FAA Stories…

Do you have a story to tell? 

Perhaps a little anecdote, or a memory of a particular event that has stuck in your mind?   We would love to hear from you.

Here’s a few to get things going.  Names etc have been removed to protect the innocent.

The Exploding Pie Oven

For some reason I also remembered another incident involving an exploding pie oven in the hangar or aft cross passage of HMAS X when I was working up the Flight. A boffin was using the pie oven to heat up the first Australian produced Close In Weapon System (CWIS) ammunition (ie non DU). Heating was required for environmental trials…the idea being heat the ammo up then run it through the weapon to see if all was OK. I had a look at the oven and saw that there was only one thermostat, and one temperature gauge but maybe 20 to 30 rounds of 20mm ammo (at a guess). The flight was doing spreading and stowing drills and was therefore quite close by. I went and saw the CO on bridge and said in my humble opinion this was not a good idea. He told me to bugger off as the boffin knew what he was doing and he (the CO) was busy-couldn’t I see that? Couple hours later the oven exploded due to some of the ammo cooking off. Shrapnel etc was produced. We put the fire out. No one hurt which is surprising. My notable achievement was to finally use fully, right to the bitter end one of those huge C02 extinguishers that I had been lugging around flight decks forever but never used in anger. After extinguishing the fire the Chief Stoker admonished me about my profligate use of the extinguisher demanding to know if I as a typical f-ing birdie had any idea how difficult it was to get the item recharged through  the dockyard. And he was quite right to ask as I had no idea at all.

(With thanks to Cris George)

Sailors on Fire

The Wessex was finally hoisted onto the dockside having been towed in an inverted position for some hours…we never thought it would make it as by then one of the wheel inflation bags had broken free and the wreckage was only kept afloat by the one remaining bag.  Nevertheless it was now safe on the quay and the maintenance crew immediately started to hose it down with fresh water to try and stop – or at least delay – deterioration of the structure (you could hear the magnesium alloy fizzing and popping as it reacted with the salt water).  The washing continued until first light.

A little while later a pusser’s flat-bed truck arrived and the wreck was hoisted aboard.     I arrived at that time, driving across the hard-standing toward the wreckage, my mind busy with details of the forthcoming accident investigation.  Suddenly my attention was drawn to what appeared to be an altercation amongst the crew – and sure enough, as I drew closer I could see the Chief lying on the ground with other sailors gathered around him, apparently beating him with their hands and landing an occasional kick.  He was writhing on the ground – but as I drew closer I could see it was not in response to the attack but in an effort to tear off his clothes.

Can you imagine what was going through my mind?  Assault of a senior sailor…mutiny…some sort of strange sexual fetish – and then a second sailor suddenly yelled out and began to tear at his clothes.

It turned out that a Marker Marine had fractured in the back of the aircraft and particles of Phosphorus were scattered thoughout the wreck…and in the clothes of the crew who had crawled through it as they stabilised and secured the aircraft. As it dried out and came into contact with the air the Phosphorus started to burn.  We had spot fires in the wreckage, people’s trousers and even in the baggage we had retrieved from the back – and it was darned hard to put out.  No one was badly hurt but we had a worrying time getting the wreck and everyone who’d been in it back safely.   The accident investigation course had never taught us about that.

The Hangar Deck

Hangar deck HMAS Melbourne

Hangar deck HMAS Melbourne

For those who served with the fleet-air-arm, who could forget the sights, sounds and smells of the hangar deck of an aircraft carrier?

If you’ve forgotten… then take a steady look at the picture here to refresh your memory. Do you recall the heat and humidity in the tropics? The duty nights on a stretcher under the blazing hangar lights – with all those amazing humming, rumbling, creaking and jiggling noises? No, you don’t remember? Lucky you!

If you don’t recall that then perhaps you’ll remember tripping over a wire lashing and barking your shins? Maybe you saw the plume of asbestos dust falling from the fire curtains as they rolled up or down? How about the ding-ding of the lift-bell as it descended to the level of hangar deck? Is it all coming back?  

They say a smell is something not easily forgotten. So, there should be no trouble bringing to mind the pungent aroma of avgas, aviation turbine fuel and hydraulic fluid hitting the nostrils when stepping from an airlock onto the hangar deck of Melbourne. And for those who served on the early days of Vengeance and Sydney will remember the same but with an avgas twang – and a whole lot more.    

A look around the bulkheads and deck head of a hangar reveals a bevy of spare parts including wings, propellers, fuel tanks and wheels. It’s not hard to imagine that a complete aeroplane might be assembled from all these parts.

Chances are you will recall those who serviced the aircraft. Do you remember seeing a face deep in concentration as a spanner was applied? The boots of an electrician dangling over a cockpit ledge? That radio chap with headphones and using one of those long screwdrivers. And aircraft handlers telling you to ‘hurry up’ because your aircraft is to about to be moved?

For those who toiled there in tropical heat, slept there on duty nights, dropped their tool box on their toe or stepped backwards onto someone else’s, or manhandled aircraft to and from the flight deck. It’s easy to remember, but hard to forget, wouldn’t you say!

Photo caption: Sea Venoms and Fairey Gannets, pictured from ‘C’ hangar, on HMAS Melbourne, circa 1960. (Story and Photo – Kim Dunstan)

The sinking of ‘Kungah Maris’

Kungah Maris 2‘Kungah Maris’ was a 63ft, ex-RAF Air Sea Rescue vessel, built in 1959, by Groves on the Isle of White. She was acquired by the Department of Defence and transported to Australia as deck cargo on HMAS Melbourne, in 1977, on return from the Silver Jubilee Review. When off-loaded from ‘Melbourne’ and lowered into the water at Sydney Harbour the wooden hull of ‘Kungah Maris’ was found to be leaking badly. The cure was to have it sheathed in a protective layer of fibreglass, which proved very effective – for a while, anyway.

Made seaworthy again ‘Kungah Maris’ was based at HMAS Creswell on the South coast of NSW, from 1977 to 1993, where she was used for weapons recovery work during early trials with ‘Ikara’ (the anti-submarine missile) and with Grumman Tracker aircraft in anti-submarine exercises. In the later stages the majority of the work was ‘acceptance testing’ and development of the BARRA sonobuoy in conjunction with the Sonobuoy Test Range on Bherwerre Ridge, Jervis Bay. And recovering sonobuoys dropped by RAAF aircraft during joint RAN-RAAF anti-submarine exercises. Also towing RAN surface targets for weapons practice serials – one of which had just been completed on the morning she sank – starting rumours ‘Kungah Maris’ had been hit.

Initially ‘Kungah Maris’ was manned by RAN sailors and maintained at HMAS Creswell. However, in 1984, in a move to free-up sailors for other duties, tenders were call for the boat to be operated by civilian contractors. This highly successful arrangement operated for over 9-years and continues with the replacement vessel ‘Kimbla,’ which took-on the name of ‘HMAS Kimbla’ when she was decommissioned. Nowadays ‘Kimbla’ operates with the civilian crew co-operating with the navy and air force in weapons recovery work during exercises off the NSW coast in the vicinity of Jervis Bay. In the early 1990s ‘Kungah Maris was hired by the CSIRO for environmental surveys of Jervis Bay when there was a possibility that the Fleet Base would be moved to Jervis Bay.

Anyone who is familiar with the ocean in this part of the world – beyond the sheltered waters of Jervis Bay – will understand that ‘Kungah Maris’ was generally operating in a sea state that, at best, would be classed moderate – and which could very quickly change to heavy. This placed constant strain on ‘Kungah Maris’ and a lot of pressure her crew in order to carry out the task required. Yet, ’Kungah Maris’ continued in service for 16-years, until that fateful day on December 10, 1993 when she sank.

Kungah Maris 1Scott Corson was the Master of ‘Kungah Maris’ on the day. He said: ‘We were returning to Jervis Bay after a surface target towing exercise with ‘HMAS Hobart, outside Jervis Bay, where conditions were fair with a moderate swell. It was about 7.00 o’clock when one of the crew decided to go below to make a cup of coffee, only to find several inches of water sloshing around the galley.’ Scott said ’ we quickly checked other compartments only to discover that flooding had spread throughout the vessel as there were no watertight bulkheads between compartments. Scott said despite immediately starting the pumps, they could not cope with the inflow of sea water and ’Kungah Maris’ began to settle in the water.

Scott said, ‘from the time we started the pumps to the stage we realised the position was hopeless it was no more than 15-minutes. In the meantime we sent out a radio alert to the navy ships in the area saying that we were taking on water and we needed immediate assistance. Fortunately ‘HMAS Hobart’ was within a few kilometres and was able to reach us without too much delay. But it was an unnerving experience for the crew to be standing there with life vests on, with water washing over the deck and the prospects of a swim,’ said Scott.

‘After ‘Hobart’ rescued us we witnessed a sorry sight as ‘Kungah Maris’ slid beneath the waves into 1,400 metres of water. The crew of ’Hobart’ supplied us with warm, dry clothing and returned us to JB. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to discover the root cause of the sinking, although a Naval Board of Enquiry was held. The prime suspect has to be a collapse of part of the wooden hull covered by the fibreglass sheathing, preventing proper inspection of the hull’s condition’. After 16-years of solid service with the RAN (and who knows how many with the RAF) operating in seas that were hardly ideal for a vessel of that size, type and construction – ‘Kungah Maris’ finally went to Davey Jones’s Locker. A sad ending for ‘Kungah Maris’ – the ex-RAF ASR vessel No.1383 – yet she had a remarkable and varied 34-years in service.  

(With thanks to Kim Dunstan)

My Only Trip in a Sea Venom (with an Ejection Seat)

The target tow (with a big dayglow target) may have been one of the last Sea Venom flights undertaken as the Skyhawk had the Delmar Target system installed. It was in 1970, and a hot day, and followed a briefing of “I will attempt to takeoff by the time we get to the tower. If it won’t go then, and if we are above 80 kts, I will say Eject, Eject, Eject. You are to pull the canopy release handle then eject as you must go before I go otherwise you will be burnt by my seat as I eject. If we are below 80 kts then we have to stay in the aircraft but lift your feet as there is a ditch at the end of the runway that we probably will go through and, by the way, the bomb dump is to the left of the intersection”.  Oh charming.

So off we trundle slowly gathering speed and together with the increasing tension as my eyes are fixed on the rapidly approaching control tower. The tower goes past and we are still on the ground with the pilots stick still pulled back into the pit of his stomach. My hand by now has the grip of death on the canopy jettison handle as my eyes are now intensely fixated on the rapidly approaching intersection. After what appears to be an enormous amount of time and runway, we unstick quite reluctantly at the intersection to begin the target tow serial.   The serial had to be cancelled as unfortunately, the towed target remained firmly attached to the aircraft perhaps as it was unwilling to be shot at. So ended my one and only flight in a Sea Venom.   

Lessons Learned

As a young Tiffy (AA3) straight out of Nirimba a with a head full of knowledge I had to undertake an A4 course and part of that was to watch an engine change that fortuitously occurred while the course was on.   So, on the first day on the squadron I came back from lunch to find an engine change occurring; the tail had been removed probably that morning.  However, only one person, an AA2/PO, was removing the engine.  My very recent course knowledge told me that at least six maintainers were needed to remove the engine.  As I walked past the engine removal dolly, the PO asked me to give him a hand.  “Do we need anymore people” I asked? “No he” replied “I know what I’m doing” and  told me that my task was to wind the engine out.  “Tell me if its hard to wind out” was the instruction given to me.   So turning the handle a couple of turns I tell him that its tight and I can’t turn it.  He performs a run around the aircraft looking into all access doors/panels and then tells me to give it another try as the removal dolly and the engine may not be quite aligned.  So I turn the handle again with the same result – too hard to turn.  He does the all holes check again and tells me to “Well, put some muscle behind it” which I dutifully do.  This is shortly followed by a big bang with the engine very easily rolling down the dolly rails.  Standing in front of the Commander at the investigation that followed a short time after, but as a witness, I find out that the components of the bang was the CSD door had fallen down and the CSD tearing a hole in the door, that a couple of hydraulic lines had been pulled apart as well as well as some electrical leads had been pulled apart as I applied “The extra muscle”.  The AA2 was taken off aircraft maintenance and left shortly after to become an X-ray machine mechanic. A valuable lesson was learned, albeit at someone else’s expense, about doing maintenance or anything the right way and not trying to cut corners.  

Tales of the Tiffy 2.

The Skyhawk squadron, VC724 SQN, was an interesting organisation to be a part of in the early ‘70s. It was full of characters that were missing when I came back to the squadron in the early ‘80s. 

There were some interesting individuals and one was an unnamed Naval Airman (NA) who was fond of a drink or three as were a number on the squadron.  Different days then.  My first detachment was to RAAF Base Williamtown (1971?) and the NA was one of the support crew.  It was he days of the last of the RAAF Sabres as they were progressively handed over to the Indonesians.  It was also when the Army parachute school was at Williamtown.  Where is this going you may well ask? 

Well it seems the NA and his…erm…fondness for drink managed to get himself in the same bar, the RAAF boozer, as some of those strange chaps who like to jump out of serviceable aircraft. The next day, still in a haze, he fronts up to the flight line hut looking like he had been in a cat fight.  It seems that the previous night he had “won” his para wings (half a dozen jumps? from a serviceable aircraft) the night before.  “But you didn’t jump from an aircraft” we chorused.  “No” he said, “It was from the second storey of an accommodation block”.  “And where did all the blood and scratches come from?” we said.  “Well” he said, ”I kept landing in the rose bushes below the jump window”.

As I said before, the 70’s were interesting days.


Tales of the now RAAF Tiffy 3.

I transferred over to the RAAF in April 1985 becoming a Flight Sergeant Airframes on a non-reduction allowance as a Navy Chiefs  pay was greater than a RAAF Flight Sergeants pay to the tune of $7.40 a fortnight.   
A couple of interesting things happened that delineated the RAN from the RAAF. When I first arrived at Amberley I lived on the base (no more of this living on board stuff) as I was back off to Wagga to undertake a Systems Technicians Course (Systech) in July.  The first was “Monday is sheet change day” said one of my fellow workers who lived “in” to my “What is that?” “On Mondays we put our sheets outside our doors and they put a set of clean sheets at the end of our beds” he replied.  “Truly?” says I unbelieving what I had heard. 
The next was getting the blokes to work back on a Friday afternoon as knock-off was at 1400. My Warrant Officer came up to me and said that I would have to ask the blokes to work back on Friday afternoon past 1400.  “Ask” says I, “Why not tell them” said I naively. “You will have to negotiate with them” he said. “What, negotiate?” said I. In my previous existence it was watch on stop on until all work is finished (he thinks back to his first day at Nirimba and the watch on, stop on briefing by the crusty old Petty Officer).  “Yes” he said, “You will have to offer then Leave in Lieu.”  “Leave in what” says I. He then explained what Leave in Lieu was i.e. for every hour worked they get an hour off. as I stood there mouth agape and thinking “What on earth have I stumbled into in this outfit called the RAAF? “   So, negotiate I did and they worked back accruing an hour off for every hour they worked and wasn’t I glad it wasn’t time and a half or double time off that they wanted.   

David Prest ex-CPOATA4

Tales of the Tiffy 4

I am forever grateful for the mentoring I received from Eddie Bracken, Jim Lee, Ray Larsen, Jackie Day and Banjo Patterson.  I learnt a lot from them.  The patience of Eddie Bracken teaching me to start and run a Skyhawk while leaning over the edge of the cockpit.  The wise words of Jim Lee, Ray Larsen, etc didn’t preclude me from making the odd mistake (that I will admit to).

The Constant Speed Drive (CSD) that produced the required electrical output no matter what speed the engine was doing and was bolted onto the front of the engine, and was a beast of a thing to service.  It was hidden behind a door that usually fell down while you were inspecting the reservoir for the fluid level or servicing it.  From a dodgy memory, to service the CSD you had to remove it from the front of the engine, which involved cutting the lock wire, undoing the clamp, rotating the CSD to free it from the key hole cut into the front of the engine and then lifting it out taking care not to drop it onto your head before lowering onto the servicing platform.  Installing it was a reverse procedure.  To simply top up the fluid level a filter held in place by a bayonet connection was removed then the fluid could be pumped in.  The problem was that the filter, being held in by two small pins, could easily pop out.  A fellow Tiffy 2 replenished the fluid level and asked me to check the filter to see if it was secure.  I replied “As we are of the same skill level, if you haven’t installed the filter correctly then I wouldn’t be able to so I won’t check it”.  The task was performed at night and an engine run was required to confirm that the electrical output was correct due to the CSD doing its thing.  The engine run was duly performed with the result that the electrical power died as the filter popped out with the engine intake pressure draining the fluid out and the CSD being left dry and dying. 

Very shortly after that, the next day perhaps, I was the centre of attention at the technical inquiry with a number of technical personnel looking at me most severely.  Due to the passage of time I’m not sure what the sentence was “awarded” to me.  However, a most important lesson was learnt that day.  

Some years later I was again performing a service on a CSD and after triple checking that the filter was in place, performed the required engine run.  During this run I noticed that the fire guard looking intensely at the aircraft in a “What’s happening here” look.  I quickly shut down the engine and asked the fire guard what he saw “There was white smoke coming out of the tailpipe Chief”.  So, I climbed up to have a look at the CSD to find yes, that rotten filter had popped out in spite of my attempt to ensure that it was securely in place.  A lucky escape that time.

David Prest ex-CPOATA4