The first success of the Wessex Fighter All Weather 1 (Wx FAW 1)

‘I was the CO of 707 squadron at the time, September 1982, and the Senior Pilot who was known as Stumpy – (Belding, to preserve anonymity) – had the audacity to send me off on an IF sortie on a Friday lunchtime when normally I would be doing my best to keep Guinness shares at a high level in the Wardroom. It was a simply ghastly day – heavy rain, wind and low cloud – so off we went, nervously.
At that time Yeovilton did not have radar coverage close to the airfield nor in the overhead and so we puttered off to the north towards the instrument flying areas. The controllers on duty that day were a married – just – couple who were not getting along too well. Whether this impinged on the following story who knows.
We were happily going along in cloud at 2000 feet – 609.6 mtrs for the ‘yoof’ of today – when there was an almighty bang – the aircraft yawed about 45 degrees to the right and took up an extremely steep nose down attitude, I estimated around 60 degrees as I could see parts of the AI that I had never seen before. Lots of brown and not much blue.
I immediately thought this is not good as I have always been very quick at assessing the unknown! Being in cloud made this unusual attitude very interesting indeed and so thinking something major had broken somewhere in the aircraft I very gently regained straightish and levelish flight. I popped out a Mayday to waken the controller who kindly offered me a quicky GCA back home. This I declined as I did not wish to overexert him at lunchtime and commenced a gentle curving circular descent, breaking cloud at about 200 feet over the Fox and Hounds in Charlton Adam, still in torrential rain. I thought the car park was a bit small and so landed alongside in the field, noting that the tail slid around a bit on shut down.
I assumed that whatever we had hit would be on the front somewhere and a cursory glance at the nose and rotor head showed nothing obvious – in the pouring rain.
Off to the pub then where as we had no money we borrowed a fiver from the barmaid and had a couple of pints. Time to ring Yeovilton! The pub telephone was out because of the weather and so I went across the lane to a cottage where a very grumpy man eventually allowed me to use his phone – if I paid him back! I got through to the airfield and in double quick time I was put through to Commander Air – a friend of mine who wrote my 206’s, and after I corrected the spelling were quite good actually – who thought we were dead as he knew what had actually happened. We had hit a Sea Harrier. I went a bit quiet at this stage and returned to the pub for more borrowed beer.
Eventually the engineers turned up and couldn’t see anything wrong with the aircraft and asked if I would fly it back to Yeovilton! Then one more astute chap glanced at the tail and saw the damage. The aircraft went home on a truck.
When we collided with the Harrier it was being flown by Willie Macatee on exchange from the USA and his radio call, that of course I did not hear as he was talking to the wife controller, was hilarious, shouting over and over again “I hit a helicopter, I hit a helicopter” The poor chap had being flying on head down instruments and glanced up to cross check his head up display and all he could see was a green helicopter followed by an enormous bang! We must have missed his head by about 9 inches.
He managed to creep back and land safely and we had conclusively proved the worth of the Wessex FAW 1.
So there you have it – a Harrier disabled and the victorious Wessex crew in the pub’.
Fleet Air Arm veteran David Baston