‘Many years ago, when Naval fighters had two crewmen and some of them two tail booms and we had carriers with catapults and arrester wires, I was Duty Engineering Officer at Yeovilton. The routine in those days was that the professional Crash & Salvage Officer and his Chief worked days and, when things got more difficult in the dark of ‘night flying’, the part timers took over. I was summoned to the Tower this cold but clear winter’s night to be briefed on a spot of bother with a couple of Sea Vixens. One aircraft, ten minutes away, had a “green” hydraulic system failure which meant no Maxaret braking (ABS to the uninitiated) and no “power steering”. He would take the downwind arrester gear on Runway 27, and then be taken back to dispersal – no problem. The second aircraft, twenty minutes away, had an engine fire indication but not, in his opinion, a fire. He had shut down the engine, fired his extinguishers and was bumbling back on his other engine – again no problem. A third aircraft airborne at the time was an innocent bystander and would land in the normal way after the other two – yet again, no problem.
The first aircraft was being flown by a relatively inexperienced pilot – I know because he had only just graduated from the training squadron where I was the Deputy AEO. He missed the downwind arrester gear, left his hook down and eventually caught the upwind arrester wire. Now, an arrester hook that has been dragged over two thousand yards of concrete, albeit providing a display of sparks akin to Guy Fawkes night, does not readily release from the wire. Undeterred, the Duty Salvage Petty Officer and I headed off down the runway in ‘Salvage 1’ and, with the aid of sledge hammers, managed to free the molten lump of metal from the arrester wire once the pilot had shut down the engines. We then called up ‘Salvage 2’ to come and tow the aircraft back to its dispersal. If you think ‘Salvage 1’ was manned by part-timers I will leave it to the imagination who was manning ‘Salvage 2’. Anyway, ‘Salvage 2’ hooked up and started towing the aircraft back home along the northern peri-track.
The second, single engine, Sea Vixen then landed and was told that the peri-track to the north was blocked by a towed aircraft so would he care to turn left and take the long way home. Not too keen on staying in an aircraft that had threatened to incinerate him, he turned left and shut down his remaining engine just clear of the runway. We thought we would be smart and ask the fire Land Rover keep an eye on it until we could tow it back as well.