‘Northern Venture’ - RAF (Part 1)

Post Reply
Message
Author
TheGreenAnger
Snr FO
Snr FO
Posts: 223
Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2022 11:40 pm
Location: Oudtshoorn

‘Northern Venture’ - RAF (Part 1)

#1 Post by TheGreenAnger » Fri Jul 22, 2022 4:27 pm

Navy Wings has the Bill Purchase Book

https://www.key.aero/article/when-raf-f ... ound-world - Read the full account here with the excellent photographs

As the Chipmunk entered its middle age with the Royal Air Force, the idea of a golden jubilee flight visiting the home of de Havilland Canada in Downsview, Toronto — birthplace of the DHC-1 — was given tentative approval. Exercise ‘Northern Venture’, known more colloquially as ‘Chipmunks Around the World’, or more simply ‘ATW’,was born.

An attempt to accomplish the trip starting in July 1996 made it no further than Moscow before returning home in the face of both bureaucratic and logistical problems. It wasn’t all in vain, though, since some valuable lessons were learned. The ’96 attempt had planned a sequence of support aircraft at various stages, but bitter experience told the crew they needed a dedicated support ship, this materialising in the form of a BN-2T Islander, G-PASU, leased from the Police Air Support Unit. Another lesson was to depart earlier in the year before the prospect of wildfires might block the route, which had been part of the cause of the ’96 flight having to turn around.

Thus, on the misty morning of 20 May 1997, Chipmunks WP833 and WP962 rolled along RAF Cranwell’s easterly runway and, at 30kt, disappeared into a solid wall of fog which had suddenly drifted across the airfield. Undaunted, they continued to London City Airport, there to join up with the Islander ready for an ‘official’ departure, attended by an array of dignitaries. With ‘City’ needing full use of its limited ramp space, and a last-minute — duty-free — consignment of whisky and cigarettes stuffed into the Islander for use as sweeteners along the way, the team hastened to Manston. En route, an RAF Sea King came alongside for some air-to-air filming, before inflicting the indignity of pulling ahead to position the camera crew at Manston to capture the Chipmunks’ arrival. Where is that footage now?

After mustering themselves, the team got airborne and headed out of UK airspace to spend their first night away from home at Münster. The subsequent route took them via Berlin Schönefeld, Warsaw and Vilnius to enter the Russian Federation at Pskov, where there was an official welcome by the Russian Air Force but no immediate sign of their assigned navigator. Eventually Maj Yuriy Vostroknutov made himself known. He’d failed to react to the arrival of the BN-2T, expecting to find himself navigating a Hercules as the support ship. He was obliged to return home and repack for the Islander.

So started a challenging 18-day crossing of the Russian Federation, an adventure in itself. Though personnel at many airports and the local populace were friendly and welcoming, the team often drawing an avid crowd and sometimes even TV crews, at certain airfields — specifically those where there were military detachments — receptions were occasionally less cordial. Despite a letter of introduction by a senior member of the Russian Air Force exhorting agencies down-route “to help British military whenever possible”, in practice this proved to be of little value, as the usual response to its presentation was, ‘We’re a long way from Moscow here, and we do as we please’.

On arrival at Krasnoyarsk, hordes of state security men dressed in battered trilbies and belted macintoshes seemed to be masquerading as Inspector Clouseau. A sinister Mercedes, with smoky windows, had a constant stream of ‘spooks’ to and fro, apparently receiving instructions. When Tony Severs took several photos of KrasAir passenger jets on the dispersal, the film from his camera was demanded. Tony gave a theatrical display of removing the film, which was taken from him and promptly exposed. He subsequently explained to his team-mates that he had just changed cassettes and had shot only two frames. On arrival at Cherskiy, another joint civil/military base, the group was beset by more Clouseau-like characters, initially hostile, yet later a couple of these fellows joined the team in the flat which was assigned to them, to talk about the adventure the ‘glorious British aviators’ were undertaking.

Air traffic control authorities insisted that the Chipmunks must fly in the base of the airways at 3,300m, about 11,000ft. The pilots countered that they simply couldn’t fly at that altitude without oxygen, while the aircraft were not equipped to navigate along airways. A compromise was reached: they would fly the Chipmunks as high as they were able, clear of cloud, and report to ATC that they were “flying at 3,300m.”

Almost every stop involved a bartering session to argue away extortionate fees for a range of services which were often charged per aircraft though they involved a single provision, like weather. Frequently they were invented, such as fines for ‘environmental damage’ caused by an alleged fuel spill, which was obviously the fault of an old, leaking fuel bowser. Such events, as well as the filling-in of various forms in multiple copies, often absorbed two or more hours (on one occasion almost five) and ate into the time available for making actual progress. As but one example, in the case of Magan, an initial charge of nine million roubles was demanded. This accounted for fuel, ‘air navigation’ — virtually nothing of which had been provided, yet this constituted six million of the total — parking, security and a particularly unusual charge for chasing wild ponies from the runway! It was settled at five million roubles, about £1,225 at pre-Ukrainian invasion 2020 rates, simply to be able to get on the way.
They told me that I knew **** nothing, and I told them that I knew **** all - with apologies to David Niven.

TheGreenAnger
Snr FO
Snr FO
Posts: 223
Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2022 11:40 pm
Location: Oudtshoorn

Re: ‘Northern Venture’ - RAF (Part 2)

#2 Post by TheGreenAnger » Fri Jul 22, 2022 4:27 pm

The way round the world
Initial planning in 1996 was with a ‘big picture’ perspective, using four global navigation charts, GNC 1-4. These charts are for strategic planning, at a 1:5,000,000 scale. From these, sector plans were established on operational navigation charts (ONCs), at a 1:1,000,000 scale. A detailed route was produced, on the basis of which a support team — involving additional RAF staff plus embassies in countries along the way — set about getting visas and authorisations for entry into the airspace along the route. The entire circumnavigation required 30 ONCs.

For the 1997 attempt, multiple copies of these charts were carried aboard the Islander and detail planning for any particular day was completed the night before, once routes (or options) were finalised and predicted ground speed could be calculated and plotted onto the charts. They were cut into strips, allowing sufficient distance either side of the planned route to go around areas of low cloud and the like, and concertina-folded to make progression down-track easy to monitor. Even cut down, the area either side of the planned route seemed to be more map than they needed. Timing marks were then added with other useful reference information, such as required frequencies, to make this information more readily accessible in the confined space of a Chipmunk cockpit.

Routes were also programmed into the GNC 250s in each Chipmunk. Early in the expedition an input error led to a divergence from track which was readily detected by comparison with the chart and ground references. This emphasised the care needed to input navigational co-ordinates, and thereafter the Chipmunk pilots cross-checked their loaded routes before setting off. Thus, this one incident was the only navigational error of the whole trip.

The standard of accommodation ranged considerably from reasonable comfort to beds like hammocks, rooms with cockroaches roaming which necessitated sleeping in flight suits and flying boots, insufficient beds, and sanitation facilities which might be just cold water, brown water or perhaps just no water. At Kemerovo, all six of the team became trapped for 40 minutes in a pitch-dark and increasingly humid lift which had come to a graunching stop. When they finally escaped, hand-winching having provided a 2ft gap between the lift floor and the corridor ceiling, they were berated for the trouble they had caused because the lift had a maximum capacity of four. There was no signage to this effect, however.

Finding food could be difficult. On many occasions Yuriy proved his worth, as he did in getting fuelling needs managed, by pulling strings and rustling-up meals in VIP quarters which were presumed to have been for the enjoyment of political elites, but at other times sustenance was scarce. Timing was often a problem — some hotels only started serving after the group wanted to be on their way, or had stopped by the time they arrived. At Tomtor they were unable to find any food for purchase and were given a loaf of black bread, which yielded a 2in ‘doorstop’ each. To add to their woes, in some places the mosquitoes were equally hungry. The crew also managed to drink one town dry by buying the last six tins of beer available. More than once the most sustaining refreshment on hand to get through the day was chocolate. It’s quite possible that the whole expedition could have foundered but for the supply of Mars and Yorkie bars which had been stashed aboard the Islander.

Fuel availability had a direct impact on the route chosen, particularly at Tomtor when a more northerly course was decided upon by Yuriy, based on information about fuel availability on the more direct southerly route to Provideniya Bay which had been anticipated. Uplifting fuel was never a certainty — even at Moscow they’d had to resort to mogas.

In Anadyr it was time to say goodbye to Yuriy Vostroknutov. As he headed home on commercial flights the three ‘ATW’ aircraft departed for Provideniya, only to have to return to Anadyr at the point of no return, due to fog at their destination. Now having no interpreter, the team was met with the question, “Who’s going to pay now?” Egged on by the Provideniya controller — who spoke excellent English — and led in by Tony Severs who had gone ahead to memorise the local topography, a second attempt was successful. Having refuelled from a 45-gallon drum flown in from Nome, they departed to cross the Bering Strait and to alight in North America. Departing on Friday 13 July and crossing the international dateline put them back into Thursday, so they had the dubious pleasure of experiencing Friday 13th twice in eight days. Crossing Russia had accounted for the expenditure of 90 million roubles, approximately £22,000 in today’s pre-Ukraine invasion rates.

Nome saw a return to western European standards of accommodation and food, which the team took immediate advantage of when one of the tower controllers made a run for “monster burgers, double fries and real Coke”. Having had their first shower in eight days, they ate a second dinner and, finally, enjoyed a comfortable bed. As one of them said, “It was as if we had been transported to a different planet”. Fuel availability, too, became a worry of the past.

Arrival in North America meant it was possible to focus on a major objective of the circumnavigation, visiting Downsview. For the first time there was a specific date to meet, since a formal reception was planned. Setting off across Alaska the Chipmunks stopped at Eielson Air Force Base, much to the surprise of a detachment of RAF Tornado GR1 crews from Brüggen. A couple of days were occupied servicing the aircraft after their ‘Russian encounter’ and consolidating equipment and other materiel no longer required, to be returned to the UK via RAF Hercules.

Despite the restoration of creature comforts, the North American terrain and weather still presented challenges. The arrival into Canada, at Whitehorse, took place only just before the field was reduced to instrument meteorological conditions, while the next day allowed only a single leg to Watson Bay. Then weather forced a return after venturing only 20 miles out, and although the fourth day in Canada appeared to present a chance of making it to Fort Nelson, the Chipmunks — and a Super Cub which had departed shortly before them — were obliged not only to turn around but, in deteriorating conditions, to land on a gravel strip alongside Muncho Lake. Meanwhile the Islander had left separately and flown IFR to Fort Nelson, only to find, to the crew’s concern, no Chipmunks. Eventually messages were relayed to advise of a safe landing. Spending the night at a garage motel, the Chipmunk pilots were reunited with the others the following afternoon.
They told me that I knew **** nothing, and I told them that I knew **** all - with apologies to David Niven.

TheGreenAnger
Snr FO
Snr FO
Posts: 223
Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2022 11:40 pm
Location: Oudtshoorn

Re: ‘Northern Venture’ - RAF (Part 3)

#3 Post by TheGreenAnger » Fri Jul 22, 2022 4:30 pm

Over the next five days the team flew on four, one being lost to weather. Surviving one weather abort and one technical abort, they arrived at Downsview on cue, on 26 June. A line of Gipsy and Tiger Moths, Chipmunks, Harvards and other classic types formed a reception for the travel-weary aeroplanes. An air cadet squadron served as a guard of honour, speeches were given, and each team member was presented with a Canadian $5 commemorative coin depicting Russ Bannock, DH Canada’s chief test pilot at the time of the Chipmunk’s first flights. The visit included the chance to meet George Neal, DHC’s long-time chief test pilot, whose stature in Canadian aeronautics is legendary. Full advantage was also taken of a photo-op over Niagara Falls. A final nod to Canada’s aviation history was made when the machines departed Downsview for Rockcliffe, there to be part of the static display for a day at what was then the National Aviation Museum.

Leaving Rockcliffe on 30 June saw the team commencing what was considered to be the trans-Atlantic sector, including positioning for the first of the unavoidable long water crossings. Another deadline was before them: RAF Fairford by 18 July for the Royal International Air Tattoo.

The 1,400nm Great Circle route from Rockcliffe took them to Qikiqtarjuaq — for a time named Broughton Island — to minimise the crossing to Greenland from Cape Dyer. Out of Rockcliffe they flew over harsh, desolate terrain, crossing only two semi-disused/derelict gravel strips with no sign of any habitation whatsoever. Amassing 828nm in seven hours five minutes, it was their best distance in one day so far. This brought them to Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay and allowed for servicing of the Chipmunks before the Atlantic crossing. Continuing onwards, poor weather consumed three days of the total time to get north. It enforced a stop at Schefferville, described as “the most depressing of places”, attributed to the collapse of its mining industry. Escaping finally in the afternoon, the season and latitudes allowed for the most productive day of the whole expedition: eight hours 25 minutes of Chipmunk flying, covering 927nm, and arriving at Qikiqtarjuaq at 22.40hrs local.

In the morning they departed on their trans-Atlantic crossing proper, via Greenland (Kangerlussuaq, Nuuk, Narsarsuaq, Kulusuk), Iceland (Keflavík, Egilsstaðir) and the Faeroes (Vágar) to a homecoming in Scotland. They had 14 days to achieve their 18 July target arrival at RIAT, but challenges still lay ahead.

A planned direct route across the Davis Strait to Kangerlussuaq, formerly known as Sondrestrom or Bluie-West 8, was initially flown in excellent, clear conditions, but a layer of stratus had built up along the coast of Greenland and moved inland. Kangerlussuaq was reporting complete cloud cover so there was no hope of a visual let-down. With no diversion airfield, it was necessary to follow the coastline southwards and approach along the 90-mile length of Sondre Stromfjord, at the mouth of which — approximately two miles wide — the cloudbase was about 400ft. They entered a ‘tunnel’, boxed between the overcast, rock walls and icy water below. No choice existed but to land directly, for a go-around was virtually impossible. The two Chipmunks flew wing on the Islander for an hour before streaming for landing after three hours 55 minutes airborne.


The following day, again despite good initial conditions, the weather deteriorated below that forecast. Having arrived at Kulusuk a day was lost, not to the local weather but thick cloud cover over their destination, Iceland. Saturday 12 July allowed them to undertake the sea crossing of 385 miles. A descent through layers of cloud brought four hours over-water to a safe conclusion at Keflavík. The resident US Navy P-3 Orion crews supplied beer and pizza in their aircrew bar in exchange for tales of the Chipmunks’ experiences so far, at first not fully grasping just how small the aircraft were.

Two further days fell victim to the weather, which also caused John Dale, an RAF reservist and photographer who had joined in at Downsview, to return to the UK, fearing his day job might be advertised as vacant. He departed on an overnight fish run to East Midlands Airport, classified as ‘cargo’ and surrounded by crates, for which he was charged £300 — presumably the value of his weight in frozen fish.

Weather made possible a transit to the eastern side of Iceland for the crossing to the Faeroes, but then again denied the prospect of continuing. On Thursday 17 July the elements permitted a departure for Vágar and from there on to Kinloss, making landfall at Wick where an RAF Sea King was awaiting their arrival to record the event. It accompanied the Chipmunks to Kinloss in failing light for a landing at 21.25 local time on day 60 of ‘Northern Venture’. They had covered 560 miles, most of which was over water, in six hours 30 minutes’ Chipmunk flying time.


During initial planning in 1996, someone had asked, “What if an aircraft goes unserviceable and needs a major fix?” The rather laconic response was, “So what? Leave it there — they’re being phased out of service anyway”. Hopefully not the crew, though!

Certain effects of the journey across Russia only reared their heads later. Ready to depart Nome, we experienced a generator failure on WP962 due to FOD being ingested when using the rough strips in Russia, which had damaged the commutator. The well-prepared spares inventory allowed that to be quickly replaced.

Crossing Canada, WP962 began to have engine oil pressure problems which diagnosis revealed to be the oil pressure relief valve. Replacement of the disc holder and addition of a disc from the spares holding soon had the aircraft fully serviceable.

As the Chipmunks landed at Downsview and taxied to a specially selected central point, WP833’s port brake seized. It was like winning Best of Breed at Crufts then, as you parade in the main arena, your dog deciding to have a number two! Once again, working out what should be in the spares holding proved its worth. And at Goose Bay I found the prop on WP962 had a chip on the rear face within the area of the blade root, which made carrying that spare prop all the way worthwhile.

Given how the aircraft were equipped with an engine that originated in the 1930s, they proved very reliable, and all the preparatory work paid off handsomely. But, politics aside, if such an adventure was suggested today, I can honestly say it would not happen — there are simply too many unknown unknowns. By David Gill

Dodging weather, the Chipmunks made it into Fairford via Leuchars, arriving at 18.15 local on Friday 18 July. The Islander went via Newton, allowing WZ872, the back-up aircraft, to be retrieved and join the celebrations at RIAT, where a marquee housed an exhibit honouring the flight. Although Fairford was seen by many as the grand finale, the journey really wasn’t over until the aircraft had returned to their point of origin, and so on Monday 21 July all three Chipmunks left for Cranwell. But they couldn’t go direct: they were requested to hold out at Barkston Heath, as their engine noise might disturb a ceremony planned for the late morning. Thereby did Exercise ‘Northern Venture’ come to what can only be called a rather undignified and anti-climactic end.

What contributed to the success of ‘Northern Venture’? No doubt, on more than one occasion the Chipmunk pilots had to apply all the experience they’d gained through their decades of RAF flying, quite apart from showing the courage to operate their essentially 1930s-technology aircraft over boundless forests, mountains and glaciers and for hours spent crossing the North Atlantic’s cold waters.

But four other factors seem to have been equally essential. First is the participation of a knowledgeable and capable engineer. Dave Gill essentially nursed the two Chipmunks around the world, changing more spark plugs than he could count, switching magnetos and generators, servicing worn and seized brakes, performing required periodic services and even installing a new propeller at one point. Second is the Islander and its pilot Tony Severs, as a support ship providing the ability to carry the spares, including oil and fuel, and its ability to operate faster, longer and in full IFR conditions, when it became a ‘pathfinder’ more than once.

Additionally, the Islander was the ‘executive transport’ for the engineer, the resting Chipmunk pilot and supernumeraries such as Yuriy Vostroknutov, who himself is the third factor. He was a great facilitator who understood how to operate the post-Soviet Russian system. As his actions on several occasions demonstrated, he was genuinely dedicated to the success of the venture, and there is justification in considering him as an integral member of the team. Lastly, the auxiliary fuel tank installed in each Chipmunk more than doubled their range, making possible the long legs across Russia, Canada and the North Atlantic. And given some of the predicaments in which the crew found themselves, lady luck may conceivably have played her part as well.
They told me that I knew **** nothing, and I told them that I knew **** all - with apologies to David Niven.

User avatar
FD2
Chief Pilot
Chief Pilot
Posts: 4197
Joined: Thu Sep 03, 2015 10:11 pm
Location: New Zealand
Gender:
Age: 75

Re: ‘Northern Venture’ - RAF (Part 1)

#4 Post by FD2 » Mon Jul 25, 2022 8:10 pm

Thanks for the account of an amazing journey TGA. There were some very long flights and hazardous crossings across the North Atlantic. I found it awkward to get in the cockpit when C16 and I had some nostalgic flights in the Caledonian Chipmunks at Scone. Add immersions suits and warm layers under and it would have been a real squash but maybe that would have been due to an increase in middle age spread in my case!

The attitudes of the Russians as they got further away from Moscow was similar to what I read in 'Putin's Russia' - just let them get on and fight it out amongst themselves and run their own districts as they please - as long as it doesn't annoy the big men in Moscow too much.

The thought of ditching one in the Atlantic though made me flinch. I don't think any of those serial numbers was familiar from Church Fenton days but that was amazing reliability from those little aircraft to have so few problems.

In 'Fate is the Hunter' by Ernest Gann he has a similar experience in his DC2/C47/DC3 (must look it up again to see what he was flying by then) skimming up a very long fjord for many miles with no manoeuvring space at the end under a very low cloud base - I'm pretty sure it was Kangerlussuaq (or Bluie West One In WW2).

It's great they made it to the RIAT!

User avatar
CharlieOneSix
Chief Pilot
Chief Pilot
Posts: 4113
Joined: Thu Aug 27, 2015 12:58 pm
Location: NE Scotland
Gender:
Age: 77

Re: ‘Northern Venture’ - RAF (Part 1)

#5 Post by CharlieOneSix » Mon Jul 25, 2022 9:54 pm

FD2 wrote:
Mon Jul 25, 2022 8:10 pm
........ and it would have been a real squash but maybe that would have been due to an increase in middle age spread in my case! ......
And in my case also!
The helicopter pilots' mantra: If it hasn't gone wrong then it's just about to...
https://www.glenbervie-weather.org

User avatar
Ex-Ascot
Test Pilot
Test Pilot
Posts: 11396
Joined: Mon Aug 24, 2015 7:16 am
Location: Botswana but sometimes Greece
Gender:
Age: 66

Re: ‘Northern Venture’ - RAF (Part 1)

#6 Post by Ex-Ascot » Mon Aug 01, 2022 10:28 am

Thanks TGA. I am familiar with many of those airfields with driving 748s around the world. Wouldn't like to do it in a Chippy though.
'Yes, Madam, I am drunk, but in the morning I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.' Sir Winston Churchill.

Post Reply