J/T Dave McCandless

Dave was a J/T Engine Fitter who arrived at hot, humid and sandy 37 Squadron, Khormaksar, from a damp, cold and wet Shackleton ASF at RAF Ballykelly in January 1966.

An unusual game of cricket

“By February, I had just about acclimatised when I was sent on detachment with one of our Shacks for two weeks at Salalah. For the most part it was idyllic; no guard duties and a ride to the beach with an Arab bodyguard to take a swim in the crystal waters of the bay on most days when we were off shift.

However, one day, our relaxation was broken by news that a sandstorm was not only forecast and on its way, but was imminent. So, caught a little off guard, we frantically rushed about, dressed only in our shorts, to blank off the engines and make sure that the aircraft was turned into wind. And then it hit us, the sand stinging our exposed faces, legs, midriffs and backs as we finished blanking off the aircraft before blindly rushing into the line hut to weather out the storm.

Then .... BANG!! followed by another BANG!! against the line hut. When we looked out of the window we could not believe our eyes; two empty 45 gallon oil drums being tossed around in the swirling gale. As we were taking this in, another drum headed our way in full flight landed short and rolled towards us. The wind had suddenly changed direction and was picking up empty oil drums from the Station POL Store, initially in a downwind direction relative to us, but had now changed to obliquely upwind. If it had kept changing direction, it would eventually have blown its ‘missiles’ full astern into our aircraft.

Then some brave person made the decision that we would have to go out into the stinging, swirling sand - where visibility was down to 10 yards - and deflect these ‘missiles’ away from the aircraft (Health and Safety read no further as what happened next was beyond belief). So, six of us donned our shirts and masked our faces and left the hut armed with crewroom cricket bats, a dustbin lid and a couple of brooms. As two lookouts manned the cabbed tractor, which was parked side-on and directly behind the aircraft for maximum protection, the other four sheltered behind it - two to run to the left (me + 1) and two to the right, depending on the shout from the cab. One oil drum hit the tractor and lodged under it, I +1 managed to deflect one on the left from hitting the tail plane. It continued on, hitting the main undercarriage wheel and before bouncing off into the distance. Meanwhile, the team on the right deflected two drums that flew their way. Through good fortune and a bit of luck, none of the drums struck the aircraft and we all survived unscathed, although much redder from the sand-blasting. Lawrence of Arabia - Eat your heart out!!

Shot-up Hunters!

Being an ex-Halton apprentice (99th), I had changed a few Hunter engines during training, and I found myself on several occasions being detached to the Hunter Wing to assist them change some of their Avons. Why? Well, it transpired that as these fast jets were flying along steep-sided gorges and ravines in the Radfan, the dissidents would wait for them on the mountain tops and fire down on them with their ancient long-barrelled muskets , scoring the occasional direct hit. Thus, after each sortie every aircraft was examined for bullet holes and when any were found along the centre fuselage, out would come the engine for close inspection. Certainly, two of the engines I removed had sustained bullet holes and were shipped back to Rolls Royce in the UK for full strip and repair at enormous cost. Just one example of how we helped each other out for the common cause and the things we Shack guys would do for a sniff of burnt AVTUR.

By contrast, the dissidents had a bigger hatred for the Shackleton as the old grey lady would lumber around high above them and out of range, with a good payload on board, waiting for them to come out of their caves before dropping the ‘biz’. And that was one of the reasons why terrorists launched a 9-mortar attack on the Shackleton dispersal in 1967.”