This was the day before we joined the main Task Force. Before I talk about the rather interesting flying of the day there was also an interesting incident that afternoon. The Action Station alarm suddenly went off for real and we all shot down to the flight deck hearts thumping, wondering what on earth was going on. Suddenly there was an enormous bang from HMS Cardiff near us as she fired a Sea Dart. Some time later we're all stood down. Apparently the Argies were using a civilian 707 showing commercial identification, as a patrol aircraft. It only had a weather radar in it but that was probably enough to find us. Unfortunately because of the civilian IFF it took too long to gain approval to take it out and by the time Cardiff fired it was out of range. Apparently there was concern that they might have packed it full of nuns or orphans so that we would be branded as war criminals.
We knew we were getting close......
About midnight and I'm in my normal aircrew position of horizontal in my pit,snoring away, when there is a knock on my door. Bob sticks his around it and tells me to get dressed, we're flying.
Someone has a radar contact out to the east and no one knows who it is. We are to load up with 4.5 inch flares and go and find out. To say I was apprehensive about this is a gross understatement. Dropping flares at 1500 feet on a potential enemy is not the most sensible thing to do as I have mentioned in a previous post. Still it was time to earn all that flying pay so off we went. It didn't help that the weather was looking pretty foul with low cloud and a big Atlantic swell.
Climbing up into the gloop we soon found the contact and proceeded to get upwind. Orange Crop was silent which was good, maybe they didn't know we were there - they soon would. The idea was to drop the flares upwind of the target and then loop round and descend so that hopefully the silhouette of the ship could be seen against the light of the flares. Which is exactly what we did. We used three flares and then turned and descended. I got down to one hundred feet and saw exactly nothing except the distant loom of the flares somewhere in the gloop. Shit. So up we climbed to use the other three. If it was an enemy he certainly knew we were there now. This time we kept the circuit tighter and I continued down until the radar altimeter was well below fifty feet and we saw her. A black silhouette with a red flashing light. My first thought was that they were shooting at us with tracer but we immediately recognised the shape of a British replenishment ship. The light was a red tinted aldis lamp. I used to be pretty good at reading Morse code but not there and then, I was busy doing other things like not flying into the sea. However I suspect the message might have been a tad rude. If we were apprehensive about what we were up to how did she feel when some strange helicopter started dropping flares on her??
Anyway all's well so back to mum. On the glideslope and no sign of the Glide Path Indicator. The ship is controlling us and with my instrument rating I'm allowed to descend to 125 feet. At that height I can see absolutely nothing and have to overshoot. We try again with Bob monitoring the approach on our own radar. I ask for the lights to be turned up to max brightness. Still nothing even though I go way below my minimum height. At this point the controller in Bristol chips in, he has clearly been watching what is going on and gives us more vectors. Suddenly I see the lights, very close and far too bright. Calling for them to be turned down we plonk down on the deck in very thick fog. The problem with dark nights is that you can't see when the fog rolls in. Had we known we would have gone into full Poor Visibility Approach mode and done things very differently.
The debrief was very interesting for all sorts of reasons!
Sort of wot we saw.