The Glorious 74th Entry RAF Halton Aircraft Apprentices (The Coronation Entry).

Stan Norris Remembers.

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7. Non Destructive Testing.

Looking back over the years I spent in the RAF between 1953 and 1992 I think I have been very fortunate with an interesting variety of employment. For various reasons Wittering was a particularly low point in my career and so was Binbrook and Coningsby but they did lead on to career enhancing posts.

Nine Weeks at the NDT School, Swanton Morley.

At Binbrook I applied for Non Destructive Testing (NDT) duties. My initial application form was blocked at squadron level (it was thrown into the Flt Sgts waste bin) unbeknown to me. It didn't matter, youth and initiative conquered age and deceit and I was soon interviewed and sent on the nine week course at the NDT School, Swanton Morley. Like most of the classes in those days (1971) we were a mixed bunch doing the full course. Three from the Army, two from the Royal Navy, two from the Singapore Air Force, a civilian from Woolwich Arsenal and myself.

On the first day we presented ourselves equipped with slide rules and log tables. The Flt Lt OC the School welcomed us and went on to say that these courses generated a lot of inter-service rivalry and RAF personnel normally came top, but on this course he didn't think that would happen! I felt quite embarrassed, I didn't know him and he didn't know me - why this vote of no confidence?

I Came Top of the Course. And on to Marham as a Probationary NDT Technician.

I shared a room with the Woolwich Arsenal chap and we quickly established a routine of at least one hours swotting after tea and then off out to find a pub that sold draught Guiness. The first two or three days covered the basic methods of NDT, eg. visual aids, dye penetrants - we had moved on from the days of hot oil and chalk, then we got down to the real thing. The theory and practical application of Eddycurrents over two weeks. The next phase of three weeks was Ultrasonics, again theory and practical and finally the last three weeks was spent on X and Gamma Radiography. Each of these phases finished with a written exam. To finish the course and qualify as a probationary NDT technician we had to endure oral examinations and practical tests by personnel from the NDT Flight. The results were announced in the Sgts Mess bar that evening by OC NDT School. I was delighted to hear that I came top of the course. Returning to Binbrook, it was an anxious wait of nearly a month before I found out that I was to join the Marham NDT team and another month before I was posted there.

The Marham Team Covered the Whole of East Anglia Although We Often Went outside This Area

The Marham team operated from the Armament HQ building for the very practical reason that the Photography Section occupied the upper floor and the team had a lot of radiography work. Our area of operations was the whole of East Anglia although we often went outside this area when our aircraft were deployed or detached elsewhere. The work was of such diversity, Victors, Canberras, Lightnings, Buccaneers, Bloodhounds and Redtops formed the bulk of it but there was plenty of other customers including the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

The units we covered were Wattisham,Watton, Wyton, West Raynham, Honington, Coltishall and Marham but there were others such as Marshalls of Cambridge, Bitteswell near Lutterworth and even a trip or two down to Bournemouth to Flight Refuelling. Team members were regularly detached with the deployed squadrons to Cyprus, USA and even the Carribean.

I Became a Fully Qualified NDT Technician.

Six months after joining the team I completed the mandatory probation period and became a fully qualified NDT technician. Almost immediately our team leader was promoted to FS and posted and I was made team leader. With four very experienced Sgts life went on pretty much the same but changes soon came about when two of them were promoted and posted to other teams to boost experience levels.

More and more techniques were being introduced which had a dramatic effect on our workload and I had to present a case to Strike Command to increase the established number of posts for the team. This was never an easy thing to do but we won through. Unfortunately the new members would have to come via the NDT School which meant their postings would only happen if they passed the course and even then there was the probationary period to go through. We got lucky and four really first class young Sgts joined us.

The demands placed upon the team by the Stations, Units and the individual squadrons of our area was unrelenting. Each insisting that their need was the greatest priority. Sometimes we had to make their decisions because of our own problems! For example, our equipment in those days was frequently less robust than it could have been, our allocated vehicles would become unavailable at very short notice and even a F1771 would initially be denied, the NDT team's host unit would suddenly claim the team as their own resource. But things changed for the better in most cases. Strike Commands Standing Instructions defined our role very clearly to the Units and the support they were to give us. We became Regional teams. Eng Ops coordinated their unit's NDT requirements and then liaised direct with the regional team and in most cases good relationships were established. Equipment became more reliable and with plenty of backup. The work went on.

Bolt Hole Inspections. Victor 926 First Confirmed Failure!

One of the most repetitive tasks concerned bolt hole inspections of spar three on the Victor mainplanes. I think it was sixteen bolt holes each side and using eddycurrent probes we had to inspect the first two inches of each hole reducing the depth by one twenty thousandths of an inch on each scan of the hole. We were looking for defect indications which could signify a possible crack. Corrosion pits, scores, a thin wall to the hole, all sorts of indications with the needle on the eddycurrent machine wobbling about all over the place, but never a crack. Week after week we did this technique and signed up - no defect indications. Then one day, I think it was hole number eight on the starboard side of Victor 926 - a defect indication which wouldn't go away and every instinct told me this was a small crack. The rise and fall of the needle was so steady and very positive. I signed up accordingly and within minutes all the middle management of Eng Wing had assembled. Various opinions were offered mainly refuting the NDT evidence but curiously nobody was prepared to red line the entry in the F700 and it was even suggested that I could clear the entry as "entered in error". Swanton Morley came and had a look and confirmed my decision, then BAe NDT came and had a look but no decision was made other than finishing the current servicing. 926 was dragged off to an empty hangar to await its fate. Several weeks passed and in that time a second and a third aircraft failed the same NDT technique also in hole number eight. They joined 926 in isolation. One day Dave Caton from BAe NDT turned up to remove the suspect part of the spar on 926 for laboratory investigation. The results came back very quickly - it was cracked, the first confirmed failure! The other two aircraft with defect (crack) indications were later also confirmed by the same method.

NDT: We Were Not Always Appreciated.

Some people would try to influence the NDT technicians findings when a defect indication was reported. Others would upset us before we started the job! I went over to West Raynham one day to apply a new technique to a Canberra aircraft. Squadron Ops told me the aircraft was in the hangar, but when I got to it I found the preparation for me to gain access to the inspection area had not been done. I went to see the FS i/c Engineering on the squadron who I knew and had worked for on a previous unit. It was not a warm reunion. I was angrily told that as I was an airframe fitter and had worked on Canberra aircraft that I "could b . . . .y well go and prep it yourself". I refused and told him I would come back when it was ready. We had words. Very strong ones! When he calmed down a bit I suggested that he phoned the NDT Control Officer at Strike Command with his complaint which he did there and then. Stating his case quite rudely and aggressively he was stopped in mid flow and he told me to wait outside.

A one sided conversation ensued - incoming now- and after a short while he put the phone down and told me to wait by the aircraft. The preparation was eventually done, I applied the technique and found six defects in the port bomb bay longeron which I reported to the FS. His reaction to this bit of news was quite irrational - well - I will just say that he went ballistic. By the way, this was the same FS that threw my application form away when I applied for NDT! Generally, we seemed to get on well with our customers. Most of them quite understood that our area of responsibility covered several units and cooperation was essential.

Job Done!

There were occasions, particularly when radiography was used that cooperation was essential. One I recall, that exceeded all others. A moving, heavy tubular structure was mounted on top of a building and it was thought to have internal corrosion. The function of this piece of equipment could only be interrupted for a very short period in any 24 hours - about two hours, but not just any two hours. High level decisions would have to be made by the MOD, Strike Command and the civilian police. There was quite a few potential problems to be taken into consideration. The obvious one was the operational requirement, but what about the radiation spread from our portable X-Ray equipment? The police advised which was the safest direction, so that meant the structure would have to be stopped at a certain position for that to be achieved, but our access to the areas for examination without having to dangle over the side of the building also had to be taken into consideration. Then we received our tasking. It had been decided that the equipment would be non operational between the hours of 04.00 and 06.00 on a particular Sunday morning, the initial X-Ray trial exposures would have to be processed on site just to add to the pressure. The task had to be finished by 06.00. The results of the trial exposures were surprisingly good considering the films were processed in a broom cupboard adjacent to the door to the roof, it was crude but effective. We completed the task in the allotted time, the weather was fair and we didn't see one vehicle on the roads. After telephoning the police contact number we managed a quick duty breakfast and then it was back to Marham to process the films, refuel the mini-van and - job done.

Panic Over.

One day, OC Arm Eng Flt came to us with a jiffy bag addressed to one of his airmen. The airman didn't know who the sender was and the bag felt "squidgy". OC Arm Eng was fairly confident it was harmless but just to be on the safe side, could we x-ray it? We did it straight away - a perfect shot which revealed two free sample packets of Baby Bottom wipes intended for the airman's wife who had recently had a baby in RAF Hospital Ely! Panic over.

After about five years Arm Eng Sqn decided they wanted to take over our large room and storage area. I was given three places to look at for suitability. Two of them had been empty for some time and required a lot of work services to make them habitable. The third choice was a detached building which until recently had been the Blanket Store. It was located behind the Station Church (out of casual sight), had a car park which comfortably allowed for our two vehicles and the Padres car, it was ideal and we moved in with almost indecent haste! The Padre was a perfect neighbour and sometimes popped in for a cup of tea.

Posted to Kinloss to Head the Scottish Regional NDT Team.

Later on in my RAF career When I was tourex from Cyprus I was hauled back into the NDT world and posted to Kinloss to head the Scottish Regional NDT Team. A FS with the NDT Q annotation was needed and guess what? I was the only one available for posting! Well that's how it goes, well it did in those days and off to bonny Scotland I went. We drove up to Kinloss from Brize Norton and marched into a married quarter the next morning. The second morning our storage boxes arrived and just after lunch so did a Warrant Officer from the NMSU - would I report for duty as soon as I could, the NDT team was under a lot of pressure? From who, I wondered? The briefing I had from Strike Command before I left Cyprus made no mention of it. I went to see the team and soon found out where the problem was. It was the local hierarchy leaning on the team and dictating the work programme, that was very quickly resolved!
Yes, the boys were under a lot of pressure, at that time the Buccaneer aircraft was creating a mountain of work increasing by the day and because the team served the whole of Scotland they also spent a lot of their time travelling. But they were coping very well, they had organised a night shift to give round the clock cover, they had prioritised and only increased manpower and more equipment would improve an already very efficient service. There was a very good quartet of Eng Ops controllers at Lossiemouth who were most effective coordinators which helped us enormously. Needless to say we had a great rapport with them.

The team operated from a Portacabin behind one of the NMSU hangars, it was our coffee bar and my office. We had an equipment storage room and a darkroom for processing our x-ray films in the hangar annexe. All this was located on the far side of the airfield well away from everything and everybody. The units we covered on a regular basis was Lossiemouth, Leuchars, Turnhouse, Almondbank and of course Kinloss. During my tenure, two of the team went on a working exchange visit to Australia for four months at a time. There was always extraneous and unusual tasks cropping up like a WW2 Swordfish aircraft needing a few x-rays before it could be deemed airworthy, a piece of radar ground equipment requiring our investigative skills on the isle of Barra, and I can vaguely remember one of the team had to go to the Royal Marines depot at Arbroath for possibly a dye penetrant check on their rifles, we x-rayed mountaineering axes and many more odd tasks. Variety was indeed the spice of life.


After three years I was promoted to Warrant Officer but remained with the team for another seven months until I was posted to 8 Sqn Lossiemouth. And that is another story to relate another time.

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