Request Permission to Take Off

Off Sydney Heads.

A rare picture of Australia's two 1950s aircraft carriers together.  Melbourne in foreground, Sydney further out.   The third carrier, HMAS Vengeance had already returned to the UK.
A rare picture of Australia's two 1950s aircraft carriers together. Melbourne in foreground, Sydney further out. The third carrier, HMAS Vengeance had already returned to the UK.

Fleet Air Arm. We didn't run to two fully aircraft ready operational carriers.

Welcome to Request Permission to Take Off.

I can remember it like yesterday: the time Baldy Bloggs (name changed) told me of his adventures in the Australian Fleet Air Arm. Baldy was a radio operator telegraphist. No, he didn’t fly in bombers, rather in those three-man anti submarine aircraft, the Fairey Gannet. They flew, of course, from the decks of that very unlucky ship, HMAS Melbourne. Of course, when Baldy told me these yarns we were both well gone from the RAN and working for the now defunct Department of Civil Aviation. It seemed half the telegraphists who left the navy went to such.

Gannets on Parade.

Definitely a promotional photo.  Aircraft lined up neatly on Melbourne's flight deck.
Definitely a promotional photo. Aircraft lined up neatly on Melbourne's flight deck.

The Commander Air called a meeting.

The story rings true for some years earlier I had served upon the Melbourne’s older sister, the aircraft carrier, HMAS Sydney and, whilst on there I was to learn a great lesson: never volunteer. Well, in the armed forces, anyway. I learned this by simply watching what other, more experienced sailors did. How this particular lesson came home was when the Commanding Officer Air on our ship ordered that all radio operators aboard, including we twenty or so trainees telegraphists gather in an ops room to hear an address. He was going to talk to us.

Fair Grannet Anti-submarine Aircraft on 1950s.

An here's the plane itself.  Note the rear position.   The poor old radio operator had to face backwards.
An here's the plane itself. Note the rear position. The poor old radio operator had to face backwards.

An opportunity of a lifetime was being offered.

The long and the short of it was this officer gave a rousing and motivational speech about there being vacancies in the RAN for radio operators – air. The very new HMAS Melbourne was on her way from England and when she arrived she’d be operating Sea Venoms and Gannets. Gannets, we were told, carried three men: pilot, navigator, and radio operator. The first two of these would be officers. The third man would be an enlisted man – lower deck. An added insult, it seemed was that aboard this particular type of plane the officers would face forward. The poor old radio op would face towards the rear. Well...

Do we have any volunteers?

“Now, gentlemen” – we could hardly believe the word, we enlisted men were actually be referred to as gentlemen - Now, gentlemen...do we have any volunteers?”

Not a hand went up.

“Come on, men, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Hawker De Havilland Sea Venom Jet Fighter.

State of the art at the time, the Sea Venom.   The other half of Melbourne's compliment of warplanes.
State of the art at the time, the Sea Venom. The other half of Melbourne's compliment of warplanes.

In the armed forces, only the most naive volunteer.

Still not a person moved. I didn’t move. I was modeling myself on people who were more familiar with the ways of the navy than me. Besides, I’d seen all the photographs of the aero plane crashes that had occurred on our own flight deck. They used to sell the pictures in our canteen. Yep, an awful lot of good men never walked away from those crashes.

But to get back to Baldy. He must have joined somewhere else.

Baldy's plane was lined up ready to take off.

The story goes that Baldy was in his Fairey Gannet lined up on the flight deck of HMAS Melbourne ready for takeoff. His would be the first plane to go. A number of others were taxiing ready to line up behind. Baldy, of course, could only see out backwards. But even above the noise of the aero-engines he could here the clipped tones of his pilot up front.

“Request permission to take off.”

“Not granted, check your aircraft’s readiness.”

The pilot did so. Baldy could imagine him checking all the gauges: tacho, oil pressure, engine temperature et cetera. Then he called the bridge controller again.

Ready for takeoff. Request permission to take off.”

“Not granted. Check your aircraft.”

Again the long laborious check. Yes, it appeared all was in order.

“Sir, request permission to take off now.”

“Not granted until your get your bloody wings unfolded!”

Better fix those wings up first, eh?

As you can see, a Gannet with wings folded wouldn't be going anywhere fast.
As you can see, a Gannet with wings folded wouldn't be going anywhere fast.

Accidents do happen.

See what I mean? Accidents do happen. I understand the Melbourne lost thirty-one aircraft all told over her long career. Oh, and I might add that she collided with seven ships, two of which she sunk with great loss of life. No wonder so many sailors preferred to stay right away from aircraft carriers.

I hoped you enjoyed Request Permission to Take Off. Yep, another sailor's yarn...

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4 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Hilarious!

That's a pilot not given to minor errors.


H P Roychoudhury profile image

H P Roychoudhury 5 years ago from Guwahati, India

It is an unforgetable memory of anybody's life.


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

Whoa!! Hope that pilot doesn't work for Delta now. LMAO!


chspublish profile image

chspublish 5 years ago from Ireland

Good to hear this story told from someone on the inside of things.

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