Flt Lt Ken Simpson

Having completed a tour as a fighter ground attack pilot with No. 1 (F) Squadron at West Raynham, Flt Lt Ken Simpson undertook a Reconnaissance Course at Chivenor before being posted to Aden in mid-1965, where he began a tour with 1417 Flight at Khormaksar. 

With the disbandment of the Flight in September 1967, I transferred to 8 Squadron for a few months and at the completion of my Middle East tour in late 1967 - still as a Flight Lieutenant - I went to Davis Monthan AFB near Tucson, Arizona, to do a three-month conversion course onto the F-4 Phantom. On my return from the USA, I became an instructor at RAF Coningsby, converting RAF pilots onto the Phantom.

During his tour with 1417 Flt, Ken took several thousand photographs using the nose cameras of the FR.10s and, fortuitously, retained copies of many of the more interesting subjects; the following gallery contains just a selection and more will be added in due course.

1417 Flt pilots Frank Grimshaw, Roger Neal, Ralph Chambers, Derek Whitman, Richard Johns and Ken Simpson at Ksar in 1966 ...................

......... the same sextet plus a Somali cleaner and a battered Austin (Somerset?) outside the 1417 Flight office

An essential element of pilot training in Aden were the survial exercises held on Perim Island. These two images depict the makeshift tent, ........

...... erected using a parachute by Ken, Wally Willman and ANOther, pictured here (both, Ken Simpson)

Wg Cdr Martin Chandler in an FGA.9 followed by Ken Simpson in an FR.10 appraise the Beihan runway before Martin makes the first Hunter landing there

5 August, 1966

With Roger 'Phred' Neal's initials (PhN) on its fin, 1417 Flt FR.10, XF436, flies over s stretch of rolling sand

Another 1417 Flt FR.10, this time XE614, bearing Richard Johns initials (RJ), swoops through the mountainous Radfan area

Invaluable photo-recc training was gained by photographing 'friendly' ships plying the Red Sea such as this Aden-based Minesweeper

Royal Navy aircraft carriers and their escorts were regular visitors to Aden and provided good practice subjects for 1417 Flt pilots, .............

........ the helicopter carrier HMS Albion being the centre of attention in this pair of photographs, taken over the Red Sea (both, Ken Simpson)

With a full compliment of Sea Vixens and Buccaneers, and a solitary Gannet on deck, HMS Hermes at full speed in the Red Sea (Ken Simpson)

A Royal Navy Frigate(?) takes on stores from a support ship while steaming at speed through the Red Sea (Ken Simpson)

The stores transfer process was known as 'RAS'; Replenishment at Sea.

Royal Navy barge used to ferry the ship's companies between aircraft carriers and supporting ships and the shore (Ken Simpson)

On 2 December, 1963, this UAR IL-14 'Crate' (1148) landed at Lawdar by mistake where it was trapped by a quick thinking Army officer in his Land Rover

The photograph was taken by Ken shortly before the Crate was flown down to Khormaksar by Boscombe Down test pilots.

Side view from Ken's FR.10 of Shackleton MR.2, WR952-L, on a flight over Aden while on short-term detachment to 37 Squadron in 1967

37 Sqn Shackleton MR.2, WL797-C, on patrol somewhere over the sea around Aden in 1966 (Ken Simpson)

Bearing the Scorpion markings of 84 Sqn, this Beverley was photographed low over the Indian Ocean, not far from Khormaksar (Ken Simpson)

A chance encounter with a RN Wessex from HMS Albion while supporting up country Army operations (Ken Simpson)

105 Sqn Argosy, XP412, cruises over Aden Harbour while on the approach to Khormaksar (Ken Simpson)

Operation Thesiger

Named after a traveller from earlier times, Operation Thesiger, took place in August and September 1965 and again in March 1966, and required pilots and aircraft of 1417 Flight to be detached to Salalah and Masirah respectively. “Highly classified at the time, the first Thesiger sorties were flown from Salalah by Ralph Chambers and I and involved our Hunter FR.10s flying long-range missions into the Empty Quarter, seeking out convoys bringing arms and supplies to dissident tribesmen in the EAP and Oman, and searching for illegal oil prospecting. The second series of Operation Thesiger sorties were flown from Masirah by Richard Johns and I and were accompanied by FGA.9s on detachment from 208 Squadron.

It's March 1966 and Ken Simpson awaits his next Operation Thesiger sortie out of Masirah (Ken Simpson)

Map in hand, Ken performs his pre-flight checks on the nose area of 1417 Flight FR.10, XE614-GC ...........

...... before moving on to the the starboard undercarriage and .......

....... climbing into the cockpit prior to undertaking an Operation Thesiger sortie. Masirah, March 1966 (all three, Ken Simpson)

Despite searching miles of uninhabited desert and regularly returning without having seen anything .......

...... prospectors were occasionally spotted and photographed (both, Ken Simpson)

To keep the concentration alert, innocuous objects such as this self-contained Army camp way out in the desert were photographed (Ken Simpson)

Back at Masirah, the end of a sortie by an 8/43 Sqn FGA.9 that accompanied a 1417 Flt FR.10 on Operation Thesiger (Ken Simpson)

This compliment of Operation Thesiger pilots at Masirah includes 1417 Flt's Richard Johns (3rd left) and Ken Simpson (1st right) (Ken Simpson)

The period is March 1966 and the remaining four pilots are from 208 Squadron (their names would be appreciated!)

Thesiger was not all graft - after a hard day in the cockpit, Richard Johns relaxes with a book before the bar opens (Ken Simpson)

Operation Ranji

Operation Ranji took place three times a week and involved flying along the South Arabian coast, over an area ranging 3 nm out to sea to several miles inland, searching for and photographing ships (mainly Arab dhows), trucks and camel trains, with the objective of detecting and discouraging the illegal supply of guns and ammunition to dissident tribesmen in the South Arabian Federation.

Bristling with what looks suspiciously like radio antenae, this dhow was spotted in the Red Sea several miles along the coast from Aden (Ken Simpson)

Another unusual sight captured by one of Ken's cameras was this tug and barge combination performing bouy maintenance off Aden (Ken Simpson)

A tug is captured in this image, towing a complex-looking piece of oil refinery equipment (Ken Simpson)

Cargo vessels from all over the world were a common sight in the Red Sea and were routinely photographed by 1417 Flight pilots (Ken Simpson)

This picture captured a 4x4 driving out of the sea and heading towards a stash of 'cargo' piled on the beach (Ken Simpson)

Camel trains were often used to carry dissident arms and ammunition and were deemed legitimate targets (Ken Simpson)

Bird strike

While flying an up-country sortie on 9 May, 1966, a Griffin Vulture struck Ken’s aircraft, FR.10, XE589, in the starboard intake. The huge bird entered the intake and although much of it smashed its way out through the upper skin of the wing, sufficient went into the engine causing it to surge. As the rpm stabilised in mid-range I left the throttle and by dropping my external tanks, managed to nurse the aircraft up to 10,000 ft on a heading back to Khormaksar where I was able to carry out an emergency landing.

The damage, which can be seen below, was assessed as Cat 4 and XE589 was transferred to 131 MU for several weeks for rebuild.




No brakes!

On 3 September 1966, Ken was tasked with a recce mission to Perim Island, some 95 nm west of Aden, followed by a ‘photo-drop’ to the troops deployed there. “In line with the now common practice, I had enough fuel after the recce to allow for a rapid turn-round with the engine running, the film to be processed and selected prints bagged and installed in the airbrake, and to fly back to Perim Island for the drop. Unfortunately, it was not to be. On my initial landing the aircraft overshot the runway, the starboard undercarriage all but shearing off when it struck a hidden object in the overrun, causing Cat 4 damage to the aircraft. It transpired that the brake pads, which would have sufficed in normal, low fuel, circumstances, were not up to the job for a heavyweight landing.”

Hot Seat!

While performing a flagwave in February 1967, Fg Offs Lawton and Sowler thought they were being shot at while flying over the village of Dhi Surrah as Fg Off Sowler’s aircraft, XF440, began to lose its services one by one. This may not be exactly what happened but it was a great story over a beer or two.

Eventually Sid lost R/T contact with everyone because the damage to the aircraft caused by ground fire had ruptured hydraulic lines which then caught fire and destroyed the radio bay. His No. 2 used hand signals to try and get him to eject as he could see the fire was very serious. Shortly thereafter, Sid went from power controls into manual and with a strong smell of burning, he reluctantly ejected near Al Ittihad, about ten miles short of Khormaksar. His aircraft crashed about three miles in front of him. His ejection was seen by a passing Army Officer and his Sergeant who went to his assistance. Sid was fine and said the rescue helicopter would be there shortly to pick him up. The Officer insisted that he could do something and Sid eventually (to get some peace and quiet) let him roll up his parachute and then drove off to leave Sid sitting on his parachute to wait for the helicopter.

Meanwhile the helicopter had landed at the crashed Hunter thinking that Sid was nearby! Once they had established he was not in or near the aircraft they started searching the area. Not surprisingly it took some time without the parachute to spot.

Having averted disaster in the air, he nearly sustained injury back at base. As the helicopter landed in its compound (next to Strike Wing), his mates were watching over the fence to see if he came out in bits, on a stretcher, or walking. As he climbed out of the helicopter he saw them and raised his hands above his head by way of a victory salute - nearly losing his hands to the helicopter blades which were still rotating.

Formations various

“Apart from the period when 208 Squadron provided a four-ship display team for the Command, there was very little call for formation flying in the Middle East, except on special occasions such as; The Queen’s birthday, AOC’s inspection, or the arrival and departure of assorted dignitaries or units.”

In the final few years of Britain’s tenure in Aden, it was the norm for 1417 Flight to take airborne photographs of the formations and a nice selection from Ken’s efforts is displayed in the following gallery.

On special occasions, the FGA squadrons would be tasked to perform formation flypasts and many were photographed by 1417 Flt aircraft (Ken Simpson)

Does anyone know why the figure '4' formation depicted here was flown? It occurred sometime during the years 1965-67.

This 'loose' letter 'M' formation was flown for the benefit of Wg Cdr Martin Chandler, any idea why? His birthday or departure perhaps? (Ken Simpson)

Box-four formation of 8/43 Sqn FGA.9s somewhere over Aden (Ken Simpson)

XE550-X (1), XG296-B (2), XJ680-E (3) and XF435-H (4)

1417 Flt T.7 leading four 8/43 Sqn FGA.9s (Ken Simpson)

A formation of eight 8/43 Sqn FGA.9s cast a neat shadow as they fly low over a desert area (Ken Simpson)

This diamond-nine comprising 8/43 Sqn FGA.9s, compares favourably with anything 92 or 111 Sqdns could put up (Ken Simpson)

This formation was flown especially to mark the departure of the GOC, Middle East Command.

Another nine-ship formation performs a welcome flypast for HMS Hermes as she steams up the Red Sea (Ken Simpson)

The timing could not have been better: note the Buccaneer about to land-on

Sixteen Strike Wing Hunters leading eight Sea Vixens and six Buccaneers from HMS Hermes on 12 May, 1967 (Ken Simpson)