US Virgin Islands. Principle town and port Charlotte Amalie
The darker ship in the centre background is Ark
Royal, she being accompanied by two of her escorts a Leander
class frigate and a County class destroyer.
Before taking off for Puerto Rico from Ark Royal
in late afternoon I had completed a 'doom watch' night shift
beginning at 1800 the previous day and finishing at 0730 that
morning. I was just finishing the undercarriage and brake
functionals after replacing the main undercarriage doors and
also the hydraulic and pneumatic lines on both main
undercarriage legs of the second of two Phantoms which had
suffered heavy landings during the day's sorties. These heavy
landings invariably blew one or both of the 450 psi main-wheel
tyres, taking the doors and pipelines, pneumatic and
hydraulic, with them.
Towards the end of the watch we learned that 003
XV586 had diverted ashore. The AE watch 'Chief' asked if I
fancied going ashore. Having jumped at the chance I then
learned about the downside, i.e. she had rocket hang-ups the
reason for her diverting as the ship wished to prevent rockets
loosing off down the deck on landing, as had happened in the
past. No armourers could be spared because of intensive
armament trials and ejection seat servicing. So this airframes
and engines artificer had to be briefed on how to disarm them.
Suddenly this trip ashore didn't seem so attractive.
When I eventually got ashore, sometime after
1730, I found that XV586 003 was parked way across the other
side of the airfield (inside which you could fit the whole of
Gosport, Fareham and Lee-on-Solent and still have room to
spare) pointing at the mountain range beyond. Just in case
some of the hung-up rockets fired.
By the time I had managed to get the rocket pods
off and the aircraft towed to a hanger where I could begin
changing the starter it was about 2220 and about midnight
before the job was done.
The job took a little longer than was the norm
as the aircraft had not had the local modification done to a
top-hat bracket (secured by two 10UNF bolts) that allowed the
rearwards withdrawal of the port forward auxiliary air door
piano-hinge pin. This hinge pin's rear end was bent at 90
degrees and it was this that was secured by the top-hat
bracket. The auxiliary air-door had to be removed to gain
enough space for changing the gas turbine starter.
With a centreline tank on (and no crew to remove
and refit this) a lower wing root panel, located immediately
aft of the auxiliary air door and which hinged outboard as it
lowered could only be lowered by about ten inches giving very
little space for getting at the rear end of the hinge pin. To
compound my problems I discovered that the mole-grips in the
support tool kit that I had brought ashore with me had jaw
plates that were almost falling off and which had no grip at
all. Seeing a still open store in the corner of the hangar I
wandered over holding the mole grips up and enquired if they
had a pair that I could borrow. 'Sure thing bud, how many do
you want?' was the surprise reply. 'Only one thank you', I
replied with a hint of astonishment. Tool control ......!
Some day that, all 32 hours of it! And that is
only a part of the story for the next early morning start saw
me getting the aircraft out to a hard standing whilst sourcing
an adaptor to connect US Navy style nitrogen rigs to our gas
turbine starter fuel systems so as to purge out the inhibiting
oil (OM11) which had been used whilst the starter was in