I TRIED MOVING FLAPS, NOZZLES, THROTTLE: NOTHING MADE ANY DIFFERENCE. THEN, IN MY PERIPHERAL HEARING I HEARD THE BOSS SCREAMING, LITERALLY, " GET OUT, MIKE, GET OUT".
This is an extract from Harrier Boys Volume 1: Cold War through the Falklands, 1969-1990, by Bob Marston, published by Grub Street. Available from the Harrier Force Association
In August 1981, I was serving on 3 (F) Squadron, on my second Harrier tour, with 1000 hrs on type, and feeling fairly invincible.
It being lunchtime, I ordered a pie for my return from completion of a post-major servicing GR3 air test. It was the 3rd air test, with just 3 items outstanding. If those could be cleared, then I would join 3 other mates in 2v2 low level evasion (as the second bounce). So after briefing the evasion sortie, I went across the airfield to collect the jet from Harrier Servicing Flight.
The air test was duly completed, so I joined up with the Boss (Bob Holliday) as bounce on our 2 poor victims. I was just moving in for the kill at 500ft and 480 kts when I felt this ' lift ' in the air. Withina second or so the aircraft just departed from controlled flight in the most spectacular way - 2 or 3 x 360° rolls one way, then the other - I was thrown around like a rag doll! But... I could see that I was going up, away from the ground - and I was so overconfident that there was nothing this aircraft could do that I could not control that I was happy to stay put.
Things calmed down, oscillations were much less violent, so I entered a diagnostic phase. Unfortunately, the flap, nozzle, and tail plane indicator on the Harrier were the size of a 20p piece, and because I had been thrown around so violently, I could not read any instruments - even the head up display. It reminded me of the Aviation Medicine Training Centre's demonstration of disorientation.
So, I tried moving flaps, nozzles, throttle: nothing made any difference. Then, in my peripheral hearing I heard the Boss screaming, literally, " Get out, Mike, get out".
I REMEMBER SITTING IN MY EJECTION SEAT, WATCHING THE GROUND COMING UP AT ME AND THINKING, " WHAT A PISSER, LEFT IT TOO LATE"
I looked out of the window, and having peaked at about 2000ft I had now got into a deep stall, like a clover leaf falling at a very high rate of descent- it did look a bit dodgy. Time to go, no option, so with one hand on the stick I pulled the ejection seat handle with the other, knowing things were a bit tight. Now, it only takes about 1 second from pulling the handle to being in your chute. However, time dilation exists; I remember sitting in my ejection seat, watching the ground coming up at me and thinking, " what a pisser, left it too late" (a Buck Rogers in the 25th Century buzzword popular at the time).
Next thing, the chute opened, 1 swing - ditch the PSP (pilot survival pack) - second, adopt the great lavatorial position (I'd done some parascending at uni) but with a calm wind, I landed like a bag of coal in the corner of a ploughed field. Within a minute, I'd gone from happy chappy at 500ft to sitting in a field in Germany! Not the first in the RAF to have done so! A fit of giggles ensued. I thought about folding up my parachute and running away.
I was the second person to eject with a SARBE (search and rescue beacon) that could receive and transmit, so I could hear the remaining three of myformation; I was also able to speak to them and tell them I was ok.
I watched my aircraft crash about 15 miles south of Ahlhorn, but was a bit busy with only 2 swings in my chute to get rid of that PSP, so did not see the mega fireball after impact as my jet had lots of fuel on board. The attention that fireball drew was frightening; every aircraft in Europe flew over the crash site and I thought I would be killed under a mid-air collision and crash.
The aircraft had just missed a farmhouse, and having ejected a tad late, I was close to the crash site. Hearing on the SARBE that there were a lot of people convergingon the crash site, I decided to head over there in the hope of preserving evidence that might show it was not my fault. In fact, a Dutch Forward Air Control team were already there and helped to deter souvenir hunters. My heart hit my boots though as all that was left was about the last 10ft of fuselage, fin, and tailplane. The engine had eaten the rest of it. Fortunately, the vital inspection panel was about 1 ft back from the front end of what was left.
I refused Luftwaffe helicopter rescue by the 3 x UH1s that arrived, knowing that a 230 Sqn Puma would be there soon. It was, and that great character, the late George Blackie, strode over to me, shook my hand and just said "Good decision, Benchers". So off I went first to base, then Wegberg hospital for checks, where I scrounged a jam sandwich, having missed my pie for lunch, and back to the bar at Gütersloh by 9 pm for beers with the boys.
Next day, I went to work as usual, and the sight of my pie waiting in the oven for my late lunch made me realise how lucky I had been. At the crash site, there was not much left - but as they opened an inspection panel for the flight controls, there was a disconnected rod - with the nut and bolt lying next to each other - I was vindicated! The nut had not been wire-locked as it should have been.
At about midday, I asked the Boss if I could go flying. He said OK. So, off I went on a solo SAP (simulated attack profile), perhaps the scariest 40 min flight of my life! It gave me too much time to consider my mortality; I should have gone to the range instead. Typical Harrier Force though: I ended up as duty pilot in the tower until 2130 that night - how did that happen?
At the time, I was a member of the Board of Inquiry into John Clarke's fatal crash in Belize, but now I was also the subject of a second Board.