- van Gelder, Commander John RAN (Rtd)
- Biographies and personal histories, Naval Aviation, Post WWII
- RAN Ships
- 817 Squadron, HMAS Sydney III
- June 2004 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
As I looked ahead the sea appeared almost black for some miles but lightening and turning to a dull silver nearer the horizon and that small gap between sea and cloud. The cloud bank itself was uniformly dark slate grey except a tinge of light closer to the horizon. The colour of the cloud blended beautifully with what little I could notice of the sea surface and certainly matched the drab grey of the carrier’s flight deck. Much closer to me was the centrepiece of the whole scene. Directly in front of me was a V12 Rolls Royce Griffon 74 engine of about 2250 horsepower. Illumination for the scene was provided by six exhaust stubs on either side of the engine cowling. The flames from the stubs varied from an ice blue surrounded with a tinge of red until dissipating into a light glow. The overall effect was enhanced by the subdued reflection of the aircraft’s navigation lights and the torch wands of the flight deck personnel, with the result that the propeller seemed to be bathed in an aurora of light.
One could describe the scene as ‘magic’. I doubt that this thought occurred to me at the time! With final cockpit checks made in accordance with the check list board held up by the Flight Deck Officer – ‘Throttle Friction’, ‘Take Off Flap’ etc, it was time to go to take off power. As the FDO wound you up with his green wand the throttle was advanced to take-off power; a final internal check of engine revs (2,750 RPM), oil and boost pressures OK, left hand clenched behind the throttle, a thumbs up to the FDO, head back against the headrest, right hand behind the control column.
Down goes the green wand, a 4G kick from the catapult and in the blink of an eye one is airborne at 100 knots or so over the bow of the ship. Undercarriage up, flaps up in stages, reduce to climbing power and climb away at 125 knots to operating height, which in this case was about 1000 feet. The purpose of the flight was to search for a yacht apparently missing off the south coast. I do not recall whether we located the missing yacht but we did return to HMAS Sydney and landed on at 0750. It must have been a busy day as we were airborne again at 0945 for an Army Cooperation exercise.
Some impressions in life stay with us forever and as I have said previously it may have been a long time ago but the memories are still vivid.