Qualified pilots do not intelligent men make…

HarrierWhen I lived in Germany as a kid, we lived at RAF Gutersloh.   It was a bloody huge base and often ran joint exercises between the differing allied armed forces.   Sometimes they were ground based and more often than not they were aerial dogfights.

During one of these huge aerial exercises, pilots from the UK, US, Russia and a number of other air forces were involved in huge dogfights and things were going pretty well.   Some fantastic manoeuvers were taking place over the base on occasion.   It was a hell of a spectacle.

Now obviously, I wasn’t there during the pilots rest times, but the officers mess was reportedly full of Top Gun’esque testosterone filled tomfoolery, when bets started being made.

Now to explain, a barrel roll occurs when an object (usually an airplane or roller coaster) makes a complete rotation on its longitudinal axis while following a helical path, approximately maintaining its original direction. The G-force is kept positive (but not constant) on the object throughout the maneuver, commonly not more than 2-3 G, and no less than 0.5 G. (Thanks Wikipedia).

So the pilots were in the officers mess, presumably drinking expensive whiskey and smoking cuban cigars or something, when some bright spark challenged the others to perform a barrel roll on takeoff.   This means that they would literally wait until they were slightly beyond wing clearance from the ground, and roll.

So the following day, the Russian MIG pilots head off and perform their role…thereby laying down the gauntlet to the rest….the bet was well and truly on.   Next up, the US air force do their thing..no problem.   Followed by the RAF Tornado pilots….all good.

When up to the runway steps the mighty Harrier Jump Jet.   An aircraft designed for vertical takeoff and short runways.   It has short, stubby wings by comparison to the rest and is not really designed for manoeuverability as flexibility.   So the little aircraft that could…..couldn’t and the pilot, upon reaching takeoff speed, gets up just high enough to clear his wings and begins the roll.   Cut to 5 seconds later and 40 million pounds of high quality aircraft becomes about 50 quid for the scrap merchant to tow it away.

You have to wonder what was going through the pilots head…I mean other than almost the runway.   Just to add to the end of this, the pilot walked away unscathed.   Noone really knew how, but he was one very lucky guy.   He was discharged from the Air Force with terrible rapidity, but still pretty lucky all things considered.

Ahh yes, being a kid on and around RAF bases was fun at times…sure, you had to be pretty disciplined in case your Dad ended up in shit because of you, but it was where we got to fine tune our (already) dry sense of humour.   It was where checking under your car for bombs was a regular and somewhat exciting time…where armed guards would greet you whenever you entered the base.   It’s funny what you become blase about really.   I never saw any danger in any of this stuff, I even used to help Dad check under the car each morning.

I say it’s funny what you become blase about as I was responsible for at least 2 bomb alerts when I was at school.   The first was completely accidental…the 2nd not so.

For my first bomb alert, I was due to stay at a friends for the weekend, and for some reason felt the need to take my alarm clock with me along with my clothes etc.   As I wasn’t really thinking, I left my bag under one of the workbenches in the woodwork class.   Alarm clock…ticking…unattended bag.   All the hallmarks of a panic situation.   Not so for the guys and gals of the bomb squad though as they brought my bag out and blew it up in the school field.   I bloody liked that clock too…it was a Liverpool one :-(

Now the second time I was involved in a bomb alert was not quite so much of an accident.   We were trying to think of ways to bunk off school….whilst actually being at school.   In a normal school this would pose a number of logistical issues, but at a forces school, opportunities were abound.   I essentially recreated my accidental bomb alert…only with an alarm clock and bag that I didn’t really care for very much.   After a little coaxing, we persuaded someone to mention the trigger phrase to one of the teachers.

“Whose bag is that Sir?   It has been there all morning”

Cue school evacuation to the playground and the bomb disposal guys and gals turning up at a hell of a rate.   We were all trying to stifle sniggers as the robot brought the bag out.   It’s not like you see in tBomb robothe films or TV shows..the robot moves terribly slow and it took almost 35 minutes to bring the bag to the safe zone where it was “safely exploded”.   It then took 2 hours to completely sweep the school for any other devices.

I think we left for home about 20 minutes after we were given the all clear to re-enter the school.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone acting like a moron and doing this stuff, but it was the norm for this sort of stuff to happen, and being young and foolish…well, it all seemed like a big laugh.   I like to think that I wouldn’t do anything like this in todays climate and I am pretty sure I wouldn’t.

That said, bomb disposal robots and controlled explosions are way cool.


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