My First Job – The Royal Air Force by Bryan Jenkins

From the age of 10 I had a passion for building scale model aircraft from kits. They were actually quite sturdy and realistic with propellers driven by wound up rubber bands. Later on, small jetex engines became available that provided the propulsion for scale model jet aircraft such as the F86 Sabre and Mig 15. These jetex engines ejected a plume of hot smoky gas, but did not provide much thrust, a bit disappointing, but fun, nevertheless. I hung these models from my bedroom ceiling and must have had at least a dozen at any one time.

My interest in aviation led naturally to me joining the air force section of our school Combined Cadet Force. I applied for a Flying Scholarship and after 30 hours on Tiger Moths I obtained my PPL when 17. The CCF brought me into much closer contact with the RAF at summer camps held at RAF Stations. I remember RAF Topcliffe (in Yorkshire) where I was thrilled when the pilot flew VERY low over the Yorkshire Dales in a Chipmunk. Who wouldn’t want to join the RAF after that? RAF Thorney Island (next to Hayling Island on the South coast) was another winner where we were rescued and winched by helicopter.

A Chipmunk similar to the one schoolboy Bryan Jenkins had a great thrill sitting in the front seat with the pilot instructor behind. While at Liverpool University he flew this model in inter-University flying competitions.

My father noticed an advert in the paper for scholarships into the Engineering Branch of the RAF. The conditions of the scholarship provided for some candidates to study engineering at university instead of spending the 3 years at The RAF Technical College at RAF Henlow. Furthermore, flying training was available to those who qualified, my aim was to do both of these as I already had a PPL. However, to be successful I had to endure 5 days of evaluation. This included thorough aircrew medicals and aptitude tests at the Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre at RAF Hornchuch followed by 3 days at RAF Cranwell. I was passed suitable for officer aircrew, but the interviewers (all RAF pilots) could not understand why I wanted to be an engineering officer, they tried to change my mind (but failed). I always wanted to go to university, and I made this known at interviews – it worked.

Soon after, a letter arrived for my dad saying that the Air Force Board had approved my scholarship application subject to me obtaining four good “A” levels. This I achieved and I reported as ordered to RAF Henlow on 10th October 1958, my first day in the RAF.  While at Henlow, those fit and able to fly were progressed on Chipmunks through aerobatics, instrument flying, night flying and formation flying.

The college staff selected Liverpool university for me starting in October 1959. Being a Pilot Officer in the RAF, I was administered by the University Air Squadron (UAS). The best part of being in the Air Squadron was flying from the airfield at RAF Woodvale just south of Southport. We could fly as often as we liked (although not at the expense of our academic studies). The staff were RAF Flying Instructors and the aircraft were Chipmunks just like the aircraft at Henlow. I was able to represent our squadron each year in the annual inter-UAS competitions in spot landing, formation flying and finally aerobatics.

After the happy days at Liverpool I was recalled to Henlow for 2 terms to prepare me for my first posting to RAF Waddington just south of Lincoln. This was very much into the deep end because it was the time of the Cold War and the RAF provided our nuclear deterrent. There were 3 squadrons of white Vulcan bombers on the station, 27 in all, and 3 aircraft, the QRA – (Quick Reaction Alert) – were always on 15 mins standby, they were fully armed with (nuclear) weapons and guarded by RAF Police with dogs.

Avro Vulcan B Mk1A for use at high level attack as flown from RAF Waddington in 1958

Bomber Command would test the readiness of the station by ordering all aircraft on the station to 15 mins readiness; this was exercised periodically (called Exercise Micky Fin) usually at 2 am. My job was in the Hangar Squadron whose task was to carry out the deeper servicings and rectifications that could not be done outside on the line. I had 100 radio, radar and electrical tradesmen in my flight, so it was a great initiation into both engineering and man-management in a real operational environment that set me up for the rest of my career.

Despite the seriousness of the situation I recall some amusing events. One freezing January during a QRA alert, the captain could not insert the cabin door key into the frozen lock and so the crew could not enter. Meanwhile the crew chief had started the engines, so we had a nuclear weaponed aircraft with engines running, but the crew locked out. Luckily, a cigarette lighter saved the day. I once had a phone call from the Station Commander’s wife inviting me for afternoon tea at the CO’s quarter to get to know me. I was rather apprehensive, particularly when she answered the door and said that she had not invited me. It was down to a mischievous young WAAF officer who had pretended to be the CO’s wife. However, when we realised what must have happened, I was invited in anyway for a cup of tea and a very pleasant chat.

Nothing after Waddington could really compare, from a very intensive Cold War operational environment I was posted to Aden (in South Yemen) as the CO of a strategic HF receiving station. My unit was located on former salt pans with large, rhombic HF antenna arrays and with about 100 technicians living on site. Then I was posted to RAE Farnborough where I worked with RAE scientists to define, test and prepare for the introduction to service of new antisubmarine sonobuoys, then a post in MOD writing the reliability and maintainability requirements for new aircraft and major equipment and back to Vulcans in charge of the Electronics Centre at RAF Scampton.

RAF Scampton 1975 the Lancaster Gate Guardian “Just Jane”. Now at the Lincolnshire Aviation Centre at East Kirkby where you can, at a price, experience a taxi ride in the aircraft. RAF Scampton is now the home of the Red Arrows display team.

Then followed an unexpected thrill, a three year posting to the United Sates working in their Logistics Command HQ at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Badge of RAF Strike Command

When I returned to the UK, it was to a post in MOD’s Procurement Executive, then11 months at the RAF Staff College and finally my last posting at HQ Strike Command at High Wycombe responsible for the engineering aspects of the electrical, avionic, armament and software of all the equipment in the Nimrod Fleet. I took early retirement in the rank of Wing Commander in 1986 and continued my career in industry.