17th & 18th May 2014: Newark Air Museum
- A Day in the Life of a V Bomber Pilot 


By Squadron Leader Philip Goodall

"A Day in the Life of a "V" Bomber Pilot" was written at the time that I was a "V" Bomber Pilot and I would like to see included in the articles of the V Force Reunion. There is no way that I could write that article today, but when it was written it was relevant. As you may or may not know, the Senior Air Staff Officer of Bomber Command, Air Marshal Menaul, was asked to write an article about Bomber Command and he told me that I was going to write the article from the viewpoint of a current V Force Pilot. It would not be possible for anyone to write such an article today as the world has changed.

With an automatic gesture I stretched out my hand to stop the incessant ringing of the alarm. I can't sneak many extra minutes this morning as I've got a long day ahead. From 8.30 until 10.00 I have a simulator trip. I think I'll put the Co-Pilot in the left-hand seat today so that he can practise the let down procedures for Goose Bay and Offutt prior to our trip to the States next week. Then I'm due to take off at 14.00 to take two Co-Pilots for their Instrument Ratings. They should both pass without much trouble. The first has been on the Squadron for two years and is due for his Captain's Course soon; he should make a good Captain with a little more experience. The other has just arrived from Cranwell. He's a very keen young man so I think I'll put him through his paces. Then this evening we've got a squash match. Lucky it is at home, as I shall be able to have a break after I land. Funny thing, I never play so well after I've been flying. I wonder why?

I was just beginning to realise that the ringing hadn't stopped when in the background I hear the tannoys blaring "Exercise 'BUFFALO'! Exercise 'BUFFALO'!" It's only ten minutes to three. "Daddy! Daddy! What's that noise?" Blast! Now the kids are awake. I stumbled out of bed, 'persuade' the children to go back to sleep, get dressed and throw some things into an overnight bag. "See you sometime darling. Better cancel that dinner tomorrow evening. Probably see you Thursday or Friday."

I arrive at the Operations Centre, guarded, with the Police checking Identity Cards. After close scrutiny I am allowed in. The rush has now started, with aircrew arriving half dazed and in various forms of dress. I 'sign in' on the readiness board and check my crew: three more still to come. Most of the squadron have arrived, which is not bad since it is only ten minutes since the alert was called.

Exercise 'BUFFALO' is a major exercise of Bomber Command which involves everyone including the crews and aircraft already on continuous alert, or QRA, as we say. The whole Command, including the Operational Conversion Units, practises the procedures necessary to launch the force in its nuclear retaliatory role. Other Commands in the Royal Air Force assist by providing manpower, mainly for the dispersal bases, and, of course, transport aircraft, as the ground personnel for the distant dispersals are all flown in.

It is not surprising therefore that the Operations Centre is a hive of activity as this is the nerve centre of the Station's generation plan. The Technical Cell keeps a running record of the serviceability state of the aircraft and the progress of preparing them for war missions.

After 20 minutes all my crew have arrived. The Air Electronics Officer was last, with his usual string of excuses, not because he was late but merely because he was last! We all change and collect our target "GO bag", ensuring that everything is included. While waiting for the order to disperse and the final preparation of my aircraft, we go to the aircrew buffet for breakfast. It's amazing the huge meal we all eat at 3.00 in the morning: eggs, sausages, bacon, tomatoes and piles of toast.  I wonder how we could possibly have existed until 7,30?

Suitably nourished we check the Met. and the serviceability of the let down aids at the dispersal base; we are ready to go and await our call. Since I am detachment commander, I will take the first dispersing aircraft. However, certain crews remaining at the home station have a higher priority, which means they will be allocated the first aircraft which come available.  This slight delay will allow the ground personnel for the dispersal to be uplifted and to prepare for our arrival.

Very soon we are allocated our aircraft, the tannoy 'bellows my name; we're off. We grab our flying kit and hand baggage and are driven out to the aircraft to be met by a cheerful crew chief, who will fly to the dispersal with us. Rapidly we complete our checks and are soon airborne. After obtaining clearance through the airways to save time, we carry out an ILS at our Dispersal Base and land, I taxi around and park on the Bomber Command Operational Readiness Platform. By this time the ground crews have arrived and are busy activating all the facilities, everything from refuelling my aircraft (the Crew Chief has already had a row over the bowsers-" They said to me, 'Who do you think you are, arriving here this time of the day', and I just said 'Bomber Command, mate' ") to opening the tins of beans and arranging ,the delivery of fresh milk and bread, and the newspapers!

Whilst our aircraft is being serviced and refuelled we settle into our five-berth caravans which are parked a few yards from the aircraft. These will be our accommodation for the next few days. With their bunk beds, electric radiators and built-in wash basins, they are most comfortable, as they rightly should be.

The Co-Pilot returns to the aircraft to check the state whilst I inspect the dispersal. Meanwhile the Navigators and the Air Electronics Officer correct the route plan for the latest meteorological information. The dispersal accommodation is all shipshape and in good condition, as I expected. The ground crew are still positioning the ground equipment, which was naturally all serviceable as it is regularly serviced by a maintenance party. The cooks are hard at work; tea and biscuits have already been served and brunch will be available for the groundcrew in half an hour. The telephones and the link to Bomber Command are all working. The teleprinter is not yet available as the operators from another Command have not yet arrived. However, there is a queer looking antiquated aeroplane in the circuit which probably has them on board. I check with base; the second aircraft is airborne and the others should be off within the hour.

I return to the aircraft as the servicing has just been completed. We run through all the checks and leave the aircraft "Cockpit Ready". This means that when power is switched on the aircraft is immediately ready for engine start. As we are on normal readiness we can leave the aircraft. This seems a good opportunity to have that shave I missed a few hours ago,

Soon all the aircraft have arrived. They have all been refuelled and serviced and our readiness reported to Bomber Command. We had a little trouble with one aircraft but fortunately the spares backing meant the aircraft was unserviceable for a very short time. The groundcrew have all eaten and have been split into their various shifts leaving starting parties at each aircraft. The aircrew have settled in; the latest planning winds and met. information has been passed through from Bomber Command; we are ready.

A wholesome lunch passes uneventfully. The rosters are all drawn up. Duty Met., Duty Officer .... and it is my turn to carry the "GO Bag". Wheee .... The siren blasts. We all dash madly to the aircraft. I get in first as I have to start the engines, but there is no panic as we are only being brought to cockpit readiness, I put on my helmet and hear the "Bleep Bleep" of Bomber Command coming over the radio, which means we are in direct contact with the Bomber Controller. We all strap in and wait. 5-10-25-45-70 minutes pass. It's alright for those chaps in the back, they can move around but my .... is already getting sore. "This is the Bomber Controller ...." Are we going? My finger is on the starting button. "Revert to normal readiness. I say again ...." Just another practise.

We return to the dispersal Mess and that excellent Sergeant Cook has a mixed grill ready for us. The papers have arrived and the bridge school has formed. We will probably be here for three or four days, possibly less, with luck. The quiet mutterings of the card-players are suddenly broken by an explosion from my Navigator. "Just look at this! Why the hell don't those flaming reporters make a little effort to get their facts right". He has just found the article on the deterrent that I passed to him. If it was only the daily comics which misrepresented the truth it would not be too bad, but the informed Press seem to do even more damage. For example, how many people know that out of a total Defence Budget of approximately £1,850 millions only £110 millions is spent on the operation of Bomber Command. The country has never had such good value for its money. One could almost coin a phrase, "Never has so much nonsense 'been said by so many about so few, from whom so much is owed and from whom so little is heard! "

Well, I didn't play squash and I'm miles from home for the next few days. But it worked today as it will always work. The aircraft were all serviced, armed and dispersed as planned. We are here and ready to go. I believe that my being here means that my children and all other children have a better chance of leading the life they want to. I know we can do what we have been trained to do, but I pray and believe we will neVer have to do it. Wheee .... Oh hell! Here we go again. I'll curse .... but I believe in what I'm doing.