- A.N. Other
- Naval Aviation
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Albatross (Shore Establishment), 805 Squadron, HMAS Melbourne II
- December 2011 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The ‘culture shock’ of this huge difference in aviation circumstances was reduced to negligible proportions by the hospitality and courtesy extended to the RAN pilots (and also to Air Engineer Officer LEUT Jim Lamb and his team of maintainers, who were attached to VA125 for technical training/experience on Skyhawk aircraft and equipment). Apart from the innate friendliness of individual USN personnel, RAN personnel felt that their reception had quite a lot to do with the fact that they were not seen as just another group of US ‘aid recipients’. Not only was Australia doing its share in the Vietnam War, but the Australian Government was paying for the Skyhawk purchase and for all associated training being carried out in the USA. These facts seemed to be well known to VA125 personnel and it seemed to have generated an enormous degree of good-will. There seemed to be a determination that, so far as training was concerned, the Australians were not going to be ‘short-changed’ in any way.
The NATOPS Manual
An impressive USN professional concept was literally dumped in RAN pilots’ laps with the introduction to them of the 5 – 6 cm thick A4 NATOPS Manual. Until then, RAN pilots had only known the British-style ‘Pilot’s Notes’- a small notebook sized publication containing essential aircraft operating details, check lists and emergency procedures, designed to fit into the leg pocket of a flying suit. Much of the technical material conveniently brought together for aviators in the NATOPS Manual had only been available for earlier British-type aircraft by researching the maintenance manuals for the aircraft type. NATOPS was a great tool for improving a pilot’s knowledge of aircraft operations and systems and was adopted into the RAN with the American naval aircraft. It did come with a small supplement which could be carried in the aircraft.
Day and night carrier qualifications (CARQUALS) were carried out by RAN pilots and the rest of the Skyhawk RAG in the designated ‘Duty Carrier’ (USS Kearsage), off San Diego. This final part of the training programme (re-)introduced the RAN to the use of a Landing Signals Officer (LSO), previously known in the straight-deck carrier age as the ‘Batsman’, a deck-landing ‘aid’ which had not been used in the RAN since the introduction of the angled flight deck and Mirror Landing Aid. After CARQUALS, the RAN pilots strongly recommended the re-introduction of the ‘batsman’ concept for Skyhawk operations from HMAS Melbourne, mainly because of the enhanced safety factor, especially at night, when recovering an aircraft that had an approach speed some 10 knots faster than the aircraft which it was to replace.
In summary, the Skyhawk training with the USN entirely met RAN needs and set pilots up well to plan and conduct RAN Skyhawk courses in Australia. The RAN’s Skyhawks were delivered to NAS Nowra in late 1967. The first flight in Australia took place on 13 December 1967 (TA4G Skyhawk 911) and 805 Squadron was re-commissioned on 10 January1968 as the Skyhawk Operational Flying School.
The first OFS got off to a bad start despite the enthusiasm of Squadron aircrew and maintainers. The problem was a serious shortage of support equipment and spare parts, due to an initial lack of understanding by RAN logisticians of the USN Federal Stock Number (FSN) system. The RAN belatedly appreciated that with previous aircraft purchases from the United Kingdom, British Admiralty staff, in motherhood mode, had ensured that an appropriate initial outfit of spares and ground equipment was provided at the same time as the aircraft. The US Department of Defense, quite understandably, did not feel under any obligation to do the same thing in what to them was a purely commercial transaction.
Since the Australian Government was funding the Skyhawk programme in installments, the US authorities merely ran down the parts list, in FSN order, until the monetary value of each installment ran out, and then forwarded those items to Australia. The FSN sequence of items was quite arbitrary so the RAN had received, for example, spare Skyhawk mainplanes that were not expected to be needed for years, but not the ladders that aircrew and maintenance personnel needed to climb up and into the aircraft. There were many, more serious, shortages, so in order to rectify the logistics problem, Navy Office set up an experienced team to identify the most needed equipment for initial operations and to liaise with US authorities to resolve the supply priorities. In the meantime, the first OFS Course was postponed and did not really commence until July 1968.