Flt Lt Ken Parry

Having completed a tour on Hunters with 1 Squadron at West Raynham, Ken Parry was posted to Muharraq as Flight Commander, QFI and IRE on 8 Squadron for a tour that lasted from mid-1969 to late 1970. He then attended a CFS refresher course on the “mighty Chipmunk” at Little Rissington before taking up a post as OC Bristol University Air Squadron.

Life after Khormaksar

“Both we and 208 Squadron operated out of the same hangar and used the same flight line. No. 208 had been there for a while and at the time of the Aden closure when 8 Squadron moved to Muharraq, another set of offices was built above the existing 208 facilities. So, we were the ‘upstairs’ squadron and they were the ‘downstairs’ mob. When 1417 Flight disbanded at the time of Aden closure, its FR.10s were re-allocated to 8 Squadron as ‘B’ Flt; so we had about eight FGA.9s and four FR.10s during the time I was there.

Muharraq was a large base (though not as huge as Khormaksar had been) with a small proportion of accompanied posts for nominally two years, but the vast majority of people were on thirteen-month unaccompanied tours. This led inevitably to some friction and bad feeling. Offensive Support Wing consisted of 8 and 208 Squadrons, a GL Section with an Army major and a couple of FACs, and an RAF Regiment Squadron. Ops and Transport Wing had a detachment of 114 Squadron Argosys from Benson, 152 Squadron (Pembrokes) for communications duties until they were grounded for fatigue reasons, and all the facilities for the H24 staging post for transports, not just serving the Gulf but also going to Singapore and Hong Kong.

Number 8 Squadron’s time at Muharraq was much quieter than the Aden days in terms of operations. There was some involvement of ‘B’ Flt, which had the four FR.10s, in border problems around Oman - things were kept very close to a very few chests, and even as the ‘A’ Flt commander I was not privy to what went on. As far as I know, it was recce only, with no weaponry involved. Both 8 and 208 had an air defence commitment in Bahrain. There was a GCI radar in the middle of Bahrain island at Hamala, which was also the base for the UK infantry battalion. We would occasionally fly practice intercepts under their control, and some of them did not work as intended - I remember once being vectored very cleanly onto an airliner in the airway into Bahrain from the SE, instead of the intended Hunter. Ho hum.  

The experience level on the squadron was very low at the time, with mostly first-tour pilots. ‘A’ Flt’s main flying task was taking a lot of them from Chivenor, giving them experience and building their flying skills, so they were ready to go on the Harrier or Phantom when they went home. We had few experienced pilots on ‘A’  Flt, only about three or four out of around twelve had previous Hunter tours. ‘B’ Flt were more experienced - at that time, FR was regarded as more demanding than the FGA role.

Regarding the airframes, you may know that Middle East squadrons aircraft each came back to the UK every two or three years for a major service at St Athan or Kemble. That started to change during 1969, as the UK and Germany-based Hunter squadrons re-equipped with Harriers, and there were many airframe moves. Some Gulf FGA.9s were sold back to HSA and re-sold overseas, some West Raynham aircraft came to the Gulf, and so on.”

The selection of Ken’s photographs in the gallery below provides a glimpse into Hunter operations in the Gulf, in the post-Aden era.

The extended line at Muharraq in August 1970 with a mix of 8 and 208 Sqn FGA.9s and T.7s (Ken Parry)

The grease, visible on three FGA.9s, was applied around the gun ports in readiness for an APC to Sharjah: it made cleaning them afterwards easier.

Three 208 Sqn FGA.9s on the line at Muharraq with 114 Sqn (Benson) Argosys and 84 Sqn Andovers lined-up in the background (Ken Parry)

The space in between was used by visiting VC-10s, Britannias and Belfasts.

An 8 Squadron eight-ship, led by the Boss, Jock McVie, being flown in perfect formation as they return from APC at Sharjah on 18-07-69 (via Ken Parry)

8 Squadron airmen hard at it on steaming hot day during a detachment to Masirah (Ken Parry)

The squadron was there for a week or so, running a course to train FACs.

With power at 90% and nose-oleos compressed, FGA.9s, XG135-J and XF442-H, prepare to take off from Masirah in 1970 (Ken Parry)

XF442 became famous when Al Pollock flew it through Tower Bridge in April 1968, it later joining 8 Squadron.

Another 8 Sqn line-up, this time at Sharjah in August 1970. Devoid of markings, XJ714 is an FR.10 newly arrived from the UK (Ken Parry)

XJ714 taxiing at Sharjah. As the radio bay door is missing and the ladder is still attached, it is probably on a compass swing (Ken Parry)

An excellent depiction of a Hi-Lo take-off at Sharjah in November 1970 during Exercise Midlink, with the front pair climbing steeply .....

Midlink was a CENTO exercise in which 8 Squadron and the Imperial Iranian Air Force took part.

..... as the rear pair remain low to gain speed and swifty catch the front pair (both, Ken Parry)

The four FGA.9s were off to southern Iran on a hi-lo-hi simulated strike, with the promise of being bounced by IIAF F-5s.

Rear view of a pair of FGA.9s climbing away from Sharjah above a couple of grazing camels (Ken Parry)

The Middle East produces wonderful sunsets as can be gauged from this superb shot of an 8 Squadron T.7 (Ken Parry)

Martin Widdowson loosing a full can of SNEB on Rashid Range, 20 miles SW of Sharjah on 18-08-70 (via Ken Parry)

The SNEB replaced the 3" 'drain' on Middle East Hunter units in 1968.

An 8 Squadron FR.10 flying over Jebel Akhdar, Oman, probably on one of the operational sorties classified as 'Secret' until recently (Ken Parry)

Ken took this shot of the instrument panel on 8 Squadron FGA.9, XG261, during an engine air test, 26-10-70 (Ken Parry)

The route stations

Used regularly by the Hunters squadrons for APCs, Sharjah had only one accompanied post, the Station Commander, and seemed to be a much happier place than Muharraq. Based there were 78 Squadron with Wessex, 84 Squadron with Andovers, 653 Squadron (AAC) flying Beavers, and Mardet, a standing detachment of MR.3 Shackletons from UK, tasked with preventing smuggling (of both goods and people) into what was then the Trucial States, and soon became the UAE. Masirah and Salalah were both wholly unaccompanied, and neither had RAF flying units based there. Masirah was supplied by a weekly Argosy from Muharraq, leading to the conundrum: why is Masirah open? To accept the weekly Argosy. Why does the Argosy go to Masirah? To keep the airfield open.

There was a rumbling insurrection in the SW part of Oman near the South Yemen border, and my recollection is that Sultan of Oman Air Force had some aircraft at Salalah in connection with that. We were not allowed near; there was a no-go line somewhere SW of Masirah that defined the edge of our permitted training area.”