By Jock Hetherington ex CPO AE
I maintained Gannets whilst serving with 724 and 816 squadrons. I was an NAM(AE) then, and I developed a great fondness for the aircraft. However, like most British military of that era they were never easy to maintain. This was not because the aircraft were intrinsically difficult as such, but getting access to component to service or repair/replace was a nightmare.
Double engine changes were a pain. Disconnecting and reconnecting aircraft systems generally required access via the nose wheel well or the bomb bay which in turn required a half squat position whereby the legs and knees would be aching after a short period.
Larger hose connections such as fire system and fuel systems were an absolute bugger. They were located between the rear section of the engines and the spanners required to disconnect/connect were quite large. Getting them onto the couplings was bad enough, however, given the limited space available actually turning the couplings had a limited range before the spanners had to be relocated. All this whilst essentially working blind at a half squat. If embarked at the time then the aforementioned were exacerbated by very poor lighting and the heat within the hangar deck.
Wire locking was quite often tricky. Even worse when the person before did not bother to curl the wire on completion of twisting. The sharp wire lay in wait ready to slash the hands and fingers of some poor sod.
It was essential to regularly clean and lubricate the breech caps of the Rotex Turbo Starters. If neglected then the removal and replacement resulted in bleeding knuckles and skin loss.
Refuelling with wings folded it was absolutely essential to double check that the fuel caps were tightly locked down. If not, then when the wings were spread things got ugly. More so if the wings were spread using the hand operated hydraulic pump. Refuelling hoses were heavy and had hand operated nozzles just like a service station. However climbing up the side of the aircraft whilst holding the hose was an effort. What the hell, we were young and strong.
Manning the brakes whilst the aircraft was being spotted on the flight deck or in the hangar one would have to ensure that the brake pressure was kept up by using the hand pump
otherwise things could get messy. After landing, brake pressure was good. However, the bloody handlers seemed to take delight in exhausting the hydraulic accumulators via a small lever on the starboard side aft. Hence the need for the hand pump and careful attention to the brake pressure gauge.
There were plenty of positive aspects about the aircraft.
They were very robust, particularly the undercarriage which was capable of handling carrier landings with ease. I cannot remember any major problems in this area. Indeed the entire fuselage gave little trouble.
They were, as far as flexible servicing was concerned, pretty straight forward. A lot of grease points to attend to due to the complex wing fold, flap and undercarriage structures. They were like most naval aircraft of the era capable of self supported starting when detached from the carrier. They were also capable of a free take off from the carrier deck. Like the Vampire,Sea Venom and Wessex they were at a period of innovation progressing from piston engine to gas turbine propulsion.
The British designers appeared to have an attitude that was diametrically opposed to the American designers with regards to maintenance access. The UH1B and the A4G were a dream to maintain by comparison.
For their era they were a pretty good anti submarine aircraft. Being twin engine permitted shutting down one engine whilst on patrol, thereby extending patrol time. Thank God for the old urine tube and rubber bladder. not easy to use but better than wet pants.
In the late stages of their operational life the airframes remained stout and reliable. However, the Double Mamba engines were showing their age. Whilst on 724 Squadron one night flying night I placed three aircraft unserviceable for compressor scrape. This could be detected by slowly turning each propeller in turn and listening to the compressor rotate.
I was sad to see the old Gannets and Venoms retired. However their replacements were far more capable aircraft in their roles.
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