Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
Grub Street, 14 July 2014
ISBN: 9781 909808157
The Jaguar was the subject of ribaldry, nay derision, from many other corners of the RAF’s fast jet world of the time. This rather coloured my preconception of this book – that it would be full of tales of would-be warriors struggling with poor quality kit. This proved to be true, but only to a limited extent. Hall’s book turns out to be one of the most entertaining within the ‘Boys’ series.
What makes the book, and what is underlined by the authors of several chapters, is the character and camaraderie of most of the boys who flew the Jag (‘Jag Mates’ in their own parlance); and indeed the unusually close relationship between aircrew and groundcrew – forged by frequent overseas deployments. Despite being one of the first of the RAF’s aircraft to be designed with ease of maintenance in mind, the Jag posed its own engineering challenges through its service life. Esprit de corps is often talked about, here it leaps from the page. Most of the Jag authors have a fluid writing style (by service standards!), usually leavened with appropriately dry wit.
The MoD’s unerring ability to spoil a cake for a penn’orth of lard makes an appearance in an early chapter. It refused to fund the relocation of the control panel for the Jaguar’s nav/weapons system, despite early indications that its position in the bowels of the cockpit made a transition to out of cockpit monitoring difficult – with sometimes fatal results.
The Jag’s reputation – only levitating to the skies due to the curvature of the earth, etc – has some basis in fact. “People have tried to design an aircraft without lift or without thrust before, but the Jaguar was the first to try it without either.” Alastair Taggart’s chapter is particularly illuminating about the type’s tortuous gestation (it was originally intended to be an advanced trainer).
Andy Griffin describes a terrifying max weight take-off – in a temperature of 26 degrees, not a particularly hot/high situation. An idea of the lack of power can be gained from the fact that cockpit air conditioning had to be turned off for take-off. High loss rates (by the standards of the times) were endured in the machine’s early days, largely attributed to dicey low speed handling, and the almost complete inability to extricate it from a spin. One of the most colourful writers, and also an honest soul (who was predisposed to such things) describes chucking up after merely a briefing (!!) about a possible spinning sortie during his flying training. He reminds me of a colleague with a similar affliction during my flying training, who after a week of desensitisation training at RAF North Luffenham, came back to the squadron and honked on his next flight. He was thereafter known as ‘Honker H….’!
The same colourful writer, Noel Osborne, describes an episode which well illustrates that Jag mates were at the top of the tree in terms of banter and practical jokes. After he had landed after destroying the basket of a Victor tanker (not an uncommon occurrence) , a junior pilot on the squadron, one Andy Cubin, awarded Noel a tasteless phallic trophy on his return to the crewroom as recipient of ‘Prick of the Month’ award! Cubes went on the Red Arrows, and later to break the heart of one of my female colleagues at the time. Osborne’s treatment after his final RAF sortie tested his evident great good humour to the full. One of the concluding chapters describes a spoof of intense complexity merely to make an arriving junior pilot feel one inch tall.
On the subject of phalluses (?phalli?), Ian Smith describes the artistry of an unknown pilot (but in a way that sounds uncannily first person) who had created a phallus with his contrails in the skies above an AOC’s inspection in Scotland. Priceless!
Bernard Molard, gives a very literate and thoughtful chapter on his experiences as an exchange pilot – it is of note that the RAF’s low flying authorisation limits were considerably more punchy than those of the French Air Force.
The Jag Force saw action in Op Desert Storm (Gulf War 1) in both recce and ground attack roles. The book provides valuable insight into the preparation for and execution of, that war. I could not help but notice that Mike Bagshaw was flying combat missions in that tussle at the ripe old age of 54! The Jag Boys then went on to participate in the Bosnian campaign, and there is ample evidence that military success there was precluded by political directives.
So the book has high entertainment value, and redresses the balance in providing coverage of the career of one of the least glamourous machines of the RAF’s recent past. Yet at its end I was left still wondering quite why this usually grossly underpowered machine was the subject of such affection by its crew.