So, you want to fly Phantoms do you?

Phantom Pilot Royal Air Froce 1973 documentary

A fascinating look at the journey one pilot took from civilian street to being on the squadron flying an RAF Phantom in the early 1970s. Narrated by the distinctive Patrick Allen who is perhaps best known for narrating the notorious Protect and Survive films, the documentary contains some stunning glimpses at the RAF’s training aircraft of the time including;

  • De Havilland Chipmunks and Jet Provosts introducing the new pilot to flying.
  • Folland Gnats flying low through the Welsh valleys.
  • Hawker Hunters carrying out some impressively accurate shooting with SNEB rockets.
  • Finally, of course we get a look not just at the Phantom FG.1 but of life on the squadron for a newly qualified pilot.

Enjoy.

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Baston in the Blitz 2015 Gallery

A collection of images taken at the Baston in the Blitz 2015 military show. All images were taken on August 1st 2015 and donated to Defence of the Realm by Andy Laing. If you would like to see more of his extensive military themed galleries then you can view and follow his Flickr account by clicking here.

Andy Laing writes extensively about the history of some of England’s air bases on his site Aviationtrails. If you have an interest in British and also American aviation history in the UK then I highly recommend you visit his site.


 

For more images of British military equipment and museums please visit the Galleries section or follow Defence of the Realm on Instagram

If you have photographs or articles you wish to contribute to Defence of the Realm than you can email them to defencerealmyt@gmail.com. If successful you will of course be given full credit for your contribution and can even promote your own website/blog/social media account.

ITV’s “Strike Force”

This article was originally published in March 2015 however due to the interest many people had in it I got in contact with one of the lead actors of the program, Tim Bentinck, and asked him if he would provide some more behind the scenes information. He kindly agreed and so I have reuploaded it including Tim’s contribution which you can find below.


In the early 1990s, Yorkshire Television began negotiations with the RAF to produce a TV movie which would serve as a pilot (no pun intended) for a future series. At the time the series Soldier, Soldier was doing wonders for the British Army’s recruitment and PR image as well as being a high ratings winner for ITV. Both the RAF and ITV hoped to repeat this success with Strike Force.

The story revolved around the formation of an elite team of Tornado F.3 aircrews within the fictional No.555 Squadron. At the same time a secondary story concerned an incident involving the loss of a Tornado over Bosnia to a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile and the subsequent covering up by the pilot involved. The show was also meant to deal with attitudes towards women flying fast-jets and the stresses of military service on the crews and their families.

Strike Force aired in 1995 but sadly was not a great success. Interest proved far below what was hoped and consequently the series was never picked up. To date the film is not available on DVD and has disappeared in to ITV’s archives but a few clips have surfaced on the internet in recent years.


The following is an extract from Tim Bentinck’s autobiography – Being David Archer–and other unusual ways of making a living – which is due to be released later this year. It is used in this article with direct permission from him and I would like to thank him for this kind contribution.

I was very nearly a pilot. When I was at school, I imagined my future either doing what my Pa did, advertising, or flying planes. I flew light aircraft with the CCF and got Flight magazine monthly. My favourite reading was about Spitfires and Hurricanes and I seriously considered joining the RAF for a while. The appeal of flying never left though, and when I landed this part, it was as though it had been written by my guardian angel.

Wing Commander Jonathan Raikes was “awesome in the air,” as one of my pilots put it. Bliss. I so nearly blew it though. Having got the job, two weeks before filming I was meeting Judy in a pub in London for my birthday when some bastard smashed a pint beer glass full in my face. I was millimetres away from  being blinded in one eye and my face was cut to bits. I had to go up to Manchester to show the producers the damage. I remember standing in a hotel car park as the two execs peered at my lacerations.

“No, I don’t think we’ll have to re-cast.” Phew, but it meant I spent hours in make-up every morning and was the palest fast jet pilot you’ve ever seen.

The ‘Strike Force’ would be an elite group of Tornado pilots trained to instantly answer the call to scramble anywhere in Europe, based in Cyprus. This pilot episode (yes, we did that joke to death) was about the selection for the team. I was the boss. If the pilot episode was successful it would go to series – like Soldier Soldier in the air, so we were all very keen to make it work. We filmed it on location at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire, and we pilots met up on a train at King’s Cross. We’d clearly all had the same idea – look butch. Leather jackets, shades, stubble and mono-syllabic grunts failed to cover the fact that we were all like excited schoolchildren, let loose with millions of pounds worth of toys.

We were “555 Squadron” and, amazingly, as we wandered around the base in uniform, the real RAF would fire off salutes and call us ‘sir’. One day we were lounging in the mess room and one of our number, a delicate soul, came in flapping and saying,

“Oh my God I’ve just been saluted!”

We, butch as hell and Ray-banned to the nines, said,

“Yes, and what did you do?”

“I went Aaaaaaaaahhahaahahhaaaa!!!”

“Nooooooo!”

We very nearly all died. We were filming in a stationary Tornado just off the main runway with me fully togged up in the pilot’s seat, when the Queen’s flight took off in formation for a fly-past over Buckingham Palace. The leading plane got a sudden complete engine failure, and in order to miss him, the plane behind pulled up and to the left, heading straight for us. Someone was filming it on a camcorder and when we looked back at the footage, its wing can’t have missed us by more than a foot. “Not ideal,” as they say in the forces.

I was invited to follow the real Wing Commander around on his duties, to get the style of the man and see how it was really done. We went into the ‘hard’ bomb-proof shelter for a briefing and instead of introducing me as “the actor prat who’s pretending to be me,” he said, “this is Wing Commander Raikes, O.C. 555 Squadron”. I left the briefing walking on air. He offered to take me up for a flight but the insurance wouldn’t cover it. I’d practiced for hours at home on a Tornado computer game, but when it came to the simple matter of shooting down a Russian MIG with cannon on the training sim – a computer in an office – I was dead meat within seconds. However I did get to actually land the full size simulator – real cockpit, full G-kit and helmet, talking to the ops room, they talked me down – and I didn’t crash it, which made it easier to play the part.

It didn’t go to series. The problem with pilot episodes like these is they try to cram too much in. The RAF wanted it to be a recruiting film, and kept changing the lines to make it accurate but dull, and the writer wanted to fit everyone’s back story into an hour, so there were about four storylines going on at the same time. The result was laudable but messy, the flying shots were great and it would have got better – good actors and great potential. We heard that the caterers had been booked for Cyprus, but that was it, it was broadcast but never picked up.

Incredibly, ITV would almost repeat history when it tried to make a drama about life aboard a Royal Navy destroyer in 2004 called Making Waves which suffered a similar fate.

 

Spitfire flies under a bridge

Supermarine Spitfire IX MH434 flies under a bridge for a scene in the television series Piece of Cake. The series was made in 1988 and told the story of the fictional “Hornet Squadron” from the outbreak of war up until September 1940 at the culmination of the Battle of Britain.

The original book the series was based on saw the squadron flying Hurricanes but due to the lack of airworthy Hurricanes the series’ producers used Spitfires for filming. The majority of aircraft used were Spitfire IXs which were not available until a year after the Battle of Britain but they were painted in 1940s brown/green camouflage.

MH434 still flies today and is operated by the Old Flying Machine Company. You can view the aircraft’s official website by clicking here.

Spitfire bridge piece of cake

Wings (Series 1) – BBC Drama

Wings BBC

Like Downton Abbey but thought it could do with more aeroplanes? Then this is the show for you. Wings was produced by the BBC in 1977 and was given a second series the following year. The first series followed the exploits of a young blacksmith named Alan Farmer who has dreams of flying aeroplanes even though his father was killed in a plane crash a few years earlier.

With the outbreak of war he joins the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) befriending the mischievous Charles Gallion (whose name gets twisted in to “Gay Lion”) who comes from a distinguished military background but is more suited to the more casual RFC. The two of them are trained to fly by the stout and battle hardened Captain Triggers who eventually becomes their Flight Commander.

The story takes place in 1915 on the eve of the impending “Fokker Scourge” – the arrival of the Fokker Eindecker fighter that decimated the RFC’s lumbering biplanes. The series is a very intimate look at life in the RFC, mostly concentrating on the pilots but a number of the groundcrew get their characters fleshed out also, showing the benefits and the danger compared to the trenches.

Very quickly we learn just how deadly military aviation was in 1915 and how their own aircraft were as much a threat as the Germans. The series goes in to great detail to show how the air war evolved with the main characters initially limited to reconnaissance and then explores the efforts made to arm their aircraft for so-called “forward action”. A great deal of effort went in to making this series authentic and it shows. The footage of the BE.2 flying will endear anyone with a love of aviation while at the same time giving you a taste of just how vulnerable these aircraft were.

Anyone looking for a story of glamorous pilots fighting the “Hun” should look elsewhere however. At times this is a brutal series with some genuinely chilling scenes. There is one scene that will stay with most people who have seen the series involving Captain Triggers at a train station talking to a wounded officer who reveals something horrifying to him regarding his thoughts on the RFC (no spoilers here in order to not ruin the effect).

There are a number of themes that are prevalent in the series such as class differences, post-traumatic stress disorder, the complete ignorance of the British Army command to the situation in the air and the effect on people at home. Regarding the home front a great deal of the first series is dedicated to Farmer’s family and the story there revolves around a love triangle between his mother, his father’s brother who has lost an arm in the war and a storekeeper. For those with an interest in military aviation these scenes tend to distract from the story of the war but aren’t uninteresting.

Finally, the quality of the acting in the series is of the highest degree. While the story revolves around Tim Woodward’s Sgt. Farmer the star of the show is without a doubt Nicholas Jones’ portrayal of Captain Triggers – a character clearly inspired by the real life World War One ace Major Lenoe Hawker. Triggers is a powerful force and Jones delivers every scene with energy and charisma. A number of secondary characters come and go the purpose of which is to emphasize the casualty rate in the RFC.

If you have a few hours to spare then a binge watch of the series is highly recommended. It does not disappoint and to watch them together helps you pick up on many of the little things that were included that come together to create an incredible account of the war in the air above the trenches.

Below is the first episode but you can view the entire series list by CLICKING HERE

RAF Movie – High Flight (1957)

High Flight RAF Hawker Hunter 1957

High Flight takes its name after a poem written by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American aviator who flew for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) who lost his life in 1941 over RAF Cranwell where the film is set. Excuse the cynicism but there is something apt about that, for this film appealed more to American audiences than it did British who largely dismissed this film.

The story revolves around a new cadet to RAF Cranwell named Tony Winchester (played by Kenneth Haigh). Winchester is forever making a nuisance of himself as he believes his own skills as a pilot means he is exempt from the same rules as everyone else. Normally this would get him thrown out of the RAF but his senior instructor has history with Winchester’s father who was killed during the war and so a lot of his antics end up getting tolerated. In the end a team is put together to display the Hawker Hunter at the Farnborough air show and Winchester must learn to put his ego aside and work with the others in his unit.

This film, like a lot of contemporary American movies, prefers to look glitzy than realistic with all the flight scenes while playing on the myths of military life. It has all the excitement young boys dreaming of flying in the RAF would have in the 50s but this results in a movie that feels detached from reality. Winchester would be thrown out of the service in his first scene when he lands his personal plane at Cranwell without permission and almost colliding with a De Havilland Vampire but is kept on!

The flying sequences are brilliantly filmed however. There is logic in the progression from Provost basic trainers up to Vampires and then on to Hawker Hunters. There is also a fascinating scene where the cadets are flying in a Vickers Varsity navigation trainer but the rest of the movie is then just high-jinks and light heartedness all of which contrast to what is supposed to be a serious undertone regarding the instructor and Winchester’s father.

Give it a try. There is some enjoyment to be had out of it but fans of The Dambusters may be a bit disappointed.

Avro Vulcan XM569 Cockpit at the Jet Age Museum

A small collection of pictures of the cockpit of Avro Vulcan B.2 XM569 on display at the Jet Age Museum in Gloucestershire.
History: The Jet Age Museum
Photos: Tony Wilkins


The cockpit of Avro Vulcan B.2 XM569 is currently on loan to the Jet Age Museum (according to the website) and is open to members of the public for tours. It was closed for repainting during my first visit to the museum back in April so I was eager to get in to it on this second visit. This is the second Vulcan cockpit I have had the privilege of taking a look inside after visiting Vulcan XM575 back in January. That time I only got to sit in the Air Electronic Operator’s seat (a fascinating position I assure you so do not misunderstand me on that) but this time the staff at the Jet Age Museum were kind enough to let me sit up top in the boss’ seat.

Once again the 12 year old boy inside of me escaped as I climbed the ladder up to the top level where the pilots sat. While my heart was of a 12 year old boy again my bumpy body reminded me that I do have a bit of weight to lose as I seemed to catch every protrusion on the way up. Sat in that seat I put my hands on the controls and really got a (albeit brief) feel for what it must have been like for the pilots of these magnificent aircraft. It didn’t matter that there was no aeroplane behind me my mind’s eye saw nothing but clouds ahead of me for a few brief seconds.

Back to reality; I spent several minutes with the tour guide (I forget his first name but his surname was Griffiths as he made a point to tell me of his Welsh routes hearing my accent). I then spent a few minutes taking pictures to share on DotR. Now here comes the confession; unfortunately my usual camera’s batteries died shortly after reaching the museum and with no time to go and get some new ones my wife kindly offered me her phone. Thus the quality of the pictures aren’t as good as I would like but I am sure I will be visiting again soon so I will take new ones with my camera then.