15 - Ministry of Supply - RDT3
RDT3 was a unit attached to the Assistant Director of Aircraft Design Requirements in the department of Controller, Aircraft (CA) in the Minstry of Supply, St Giles Court, London. The function of the unit was the procurement of the flying publications for all UK military aircraft under contractual arrangements placed on the aircraft manufacturers and within the AvP70 specification. The unit worked with the RAF Handling Squadron at Boscombe Down under the sponsorship of the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Training). That was the set-up when I joined RDT3 in the Spring of 1961. The unit consisted of a Chief Experimental Officer, two Senior Experimental Officers, two Experimental Officers and two Retired Officers (Class 2) or two Squadron Leaders on loan from the RAF. The Experimental Officer Class became absorbed by the Scientific Officer Class later on. Each officer was alloted a group of aircraft shared out in work-load terms, with two or three major projects plus some minor ones (older and simpler aircraft, for example).
My first job was a priority one because of events. The English Electric Lightning Mk 1 had just come into service but no official Pilot's Notes had been issued, other than an unofficial set of English Electric prototype notes which had not gone through the recognised vetting and validation processes. What is more, the Handling Squadron was unable to supply any aircraft handling material because the project pilot had been killed in an accident before starting his trials. As a recent Handling Squadron pilot, I was asked to produce the whole of the official book, obtaining the handling material from the manufacturer's test pilots and the 'A' Squadron test pilots at Boscombe Down. With the help of one of English Electric's technical staff for the descriptive section of the book, I had it finished by the year's end.
Some years passed dealing with various new marks of Lightning and Hunter. When the Tripartite Evaluation Squadron of the Hawker Siddeley Kestrel jump-jet project became a firm programme, I was entrusted with the control of the production of the Pilot's Notes. Under the contract, the draft of the book had to be delivered to RDT3 by the manufacturer within a finite timescale. When it was received, it did not match the data of the Volume 1 - Technical Manual, so I rejected it. A row arose between RDT3 and Bill Bedford, the Hawker Chief Test Pilot, but it was resolved. The affair had the beneficial effect of getting Hawkers to employ some ex-RAF aircrew in the Firm's Technical Publications Department, who were excellent contributors and two of whom (Ian Craig and David Neville) served RDT3 and the Firm well, certainly until the end of my time in RDT3 - and no doubt beyond it.
Early in 1967 a peculiar request hit the desk of my boss. An Army unit of the RASC was in training at Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire to form a Hovercraft Squadron of six SRN-6 craft. They had an SRN-5 as a development model and they needed official handbooks in the fashion of military aircraft publications. It was agreed that RDT3 was best placed to supply them and I was given the job. I obtained the technical data from the manufacturer and found I could write the descriptive section without help. The operating limitations would be supplied by the scheme's Development Project Officer. All I really needed was the handling information. The Reference Cards of listed drills and procedures would write themselves. I pitched camp at Lee and got down to it with a former Boscombe Down test pilot who had switched roles (and eventually joined 'HoverLloyd' I heard). I put to sea with him and stood behind his seat as he conducted his tests. After several sorties he vacated the single seat and let me have a go. I enjoyed it at sea, but the directional control was almost non-existent in certain wind conditions. At the validation meeting to agree my work, I was forced to drop the term 'Hoverpilot' from the publications. Why? Because the Army would have been obliged to award the operator flying pay. It was substituted by 'Hovercrew'.
Towards the end of the sixties I was becoming rather bored producing similar material for different Marks of the same type of aircraft and needed a new aircraft or two to reawaken the enthusiasm. It came with the Lightning Mk 6. One of the senior scientific staff in the Ministry made a case for the provisison of a special aircrew book to cover the weapon system description and handling for the Red Top missile programme. There was not a qualified person in RDT3 to carry this out, but as an ex-PAI I thought I might manage it (but I said nothing to my boss as I could see an opportunity here to force a promotion). The job was advertised internally within the Ministry at Experimental Officer level. No one applied. The vacancy then had to be upgraded to Senior Experimental Officer and I then applied. I was accepted with no competition, as far as I know. I started the job immediately, as its priority was 'needed yesterday'. I found that an English Electric submission to the Ministry as a draft for the new book was a total plagiarism of a technical manual previously supplied to the Ministry for the AI 23C interception radar. I had to whittle it all down to an acceptable level for aircrew use, to make it understandable for the pilots. After its issue, I became the 'manager' for the weapons manuals for several other aircraft, and had a small weapons flight of one pilot PAI and two weapons-trained navigators who were attached to Handling Squadron to make up the team. New books written were the Nav/Attack books for the Hawker Siddeley Harrier and the Sepecat Jaguar, and the Weapons System Manuals for the Phantom, the Buccaneer and the Nimrod. These took some years to complete.
The economies which followed soon began to dilute the quality and quantity of personnel writing the publications. Handling Squadron no longer obtained the aircraft which were required for the job and had to beg flying time from the squadrons and OCUs. Change seemed to be the name of the game and it was soon a struggle to survive. RDT3 remained comparatively unscathed for a while, since no-one at the HQ seemed to know how or why we operated, and any attempt to 'rationalise' could be combated by using the quite valid 'Detri- mental to Flight Safety' ploy. Take-overs of units and directorates at the Ministries abounded.
In 1976 my boss died following a fall from a ladder at home. I applied for the vacancy, was successful and was promoted to Principal Scientific Officer. I had thus made more mileage in the Civil Service than I could have hoped to make in the Royal Air Force.
For long, we had expected a takeover by RAF Handling Squadron. With the contraction of manpower in the armed services and the hurry by officers to scramble up the promotion ladder, intrigue became rife. At this time, the plaque at the front of our building read 'Ministry of Defence (Procurement Executive)' after four or five previous titles. The armed services appeared to be closing in on us. The Government wanted to get rid of as many civil servants as possible from London and in combing the green book for likely targets someone alighted on RDT3, and had soon resurrected the old idea of an amalgamation with Handling Squadron at Boscombe Down. Most of my staff were happily living around London so, when pressed, I put in an objection to say that such a move could mean that I would be likely to lose most of them and they could not readily be replaced. I waved the 'Flight Safety' flag and the proposition went to a referendum. "Hands up all those who would go to
Boscombe if it was promulgated?" - I think it resulted in only three of the staff volunteering. But that was enough. With that number prepared to move it was just the foot in the door that MoD/Air wanted. The next move was predictable. RDT3 would be off-loaded from Procurement Executive to the RAF's Inspectorate of Flight Safety (IFS), and sure enough it was. My masters had sold me down the river. I fought my corner under IFS until I retired. I also predicted that IFS (the Inspector was no lover of RDT3) would finalise the long intrigue by having our unit dissolved and the personnel amalgamated in a re-organised Handling Squadron under the control of the Squadron's CO - and this before very long. It was done on the day after I retired as head of RDT3.
I completed my service in 1986, having spent the final four or five years representing the UK in the tripartite planning for the Tornado aircrew publications and producing a viable framework to ensure commonality in the three languages involved (English, German and Italian) and an amendment plan to have the documents published and issued on the same day in each country.
Even with all the jockeying and jiggery-pokery which I detested, I enjoyed my time in RDT3. I learned a great deal more about aeroplanes whilst there than I had expected. My colleagues were all ex-aircrew, and we spoke the same language; it was better than selling Hoovers!
My great sorrow in retirement is that my wife is not still with me to enjoy it. She died tragically within three years of my leaving the Ministry. I have had, however, the ongoing pleasure of watching the families of my two daughters grow. My elder daughter Barbara is a solicitor in Hemel Hempstead and Katherine, my younger girl, was a financial wizard in the City. Both are university graduates, the former an LLB, and the latter a BSc in Maths. Each has a daughter and at the time of writing, Katherine's is only three years of age, and with her stunning good looks, causes everyone to turn and smile. My elder grand-daughter, now eleven, is making progress possibly to become a concert flautist. They all live fairly close to me.
I stay alive via incentive. I have for long been a bit of a wine fanatic and I took it up more seriously on retirement, to become an avid collector of great wines. Any overseas holiday I take is usually spent in the vineyards of Saint-Émilion in France and from my base at one of the loveliest hotel/restaurants there, I visit the top châteaux of the Médoc and Pomerol and, of course, Saint-Émilion. I have in my cellar some bottles of wine that cannot be drunk until the first, second or even third decade of the twenty-first century. I am talking about '75 Pétrus, '82 Lafite, '83 Margaux, some Mouton-Rothschild and so on - therefore I must remain on my legs until these wines are consumed. I am fortunate that my younger daughter shares the same pursuit. I also await the arrival of a new Maria Callas and for the next Verdi, Puccini or Bellini to make an appearance. Or even the next Beethoven. So there is a whole symphony of incentives!.