F-4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K)
43 Squadron - McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K)

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RAF Leuchars - F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K)
RAF Leuchars

43 Sqn, The Fighting Cocks - F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K).

43 Squadron, The Fighting Cocks - F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K)

Man's Flight Through Life is Sustained by the Power of his Learning. 43 Squadron F4s - F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K)

On this page: 43 Squadron - The Fighting Cocks,   Quick Reaction Alert,   Op Pulsator,   The Still,
                      The Mini Prank,   Mercedes Split,   Chris Kebab,   Annual Checks.

43 Squadron, RAF Leuchars

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In June 1983 Flight Lieutenant Courtnage was posted to 43 Squadron at RAF Leuchars, flying the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom again, but this time the FG1, a slightly different model. I was very happy with this posting for a number of reasons: first, it meant I had survived my first tour with my life and career in tact (despite my best efforts), secondly, I would get to fly the F4 some more and, thirdly, I would now be something other than a brand new 'first tourist' and would become a 'senior shag' on what was widely regarded as the RAF's premier fighter squadron - admittedly, this was mainly by 43 Squadron. Finally, as RAF Leuchars is sited on the north coast of Fife and close to St. Andrews, the local area was (and still is) quite beautiful.

Number 43 Squadron was christened the Fighting Cocks because of the Gloster Gamecocks, which the Squadron first flew in 1926. This also gave rise to the Gamecock emblem on the 43 Squadron crest. In fact, the particular cockerel that adorns the official badge is fashioned after a 1760 etching of the champion Gamecock of all England - just in case you were wondering. Around the same time (the 1920s, not 1760), the squadron adopted the now familiar black and white chequers although the reason for this is far from clear. Suffice to say, the chequers markings are unmistakably 43 Squadron's trademark.

43 Squadron, The Fighting Cocks - F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K)

Number 43 Squadron equipped with the McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantom in September 1969; it flew these until September 1989, the arrival of the Tornado F3 (Chapter 10). Whereas most RAF Phantom squadrons were flying the FGR2 (as I said, the RAF's designation for the F4M), the two Leuchars squadrons (43 and 111 Squadrons) operated FG1s, the F4K. Half of these had been flown by the Fleet Air Arm from HMS Ark Royal (R09) when she was a proper carrier (Audacious-class aircraft carrier).

RAF Leuchars was the shore base for the Ark Royal's F4 Phantoms as witnessed by the Ark Royal Hangar still there. The differences between the two marks of Phantom were numerous: the FGR2 had a HF radio, an INAS (Inertial Navigation and Attack System) and an internal battery. The FG1 had none of these, but had slotted stabilators (the slab tailplanes) for added manoeuvrability and all the carrier launch equipment. It was known to us as the North Sea Sports GT model.

Having left 29 Squadron in Cyprus in June, it was only fitting that it should be 43 Squadron who took over from them out there. That meant that I had to rush home from Cyprus, move up to Leuchars, get a very quick and gentlemanly checkout in the FG1 before dashing back out to Cyprus to join the rest of my new squadron. It was a glorious summer and a great way to meet the new 'boys'. Actually, I did three detachments to Cyprus that summer, but we'll come to the third a little later.

Quick Reaction Alert

Type 84 Radar, RAF Boulmer, home of our Fighter Controllers RAF Boulmer, Type 84 Radar

RAF Leuchars Air Traffic Control RAF Leuchars Air Traffic Control

43 Squadron Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) 43 Squadron F4 QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) - F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K)
43 Squadron F4 Phantom on QRA at RAF Leuchars - 1984. Photo by Courtney


Quick Reaction Alert (QRA)

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I briefly mentioned QRA in Chapter 6 and promised a look in a bit more detail here. QRA was a major commitment at RAF Leuchars - two F4 Phantoms on constant readiness and a third in reserve all day and night, every day and night. Southern Q rotated between the three southern air defence bases, Binbrook (5 Squadron and 11 Squadron Lightnings), Wattisham (23 Squadron and 56 Squadron RAF F4 Phantom FGR2s) and Coningsby (29 Squadron and 228 OCU F4 Phantoms), but Northern Q resided permanently at Leuchars, alternating every fortnight between 43 Squadron (the fine Fighting Cocks) and 111 Squadron ('Tremblers'). It was a busy operation in those days and we would regularly see upwards of four scrambles each week in response to Soviet intrusion into our airspace - the UK ADR.

If you were on Q on a day with no activity, you were unlucky as you were stuck there and it could be mind numbingly tedious; the possibility of a launch was always there, but you never knew when or if it would come. Perhaps this is a good moment to describe a day on QRA.

The concept is simple: At the duty QRA station (Leuchars in this case) we have a two fighter crews with armed jets cocked and ready to go and the groundcrew to support and service the jets. We also had another crew and another jet on standby. On the other end of a comms box, called Telebrief, we have a fighter controller scanning the skies with ground based radars and (sometimes) AEW or AWACS for possible intruders into our airspace. Of course, his job isn't that simple as the fighter controller first has to separate a soviet intruder from all the other air traffic in and around the UK, over the Atlantic or over Europe: airliners, light aircraft, oil rig traffic, air ambulances, police helicopters, military aviation... a lot of aircraft, maybe 500 every hour! Most frequently the Soviet Bears would transit around the North Cape from the Russian bases or come from further out in the Northern Atlantic and would often be intercepted either by Norway's QRA or Icelandic based US fighters.

The groundcrew would live in the QRA building - known as the Q Shed - for a week, the aircrew for 24 hours. So the day for me on Q would start at the Squadron at about 07:30 where I would collect my flying kit and prep anything I needed for the day. I would arrive at the QRA Building at 08:00 for the handover brief from the off-going crew, including a met brief, local airfield brief, intelligence summary and details of the QRA aircraft. We would sign for the classified material we needed to carry - codes and such.

Once briefed and authorized the previous day's crews were clear to depart and we would don our full flying kit and go out to the jets to accept them, sign for them and put them 'on state'. This means that as many of the pre-flight checks as possible are completed and all the avionics and systems are set up so that they can be started very quickly when the call comes. Weapons are primed so that they need only final arming - the removal of the last safety pins. My nav and I check all the systems and leave them set for a rapid start in the event of a scramble and then we check in with Operations, reporting that we are at cockpit readiness. Unless their happened to be any activity at the time, Operations would stand us down to RS10, which meant being in the Q Shed with kit either on or pre-positioned to be donned in quick time.

The rest of the day is spent waiting, but there are always things to do. We need to keep our information up-to-date as there is no time to check once the scramble message comes. Met, airfield and intelligence information needs to be current. Throughout the day, the groundcrew need to perform periodic checks and maintenance on the aircraft, which requires us to go out to the jets with them.

Various sections across the station are manned or on call 24 hours, 365 days to support us on Q: Air Traffic Control, the Met Office and Station Operations are manned. Safety equipment specialists are on call to service or replace any aircrew flying equipment (immersion suits, flying helmets, oxygen masks, g-suits, etc). On the airfield, maintenance teams are available to maintain all the radio, lighting and navigation equipment and the arrestor cables, while the Bird Control Unit keeps the airfield free of birds, reducing the risk of bird strike. Of course, the Crash and medical crews are on standby and the station photographic section is on call to develop any film taken on a QRA mission. Catering personnel provide meals for the aircrew and groundcrew in the Q Shed.

So you see, it's not just a couple of F4 Phantoms and crews in a building at Leuchars, this is a big operation, and we haven't even considered all the people on duty at the radar sites, national operations centres and stations providing other support to QRA such as air-to-air refuelling aircraft. Of course, there is an entire mirror image of the Leuchars QRA operation at the duty Southern QRA base.

F4K Phantom Navigation Computer

A scramble could come with no warning at all or, if the fighter controllers had good information of the intruders early enough, the crews may be bought to cockpit readiness to await a scramble order. Either way, there is no time to waste. First man there hits the siren to alert the groundcrew and we acknowledge the scramble order on telebrief. For comfort, crews generally wear just their thermal underwear and 'bunny suit' (a thick all-in-one thermal protection suit), aircrew socks and anti-g trousers. The bulky and sweaty immersion suit, necessary to prolong life in the freezing waters of the Arctic Ocean, would either be half on and tied at the waist or close at hand to be pulled on quickly. On top of this would go the aircrew life vest, complete with man-mounted oxygen regulator and other equipment connectors and the flying helmet and gloves.

Once dressed, we run to the aircraft hangar as ground power is applied to the aircraft by the groundcrew. We climb the boarding ladders and are helped to strap in. Seat pins are removed and stowed and once the boarding ladders are removed I start the engines. The ground crew remove the remaining safety pins from the weapons and pylons and disconnect the external power. The few remaining panels are fastened shut, the chocks are removed and we call Air Traffic Control for taxi clearance.

It's only a short distance to the main runway so the taxi checks and pre-take-off checks are done quickly. We both know them by heart, but we always do them 'challenge and response' - the nav asks the questions, I perform the action and confirm it to him. That way, nothing is forgotten. I switch radio frequencies to Tower and call for take-off. Turning onto the runway centreline, I select military power and, as we line up with the centreline, full burner.

F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K), 43 Squadron (The Fighting Cocks), RAF Leuchars. QRA at RAF Leuchars - 1984 - Soviet Bear, Tu95
43 Squadron F4 Phantom on QRA intercepts a Soviet Bear
Source: Royal Air Force

RAF Phantom F4 rear cockpit - F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K)RAF F4 Phantom rear cockpit showing radar controls (stowed). Click photo to enlarge.

In Q fit the jet is heavy and we have to be alert for any malfunctions - a high speed abort in this fit leaves much less room for error than normal. As we get airborne, I raise the gear and flaps, turn onto the pre-briefed heading and switch frequency again to contact our Fighter Controller who will start to guide us to the play area and liaise with civilian air traffic agencies on our behalf to get us through controlled airspace (airways, etc). The intruder could well be 500 miles away, but we are racing to intercept him as he enters our airspace. As we close the miles between us and our target, the Fighter Controller gives us continuous range, bearing, height, heading and speed of the target and positions us so that my nav can find it with the F4 Phantom's AN/AWG11 radar. Once we have contact, my nav calls 'Judy' to tell our controller that we now have control of the intercept. We position ourselves so that we can roll out behind the target and close on him slowly and carefully - remember we could be doing this at night, in thick cloud, so it's all blind using the radar to fly a VID. This requires skilled radar handling from my nav and precise flying from me, following his instructions.

We see the target and begin to manoeuvre ourselves to a position below its nose so that we can read the door numbers (see Chapter 6). Once complete, we report to our controller,

"Alpha 01, Identify one Bear Delta. Request Instructions."

"Alpha 01, Roger. Shadow."

Tu95 Bear Delta - RAF F4 Phantom Northern QRA Tu95 Bear Delta from our F4 Phantom FG1 on Northern QRA

Victor Tanker gets airborne from RAF Marham in support of RAF F4 Phantom Northern QRA Victor Tanker gets airborne from RAF Marham in support of RAF F4 Phantom Northern QRA.

Our instructions now are to follow the target and report his activity. Depending on how far we are from base, we may soon need to go to the Tanker to fill to full. If the scramble came without warning, the Tanker will still be on its way north from Marham (Norfolk), so we will shadow the Bear for as long as we can and then head south - either to meet the tanker or to be replaced by another QRA aircraft (probably another F4 Phantom from Leuchars or one from Southern QRA). Supported by a tanker, we could be here for a few hours.

Either way, we're released from the mission either when replaced by another aircraft or once the Bear leaves our airspace. We may have a couple of hour's transit back to Leuchars. Once we land, we need to get the aircraft checked over, refuelled, serviced and back on state. If there are any problems that cannot be fixed reasonably quickly, we'll bring another jet up to readiness. Once the aircraft is ready, we have to get our film processed and my nav writes his mission report and gets it sent off.

For us, it's time for a much deserved and somewhat delayed meal and then back to waiting. If we're not scrambled again, we'll have dinner at about 8 and watch videos on the television until we retire to bed. We sleep, but with one ear turned to the telebrief ready for that night time scramble. In the morning we handover to the next crews and go on our way. The following day is usually 'Q stand-down', a rest day, but we may have an hour in the flight simulator before we're cleared to go. Every hour of every day of every year, this mission goes on.

RAF F4 Phantom FGR2
RAF F4 Phantom front cockpit - RAF Museum, Hendon

Operation Pulsator - F4 Phantoms and Buccanneers in Cyprus. Courtney, 1985

F-4 Phantom Radar Scope
F-4 Phantom rear cockpit radar scope

Operation Pulsator: Beirut 1983

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Anyway, back to the summer of 1983. You will recall that I had left 29 and joined 43 Squadron in Cyprus. Later, 111 Squadron took over from us out there and, during their stay, the Lebanese Civil War came to a head and there was a direct threat to the British Consulate in Beirut. The government's solution to this was to send a detachment of Buccaneers (from 12 and 208 squadrons) to Cyprus whose job it would be to protect the Consulate should the need arise and to support British troops in the Multinational Force in Beirut. This was called Operation Pulsator. At the first sign of trouble, a four-ship of Buccs would be launched, armed with laser-guided bombs, to fly to Beirut and take out the aggressors. The Phantom Squadron in Cyprus at the time would be used to escort them in and out. Now it was time for 43 Squadron to releave 111 - to do the job properly! My third visit to the Island of Aphrodite this summer.

43 Squadron F4 Phantoms, 'Golf' Dispersal, RAF Akrotiri
The Fighting Cocks. 43 Squadron F4 Phantoms parked on 'Golf' Dispersal at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus - 1984

Soviet Kresta II Destroyer, Operation Pulsator - F4 Phantoms and Buccanneers in Cyprus. Courtney, 1985 Soviet Kresta I guided missile cruiser
in the eastern Med 1983 - Op Pulsator.

F-4 Phantom Throttles F-4 Phantom Throttles

We went into Beirut a couple of times and it was fun. We briefed with the Buccs, drew our side arms and ammunition and crewed into the jets to await the codeword to go. We launched behind the Buccs and set off westward at low level. Lebanon had attracted a lot of interest and the western Mediterranean was so packed with warships that you could almost walk from Cyprus to Lebanon. There was the US sixth fleet, headed by USS Eisenhower, and a huge number of Soviet warships. On the way in, a few of the ships took a look at us with their radars but it was generally uneventful. As we approached the Lebanese coastline, we broke off from the Buccs and set up a CAP over the coast while the bombers went through and did their stuff. They flew, literally, down the high street at ultra-low level.

If they had not been required to release weapons in anger, they would ususally drop a 1000lb laser-quided bomb on a floating target moored off the Lebanese coast; just to show that they meant business and to say, "This could be you next time."

On the way out of Lebanon, the Soviet ships took a lot more interest, and who can blame them? They had seen our bombers release a powerful weapon and were now watching the whole package heading their way. Fifty miles off the Lebanese coast they locked us up with their missile guidance radars. Whether they were preparing to shoot or not, we couldn't tell, but we certainly weren't going to hang around to find out. I do not subscribe to the strategy of waiting until someone actually shoots you to decide that they mean you harm.

RAF Buccaneer, Op Pulsator.
The amazing Buccaneer - lower and faster than anyone we know! Op Pulsator.

The Fighting Cocktail, 43 Squadron (The Fighting Cocks), RAF Leuchars

Kahlua - The Fighting Cocks, 43 Squadron

My nav had previously been a Canberra electronic warfare specialist and was able to identify the exact radar from the audio of the Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and was, therefore, able to work out exactly what weapon was being aimed at us. For technical reasons way beyond this humble piece, the system in question had a minimum engagement altitude of 100 feet so we rapidly descended to wave-top height and turned away from the threat. This did the trick. The RWR went quiet so we turned back towards them in order to get a look at their disposition and to make sure that we knew exactly what was out there. Sure enough, not only had my nav correctly identified the weapon system; he was also spot-on with the type of Soviet ship that was threatening us. We flew past their ship, a Kresta I, at a great rate of knots kicking up some surf to show them that they weren't going to intimidate the Fighting Cocks.

That night in the bar we felt we had something to celebrate. We, the crews of the two Phantoms involved in the mission, bought a large round of the squadron drink, Fighting Cocktails, and the ritual squadron chorus was shouted loud enough to rock to Russians' ships:

'Is there a Fighting Cock in the house?'

'You bet your sweet arse there is, yam sing!'

'Yam sing' was the call for all there present to drain the contents of their glass. A beautiful drink, the Fighting Cocktail is Baileys floating on Kaluha (coffee liqueur) to form distinct layers of black and white, the squadron colours. Unlike many squadron drinks, it is palatable and doesn't induce the desire to re-examine one's luncheon.

'Fighting Cocktail' - An excerpt from Courtney's Compendium of Drinks, Potions and Tipples:

'Slammers - No 1: The Fighting Cocktail - official drink of Number 43 Squadron, Royal Air Force. Take a Sherry Schooner or shot glass and carefully pour in a generous measure of Kahlua. Next tilt the glass at 45° and gently pour a measure of Bailey's down the inside of the glass such that if floats atop the Kahlua without mixing with it. The result should be perfectly defined layers of Black and White. This is a pleasant after dinner or celebratory drink for gentlemen and ladies who do not need to prove their worth by drinking unpleasant squadron drinks. It should always be downed in one to the appropriate call. Kahlua is a coffee liqueur, which may be difficult to obtain. In its absence, Tia Maria may be used as a substitute.'

The Incident with the still and the brigadier's wife


A Funny Thing Happened to Me in Cyprus

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A funny thing happened to me in Cyprus. Actually, quite a few funny things, but I'll maybe just tell you about a couple of them. Just up the road from RAF Akrotiri is the British Forces Headquarters at Episcopi. Now, some of the junior officers stationed there very kindly invited the 43 Squadron chaps to join them in their Officers' Mess for a party one Friday evening. If you were to think that it would highly improbable that we would decline such a generous and thoughtful invitation, you would be entirely correct. So we went. The theme was 'Prohibition', as in the total ban on the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol throughout the USA during the 1920s and early 30s. They had done a great job of decorating the Mess; the entrance foyer had been made to look like a 1920s New York back street with washing strung across it, old buildings and even a period car. Brilliantly done!

Anyway, in the main function room, they had continued the theme and decked the place out as if it was a sleazy old 'speakeasy'. Part of this decoration, I noticed, was to put pieces of distillation equipment on each table as if they were producing their own hooch. I recognized these, amazingly, from my days of doing O Level Chemistry at school. I further noted that there was actually everything we needed to put together an entire, working still. And that seemed like a really good idea at the time. With a bit of ingenuity I collected the parts from other tables and built my still on our 43 Squadron 'boys' table. Here's the picture I had in my head from schoolboy chemistry:


I found all the components with the exception of a bunsen burner, thermometer and a water supply to cool the condenser. Frankly, the thermometer would have been little use as none of us knew what the temperature should be. And here's a point. You see, when you distil, let's say, wine in order to make brandy, the various alcohols in the wine evaporate at different temperatures. Some of these alcohols are particularly bad for you and should not, therefore, end up in the finished product. If they do, they can do all sorts of unfortunate things - famously making you go blind. So, the secret is to keep only those alcohols that evaporate at the right temperatures and to discard the rest. But, with no thermometer and no clue about what temperature our product should be, we decided to press on and try to make our own brandy from bottles of Cyprus vino collapso, keeping everything from the wine except the water.

I used candles as a heat source and got a friendly Cypriot waiter to keep supplying me with jugs of cold water to pour into the condenser. A glass replaced the conical flask as the collection vessel. After some 15 minutes of bubbling, an ominous, clear liquid started to drip into the glass. By the time I'd exhausted my supply of candles, I had several glasses of 'stuff'. It didn't smell or look much like brandy, but it was definitely worth a try so I shared it out with my colleagues and we had a sample. It was strong. No, it was STRONG. At this point a handsome and dignified-looking lady (later identified as the Brigadier's wife) approached our table and enquired what we were up to. I explained that this was a prohibition party and we were entering into the spirit of things by making our own illicit booze. I invited her to sample our product. She was evidently a game bird as she downed a whole glass before clutching her throat and staggering off in search of something soothing to drink. Water maybe. Fifteen minutes later she was found unconscious on the floor and I was hunted down by her irate husband. Modesty forbids me from repeating here what he had to say, but the upshot was that I found myself banned for life from the Episcopi Officers' Mess.

I had no visit from the Police or anything, so I assume she didnt go blind or actually die, which would have been unfortunate. I haven't been back there since, but I doubt there is any record of my ban, so it may be safe now.

RAF Mini
An old RAF Mini in the RAF Museum at Cosford.

Oh, dear!

Another 'little' incident I shall recount may not, strictly speaking, belong exactly here chronologically. But that's not really important. It's just another Cyprus incident. Each year, the Buccaneer OCU would deploy to Cyprus for a couple of weeks for part of their students' training. One such visit coincided, not only with one of my squadron's, but also with the RAF Akrotiri Officers' Mess Summer Ball. Now, each of the squadron commanders and various other senior personnel on the Station were provided with a staff car. In those days these were Minis. Now, as was our way, I had been to happy hour for some considerable time that afternoon and, although not actually attending the Ball, I was in or around the general vicinity of the Officer's Mess much later on that night. The Ball was in full swing. One of the guys on the Buccaneer OCU approached me with a problem.

'We thought it would be a good scam to park the Boss's Mini in the foyer. Only problem is, unlike the Messes at home, the Akrotiri Mess has these pillars at the front and the car won't fit between them. Any ideas, Courtney?'

'Have you tried going in through the back?'

'Yeah, we thought of that, but there are a lot of steps that go up from the lawn onto the patio. Not sure we can get it up there.'

'Ah. I know for a fact that it can be done.'

'Are you sure? Can you do it, Courtney?'

As if! So I drove the Mini round the side of the Mess across the croquet lawn and lined it up with the steps. With a bit of a run up and a few tyre tracks in the lawn, the mini hit the bottom of the steps with, what I judged to be, exactly the right amount of speed. It bounced fairly well up the steps and despite a bit of a bump at the top, landed safely on the patio. They were impressed. There was not much distance between the top of the steps and the rear, glass doors of the Mess and the Mini was parked right in the middle of this space. This result was, I promise, due entirely to luck and with no measure of skill whatsoever. It appeared I was right; it could be done.

I handed the car over to one of the Buccaneer boys to manoeuvre it through the rear door and to park it neatly in the middle of the Ante Room where cocktails were being served. There was a little consternation, but the guests soon learned to work around the Mini and there it remained for the rest of the night.

Come the morning, the Boss summoned his boys together and told them that their little prank was highly amusing, but that he wanted his Mini returned, without damage to its rightful parking space OUTSIDE the FRONT of the Mess. Important people on the station had named parking spaces in front of the Officers' Mess; one of these belonged to the Matron of TPMH, which said simply 'Matron' until someone added the word 'Ooooh' to the sign. Anyway, it was only when they started to edge it carefully towards the rear doors that it became apparent that there was a very large patch of engine oil soaking the carpet beneath where the car had been parked. A cursory examination revealed that the sump was cracked from side to side and that a large chunk of stone was missing from the top step to the patio. That, at least, explained the heavy bump on the way up.

The boys returned the leaking car to its proper place and came to find me.

'I thought you said you were certain it could be done, Courtney! What made you so sure?'

I had to confess that my confidence was based purely on that wonderful scene in the 1969 classic movie, The Italian Job. Of course, I now realize that (a) it was only a film, (b) they drove down steps, not up them, (c) the steps in the film weren't as big and (d) they wrote off virtually every car used in the making of the movie.

Again, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Italian Job
Proof that Minis can do steps. The Italian Job starring Michael Caine (now Sir Michael), 1969

43 Squadron F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K), 43 Squadron, RAF Leuchars - 1984 RAF F4 Phantom with the refuelling probe extended. Source: Royal Air Force

Courtney flying the F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K)


Meter reading high

More on Op Pulsator

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Back to Op Pulsator. Between trips to the Lebanon, we did a lot of excellent training flying, taking advantage of the glorious weather in Cyprus. It is worth mentioning a fight that my nav and I got into one glorious and cloudless Friday afternoon on a training sortie there. Not a fight as in fisticuffs, the more gentlemanly pursuit of aerial jousting; Air Combat Training. Although it was not all that uncommon to practice 1 v 1, 2 v 2 and (occasionally) 4 v 4, three element fights were more unusual; in this case 1 v 1 v 1. Three aircraft each on his own side trying to 'kill' the other two and attempting to avoid being shot by either. Perhaps I should explain how this works.

All three players start at the same point and split outwards, at 120° intervals, to a pre-nominated range (say, 10 or 15 miles from the start point (This is known as the 'Mercedes Split' - think of the Merc symbol and it will all make sense). Then they are allowed to turn in and may take shots on either or both the other players. The training advantage of this is that it stops crews from getting involved in a lengthy, 1 v 1 fight as the third aircraft can enter the fray at any moment and engage the other two players. The idea, as I saw it, was to force the other two to get tied-up and be the third jet, the one who gets to kill everyone else. So, on the Friday in question, I had a brilliant game plan; so brilliant that it couldn't possibly fail. This was odd, actually, because it more sort of did.

We split, to set up the fight, with us heading southeast. As we extended out towards 15 miles from the centre point, I started a climb to get as high as we could whilst explaining to my nav what my wily scheme entailed. We would not rush into the fight; we would take our time, gain as much altitude as possible and let the other two get tied up together and, hopefully, lose sight of us. Then we could swoop down on them from the heavens like a silent avenger from the Gods, unseen and unopposed, heroically to shoot them both while they were too busy even to see where we came from. Then we would roll in behind them and take a few yards of gun camera film with which to taunt the other players later. He seemed reasonably impressed with this. Oh, yes, one other thing, I was not going to get caught slow, I would have 'fighting speed' (at least 450 knots)all the time.

Everything went swimmingly. Our powerful F4 made it to over 50,000 feet and still at a respectable speed. Nobody would ever see us up here. And, even better, the other two were engaged in a 'knife fight in a phone booth' directly below us, highlighted beautifully against the shiny Mediterranean. Rolling my mighty Phantom on her back and leaving both throttles parked up by the firewall (full burner), I pulled the nose down to point at our unsuspecting prey. Now in a vertical dive, God's own gravity combined with the potent thrust of the Phantom's two Rolls Royce Speys in full burner to accelerate us dazzlingly quickly toward the gleaming sea. In the time it took me to position the sight on each of our opponents in turn and to unleash terrible destruction upon them, we were too. Upon them, I mean. Not only upon them but straight through the middle of the now defunct fight, still accelerating. I heaved on the stick, planted it firmly in my lap in a vain effort to level out from this screaming dive. At such high speeds the F4 Phantom was not over-blessed with what we call 'nose authority'; the ability to point the nose of the aircraft where desired - in this case, above the horizon. Now I was no longer battling to enter the fight with unarguable advantage, I was battling to recover from this self-induced, high speed, high angle, death dive in the distance remaining between the sea and us. 'Calmly' I closed both throttles, opened the speed brakes and pulled like a bastard, remarking 'casually' to my back-seater 'I think we've blown this', to which he replied, 'What do you mean, “We”?'



Pitta Bread
Pitta Bread

Pound Note

Chris Kebab - An Institution

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Among other cultural icons such as Aphrodite, The Temple of Apollo and Zeno of Citium (founder of the Stoic School of Philosophy), Cyprus is the land of the kebab house. And we aircrew types were, if nothing else, creatures committed to making the most of the local culture. Allow me to illustrate.

Assuming that we weren't flying the following day - 43 Squadron F4 Phantom aircrew would, of course, NEVER go out anywhere that involved drinking if we were flying the next morning - our cultural evening would start with a few sharpeners, usually a jug of brandy sour or so in the Officers' Mess (avoiding any nasty stains on the carpet). Transport and the booking at the kebab 'restaurant' would be organized by Chris, who ran the Officers' Mess Bar, a taxi company, the Kebab House and numerous other businesses around the area. He even had his own coach. Taunting Chris a little always elicited the response 'I like you so I kill you last!' His other expression was, '43 Squadron, number 1!' We liked Chris.

Five minutes before the taxi was due we would slam our final drink and run to the accommodation block (Animal House) to change into jeans and t-shirts, arriving back at the Officers' Mess late to find Chris shouting 'Taxi outside, Sir!' We would bundle as many people as possible into two large, old black Mercs that would then race off at the speed of heat to Akrotiri village, just outside the main gate of RAF Akrotiri. The restaurant announced itself proudly as Chris Kebab and was badly built from breeze blocks with metal and wooden tables and chairs, concrete floor and really gross loos. Akrotiri village boasted a number of similar establishments - Sylvana's, Chris's, Polis and The Swan. Whichever we went to, as we entered, the locals would eye us suspiciously, knowing that their evening was ruined. The local bondhu cats that had any sense disappeared quickly and the long-suffering waiters, dressed in smart white shirts and black trousers, looked on despairingly.

Chris Kebab
Chris Kebab - quiet and in the daytime. F4 Phantom, Buccaneer, Lightning, Tornado, Chinook,
Canberra, VC10, Hercules Squadron prints on the wall. You can tell this is a recent picture as there
is also a Typhoon squadron print there too (middle print, left of the bar).

The first and most important part of the evening was to hold a long, very loud discussion with the head waiter about where we were all going to sit and how we wanted to arrange our table for 17. This was followed by much scraping of furniture across the concrete floor until we had positioned ourselves to our satisfaction, but (seemingly) to the extreme annoyance of the locals. As with any restaurant, drinks were then ordered from the extensive choice of Keo beer or kokkinelli. They did serve other things, including local wine (such as St. Panteleimon, known to us a pandemonium), but we only ever ordered Keo and kokkinelli. Keo is locally-produced lager and kokkinelli is a kind of fortified wine, made from the second pressing of the grapes and all the dregs from making sherry and brandy. It was not good, but did the job and, in my early days of visiting Cyprus, it was free. It is probably very good at degreasing engine parts, removing rust and cleaning paintbrushes. In those days there was no such thing as a kokkinelli bottle. It arrived at restaurants in plastic containers and was decanted into whatever bottles the landlord had to hand - usually old wine bottles, but anything would do. I've even had it served in an old Brobat Bleach bottle! Honestly! You can buy couth kokkinelli these days, but it wouldn't be the same. Actually, there is no such word as 'couth', but it seems reasonable to use it as the opposite of uncouth, which is a word.

Numerous bowls of pitta bread (known as nose-warmers), salad, hot Cyprus onions, olives and lemons would then start to appear with lashings of Taramosalata, tahini, tzatziki and yoghurt. Whilst we devour this (very healthy, actually), we are invited by our host to choose between a full kebab or a half kebab. The full kebab was 14 courses of liver, pork chop, barbecued halloumi on thick bacon, lamb kofta, sheftalia (sausage), Akrotiri racing chicken, a type of steak and various, unidentified meat concoctions, interspersed with more salad and nose-warmers and delivered to table at roughly 7 minute intervals. The full kebab is not for the faint-hearted. The half kebab is pretty much what it says and is probably more than enough food for anyone. I pride myself on always ordering and finishing the full kebab, which I believe was always delicious.

More Keo and kokkinelli was ordered with each course. New members of the squadron on their first Cyprus - the "Cyprus virgins" - would be invited to stand on their chair periodically and down a bottle of kokkinelli and occasionally one of our number would make an emergency egress to the stinking loos. If we hadn't been too horrible, we would be rewarded with a free, hot drink that was dark, dark brown, so bitter that it would make your fillings buzz and came in a tiny cup with an inch of black grit in the bottom. They called this coffee. We would have delights, what we might call 'Turkish Delight', but you can't call it that in southern Cyprus since the Turkish invasion in 1974. If we'd been very good (which didn't happen often) we may even get a complimentary glass of Filfar - often set light to and drunk as a 'Flaming Filfar' - or the 'exquisite' 5 Kings Brandy or Metaxa. I don't recommend the Flaming Filfar due to the risk of permanent disfigurement.

The bill would be delivered spontaneously, almost as if the waiter was saying, 'OK, you've ruined our evening, our restaurant and our toilets, now pay and leave.' Fifteen minutes of unsuccessful mathematics would follow whilst one of the navigators tried to divide the bill by 17 (no one can divide by 17). Why this happened is a mystery; no one ever got the answer right and we always ended up paying C£7 per head anyway - no matter what we'd ordered; it's just what it cost. Bet you it's well over €20 these days, without a bucket of kokkinelli!

As soon as the cash was handed over, the taxis mysteriously appeared and our host would announce 'You come back eat here again. Forty Three number one squadron in Cyprus. You come back soon.' Ushered into the cabs who raced through the darkened, warm Cyprus air, barely pausing at the main gate for a cursory security check (someone waving their ID out the window) before being dumped outside the Officer's Mess in time for nightcaps.

Ah, the culture! And then it would be home to Leuchars with a hangover and an empty wallet.

F4 Phantom FG1, 43 Squadron
43 Squadron F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K) along side a Victor Tanker on the way home from Cyprus
Photo by Paul Courtnage

F4 Phantom ADI - Attitude Direction Indicator
F-4 ADI - Attitude Direction Indicator

F4 Phantom HSI
F-4 HSI - Horizontal Situation Indicator

RAF F-4 Phantom Rear Cockpit
A 2-stick F-4 Phantom Rear Cockpit.
Click photo for a larger image

F4 Phantom Airspeed and Mach indicator
F4 Phantom ASI - Airspeed Indicator

F4 Phantom Missile Status Panel
F-4 Phantom Missile Status Panel

Phantom F4 Navigation Mode Selector
F4 F-4 Phantom Nav Mode Selector


Instrument Rating Examiner

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Each year, every pilot has to undergo a number of annual check rides: he must do a QFI dual check, a Tac Check and an instrument rating test (IRT). Additionally, the Standards Evaluation (STANEVAL) team visits each squadron every eighteen months or so to fly with all the aircrew and carry out what is known as a 'Trappers Ride'. Nobody really looks forward to these, but they are deemed to be a necessary evil. In fact they are a very useful supervisory tool but that's another topic. Each check is flown with a specialist who has undergone the appropriate training. All fast jet QFIs will have been through the Central Flying School (CFS) course and will have done a tour as a QFI at Linton, Cranwell or Valley. Instrument Rating Examiners have to attend the IRE course and Tac Checks are done by either a suitably experienced squadron executive (the Boss or a flight commander) or (preferably) by one of the squadron QWIs.

When I arrived at Leuchars the IRE on 43 Squadron was soon to be posted and so I was chosen to go down to the OCU at Coningsby to do the IRE course. As much of this involved flying from the back of a two-sticker, the Squadron was supposed to give me a decent number of trips in the back seat in order to become proficient at flying the jet from there. Needless to say, with the numerous other commitments, there was never enough time to do this, and so I rushed off to Coningsby with just a single back-seat trip under my belt. What was worse was that ALL that flying had been in a FG1 and the course was to be flown in FGR2s. I was expected to know all about working the INAS and the FGR2 nav system, both of which were white mans' magic to most pilots, or 'nose gunners' as those disrespectful navs had taken to calling we members of the two-wing master race.

It's worth just saying this about the rear cockpit of the F4. It was designed for the navigator to sit in and operate the various aircraft systems that made this jet so formidable. It was not designed for a pilot to sit in and fly the jet. Only a few "two-stickers" were capable of having a control column fitted to permit a pilot to fly it from here. Apart from that and a pair of throttles, there was no concession to make this environment more "user-friendly". Look at the picture below/left and judge for yourself. In particular consider what the forward visibility was like and how interesting this would make, for example, landing the jet from the rear seat.

Anyway, although I shall deny it if you ever tell anyone I said this, I quite enjoyed the course. It was very hard work and the flying, although all 'heads down' instrument flying, was very challenging. The expression 'heads down' refers to the fact that, while instrument flying, one is looking down at the gauges and dials the whole time instead of out of the window like you should be. But, we were flying an all-weather fighter, so had to able to do our job in rain or shine, night or day.

Basically, the course started with a couple of weeks of ground school, covering how flight instruments work, air traffic procedures, approach procedures, instrument flying techniques, aircraft performance, navigation aids, rules, approach minima and the RAF Instrument Rating scheme. Then, armed with a cranium full of this priceless information we took to the air. As the OCU was short of night hours that year, they decided to make the course more 'interesting' by 'allowing' us to do all our flying at night. Oh, joy!

The first sortie was a back seat check out. I worked like a 'one-armed paper-hanger' as we were expected to fly the jet extremely accurately and work all the nav kit, radios and radar which was usually done by the nav. Then we flew two sorties with another course member before a mid-course check ride. Two more practice rides, then in for the final Instrument Rating Examiner's Test (IRET). This was like a normal IRT, but in the back seat and requiring an exacting standard of knowledge and flying. It was, I believe, the hardest sortie I'd ever flown.

The briefing was fairly laconic, but did warn me to expect anything out of the ordinary – a slightly less glib way of saying, 'expect the unexpected'. We crewed into the aircraft and, with external power applied, I set about aligning and programming the inertial nav system. Now, I was confident that I had done this correctly but, as I switched it to 'navigate', disaster struck. The steering and navigation information, which was supposed to be displayed to me, wasn't there. By this time, the examiner, in the front seat, was asking if I was ready to go yet. What to do? Admit that I may have buggered up the IN or grit my teeth and do this the hard way. No choice, 'Ready'.

All I had to navigate with was the latitude and longitude counters on the IN itself – instrument flying does not permit looking out of the window, as I said. That meant that, in addition to all the other tasks I would have to perform, I'd have to plot my position from this lat and long on a chart, balanced precariously on my knee, and estimate heading and distance to where I needed to go. Oh my God! So off we went.

As soon as we got airborne, he said, 'Simulated right engine fire' and closed down the right engine on me. I flew a heavy-weight, single-engine approach back into Coningsby before he relit the engine and we set off for the North Sea where he would, most likely, put me through the wringer. Two minutes later he declared, 'Simulated Hydraulic failure, take me to Leeming.' and promptly switched off the Stab Augs, the Stability Augmentation System that stabilized the aircraft in yaw, pitch and roll. Without it, the Phantom would wallow around horribly and became much more difficult to fly. I had to navigate to Leeming, through an airway and set up for an emergency ILS (Instrument Landing System) with no flaps and an aircraft which was, without the Stab Augs, handling like a half-set jelly. Following that, he remarked that as I'd managed so well without the Stab Augs, he'd leave them off for a while. 'Take me back through the airway and we'll go out to sea to do some real instrument flying.' Find the right frequency again to organise the airways crossing, plot the lats and longs on my now crumpled chart, fly the jet, work the radar, update the nav kit... I was sweating like an Alabama boxer and I'd only been airborne twenty minutes. The sortie lasted an hour and a half and it didn't get any easier.

After we landed back at Coningsby, he said, 'Well done, Courtney, I'm quite happy to give you your rating on that. I don't have any major points to debrief, do you?' Relieved that it was finally over, I said 'No.' But later, I admitted the problem I'd had with the nav display and he said, 'Oh yes, I meant to tell you about that. That aircraft always does it. There's a simple way to fix it. Sorry I forgot to tell you.' Oh, I was so happy!


Martin Baker Mk7 ejection seat - F4 Phantom The F-4 Phantom Ejection Seat
Martin Baker Mk7


Merry Japes

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New arrivals on 43 Squadron were often treated to a highly amusing little stunt known as the 'new boy's spoof'. This would normally take the form of an elaborate set-up involving people from the Squadron - usually pretending to be someone they weren't. For example, one young pilot arrived and was introduced to the Squadron QFI (QFIs are all pilots) played, on this occasion, by one of the navigators. The 'QFI' had quite obviously been drinking as he smelled of whisky and seemed slightly incoherent. The new boy was somewhat concerned about this, but was reassured by his fellows that this was quite normal and 'we didn't really talk about it'.

Anyway, he was told by the 'QFI' that 43 Squadron was going on exercise the following day and had been lent a jet by the Americans so that he could fly his arrival check. He was instructed to meet him at the jet in twenty minutes for take-off. This all seemed a bit sudden, but he hardly felt that he could argue. He turned up and was told to get on with the walk-round while he (the 'QFI') strapped into the back. It was at this point that the new boy started to realize that there are a lot of differences between the RAF and the USAF models of the F-4 Phantom. When he went to strap in to the front seat, he found that none of his equipment fitted this aircraft. The 'QFI' at this point lost his temper and stormed off back to the Squadron shouting 'If you can't even strap-in you're not flying on this outfit', etc. Poor fellow didn't realize it was a spoof until the next day when the 'drunken QFI' was suddenly a sober navigator.

Even better was the joke played on the new nav who arrived at the same time. He had heard the stories about arrival pranks and was ready for it - or so he thought. First, he was instructed to report to the Squadron Commander's house to introduce himself to the CO's wife. She was played by another of the Squadron wives and made an excellent job of 'coming on' to him and scaring him half to death. The next day, being the start of an exercise, there was little for the new boys to do, so it appeared perfectly reasonable that he should be employed doing something other than flying (he was, obviously, not yet combat ready).

It was explained to him that Lucklaw Hill, standing as it did a couple of miles from the western end of the Leuchars runway, created a dark spot where the airfield radar couldn't see. Therefore, it was to be his job to stand atop the hill with a red flag that he was to wave whenever he saw an air raid approaching from the west. It seemed all the more plausible when, each time he waved his flag, the air raid sirens on base sounded. Aircraft undertaking exercise air raids have to call the airfield in question so Leuchars ATC knew they were coming anyway. Still, he was usefully employed (in his mind), but still wary of the impending spoof, which he was sure, would come.

After several hours of useful air raid warning duty, our young nav was accosted by an elderly gentleman walking his Golden Retriever upon the hill. 'What are you up to young man?' enquired the man. 'Should you be up here dressed like that?'

Leuchars Map Map showing the location of RAF Leuchars Airfield right of centre) and Lucklaw Hill (left, NW of Balmulo).

'Ah ha!', thought the nav, 'here comes the wind-up' and rounded aggressively on him. 'You can't fool me, you doddering old shit. I know what you're up to.' He told him where to get off in no uncertain terms. Unfortunately, the man in question was a retired General, a personal friend of the Station Commander and important local dignitary - nothing to do with the joke. Oops! Somehow the old spoofs seem even more amusing when they go so horribly wrong - as long as you weren't involved.

One Thousand Hours F4

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1000 Hours F4 Phantom
My 1000 Hours F4 Phantom Badge

1000 Hours F4

Twatometwer reading low

The next major milestone was earning my 1000-hour F4 badge - 1000 flying hours in the Phantom. Who said there are no old, bold pilots? A thousand hours is a long lime to fly a jet – something over 41 days, if you think about it. Anyway, to mark the occasion, Wing Commander Jack Haynes, OC Ops at RAF Leuchars, and the team were there to meet me when I landed from the trip that saw my 1000th hour in the Phantom. I was presented with my McDonnell Douglas F4 Phantom 1000 hours certificate and badge and some rather nice champers - picture to the right.

Anyway, eventually my time at Leuchars had to end and my last Phantom flight was on 4th July 1985 in aircraft XT861 with my best friend Rob Bannister as my nav. We took a four-ship out to fly some 'day tactics' which basically meant that pretty much anything went. A really good fight. After landing, we employed the old 'swap seats and pretend we did a reverse crew ride' ploy again. And it worked brilliantly! Again.


Paul Courtnage 1000 hours F4 Phantom
Courtney (Flt Lt Paul Courtnage) enjoying a glass of champagne having
just been presented with my 1000 hours F4 Phantom badge and
certificate by Wg Cdr Jack Haynes, OC Operations Wing,
RAF Leuchars, 1984. Wg Cdr Jack Haynes - OC Ops Flt Lt Paul Courtnage (Courtney)


43 Squadron, The Fighting Cocks - F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K), 1984
43 Squadron, The Fighting Cocks - F4 Phantom, 1984     [click picture to enlarge and reveal names - opens in new window]

43 Squadron Photos - F4 Phantom FG1 (F-4K)
A few photographs of 43 Squadron's F4 Phantoms, RAF Leuchars, 1983-5


Paul Courtnage

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