Forward Air Controllers

One of the most daunting tasks for pilots based at Khormaksar was to be detached to an Army unit operating in an inhospitable area up-country for the purpose of directing Hunter and Shackleton strikes onto targets identified by their Army counterparts. Fortunately, a few pilots took their cameras with them and some of their ground-born experiences were captured in the following selections.

Robin Morrellís images

Another Hunter pilot on 8 Squadron, Robin Morrellís two-year tour in Aden began in 1961 and during this period he also took the opportunity to record some of his up-country experience as a Forward Air Controller on colour slides. A selection from his collection is contained in the following gallery.

Robin captured this image of an artesian well somewhere out in the desert in March 1963 while under the watchful gaze of a uniformed local

Even the camels sometimes felt the heat, this pair making the most of what shade could be found under this tree.

A Land Rover ride into the desert included a stop at this isolated village just in time to see a trader driving his camels through.

Not quite the lap of luxury but home for Hunter pilots rostered for a stint up country as a Forward Air Controller (FAC).

21 Sqn Twin Pioneer, XM957, keeps its engines running as supplies are unloaded at the tiny Wadi Ayn airstrip in March 1963.

Looking in the opposite direction, this view of Wadi Ayn airstrip provides a good illustration of the piloting skills required for flying in and out of this and similar strips dotted around the Colony. This one was laid on an incline of 1 in 10!

Another 21 Sqn Twin Pioneer, XL991, takes on passengers at another airstrip which, due to the tarmac runway behind it, was probably Habilayn.

Keeping an eye open for trouble makers, a local tribesman keeps guard on XL991 during its stopover.

Forward Air Controlling - a Hunter pilotís perspective

When Roger Wilkinís turn came to go up country with the Army to see how the other half lived, he was flown in a Beaver of the Army Air Corps to a camp on a 6,500 ft high plateau in the Radfan, some 75 miles north-east of Aden where there were some minor skirmishes with the dissidents. The idea was that the Hunter pilots would work with the FACs (Forward Air Controllers) and advise them on the Hunterís tactics and capabilities. Although Hunter pilots were not trained FACs Roger had a go several times and quite enjoyed being on the other side of the action. In the next sequence of images dating from 1964, Roger provides an insight as to what such an assignment might comprise.

One of the small desert airstrips commonly used by the AAC as seen through the front of an approaching Beaver (Roger Wilkins)

Three soldiers with combat gear about to board an AAC Beaver, XP775, at one of the up-country airstrips (Roger Wilkins)

With revolver strapped to his waist, Roger poses John Wayne-style in front of a Beaver during his stay with the Army (Roger Wilkins)

An Auster AOP.9, another type commonly used by the AAC in Aden, about to load up at a desert strip (Roger Wilkins)

With rotors still turning, Roger departs the Whirlwind to take a quick snap of a derelict building (Roger Wilkins)

The building appears to have at some time been the centre of attention from Strike Wing Hunters.

Beaver XP777 seen parked up in a deep Wadi close by an Army encampment (Roger Wilkins)

A view of the overloaded AAC Scout, XR629, in which Roger and a captured dissident were flown back to Khormaksar (Roger Wilkins)

The unforgiving landscape as seen from the front of a Beaver as it approaches the Army base (Roger Wilkins)

A view looking across the Thumier base depicting the RAF's main accommodation and landing pad; a Whirlwind waits in the background (Roger Wilkins)

XJ726, one of the Khormaksar SAR Whirlwinds, awaits its next duty at Thumier as does a 78 Sqn Twin Pioneer in the background (Roger Wilkins)

Loading up and about to start up, SAR Flight Whirlwind HAR.10, XK970, about to depart Thumier for Khormaksar (Roger Wilkins)

Of interest is the mod on the nose, no doubt a filter system for keeping dust and sand from the engine bay.

Forward Air Controlling - a Beaver pilotís perspective

Richard Grevatte-Ball was a Beaver pilot with 653 Squadron based initially at Falaise Camp and after the closure of the airfield in early 1967, he moved with the squadron to Khormaksar. The following sequence of images were taken during his spells up country where one of his duties was Forward Air Controller.

Looking across the rooftops of a typical up country village (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

A cramped Habilayn airstrip with Aden Airways DC3 (VR-AAZ), a 78 Sqn Twin Pioneer and 653 Sqn Beaver (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

Habilayn was formerly known as Thumier.

The sand blows up as a Beverley taxies along the runway prior to take off and a return trip to Ksar (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

Rear view of the same aircraft as it makes its way along the Habilayn runway (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

Another view at Habilayn depicting a Beverley touching down on the narrow strip of tarmac (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

A Beverley crew gets relief from the intense heat of an up country airstrip by sheltering in the shade provided by their aircraft, while waiting MHE to remove vehicle axle from the hold (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

An 84 Squadron Beverley on its take-off run at Habilayn. The runaway was made up of compacted sand, topped with a layer of old aircraft engine oil to keep the dust down

(Richard Grevatte-Ball)

The pilot of this Beverley carefully picks his way on two engines, across the rough surface desert airstrip that was Mukeiras (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

The power of four Centaurus engines at full bore generates a cloud of sand as a Beverley makes its take-off run from Dhala (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

Because of a mountain to its immediate north, Dhala airfield was uphill and 'one-way': landing was towards the north and the mountain face, take off was downhill to the south - away from the rock face!

The remnants of the Beverley, XM106-S, that hit a land mine while taxiing at Habilayn on 21-06-67 (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

The undercarriage was blown off and the aircraft abandoned on-site as salvage was impracticable.

An RAF Wessex, XR522-O, lifting a 105mm light gun on to high ground in the Radfan mountains (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

Army units were regularly supported by Paratroops, two of whom are seen jumping from a Navy Wessex to join in the action (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

Both men are carrying Stirling machine guns and their faces are a picture of concentration.

RN Wasp, XT437, from HMS Ashanti paying a visit to 653 Sqn at Habilayn in 'Area West' in 1967 (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

An excellent view of a village and surrounding mountains in the Hadramaut region to the north-east (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

Veteran Dakota C.4 KN452 of the Khormaksar Comms Flight about to lift off from RAF Riyan in 1967 (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

Sporting two-tone camouflage, 78 Squadron Twin Pioneer awaits departure from Habilayn for Khormaksar in 1966 (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

An unidentified 78 Squadron Twin Pioneer seen on its take-off run at Habilayn in 1966 (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

Oh dear, time for a quiz! What happened to this 78 Squadron Twin Pioneer at an up country air strip in 1966 is the question? (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

Want a clue? The nosewheel has not collapsed!!!!

Help has arrived and ropes have been attached around the prop-shafts and tailwheel in readiness for the aircraft to regain its dignity (Richard Grevatte-Ball)

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