- van Gelder, Commander John RAN (Rtd)
- Naval Aviation
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Melbourne II, HMAS Sydney III
- June 2001 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
For carrier operations the De Havilland Sea Venoms and the Fairey Gannets had one very great advantage over their predecessors; the forward vision was excellent. Unfortunately, both aircraft had certain disadvantages, and in both cases, they were somewhat underpowered, particularly for hot tropical operations.
The Gannet was generally regarded as a “gentleman’s” aircraft to fly. As an anti-submarine aircraft it was, without a doubt, very effective, as a deck landing aircraft, with its excellent forward vision and good engine response it made life relatively easy. The Gannet was a twin turbo-prop aircraft fitted with the Armstrong Siddely Double-Mamba engine. This engine was beautifully made with the care of a Swiss watchmaker. When working it worked well, however, there was always the niggling doubt in the pilot’s mind that it may not keep on working. Single engine landings on the carrier were not something pilots looked forward to, particularly in the tropics.
To my mind the Sea Venom was a delight to fly and had no particular vices. The centrifugal flow turbo jet engine was very robust, reliable and almost unbreakable. Deck landing the Venom was not difficult, primarily due to the excellent forward vision. However, the key to success in this procedure was to start the final approach in the right position with the aircraft in the correct attitude and the right airspeed (about 112 knots). Then all one had to do was fly the mirror to finish up in amongst the arrester wires. Strangely enough, I found it easier to land the Venom than the Gannet. The reason being that because of the faster approach speed you had less time to make mistakes! Unfortunately, I did not get around to deck landing the Venom at night time.
Flying Gannets from Melbourne in the tropics on a moonless night, up to 1000 feet above the sea, in tropical haze, with no visible horizon, flying on instruments was not what I would call a recipe for a fun evening. But then, I suppose some one had to do it.
Some people may regard all of the above to be a little glamorous, and in some ways it may have been. However, it was all made possible by the hard work and dedication of the many people operating within the ship. I have always had the greatest respect and admiration for the personnel who worked on the flight deck during flying operations. Who can forget the stokers who lay under the aircraft on the catapult attaching the strop to the aircraft and the catapult shuttle with propellers whirling and jet exhaust blast only feet away? And the aircraft handlers directing aircraft on the flight deck by day and night and standing only feet away from menacing propellers. The aircrew placed their trust in all the people and were never let down. In respect of trust, in all the time I had flying in the RAN not once did I ever doubt that our aircraft were maintained to the absolute highest standards that could be found anywhere in the world.
As a footnote, the Oxford dictionary defines “sport” as “… a game or competitive activity…” And yes, it was “The greatest sport in the world”. Although it may have been a long time ago the memories are still vivid.