Black Arrows Blue Diamond: Leading the Legendary RAF Flying Display Teams
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Brian Mercer is one of the most outstanding post-war RAF fighter pilots and in this eminently readable autobiography he recaptures life as it was in the days of transition from flying piston-powered aircraft to jet power. His flying and leadership skills resulted in a long association with what was then considered as the finest aerobatic display team in the world - Treble One Squardron’s ‘Black Arrows’. Flying the elegant black Hawker Hunters in large formation displays was no easy task and the author explains in great detail how their legendary precision was achieved, revealing many exciting incidents en route. When Treble One’s Hunters were replaced with the supersonic Lightining fighter, it soon became clear that these superfast aircraft were not suited to close-up display flying. Brian was then asked to form a new RAF display team and continue with Hunters. This was to become the No. 92 Squadron’s Blue Diamonds’, who inherited the star role. Faced with the fact that future promotion within the RAF would move him from cockpit to desk, Brian elected to join then then fledgling airline, Cathay Pacific. His story continues with many exciting incidents flying from the company’s home base at Kai Tak in Hong Kong.
evening runs down to Brighton in the squadron car, a 1928 Rover. I had done my last low-level jaunt down the south coast beaches in the station Tiger Moth waving at pretty girls in bathing suits. Many years later, as a civilian, I visited Tangmere; it was almost deserted. There were no more aircraft of course and as I looked at the ivy-covered officers’ mess and gazed up at the window of my old room, I was overcome by a tremendous feeling of nostalgia. How I wished I could start all over again.
604 Auxiliary Squadron was operating from Waterbeach on an exercise. Their normal home was North Weald. We were watching them scramble when there was a bit of a bang followed by the familiar pall of oily black smoke. A figure came into view apparently unhurt – it was Norman Tebbit, then a BOAC first officer and a flying officer pilot on No. 604. The story was that he had abandoned take-off thinking his elevators were jammed. Apparently his elevator trim was set at full nose down. I had my
Some weeks later I had a canopy shatter at about 35,000 ft. There was a big bang and a cloud of dust, and I thought the engine had blown up. It was the sudden decompression of course. The truth dawned as I started to feel very, very cold; the temperature would have been in the region of–50 degrees celsius. Throttle closed, full dive brakes, half roll and down I went before I froze to death. I do not care for tropical heat normally, but I was very happy to find it that day. In October 1955, Pete
later, with my forearm, wrist and part of my hand in plaster, I had a discussion with Pete Latham to debate my fitness for formation aerobatics. I thought I would be all right, with just a change of technique, as I could not flex my wrist. My assessment proved to be correct so off we went on 22 May to Jever on the North German coast to refuel and stay overnight. We also wanted to pick up a crate of Scotch whisky to take to the Norwegian air force mess. The Norwegian pilots would appreciate that
us. Finally, off we flew to Leeuwarden in Holland, where the competition was to be held. The Canadians were brimming with confidence; one said to me, ‘I’ll bet you one thousand dollars we beat you.’ I came across Wing Commander Joe Bodien, my old CO from No. 29 squadron who was now in the RCAF and he told me we did not have a prayer. They were so sure of themselves they had even left the Guynemer Trophy back in Ottawa. The name of their ace, Chuck Weingarten, was on all their lips. At last I