RAF Abingdon 1950-1976

Basic Training

432 e ss2
My Basic Course 432 November 1956

Our home was C Hangar at Abingdon, an area of some 30,000 square feet, which contained a plethora of synthetic training equipment – coir matting (very dusty) high ramps, low ramps, wheel trainers, slides, flight swings, block and tackle trainers, mock doors, fuselage mockups, a parachute storeroom, a maintenance section (STESS), fitting racks, plus six fan descent trainers high in the roof. At the other end of the hangar, suspended on high and gathering more dust, were full-scale replicas of Garnerin’s (1797) parachute and Robert Cocking’s ill-fated (1837) contraption. Offices, crew room, standby room, and parachute section were shoehorned in along the airfield side.

(Brevet pp.1 – 2)

PTS C Hangar 1970
Flight Swings 1958: rigging lines rear
Slide Landing Trainer

Outdoor exit trainer
Exit trainer with Old Married Quarters in the background
The Good Book
47 Squadron Hastings  RAF Abingdon circa. 1957
Hastings aircraft drills – prepare for action. Photo courtesy ParaData
Hastings exit clean fatigue

bev ss
53 Sqn Blackburn Beverley on the pan outside C hangar. Note balloon in background. Photo courtesy Ed Cartner

Beverley boom emplane Abingdon
 Beverley exits circa. 1960
The powers that be must have been satisfied with my progress as, six months following my original interview, I was promoted to Sergeant. In total, I spent four years from 1957 through the whole of 1960 learning my trade on the hangar floor. I remember particularly one of the courses, the RMA Sandhurst entry of September 1958. George Richardson was the Flight Sergeant; the instructors were Ron Ellerbeck, Bob Uden and myself. One member of my section was Officer Cadet John Ridgway, the first direct Sandhurst entrant into the Parachute Regiment, he who later achieved fame in 1966 by rowing across the Atlantic with his platoon sergeant Chay Blyth.

(Brevet p.6)

Sandhurst Course 1958. John Ridgway rear row second left. PJI Staff seated, front left  Bob Uden, George Richardson; centre George Podevin, Jim Davis with Edward Bear mascot; right Ron Ellerbeck, Self, PCAU  W.O.
In February I took a section of WRAF parachute packers from Upper Heyford on a two-jump balloon course, with Flight Lieutenant Stan Roe as the Course officer. I was told that these were the first female jumpers to be trained at the School since the war. (p.14)
WRAF parachute packers course February 1961. These ladies were the first WRAF trainees since PMRAFNS at Heyford in 1949. Flt.Lt. Stan Roe and Self in centre.

PMRAFNS Course Heyford 1949
WRAF parachute packers – 2 Balloon Descents Weston 21 February 1961

Weston Balloon

Military Freefall

By 1960 opportunities had arisen for staff members to be trained in freefall techniques. There was now a Special Forces training requirement, and PTS had to quickly adapt to the task. The previous year (the then) Flying Officers Peter Hearn http://www.amazon. co.uk/Parachutist-Peter-Hearn/dp/0709154135 and John Thirtle, along with Flight Sergeants Alf Card and Tommy Moloney, had attended a freefall course at the French Airborne Depot (BETAP) in Pau and they formed the instructor cadre back at Abingdon.

PAU ss
BETAP Pau 1959. John Thirtle, Tommy Moloney, Nicolan, Alf Card, Peter Hearn. Photo courtesy Graeme Card
Nord Atlas emplane
Alf Card Logbook extract BETAP August 1959. Courtesy Graeme Card

(French protocol dictated that the student logbooks were filled by the Directing Staff. S.O.R. is the abbreviation for Saut Ouverture Retardée – Delayed opening jump).

BETAP Certificate. Courtesy Graeme Card

This time, as opposed to 1954, the benefits were immediate and permanent. Freefall was now firmly on the PTS agenda.  And in 1959 PTS provided a demo team for a tour of Australia. (below).

(Brevet pp 12 -13)

The now Air Commodore Eric Brice OBE was the prime mover in establishing military freefall at No.1 PTS. Photograph courtesy Darren Cookson

1959 Tours to Australia and New Zealand

Australia RAAF Base Amberley demo.  Beverley aircraft: l-r Alf Card, Keith Teesdale, Peter Hearn, John Thirtle, Pete Denley, Tommy Moloney

1961 Farnborough and the “Big Six”*

In mid-June trials work at PTS was suddenly brought into extremely sharp focus with the establishment of a Royal Air Force parachute display team, and the directive that this team was to make its official debut at the Society of British Aircraft Constructors (SBAC) Farnborough Air Show in September.

* Coined during training. Groups of three, four and five, leading up to the “Big” six.

Original Display Team 1961. Team Leader Flt.Lt. Peter Hearn

Peter Hearn, Tommy Moloney, Self, Jake McLoughlin, Snowy Robertson, John Thirtle
KITUP 2 ss
Peter Hearn with Dave Francombe. Rigs were Irvin PB Mk 4. Photo courtesy Peter Hearn
Beverley on pan outside C hangar. Foreground Bob Uden and Self

Self, John Thirtle back to camera, Graham Micklewright, Geoff Watters, Alf Card, Peter Hearn
Peter Hearn briefing  George Hill and Stan Phipps
George Hill – note Casella altimeter and stopwatch
Stan Phipps
Jake and Self, Beverley freight bay 1961
SBAC Farnborough Air Show September 1961

Although there were only six jumpers, the Beverley freight bay was quite crowded. On the two minute call, we ducked under the lashing tape strung at waist height and linked arms with feet poised for the step-off. Kneeling in front of us were three assistants, one helper for each two jumpers, whose job it was to unzip the chalk bags on the red light and to start the stopwatches on the green. The AQM (loadmaster) was hanging to one side, halfway up the bars on the wall. It was his job to co-ordinate the exit by giving the GO signal on the navigator’s green. Such was the novelty there were invariably at least half a dozen photographers straining on their safety belts. The exit at 9,000 feet was a step backwards, arch, and try immediately to lock legs. We held on for the full twenty seconds, which took us down to 6,000 feet, broke on time and tracked outwards for ten seconds, turned in the track for the opening point and opened at 2,000 feet on altimeter. My logbook shows nine group six exits in total before the show, three of which were carried out at Farnborough itself. The final rehearsal was at Weston on 1st September 1961, group exit in six from 9,000 feet for Pathe News. We used Pains Wessex orange smoke canisters on this occasion, although chalk bags still continued in use for some time. The SBAC Farnborough Air Show opened for us on Tuesday 5th September. Cloud restricted us to 3,000 feet, we jumped side door sim. 3s and all made the area. We jumped again on the Thursday and Friday, from 4,500 and 5,000 feet respectively. Although we were disappointed we could not demonstrate the high show, it was nevertheless useful experience and confirmed our canopy handling capabilities. Saturday 9th September was the first open day, the weather was brilliant and in front of an estimated audience of 120,000 we performed the bomb burst from 9,000 feet. Two and a half minutes after stepping from the sill our six white canopies were overlapping the orange target cross in the middle of the triangle. This was the culmination of eight months hard work and was one hell of a buzz. It was my 72nd jump. Next day, Sunday, we were restricted to 7,000 feet, but still put in the bomb burst and were all on target.

(Brevet pp.22-23)

Rehearsal Weston 29 August 1961. Note French chalk bags


Sorting out the exit – Farnborough  9 September 1961


Visit BETAP Pau December 1961

On 15th December we flew out to the French Airborne parachute school (BETAP) in Pau, with the Command rugby team who had an away fixture there. In the morning, we jumped from 8,000 feet on to their DZ from the Beverley as a five group, our linked exit arousing only a mild curiosity from our French Army counterparts. That afternoon their team jumped from the Nord Atlas into the downtown rugby stadium prior to kick-off. It was a perfect day, wall-to-wall blue, and the team of six came streaking out of the sky from 10,000 feet trailing chalk, heading for the far end of the stadium. The DZ party lit a smoke flare, showing a 180-degree wind shift. From about 5,000 feet, the formation swept round in the track and hurtled for the new opening point on the upwind edge. They smoked it down to about 1200 feet and landed their EFA 653 single T blank gore canopies in the centre of the pitch. All, that is, save one who opened a little lower and finished up on the road outside the stadium only to be triumphantly escorted back inside by a couple of gendarmes who had halted all the traffic to ensure him a safe landing. This was a demo par excellence from our mentors, but, in display techniques at least, we felt we were now not too far behind them.

(Brevet p. 23)

Self, Snowy, Jake, Dave Francombe kneeling

PAU 1961
Team exit 8000′ Pau DZ
French instructors tailgate second pass


French Army demo Pau Stadium 16 December 1961. EFA 653 canopies

French Army demo team lineup
Ronald Arthur Ellerbeck


Ron originated the system of working out the opening and release points using the balloon and theodolite. We released a met. balloon with a known rate of ascent which was tracked by theodolite and readings taken every 1000 feet (Stopwatch timed). Every 1000 feet the angle and bearing was recorded. Ron then transferred these figures to his aircrew slide rule and translated them to a distance and bearing. These figures were radioed up to the a/c and marked on the airphoto to give us the run in track and opening point. This was absolutely vital as the parachutes we had were only TUs which could make up only about 200 metres error. Ron was the only guy who could do this to begin with, and he trained others up. It is no exaggeration to say that the Farnborough 1961 Team would have had no chance of success without Ron. He was an essential member of the team in this regard, came with us on all our trips 1961 and 1962. He was a permanent fixture in 1971, travelled with the Falcons to Australia in February/March, Paris Air Show in June, Cyprus in October and Hong Kong in December.


The parachuting year of 1962 did not start well. In the first month we had two high-profile fatalities. On the tenth of January, BPA Chairman Mike Reilly himself was drowned in the English Channel. He was jumping from a B17 Flying Fortress as a stunt double for Robert Wagner in the film“TheWarLover”,starringSteveMcQueen. On hitting the water his canopy remained inflated and Mike drowned as a result of dragging; his rig was not equipped with Capewells. Four of us attended his funeral at a little country church in deepest Surrey. He was twenty-nine years old. http://www. flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1962/1962%20-%200078.html. On the thirtieth of the same month Peter Hearn, Snowy and myself were on a liaison visit to Boscombe Down. It was a pretty gloomy January afternoon, with the cloud base down to about fifteen hundred feet. Before returning to PTS later that afternoon, we heard rumours of a parachute fatality in the area, involving   the SAS team. There was simultaneously a complete news blackout from Hereford and it was not until two days later that the facts emerged. A team of eight SAS jumpers had taken off in a Handley Page Dart Herald from Boscombe to attempt a new British altitude record. Under the leadership of Dare Wilson, they left the aircraft at a height of 34,350 feet, with personal oxygen bottles, jumping on to Imber DZ. Problems arose with icing of goggles and altimeters and Keith Norry, who had over two hundred descents at the time, failed to arrive at the RV. He was found on the ground shortly afterwards, with neither his main nor his reserve handle pulled. The Board of Inquiry was unable to establish any specific cause of the accident, whilst the rest of the parachuting world could only surmise the factors involved. I knew Keith from his course at Abingdon, he now lies at rest in Tidworth military cemetery and each year I join his remaining teammates there in a brief remembrance ceremony. There was, in fact, an ironic connection between these two accidents in that Colonel Wilson took over from Mike Reilly as BPA Chairman and was himself to prove a highly influential figure in the organisation and development of the sport between 1962 and 1966.

(Brevet pp.39-40)


Daily Express February 1 1962

Display Team 1962. Team Leader Flt.Lt. Peter Hearn

Peter Williams, Self, Brian Jones, Mick Torevell, Snowy, Paul Hewitt, Dave Francombe, Bossman Peter Hearn
TEAM 1962
Paul Hewitt, Self, Jake, Peter Hearn, Snowy and Tommy outside PTS C Hangar  1962

Demo Speke Airport 26 May 1962. Tommy Moloney, Self, Peter Williams. Single Pioneer aircraft
First team overseas demo at the Rouen Boos Airfield 24 June 1962.

…A week later we flew over to France for our very first overseas demo at the Rouen Air Show. We were one of several parachuting items on the programme, which, as well as the French Army team, included French professional demo jumpers Gil Delamare and Micheline Violin. The surface wind was gusting to twenty knots, the upper winds were forty plus, and all the French jumpers, relying on a wind streamer, missed the airfield entirely. Our balloon/theodolite system gave us both freefall and canopy drift, the sill exit was stable, the bomburst spectacular against a clear blue sky. The white TU s landed, albeit backwards and at speed, all around the target cross, much to the appreciation of the assembled multitude. Gil Delamare made it back to the target area in time for the photo opportunity; Tommy, ever the diplomat, asked the leading French professional of the day if he were a sport jumper, a question that, judging from the response, lost nothing in translation. We would also have wished to compare notes with our French military colleagues but they had unaccountably returned to Pau. The French evening reception at the City Hall was a fine occasion; the champagne flowed, and we were presented with a most impressive and unexpected trophy, awarded to the best display team of the show. We returned to PTS the next day, slightly hung over, but reasonably content with our first foray into the continental demo arena.

(Brevet pp. 44-45)


Rouen demo. in a 20 kt. surface wind. (Photo Paris Normandie 25 June)
Airshow reception. Hotel de Ville Rouen with trophy for the best display team of the show. Snowy (brevet only) Peter Hearn with trophy, Tommy, Jake, Paul Hewitt, Self

Peter Hearn AFC Investiture Buckingham Palace 1962, with his wife Edna and his father

Display Team 1963. Team Leader Flt. Lt. Peter McCumiskey

McCumisky ss2
Peter McCumiskey. Photograph courtesy Amy MacPherson

…Meanwhile, back at PTS, the Display season was under way. Peter Hearn had handed over to Peter McCumiskey as team leader and, as the team was still not established, jumpers continued to be drawn from Trials and Training flight. The Big Six had broken up and we sport jumpers were no longer automatic choices. Nonetheless on the eleventh of May I was in the team which took the Argosy out from Benson to Clermont Ferrand in the Auvergne region of central France. The venue was the airport of Aulnat, to the east of the city, situated amidst the hills in a huge natural amphitheatre, bounded to the west by the spectacular volcanic region of the Puy de Dôme. The occasion was a National Air Display and parachuting was one of the main attractions, all over town there were huge posters advertising the star jumpers, top billing going to Jean Claude Dubois who two months previously had established a high altitude record by parachuting from 22,000 feet on to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. The next day dawned with crystal clear blue skies, light winds and a one hundred thousand crowd. We opened the parachuting from the Argosy with our 12,000-foot track pattern, then relaxed on the grass to watch the rest of the show. The French Army team had brought their Nord Atlas and all the French jumpers, military and civilian alike, were aboard and awaiting their turn. First out was a heavy drop from the tailgate at 1,000 feet – a Simca convertible followed out by four static line jumpers who landed next to it, de-rigged it and drove it off in about ninety seconds flat. The second pass was from 9,000 feet, with a civilian team jump. The aircraft came round again at 12,000 feet with the star attraction, Jean Claude Dubois with all the sky to himself, the focus of a hundred thousand pairs of eyes, demonstrating a superb solo sweeping track pattern picked out in white smoke, complete with live running commentary from the jumper in freefall, via a throat mike hooked up to the public address system. The final item was the French military team from Pau, who included the current 1962 World Accuracy Champion, Gérard Treves. This was an airshow that lived long in the memory. It was also to be my last RAF demo appearance for three and a half years.

(Brevet pp 51-52)

Team Leader Peter McCumiskey briefing: Ken Kidd, Paul Hewitt, Norman Pilling,  Norman Hoffman, Geordie Charlton, Self, Pete McCumiskey, Brian Clarke-Sutton, Bert Shearer (Deputy) Dave Francombe. Note: Rigs were still Irvin PB4 and the team jumpsuits were pale blue Grand Prix driver coveralls…

Team 1963 with the Beverley at Abingdon. This aircraft was still used, although was rapidly being superseded by the Argosy. Photo courtesy Pat Moloney

Display Team 1964. Team Leader Flt. Lt. Peter Williams

TEAM 1964 ss
Geordie Charlton, Tim Tasker, Brian Jones, Ron Mitchell, Peter Williams, John Thirtle, Norman Hoffman, Ray Brettell, Jan Sparkes. Front: Dave Francombe, Paul Hewitt, Pete McCrink

1969 – 1977

BUNN WITH RCP. 6 MAR 1969jpeg
6 March 1969 Pte Norman Blunt makes the 1,000,000th descent at PTS. Plaque presented by Station Commander Gp.Capt. RCP Thompson
Self with Les Allworthy in HALO gear. OCPTS Wg.Cdr. Dick Mullins to the rear
Self with Gp. Capt. Thompson. Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. June 1969
AFM Investiture, Buckingham Palace February 1973. With Helen and daughters Mary and Heidi
Staff Visits
16 May 1969 General Gabriel Ramanantsoa, Chief of the General Staff of the Republic of Malagassy, visits No. 1 PTS
Outside C Hangar
Station Commander Gp.Capt. Thompson, Flt.Lt. Roy McCluskey, General Ramanantsoa, OC PTS Wg.Cdr. Dick Mullins
With School Warrant Officer Jimmy Whitworth. Wg. Cdr. Mullins centre
Freefall training simulator
WESTON GENERALScreen Shot 2018-
Visits Weston on the Green
AOC 1 ss 21 MAY 1972
AOC Inspection 21 May 1972. Station Commander Gp.Capt. Bill Green, AVM Frederick Hazlewood, School Warrant Officer Ben Cass. Photo courtesy Irene Cass
AOC 2 ss
As above. OC PTS Peter Hearn nearest camera, W.O. Ben Cass to the rear. Photo courtesy Irene Cass
French ss
Station Commander Gp.Capt. R M Jenkins, with OC PTS Wg. Cdr. Peter Hearn and Sqn. Ldr. Ernie Helsby extreme right. BETAP Staff visit 11 May 1973. Photo courtesy Peter Hearn
Hurford ss
OC PTS Wg.Cdr. Peter Hearn on left, Sqn. Ldr. Ron Smith with VIP, OC PCAU, Jim Hurford on right. Staff visit 2 June 1973. Photo courtesy Peter Hearn
HRH Prince Charles, water descent Studland Bay 28 July 1971
Trained and despatched by Ken Kidd (on left). HRH was advised  by an anonymous member of staff to get a haircut, on the grounds that ‘there’s Royalty around here, you know’. Photo courtesy George Sizeland.
KIDD:HRH ss cropped
Pre-emplane with Ken Kidd

Intermission 1970-1975: Falcons, RAFSPA, Berlin etc.

GEDÄCHTNIS KIRCHE Screen Shot 2018-10-17 at 16.52.56
Gedächtniskirche Berlin 1974
Reichstag Berlin 1974
Brandenburger Tor behind the Wall. Aerial photos by the  author, Westland Sioux helicopter of 7 Flt AAC, piloted by Sgt. Charles Murray -Twinn on Berlin wall border patrol Feb.- May 1974
rheindalen 1974
Linguist course, Rheindalen March 1974

In the April of 1976 No. 1 Parachute Training School was relocated from RAF Abingdon to RAF Brize Norton. Abingdon had been the home of the Parachute School since 1950, following a four-year sojourn at Upper Heyford. For many of us this was quite a wrench, a move from a base where we had been a major unit along with Nos. 47 and 53 Squadrons, equipped first with Hastings and latterly with Beverley aircraft. We were comfortable there, we had our own No. 2 Sergeants’ Mess with a more relaxed dress code, where we could have a drink wearing our flying suits after evening parachute sorties. Pace the flying squadrons, No. 1 PTS to us was first amongst equals at Abingdon. Brize was totally different; PTS was now just another unit on a large station.

(Brevet p.181)

Visit of HRH Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester in May 1977.
Ed Cartner, Station Commander, OC PTS Brian White
HRH 1977 ss
Station Commander Gp.Capt. PJ Goulthorpe and OC PTS Brian White introduce PTS Staff: l-r Norman Haggett, Harry Powner, Geoff Norton (Para), Ed Cartner, Ron Ellerbeck. Photo Oxford Mail, courtesy Ed Cartner
With OC PTS Brian White
Presentation of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal 17 June 1977
Bob Roberts, Roger Nicolle, Simon Bales, Alastair McDonald, Dave Ross
Return to RAFSPA
Weston 1975. Pete Dowling, Ken Mapplebeck, Self, Pilot, Pete Smout
Back on the day job
Briefing German Airborne at Pitts Road Aldershot 1976

Retired from the Royal Air Force and No. 1 PTS 31 August 1977

DZ Control Dubai. 5th DIPC 2014