I am a relatively ‘new boy’ at the RAF Museum, and have already learned that “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing”! My ’tutor’, David Parkins, gave me an excellent briefing on the F4 Phantom on my first Aircraft Access Event.
Once I was confident to ‘go solo’ I developed my own ‘patter’ to suit the various visitors sitting in the cockpit.
For kids I pretend that they are going to fly an intercept mission, which engages them interactively but not too much technically.
For some of our visitors, I try to talk about the history of the aircraft, its missions and the roles of the two crew, whilst explaining the overall layout of the cockpit. For others, I go into more detail about the controls and systems, which is meant to sound very knowledgeable.
However, one day I had an ex-Vulcan pilot in the cockpit who seemed very appreciative. But then he asked me whether the ejection seat is adjustable in height because he if he was wearing a ‘Bonedome’ helmet his head would be crushed by the closed canopy.
I was flummoxed and tried to find anything that looked like a seat raiser, when a voice from someone in the back of the waiting queue said “I can show you!”
As he came forward, he pointed to the floor in front of the aircraft and announced “That’s me!” Flt Lt Edward Smith (now Captain, Airbus A320) is the Phantom pilot in the life-size stand-up photo in front of the Phantom. We were then treated to a full explanation of the radar and weapons systems, as well as being shown the silver toggle switch to raise and lower the seat.
On another day, and as part of the Vulcan and Cold War Experience, I was giving a tour to a visitor. He had really enjoyed his time in the Vulcan, and I thought he might be a pilot, which he denied. We moved on to the Lightning where I pointed out the phenomenal climb performance of this interceptor (50,000 ft per minute initially), but it’s very limited endurance – “Once it had climbed to top altitude it had to come back to refuel!”
A member of the public overheard my comments and politely corrected me and advised us that he was Steve Stewart, a former Lightning pilot. He explained that the aircraft would normally climb to 25-30,000 feet and would have fuel for between 40 minutes to 1 hour.
However, once at altitude they would then take on fuel from a Victor tanker.
On one occasion he had to refuel 7 times whilst intercepting and following 2 Russian ‘Bear’ aircraft which descended to below 1500 feet over the sea in North West Scotland.
The ‘Bears’ were on a rendezvous with a Russian Submarine on the surface.
Steve claims that he was the only Lightning pilot to intercept a submarine!
The three of us stopped at the Martin Baker exhibit where my guest revealed that his Company makes the rocket fuel used in the ejection seats. He went on to tell us that he had had to de-fuel the ‘Live’ seat in the Hunter which crashed at Shoreham – potentially highly explosive!
Stephen Bruh – Aircraft Access Volunteer