Jay served as a flight engineer and weapons systems technician in the Royal
Australian Air Force for over 22 years. In that time he operated as a flight
engineer on several different aircraft types including the C–130 Hercules, the
HS 748 and the Chinook helicopter. He now works for a major Australian aerospace
lives with his family in
Also by Ian Jay
To Do or Die (Zeus Publications, 2004)
strained his eyes, squinting slightly to improve his vision. He could just hear
it, but he knew the echo might give a false heading. There, a speck in the
distance. It wasn’t coming from the direction of the noise, but from the east.
The approach was higher than
he expected it to be. Normally, the pilots would fly in lower, use the runway as
an excuse to low fly and then turn sharply into the parking area. For some
reason, this pilot was descending from about one thousand feet straight to the
tarmac entrance. Maybe he was practising some sort of special emergency
The din created by the
aircraft’s rotor increased as it got closer. Now he could hear the echo coming
off the hangar doors as well, the distinctive slapping noise the blades made as
they sliced their way through the air. It was called the ‘wok’ and the
Iroquois helicopter had a very unique and unmistakable wok.
The pilot halted the descent
as he approached the taxiway and held the aircraft at a three-foot hover. The
side door was slid back and the crewman, on his knees, checked the landing area
for obstructions as the chopper was manoeuvred to the spot. He heard the engine
whine change as the bleed band opened when the pilot wound down the throttle to
ground idle. The engine was shut down and the machine slowly returned to rest.
That’s when he walked over to it.
‘G’day Danny,’ the
crewman said as he approached.
‘Jimmy. What’s the
‘She’s good I think. Check
with the boss.’
Danny nodded. He stood back
allowing the orange-suited passengers, three in total, to walk away. Observation
mission, Danny presumed.
The boss finally climbed out
and stretched. Danny held back a bit. He was never comfortable around officers
and this officer was the biggest. Not in size, but in rank. The boss was the CO
and a Wing Commander. As he collected his helmet and nav bag, he continued
debriefing the co-pilot, a Pinkie, who’d just arrived on the most recent
changeover. ‘Normally, we like to come in low. It’s good practice over here,
just in case. However, you’ll need to maintain your instrument approach
techniques,’ he was saying.
The co-pilot nodded, looking
through the aircraft from the other side. ‘I didn’t know there was a threat
from SAMs. I thought it was safe airspace.’
The boss smiled. ‘Safe
today, who knows about tomorrow? Besides, flying a Huey above five hundred feet
brings on nose bleeds.’
They both chuckled in
knowledge of the hidden meaning: helicopters were to be flown at low altitude at
all times or there’s no point in flying one.
The boss turned to Danny.
‘Sorry, son. I suppose you want to know if you’ll be missing the
Danny smiled weakly. ‘I hope
‘Well, don’t worry,
she’s good. Slight vibration in the pedals but this one always does.’
Danny climbed straight up onto
the roof, anxious to get away from further chitchat with the officers. He
didn’t notice the three aircrew walking away towards the flight line hut.
Daniel Crane, Leading Aircraftsman and airframe fitter, was already consumed by
his tasks of inspection and checks.
had been ‘in country’ for over three months. In country in this case was
The MFO’s brief was simple:
make sure the Egyptians and Israelis played nicely.
inspection was quick and thorough. He knew the procedures and limits of wear,
verbatim. His hands and eyes worked in a well-practiced sequence. He noticed
only one abnormality: the rotor head stabilisation bar damper recovery time was
close to limits. It would go a few more flights yet before it needed replacing.
While he continued his inspection, the fuel truck arrived along with another
fitter to perform the refuelling operation.
With the aircraft refuelled,
Danny and the other members of the duty crew team towed the Huey into the
hangar. There had been a severe wind alert issued earlier and they had decided
to put all the aircraft away. It was almost 1830 hours when the sun, a big red
ball in the west, cast its final shadows across El Gorah airfield.
barbecue was in full swing by the time the duty crew team arrived at the Surf
Club (Danny always thought it strange to call the recreation and bar a surf club
given it was miles from the sea. However, it was in fact a registered surf club
Pushing through a group, Danny
grabbed a couple of slices and made his way to the bar.
‘The usual?’ the barman,
an RAAF supplier, asked.
Danny smiled, ‘Are we out of
The barman nodded. ‘’Fraid
so, ran out yesterday. I can offer you a Kiwi Double Brown if you like.’
Danny raised his eyebrows.
‘In your dreams.’
‘Okay then, one Heineken
With his can of Heineken,
Danny looked out over the beer garden. The BBQ was working hard with steak and
chicken frying away and permeating the air with an unusual blend of exotic
odours. It appeared the designated cooks had dreamed up yet another new
marinade. Most of the contingent was there, standing around in small circles,
drinking and laughing. The standard groups were evident: pilots in one, crewmen
in another, ‘framies’ or airframe fitters with engine fitters in a large
circle, ‘queer traders’ (avionics fitters) in yet another. There were a few
interlopers though, fellas who didn’t care who they drank with. Danny was an
interloper, but as he didn’t drink a lot, he generally found himself with
other blokes who drank with restraint. That represented about five percent of
Tonight the decision was made
for him. He would join the home team, the ‘backhanders’, the framies and
sumpies. He looked at the group: Bill Paterson, Col Planter, whose nickname was
Wart, and the new sergeant to name a few. And of course, his roomie, ‘Macca’
‘Hey, Danny boy!’
Oh God, he thought, here we go
again. He forced a smile and walked over to the group.
‘Macca,’ he said as he
‘Dan, Dan, the airframe man!
How the fuck are ya?’
Macca put his arm around his
shoulders. ‘Where ya been, mate?’ he slurred, obviously a few beers already
under his belt.
‘Duty crew! And is all well
with the fleet of turbine-powered peace keepers?’
Danny half smiled. ‘Yeah,
pretty much, except for the oil leak on 395. Looks pretty bad.’
Macca’s eyes widened. ‘Oil
leak? From where?’
‘Turbine, rear seal. They
lost two quarts in an hour.’
Macca, being an engine fitter,
was shocked by the news, the prospect of work looming through the groggy haze.
Danny looked at his roommate
and nodded slightly, ‘Yeah, Macca, I’m joking.’
Macca smiled, the go-ahead to
keep drinking now issued.
‘You’re a shit, mate,’
he remarked draining his can. ‘But I’ll forgive you if you buy me another
‘Sorry, mate, I need
food.’ With that, Danny turned away and joined the queue for barbecued chicken
an hour later, Danny opened the door to his and Macca’s room. The
airconditioning had been on all day and it was almost too cold for comfort. He
ditched his carry bag and then searched for his shower kit and clean shorts. The
room was a contrast with Macca’s side reasonably tidy and Danny’s a mess of
paper, pencils and chip packets. After finding his kit under a discarded Rotorcraft
magazine, he made his way to the ablution block. He needed to wash away the red
dust that had collected on his skin and in his hair so he could think straight
and be ready to tackle the problem that he had identified with the design.
John Crane was born on the 18th of November 1960 in
His love of aviation began
when he had accompanied his father to the
Unfortunately for Danny, his
eyes would not support this plan. At the Air Force Recruiting Centre in
And so, on 5 July 1977, Danny
enlisted as a Category Two trainee, his destiny to become an airframe fitter.
Eighteen months later, he was posted to 16 Squadron in
the same time as Danny soaped up his hair, thousands of miles away in a house in
She muttered, ‘I just
don’t get it’, and stood up. Running her fingers through her hair, she
looked down at pages. ‘Why can’t I get it?’ she asked of no one but
herself. She shook her head. ‘It’s got to be here, somewhere?’ She turned
a page or two and then shook her head, picked up her coffee mug and went into
the kitchen. The oven clock said 2.10am. God, she thought, no wonder I feel like
The mirror in the bathroom
confirmed her fears; she not only felt awful, she looked it as well. Her
shoulder-length brown hair was knotted and straggly, her face pale and her eyes
circled with dark rings. Splashing water did little to improve her general
well-being but the coolness woke her a little.
With another mug of black
coffee, Megan Chambers wandered back into the study. Well, it wasn’t really a
study but a disused bedroom in the house she shared with her father. She was
just one exam away from completing the first year of her degree. A pass in this
exam would assure her a spot on the advertising degree course.
Psychology, for Christ’s
sake. What good would that do me? she had often asked herself. But as the first
year was a general BA syllabus, psychology was compulsory. A Bachelor of Arts
majoring in Advertising was her goal and if it meant she had to understand why,
according to Freud, Aquinas and Nagel could agree that masturbating over a
woman’s shoes was bad, they couldn’t agree why. Who cared? But if it was
deemed necessary for her to know, then she’d sit there until she did!
With her father on night
shift, she could drink all the coffee she wanted, and have the occasional
cigarette or even a joint. He was rarely there to stop her.
airconditioning in Daniel Crane and Derek McKay’s room was now silenced and
the accommodation block quiet with most of the contingent still at the Surf
Club, including Danny’s roommate. The room was brightly illuminated with both
the overhead light and desk lamp on. The quiet suited Danny; he thought more
clearly in total silence.
The drawing mocked him. He
traced the circuit again with his pencil starting at the circuit breaker.
Mumbling quietly to himself, he followed the electron flow through the wires and
components like tracing a train journey along tracks and through the stations.
He knew what he wanted to achieve but he couldn’t prove it on the drawing. He
didn’t find it annoying; on the contrary, he found it a challenge. Anything
not known to him was simply waiting to be discovered.
His pencil stopped at a relay.
He tapped it lightly and then smiled. ‘You, you little bugger,’ he said
pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose. ‘You’re my challenge.’
Danny rubbed out the schematic
representation of the relay with an eraser and drew in another copying it from a
Preslite parts catalogue. When he had finished, he traced the circuit again.
This time it worked. He smiled again, folded up his diagrams and drawing, placed
them inside his metal trunk and slid it under his bed. Switching off the lights,
he lay on his bed. Now in darkness, he would design another circuit in his head,
until he fell asleep.
Fremantle, Megan was already asleep, her head resting on her arms, her arms
covering Freud. She remained that way until 5.30am when her father came home
from his night shift and helped her into bed.
Ten hours later, Megan emerged
into the Western Australian sun from the lecture hall at the
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