Chipmunks, Circuits & Bumps

RAF Wattisham 1970s smallFor anyone not enrolled in the KHS CCF (RAF) Section in the 1970's, this heading will appear somewhat odd. For those who were cadets at the time, the memories (and possibly the sick bags) will now be flooding back.

RAF Little Rissington was only 10 miles from school. It was until 1977, the RAF's Central Flying School and home to the Red Arrows. As RAF cadet's, we were very fortunate to fly 2-seater, single-engine trainer planes called Chipmunks at least once a term on CCF 'Field Days'.


RAF Wattisham 1970s med300We would strap on WWII-type emergency parachutes, climb into the cockpit behind the trainer and take off into the skies. After climbing to a suitable height the pilot would say 'You have control'; the response was, 'I have control, Sir'. And that's it. For a few minutes you could pretend you were Pilot Officer 'Biggles' of the RAF. Personally I loved every moment given that I was flying a plane before I could drive a car. After 10 minutes or so and once the pilot had regained control, you might persuade him to do a few 'Zero G' loops or 'Victory Rolls' before coming in to land. Awesome!

If we weren't flying Chipmunks, were off to Brize Norton, also only a short distance from school, where all 22 in the RAF section plus Flt/Lt James Woolliams (Housemaster of Plymouth and Science teacher) had the opportunity to be passengers in a VC10 'commercial aircraft'. RAF Pilots were going through their own training and this exercise was called 'circuits & bumps' because the plane would take-off, complete a circuit and land. As soon as the plane hit the runway, it would again accelerate and take off again – and we would do this for the next 2 hours! Occasionally we would go for a longer flight. Scotland and back was quite popular if I remember correctly. Indeed, I still have the photos.

It's probably at this point I should introduce our most famous RAF cadet, Malcolm Brecht. Having gained distinction in my own Principle of Flight, Meteorology and Aircraft Engines, I spent much of my time on Monday afternoons (this was the period in which CCF was held), conducting my own teaching. From 1978-1980, Brecht was in my classes. He's subsequently become Air Vice Marshall Brecht, former Queen's pilot, commander at Kandahar airbase and for a period of time, station commander at Brize Norton.

RAF Wattisham 1970s med600

RAF Wattisham July/August 1979

The people in the photo are:
Back Row L-R: Sqd/Ldr Smithson Flt/Sgt Blackman Warrant Officer Bowes (Bones) FLt/Lt Woolliams
Front Row L-R: Cdt Brecht, Cdt Bradley, Cdt Owens, Cdt Coates M., J/Cpl Beal, J/Cpl Currie, Cdt French, Cdt Frohwein, Cdt Hughes, Cdt Armstrong, Cdt Moreau, Cdt Brooks C.


Perhaps my greatest experience during my time in the RAF section was to gain my Gliding License courtesy of the RAF. I completed my training at RAF Linton-On-Ouse in the summer of 1977. Flying without engines is a whole new experience and much of the training centered around handling emergency procedures, such as having the trainer release the winch cable half way up and say 'OK, we've only reached 300 feet. Find somewhere safe to land. You have 20 seconds before we hit the ground'. I did land safely – multiple times - and within the week I was flying solo having gained my 'wings'.
The school had a Primary Glider which was stored under the Gymnasium – a wonderful 'Heath Robinson' contraption. During the summer months, the glider would come out on a Monday afternoon on the cricket pitch below the pavilion. It was then assembled and launched into the air by cadets pulling on a giant 'elastic band'. The trick was to get the glider into the air (probably no more that 20ft off the ground), achieve level flight and then return to the ground before disappearing over the embankment at the end of the field. I had the privilege of demonstrating this particular 'feat' for about 4 speech days in a row.

RAF Little Rissington ceased to be operational at the end of 1977 and became 'Imjin Barracks', home to the Royal Irish Rangers. It wasn't long before they left too. Between 1979 and 1981 there was a glider, a couple of retired servicemen and winch on the base and I continued to fly gliders at Rissington even after I left KHS. By 1981, the USAF had taken over Little Rissington and I was no longer welcome to sneak onto the base to fly. I did try – and got into a spot of trouble. Sadly that was the last time I flew gliders solo.

In 1979/1980 I was Head Boy, but also decided to stay in the CCF. Having become Warrant Officer, I also became Head of the CCF, the first member of the RAF section to do so. I remember that during the Annual Inspection Parade I was asked by the visiting Brigadier which Regiment I was joining. He seemed distinctly unimpressed that I had not given a military career any thought. Despite that, I did get to attend Sandhurst and I did gain my Queen's commission. For a period of 10 years after leaving school, I was a Territorial Army officer in the Royal Green Jackets, based at Slade Park, Oxford. But that's a whole new chapter!

Bob Bowes


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