ACA Woking News by Paul Holden, PRO

18 November 2002


Stuart Holmes gave a fascinating illustrated talk
Stuart Holmes

Sunderland Take Off
Sunderland Take Off
At their November meeting, members of the Woking branch of the Aircrew Association were given a "horse's mouth" briefing by one of their own members, Stuart Holmes, on the use of Sunderland Flying Boats in the Far East during World War 2.

Stuart trained in Rhodesia, and then flew Sunderlands in the Far East. He started by pointing out that most members of the Aircrew Association would have gained their experience in "effeminate" land-based aircraft with hard standings to taxi onto, and braked wheels to help you park them there! By contrast, he considered flying boats to be real men's aircraft - which behaved like any other when you got them into the air - but presented real challenges in manoeuvring on the water and mooring - indeed no less than 4 out of the total of 49 pages of Pilot's Notes needed to specify the entire operation of the aircraft, its fuel, oil, hydraulic, flying control and safety systems etc. were addressed solely to these aspects of handling it on the water.

And although the crews were sustained by fresh food prepared and cooked in the galley, they suffered many disadvantages compared to their land-based colleagues - especially having to undertake pre-flight inspections about 20 or 30 feet above a cold ocean; and when, after a 15 hour flight, half the crew had to stay on board to refuel and re-oil the aircraft!

Sunderland Flight Deck
Sunderland Flight Deck
One of the problems faced by pilots was the impossibility of judging height over smooth water by night - the principal technique was to decrease speed to 83 Knots and descend at 200 feet per minute until shouts from below confirmed that you had actually settled on the water, which often could not be detected from the cockpit!

After this fascinating tour on Sunderlands, Stuart enjoyed a most varied career, including instructing on Vampires, test flying at Farnborough after completing the Empire Test Pilot School course, as well as staff appointments at the Ministry of Defence and, finally, seven years with the Civil Aviation Authority. The Aircrew Association is very lucky to count such experienced airmen amongst its members.

Sunderland Interior
Sunderland Interior
Changing a Plug on the Water
Sunderland Plug Change


November's outing was to RAF Odiham. Members were made most welcome by F/Lt Paul Smythe and F/O Ben Hale and given a whistle-stop tour round all the facilities for operating and maintaining their Chinook and Merlin helicopters, which are available for instant deployment anywhere in the world on operations or air support to the United Nations, military or civil communities, supply missions, disaster relief, casualty evacuation etc. - the list seems virtually endless.

Among the more unusual missions we heard about was taking sandbags to flood areas and lifting a cow out of mud which was threatened with drowning in rising flood water. It was also very interesting for those with Air Traffic Control experience to see examples of the latest radar aids and displays now available, in support of all-weather operations. The pride and confidence of the crews in their modern aircraft, equipment and capabilities was most noticeable and very heartening.

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