Wartime experiences in fixed wing aircraft, involvement with early operational helicopters and ultimately a test pilot at Westland. Trials and tribulations, near misses all featured in a fascinating career. Written in a conversational style, this book packs in all sorts of facts and fascinating personal insights into the life of a Fleet Air Arm pilot both during and post WWII.
Review by Paul Shiels, courtesy of Slipstream - The magazine of the FAAAA
Golden Wings & Navy Blue By John Fay Golden Wings and Navy Blue is the story of the author’s experiences as an RN Fleet Air Arm pilot during World War II. The book provides an intriguing insight into those days when Fleet Air Arm pilots were continually exposed to attack. Overall the book covers his time from flying fixed wing aircraft to his undertaking the first helicopter course. In an unusual beginning the book describes the exchange of RN 832 Squadron (Avengers) to USS Saratoga with a USN Fighter Squadron joining HMS Victorious in the Pacific in 1943. The author provides a brief description of his take-off in an Avenger which resulted in him crashing into the sea and his subsequent escape underwater from the up turned aircraft. The book then changes tact moving in a logical sequence through the author’s early years of applying for the Fleet Air Arm, his call up for basic training on 16 September 1940 followed by elementary, then advanced flying training . Fifty hours of elementary flying training was undertaken at Luton in the Miles Magister. Unlike the Tiger Moth, it was a monoplane. The next phase of his war time experience entailed travelling to Canada by ship where he was to undertake advanced flying training. Included in the ‘passenger’ list were almost 700 German POWs bound for internment in Canada. Following the POWs arrival the daring escape by one Oberleutenant Fritz Von Werra who escaped by train and eventually managed to get back to Germany, astonished many. Some may recall the book and film: The One That Got Away by Paul Brickhill which describes this event. On arrival at Kingston, Ontario the author commenced 31 Service Flying Training School (SFTS) on the Fairey Battle and the Yale (similar to a Harvard) for aerobatics from January to May 1941. This was followed by a posting to a ‘Torpedo Spotter Reconnaissance’ course first flying Swordfish and then the Fairey Albacore. Once complete it was off to Arbroath for Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landings (ADDNLs). Shortly after he was sent to the Orkney’s to join 832 squadron in HMS Victorious. However, as the ship was still at sea, a temporary appointment to 771 Squadron (Fleet Requirement Unit) at RNAS Hatston in the Orkney’s during which he flew the Blackburn Roc and Blackburn Skua. This flying primarily involved target towing. It is apparent from this very detailed book that meticulous records were kept including diary entries and flying log books which provided sufficient material for the basis of this book. At the time of joining Victorious at Scapa Flow the ship was equipped with two squadrons of Albacore aircraft (817 & 832) and one fighter squadron 809 flying Fairey Fulmars. The author provides a breakdown of the Victorious operations around Scapa Flow, Iceland and the Artic generally. It also describes its involvement on the notorious Russian Convoys and its part in hunting the Tirpitz. In late December 1942, Victorious made her way to the Pacific via Norfolk, Virginia in the US to pick up Avengers for 832 Sqn. With training complete Victorious sailed for the Pacific via the Panama Canal. The later chapters focus on the ship’s operations in the Pacific with US Forces. It returned to the UK in the latter half of 1943. This included 832 Sqn’s period on loan to USS Saratoga. After fulfilling his duties in Victorious in September 1943, the author was posted to 778 Sqn (Services Trials Unit) at Crail. The objective was to make landings on new aircraft carriers flying many and various aircraft. One of those attached to the Sqn was Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown referred to earlier in this Slipstream. February 1944 saw the author’s flying change when selected for No.1 Helicopter Course. The remainder of his Fleet Air Arm service was spent with helicopters until demobbed in January 1946. Overall a good read and a good insight into aircraft carrier operations in WWII Paul Shiels