Celtic Illumination, part 112, The craic was good in Cricklewood
I had hoped that the, incident laden, first twenty four hours at Cranwell would be a one off. So it was with great dismay that I was told to be in the SATCO’s office at twelve o clock on the Tuesday. I arrived at his door to be waved in and sat down on the seat that was indicated to me. There was a Flight Sergeant sitting opposite me. He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. The SATCO, a Squadron Leader, was talking to someone on the telephone.
As the SACTO, still on the telephone, shot straight up to stand at attention, the Flight Sergeant and I turned and then executed a similar reaction. An Air Commodore was closing the door to the office and offered his hand first of all to the Flight Sergeant and then myself. By now the SATCO has finished, or most probably ended, his telephone conversation and came around to shake hands with the Air Commodore.
This, we now learned, was the head of trade group nine, which meant that he was the top man for air traffic control. He was the fellow who had arranged for the Flight Sergeant and I to be detached to Cranwell. He then went on to explain his plan. Every time Prince Charles got airborne it would be the Flight Sergeant and myself who would be running the local control. There was no argument, no discussion, this was the plan and this is what was going to happen.
I had been chatting with some of the air traffickers and some of them already had their own cunning little plans as to who would have the honour of telling Prince Charles where to go. The Air Commodore then left and the SATCO followed him, escorting him out of the building. The Flight Sergeant and I sat down; shook hands and introduced ourselves, to each other, then waited for the SATCO to return. I didn’t want to say anything to anybody; I would let the SATCO do that.
At Valley I had found the local control, the greenhouse at the top of every air traffic control tower, was the most exciting place to work. However everyone wanted to work there and most of the time it was manned by the duty thicko who needed extra training. I wasn’t worried that we would be directly responsible for Prince Charles, after all he was in training to be a future king, but then so was I, I just didn’t know it at the time.
Needless to say the air traffickers were not amused, an outsider had been brought in to do their job and most of them wanted to be involved, in some way, with Prince Charles. I of course couldn’t have cared less but it certainly placed me in a very favourable position for my detachment. Every morning the Flight Sergeant and I would be given the details of Prince Charles’ flying for that day and we would take over local control, fifteen minutes before he was due to taxi and leave fifteen minutes after he landed.
Normally on a flying training unit there would be three people in the greenhouse. The local controller, the Flight Sergeant, the local assistant, moi, and the QFI, Qualified Flying Instructor. If a student pilot experienced any sort of problem the QFI was on hand to help them out and give advice. Because you really had to concentrate in the greenhouse, extra people were not encouraged to be there.
Normally all three people in the greenhouse would be quite relaxed and would get on with their jobs. The moment Prince Charles began to taxi, the visitors arrived. First of all the station commander, a Group Captain, arrived, then the head of the flying school, then the Air Commodore and finally another Air Commodore who was the head of the staff college. I wondered if they were going to attempt to use Vulcan mind control to bring Prince Charles down safely if he had a problem. As Prince Charles wasn’t the only student flying, and everything else on the airfield was progressing as normal, we had to continue to perform our jobs but with an added extra edge.
For the rubberneckers out there I am sure you would like to know, if you didn’t already, that Prince Charles had his very own aircraft. The Jet Provost XW322 was chosen to be his main aircraft and had the royal cypher painted on the air intakes. A second Jet Provost was chosen to be his back up aircraft but didn’t have the royal cypher painted on. The aircraft ended up in America where it was owned by a syndicate. Unfortunately it was destroyed during a crash landing at Bay City in Texas on June 12th 2008. The crew escaped unhurt.
With Prince Charles landed the senior brass melted away as did the Flight Sergeant and myself, until the next time. The guys at Cranwell did not have a ‘can do’ attitude, so I found that I was proving to be quite valuable to air traffic. Jobs that had sat on the side lines that had been considered too difficult or were considered to be in someone else’s area of responsibility were now getting completed in double quick time.
There was an added element of stupidity to life at Cranwell of which I will give you an example. The blackout blinds in the radar control room had to be replaced. The Flight Sergeant and I set about this task. We installed new blackout blinds but noticed that the draw stings were missing so went to stores. “Have you got any draw string for blinds please?” “Yes.” “Great I need enough for ten blinds.” “I can’t give you any.” “What?”
All the blinds, curtains, carpets and fixtures in Prince Charles’ rooms had been changed so that everything in his rooms was brand new. Stores would not issue anything in case it was needed for Prince Charles. The Flight Sergeant and I were stumped at such a ridiculous attitude. This was happening all over the unit, but as I said before I had a certain set of skills. I even managed to impress the Flight Sergeant the following day when I returned from one of my trips with enough draw string to keep Cranwell air traffic going well into the next century.
The three months passed peacefully. There were no more scrapes or incidents in fact it was quite good fun.
I was preparing to return to Valley and hoped that the incidents from my first twenty four hours were not lurking in some dark corner waiting to pounce. A farewell party was organised and it was to be held at a local country pub. At eight o clock I was on duty at the bar, couldn’t miss my own farewell party. The SATCO and the Air Commodore came in and came straight up to me. “How many pints of beer can you drink before you fall over?” asked the Air Commodore. “Ten,” I said, hoping I was close to the correct answer.
“Ten pints of bitter for this fellow,” said the Air Commodore to the bar maid who then shook my hand and went over to do the same to the Flight Sergeant. The SATCO too was pleased with me and even detailed two chaps to carry me back to my billet that evening, for he knew that I wouldn’t let the Air Commodore down and that not only would I try to drink the ten pints, but I would probably try to exceed that figure.
I was repeatedly asked to stay. Even at my final interview with the SATCO he was asking me to stay. I explained that I did like Cranwell and the job, however I had an application in at Valley for aircrew and I wanted to get back and pursue that. He offered to submit an application himself if I would stay, but I knew I couldn’t, so I found myself at the gates of Cranwell with all my worldly possessions handing off my arms. I had a couple of days before I had to report back to Valley, so I did the only thing one should do in situations like that, and went to Cricklewood for a session.
Tags: Air Commodore, Air traffic control, Celtic Illumination, Celtic Knot Candles, Craic Pots, Cranwell, Flight sergeant, humour, Irish, Prince Charles, Qualified Flying Instructor, SATCO, Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network