Vox Clamantis in Deserto
Vox Clamantis in Deserto

  Links to chapters:

The Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington, RAF Mount Pleasant and 1435 Flight in the Falkland Islands.

The crest of the Air Warfare Centre, RAF Waddington

The Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington, RAF Mount Pleasant and 1435 Flight in the Falkland Islands.

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

On this page: CTTO & The AWC,   Wolves,  Police Investigation,   Hiroshima,   Falkland Islands,   Diana,                         A Thought

The Air Warfare Centre

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Now, you may think that after five tours and some sixteen years of flying jets, I would have had little justification for complaining about finally moving to a ground tour. You would, of course, be entirely correct. But that doesn't mean I had to like it! I understand flying, I'm good at it and I love it; it has been my profession and a passion all my adult life. How can you blame me for not wanting to leave it? My new tour was to be at the Air Warfare Centre (AWC) at Boscombe Down (near to Stonehenge) or what was previously known as CTTO (Central Tactics and Trials Organization). I was to be 'Air Defence EF2000' - the desk officer concerned with our new aircraft, the Eurofighter Typhoon, as it was to become. Actually, this was a bloody good ground tour...   ...as ground tours go!

I quickly became immersed in all aspects of the Eurofighter project. This was to be the most technically complex fighter the RAF had ever brought into service and it quickly became obvious that there were many 'uncertainties' surrounding the project; it would be important to get all the activities associated with the aircraft properly planned, financed and put into place in time for its introduction. Many high-level decisions needed to be taken, but it was clear that a lot wasn't even close to being sorted. My job was to investigate and understand all aspects of the project and to look to the future to pave the way for its introduction to service. This included issues like the Operational Evaluation Unit (OEU), the tactics manual, mission support and training. Much of the equipment was still in its design stage when I joined the Air Warfare Centre in 1995 and a lot of the technology was still under development. That wasn't really too encouraging when you consider that it was originally supposed to be in service in the early 1990s. As I joined the project, the into-service date was projected to be 2001, although it was pretty clear to me that this would slip at least another five years.

The Eurofighter Typhoon cockpit design was really good. They even set up a cockpit development group so that pilots could assess and influence the design. Take a look at the picture below and think back to the Phantom cockpit pictures from earlier chapters. This is a very well though-out cockpit.

Eurofighter Typhoon Cockpit
Eurofighter Typhoon Cockpit. Photograph by BAE Systems.

I'm thinking it's time to offer you a bit of detail about Typhoon and have happened across an interesting analysis on ausairpower.net by Dr Carlo Kopp. It's not the best analysis of Typhoon, but shows what others think of it. Anyway, I've pdf'd it for you and made it available here.

I also got involved with a number of other activities, all involving plenty of travel. In the spring of 1995 I had to go to Riyadh to lecture to the Saudi Air Force about the work of the AWC in evaluating and introducing new equipment into service. Later I went out to Cold Lake in Canada to give tactics advice to the squadrons engaged in Exercise Maple Flag. I regularly worked for the Defence Research Agency at Farnborough, largely doing Eurofighter trials on JOUST, a computer combat simulation specifically designed to quantify and measure the performance of aircraft, weapon systems and modern air-to-air missiles. I gave regular presentations to various units and courses and was closely involved in running our own TLT (Tactical Leadership Training) courses.

In July 1995 we finally moved the AWC into its new building (the Thomson Building) at RAF Waddington. Various elements of the AWC and the Electronic Warfare Operational Support Element combined into a single unit along with some scientists from the Operational Analysis team at RAF High Wycombe.

Royal Air Force of Oman, Hawk 203, RAFO Masirah.
Royal Air Force of Oman, Hawk 203, RAFO Masirah.



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Late in October, my boss told me to pack my bags and rush out to Masirah to advise 6 Squadron of the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) on setting up their own air defence unit. The task came directly from the Chief of the Air Staff with the highest of priorities. So off I went. Strangely, this was to become a part of a very nasty episode in my life later on - I wish I'd known at the time.

Six Squadron, RAFO, were flying Hawk 103s and 203s and were a very busy little outfit, acting as an advanced flying training school, a TWU and a Hawk OCU. In addition to this they were required to become the RAFO's air defence unit. My job there was to study their set-up, advise on how to go about undertaking their new air-to-air role and to identify any potential problems. Actually, it was a fairly simple task to work out that they lacked anybody with recent air defence experience or current knowledge of modern, multi-mode radars, combat tactics or modern weapons.

The very best thing about this trip was the fact that I spent two weeks doing some excellent flying in the Omani desert. What the RAFO needed, and what I reported back to their Commander in Chief, was an air defence QWI who was willing to move to the wilds of Masirah and to set-up the show for them. I was offered the job myself and was quite taken with the idea. Alas, this idea was not accepted at home and, sadly, I had to decline the offer.

The Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington, RAF Mount Pleasant and 1435 Flight in the Falkland Islands.

SR-71 Blackbird
The SR-71 Blackbird

Las Vegas

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Early in 1996, I went out to Las Vegas, Nevada to observe and advise in Exercise Red Flag being run at Nellis Air Force Base, the home of the Fighter Weapons School and the permanent base for Exercise Red Flag. Nellis, Red Flag and Fighter Weapons School had been regular haunts for me during my time on exchange with the USAF so it was great to get involved again. I had to take the opportunity to visit a place that had always intrigued me. You may know it as Dreamland, Area 51, The Box, The Container, Homey Airport or Paradise Ranch. It's called Groom Lake.

Groom Lake military base is home to a flight test detachment from Edwards Air Force Base. It has been the site of the test programmes of Americas most secret 'Black Projects' since the U2 flight testing started here in 1955. The US Government admits its existence, but refuses to give any more detail about it. The perimeter is guarded by EG&G (defence security contractor) and the airspace surrounding the base here is closed to all civilian and normal military air traffic. Straying into the area results in 'swift and decisive action'.

Many great programmes have been developed here out of sight in the high Nevada desert. They did the testing here on the U2, X-15, SR-71 Blackbird (left), F-117 (Stealth Fighter), numerous captured Soviet combat aircraft and certain items of hardware of an uncertain and very distant origin that were obtained in the 1950s and 60s, if you get my drift.

Obviously I'm not stupid enough to post anything here that might get me a visit from those nice men in black suits and white shirts, but I thought I'd risk just one photograph from Area 51.

Area 51
Groom Lake perimeter. Photography of this area is prohibited. Lucky I was only photographing the signs.

Paul Courtnage (Courtney) with Andy King and Richie Powell in Fairbanks Alaska - Courtney's Birthday, The AWC
Courtney, Andy King and Richie Powell
in Fairbanks, Alaska - the midnight sun.

Grey Wolf, Alaska Grey Wolf, Alaska



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In the June, we all set off for Alaska to run Exercise Distant Frontier. Yeah, the exercise was great, but I wasn't flying in it so not that memorable. However, Alaska has some awesome wildlife: the bears, moose and wolves are probably the most notable. I adore wolves and to see them in the wild was a real treat. They are shy, retiring animals and are particularly keen to avoid encounters with humans so seeing them in the wild is an amazing thing. A few facts about wolves:

Wolves are highly social animals, living in packs of eight or more. Each pack has an adult breeding pair, this year's young and juveniles from previous litters. The pack structure contributes to the efficiency of wolves in killing large prey. A wolf pack has a territory that the pack defends against intruders and that is maintained by scent marking and howling. On the tundra wolf territories may be up to 1,200 square miles (3,108 km2), but in forested areas probably only 40 to 100 square miles (104 to 260 km2).

Periodically, a wolf will leave its pack and territory and become a 'lone wolf', wandering (up to 500 miles in some reported cases) in search of a mate and a vacant area in which to establish its own pack. Breeding usually takes place from early February to March and pups are born in litters of 4 to 7, two months later, usually during April or May. Mating usually only occurs only between the dominant (alpha) male and female of the pack, so each pack produces only one litter during a breeding season. All pack members help in rearing the pups.

Wolves are not the fearsome 'man-killers' they are often reputed to be. In fact, as I understand it, there is no recorded case of a healthy wolf ever attacking a human. Of course, it's entirely possible that this is because no one ever lived to report it, but having seen them, I really don't think so. No, the main dangers in the region are moose and bears. The advice we were given was not to get close to moose, especially mothers with calves, and 'know your bears'. Apparently, if he attacks you, a black bear is going to try to kill you whereas the brown bear is probably 'just' going to 'rough you up' - this may involve broken limbs, a fractured skull and horrific lacerations, but if you keep still he'll probably leave you alone... ...eventually. Therefore, if it's a black bear you should fight back (oh, really?), if it's a brown bear curl up in the foetal position and play dead. To tell the difference between a brown (grizzly) and a black bear, wait until he opens his mouth; if he can fit your whole head in his mouth, he's a grizzly!


MOD Main Building, London. MOD Main Building, London. Not for me!

My ill-fated trip to Venice, 1992.
Kenny Reeves, Courtney, Tigger.


A Bad Year

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Sometime around October 1996 I was told to call my poster at RAF Innsworth. This struck me as being a little bit odd as I had recently had a long conversation with him and he had agreed to leave me at Waddington for another two years unless I was picked-up to go to Staff College. He had also noted my strong preference not to work in The MOD in London - you see, I have a note from my mum excusing me boots, PT and having to commute into London every bloody day. My big mistake was trusting him. The RAF has a very old joke - How do you know when your poster is lying? You can see his lips move. I called him and was, to say the least, somewhat surprised when he told me that he was sending me to the Falklands in March for four months and then to the MOD in London.

'What happened to our agreement?'

'What agreement?'

As it turned out (later), the guy that was to replace me at Waddo decided to leave the RAF. This meant that he could no longer take my post and so, the new plan was for me to come back to the AWC after my time in the Falklands. Unfortunately, 1997 was doomed to be a particularly bad year.

To find out why, we need to rewind to my previous tour - 43 Squadron. You may recall my visit to the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Vicenza, Northern Italy, during my involvement in Operation Deny Flight back in the autumn of 1994 (two and a half years before this bit of the story). Here, briefly, is what had happened. My navigator and I were the advance party for 43 Squadron, working with 111 Squadron whom 43 Squadron were to replace. Everyone was required to visit the CAOC once during each tour of duty in Bosnia. As I was to be the squadron programmer and liaison officer with the CAOC, it was suggested that it would be beneficial to make my Vicenza visit as early as possible during my detachment. So my nav and I attached ourselves to a 111 Squadron visit that was already arranged. Our Admin people booked our flight up north for the evening after we had finished flying one Friday. This made for a bit of a long day as our transport to work that morning had been at 02:15 and we would not arrive at the hotel in Vicenza until 00:45 the following morning. On the Saturday we visited the CAOC, which left us the Sunday to get over the long Friday before travelling back early on the Monday. After we returned, we submitted our claims for food and accommodation, which was duly sanctioned by our administrative staff - they had, after all, set the whole thing up.

Back to 1997. With a couple of weeks to go to my Falklands deployment, my boss called me into his office. He was looking very grim (even for him), which made me wonder what was going on. He read to me a message informing me that the Provost and Security Services (P&SS) wanted to interview me in connection with the afore mentioned visit to Vicenza. They were giving me notice in order to allow me time to obtain legal advice and, if I wished, a solicitor. Bloody hell, this sounded serious!

Having never been through anything like this before, I thought it wise to enlist the services of a solicitor. Unfortunately, on the day of my interview, he was detained by a previous case and the P&SS people started to become impatient and urged me to press on with the proceedings without him. Somewhat foolishly I decided that I had done nothing wrong and so had no reason to delay things; I allowed myself to be pressured into going ahead without my counsel.

The first thing that happened was that I was formally arrested 'on suspicion of fraud during my tour of duty in Italy in 1994'. I have to say, apart from being something of a surprise, this was a very unpleasant and intimidating experience. Anyway, to begin with the questions were very straightforward and the proceedings were quite civilized. Actually, having been accused of fraudulent dealings, I was quite pleased to be able to recount what had happened in Italy in order to show them that I had not, in fact, committed any crime. I regarded this as my opportunity to demonstrate my innocence.

After a while it became clear that their whole case revolved around the wording on the form (known as a 'Form 1771') which was used to claim travelling, accommodation and food expenses for official travel. On this form is a declaration that states that the journey was made at minimum cost to the RAF. Their case was that by spending three nights up north, we had not completed the journey at minimum expense. I couldn't believe it! They were trying to get me Court Martialled because we'd done what the admin staff at Gioia had told us to do. They kept equating three nights to four days and wanted to know why we had spent four days swanning around Venice. I kept correcting them that it was three nights and two days and that the visit was in accordance with the Operations Order and the Admin Instructions. I also pointed out that I failed to see what difference it made how many nights we were there as the RAF was either paying for us to stay in a hotel in Gioia or a hotel in the north of Italy.

The last part of the interview became quite heated, despite my best efforts to answer their questions. After about two hours, the interrogation ended and I was released from arrest. I felt that I had given a good account of myself and had answered all their questions satisfactorily. I didn't really see that they could have any doubt about my innocence, if that is the right word. Well, they clearly didn't see things that way; they stated that they considered there was sufficient evidence to proceed with legal action. I was appalled, as you can imagine. The final humiliation was that they then took me away and finger printed me. I was told that I would then have to wait up to nine months to hear if they were going to Court-Martial me.

At that point I felt horrible. My conscience was clear, but I had very little faith (or trust) in the system. I felt totally let down, abandoned and betrayed. Yes, I knew that I should have had nothing to worry about as I had done nothing wrong, but I had seen others screwed before me and, in the words of my solicitor when I spoke to him on the phone afterwards, 'I've seen the Air Force pursue far stupider cases than this'. Clearly, this one would run for a while.


Bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki - 1945

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1995 saw the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the closing acts of World War Two. Germany had already signed the instrument of surrender on 8th May 1945, but the war in the Pacific raged on and on 26th July, the Allies issued an ultimatum that unless Japan surrendered, they would attack, causing prompt and utter destruction.

What the ultimatum did not say was that the United States had developed two designs of atomic bomb and, under the orders of President Harry Truman, were preparing to use these against Japan in order to force her unconditional surrender. Japan ignored the ultimatum and so the United States decided to go ahead with its plan to bomb cities in Japan. The selected targets were Kokura (munitions factories), Niigata (a port and industrial centre), Hiroshima (industry and military centre) and Kyoto. Kyoto was later changed to Nagasaki as a target. Hiroshima became the primary target for the first bombing with Nagasaki as the secondary.

On 6th August 1945, B-29 Enola Gay, captained by Colonel Paul Tibbets, took off from Tinian (Mariana Islands) carrying a single gun-type fission weapon, codenamed Little Boy, containing around 64 kgs of uranium 235. They had a transit of around 6 hours to their target and were accompanied by other B-29s that would check the weather and film the detonation. Although the Japanese detected Enola Gay on radar, they elected not the intercept them as they were assessed as a raid of only 3 aircraft.

At 08:09, Colonel Tibbets handed control to his bombadier at the start of the attack run. They released the bomb at 08:15 and it took 43 seconds to fall from 31,000 feet to 2,000 feet, its detonation altitude. This class of bomb had never been tested before this drop. Little Boy released the equivalent of 13 kilotons of TNT causing total destruction radius of one mile and causing huge fires over an area of over 4 1/2 square miles. between 80,000 and 140,000 people were killed instantly and a further 100,000 seriously injured. Co-pilot, Captain Robert Lewis, stated, "My God, what have we done?"

Colonel Paul Tibbets and The Enola Gay   Little Boy   Hiroshima Mushroom Cloud

Colonel Tibbets and the Enola Gay, Little Boy before deployment and the cloud over Hiroshima

The Japanese still failed to respond to the ultimatum. Three days later, B-29 Bock's Car, commanded by Major Charles Sweeney, carried the second bomb, Fat Man, an implosion type nuclear bomb using plutonium 239. Their primary target was the Japanese city of Kokura. However, cloud cover precluded a visual attack as ordered and so they proceeded to the secondary target, Nagasaki. The bomb was released at 11:01 on 9th August 1945 and detonated 43 seconds later at 1,500 feet releaesing an estimated 21 kilotons. Some 74,000 people were killed and a further 75,000 seriously injured. Again, everything within a one mile radius was destroyed completely. Casualties were lower than may have been because the bomb detonated some 2 miles north of the intended ground zero.

Bockscar   Fat Man   Nagasaki Mushroom Cloud

B-29 Bock's Car in flight, Fat Man prepared for use and the cloud over Nagasaki

The USA were preparing further weapons for use against Japan and the next attack would have been on 17th August. Fortunately, on 10th August Emperor Hirohito announced Japan's surrender - the formal surrender took place on 2nd September. British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill estimated that the lives of a million Americans and two hundred and fifty thousand British soldiers and sailors had been saved by this sudden shortening of the war. We shall never know.


The Hiroshima Bomb

The Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands Flag
The motto reads: Desire the Right

The Air Warfare Centre at RAF Waddington, RAF Mount Pleasant and 1435 Flight in the Falkland Islands.

Stone run - Falkland Islands Stone run on East Falkland
Falkland Islands


The Falkland Islands (again)

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The astute reader will have noted that I spent a fair amount of 1982 in the South Atlantic and the Falkland Islands, but the part of this story that covered that event concentrated on our role and the wonderful Rangatira rather than the islands themselves or their history. We are now going to revisit the subject because, at this point in the story, I'm about to revisit the Islands. Please note that the following account represents the state of play in 1997, except where stated otherwise.

In case you didn't already know, the Falkland Islands are located in the South Atlantic Ocean, east of the Strait of Magellan and a little over 200 miles north-east of the southern tip of South America. They are 1,000 miles from Antarctica, over 8,000 miles from the United Kingdom and on an equivalent latitude to Norwich. The islands are divided east-west into two main groups by Falkland Sound (which actually runs southwest to northeast). They have a total area of about 4,700 square miles (nearly the size of Wales). The two largest islands are East Falkland (2,610 square miles) and West Falkland (slightly smaller at 2,090 square miles) including in both cases numerous adjacent small islands.

The Falkland Islands is a self-governing, British dependency, which used to include South Georgia (1,450 square miles), which is roughly 800 miles southeast of the Falkland Islands, and the South Sandwich Islands (130 square miles), a further 470 miles southeast. However, under the new constitution established in 1985, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands became a separate British dependency. The islands are administered by a British Governor and a legislative council of ten members. I've drawn you a map; the land to the west is Argentina.

The Falkland Islands

Probably not the right thing to mention, but geographically speaking the Falkland Islands are a part of Patagonia in Argentina as they are connected to the mainland by a raised, submarine plateau. East Falkland is divided by two deep fjords and is spanned in the north by Wickham Heights, which rise to 2,312 ft. The remainder of the region is low, rolling marsh or pasture. West Falkland is generally hillier. The low-lying areas of the Falklands stand upon soft sandstone, clay and slate, while the mountains and hills, formed some 600 million years ago, are of harder sandstone and white quartzite. Much of the land is covered in peat, providing the main form of fuel to the islanders. Stone runs, rivers of angular boulders, are a unique feature of the landscape.

Map of the Falkland Islands The Falkland Islands

Falklands Conservations Stamps - 1984 My favourite Falkland stamps;
the conservation set from 1984

The temperature in the Falklands varies surprisingly little between winter and summer; the average range is between 0°C and 9°C. Rainfall is spread fairly evenly throughout the year. While there is quite a lot of this, there is nowhere near as much as the bloke who designed and built the roads thought. Since the military had been so abundant here, they had done a lot to construct and improve the few roads that the islands boast. Two features of the roads are immediately apparent: first they are nearly all badly pot-holed, gravel-covered clay and, second, they have very deep ditches on either side. Both these facts make them very dangerous to the unwary motorist - in 1996, for example, military personnel serving in the Falklands crashed nearly 40 vehicles. The clay base provides poor grip, the gravel is like driving on ball bearings and the ditches are there to hurt you when slide gracelessly off the 'prepared' surface. The reason for the excessive depth of the ditches is that when they were calculating the required drainage, they thought they were reading the average monthly rainfall figures. They were, in fact, reading the average annual rainfall. Oops!

Gentoo penguin on a beach in the Falkland Islands - photo by Courtney, 1997
Gentoo penguin on a beach in the
Falkland Islands.
Photo by Courtney, 1997


The population of the Falkland Islands, excluding the military, was a little over 2,000 of which three-quarters were living in the capital, Stanley. There has been considerable debate about whether this should be called 'Port Stanley' (as it seems to have been in the past) or just 'Stanley' (as it appears to be now). Having, as you may have noticed, a considerable regard for the irrelevant, I set about finding out why this should be. Copious plausible accounts were offered in explanation of this, but I believe the truth to be as follows. The seat of government was moved from Port Louis to what was then Port Jackson in 1845. This later became Port Stanley, first, because it is a port and, second, because a certain Lord Stanley was Secretary of State for the Colonies at the time. Later on, someone decided that the 'Port' bit referred to the harbour and the 'Stanley' bit to the settlement. The only official involvement in this issue is the fact that the Post Office changed their franking to just 'Stanley' in March 1997. So, it is Stanley, unless you're in the water.

It doesn't take a meteorological expert to notice that the Falkland Islands are generally very windswept and it doesn't take a botanist to establish that the place is pretty much totally devoid of trees, largely because of the wind. At various times, people have had a go at planting them, but the landscape bears categorical witness to their meagre level of success. This does, of course, mean that there is no local timber for building and, so, just about all building material has to be imported.

The principal land uses were all related to sheep. The Falkland Islands' sheep population was about 700,000 and so wool was the leading export (nearly £5,000,000 each year). Imports were just about everything else: food, fuel, textiles, machinery, and hardware. Surprisingly, the islands' economy was generating something in the region of £40,000,000 each year. The main source of this income was fishing licences (about £24M). The seas around the Falkland Islands were one of the richest natural resources in the world. The waters teemed with life, including cod, hake, blue whiting, squid and crustaceans. The biggest resource was krill, which was so abundant that up to one hundred and fifty million tons could be harvested each year (enough to meet the entire protein needs of China). Kelp seaweed was more plentiful around the Islands than anywhere else on Earth (it was from this that the Falkland Islanders gained their old nickname 'Kelpers').

While I was back in the Falkland Islands in 1997 there was a lot of activity surveying for oil with high hopes of finding large fields to the north and southwest of the islands. If the oil ever comes in, the Falkland Islands will certainly undergo a major transformation. Life in the Camp (the countryside) was fairly basic. Many of the smaller settlements comprised only one or two families who raised sheep for wool and small numbers of other livestock for food. There were few tracks or phone lines outside the capital and nearly all communication, including schooling, was by CB radio. Apart from Stanley, the largest settlement was Goose Green with a population of about 140.

Port St Louis Port Louis, Falkland Islands c1790.
The capital before Stanley.

Three short paragraphs of history will explain how we had arrived at the political situation of the day. The English explorer John Davis was, in all probability, the first European to discover the Falklands in 1592. Eight years later, Sebald Van Weert, a Dutch navigator, visited the islands and modestly named them after himself, the Sebald Islands, a name that still appears on some Dutch maps.

Captain John Strong, another Englishman, navigated the sound between East and West Falkland in 1690 and named it Falkland Sound after Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland. The English name for the islands was taken from that of the sound. In 1764 French colonists installed a settlement on East Falkland. They had come from St-Malo and it is from there that the name 'Malvinas' is derived. The next year the British settled on West Falkland and in 1770 Spain bought out the French. The British left the islands in 1774, which, it could be argued, seriously weakened our claim to the place.

In 1816 Argentina booted the Spanish out and in 1820 claimed sovereignty of the islands, presumably because they were the only people living there and it is kind of on their doorstep. But then they gave up and left and in 1833 Great Britain changed her mind and once again regained control of the islands. Argentina didn't see things Britain's way and continued to claim the Falkland Islands as their own - even though they had abandoned them. It is from here that the altercation in 1982 stemmed. Negotiations to settle the sovereignty dispute began in the UN in the mid-1960s. These talks were still in progress on 2nd April 1982 when Argentine forces invaded and occupied the islands for about ten weeks. They were, as you know, soundly defeated by Maggie's task force and they formally surrendered on 14th June. Following the war, the British government refused to engage in further negotiations, although we resumed diplomatic relations with Argentina in 1990.

Samuel Johnson Dr Samuel Johnson  

Perhaps it might be best to give the last word on the Falkland Islands' past to that crushing bore, Dr Samuel Johnson.

After Britain had regained the Falkland Islands from Spain in 1770, he said:

'We have maintained the honour of the crown and the superiority of our influence. Beyond this, what have we acquired? What, but a bleak and gloomy solitude, an island thrown aside from human use, stormy in winter and barren in summer: an island which not even the southern savages have dignified with habitation: where a garrison must be kept in a state that contemplates with envy the exiles of Siberia: of which the expense will be perpetual and the use only occasional: and which, if fortune smile upon our labours, may become a nest of smugglers in peace, and in war the refuge of the future buccaneers.'

Upland Geese - The Falkland Islands Upland Geese

Bristow helicopter, the Falkland Islands bus
Bristow S-61 helicopter (known as 'Eric'), the Falkland Islands bus service.

The Falkland Islands

Stanley has its own small airfield (the one we used as RAF Stanley in 1982) and Mount Pleasant Airfield (MPA) was opened on 12th May 1985 at a cost of around six hundred million pounds. While we're talking money, my minimal research suggests that it must have been costing the British Government somewhere in the region of seventy-five million pounds a year to run this operation; but that does not include the cost of the ships, aircraft, land-based air defence, fuel or food, which would all bring the annual expense to roughly two hundred and fifty million. That would mean that each year it costs the British taxpayer over £53,000 per square mile to guard these islands or £125,000 per inhabitant! The value of the complex at MPA must be knocking on the door of a billion pounds although I doubt there'd be many people wanting to buy it. In addition to that little lot, the islands have a further 38 airstrips that are served by a fleet of Islander aircraft operated by FIGAS (Falkland Island Government Air Service). A number of these strips were built by the military personnel who have served there over the years. Bristow helicopters were the local busses.

Stanley from Mount Tumbledown

The purpose of the British military garrison in the Falkland Islands is to keep MPA's runway open and in British hands. That way, in the event of an attack on the islands, there are enough people to hold out here while the place is reinforced, through the airport that we maintain. In 1997 there were approximately 2,000 service personnel established here (roughly one per inhabitant) and we were accommodated in a complex known locally as 'The Death Star'. It is one and a half miles long and contains some nine miles of corridors, although I've never actually got round to measuring them all. In places it's a bit of a ghetto and there have been muggings and ambushes in the corridors.


The 'Death Star' at RAF Mount Pleasant, The Falkland Islands (from Google Earth) The 'Death Star' at RAF Mount Pleasant, The Falkland Islands (from Google Earth)

RAF Tornado F3 over Mount Pleasant Airfield in the Falkland Islands
Tornado F3 over RAF Mount Pleasant

VC-10 Tanker, 1312 Flt, RAF Mount Pleasant, Falkland Islands.
VC-10 Tanker, 1312 Flight

To guard the islands we had four Tornado F3s with five crews, which, with the engineering contingent, comprised 1435 Flight. The Flight was originally formed in Malta in 1941 where it protected our base there flying three Gladiator fighters, which were, incidentally, named Faith, Hope and Charity. The names have been carried over to the flight's Tornado F3s but, as the Flight operated four, they have called the last one, Desperation, which nicely befitted the communal frame of mind. Together with three remote radar sites and a Rapier Squadron (RAF Regiment surface-to-air missiles), they provided the theatre's air defence capability. 1435 Flight re-equipped with Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft in 2009.

We had one VC10 and a C-130 Hercules belonging to 1312 Flight at RAF Mount Pleasant. The VC10 was used for air-to-air refuelling, while the C-130 undertook maritime reconnaissance and supply drops to the small detachment at South Georgia. Both were occasionally used to transfer medical or compassionate cases to mainland South America for onward movement to the UK. Some people would go to any lengths to get out of here!

78 Squadron was the RAF's rotary wing detachment at MPA, operating two Sea Kings in the SAR role and two Chinook support helicopters (they were there from 1988 to 2007, the only RAF squadron permanently based in the Falkland Islands). Bristow operated two S61s, which were used mainly to transport personnel and freight around the islands.

HMS Leeds Castle, The Falkland Islands
HMS Leeds Castle alongside at Mare Harbour, Falkland Islands

Caracara or Johnny Crow, the Falkland Islands
Caracara, known locally as
'Johnny Crow'

Striated Caracara, Phalcoboenus australis: One of the rarest raptors in the world. Its distribution is limited to the Falkland Islands and some islands off southern Tierra del Fuego. There are estimated to be only 500 breeding pairs of Caracara on the Falklands.

HMS Sommerset, the Falkland Islands
HMS Somerset at Mare Harbour,
Falkland Islands


The Royal Navy operated a frigate as the Falkland Islands Guard Ship, supporting a Lynx helicopter, and a Castle Class patrol vessel, HMS Leeds Castle, P258 (sadly decommissioned on 8 August 2005). The Royal Fleet Auxiliary ran the Grey Rover, which was used for replenishment at sea of the RN vessels. The British Army provided a Resident Infantry Company (the RIC) who carried out patrols of the islands and undertook training, guarding duties and construction tasks in support of the local population. There was also a Royal Engineers Field Squadron that performed numerous engineering, construction and maintenance tasks.

It was a very unusual environment for a couple of other reasons. Firstly, it's full of servicemen and women who were all stranded, as it were, with no means of escape. Secondly, the military population was highly transient. Most of us were on four, six or twelve month tours of duty - some of the aircrew for just 5 weeks, due to peacetime currency and training requirements. These two factors did tend to make the place a bit like a prison, the incarcerated serving sentences of various severity. In fact the only noticeable difference was that real prisons don't have minefields any more - we did. There were acres of them, mainly around the capital (whatever you want to call it), which the Argies very kindly left behind for us. As they were all plastic mines (mainly anti-personnel) they were almost impossible to detect and clear, so I guess we were stuck with them. Argentina once offered to finance the clearance of the minefields, but I suspect that they failed to understand the full scale of the problem. It had been estimated that it would cost nearly £20,000 per acre to clear all the mines and there would be no guarantee that absolutely all of them would be found. Easier then to leave them there and fence off the known minefields permanently.

The two main sources of entertainment at MPA were the wildlife and the social life. Much of the latter was the impromptu type of evening that starts with a quiet beer and ends with a violent and skull-splitting headache the following day. There were numerous small bars scattered around the complex. Some attached to various sections, others hidden away in the cavernous labyrinth of the Death Star. I'm not going to tell you exactly where they were, as many of them were not supposed to exist. I shall, however, reveal that they were frequently the sites of wild and very noisy parties.

During my 1997 tour of duty there, I was in charge of the Theatre Operations Centre (the TOC), which was a part of HQ BFFI (Headquarters British Forces Falkland Islands). From here we ran the airfield, all air operations, the air defence missile sites, the remote radar sites, patrols of the islands and the Royal Navy ships permanently detached to the Falkland Islands. This was the nerve centre of the military operation in the islands. My job was interesting and rewarding for a number of reasons. It was the first time I've worked in a tri-service environment and had the opportunity to find out how the other arms of the military function. I was running my own little unit with excellent people working for me and with virtually no interference from my boss. He allowed me to run my own show whilst he went off somewhere to chase his career.

The wildlife is truly amazing and we were lucky enough to be able to get out and see it. One of my favourite places to visit was Sea Lion Island, which is in the extreme southeast of the islands (see map at the top of this article). It is very remote and only accessible by helicopter; luckily the 78 Squadron boys were happy enough to drop us off there in the morning and come back for us in the evening. At least we hoped they would or else we'd have been truly stuck. Anyway, many of the wildlife pictures on this page were taken there, including the Elephant seals below.

Elephant Seals
Elephant Seals on Sea Lion Island

I enjoyed my detachment the The Falkland Islands and I had the opportunity to do some flying with 1435 Flight in their Tornado F3s, which provided exactly the sort of distraction I needed to bring a bit of sanity and normality into my life. The Falkland Islands is a fascinating place with an amazing history. It is very remote, windswept and wild, some would say inhospitable. But it has a way of getting under your skin. I came to love the place in a strange sort of way. I made a lot of very good friends and, in our enforced confinement, we stood together and made the most of life.

Gentoo Penguin - Falkland Islands
Gentoo Penguin - Falkland Islands 1997

Peale's Dolphin - Falkland Islands
Peale's Dolphin - Falkland Islands 1997

Striated Caracara - Falkland Islands 1997
And my favourite, the Striated Caracara - Falkland Islands 1997

  Mount Pleasant Airfield 1435 Flight Tornado F3
  Mount Pleasant Airfield - Tristar Mount Pleasant Airfield - VC10

This is the Flaklands video from Chapter 6.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

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On 1st July 1997 The United Kingdom formally handed over control of Hong Kong to The People's Republic of China. Hong Kong's territory was acquired from three separate treaties: the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the Treaty of Beijing in 1860, and The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory in 1898. This gave the United Kingdom control of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. Although Hong Kong Island and Kowloon had been ceded to the United Kingdom in perpetuity, the control on the New Territories was a 99-year lease. By 1997, it was impractical to separate the three territories and so, after the expiry of the 99-year lease, The UK government felt that it had no option but to hand over the whole of Hong Kong to China. I wonder if they were right.

For hundreds of Royal Air Force officers, this was very worrying in a completely different way. For decades, many of us had been using the services of one Au Wai Lam & Co of Kowloon, in Hong Kong. Au Wai Lam was a superb tailor. If you couldn't visit him all you needed to do was write to him stating what uniform items you required and giving him your measurements - assuming you hadn't used him before, in which case he already knew. He would run up your uniform and mail it to you anywhere in the world and, once you were happy, he would send you a bill. As officers, we were, of course, completely trustworthy and he knew we would pay. Many of the cheques written out to AU WAI LAM AND CO were never even cashed. A British officer's cheque could be used as a promisary note in Kowloon and so many of these just became currency. So now, there is great speculation about what will happen to Au Wai Lam after the handover. Anybody know?

Au Wai Lam & Co, 117 Ma Tau Chung Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong



Diana Princess of Wales

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Now I have to turn to something sadder. Way back on 24th February 1981 the engagement of Charles, Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer was announced and they were married in great style on 29th July that same year. It was described as a fairy tale wedding and the British public fell in love with Princess Diana. She and Prince Charles had two sons together, William and Harry and the world thought all was well. However, it seems that (to use Princess Diana's own words) there were three people in the marriage and, sadly, this led to problems between Charles and Diana, probably as early as 1985 or 86. On 20th December 1995, Buckingham Palace announced that the Queen had sent letters to Charles and Diana advising them to divorce.

To cut a long story short, the divorce was finalized on 28th August 1996. Her title became Diana, Princess of Wales, but she was no longer Her Royal Highness. Prince Charles turned to his life-long friend, Camilla Parker-Bowles (the third person) and in the summer of 1997 Diana started dating Dodi Al-Fayed, son of Egyptian businessman, Mohamed Al-Fayed, then owner of Harrods. Diana was continually hounded by the press and, at times, this had exacerbated her emotional difficulties.

On 31st August 1997, Diana was fatally injured in a car crash in the Pont de l'Alma road tunnel in Paris, which also caused the deaths of Dodi Fayed and their driver, Henri Paul. Inquests eventually attributed the accident to grossly negligent driving by Henri Paul who was trying to evade pursuing paparazzi. There was a massive outpouring of grief and sympathy across the UK and around the world; it took Buckingham Palace a while to catch on to the level of support for Diana. Diana's funeral took place in Westminster Abbey on 6th September 1997. Her sons, Princes William and Prince Harry, walked in the funeral procession behind her coffin, along with the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Edinburgh and with Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer.

Looking forward from 1997, there was to be a lot of speculation and conspiracy theories surrounding the circumstances of her death. Dodi's father would spend many years campaigning to get documents released, suspecting the Royals or MI6 had a hand in the accident. It would even be suggested that it would be constitutionally impossible for Diana, mother to the future king of England, to marry a Muslim.

Whatever one believes, it doesn't change that fact that a beautiful princess was tragically killed. She had been a wonderful mother to William and Harry and had done excellent work for so many charities.


Back to Waddo

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Back at RAF Waddington, the business of the AWC had continued despite my absence in the Falkland Islands. I returned from the RAF Mount Pleasant to find that, while a good deal activity had been going on around the Eurofighter project, the whole thing seemed to be further from completion than before I left. What was worse was the fact that a number of support issues were quite obviously nowhere near the stage they should have been at this point of the plan. Decisions that had been taken years ago were now being questioned and changed so rapidly that it was hard to keep up.

Of course, while all this was going on, there was a huge black cloud hanging over me. This, in case you had forgotten was the P&SS investigation. I certainly had not forgotten it – it haunted my every waking hour and, fed by my highly fertile imagination, had grown into a looming catastrophe. Month after month, this played on my mind and, by the time I was home from the Falklands, I had convinced myself that this witch-hunt was way out of control.

Anyway, one day after eight months of waiting, I was finally notified that the investigation was over and they had decided that I had not attempted to defraud the RAF. All that anguish for absolutely no reason; they should never have started the whole thing going in the first place. But it was all over, although I cannot say categorically that I was untainted by the whole event.

Family Courtnage
The Family Courtnage in 1997
Phyllis Courtnage     Sandy Burton     Paul Courtnage     Julia Stapleton     Ken Courtnage

Paul Courtnage

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