Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a member of an Argus crew? Have you ever thought how exciting it must be to see icebergs, schools of porpoises, whales, ocean liners, submarines and Russian fishing fleets from the air? These questions had often crossed my mind and I had always been a bit envious of men who fly, because it seemed so much more exciting and glamorous to be airborne than to be home doing domestic chores all day.
I was very fortunate indeed to have had the opportunity to go on an anti-submarine patrol in an Argus aircraft of No. 404 Squadron, CFB Greenwood. Believe me, I shall be quite content now to keep my feet on the ground for quite a while. Flying is very exhausting and quite boring at times.
Before going on my flight, I was introduced to Nursing Sister Captain Jackie Brewe in the Base Operations Officer's office. We were there for a general briefing by Lt-Col Joe McCarthy. At this point, Nursing Sister Brewe mentioned that she would be well equipped with air-sickness pills, which was most discouraging. A few days later, we received instructions in ditching procedures from Capt Norm MacKeracher. During the course the layout of the Argus was explained to us on a scale drawing which marked the various positions of the escape hatches and location of four dinghies carried on board. We toured the safety equipment section in number ten hangar and inspected an inflated l0 man dinghy. Each dinghy carries a SARAH (Search and Rescue and Homing Beacon) along with other necessities. Survival kits are readily available in the aircraft and these contain rations, candles, flares, fishing line, water purifiers and many other items that are necessary for survival.
Later we had a wet ditching drill in the gymnasium's indoor pool. This consisted of jumping into the water wearing an exposure suit and a Mae West and practicing how to get in a dinghy. The exposure suit is designed for and worn as protection against the cold. The Mae West is an inflatable life-jacket worn around the neck and chest. As you jump into the water, the trapped air in the exposure suit rises to the top and balloons the upper portion of the suit. It gives buoyancy but makes you feel awkward and clumsy. In the quiet, glassy smooth pool of warm water, it was fairly easy to get into the dinghy but in ice-cold water under any sea state (wave height) and swell, it could be most difficult.
Pre-flight briefing was scheduled for 1 :30 a.m. Saturday. I managed to get some sleep on Friday from 7 p.m. to midnight. At one minute past midnight, I was raring to go. When I left the house, it was a beautiful clear night so at least the weather was good around Greenwood. It is almost impossible for me to express how I felt at this time. I was excited and nervous too because I had heard that on previous patrols the weather had been quite bad in the area and many fellows were airsick because of turbulence. Looking up at the star-filled sky, I felt thrilled at the thought of knowing that I would soon be up there closer to the stars. If only the weather in the patrol area was similar to this, I knew the trip would be much easier because I wouldn't get airsick.
The crew met at the briefing room and the first part of the briefing was given by the operations staff. They outlined the area to be covered and advised the crew of any recent changes in operational procedures since their last trip. Then the meteorologist gave the weather briefing. By projecting the latest weather map on a screen, he briefed the crew on pressure areas, cloud heights, expected winds in the area and en route, and gave the sea state. He also briefed them on the forecast weather at base for their return time and for alternate airports in the event that weather at the Greenwood base was below landing limits. Most important of all to me, weather would be good all round. I breathed a sigh of relief. While the crew carried on with further briefing, Jackie and I went to station operations for a short tour with Lt-Col McCarthy.
Later we went to the hangar where the aircraft was located. Some of the crew had various duties to perform prior to leaving such as filing flight plans and other forms, and checking the serviceability history of equipment on the aircraft. The other crew members waited in the cafeteria until a few minutes before 3 :00 a.m. and then left to board the aircraft. At 3 :00 o'clock, we were towed out of the hangar and the crew proceeded to do an engine and equipment check. Then we taxied to the end of the runway and after doing an engine run-up, we took off at approximately 3 :45 a.m.
It was going to take about an hour and a half to get to our assigned patrol area. At first, I sat and looked out the rear window as Greenwood soon disappeared from view and before long, we were passing over Bridgewater. These places were really pretty and in the distance, you could see the lights of Halifax. The different types of sonobuoys and smoke markers were pointed out to us and as soon as we were clear of land, the coast crossing check was carried out. This involved loading various sonobuoys and markers, to be dropped out, into their respective dispensers. The aircraft was now operationally ready.
During the transit to the search area, one of the navigators explained how he would be navigating the aircraft during actual patrol by a beam of light projected on a map. An arrow in this beam of light made it possible to measure the distance from the aircraft to any point on the chart. He is also responsible for the correct setting of dials to enable different combinations of stores (anything which is released from the aircraft) to be dropped.
The navigator's job is only one of many in the tactical compartment. Other positions are manned by radio officers who are responsible for the equipment used for detecting submarines. Toward the front of the aircraft, there is another navigator position and a radio position. Naturally, the pilots sit up front with the flight engineer sitting just behind them. The engineer has to at watch all times a multitude of dials and switches in front of him and is responsible to see that the aircraft is running properly at all times. Other areas in the aircraft consist of a galley, and bunk/crew rest. We reached the patrol area at approximately 5: 15 a.m. and relieved another Argus that had been working this section. They quickly passed on information which could be used to our advantage in locating a submarine within our area. From this point on, the crew was busy constantly.
It seems that there are many people who, when hearing there are bunks on board the Argus, feel it is pretty soft
for the crew to sleep whenever they want. It is just the contrary. With only one or two hours break between schedule changes of manning positions, there is hardly time to eat or sleep, let alone do both. Some of the crew do not sleep at all because they would feel more tired after a short nap than if they didn't get any sleep.
Our area was very quiet and about 8: 00 a.m. after seeing nothing except one ship and miles of grey water, I started to get bored. We had only been airborne a little more than four hours and already it was getting monotonous. A little later on, someone spotted something that looked interesting so we went down a little lower. It turned out to be a couple of whales. If they hadn't been pointed out to me, I never would have seen them among the white caps on the water.
At this point, it was time to eat. The facilities for cooking are quite adequate and the selection of food very good. There was a ham, lettuce, tomatoes, celery, eggs, steak, tea, coffee, juice, cookies and canned fruit. I am sure there are probably many wives who have had hot dogs, hamburgers or something similar for dinner with their children and when hubby comes home from flying, mentions that he had steak or roast beef for dinner. Believe me, I'd rather be home eating hot dogs in my own kitchen than eating steak in the air. Have you ever tried cutting a steak with a plastic knife or pouring hot water into a paper cup while bouncing around a bit?
As I mentioned before, the weather in our area was excellent so the only time it was bumpy was when we were in cloud (or I was making coffee). It was truly beautiful when we were flying above the clouds and I was really impressed. What a great feeling to see a big, white, puffy cloud ahead of you and then go heading right into it. This is exactly how I felt for the first few hours and then around 1 :00 p.m. I started thinking only five more hours to go. (We were due back at Greenwood at 6:00 p.m.). The cloud formations were still beautiful but I was getting to the point where I just didn't care. Now I know why when I spotted a cloud formation that was really something, no one on the crew gasped with delight.
From time to time, I decided to sit down for a while but found that my eyes would slowly close and I would be dozing off. I didn't want to sleep because this trip was "once in a life-time" and it would be a shame to miss something exciting. So standing up seemed to be the best way to stay awake. (Apparently even then there was a time my eyes were closed, but I was only resting them.)
|Mrs. Shirley Furney passing the time at an Observer window. (Photo via Sentinel Magazine).|
Another aircraft from Greenwood was to relieve us around four o'clock. A thought crossed my mind - if they were delayed taking-off, would we have to stay out longer? We had been airborne about 12 hours now and I was very glad we weren't on an 18-hour patrol. Two hours to go was bad enough so any more would have seemed like an eternity.
One of the things I noticed about the crew was that the fellows who had a bit of time left after eating, saw to it that the others, who were at work, had tea or coffee if they wanted it. In my opinion it is very essential for crew members to get along well because, when they have to work so close together for a long period of time, it would be most unpleasant if there was any conflict.
A few minutes before 4:00 p.m., we heard from the relief aircraft. To me, their words truly were the sweetest words this side of heaven. After passing along the same type of information to them that we received when we entered the area, we headed home. I was very anxious to see the coastline as we flew back over Nova Scotia and we would just make it before dark. In order to see well, I sat at the back window and seemed to have lost about an hour somewhere in here. However, I was awakened in time to see the most gorgeous sunset I have ever seen and the coast line. Before long the lights of Greenwood came into sight and we prepared to make a practice GCA (ground control approach) landing. The GCA controller gave the pilot the necessary heading to make and talked him down onto the runway. The touchdown was very smooth and I was extremely glad to be back home.
What is my impression of flying? I love it - as long as I am going from A to B in three or four hours. To be out over the ocean for many hours is a different story altogether.
In concluding, I would like to suggest to all wives of aircrew members, who haven't already been inside an Argus, when the squadrons have their family days, to do so. When you realize just how highly trained these men have to be to operate the equipment efficiently I'm sure you will be extremely proud of your husband. The wives of the ground crew members should be equally proud of their husbands because without their professionalism in their jobs, there would be no Argus patrols.
I think it is essential that the wives of aircrew members realize that flying is especially tiring, both physically and mentally, whether it be on an eight or 18-hour patrol. Perhaps this is something you learn with time or perhaps it's something some wives never learn. So when your husband comes home after a patrol, meet him with a smile and remember that while you may have had a rough day, with or without children, his was probably much rougher.