Canberra Short Course at RAF Cottesmore - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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Canberra Short Course at RAF Cottesmore

The following week I started my Canberra course at RAF Cottesmore. The course they put me on was basically a refresher course for experienced Canberra pilots and navigators who had just completed ground tours. It immediately became clear that the navigators who would have to fly with me on my solo exercises were not very happy with the prospect. Those who are familiar with the Canberra know that the aircraft could be very unforgiving if handled improperly - especially when flying on a single engine either for practice or in the event of an emergency. Many Canberra accidents were caused by asymmetric flying.

I should mention in this context that simulated asymmetric meant that one engine was throttled right back to flight idle; practice asymmetric meant that a serviceable engine had actually been deliberately shut down in flight, usually for engine testing purposes. The need to carry out non-emergency asymmetric approaches on the Canberra was often heatedly discussed. At that time there were no flight simulators where pilots could practice the procedures. Experienced Canberra crews often pointed out that there were more accidents caused by simulating asymmetric flight than were caused by real engine failure.

Without going into too much technical detail, the problem was due to the fact that the Canberra's two engines were a long way apart on the wings. With one engine idling, or shut down, there was insufficient rudder power to keep the aircraft on an even keel if too much thrust was demanded from the serviceable engine - such as was likely to happen on overshooting at low level from a missed approach. If a pilot advanced the throttle of the good engine too quickly and/or too far, the aircraft would yaw, then roll, and then probably stall before crashing out of control into the ground. It actually happened more than once.

I had five dual exercises in a Canberra T4 with my instructor, Flight Lieutenant John Sadler, in the right hand seat before I was sent off solo in the Canberra B2 with Flight Lieutenant Steve Chapman as my navigator. Steve was a very experienced Canberra navigator who had just finished a ground tour. I did my best to assure him that having spent years flying in the back of Valiants, I would never do anything dangerous.

The solo sorties included two or three lengthy high level navigation sorties around the UK to places like Wick, Woodbridge, St Mawgan and Marham. To be honest they were fairly boring for me because those trips were 2 hours 45 mins long - with no auto-pilot. Steve, whose navigation exercises were being assessed as part of his refresher course, got quite niggly with me if I wandered off course by more than a couple of degrees. However, when I had to practise simulated engine failures with low level missed approaches and overshoots on a single engine he was, understandably, very quiet. We soon came to recognise and value each other's skills and we got on well together.
The end of the course came all too soon for me, after just 13 hours dual and 6 hours solo flying. I asked John Sadler when I was going to fly the Instrument Rating Test. He said that I could not do the test because it was not on the syllabus of the refresher course. In any case, he pointed out, I had not flown the minimum number of required hours on the Canberra to get a white instrument rating (white being the most restrictive of the three ratings). I decided that I would not mention that to anyone when I got to Marham. Thus, in spite of not having the supposed minimum qualifications to fly in command of a 4-jet bomber such as the Victor, I did eventually complete the Victor course and become a qualified captain and 1st pilot.

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