Being easily pleased teenage Air Cadets, chucking up lumps in tiny training aircraft was all fine and dandy. But we wanted the real thing. Our Commanding Officer found that all it took was a phonecall. Ring up an air station, ask if they were flying anywhere, and would they mind if they took us along too? We soon made friends with 115 Squadron whose job was to calibrate runway equipment at all RAF bases. So on any given day, we could end up in Belfast, Gibraltar, Germany, or on one memorable occasion, Cyprus. They even threw in lunch and a spell in the cockpit. Anything, it turned out, to make their job more interesting.
However, it was when we were cordially invited to RAF Lyneham that it all went horribly pear-shaped. Lyneham is the home of the Royal Air Force’s Hercules fleet. Big, noisy, boneshaking transport aircraft. They’re fine if you’re one of the flightcrew as they’ve got a big, breezy and comfortable flight deck. For anyone in the back, though, it’s worse than cattle trucks, and quite the worst experience of anybody’s life. Margaret Thatcher once spent twelve hours in the back of one of these monsters en route to the Falkland Islands. Good.
"It's no good sir, I'm gonna BLEEEEGH"
We’d all bunked off school with the dreaded official letter and set off to meet our destiny courtesy of an RAF bus. It’s a relatively long drive from Henley to the other side of Swindon, especially in a charabang that’s so old they have a man walking in front with a red flag. Stopping at Membury Services, we stocked up with all those things necessary for a schoolboy day out. Sweets. Loads of them. Walker, in true Ralph Wiggum style, ate the lot within ten minutes, and was looking distinctly green before we even got there.
Just to really stoke things up, we arrived at Lyneham to find that we’d been booked an early lunch in the canteen. And it was a fry-up. Greasy eggs, bacon, sausages, the work, all washed down with acid-flavoured tea that only the armed forces can manage. With all this goo bubbling up inside, NOW we were ready to fly. We were booked on Herky 218 for two-and-a-half hours of “Bump and Go”. The pilot was going to spend the afternoon flying round and round in circles practicing his take-off and landing techniques. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. You just KNOW what kind of flight this was going to be.
It was fine for the first hour or so. We took off, flew around Southern England for a bit and all tooks turns visiting the flight deck. The loadmaster also opened the rear doors so we could look out into 10,000 feet of sheer drop below us. That was good.
But before long, the pilot started his sequence of take-offs and landings. Bump. Go. Bump. Go. That was bad.
Some of the lads were beginning to look distinctly peaky. The loadmaster took the hint and started handing out bags, sick, for the use of. Jez was the first to go with a discreet little honk. Closely followed by Alan. However, things were about to get hideously out of control. It was Walker. He’d stuffed himself stupid with sweets and fizzy drinks. Then he’s gone back for seconds of the canteen fry-up. Walker, as you’ll know if you’ve read “Guns”, is a walking disaster area. And today was no exception.
“I’m gonna puke” he gasped.
“Sick bag! Sick bag!” we shouted over the roar of the engines.
But it was no use. He’d already dropped it on the floor, and he was fast reaching the point of no return.
You may have heard the saying “You can’t hold back puke”. And you can’t. Once it’s on it’s way, you can’t stop that bodily spasm that expels the contents of your stomach with great force. But top marks to Walker for trying. With his hands over his mouth, you could actually see his cheeks bulging as he gamely tried to hold back the inevitable.
And then came the explosion. Have you ever put your finger over the end of a hosepipe to make it spray? Well, that’s what Walkers hands did. There was a veritable fountain of barf, cascading over everything in a ten feet radius. It was projectile vomiting at its finest. I was the unfortunate soul sitting next to him, and took the full force of the blast. Several others nearby were also drenched, and the foul stench of spew filled the cabin.
There was nothing for it. Most of us were already feeling a little queasy to start with, but this was the final straw. I was the first to go, closely followed by several others as the foul-smelling cloud did its worst in a chunder flavoured domino effect. Within seconds everyone had chundered , some into the bags provided, and at least one striaght onto his lovely shiny boots.
Still feeling rank, and still scraping the remains of Walker’s lunch off my uniform, I looked up to see the RAF loadmaster in fits of laughter at the cream of our nation’s youth, slowly but surely puking for Britain.
We still had over an hour of this torture to go, and by the time we had landed and taxied back to the hangers, the cargo hold of the Hercules looked exactly like the kind of hospital ward Florence Nightingale did her best to eradicate during the Crimean War. There were groaning bodies everywhere as we tried to shut out the full horror of the last two hours. Someone had the bright idea of using the earplugs provided to shut out the din of the engines as noseplugs to keep the smell of the puke out. One by one we all staggered out of the cargo doors, falling to our knees and kissing the ground. We can only assume that the Pope has the same pilot.
We vowed: Never Again. Everyone, that is, except Corporal Flynn. He was as happy as a sandboy, and had spent the entire flight joyfully putting away chocolate bars and the remnants of the flight crew’s lunch. The bastard. And where is he now? The smug git ended up as a Royal Air Force pilot, who is, as we speak making life hell for visiting Space Cadets.
A month later, we went back for more.