This was it, as they say. Two thirty in the afternoon. The date was 2nd November 1943.
I was to take my first Typhoon up into the wide blue yonder. Helmeted up, parachute over one shoulder and accompanied by Flight Commander "B" Flight as we approached TP-N. My God! This was a big aeroplane, more massive than big, I supposed. Now my parachute was being loaded into the bucket-seat by an attendant member of the ground crew, the aircraft step was extended and waiting, left foot in the stirrup step, hand in the hidden hand-hold and I was in the cockpit, not for the first time however as I had been studying all the instruments and gizmos for a couple of days. This baby could do 420 mph and I was graduating from the Hurricane which might manage 280 mph on a fair day, downhill, and with a following wind. The bloke on the wing fastened my parachute straps, fastened me into the aircraft, then, stretching across me, connected my helmet to the radio and oxygen supply. With a muttered ﯤ luck sirᮤ he was down on the ground. Then my boss was leaning into the cockpit in a last minute check to make sure that I knew what I was doing. I already knew that the Typhoon was experiencing lots of engine trouble just then, with engine changes carried out every twenty hours. The squadron only had five serviceable aircraft at that moment and they were rather keen that I bring this one back all in one piece, as I was myself.
With last minute instructions as to the exact settings required for propellor pitch, mixture, trim tabs and throttle position for take off my Flight Commander wished me luck, reminded me that the cannons were fully loaded, closed the door, then swung the glass roof-piece down over my head. A final pat on the glass and I was on my own. Dear me, at this point I would willingly have been back home in bed! However...
Trim tabs in their correct position, adjust seat height, do a complete cockpit check, then...
Open the air intake, make sure the brakes were full on, pull the handle to the left of the panel to select a Plessy Cartridge, on the opposite side prime the cylinders four times, press ignition switches, then press the starter button, then pray....
The engine started first time, then roared into life. And what a roar! A colossal noise right on your lap, then, wave the chocks away and, after releasing the brakes by means of the lever on the control column, we were moving. The first thing very noticeable was that you could not see where you were going. Forward vision in the Hurricane was difficult but with this monster it was impossible, with the enormous engine compartment stretching out in front of you. When I had been in the cockpit yesterday I had presumed that, with a parachute in the seat bucket, the forward vision would be at least tolerable. But it wasn젳o the only way that you could see where you were going was to constantly weave from side to side and peer out of the side. Not an entirely satisfactory situation when you were sat in your own little greenhouse! The brakes, operated by pressing on the top of the rudder bar, were surprisingly delicate and I soon found that they were not all that difficult to master.
Wow! I had forgotten to clear myself with the tower, then a clear cool voice told me to proceed. Getting the hang of this weaving business I quickly realised that it was not really necessary to weave about quite so much, not if I hoped to reach the far side of the field before nightfall!
At last I was there and, swinging round, I wondered how long it would be before the tail came up and I could see where I was going. It would definitely help. Then, call up the tower once again for permission to take off, a good look to make sure that there were no aircraft in landing approach, and indeed none on the ground in the direction that you hoped to go, another cockpit check, quickly set the altimeter, which I had somehow overlooked before, close the radiator flap, set ten degrees of flap, then taxi into position for take-off.
This really was the day of reckoning. Opening the throttle, not too fast otherwise you might stall the engine, a truly enormous, nerve shattering, roar of power and we were off. The engine torque so great that only hard left rudder would keep the aircraft what you hoped was straight. Luckily there was no runway at Manston, just grass, so there was no runway that you had to stay on. In the heat of the moment I could not find the air speed indicator. The tail came up and, blessedly, I could see where I was going, and found, to my relief, that I had somehow managed to keep relatively straight. The hard pressure on the left rudder pedal was still necessary to keep it that way and I headed for a fixed point on the horizon, a steam roller!. At last I had found the airspeed indicator, there it was straight in front of me, one hundred miles an hour, or thereabouts, and I was still on the ground. But not for long, suddenly the drumming stopped and everything became so much smoother. I was airborne!
Coarsen the pitch to the required RPM, raise the flaps, a quick glance at the airspeed indicator showed me I was already doing one hundred and ninety miles per hour, and the wheels were still down! That reminded me, better raise the wheels, then lock the brakes to prevent the wheels spinning in the wheel bays.. Trusting to fate for the moment I looked round the cockpit for the wheel selector and pushed the bright metal handle forwards to select 襥ls upɠcould feel the attitude of the aircraft change as the resistance of the wheels disappeared and then, praise the Lord!, two green lights to indicate that the wheels were up and locked. So far so good.
I decided to try a climbing rate-one turn to port although I could not, for the life of me, remember the recommended speed for this operation but everything felt comfortable as it was. Looking down to my left I could see the huge construction job to extend Manston by building, what would reputably be, the longest runway in England. Stretching out East - West, pointing directly across the Channel I supposed. I continued to climb, now at three thousand five hundred feet and crossing what I presumed to be the mouth of the Thames. Yes, it must be, I decided. It couldnࢥ anywhere else. Better close the throttle a little and stop climbing but, keep on turning otherwise I might lose my bearings and I did not want to have to start map-reading in addition to all my other worries, so I had better keep Manston in sight. I turned the aircraft steeply to the left without any trouble and then reversed the turn. The aircraft was noticeably slower in response to the controls, but not all that much, and the controls were fairly light. I was sure the oil temperature was reading a little bit higher than it should be so I opened the cooler a fraction. The aircraft was very well designed in such a way that the pointers of all the engine control dials were vertical when all was satisfactory. Very clever, and made it possible to check all the dials in a couple of seconds. My airspeed, at that moment, was 350 mph. Much faster than I had ever flown before.
After gently throwing the aircraft around a bit, gaining confidence, and always keeping Manston in sight, I decided that the moment of reckoning had come and that I had better take steps to put this roaring monster down. So, closing the throttle even more, I gently started to lose height whilst heading back to Manston. Smashing place for an airfield to be placed right on the corner where the South bank of the Thames curved around to become the East coast of Kent. Almost impossible to lose your bearings altogether, although the rate at which you covered the ground was a bit disconcerting.
At two thousand feet, after a struggle to get my airspeed down to a respectable 250 mph, I called on the radio for permission to land. To my considerable consternation permission was refused as there was an air-raid in progress. I personally couldne any activity anywhere, even from my vantage point at 3,000ft. Then I was faced with the problem of what to do. I couldnడrk up somewhere. The only thing would be to gain height as quickly as possible whilst keeping Manston in view. So for the next twenty minutes I orbited at 7,000ft. over what I thought must be Herne Bay. This particular bit of coast had seen plenty of action but, at the moment, the evening appeared quite peaceful, No flack or flashes anywhere that I could see. Nothing over the radio but silence. More importantly I could not see any aircraft either. What I could see is that the light appeared to be fading and if I could not land in the next half hour my first landing in the Typhoon would be a night landing!
Deciding that I was in a little bit of a pickle and wondering what to do for the best I was considerably relieved to hear a voice in my ear which told me that Manston was now open and that I could return. I suppose I approached the field in what must have been something of a slow dive, in a hurry now, to get down. Again after winning the battle to slow down I asked for permission to land and this time, to my considerable relief, permission was granted.
After checking the wind direction I joined the downwind circuit. Ten degrees of flap, wheels down and locked, brakes off, pitch fully fine, adjust trim tabs, I hoped like hell that I had not forgotten anything. I came over the fence at 150 mph which, thank the Good Lord, was just about perfect and executed a neat three point landing, well 頴hought it was brilliant even if I did balloon a little. The main thing was 頷as down and in one piece too.
Back in dispersal, feeling quite proud of myself, I was quite disappointed that there was no congratulatory reception committee waiting for me. Just a quiet enquiry if everything was alright and whether I had any problems. Feeling downright deflated I replied ﬠeverything went OK!Ⓘ
Former 198 pilot Richard Armstrong recalls the unnerving experience of flying the Hawker Typhoon for the very first time.