Paul Courtnage - Vox Clamantis in Deserto
Vox Clamantis in Deserto - Pilot Training

  Links to chapters:

A slow start to pilot training
A Flumine Impugnamus - RAFPilot Training

Courtney's Journal - Man's Flight Through Life is Sustained by the Power of his Learning

On this page: RAF Pilot Training at RAF Linton-on-Ouse,   RAF Valley, RAF Brawdy.

RAF Pilot Training: RAF Linton-on-Ouse
Well, Almost!

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You know how you wait for something so long that when you get it you wonder if you really wanted it after all? Well this was nothing like that at all. This was to be the start of the first phase of RAF Pilot Training, basic flying training, at No 1 Flying Training School, RAF Linton-on-Ouse in Yorkshire.

Actually, as it turned out, it wasn't. I was at my parents' house in Hemel Hempstead, enjoying a spot of relaxing leave, when I received a phone call one morning from RAF Linton-on-Ouse (or, more correctly, someone at RAF Linton-on-Ouse) telling me my course was over-subscribed and that the youngest four students, which included me, had been put back (re-coursed) to the following one. That meant another 6 weeks wait. Their recommendation was that the four of us should take a bit more leave and then find something useful to do. Something useful!! That was exactly what I was trying to do! I could think of nothing more useful than learning to fly jets. Anyway, the RAF's outdoors activity centre at Grantown-on-Spey in Scotland was open to us for a fortnight and it was also suggested that we should attach ourselves to a front-line squadron for two weeks to 'gain an insight into the operational Air Force'. In other words a way of keeping us occupied whilst the RAF sorted itself out.

For the 'squadron of my choice', I went to 24 Squadron at RAF Lyneham, who operated C130 Lockheed Hercules transport aircraft. I flew pretty much every day, which was my reasoning behind choosing a transport squadron), attaching myself to a fast jet squadron would have meant doing crappy jobs for two weeks with the very remote chance of getting a flight in a jet if I was very lucky. So, I got to see Medical Evacuations (MedEvacs) from Ulster, troop drops on Salisbury Plain, tactical low flying in Germany and 'trash hauling' around the UK. The final treat was to ride in the Hercules that was leading the Queen's Birthday Review fly past at RAF Finningley, then the home of navigator training. I'd been given a taste of a range of flying, and my imagination told me that fast jet operations must be even better.

RAF C-130 Hercules
RAF C130 Hercules, 24 Squadron, RAF Lyneham 1977

Later, the four of us met up on the train to Scotland on our way to the Outdoor Activities Centre at Grantown-on-Spey. We were met at Aveimore railway station by an energetic Sergeant in his Land Rover for the short jaunt to Grantown. It was a glorious summer so this had the potential to be a good time. The Outdoor Activity Centre at Grantown-on-Spey looked like all outdoor activity centres: a poorly maintained old church hall with the sort of uncivilized facilities that outdoors types enthuse about whenever you mention words like cagoule, crampon or karabiner. When we arrived, there was a note mentioning that 50 air cadets were turning up that evening and would we mind getting dinner ready for them...

What the place did boast was a good deal of equipment, the Scottish Highlands on its doorstep and great people to run it all. Daily, we queued-up for our bangers and beans served on tin plates (of course) with tombstones of bread and that rather curious liquid that one is offered under the label 'tea' on such occasions. It is, of course, only similar to tea in two noticeable ways: its colour (although only just) and its name.

White water snorks!

River Spey The River Spey

Climbing Cul Mor (West coast of Scotland) on my birthday, 1977


I must say at this point that I am no mountain goat. I like the idea of hill walking and have often volunteered to go and do it. However, I always find that the reality of it is blemished by the fact that it is geographically impossible to walk downhill without, at some point, walking up one. I can only take pleasure in walking up long, steep mountains for a certain number of hours, then it stops being fun. Anyway, our time at Grantown was largely dominated by walking and Scotland is largely dominated by mountains, which are beautiful and generous.

I partook of an understandably little known sport, which can only be described as 'White Water Schnorkelling'. This involves donning a well-worn wet suit, mask and breathing tube and plunging bravely in a fast flowing, rock-strewn, icy river, in this case the River Spey. What happens next can only be described as sensational.

Imagine yourself there. You have no control whatsoever over your destiny and the preceding assurance that 'it will be fine' provides little comfort once in the water. In fact the word comfort doesn't even enter into it. First there is the mind-numbing shock of the wet suit filling with super-cooled water (recently melted snow), a feeling whose only benefit is temporarily to divert your attention away from the horror of what is going on around you. Second, as the mind recovers from the initial cold trauma sufficiently to become cognisant of its physical predicament, it realizes that its physical assembly (an undeniably fragile bag of bones) is hurtling towards an immense (undeniably far from fragile and utterly immovable) rock. Beneath the turbulent foam and heaving effervescence all is painfully perceptible to view though the crystal clear mountain water.

Next comes utter, blind panic. Thrashing arms and legs prove totally powerless to modify your course dictated by the swift and authoritative flow of the river. Like a train speeding towards the end of the line, no amount of puny human endeavour can avoid the inevitable. Then, when it already seems too late, Newton steps in with a miracle of physics that takes the mind a moment to comprehend. The water, of course, can't go through the rock, ergo, it must go round it. And along with it goes your feeble anatomy, frivolously brushed aside by some mighty, invisible hand. Effortlessly, the current carries you round every obstacle, guiding you through deep, submarine ravines.

The third stage now begins as you enjoy the thrill of this underwater flight. It is fantastic. The sub aqua landscape flashes past, the sky above filled with boiling clouds of foam. Rock, mountains and valleys strewn with straining, flattened weeds, which trail in the torrential current. Occasional cascades fracture the delusion as one pours over the edge of the world only to plunge into a new illusion of reality.

Then stage four. A stunning pain filters into your cold-soaked brain as you realize that your elbow has just stopped believing in Newton and has cracked itself on a large, immovable chunk of granite. As you bend your head to check your arm a second, more excruciating blow to the left temple causes a sudden inhalation of freezing water through the now submerged breathing tube. Choking and stunned, you decide to head for the bank, but there is no way to escape the river's grasp. Half a mile later, some shallows, littered with pointed stones and surprised fishermen, enervate the current's clutches allowing you to stand and limp unsteadily, still choking, to the bank.

Phase five is the two mile walk back to your towel and dry clothes across sharp, slippery rocks wearing a rubber bag filled with cold water and cracked limbs. I only did it once.

The following day, our untrained and un-roped ascent of Cul Mor seemed a trifling pastime. A mere thousand foot plummet onto yet more granite no longer seemed such a threat. Well, apart from the fact that I hate heights. Having climbed one side and descended the other, we went to Ullapool for a pint or two. About nine o'clock I realized that it was my birthday! We had some beers.

We walked the Larig Ghru, and later we undertook a survival exercise in the hills for a few days. Equipped with a number of parachutes, basic survival packs and the fascinating and highly informative Manual of Aircrew Survival, we were dumped in a small copse on the side of an attractive Scottish valley. We caught some rabbits and built a paraglider. The former we ate, the latter we constructed from an almost new parachute that was left over from our 'tent' building. The lines from the 'chute were gathered into two bundles and secured to two steel D-rings from other parachute packs. From these led a long piece of nylon chord that the team would use to pull the 'glider' and 'pilot' as fast as they could. The 'pilot' simply held onto the D-rings and 'enjoyed' the 'flight'. Unfortunately this was normally over in about 15 seconds and so we realized the need for some kind of initial altitude. We spotted the answer. A sandy bank that formed a cliff face about 50 feet high. The flier now had to climb the cliff, arrange his gravity-defying craft behind him, grasp the handles and jump as the team dragged him up to flying speed.

It was about this point where it all went horribly wrong. You see, the whole purpose of a parachute is to slow things down. While it was very good, in its original form at least, at reducing a body's rate of decent, it was also very good at retarding the progress of the pulling crew. Its modification had also subtly altered its aerodynamic characteristics in so far as it now went down much better that would normally be ideal for a parachute. The consequence of all this was that it delivered its 'pilot' to the ground in a crumpled heap only to be dragged across the stony terrain by the propulsion team who had not expected the airborne phase of the sortie to have ended so quickly. The only aspect of our short-lived aeronautical project that we had, technically speaking, got right was to choose the lightest of our group to be the pilot. That, of course, at around 130 lbs, was me.

Amazingly and despite our best efforts, we all survived our expedition to Grantown-on-Spey and were eventually on our way to RAF Linton-on-Ouse in Yorkshire. A Flumine Impugnamus is the station motto; it translates as 'From the River we Strike', the river in this case being the Ouse. Pilot training at last! Having moved our few possessions (in most cases the obligatory stereo, some clothes and a carefully chosen selection of junk) into our rooms in the Officers' Mess, we met, as if drawn by an invisible magnet, in the bar. The almost automatic process of making friends and, in many cases, renewing old acquaintances was deftly disguised by a furore of beer sampling and good humour.

The Knoydart Deployment

The tiny settlement in Knoydart,
Scotland - 1977

Knoydart Knoydart


We were more than ready for some exciting, aviation-related stuff, like the start of our RAF flying training. But, again, not so damn fast! One of the courses ahead of us was running late and didn't look like finishing on time. This was the cue for us to step out of the way for a while...   ...again! This time it was to be the entire course. We were hastily and unceremoniously packed into a 55-seater 'luxury' RAF coach and dispatched to Knoydart, a large estate on the west coast of Scotland (look just north of Malaig on the map) owned at the time by a retired British Army gentleman who was clearly in need of some free slave labour - that meant us - to construct a hydro-electric power distribution network, more of which in a moment.

Getting to Knoydart from Linton-on-Ouse involved a protracted and death-defying interlude in the afore-mentioned coach. Our driver, named Dave, was a Yorkshireman who had his own special interpretation of 'might is right'. As we headed further north, the roads became increasingly less substantial and, fortunately, less populated. In fact, after many, many hours on the dusty road, it became apparent that we were in the middle of nowhere – if indeed it has a middle.

If I might impose upon your imagination once more, please picture this: It is a beautiful day in late summer and we are somewhere adjacent to the West Coast of Scotland. A glance at the map informs us that we are travelling along an example of that uniquely Scottish innovation; the orange and black dotted road. The legend enlightens us that this symbol denotes a single lane, unmettalled road with passing places. As we round a corner (listing viciously under the influence of the intemperate northbound velocity with which we are currently blessed), the black and orange dotted road appears also to be utilized by an innocent southbound incumbent. Dave shows no sign of distress, discouragement or, indeed, deceleration despite the fact that the byway is barely even wide enough for us alone. 'Dave, look out for that car! Dave, there's no room! Dave.... oh, it's OK, he seems to have pulled over into that large ditch.' And so we continued north, unabated.

There is no road to Knoydart, so the last leg of our journey had to be in an antediluvian fishing smack, the captain of which was only marginally more sagacious than Dave and, possibly, slightly less sober. Despite this, we made it to our destination in tact. Knoydart is composed predominantly of wild Scottish glens populated by abundant herds of majestic Red Deer. The entire human community inhabits a modest settlement located on the harbour at the western end of the peninsula. It is remote, quiet and exquisitely unspoiled. Wealthy gentry pay large amounts of money to come here to stalk deer.

The place's main drawback was its lack of utilities, especially mains electricity. Generators supplied the region's power for a limited period each day. It was for this reason that the Laird wanted a hydroelectric system installed. Clearly, this is an expensive undertaking, unless, of course, you can find some gullible, free labourers to effect the work on your behalf. The basic deal was that we chopped down trees, stripped them, bathed them in creosote and planted them again in neat rows ready for the power lines that would carry comfort and convenience to the local community. In return for our selfless toil, he would then keep us out of the way for a further 3 days so that we were no longer an embarrassment to Linton. In other words, he would selflessly allow us to camp on his land.

Although there was nothing officially laid on for us to do during the 3-day leisure period, most of my colleagues amused themselves with fishing, walking and recovering from the previous evening's excesses. There was no pub as such, just a kind of local persons' drinking club, which sold locally produced whisky and dodgy rum. At the time, one of our number was undertaking his Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, which required him to lead a short expedition of 4 people over 50 miles to include an overnight camp. The four of us that had been to Grantown together decided to go along with this. Our overnight stop was very pleasant. We camped under a lean-to made by attaching a ground sheet to a dry-stone wall. We awoke, in the warm glow of a beautiful northern sunrise, to the sight of an exquisite, remote Scottish loch, upon which was moored a wooden boat complete with outboard motor and lashings of fuel. These components assembled easily into a barrel of fun. Alerted by the sound of shotgun fire, we determined that the owner of the boat was approaching from the East. We made a hasty exit to the West. By now, I'd spent more time in the mountains, this year, than Maria von Trapp. It was time for something else.

Pilot Training at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. A Flumine Impugnamus - From the River We Strike
RAF Linton-on-Ouse
A Flumine Impugnamus - From the River We Strike

Finally started at Linton.



Basic Flying Training: RAF Linton-on-Ouse
Jet Provost Mk3 & Mk5A

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All that was the unscheduled prelude to five weeks of ground school, the place of learning of all things aeronautical: aerodynamics (which did little to explain our earlier paraflying failure), meteorology, aircraft systems, instrumentation, navigation and even Morse code, which was quickly forgotten by all, but only after the exam. Later, the teaching became more specific, turning our focus to the Jet Provost Mark 3 (JP3). This was to be the steed for our fledgling flights and the next 100 hours of RAF flying training. It was an old aircraft, underpowered and lacking the elaborate avionics of a modern jet fighter but, nonetheless, a substantial handful for the new student pilot. Before we got near the jet we spent many hours learning checks, procedures and emergency drills. Even a simple aircraft such as this has numerous limitations to be memorised: maximum airspeed, maximum positive and negative 'g', maximum altitude and Mach number, undercarriage and flap limiting speeds, landing speed. We should commit to memory all about the aircraft systems, pressures, capacities, flow rates, voltages and the like. Hours of repetition in the procedures trainer (there was no simulator) and it all started to sink in. It all had to be second nature; it's one thing knowing the engine fire drill well enough to recite it in the comfort of the classroom, but quite another to perform it under the watchful eye of one's flying instructor or in the air - or indeed for real. Actually, years later, I still maintain that performing emergency drills observed by an instructor or examiner is far more difficult than handling the real thing – think of that as having to take your driving test every day. And so we prepared ourselves for the start of the next phase, flying the jet.

I can remember plenty of sunny days in the Vale of York when the blue skies meant good flying or good motorcycling. I also recall a number of days when the sun rose on a seriously damp landscape - the type of scene that would cause a less determined sun lose its resolve, give up and go straight back to bed. These were traditionally labelled 'Black Flag' days and nobody slipped the surly bonds of earth (with apologies to John Patrick Magee as you will see shortly) on days like these. Instead, we prospective knights of the sky were subjected to whatever ordeal our instructors saw fit. Typically, one of them would give us a three-hour diatribe on how great it was when he was flying Meteors in Malaya. Alternatively, we could have a no-notice exam or, even more joyous, a jolly stiff telling-off. As well as teaching us, they were there to decide who would pass the course and who would fail. Their authority seemed absolute. If you want to know what it was really like, watch the short video below...


Jet Provost Mark 3, 1FTS, RAF Linton-on-Ouse (RAF Pilot Training)
Jet Provost Mark 3, 1FTS,
RAF Linton-on-Ouse


Courtney in the
crewroom at RAF Pilot Training,
1FTS, RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

Meter reading medium

Jet Provosts.


29 September 1977 - my first sortie of my RAF Pilot Training. JP3 number XM352. My instructor, Fg Off Ray Coates, took me through the procedure. Met brief, map preparation and sortie briefing. 40 minutes to cover everything we were going to do in the air. Each exercise described in careful detail, every technique explained: walk, pre-flight inspection of the aircraft, strap in, engine start, taxi, take off.

I need to digress slightly at this point. A necessary step in this military flying business is to have a name, not your own, a new name by which you would be know by fellow aviators. Now, at the time, the RAF's brave band of Lightning pilots had a habit of referring to each other as 'Courtney', a name popularized for them by the films 'Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines' and 'Aces High'. So, on the occasion of our first meeting at the start of this brief, Ray Coates decided that Courtnage was so close to Courtney that this had to be my new name (tactical call sign, as the Americans would call it). I've been Courtney ever since and damned proud of it.

Back to my first sortie. The meat of the sortie was to be 'effects of controls', how to fly straight and level, turning, familiarization with the local area and the aircraft, air traffic control procedures and then back to the airfield to get into the circuit. 'I want to hear you recite all the checks as you do them'. This was the instructor's method of verifying that each student knew every item on the checklist by heart, word perfect.

We signed-out in the squadron authorisation sheets, signed for the jet in the line hut and discussed any minor snags or limitations with the engineers. Then we walked out to the flight line to the jet. Ray (or 'Sir' as he prefered to be known) demonstrated the pre-flight inspection to me. On the next sortie and thereafter I would have to do this. We climbed in and strapped in. I was trying to think ahead to what comes next. It was all very strange and I recall wondering if I'd prepared myself thoroughly enough. The classroom and cockpit trainer seemed a million miles away. The procedures suddenly seemed strangely unfamiliar. We strapped into the ejection seats. Then, unexpectedly, he held out his hand to me. I was surprised and not a little touched. Here I was at the start of my flying career and this God-like being wanted to shake my hand to wish me luck. I shook his hand.

'What the hell are you doing, Courtney? Give me your bloody seat pin and stop arsing about!'

The ejection seat is made safe by steel pins, which prevent the inadvertent operation of the firing handles. Once securely strapped in, these are carefully removed and placed in a stowage that, in the case of the JP, was more accessible to the man in the right-hand seat (the instructor) than me in the left. His hand was offered to receive my seat pins, not to offer his best wishes. Nice start, Courtney.

The sortie itself went much better. Actually, it was fantastic. I was doing it, the realization of a dream. The early flights concentrated on the 'bread-and-butter' stuff of flying. The basic manoeuvres that form the foundation for all that was to follow. Circuits, landings, aerobatics, stalling, spinning and emergency patterns.

RAF Linton-on-Ouse gate guardian, Hunting Jet Provost Mark 3a, XN589, RAF Flying Training

Since the Jet Provosts were retired from service at RAF Linton-on-Ouse this JP3 has become the official gate guard for the station.
According to my Pilot's logbook, I first flew this particular aircraft (XN589) on 23rd November 1977.

Jet Provost Mark 5
Jet Provost Mark 5, 1FTS,
RAF Linton-on-Ouse.
Picture by Courtney


After some nine dual sorties I was sent solo. After a thirty-minute flight during which my instructor assessed my suitability to fly unsupervised, we taxied into the flight line and he got out. He briefed me on what to do if anything went wrong – basically, at this early stage, jump out! An engineer came and tied down the straps in the now vacant right hand seat and marshalled me out. It was all very quiet. No nagging voice, no reminders, no help. I liked the feeling. For this first time out alone, all I was allowed was one circuit. It was all over too soon, but it had been a major milestone. At last I had taken the first step towards realising my dream.

Then came the process of building on the basics. Low-level navigation at 180 knots (say, around 200 mph) was thrilling. Learning to employ and trust in basic techniques was (and remains) the key to success. Slowly it all started to come together. Just as one event started to become familiar we would start another: formation flying, instrument flying and tail chasing - the lead-in to that sport of kings, air combat. 100 hours on the JP3 was followed by a step up to the JP5. More power, cockpit pressurization and more speed. It all happens faster now; the mental processes must be sharper. There are check rides and tests all the time. Each one is a hurdle. Others course members falter from time to time. Those who fall by the way side either leave the pilot brotherhood and go to try navigator training or leave flying altogether, opting for ground appointments such as air traffic or fighter controller. Those who remain, secretly wonder if they'll ever make it. Most who fail have usually expected it and it seldom comes as a complete surprise. The final 'chop' is normally accompanied by a great deal of relief. Often weeks of mounting pressure have been exacerbated by a perceived continuing failure to reach the standards. Often, the poor guy knows it's coming, but doggedly sticks at it until the bitter end. We all feel deeply sorry for the guy, but are quietly thankful that it was 'he and not I'.

Each week was filled with new learning, new challenges and new experiences. Some events came easily, others were more tortuous. Remind me to explain limited-panel instrument flying sometime - preferably over a large beer. The end of each week meant a chance to cast off the burden of examination and assessment and unwind from the pressures of the 'high life'. Friday evening at 5 o'clock would see all that had not departed for the weekend, assemble in the Officers' Mess Bar. Over 'a few beers' instructors and students would exchange stories, right wrongs and hoary old pilots who used to fly Lightnings would sound off about 'real flying'. Former Lightning pilots' ribald stories of flying escapades always began with the words 'when I was on Lightnings' and so they had acquired the name WIWOLs. There were ripping yarns of flying Hunters in the Middle East and even some excitement from one of the truckies' about the time he took a burning Hercules into Hong Kong, nothing on the dial but the maker's name, etc, etc. It was all part of the learning process. It was all part of acquiring the right attitude, the right deportment, the right stuff.

Pilot Training. Hunting Jet Provost Mark 5
Jet Provost Mk5A, RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

York. Paul Courtnage (Courtney)

York Minster
York Minster

The Shambles in York
The Shambles in York

Weekends at Linton meant one thing: into York at lunch time to exorcise the excesses of Friday night with a prescription of Samuel Smith's Old Brewery Bitter and a piping hot Shepherd's Pie in The Star (pub). Perhaps a gentle ramble around the town or motorbikes into the country. York is a beautiful city with a long and varied history. It was a major Roman fortress when it was called Eboracum, you know. Later, in Anglo-Saxon times it became Eferwic for some obscure reason, which is, I'm afraid, unlikely ever to become apparent in these pages. In 867AD it was captured by the Vikings who named it Jorvik and it remained part of Danelaw until 954 when, under the Saxons, it became York. It boasts the best-preserved medieval street in Europe, the Shambles, which is mentioned in the Doomsday Book, and, of course, the Minster, which is the largest Gothic cathedral in Europe. More importantly, it is the county town of the region that, in my not so humble opinion, produces some of the best beer in Britain.

The year at Linton passed quickly. Graduation was a less formal occasion than that from Officer Training, but still the proud parents eyed proud sons who had successfully cleared another hurdle. Most of us who graduated were destined for RAF Valley on the island of Anglesey in North Wales. Some of the others were bound for multi-engine training, others for helos. For now, we were all going for some well-earned leave. Time to catch up with family and friends and live a more 'normal' life for a while.

However, before we left, there was one further lesson to be learnt. Flying is dangerous. In some respects, it is less dangerous than many other common, daily activities, but when it goes wrong it's consequences can be severe indeed. One sure experience in every pilot's life is that, sooner or later, you are going to lose someone you know to a flying accident. It is an unfortunate but, sadly, inevitable fact of flying. Tragically, we lost one of our flying instructors, Flight Lieutenant John Fox, when his Jet Provost aircraft crashed into Garthwaite Reservoir in North Yorkshire. He, apparently, made no attempt to eject; his aircraft was destroyed and he was killed on impact. This was to be the first of many wasteful deaths that were to cloud my life. To those we have lost, the following salute says it all:

High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

RAF Valley. In Adversis Perfugium - A Refuge in Adversity
RAF Valley
In Adversis Perfugium - A Refuge in Adversity

Advanced Flying Training at 4FTS RAF Valley - Hawk T1

Click here for a pdf article on the Hawk

Hawk T1, RAF Valley
Hawk T1, RAF Valley, Anglesea 1978

Hawk T1
Hawk T1, 4FTS, RAF Valley


Advanced Flying Training: RAF Valley
Hawk T1

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Prince of Wales Feathers

The next phase of training. We packed our bags and headed across the country to the West Coast of Wales with high hopes and boundless enthusiasm. Next was to be Advanced Flying Training at Number 4 Flying Training School (4FTS), RAF Valley and the hope of earning our wings. The motto of RAF Valley 'In Adversis Perfugium' translates as 'Refuge in Adversity'.

Anglesey will never be among my favourite places. Certainly I can appreciate its rugged charms as well as anybody else, but I'm afraid it's not always very friendly. It would seem that the locals aren't too keen on visitors – especially English ones. I can remember walking into a shop in Valley village (Y Fali) and hearing people speaking English. However, when they realized that they had a 'foreigner' in their midst, they immediately switched into Welsh and pretended they couldn't speak English. And don't get me wrong, I'm all for national pride, but I did find that attitude a bit bloody rude.

Of course, it would be inexcusable of me not to mention Anglesey's greatest claim to fame. That is:


This is, as I'm sure you can tell, a made-up name. It was devised by a clever Welshman who spotted its tourist-gathering potential when the London to Holyhead line was opened at the end of the 19th century. It means: 'St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel, near a rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave.' Quite who St Tysilio was, I really couldn't say. As for the existence of a rapid whirlpool or a red cave, I have severe doubts. Nonetheless, it has attracted thousands of tourists, eager to purchase a platform ticket bearing Britain's longest place name.


Prior to my arrival at RAF Valley, all advanced flying training had been conducted in the Gnat or the Hunter, both wonderful aircraft in their day. British Aerospace had recently delivered the Hawk to the Royal Air Force and this was to be my new jet. The Hawk T Mk 1 was a dream, modern, shiny and new. It was also a hell of a step up from the JP. The training system at Valley was a step up too. We (the students) were treated far more like real people than had been the practice at Linton. Well, we had proved something, not much, perhaps, but something. That said, the basic ideas behind the course were not that different. The elements of the flying syllabus were similar but much more advanced; many of the exercises had the same names: General Handling (GH), Instrument Flying (IF), low and high level navigation and so on. Low-level navigation was flown faster (at 420 kts) and far more tactically, ultimately as formations of 2 or 4 aircraft. We were all impressed by the 'big boy' approach to it all. There was no doubt about it that this was by far the best flying we had seen to date - by a long way.

Hawk T1

Hawk T1
Hawk T1, RAF Valley. Photo by Pilot Officer Paul Courtnage.

The Hawk, I decided, was an altogether fine aeroplane. It was versatile, agile and, generally, very serviceable. It was easily capable of over 500 knots at low level. It could carry a variety of air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons including sidewinder, 30 millimetre Aden cannon, free-fall bombs and rockets. However, the Hawks at Valley at the time were simply trainers and did not, therefore, have the hardware installed to carry any of that exciting kit. There was probably enough to worry about at that stage of training without weapons handling to confuse us further - that would come later (both weapons and confusion).

Low-level flying was a real rush. At 250 feet and 420 knots the ground flows past quickly and smoothly. One has a bird's eye view of the scenery below, while hills and valley sides flash past at eye level or above and more distant objects show vertical extent. Hills look like hills, masts and chimneys look like masts and chimneys. The horizon is closer than it is at altitude and weather is a far more critical factor. In areas with high ground (including mountains) any low cloud could have a 'hard centre': 'Cumulo-Granite'.

Sir Keith Williamson came for our graduation and ceremoniously presented us with our shiny, new pilot's wings. Valley had been good, but it was time for bigger and better things and by the end of June 1979 we were finally off to the Tactical Weapons Unit at RAF Brawdy, in Dyfed, South Wales.

Pilot Officer Paul Courtnage - wings certificate
Pilot Officer Paul Courtnage - wings certificate

Tactical Weapons Unit (1TWU), RAF Brawdy

RAF Brawdy. Amddiffynfa Gorllewin - Western Defence
RAF Brawdy
Amddiffynfa Gorllewin - Western Defence

Hawk T1A, Tactical Weapons Unit, RAF Brawdy
Hawk T1A, No. 1 Tactical Weapons Unit,
RAF Brawdy, South Wales. 30mm Aden cannon on the centreline, CBLS - port wing, SNEB pod starboard wing.

Meter reading low

Tactical Weapons Unit: RAF Brawdy
Hawk T1A

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RAF Brawdy reopened as 1TWU on 2nd September 1974 and had taken delivery of its Hawk T1As in January 1978, replacing its Hawker Hunter fleet (see picture below). RAF Brawdy's moto was Amddiffynfa Gorllewin, meaning Western Defence. But unlike Valley, this was Strike Command and we had moved up a step. So, on 1st July 1979, I flew my first sortie in a proper coloured RAF jet - Strike Command's green and grey camouflage instead of the red and white 'raspberry ripple' of Training Command. By the end of July we were flying tactical and simulated weapons sorties and the next milestone was firing my first real weapon - a SNEB rocket- on 2nd August.

Life was really looking good. The difference in attitude of the locals and the instructors was amazing. Dyfed used to be Pembrokeshire and so the locals were almost English (perhaps don't tell them I said that!) and, all of a sudden, the instructors were overtly on our side. We worked and played together. It was a superb atmosphere and the flying was excellent too. The TWU took newly brevetted pilots and made them into tactical pilots. The area was fun and the flying was fast and furious, lots of low level and weapons sorties to Pembrey Range. Although there was no town particularly close, there were plenty of good local pubs that were more than happy to look after us.

There was a lot to learn on this course and it was certainly a big boys' school. We covered advanced low-level navigation, tactical formation, low-level evasion, air combat, strafe, air-to-air gunnery, SNEB, 10° dive bombing, and then moved onto the advanced phase. This entailed Simulated Attack Profiles (SAPs). These were a series of missions that pulled together all the skills learnt on the course, progressively increasing pressure on the student.

By the end of the phase, we were planning, briefing and leading sorties, which included a weapon delivery at Pembrey Range, 2 off-range targets to attack with hard times, leading a formation at low level and with a 'bounce' simulating an enemy fighter who was trying to disrupt the formation, throw out the timing and drag us off the planned route. These were demanding sorties. I enjoyed the entire course, but in particular the air-to-air sorties. Some years before, my father had given me a model F4 Phantom to build. From that day forth, I was captured by its smooth, powerful lines and its air of overt meanness. The RAF was using the F4 in the Air Defence role and, so, I asked to be sent to fly Phantoms after the TWU course. Unfortunately there were no courses available for me at that time on the Phantom OCU, but the staff at Brawdy agreed to allow me to hold there and keep current while I waited. I had enjoyed my time at Brawdy so I was happy to wait there for a while.

Hawk T1A Tactical Trainer
British Aerospace Hawk T1A

One of the very greatest bonuses to come out of this was the fact that I got to fly the Hawker Hunter with 79 Sqn. This was a classic aircraft. A pilots' aircraft. A true, purebred, swept-wing fighter. All right, it was no youngster, having seen action all over the world since the 1950s, but it was still wonderful to fly. It had few vices and was a still a very capable platform. It even looked right...

79 Squadron Hunter

After Christmas I had to go back to RAF Brawdy for a short refresher course, to get ready for the next stage of my training, the Phantom OCU (Operational Conversion Unit, the outfit that converts aircrew to their new aircraft type).The refresher course was to make sure that I was up to speed for Phantom training. I was about to open another, even more exciting chapter in my life. So let's see what tomorrow was to bring.

Paul Courtnage

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