Being a teenager in the Air Cadets was ace. Her Majesty’s Government paid out thousands and thousands in taxpayer’s money to give us guns, summer camps, free flying and tenpin bowling. And guns. It was all in a good cause, I suppose - the whole idea was to get lazy, stupid, TV obsessed kids off their backsides and get them ready for a career killing people. It nearly worked for me, I came *that* close to signing up. As it stands, I can still get a mirror shine on even the dirtiest of boots armed with nothing but a small rag and a spoon. If there’s ever a call for that kind of skill in the cut-throat world of international communications, I’ll be quids in.
So, thanks to the Royal Air Force’s desire to rope us all in as potential fighter pilots, they did their best to chuck us all on as many planes as they could. We were even allowed to take time off school to visit air stations, an unexpected perk that made us the envy of classmates who thought we were all uniformed ponces.
We’d be regularly carted off up to RAF Benson or RAF Abingdon where we’d meet 6 Air Experience Flight and their collection of antique Chipmunk trainers, which was a basically an excuse for retired fighter pilots to throw a tiny plane about with an increasingly green-looking kid in the back.
"It's no good sir, I'm gonna BLEEEEGH"
Chippy flying was skill. Unfortunately, we were made to sit through the dire safety film which told you what to do if the plane crashed (die, basically) and then sit around for hour on end waiting your turn and stewing over your fate. Then, you were strapped into a parachute that had definately seen better days which made you walk like a monkey and thrown into the back of a plane that was built in the late 1940’s.
The pilots were psychopaths. They’d had a long, varied, but unsufferably peacetime career in which they’d been on endless exercises in their multi-million pound fighter jets, and had never, ever seen action. And now the RAF had spat them out at the other end and they were reduced to flying spotty kids about in a single-engine trainer that had cost two-and six from a jumble sale. And now they were going to pay.
The bastards threw those little planes about like there was no tomorrow. Loops, rolls, some impossible stunt I have only ever seen duplicated on a computer game, and that ended up in a messy exploding fireball. You’d spend half an hour alternately hanging from your seat straps or zooming head-on towards an ever enlarging landcape, the tiny engine screaming like a German Stuka bomber, before pulling up at the last minute. You could see people on the ground pointing and running in terror as we’d hurtle towards them. I’m sure I once heard the pilot screaming “RAT-A-TAT-A-TAT-TAT-A-TAT! you bastards!” at one stage. It was like “633 Squadron” all over again.
One of these nutters, just for old times’ sake on the eve of his final retirement, was allowed a Red Arrows Hawk jet for half an hour before being given his own personal desk to fly. He managed to pull a gut-wrenching 9-G’s on the thing, and it spent the next month in the hangar while they waited for a new set of wings from the factory.
Unfortunately, there were casualties. The lads would stagger from the plane, still in a parachute-induced monkey walk, clutching bulging sickbags and vowing never to return. I spent the rest of the day on my back, while the world spun around me at an alarming rate. Some kind soul had left a bucket next to me “just in case”, and boy did I need it.
Poor old Murza parted company with his lunch at the top of a loop, missed the bag entirely and filled the entire rear cockpit with diced carrots. The pilot continued with his routine, and by the time they landed, Murza was head to toe with vomit. After a quick wipe-round, the next poor sap was bundled in, and he spent the following thirty minutes trying to dodge sicky lumps as they bounced around him from all angles.
It was brilliant. And we went back for more.
Part II of this epic tale of mirth and woe next week