By Sgt. Noel Thompson.
Air Training Corps. Rye. 2274 Squadron (Thomas Peacocke School)
The 1,000 Miles Per Hour Club, commonly known as the Ten Ton Club, was formed at the Lightning Conversion Squadron, R.A.F. Coltishall in March. 1962. To qualify, the rule is that the member must be at the controls of the aircraft whilst flying at or faster than 1,000 m.p.h. (Mach 1.5 at 36,000 feet) included among the members are The Shah of Persia and King Hussain of Jordan
I arrived at Norwich to be met by Flight Lieutenant Stevens who conduct me to R.A.F. Coltishell in what can only be described as a Staff car. Expecting to be dropped off at the Airmen’s Mess, as it was approaching lunch time, I was more than astonished when the car pulled up outside the Officers Mess where I was to enjoy for the next day and a half in connection. with a Lightning flight which had been arranged after completing my Gold of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme.
(Above) A..T. C. Sgt. Noel Thompson, A.O.C. Air Cadets Air Commodore Stacey, Wing Commander Black and Station Commander, Group Captain Stacey.
After lunch. I was permitted to put my feet up in the ante-room, to have coffee and browse through the daily papers before the afternoons visit to certain interesting sections of the Station, the first of which was the helicopter squadron where for half an hour one of the pilots showed me round his aircraft.
Then followed a visit to the Lightning simulators, three in all, which included one of the earliest introduced into the Royal Air Force. Having examined with interest the F.l. I was then offered a simulated flight in the F.3.
The canopy having been closed, Flight Lieutenant Stevens. then set up the simulator for flight. I was now on my own. Looking into what can only be described as a television screen which reproduced a view of the ground as it would be actually seen from an aircraft in flight. I attempted some simple exercises such as turning and climbing.
Ten Ton Club
Having ‘flown’ without crashing a million pounds worth of equipment. I then wondered whether I would be so successful next day during my real flight for I had now learnt that endeavours were to be made to enrol me as a member of the Ten Ton Club which called for having control of the Lightning when doing a 1,000 m.p.h. or more.
Tea time was now upon us and I was taken to meet my pilot of the next day. Wing Commander Black who kindly invited me to his married quarters where I learnt I was to spend the evening and night as the guest of himself and his wife. Already I was beginning to appreciate the thoughtfulness that had gone into the planning for my visit. The next morning beg an with a call from Mrs. Black at 7.30. Breakfast was at eight where a lowly cadet Sergent found his coffee being poured by a Wing Commander.
After breakfast, Wing Commander Black and myself went to the crew room where I was kitted out with flying overalls bone-dome. helmet. gloves, oxygen mask and leg restraining garters. A short decompression test followed and then a trip to the Medical Centre to test my fitness for the flight with heavy emphasis on colds, sore throats and ears. Next to the Met briefing where I was introduced to the A.O.C. Air Cadets. Air Commodore Stacey who was also to have a Lightning flight this morning. It was now nearing the moment to leave for the aircraft
Wing Commander Black explained to me what we would do on the trip as we walked out to the aircraft and press men, then to climb our respective ladders of a T.5, the difference being in the shape of fin, speed and electronics. I started the engines on the instructions of the pilot who then carried out a multitude of checks before beginning to taxi. The view from the cockpit is the same as that from a double decker bus
Soon we were at the end of the runway where we formed up on the T.5. ahead for a battle formation take off. The brakes were released and the power of the engines were felt as the Air Speed Indicator rose rapidly. At a 175 knots (200 m.p.h.) we were airborne and within a few minutes were at 25.000 feet and still climbing. At 35.000 feet we levelled off, breaking formation in order to practise interceptions. The enemy was soon found by using the radar which was then locked on and the missile ‘fired’ this is computed electronically and recorded for later analysis) – Once we had completed our attack came the moment when I was to qualify as a member of the Ten Ton Club. Speed was increased using re-heat, breaking the sound barrier at Mach 1. a sensation which felt like a punch in the back, the fuel gauges unwinding rapidly. I was asked to take control of the aircraft at Mach 1.6 (1.000 m.p.h). After a short while my pilot congratulated me on becoming the latest member of the Club.
At this point, he saw in the radar screen our target for the second time.and, pulling back the stick, climbed to 48.00 feet leaving my stomach behind in the operation. After the interception we cancel led re-heat to head for home
Soon the Norfolk coast line was in sight and within a few minutes we were approaching the airfield at 150 knots. Coming over the airfield. Wing Commander Black plied full throttle and re-heat and instantly we were at ground speed of 500 m.p.h. This for me was really terrific as I experienced the power unleashed. We landed at a 175 knots. I had been airborne for thirty minutes.
As soon as the pins had been replaced in the ejector seat I unstrapped and watched Wing Commander Black shut down the engines and switch off. No sooner had I stepped out onto the ground I was presented with my Ten Ton Certificate and tie by the Station Commander. Group Captain Stacy. A short time was spent. talking about the flight with the A.O.C. Air cadets, who by this time had also landed. All the time, cameras were clicking, but I was still somewhat dazed by the events and did not really notice
After changing back into my A.T.C. uniform there followed a small press conference. Well. that’s that I thought when the press conference was over. but no. there was still more to come for I was taken back to the Officers Mess where ground to ground refuelling took place in the bar. Alas, many drinks had to be turned down due to my inadequacy to cope with the stronger stuff. Then into lunch where I found myself sitting at the High table between the Station Commander and the A.O.C. Lunch was served with wine and all the trimmings. Being a non- smoker I hastily turned down the offered cigar at the end of the meal. I took in all this unaccustomed splendour and laughed to myself not believing it was happening.
After chatting with all concerned including many of the young pilots. I was taken back to the crew room to await transport to Norwich. Time was spent thanking all concerned with my flight and magnificent reception.
So ended the greatest thrill of my life, spread over a day and a half but which seemed like years. Looking back. there is no doubt as to the effectiveness of this countries’ fighter defence or the potential of the Lightning as the worlds finest aircraft for its particular role.
“Rye’s Own” September 1969
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