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AU REVOIR TO RAF GAN
from Brize Norton's `Gateway` magazine, submitted by Stephen Clark

VC 10 Flight 2274 was airborne from. Bahrain to Gan on 27 March 1976 with just Ten people on board - captain Wg Cdr Tony Richards, co-pilot Flt Lt John Brittain, navigator Flt Lt John Potts, air engineer M Eng Peter Cook, air loadmaster FS Cy Rodgers, air loadmaster Sgt (W) Lorraine Lee, air steward Cpl Andy Courtnadge, air steward Cpl Peter Fraser, ground engineer Chf Tech Dai Thomas. and airframe mechanic Cpl Ray Pickering. Shiny Ten Squadron was airborne with a fine team on its last flight to Gan, to bring home the officers and men of the best station in the RAF before Gan officially closed on 28 March 1976. The flight, appropriately code-named Operation Jettison was airborne from Bahrain in the late afternoon with the rays of the declining sun reflecting off the shimmering waters of the Arabian Gulf and throwing the sand dunes of the desert into stark relief.

The aircraft XV806 knew this route of old, having flown it countless times before, and was soon smoothly settled at her cruising height of 35.000 feet at Mach .86 being disturbed occasionally by light clear air turbulence. Masirah, the first and last turning point on the route, was over flown, and 806 turned her head and set course on the long track of 1470M out over the waters of the Indian Ocean as the sun flung its last sharp glare over the world before setting in the west. Night fell rapidly, and the magnificent Milky Way started to climb above southern horizon. John Potts was soon examining the stars through his sextant and gaining navigational information from the brilliant constellations, as the early Portuguese and Persian explorers had done before him on the same route. As the aircraft entered the Bombay Flight Information Region. John Brittain began to talk to Bombay on HF, passing position reports for such aptly named positions on track as Altair, Castor and Capella. Then the signaller on Gan Flight Watch could be heard on HF calmly recording the progress of Flight No. 2274. The poignancy of the flight now started to be Felt as the first of many last time events started to occur. The TACAN range and bearing locking on at 198 miles. The Gan ATC controller coming in loud and clear on VHF, the Gan atoll showing up on the scope of the weather radar at I50 miles, the island surrounded as usual by its sentinels of towering cumulo nimbus cloud, unseen by the eye in the dark, but clearly exposed by the watchful radar scanner in the nose of 806. For the last time the navigator had accomplished a safe navigational flight inbound to Gan across 1.500 miles of faceless ocean. At the captains call, the engines of 806 were set to idle power, and the aircraft settled into her smooth descent from the freezing heights down to sea level with its surface temperature of plus 24 degrees centigrade. Soon the aircraft was passing over the NDB beacon on Hittadu island and establishing for a precision radar approach on to runway 28. Deluged in torrential rain from passing showers, 806 finally broke cloud at 1,000 ft. to see the comforting lights outlining runway 28 at Gan against the black surface of the surrounding island and sea. With a sigh, the aircraft touched down and taxied towards the waiting group of expectant men who were anxiously waiting to refuel and turn round the last VCI0 flight to Gan. The crew disembarked and were whisked to the Blue Lagoon where Gp Capt Edwards, the Station Commander, was waiting to host the crew at a final welcoming barbecue. Thence followed touching scenes as the crew moved from mess to mess to indulge in the last-night farewell parties. Half the company of RAF Gan were due to fly home to the UK on
2274 the next day, whilst the remaining half would leave for home the following day on the landing ship logistic Sir Percival that was already quietly bobbing at her moorings in the calm enclosed waters of the atoll.

The crew rose the following morning to see Gan revealed in all her splendour by the morning sun-the waving palm trees, the turquoise water of the atoll, the white fleecy cumulus, the heron stalking their fish, the soft murmur of the breakers crashing upon the distant coral reefs, the fruit bats sleeping upside down in the palm fronds, the lizards with upturned tails racing for safety through the grass and finally our friends the Maldivians, who have worked in support of the RAF for the last 20 years. These short, stocky, swarthy, friendly, courteous men whose very life-style we have altered over the years. These are the men who have become civilized and forgotten the arts and skills of fishing, making and sailing boats, and being good natives. These are the men who had come to rely on Western medicine and drugs to protect themselves from imported disease such as influenza, and whose small wives all now need Caesarean sections to deliver their babies due to prescription western vitamins during their pregnancies. These are the men watching silently and forlornly from under the shade of palm trees and doorways, who we had come to respect as true friends over the years and who we were due to leave in just 8 hours time. But not before the crew had travelled by motorboat out to Sir Percival for breakfast in her wardroom; had received their last met briefing on the return flight to Bahrain from Bert Foord of BBC fame; had flight planned in the deserted and empty flight planning section, and had taken the last coach ride out to the aircraft 806 waiting patiently on the ramp gleaming white and silver in the brilliant shimmering heat of the equatorial sun. Wg Cdr Richards escorted the Atoll Chief on a guided tour of 806; presented him with a 10 Sqn plaque, and on behalf of every aircrew member of the Royal Air Force who had ever staged through Gan, thanked him for his island and the tremendous support of his men. Grp Capt Edwards thanked the crew, and presented an RAF Gan plaque to the crew of the final flight 2274. Floral leis were hung round the necks of the crew by Maldivians and the crew started their pre flight checks. Passengers boarded, the remaining men of RAF lined up alongside the aircraft, prepared to give their traditional send-off to departing friends, and 806 taxied on schedule at 1300 hrs GMT on 28 March 1976 for her last departure. At 1305 hrs 806 took off, made its final salute to Gan with a sedate circuit of the atoll, and set course in the climb for Bahrain on the first leg home to the UK. Three people would stay behind at Gan. One 28-year-old civilian doctor and his wife, who were already settled in the Station Commander's bungalow, and a retired chief technician to keep the communications going, all 3 paid by the Male Government. RAF Gan closed 2 hours after 806 took off, and thus ended a fine chapter of Service history.

*Brief History of VC-10 XV806. Named '' George Thompson VC ''. Converted to K1 tanker 14 Feb 1994, written off 1997 when sat back on tail whilst being de-fuelled. Moved to Brize Norton fire dump 1998. Believed replaced VC10 c/n 856 as used for training (less wings)
Cut up 24 Mar 1999 at Brize Norton & scrapped.

 

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