Lethargic and bored! - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Lethargic and bored!

If you have read all the Victor Tanker anecdotes up to this point you may be thinking that they were dangerous aircraft. Not so. The stories I have related concern just a tiny proportion of all my Victor flights: they just happen to be amongst the most interesting stories. Here are a couple of stories about non-flying events.

One year, I forget exactly which, there was a major Strike Command (STC) exercise lasting about 10 days. All aircrew at RAF Marham, and probably the other bomber bases, were required to fill in a questionnaire every 60 minutes on the hour during waking hours, including those hours when we were airborne or preparing to fly. The survey had been prepared and was controlled by some psychiatrists at Command HQ. We were never told how the accumulated data would be used. The method was quite simple: we just had to log what we were doing and put a number in a box to indicate how we felt at the time we were doing it; a table offered us the numbers 1 to 9 and defined what each represented. For example, on first waking from sleep there was a number which indicated how we felt: refreshed; not refreshed; enthusiastic; hungry; ready for the off, in need of the toilet, etc. Quite a few forms were soon covered in coffee or soup or worse, some got lost, some got accidentally shredded. Without, as far as I'm aware, any connivance between us, it seems that most of us gave no thought to the questions and simply entered the number 9 for all activities - number 9 was defined as 'feeling lethargic and bored'.

The survey was suspended after three or four days and the psychiatrists left Marham disillusioned. We never heard any more about it officially although word filtered down to us that, by our non-cooperation, we had wasted weeks of preparation and effort put in by the designers of the survey. The truth is that at the time of filling in the questionnaire every waking hour, we really and truly did feel lethargic and bored. It was generally agreed amongst the Marham aircrew that the psychiatrists at Command HQ had wasted their time as well.

Another example of how aircrew time, and tax-payers’ money, was wasted was during my time as OC the Victor Standardisation Unit. It concerned the so-called 'Teaching by Objectives' theory which was, apparently, all the rage at that time. An intense young civilian was 'attached' to me; his task was to specify a series of objectives for how to fly a Victor Tanker. I'll give you just a sense of the dozens of 'objectives' he was trying to define.

He started off badly by asking me to define 'A satisfactory take-off'. He apparently thought that everything to do with operating an aircraft started with the take-off. I explained that a satisfactory take-off started hours earlier at the planning and briefing stage. However, when pressed I offered: "A satisfactory take off is one that results in the aircraft getting safely airborne."

That was not good enough. "What speed, exactly, do you take off at?" he asked. "I need to define 'assessable' criteria that the pilots must achieve."
I explained that the Victor's take off speed depended on, amongst other things: aircraft weight, engine thrust, air pressure, outside air temperature, runway slope (up, down, level?), and wind velocity.

"... and the skill of the pilot, presumably?" he interrupted, helpfully. He said he needed to define a take-off on a scale from 1 to 5, ranging from satisfactory in all respects to not at all satisfactory.

I know he had a job to do – but so had I, and I couldn't afford to spend hours teaching him how to fly a Victor. However, I persevered, on and off, over the course of two or three days without getting much closer to meeting his needs. Finally, I told him that there were at least three 'objectives' that he should have been aware of before embarking on his task:
1.  If you want to get your interviewee involved in answering what appear to them to be silly questions, you need to motivate them in advance.
2.  You can't ask the right questions unless you have researched your subject thoroughly in advance.
3.  If you don't ask the right questions, you won't get any meaningful results.

I never saw or heard from him again.

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