RAF Changi Far East Air Force Parachute School 1952 – 1959
The Far East Parachute School was formed in February 1952 to train personnel of 22 SAS, Rhodesian SAS, New Zealand SAS and Units of the Parachute Regiment. The first Chief Instructor was Flt. Lt. Stan Kellaway (below).
Operation “Termite” https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/resources/video/operation-termite
“The SAS had been trying several ideas to make jungle parachuting a practical proposition, but so far nothing worthwhile had emerged, the best was abseiling with a mountaineering rope, but this was painful and impossible with full kit. I could see an adaptation of this method might be possible and tried using two-inch parachute webbing. The man had to have some sort of harness on his body when he left the parachute harness so I produced a canvas ‘bikini’. We quickly decided that a webbing line from the suspended parachute harness to the ground was the basic ingredient, but we had to devise safe braking system to lower him down that line. We got partial success, but eventually devised a buckle with three fixed and two adjustable braking surfaces that met the requirement and these were produced in quantity at Seletar.” (Extract “The Kellaway Saga” by Sqn.Ldr. Stan Kellaway, copy held in PTS museum).
Far East Air Force Survival and Parachute School 1959 – 1971
FEAF Freefall Team
MALAYSIA DAY 31 AUGUST 1963. AIR SHOW AT PAYAN LEBAR AIRPORT
Peter Hearn recalls:
…Then Malaysia happened. This union of Far Eastern States was declared in August 1963 and celebrations were called for, including an air show at Paya Lebar, the civilian airport. The Royal Singapore Flying Club looked around for suitable items to attract and entertain the crowds. I was asked if I would jump. I mentioned the insuperable difficulties. They would be overcome, I was assured. Would I jump? Would I jump!
I asked Snowy Robertson to join me. “I might have known!” said Mrs. Snowy.
(“Parachutist” Peter Hearn 1976 p.120)
…We jumped five times during the three days of the air show. Not without incident. On the second jump, the TU canopy that Snowy was using blew up when he opened. He flew his reserve, and came in smoothly, accurately and to the great delight of the crowd, under the reserve and the tattered remnants of his main parachute. It was Dai Hurford’s parachute so he wasn’t terribly worried… (ibid p.122)
At last came the authority to form an official team – two months before I was due to leave Singapore and return to the UK. But in those two months I enjoyed some of the most pleasant parachuting ever. We jumped from an Argosy at Changi, early each Saturday morning. Before it was light I would freewheel the car down the slope from our Thomson Rise bungalow so as not to wake the family. The vegetable stalls would already be awake along the Thomson Road, and at Pongol corner the poultry buyers would be tying bundles of live chickens to their motor scooters and stuffing bundles of protesting ducks into car- boots. On the airfield we would kit up with our new ‘Conquistadors’ that Mike Stamford obtained for us. We would walk out to the Argosy with the stars fading and palm trees leaning against the dawn. Run in over Changi Jail for the streamer drop, then watch the island spread itself as we climbed in early sunlight to 12,000 feet. The fishing traps pointed like arrows out to sea, and Kallang would make a good DZ, and the Padang down there – now that would be a drop… and there was that little island that we shared with a sea eagle for one whole idyllic day, and the Thomson Reservoir where we walked on Sundays, and the estate, and the white dot of the bungalow where Ed and the kids would be waking up “Running in” someone would say, and we would go through the final checks, and pull our goggles down…
(Peter Hearn, Ibid pp.124-5)
|FIJI INDEPENDENCE DAY DEMO 10 OCTOBER 1970|
We departed RAF Changi 7th October 1970 on the first leg of a trip Fiji, to take part in the Fijian Independence Day Celebration on the 10th October. On board was a four-man Free Fall Team consisting of John Thirtle, Colin Blythe, Mel Reid and Chris Edgley. The DZ Team was John Boddington, Jack Flint and Pete Penman along with two Safety Equipment fitters. On arrival at Nadi International Airport Fiji, we were accommodated in the Fiji Gateway Hotel, just outside the airport, and as we arrived late afternoon, it left little time to do more than settle in, but not before we had unpacked the parachutes, rigged reserves with instruments and done all the other things necessary prior to our first descent on the 9th October; we really were on a tight schedule. The 9th of October was our first 12,000 ft. jump into Victoria Park Lautoka, this was purely a rehearsal before the main event on Independence Day. We had to depend on the information supplied by Fiji Met. Office, and had been warned that the upper winds could be tricky in that area because of its close proximity to the ocean. The rehearsal went well and next day, 10th October, was the big one into Albert Park, Suva. On deployment, we could hear the roar of the estimated 16,000 crowd in the park, many of whom had never seen a parachute before. Prince Charles did a drive past in the royal landrover and gave us a brief nod of approval. Our final descent on 11th Oct was a static line descent from 2600ft using steerable canopies on to Vanua Levu an island 64 k from the main island, the five man team using leg smoke canisters for effect. The DZ was a strip of grass alongside a sugarcane field. Prior to exit, Mel accidentally activated his smoke early, filling the aircraft with orange smoke, which would have looked spectacular from the ground, and then to see five men exit the a/c in quick succession through the smoke. Even before we landed, literally hundreds of those watching broke ranks and soon we were engulfed. We were treated like gods and I gave a young Fijian boy one of my smoke canisters and he ran off with it shouting, as though he had just been given the crown jewels.12th October and time to reverse our journey back to Changi via Darwin, but this time we had a night stop in hotel accommodation, before our eventual touchdown at RAF Changi on the 13th of October, with many memories of a wonderful trip behind us.
Colin Blythe, August 2021
NEAR EAST AIR FORCE
NEAF Parachute Medical Rescue Team Cyprus 1962 – 1966
“… Not long after my new boss arrived, we had our second callout. It was a request for aid from a Greek doctor on the island of Kastellorizon (sic), a Greek island just off the Turkish coast. Evidently, a young Greek lady was expecting her first child and the delivery was showing signs of complications. In addition, the doctor had few medical necessities to hand such as the need for blood plasma. Consequently the RAF in Cyprus were asked for their assistance. The weather was too bad for the Air-Sea Rescue launch to attempt a landing, the seas being very rough and coast very rocky. As there was an airstrip, it was decided to drop the Paramedics to render hat assistance they could. The actual date of the drop escapes me, for some reason I have not written it in my logbook. But, I know it was a few days before Christmas 1962.
We fitted our parachutes and loaded our supplies aboard the Hastings and took off for the island, arriving there early in the morning. The wind was within the dropping limit, I think about 12-15 mph at ground level. A quick ‘recce’ of the island showed that the only suitable place to drop was a small field quite close to the shore, which was extremely rocky. It was obvious that it was going to be very tricky indeed. The field looked no bigger than the average suburban back garden and was surrounded by a stone wall. Circling around, we ran in and dropped a dummy we had brought, this gave us an idea of the wind. Watching the dummy land, we made another run in and dropped the team leader. We had arranged to drop the rest of the team in pairs, starting with doctor Squadron Leader King and one of the nursing orderlies. Receiving the all clear from the boss on the ground, I checked each jumper’s kit and gave them what advice I could to help them. As each pair made their exit the skipper of the plane adjusted his drop to try and make sure that they all landed within the field. Fortunately, the wind stayed a steady 12mph and I could see they were all performing excellently, handling their parachutes like veterans.
Once the team had jumped, we made one more pass over the DZ and headed back to Akrotiri to standby in case they needed more supplies. I would have liked to have jumped, but their was no point in my jumping as there was nothing medically I could do. I would be far more use back at the base, assembling supplies if they were needed and should we need the Regiment, I would be on hand to get them ready. Word soon came back that everyone had landed safely, mother and baby were both well and that the team would be on their way back as soon as the weather improved, which it soon did, enabling the team to arrive back just in time for Christmas.
The whole operation had gone quite well, everyone was pleased, including the Greek government. From our point of view, my boss and I were very satisfied with the team’s performance. It is no easy thing to be hauled out of bed early in the morning, fly for a few hours and then jump out onto a strange DZ, especially such a tricky one as Kastellorizon. The lads themselves were quite pleased with their efforts, they felt it had all been worthwhile. There was some question as to the advisability of dropping the team, as it was felt (not by us) that really there was no need to have dropped them, supplies would have sufficed. Be that as it may, it was valuable practice for the team, had it been an aircraft down on the island, there is the possibility that they could have saved several lives.”
(Alf Card 2002)
Alf made his final jump on the island onto the Ladies Mile DZ on 9 January 1963. Ironically he suffered a mid-air collision with another jumper at a height of some fifty feet and suffered a C class tibial fracture which ended his career. He had made 1003 descents.
Alf’s Final Logbook
Alf’s First Logbook
His replacement was Flight Sergeant Hughie (Dinger) Bell
Wing PJI RAF Nicosia 1964
In 1951 the 16th Independent Parachute Brigade Group was sent to Cyprus, but soon became involved in maintaining the security of the Suez Canal Zone between 1951-4. PJIs George Munro, Busty Alderman and Roger Gibbard were among the Pitts Road contingent and took the freefall opportunity at Nicosia airfield, beating us to it by some twelve years… (see below).
The Cyprus Combined Services Parachute Club
On 2nd September 1963 I left the UK for a three- year tour at RAF Nicosia in Cyprus. On posting, my terms of reference included giving support to the Near East Air Force Parachute Rescue Team and No. 3 (LAA) Wing RAF Regiment, both based at Akrotiri. The Officer in charge of the NEAF Rescue Team was Flight Lieutenant John Robinson with Flight Sergeant Hughie (Dinger) Bell as his number two. This rescue team comprised medical and mountain rescue personnel, with the RAF Regiment in support. Another friend was Flight Sergeant George Bruce, ex PTS, who was running the Mountain Rescue Team, at that time also based with me at Nicosia. This now made four qualified active PJIs on the island. Six days after arriving at Nicosia I excused myself from the PTIs and their Olympic swimming pool and flew down to Akrotiri to meet John Robinson, Dinger, and the rest of the team who shared a headquarters and parachute training compound with 3 Wing. This was a most fruitful meeting indeed as it rapidly became apparent that John was massively keen to start freefall training on the island. All they needed was kit and an instructor, and it just so happened that I had brought out four B4 rigs with me to Cyprus, being my share of the now defunct Kidlington Skydivers Parachute School. My apprenticeship was over, and within two weeks we had a freefall programme up and running.
This opportunity arrived with my first day’s work at Akrotiri on 27th September. Because of air traffic considerations all parachute programmes had to be completed by 08.00 hrs, and in consequence I flew out from Nicosia at 04.30 in a 70 Squadron Hastings on my first sortie as despatcher for RAF Regiment personnel, a static line programme on to the Ladies Mile DZ. I had previously asked Chris Eddy, the Hastings captain, if there was any chance we could do some freefall jumping once the troops had gone. He proved most enthusiastic and gave John Robinson and myself a perfect run in at 5,000 feet as a final pass…. Over the next three weeks John Robinson, Dinger Bell, George Bruce and myself made half a dozen freefall jumps from the Hastings after the static line troops had been despatched, before the Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) at NEAF HQ heard about it and promptly banned the practice, deeming, quite correctly of course, that we were using non-Service equipment and had no authority whatsoever…. Nonetheless, an abiding memory remains of a solo jump from 10,000 feet at seven o’clock one morning over the Ladies Mile beach DZ. I had despatched Dinger on a five second delay and the Hastings went up to the top with only myself and the loadmaster left in the back. We ran in over Limassol bay, the green light came on just past the shoreline, and I left the starboard door with the whole sky to myself. The Akrotiri runway was over to the left, the base itself was fringed with dark green orange groves, the salt flats glittered ahead in the clear early morning sunlight and I went into a no-lift dive then tracked all the rest of the way down, just because I could. Fabulous experience. Opened at 2,000 feet, nil wind, and I hit the sand a half metre from the target centre. I had been on the island for five weeks and it was only going to get better.
…The intervention of the SASO meant we had to seek elsewhere to continue our freefall programmes, so naturally we looked to the Army. 16 Flight Army Air Corps were based at Kingsfield in the Dhekalia Sovereign Base Area, on the east coast about sixty miles from Nicosia, and two weeks after the RAF embargo we were operating again. The AAC already had much experience in dropping jumpers and the CO, Captain Pete Courtnay, had welcomed us with enthusiasm…
… Now that we had access to aircraft and to an unrestricted DZ at Kingsfield airstrip in the Sovereign Base Area we were confident we could form ourselves into the Cyprus Combined Services Parachute Club. The founder members were George Bruce and myself from Nicosia and John Robinson from Akrotiri. Right from the beginning we were almost overwhelmed with volunteer student jumpers, the first of whom were members of George’s mountain rescue team. In view of our limited resources we had decided from the outset that only parachute-trained personnel could be accepted for freefall instruction. In addition, the landing area was the end of the airstrip itself, and consisted of hard compressed gravel, demanding good proven landing technique. Our opening training programme took place on the 1200 metre Kingsfield strip on the 16th of November 1963, and, as we had no accommodation on the airstrip, all the parachutes were stored in the RAF Nicosia Safety Equipment Section. We had a good friend there in Jerry Hoyt, who gave us hanging space and the use of his packing tables. Every Saturday morning I would leave Nicosia at 06.00 and drive the sixty miles to Dhekalia with the gear. Meanwhile, John Robinson plus George Bruce and his team, now relocated to Akrotiri, would rendezvous at the airfield at 07.30. We would jump for about three hours until the sea breeze went above limits, then repack for the next session. George’s mountain rescue team would often then proceed north for an exercise in the Kyrenia mountains. In all, we were to complete six sessions before Christmas…
(Brevet pp. 56-59)
A further significant development occurred when, in February 1964, No. 2 Field Squadron (Para) RAF Regiment was deployed to Nicosia, under the command of Squadron Leader Gerry Wilson. Gerry was unique in the Service in that, along with the RAF Regiment shoulder badge he wore pilot’s wings, parachute wings, and the ribbon of the Military Cross with which he was awarded for gallantry in the Yemen in 1958. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/ obituaries/military-obituaries/air-force-obituaries/8832548/Wing- Commander-Gerry-Wilson.html.
Gerry proved to be a most useful ally indeed as he joined us at Kingsfield as a club member on our return there later in the summer, and the following year he was to be elected as Club Chairman. Meanwhile we had obtained funding for the Club to purchase Irvin Skydriver 9 TU canopies to replace our old C9s. These Irvin canopies were the UK version of the American Conquistador TU canopies, and were 1. 6oz low porosity nylon fabric with a 9-gore separation. At last we were all equipped with bespoke canopies to replace the government surplus 1. 1oz ripstop parachutes which had served us so well for the past three years.
The situation was to turn dramatically on Saturday 21st December when violence broke out between the Greek and Turkish communities on the island. This rapidly escalated into a full scale conflict, and, by the 28th of December the Cyprus garrison had been reinforced by the 1st Battalion the Parachute Regiment and the 16th Independent Parachute Brigade Group. Deployed with the latter were 21 Recce Flight Army Air Corps, to be based at RAF Nicosia. The island was partitioned with the Turks to the north and the Greeks in the south and the so-called Green Line running through the centre of Nicosia. After four weeks the situation had stabilised sufficiently for the visiting Army sport jumpers to get together and consider jumping in any spare time they might have. Many of my old friends from the UK Army teams were now right on the doorstep – Captain Tom Ridgeway, Leo McArdle, Bob Reid, Jim Walmsley, Mike Turner, and Pete Paganelli among them. By March 1964 all visiting forces had been transferred to United Nations command (UNFICYP) and exchanged their red berets for UN blue, and Tom had organised a Beaver for jumping on the airfield. In April Tom’s UN team gave a demo into the station sports arena for a 70 Squadron party, 7,000 feet from the Beaver with smoke, whilst I was given an honorary UN blue beret for the occasion.(Brevet p.60)
In September we heard that the Parachute Regiment Display Team – Red Devils (alias Red Freds) http://www.red-devils-fft.com – were due to visit Bahrain to give a series of demonstration jumps. 1 Para were at the time serving with the Bahrain garrison, and John Robinson organised a short detachment over there for himself, George and me, ostensibly for a triangular competition against the two Army teams. We flew over early in October to meet up with Geordie Charlton, on detachment from Pitts Road with 1 Para, and Leo McArdle, a very good friend from the previous year. The Red Devils’ own DH Rapide G-AGTM, was flown out from Farnborough to Bahrain, via Lebanon and all points east, a flight which took seven days. The aircraft was heavily laden with a complete public address system for the shows, also as passenger on board was the pilot’s wife, who was reportedly eight months pregnant. The couple settled in a local hotel to recuperate, and handed over the Rapide for team training at the Zallaq airstrip on the west coast of the island, about fifteen miles from the capital Al Manamah.
My last jump on the island was, fittingly enough, from a 70 Squadron Hastings, this time totally legal and authorised, using an Irvin PB4 on to the Ladies Mile DZ. During my three years at Nicosia I had completed three hundred parachute descents on the island, and, considering this was officially a PTI duty tour, I had no complaints at all. My family, too, had benefited enormously; despite the travel restrictions imposed by the Emergency we had travelled the length and breadth of this beautiful island, sunned ourselves on its beaches north, east and south, from the panhandle to Paphos. We had explored the Troodos and Kyrenia mountains in winter and in summer, and returned to the UK after three happy years in the sunshine. All in all, a tour to remember, but it was time to return to the Parachute School and to mainstream jumping.