Falcons Display Teams 1965 – 1969
“Since the official recognition of the RAF Parachute Display Team in 1961, a succession of officers commanding PTS had been asking for that recognition to be backed by having men assigned to the job. In 1965, half the battle was won when authority was granted for one Flight Lieutenant and six NCOs to be established solely for display duties. To make the twelve -man team, additional instructors would still have to be drawn from other tasks. However, with a core of full-time display parachutists it became possible to encourage more professional attitudes towards show jumping. No one was better qualified to encourage them than John Thirtle, the Team’s first ‘established’ leader.
With their new status it was time, thought John, that they had a more catchy name than The RAF Parachute Display Team. He asked for suggestions. A bird, it was quickly agreed, should lend its name to the Team. A bird of prey? Hawks? Peregrines? Eagles? Falcons? They studied the dictionary definitions.
‘… Bird with a long glide on extended pinions, falling extremely rapidly, much given to aerobatics and swift swooping flight …’ was the definition of the falcon.
Falcons they became.”
from: “FALCONS” (Peter Hearn 1995)
Team Leader Flt. Lt. John Thirtle, Coach FS Terry Allen
Team Leader Flt. Lt. Stuart Cameron, Coach FS Terry Allen
Team Leader Flt.Lt. Stuart Cameron, Coach FS Terry Allen
Abbotsford Airshow Vancouver August 1967
Team Leader Fg.Off.Geoff Greenland, Coach FS Terry Allen
First overseas demo: en route to Italy May 1968
Demo 1 May 1968
Demo 12 May 1968
This was the Biggin Hill Air Fair, and took place on the Sunday afternoon, the 12th of May. The weather was cold, low cloud and rain, with the smoke from the sodium flare horizontal across the airfield. The Argosy ran in and out of the cloud base and we all left at four thousand feet in a sim. six, over eight hundred metres to the southwest of the field. I was about number four; once out of the aircraft I dipped a shoulder, turned outwards and pulled on the number three’s extractor at around two and a half thousand feet. As I ran toward the twin marker crosses I could see the red and white roundels of our Para Commanders widely scattered and disappearing over the dispersals towards the wooded areas behind. The smoke was hugging the ground and from about eight hundred feet I saw one canopy touch down between the markers, remain inflated, and drag the helpless jumper across the runway towards the flight line where several of the display aircraft were running up their engines. The canopy hit the live prop of a Mustang, and instantly imploded into a whirling blue ball. From eight hundred feet I heard the bang as the engine seized and stopped. I was then carried by the squall over the runway, over the Mustang, over the dispersals and managed to find a few clear square metres behind the fire section to land in. As I returned to the tea tent I came upon Geoff Greenland wandering around looking pretty bemused with his finger strapped up. He had a small remnant of blue taffeta nylon in his hand, a section of his canopy, given to him by a young spectator. He was still in shock, only later understanding that it was he who had been dragged into the prop, which wound up his canopy and lines and pulled him in a couple of feet under the nacelle before the engine stalled. His container was shredded and the ripcord housing was completely severed by the propeller. It was that close. Once again, SOPs for Falcons Air Shows were amended accordingly… . Two weeks later, we flew out to Bari, on the heel of Italy, for what was to be my final Falcons demo of the year. From the end of May Geordie, Ken and I were excused duty to train for the upcoming British Nationals; in the event we made ninety-five jumps in the following five weeks. Not even the visit to Abingdon by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second for the Royal Review warranted our recall. We were out at Weston working on our style training in preparation for the upcoming World Championships in Austria.
Team Leader Flt. Lt. Mervyn Green, Coach FS Terry Allen
Falcons Display Teams 1970 – 1971
Team Leader Flt. Lt. Dave Cobb, Coach FS Doug Peacock
Come September and the PTS management decided I could be spared from Basic training, and moved me on to the Falcons under the new title of Team Coach. This job description suited me fine, and, as the first current competition jumper to be so appointed, I felt I had some experience to offer. My immediate boss was Team Leader Flight Lieutenant Dave Cobb, who had been number two to Mervyn Green the previous year. Our own number two was Flying Officer Alan Jones (ADG), and I considered myself exceptionally lucky and privileged to be able to work with these two Team Leaders over the next two years. As well as coach, I decided to take on the job of cine cameraman, with Allan Rhind looking after the still photography on the Nikon. The rest of the team were Pete George, Joe Featherstone, Sid Garrad, Les Allworthy, Doug Dewar, and Dave Ross from the 1969 team, plus newcomers Barry (Smokey) Furness and George Long. Making a comeback was Bill Cook, a member of the 1967 team. Harry Appleby was our permanent DZ man.
(Brevet pp 105-106)
RAF Sharjah training detachment November 1969
Following this Sharjah Detachment we returned to the UK in mid-November after twenty jumps apiece, then made another dozen or so before the Christmas stand down. In the middle of January, as there was not much parachuting weather, Dave and Al Jones decided the team should have a change of scene and organised a short detachment to the RAF Outdoor Activities Centre at Llanwrst in North Wales. This proved to be a most popular idea and a most successful break.
(Brevet p. 108)
Team Leader Flt. Lt. Alan Jones, Coach FS Doug Peacock
Sharjah Detachment November 1970
1971 – Oz to Hongkong
We returned from Christmas stand down to the bad news of a PJI parachuting fatality at Boscombe. Les Hick had died shortly before Christmas Eve as a result of a malfunction whilst testing a stabilised fall rig from 12,000 feet on the Fox Covert DZ. Les and I were old friends; we had served together for a couple of years as PTIs in Germany; he had previously seen service in the Royal Navy in WW2, had been decorated with the Atlantic Star, and then played professional football after the war. We both played in the RAF Geilenkirchen station team and he had been a witness at our wedding. He joined us at PTS in 1957 where we again played Station and Command football together. Les then went to Boscombe, where, in June 1967, he was a member of the five-man team which established a British parachute height record of 41,393 feet at the Larkhill DZ. Les was a true Yorkshireman and a staunch friend; he left us far too early.
This all notwithstanding, life had to continue and the 1971 Falcons team reported for duty in January. We were blessed with good jumping weather for the next six weeks, making some two dozen high jumps both on the airfield at Abingdon and at Weston. In mid-January Alan Jones called me into his office with the news that we had been invited to Australia to participate in the Jubilee commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of the Royal Australian Air Force. This was a most prestigious invitation beyond doubt, and it was arranged that for the first three weeks we should train with the Parachute Training Flight based at RAAF Williamtown, in New South Wales. The detachment commander was OC PTS, Wing Commander Norman Johnstone, with Ron Ellerbeck, Frank Weatherley and Geordie Maguire assisting John Parry and Harry Appleby on the DZ. An MOD film unit was concurrently shadowing the Falcons, and Ron was given a 16mm cine camera to take exit shots and also shoot ground footage on the detachment.
We flew out from Lyneham on Monday the 8th of March in a C130 on our six-day trip down under. The freight bay was packed with kit and piled high with cardboard boxes containing the parachutes. Some of the guys rigged hammocks, and there were the inevitable card schools atop the boxes. The first leg was six hours to Akrotiri to refuel, then a further five to night-stop in Muharraq (Bahrain). Next day was seven hours to Gan in the Indian Ocean where we enjoyed a morning swimming and snorkelling. From Gan we went on to Changi (Singapore), thence the next day another six- hour leg to RAAF Darwin in the Australian Northern territories. Once disembarked, we enjoyed the hospitality of the Sergeants’ Mess at their monthly Guest night, (over which event it is deemed prudent to draw a discreet veil), before embarking on our final two thousand mile leg across the barren Northern Territories, flying over Ayres Rock, into New South Wales and our final destination of Williamtown.
BACK IN THE UK
Hong Kong December 1971
The final act of Falcons ’71 was played out, as had been the first, many leagues from home. We had been invited to Hong Kong to participate in the 1971 Festival, a ten-day trade and cultural pageant which engendered massive local publicity. We flew out from Brize on the 16th of November in a VC10 for the six thousand mile trip via Akrotiri, Gan and Changi, finally touching down at RAF Kai Tak on the Kowloon peninsula after nineteen hours airborne. The Falcons had some high-level support on board; with the team were the Abingdon Station Commander, Group Captain Bill Green, and OC PTS, Peter Hearn who, naturally, had brought his jumping boots with him. The MOD Film Unit were also there in force, as were the Royal Air Force Central Band. Barry Furness had left the team mid- season, having re-mustered to loadmaster; Harry Parkinson had taken his place and had slotted in effortlessly.
We settled once more into the Sergeants’ Mess at Kai Tak; the first few days were taken up with introductions, TV interviews and publicity shots both for the local press and for our own MOD cameramen, with falcon Fred prominently on show. We were scheduled to jump at various venues on the island, as well as several up-country in the New Territories. The centrepiece of these demos was the Government Stadium, set in a natural bowl with steep cliffs on three sides and a main highway on the fourth. Six times we were to jump there and P hour was to be 22.00 hrs, our first night demos. The met man told us that the winds at two thousand feet would be in the region of twenty knots, and that anabatic and katabatic turbulence within the bowl was likely to be pronounced. We nodded sagely in agreement, then went away to find out what he meant (updraughts and downdraughts). We went to look at the place the next morning and, as can be seen in the photo, this first viewing provoked some thoughtful expressions among the brethren. Before we did any jumping, however, we also decided to recce and photograph all the Drop Zones from the air at two thousand feet; as usual it all looked easier from upstairs. The only proviso we decided was to put an eight-hundred metre limit on the spot for the night jumps.
Down to business
On the Wednesday we did our first rehearsal in daylight into the Government Stadium. As already mentioned, this was quite a tight area and we ran in at 3,300 feet with three Whirlwinds in line astern at one minute intervals, with a strict briefing to observe good stack discipline. As usual, we were reliant on the balloon/theodolite to provide wind information, the balloons being tracked at night by the attachment of a small candle suspended below each balloon. The day rehearsal went well, so on the Thursday we followed up with our first rehearsal at night, also without complications. Thus reassured we carried on with a high rehearsal into the Happy Valley racecourse on Friday, and a high demo for our hosts on to the airfield at Kai Tak on the Saturday. We jumped on Sunday afternoon at Sek Kong on the mainland, then prepared for the official opening demo at the Stadium that evening. I was designated to spot from the lead aircraft. As I noted at the time, in an extract I wrote for Peter Hearn’s “Falcons”:
“We waddled out to the choppers at Kai Tak about nine o’clock in the evening for our first demo, festooned with ‘chutes, life jackets, smoke brackets, torches to illuminate the canopies when they were open, lights to illuminate the altimeters – all the paraphernalia pertaining to a night demo close to deep water. As the aircraft flew over the harbour towards Hong Kong the view from the open door was dramatically spectacular; the whole waterfront of Wan Chai was a blaze of lights with bejewelled towers jutting up from the illuminated ribbons that were the main highways, while the mountainside of the 1600 foot Peak loomed in the background, totally black.
From the lead chopper I could see at least six floodlit stadiums. Which was mine? I hoped the pilot knew… . Then I recognised it as he made straight for it. I started my stopwatch as I left the aircraft over the mountainside about 800 metres past the stadium, tucked up into fast fall, and pulled on exactly eleven seconds. As the canopy came out, I saw the shape of Snowy going past me, still in freefall. Wrong. He should have been above me. He opened below me and started running hard for the stadium, with the sodium flare in the centre and its smoke blowing towards us. Wrong again, especially as I was by then right over it at 1000 feet facing into the upper wind and being blown backwards towards the harbour. Worrying moments, but all at once, as we came below the level of the ridgeline, the 20-knot uppers decreased to zero and we were left with a gentle approach to the bowl and we could take those Para Commanders just wherever we wanted. As we came into the radius of the stadium lighting we pulled the smokes and slid comfortably one after the other into the centre circle of the soccer pitch in a series of light running standups. Judging by the din, thirty thousand highly vocal Orientals thought it was magic. We were a bit impressed ourselves… .”
First night demo rehearsal Mk 1 Paracommanders
First night rehearsal: Self logbook jump number 1000 (military)
(Brevet p. 136)
Thus ended Falcons ’71; a year which started with two months in Australia and finished with three weeks in Hong Kong, through continental Europe from Gothenberg to Gütersloh and on to the island of Cyprus. On a personal level, it entailed a tally of one hundred and seventy two jumps and provided me with a series of unforgettable experiences. On a professional level I considered it a unique privilege to have worked for two seasons with two great Falcon leaders and an outstanding team of friends and jumpers. I did not know it at the time, but this was to be my final year on the team. When we finally returned to Abingdon, the Boss called me into his office… .