I’M IN CHARGE HERE
My car the Toyota SupraMost mornings at RAF Coningsby I would park my car and trudge through the puddles and wet
grass or through the biting Lincolnshire wind (known as a lazy wind, can’t be bothered to go
round you, so it goes straight through you) to get to the Squadron building and early morning
briefing. God I hated that walk!
God, I hated that walk!
Today is no different, another wet miserable day so after a cup of standard NATO I’m in my
office when the Boss comes in all glum faced with a signal in his hand………… “I’m going to
Stanley to be Commanding Officer of 23 Squadron and I’m leaving on Friday!”
“Oh dear Sir, how did that happen?”
“Well that means you are in charge here for the next 3 months”
…….Say nothing, keep a straight face.. dam it!
Congratulations Tony, you are the new Boss
……. and so it was, I’m going to be the BOSS…… well there are going to be a few changes
228 OCU Phantom in our 64 Squadron markings
The rest of the week passes fairly quickly and Wing Commander Steve Nichol and I go through
the handover and all the usual stuff that’s in his in tray and and the things I need to do. By
Thursday afternoon we are complete and he is at home packing. The way this works is that I
become Officer Commanding 228 Operational Conversion Unit also doubling as 64 Reserve
Fighter Squadron with 28 F4 Phantom fighters at my disposal, close on 50 senior Instructors,
100 students and about 500 groundcrew, while Steve goes off to be Boss of 23 Squadron in
the Falklands with 9 F4’s. But that’s the way the system works.
For my part I don’t get promoted, and I’m not given acting rank, but I have all the Boss’s
priviliges and I get “substitution pay and allowances”…….. what that means is that for some
strange reason based on years commissioned service I end up getting paid more than Steve
does and I’m on the biggest pay rise of my life!
That of course calls for a beer! So on Friday afternoon 2 barrels are organized for the crewroom
to celebrate and these will be on tap after I have had my little “Takeover Speech”.
Friday morning and I explain the facts of life to my Flight Sergeant adjutant who is definitely old
school. We discuss coffee, standard Nato, on the hour every hour, and I will get to the
paperwork when I have finished flying for the day. Then we go for the “trivia” prize.
“Flight, what does it say on my office door?”
“Wing Commander S Nichol BSC Officer Commanding 228 OCU, Sir”
“Where is Wing Commander Nichol?”
“In the Falkands, Sir!”
“Good, what is he doing there?”
“He’s Officer Commanding 23 Squadron, Sir”
“Excellent Flight, now in your long and elustrious career have you ever known anyone to be in
charge of TWO Squadrons at the same time?”
“Good, then get that ‘king name plate off MY DOOR!”
Friday lunchtime and the instructors all file into the main briefing room, give them 2 minutes for
latecomers and make the grand entrance……. about 35+ seated, talking, smoking, whatever.
About 4 Flight Lieutenants stand up and everyone else carries on doing whatever they were
I speak to one of the ones standing…..
“John, I thought I had ordered a Squadron meeting for 1300? I see you 4 made it where is the
rest of the Squadron?”
……….and with that I purposely stride out of the room slamming the door.
30 seconds later and enter again, this time about 15 stand up………
“That’s better John, thanks for finding some more, any idea where the Squadron Leaders are?”
………. another exit, pause, and entry
…….and now we nearly have a full house!
…..and I begin, “Gentlemen be seated,….. now, there are going to be some changes round here,
when the Squadron Commander enters the room you will, as always, come to attention, and for
those of you who may not have noticed I’m the new Squadron Commander. I appreciate that
some of the 17 Squadron Leaders might find that difficult as we are the same rank, but I’m being
paid for it and you are not!
The following comes into effect immediately…… the area in front of this building is the Officers’
“Monday is a day off and we are having a long weekend”
“Assuming there are no questions there are 2 free barrels of beer in the crewroom”
Well that went down well and now the beer is doing the same until 30 minutes into the session
when the Flight Sergeant arrives telling me there is a phone call from Wing Commander Nichol. It
seems he has left his passport at his house and they won’t let him go to the Falklands without it.
S***! this calls for some quick thinking, 1. send the Flight to his house to get the passport, 2. find
a crew that are sober, 3. get permission for a straight line high speed overflight of the UK, 4. get
a jet prepped as fast as we can.
Flight Sergeant on his way
Grab Paddy O’Flynn who has just landed from an airtest
Speak to London Mil for the hi-speeder and explain the urgency
Motivate the engineers to get a jet ready or they will lose the day off!
Paddy departs at “high speed” into the setting sun
Within 15 mins I have permission, a crew, a passport and amazingly a jet. Brief RAF Brize Norton
Air Traffic and brief Paddy to just shut down the left engine on arrival and toss the passport in the
Landrover when it comes alongside.
Paddy arrives at RAF Brize Norton 20 mins later!
ONE HOUR later Paddy is back in the crewroom supping beer and my tour of duty begins!
Home again, the party continues………
Squadron Leader Tony Down RAF
OC 228 Operational Conversion Unit