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Puerto Rico & St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

A few pictures

All images on this page © the author.

Camera used: Minolta SRT-101.

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Approaching Puerto Rico in a Sea King

Finally, after much delay I am on my way into Roosevelt Roads, the US air station on Puerto Rico to fix a Phantom XV586 003, that had diverted ashore with rocket hang-ups in its pods.

North East coastline of Puerto Rico

Rocket hang-ups aside, the port Solent gas turbine starter had failed and I had a spare with me along with (most of) the tools required to do the job.

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St. Thomas. 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 storage.

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Two views of Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station Puerto Rico June 1971, after XV586 had been sent on its way back to HMS Ark Royal

I eventually found what I was looking for on a US Marine Skyhawk outfit. Once that was done I could run up the engines and check fuel state amongst other tasks before declaring the aircraft ready for a flight back to the ship. Whilst running the aircraft I let one hand 'slip' a throttle lever through the Max-mil/Afterburner gate so that the crew chief of a nearby transport, who had wandered over for a chat, could see for himself what he had heard was 'the mean afterburner flame of the F4k'. His whoop from outside the aircraft told me that he was not disappointed.

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'Your's Truly' climbing a coconut palm

This on a beach in St. Thomas one of the US Virgin Islands, where the maintainers of 892 were having an R and R 'Banyan'.

This was after discovering that the line of buoys stretched across the bay ostensibly supporting an anti-shark net were doing nothing of the kind. Having swum under water and surfaced further out to sea it became obvious that the line of buoys were there for decoration. Hum! Rapid swim back to the shallows followed.

Ant's nest up in a Lychee tree

St. Thomas again. Having climbed a coconut palm to knock down the nuts to the 'troops' below I made the mistake of thinking this one would be easy and did not look up before climbing. Ho! Hum!

As I wrapped my fore-arm around the base of the tree I felt my arm sink into something yielding but puzzling. It was then, to my horror, that I discovered the wide and deep column of ants making their way to and from that nest.

Despite all the Lychee within easy reach having been consumed by late afternoon I decided to forego any further attempts at climbing these trees.

Feel free to e-mail me with any comments and feedback.


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