Friday, 4 May 2012

5 May 1982 - a wake up call in more ways than one

Logbook: To Lee-on-Solent,  35 minutes
                ECM Jammer Check Test Flight (CTF) and Return to VL 2.05 Hours

Simple entries that hide a rather interesting days flying.  We set off that morning with three of the  flight in the back, to the airfield at Lee.  We were to report to the NATIU (Naval Aircraft Trials Installation Unit) to start work on the Exocet jammer.  The forecast was not good and the airfield at Lee no longer had any radars to control aircraft in poor visibility.  I should know I flew the last Ground Controlled Approach to the airfield in a Sea King the previous year.  The closer we got the worse the low level fog became.  By the time we were approaching the Solent there was about four hundred feet of low cloud/fog shrouding the whole area.  We weren't going to let that stop us getting in and in the first of quite few breaches of the 'rules' over the months to come, we descended into the gloop with Bob ensuring the area of the Solent was clear using our own radar.  The rules of instrument flying state you have to be 'clear of cloud and in sight of the surface'  well at thirty feet on the radar altimeter that's exactly what we were.  I could see the sea and we we weren't in cloud (it was fog!).  Using a combination of radar and me recognising certain buoys marking the various channels in the Solent (from my yacht racing days), we 'grobbled' our way in, ie slowly and carefully. The airfield is right by the beach and we saw it and the perimeter fence in good time, if you count seeing them in just enough time to avoid flying in to them!   We soon landed at the NATIU site.
The NATIU guys and flight team worked miracles that day and by mid afternoon the back of the aircraft was full of electronics and a funny aerial thingy was hanging off the port weapon station.  Basically the system consisted of a jammer taken out of a Canberra bomber and shoehorned into a Lynx.  The biggest worry was that the transmit and receive aerials were mounted next to each other whereas on the bomber they were on either wing.  That afternoon we got airborne and turned it on. It all seemed to work.  Mounted on a building at the Admiralty Surface Weapon Establishment on the Portsdown hills was an Exocet head.  We flew the aircraft towards it and were able to pick up the radar on our Orange Crop.  the problem was getting the exact frequency for the jammer.  Mounted on the dashboard ahead of Bob was an old fashioned dial which swung around as the receiver swept the frequency band.  When it intercepted the frequency of the missile head, a chirping noise could he heard over the intercom and Bob could mark that point on the dial with a chinagraph pencil.  He could then turn on the Jammer and tune it to the same frequency on the dial by aligning the needle with the dot.  Yeah right!! In a vibrating helicopter on a dial needle that moved quite fast with an old fashioned grease pencil.  It worked, sort of but it was clear to us that it was a bodge too far.
We were despatched back to Yeovilton that night while the boffins at NATIU thought up more cunning plans.

Sorry about using this picture so much but its the only one I've got of the jammer - on the port side you can see the two square aerials, one for the receiver one for the transmitter.

That evening I arrived home late, just as the nine o'clock news came on.  The look of shock and tears streaming down Fiona's face were a surprise to say the least.
'HMS Sheffield has just been sunk' she told me.  'They weren't sure whether it was a torpedo but now they're saying it was probably some sort of missile.'
What we were going to try over the next few days had suddenly taken on a frightening importance.

1 comment:

  1. Navigating by buoys sounds original. I don't remember that in the flying manual. Someone reading this might just remember doing something even worse approaching Aalborg, in thick fog, but I'm sworn to secrecy!