Gus Turnbull

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Like so many others that day in July 1960, I marched off with a feeling of achievement and a growing excitement at what lay ahead.
I was posted to RAF Middleton St George in County Durham along with a few others of the 87th. Not for me the glamour of 92 Squadron, which operated the blue Hawker Hunters, known as the “Blue Diamonds”, nor even the less flashy 33 Squadron and their Gloster Javelins. No, I was headed for Technical Wing and the Hydraulic & Tyre Bays – so no immediate “hands on” aircraft work for me. Having thus said, however, the work was initially quite interesting after Halton, albeit a bit smelly and dirty, particularly in the Tyre Bay. I worked for a good Chief Tech (also an ex-apprentice) and the guys that I worked and socialised with were great too. Here also I bought and part-owned my first car, an SS Jaguar convertible with real leather seats, a wooden dashboard and a crude “wind on” cruise control. Sadly, it took an unexpected and disastrous off-road turn through a hedge one night coming back from the pub and was a total write-off. During my short two years at MSG, I went to RAF Weeton to sit my Cpl Tech board which I passed. My STQ was Hunter Hydraulics which is interesting because I never actually worked directly on a Hunter aircraft in my entire career .

From MSG I was posted to RAF Khormaksar, Aden in 1962. I joined Tony Sharley and hundreds of others on Her Majesty’s Troopship Nevasa and set sail from Southampton in September of that year. Some 2 weeks later having sailed via Gibraltar, Malta, Cyprus and the Suez Canal we arrived to the sounds and smells of Aden. Surprise, surprise despite my Hunter hydraulic qualification I was to spend the next 2 years of my life servicing the Beverley aircraft of 84 Squadron. From here, I found myself detached frequently to exciting places such as Muharraq, Salalah, Sharjah, Maseira, Mukeirus and less often, to RAF Eastleigh in Kenya. During this time Tony Sharley (ex-85th who came to the 87th early on) and I became firm friends which lasted for many years until he left the RAF and became a teacher at Aylesbury Grammar. Unfortunately we lost touch and I have been unable to locate him since then. Things were hotting up in Aden then and my squadron was at the forefront during the Radfan campaign, so towards the end of my tour it was long hours and hard work.

On return to the UK I was posted to RAF Benson in Oxfordshire where I spent the next 5 years on Argosies, firstly on 2nd Line for three years and then, being a sergeant and having had hydraulic bay experience, I was asked to take over the bay from the outgoing SNCO. During this time I played some of the best rugby of my life. Benson was right up there in sporting quality and it was a very enjoyable time socially. I also played for Abingdon Town rugby club.

The time at Benson flashed by and then I was on the move again This time to the world of fast jets. I was posted to 74 “Tiger” Squadron at RAF Tengah, Singapore in September 1969. The squadron was equipped with Mk 6 Lightnings and a big change from multi-engined aircraft. I was SNCOi/c line shift which is exactly where I wanted to be. It was a superb tour on an excellent squadron in a wonderful place. I spent time on several detachments to Butterworth and one very memorable trip to Australia at an air display at RAAF Edinburgh to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the RAAF. All too soon my time in the Far East ended, 74 Squadron disbanded and we withdrew from Singapore. My family had been repatriated early and I was lucky to have a short but very enjoyable last detachment on Gan as part of the handling party for our aircraft returning to Cyprus and the UK accompanied by their tankers.

I returned to big multi-engines again in the form of the Short Belfast C Mk1 at RAF Abingdon in 1971. We carried out Minor and Major servicings on the aircraft and it was very much a factory environment. The aircraft belonged to 53 Squadron at Brize Norton and to them we were known as “the withered limb”. A bit unkindly, I always thought! During this period I decide that I really was enjoying my life in the RAF and applied to sign on for a full career. I was accepted and by this time had been promoted to Chief Tech. The only other thing of note that happened at Abingdon was the families evacuation from Cyprus during the Turkish invasion in 1974. We were given a week to recover a Belfast with at least 6 weeks work left on it. Once again the impossible was achieved by a good team of men and women (by now we had WRAF engines and airframes) and just as inevitably, as we finished it, we were told the aircraft was no longer needed. Such is life in the RAF.
I had a CAA Certificate of Compliance while I was at Abingdon which gave me limited licensed engineer status to oversee work on the civilian aircraft operated by the RAF Sports Parachute Association. It was interesting work and I got paid the going civilian rate for the job.

Then I moved on again. To the RAF Careers Recruiter’s Course on 1st September 1975 and then, firstly, to CIO Cardiff before moving on to CIO Newport as my own boss. It was a strange three years but curiously, enjoyable and satisfying . Despite being told when I was chosen for CIO duties that it was the kiss of death careerwise, I left CIO Newport as a Flight Sergeant on 1st July 1978.

I was posted to “A” Line Servicing Squadron at RAF Lyneham and appointed i/c the Hercules Ground Engineers. There were 21 of them, mostly chief techs who accompanied the aircraft on route away from base. Most had more flying hours than the air engineers and they were all multi-skilled and highly experienced SNCOs. I did the course, got the “Q” annotation and joined them (OC Eng agreed since I had to write their 6442s, I needed to know the job). This was the most enjoyable job I ever had. I flew worldwide with the Herc on a variety of tasks and there are few places on the planet that I did not manage to touch down in, Brilliant! Most memorable experience of this period was The Falklands War.

In November 1983, I was promoted to warrant officer and posted as Eng Air 32a to HQRAFSC Brampton. I was Command Modifications Control Officer. The only comment I would make about this phase of my career is that somebody had to do it!
Apart from being able to visit the BAe Systems factories frequently in a nice shiny RAF Vauxhall Cavalier, and carrying out pre-aoc’s inspections of the flying training units it was, for me, a bit of a disappointment, shuffling bits of paper around a desk so I pestered the “posters” at PMC until I found a job back on aircraft.

So, in June 1987 I found myself a bit further north than I wanted, but was just glad to get back to the sharp end as Sqn WO on Nimrod Line Squadron at RAF Kinloss. I managed to get in some detachment flying again too although the Nimrod did not generally travel to the off-beat destinations of the Herc. However, Keflavik, Gander, Bergen, Gibraltar, Spain (Jerez), Sigonella, The Falklands, and Cyprus aren’t too bad. After 3 years on the line and looking for a change in routine, I asked OC Eng if I could fill the soon-to-be vacated post of WO Eng Ops which I took up in October 1990. During this time the first Gulf War took place but I was never asked to leave the safety of my Eng Ops desk.

This job offered less than I had hoped and after 2 years, I finally realised that I had probably experienced everything I could reasonably expect from the RAF and applied to PVR. I left the RAF on the 1st April 1992 with no regrets, having fully enjoyed an almost full career of almost 35 years from the age of 16.
Now semi-retired, I work when required as an examinations invigilator for The Scottish Qualifications Authority, The Moray College and The Open University