J/T Mo 'Noddy' Hawkins

My Middle East memories

My twelve-month unaccompanied tour in Aden and Bahrain in 1967/68, enabled me to continue my love affair with Sir Sidney Camm’s Hunter, which started after I left RAF Halton as an Airframe Fitter for 229 OCU at RAF Chivenor in 1965 and continued for another ten years when, on my return to the UK, I was posted back to RAF Chivenor. When that station closed in 1974, I moved with the TWU Hunters to RAF Brawdy.

My first memory of Aden was stepping off the British United Airways VC10 charter plane into the wall of heat that was RAF Khormaksar. Having spent just over a year on 229 OCU at RAF Chivenor, it was inevitable, I suppose, that I should join the Hunter SSF at Khormaksar, servicing the FGA.9s which at that time carried a combination of 8 Squadron and 43 Squadron markings. My job was scheduled servicing of the Hunters, and one abiding memory is standing in the cockpit of a Hunter in the SSF hangar when terrorists blew up a Vickers Viscount of Aden Airways on the adjacent pan. The aircraft was parked no more than 200 yards from where I was working - one minute it was there and a second later it disappeared in an enormous explosion. Wreckage flew in all directions, including a large panel that arced over the fence and landed yards from where we were working. The explosion was followed by Aden Airways crews running around, starting up the engines on the DC3s parked nearby, and taxiing them away from the burning wreck.

During the six months I was at Khormaksar, the time was broken up by a number of detachments to Sharjah, Masirah and Salalah. It was during a Sharjah detachment that while on MASB duty at the end of the runway, a Hunter FGA.9 landed rather heavily in front of me. Once it had back-tracked up the runway, I ducked under the port wing to pull the MASB safety plug, and realised that I could see daylight through the top of the undercarriage bay; the landing in fact had been so heavy that the undercarriage had been forced up through the wing, cracking the main spar and wrecking the pintle housing at the top of the leg. The engine was shut down and the aircraft towed, very carefully, back to the hangar for major repairs. I remember thinking to myself as I fitted the ground lock to the port undercarriage jack, out on the runway, “Why am I bothering to do this???”

I remember, too, stepping off a Blackburn Beverley at RAF Masirah, as a large gang of local Arabs crowded excitedly round the front of the aircraft. Moments later, the propellers were slipped into reverse pitch by the pilot and the whole crowd disappeared in a huge man-made sandstorm, emerging coughing and spluttering as the aircraft backed slowly away from the edge of the ‘bondu’

Whilst on the subject of the Beverley, I wonder if anyone else has sat in the front seat of the tail boom cabin on one of these aircraft and been frightened to death as the flaps are lowered by the huge electrical actuator located on a spar, just feet from your head.

When Khormaksar was closed in the autumn of 1967, I moved with the Hunters to RAF Muharraq, up the Gulf on Bahrain Island. Now the Hunters belonged to 8 Squadron, (43 Squadron having handed theirs over, to return to the UK and later reform on the Phantom) and we worked from a building alongside 208 Squadron, also flying FGA.9s. My one claim to fame here was to paint a huge squadron badge, complete with the yellow, blue and red bands, on the blast wall protecting the Squadron building from the routinely-armed Hunters on the line. I have a single black and white photograph of this masterpiece, taken when it was only partly painted, in which one of my colleagues has chalked on the wall his not-too-flattering translation of the squadron motto, Uspiam et Passim (something about “You play ball with me and I’ll shove the bat....!”). The lettering was only about two inches high, but my wife managed to read it when I subsequently showed her the photograph! If anyone has a coloured photograph of this 8 Squadron badge, and the 208 one alongside, which I also helped with, I’d be interested in seeing it, as 1 never did take one of the finished badge. I often wonder what happened to the paintings; are they still there? My other abiding memory of Muharraq was the chance to go flying in one of the squadron’s Hunter T.7’s, XL612. We flew for nearly an hour, most of it in formation with an FR.10 which took photographs of our aircraft. My one regret was not having my own camera with me; the chance of the flight came at a moment’s notice and my camera was back at the block! I have always considered the Hunter to be a fantastic looking aircraft, and when one is flying yards off your starboard wing, it takes on a whole new dimension, a real object of beauty. But I do have some pictures of me in the T.7, taken by the FR.10, so I do have a permanent reminder of my first flight in a Hunter trainer (I had a couple more, but that’s another story). Somehow the bent-winged F.4 Phantom I worked on after just that didn’t have the same kind of magic!