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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.

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.

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 defended harbour.

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 defended harbour.


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 the


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 photograph below.

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 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.

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 hacks.



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 students.


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 Lossiemouth.


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 unit-number 700X.)
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 pending disposal.
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 crew.


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 jell.
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 operations.
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 purpose.


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 hacks.

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 defended harbour.