Lt Tim Notley (RN)

Having completed a tour flying Scimitars with 807 Squadron from HMS Centaur, Lt Tim Notley (RN) was posted out to Aden in August 1962, on an exchange posting with the RAF, to undertake a two-year tour flying Hunters with 8 Squadron at Khormaksar. Two years later, Tim returned to flying Scimitars, this time with 803 Squadron from HMS Ark Royal before moving on to HMS Eagle in 1968 and the Buccaneers of 800 Squadron.

Fair exchange

“My exchange appointment with the RAF and 8 Squadron in Aden and the Persian Gulf was a fascinating experience, despite my inauspicious start. There was something about the Middle East that truly interested me. Around the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsular there are amazing landscapes, craggy mountains, strange rock formations, and not least the Hadramaut. The latter is an incredibly deep and wide cratered ravine over 300 km in length, more impressive to me than the Grand Canyon in the USA. It is where the Hadramis still live, some in their skyscraper mud dwellings/castles. They were the merchants who first brought eastern spices to the western world.

To the north of Aden lie the ancient lands of the Queen of Sheba, where evidence still remains of a sophisticated irrigation system of some 2,000 years ago. This was the only area that I saw once, briefly, from the ground. A pilot had to accompany the Dhala convoy, army detachments, in case they were attacked on their way up to Dhala, which was on the border of the Yemen directly north of Aden. The job of the pilot was to direct aircraft against any attackers, ‘dissident tribesmen’ as they were called. Once it was my turn to be the pilot for the Dhala convoy. Luckily for me, the major in charge of the convoy was an experienced archaeologist and it was he who pointed out the ancient irrigation systems. It was a rare opportunity to learn something of this fascinating part of the world.

Apart from flying in and out of Khormaksar, we also flew round the desert of the Empty Quarter, via Masirah, to land at either Sharjah or Bahrain where we spent two month-periods on detachment.

Living and flying round this part of the world inspired me to read more of the history of the Arabs and of how their empire developed. And also, to read the exploits of crazy Europeans, usually British, who lived and adventured in those lands.

Off on the wrong foot!

No. 8 RAF Squadron had a long history of operating in the Middle East. Unfortunately for me, grossly overconfident in my flying prowess having just completed my first operational tour on Scimitars, I managed to damage one of their Hunter aircraft within a week of my arrival. When on the ground, the pitot head is protected by a rubber tube-like cover to which is attached a warning flag to remind the pilot to remove the cover prior to manning the aircraft. In this case there was no flag (but there often wasn’t) and I failed to notice the cover was still on. Thus when taking off and half way down the runway, there was no speed indication and I decided to abort the take off. Big mistake! The heavily laden Hunter, with two 230-gallon fuel tanks under the wings, failed to stop in time and the aircraft went into the runway overshoot and the undercarriage collapsed in the sand.

My initial thought was that there was another aircraft on the flight line - I’ll just nip back and get that one. Oh no, the RAF made a big song and dance about the whole episode. I was grounded for a month, severely reprimanded, and my pride suffered a severe and well deserved, blow. Actually that accident probably saved my life during the rest of my 30-plus years of future flying - I was a much more careful pilot from then on. On my first flight from Aden after the accident, there was no problem in taking off the pitot head cover The ground crew had made a large White Ensign and hung it from it.

However, after that little set-back, I enjoyed a full two years flying their Hunters and obtained more flying hours per month than many other pilots on the Squadron, mainly by being available if an extra sortie had to be flown; I became known as an ‘Hours Hog’.

One way to build up hours was to ferry aircraft that were due for refurbishing, back to the UK. It was always something of an adventure, not only because of encountering bad weather, but also because the facilities for refuelling at some airfields on the way could be uncertain. The route that I did a couple of times was Bahrain to Teheran, to Diyarbakir (in Turkey), to Nicosia {in Cyprus), to El Adem (in Libya), to Luqa {in Malta), to Istres (in France), to Lyneham (for customs clearance in UK) and finally RAF Kemble. In all it took two days and 11 hours flying.

Keeping the peace

Apart from the normal flying exercises in the area there were a couple of ‘wars’ in which we were involved - the ‘Radfan War’ and the ‘Beihan Patrol’. In the former, our task was to support ‘friendly’ Arab tribes in the rugged northern hinterland of the Aden Protectorates (as it was then); and also to provide close air support to the British Army operating in the area. Mostly our support consisted of knocking down forts of ‘enemy’ tribesmen; this was done in a relatively civilised manner. First we flew over the area dropping leaflets to say that we would be back in an hour to knock down their fort with rockets and 30 mm cannon shells. That gave them time to evacuate the buildings and watch our return from the nearby hills. After we finished, not having always damaged the fort severely, the ‘enemy’ Arabs would collect up our expended brass 30 mm shell cases and sell them in the Aden flea-market at a useful price.

The ‘Beihan Patrol’ lasted some months during 1963 and 1964. Then it was thought that Egyptian aircraft would attack the Aden Protectorate; this was before the Arabs finally threw the British out. Therefore 8 Squadron, along with 43 and 208 Hunter Squadrons, were tasked to maintain a constant patrol along the Yemen border during daylight hours and intercept any attacking aircraft. The Egyptians never came, much to our disappointment, we had illusions of some serious air-to-air combat.”