimitars, however, future evaluation trials
will be conducted by pilots from squadrons who are to re-form with
the new aircraft they will be testing, under the temporary
To mark the introduction of the Navy's first swept-wing aircraft
those members of 803 Squadron who participated in the trials of the
new aircraft now sport a special tie, the design of which consists
appropriately of scimitars on a Navy-blue ground.
The pilots are full of enthusiasm about their new aircraft, which
they maintain has the highest performance of any in British service
today. As a counter to such encomiums the ground personnel at
Lossiemouth consider the Scimitar to be the noisiest aircraft they
have yet been called upon to handle.
Following the recent decision to concentrate the tasks of Home Air
Command in larger groups at fewer bases, which has resulted in the
closing of a number of stations, an Aircraft Holding Unit is now
stationed at Lossiemouth. The task of the unit, which deals with
all-weather and strike aircraft and came from the R.N.A.S. Stretton,
is to receive new or re-worked aircraft from the contractors' works
or Naval aircraft yard and check and equip them for, Service use;
inspect, rectify and modify aircraft returned from user units;
modernize certain types of aircraft; hold aircraft in a suitable
state of preservation when not required for immediate
use; and to retain aircraft which have been written off charge
At present the unit holds about 320 aircraft, of which 140 are in
use. These include Dominies, Sea Princes, Sea Devons, Balliols,
Meteors and Vampires. Among other types awaiting. disposal are a
number of Wyverns and Seamews. The unit's maintenance test pilot
checks all aircraft received, and will shortly be test-flying the
Hunter T.8, due to replace 736 Squadron's Sea Vampires. While the
Fighter School comes under the jurisdiction of the Flag Officer
Flying Training, the Holding Unit remains the responsibility of the
Flag Officer Reserve Aircraft.
As with other Naval air stations, Lossiemouth has a resident
helicopter search-and-rescue section, equipped in this instance with
three Dragonflies. All are fitted with a rescue winch and
ten-channel V.H.F. radio, and the section has a full set of rescue
gear. There are three pilots, three aircrewmen and nine maintenance
The section's chief task is to provide a speedy rescue service for
crashed aviators, and this entails intensive training with the
station squadrons, local ships and lifeboats. There are also
frequent calls for emergency rescue work unconnected with aviation,
and for transporting urgent medical cases to hospital. In 1956
Lossiemouth's helicopter unit was awarded the Boyd Trophy for its
part in the rescue of the crew of the Norwegian steamship Dovref
To avoid confusion during lost-aircraft searches the station
operations room maintains an aircraft wreck chart, and has
established a "rapid-search plan" which obviates lengthy briefing of
the helicopter pilots in the early stages of search for a missing
aircraft. Fuel dumps are also established at various points
throughout the countryside for the use of helicopters on extended
A motor fishing vessel is attached to the station, mainly for the
purpose of exercising aircrew in wet dinghy drill. At Lossiemouth
this is the province of a 3rd Officer, W.R.N.S., who is the
safety-equipment officer. All students and station aircrew undergo
wet and dry dinghy drill, dry winching, and instruction in the use
of the ejection seat, the station possessing its own rig for this
Pinned up on the walls of hangars, offices and classrooms are a
number of illustrated flight-safety posters known as "Lossie Mouses."
This is an adaptation of American practice, whereby anyone guilty of
carelessness or an error of judgment notes down the brief details of
his slip, signing himself "Any Mouse",a play on the word
"anonymous." These confessions are passed to a senior pilot
designated as the flight safety officer, who thereupon, with the aid
of an eye-catching sketch, draws up an appropriate safety reminder
for the benefit of others on the station. One such "Lossie Mouse"
noted by this writer was headed "Suspect Engines Should be put u/s,"
the culprit having been a Dominie pilot who took up his aircraft
despite an oil leak (he saved his neck only by making a "dirty dive"
on Lossiemouth's runway, which, incidentally, at 3,000 yards is one
of the longest in the country).
The station offers plenty of off-duty diversions for students and
instructional staff, which include some enviable salmon fishing
(through the courtesy of local lairds), shooting, sailing and golf.
As the Cairngorms can be reached within two hours some first-class
mountaineering and (in winter) ski-ing are available almost at the
back door. The station also boasts its own riding club, with six
The present commanding officer of H.M.S.
Fulmar is Captain F. M. A. Torrens-Spence, D.S.O., D.S.C., A.F.C.,
R.N., who as a Swordfish pilot participated in the famous Fleet Air
Arm raid on Taranto in 1940. It is a far cry from the "Stringbag" to
the Scimitar, but the standard of efficiency as exemplified in the
Naval Fighter School is as high today as it was when a handful of
Naval airmen put an enemy battle-fleet out of action in its own