Flying the A4 Skyhawk with the Royal Australian Navy — Part 3

Guest column by Peter (‘Purps’) Greenfield

Suren Ratwatte

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The days went by with lots of Combat Air Patrol (CAP) sorties out in the middle of the Tasman Sea. On one of them the controller requested my fuel state and I gave the reply “Lamb”, meaning that I could stay on station until Charlie (landing) time, but did not have sufficient fuel to accept trade. About five minutes later, I was advised that the tanker was being launched and I was to saunter, vector 225, meaning, turn onto heading 225 degrees and cruise at a slow speed. About 15 minutes later I heard the AWI call “Heads-up, 250 knots”, and then he came past me with the drogue streamed. The light came on in my mind, so I plugged in and just took fuel until he turned it off. As I backed out, I got a vector for a bogey and a buster call, so off I went. It was a successful intercept, but merely an RNZAF Hercules on its courier flight from Canberra to Whenuapai, plodding along at 21,000 feet and about 240 knots or so. Non-exercise traffic.

Refueling air-to-air. Courtesy RAN and Airliners.net

War games

There was another intercept where I was sent off climbing to ‘Angels 20’ (20,000 feet); “Your bogey is a shadower”, meaning it was a General Dynamics F-111. So the squadron had a method to deal with that which the SP (the Senior Pilot who was a Qualified Flight Instructor and an Air Warfare Instructor) had briefed us on. It was a head-on intercept from Angels 20, and at 15 miles range future, meaning the bogey was 15 miles in front, the drill was to roll on your back and pull smartly back and descend like an avenging angel. It worked too. I saw the F-111 come out from under my nose as I passed 15,000 doing about 550 knots, and then I just pulled gently into his six o’clock, right in the centre of the Sidewinder’s envelope. In my intercept, the F-111’s navigator must have spotted me in the last stage because they broke right, and then the fool put his wings forward. Gotcha! If he had dumped his nose and lit the burners, there was no way I would have had a missile shot. And the umpire credited me with a kill.

USAF F111s in formation. The RAAF operated the type for many years too. Courtesy USAF

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Suren Ratwatte

I love airplanes and history. Trying to combine both interests in this blog, with stories of the old aircraft and the recollections of those who flew them.