Stories

Some Pilots Never Forget Their FE

The following is a piece written by our very own committee member 'Nick' Nicholls about his late father and explains some of the reasons behind the very kind £500.00 donation to the association from his late fathers estate.

Sqn Ldr. F.A. (Nick) Nicholls

My father began his RAF career in February 1942 and commenced his flying training in 1944 at No17 Service Flying Training School in Canada and, on completion, was promptly dispatched to see the war out in Mauripur, India.


On his repatriation in 1947 there were a glut of pilots and he retrained as an Air Traffic Controller and became SATCO at RAF Acklington. He was finally given a flying tour in 1950 and Moved to No 241 OCU at RAF Dishforth for Multi Engine Refresher training on Halifax followed by No236 OCU for conversion to the Shackelton Mk1 and eventually a posting to No 224 Sqn at RAF North Point, Gibraltar. So began a long and distinguished association with the Shackelton and maritime operations. It was during this period that he developed a high regard for the Air Engineer branch. I lost count of the times, as a child, I was wakened during the night to find the remnants of a Shack crew “de-briefing” in our living room over beers and “Egg Banjos”, which my long suffering mother had been dragged from the comfort of her bed to make. Needless to say the last men standing were usually my father and his Engineer.


Apart from a tour at RAF Shawbury flying Varsity, Valletta and the Beverly the “Kipper Fleet” was where he was happiest and there followed tours on the ASWDU at RAF Ballykelly, No11 Sqn (RAAF) at Richmond (Neptune P2V7), MOTU at RAF Kinloss and finally 37 Sqn in Aden. During this time he accumulated over 10,000 flying hours in the Shackelton and three Queen’s Commendations for “valuable service in the air”. In the maritime world they operated ‘constituted crews’ and, as ‘The Skipper,’ he took his duties of his crew welfare seriously. This invariably resulted in long debriefing sessions in our MQ involving beer and the ubiquitous ‘Egg Banjo’. I lost count of the times I would come down in the morning, on my way to school, to find a body ‘crashed’ on our settee. In most cases with an “E” brevet on his flying suit.

 

Maritime Squadrons had a ‘Family’ feel about them and a very tight bond within a crew, so it was not surprising that, during my childhood, I inherited some adopted ‘Uncles’ and, with the exception of one, all Engineers. During the tour on MOTU at RAF Kinloss my father’s Engineer was one ‘Uncle’ Len Scofield and he was to have a very positive influence on the path I was to tread. As a 15 year old and a member of the ATC I was privileged to be able to go flying on MOTU exercises and logged 250 hours, mostly for-mated on ‘Uncle’ Len’s left elbow.


Following the tour on 37 Sqn my father was initially posted to the Belfast OCU but at short notice the posting was switched to No 7 course on the VC10. Like all pilots who flew the VC10 he fell in love with the aeroplane and was even happier to learn that there would be a F/E on the flight deck. When he first started flying the BZN-HKG route I was stationed in Muharraq so was able to meet up with him and join the crew for post flight beers in Brit House. It was here that he and his Eng, the irrepressible Terry Fensome, would give me an ear bashing about applying to become aircrew. Four years later, I will not forget the look of pride my father's face at my graduation when the ‘E’ brevet was pinned to my chest. From that day forth I shared a bond with him that was missing as just his son.

 

“ Hi son, come on in. It’s a six-pack to join”.

 

When he left the RAF to fly the ‘10’ for Gulf Air it was my turn to drop in to see him in Bahrain. Inevitably I’d arrive at his bungalow at Awali to find him in shorts,flip-flops a case of ice cold Amstels and two or three of his mates, all F/E’s, putting the world to rights. “ Hi son, come on in. It’s a six-pack to join”.

In his retirement tragedy struck in the form of a massive stroke, which tragically left him paralysed on one side and, worse, robbed him of his speech. He could receive but not transmit. During those five difficult years prior to his death he had four regular visitors who, when flying into the UK, would always make a point of driving up to to see him, sit with him at the kitchen table and, over a brandy and lemonade, talk to him about “flying stuff”. All four were Flight Engineers.

My father understood and respected that symbiotic relationship between the pilot and engineer. When I told him that Cathay Pacific was ordering the B747-400 with two pilot operation I distinctly remember his reply. “Sod that, I can cope with anything in the air as long as I’ve got an Engineer with me”.

 

As the executor of his estate I am delighted to make this donation to the Air Engineer/Flight Engineer Association on  his behalf. He definitely would have approved.

 

D.A. (Nick) Nicholls