Twin Pioneers Entertain Royalty
A previously untold story from the pen of
Leader Ces Crook MBE, RAF (Retd.),
former commander of 209 Squadron.
Duke of Gloucester’s Royal Flight
Military VIP flights in 209 Twins became fashionable
in late 1965 when several Indonesian Air Force C-130s dropped
parachute troops in and around Labis, a small town in West
Malaysia, about 100 nm fromSeletar on the railway line north.
it seemed that every staff officer in Singapore wanted to go to Labis
and, because there was a strip there, they decided they’d go in
we were pushed to maintain our current commitments at our base at RAF
Seletar and our detachments at RAAF Butterworth, RAF Kuching and RAF
Labuan, I offered SEP (Single engine Pioneer) for these staff officers.
. But they wanted to
ride in TEPs so they did. It
was about one hour’s flying from Changi to Labis.
So by the time we’d gone from Seletar to Changi, waited for the
passengers, flown them to Labis, waited there for them to come back,
then returned to Seletar via Changi, a lot of time had passed.
It was good that the Indonesian troops were soon mopped up. The Indonesian Air Force lost a couple of their C-130s on the
way home so it was not a successful operation for them.
However, when first we were tasked with a Royal Flight (Duke of Gloucester and retinue) I had to decline the task and doing that really did set the cat amongst the pigeons. I was summoned to HQ Far East Air Force (FEAF) at Changi to explain myself. What a reaction from the Air Officers who turned up to interrogate me! I reminded them that the Royal Flight requirements were stringent. We had one ‘A Category VIP’ TCEU qualified pilot but, regrettably, the Twin Pioneer couldn’t meet the single-engine performance requirements in the high temperature and humidity operating environment. I also said that if the Air Staff would clear the task in the circumstances, I’d be pleased to mount it.
which, the Senior Technical Staff Officer said: ‘The
squadron commander has a point’.
My operational commander (Air Commodore Quill, RNZAF) to whom I
had voiced my concerns already nodded his agreement.
I was told to wait outside.
When called back in, it was to hear that Boscombe Down would be
asked to send a test pilot to check the TEP performance.
A test pilot soon arrived and very quickly verified our position.
Duke of Gloucester’s visit started some interesting events for 209.
The Duke was coming in his role as Colonel of a Guards Brigade
serving in Borneo. His
two Royal Flights would start from Labuan, one to a strip in the
Interior where the Duke’s regiment manned a fortified position and
went patrolling round the jungle. The
other, shorter trip was to another brigade outpost with a strip along
the Sabah coast towards Jessleton, now named Kota Kinabalu.
began to get information about the Duke’s medical condition.
He was not in good shape.
We learned that most times he had to lie flat on his back sucking
in oxygen. He would be accompanied by his personal doctor who was
to go everywhere with him. The
doctor would bring an oxygen machine with him, so we didn’t have to
supply. Adding up all
the Duke’s retainers, we soon deduced that they wouldn’t all fit
into one Twin, we’d need two. Then,
the terrain around the strip in the Interior was mountainous and getting
there could mean flying high, which would not be good for the Duke’s
we prepared for the event and got ourselves ready at Labuan.
We installed a lightweight cane chaise longue for the Duke
but his retinue had to sit alongside him on those canvas seats designed
for soldiers. We were
all very proud of TEP 293. ComAirBor
(the Air Commodore who was the air commander in Borneo) came to inspect
her. Our ground crew
had worked another miracle, she was immaculate and no one was allowed to
when the Duke arrived in Singapore he was not at all well and his flight
to inspect his Guards in the Interior was cancelled.
The trip along the coast from Labuan was to continue, but not
above 500 feet.
We had also discovered that the Duke’s personal oxygen
equipment was too big and too heavy, it had to be replaced it with a
portable oxygen kit from Sick Quarters.
from the Duke’s impressive military and civilian retinue, the size of
the crowd that turned up at Labuan, all the way from HQ FEAF at Changi,
to witness the coastal flight was also impressive.
When the Duke arrived, it looked as though he wouldn’t last the
The pilot said: “What happens if he dies on me?”
I told him to let me know if he did.
But he didn’t die, and our pilot and navigator performed
immaculately as usual.
The Duke and his retinue returned safely to Singapore where the
Air Staff had arranged another event for him – a Flypast.
293 stayed on at Labuan to contribute to the war effort as the
shiniest omni-role battlefield support aircraft in the world.
The Duke of Gloucester’s Flypast.
flypast involved a mix of all the aircraft types at work in FEAF.
Our contribution was a ‘box’ of one TEP (997) and three SEP.
The aircraft were required to fly past the Duke who, on the day,
took the salute lying down on a chaise longue (not ours from 293, that
went into our crew room in Seletar) in front of the RAF officers’ mess
The plan was that the slowest aircraft, helicopters, were to lead the flypast at the lowest safe height – not below 250 feet - with the fast jets at the back coming along at not below 1,000 feet with all the others – heavier transports, maritime - flying along at defined heights in between. So each formation was catching up with the other aircraft in front. Each formation had to fly past the Duke at five-second intervals.
we heard about this, I asked our couth Nav Leader to speak with the Air
Staff people arranging the flypast and check it all out.
We started training in formation flying and waited for the
The Nav Leader soon reported back - he’d identified three
problem was the impossibility to rate the stopwatches so that all the
flypast aircraft were standardised on the same time in minutes and
seconds. The second
was that the aircraft taking part must use the same map with the same
scale. The third was that there seemed to be no plan to
recover the aircraft after the flypast and that a few minutes after
flying past, a lot of aircraft would be swarming around like bees,
hardly separated, in the same airspace.
we went, did a buzz over our hangar at Seletar and then joined our
allocated holding pattern to the north of Changi.
We started the run in to make good our ETA at the saluting base
after, and slightly higher than, the helicopters.
The CBs were shooting up rapidly and getting closer.
My navigator and I (leading our formation in TEP 997) knew we
would have to implement our personal recovery plan.
sure all the other crews were watching those enormous clouds and were
thinking the same thing - “where will we go
when it clamps?” At
that time the run in to Changi was clear, but we knew that Seletar,
Sembawang, Paya Leba and Tengah were about to go out.
It was very obvious that a severe storm was about to cover the
Devon and a Beaver in a VIC formation with a Beverly leading followed
us. We could
hear other flypast formations on the RT manoeuvring to start their own
run in. Nav Leader
had worked out the sums to arrive precisely on time to the second.
Five seconds later the Beverly formation arrived and so did the
Devon and Beaver did swerving dives into Changi, but the Beverly had to
divert. There was
nowhere for the fixed-wing aircraft to go on the Island.
The helicopters put down near Bedok Corner, a well-known place to
buy satay. The twin
rotor Belvederes made for Pengarang, a strip in Johore, north east of
Changi and put down there. We
set off across Johore and went to Mersing, a strip not far up the East
Coast, landed and had a picnic on the beach with the in-flight rations.
After the storm and air traffic turmoil had passed, we returned
from the seaside to Seletar.
Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Flight
Once the precedent had been set, we were tasked for another Royal Flight. This time it was the Duke of Edinburgh.
Once again, 293, our VIP pilot and our couth Nav Leader were earmarked. The Duke was not coming as a military person, but as a royal showing the flag. Consequent to the days of the Raj at the time of Queen Victoria, the peoples of the Interior still had fading pictures of her pinned up in their long houses. The Duke was coming to show himself as part of the modern Royal Family. He would fly civil from Singapore to Kuching, thence to Sibu, call on the Sultan in Brunei, eventually to present himself for his TEP trip to Bario in the Sarawak Interior. On arrival at Bario he would be greeted by a school children’s band playing God Save the Queen on drums and various other musical instruments including nose flutes. These children were very engaging and performed their repertoire of tunes very well. Then the Duke would meet the local pengulus to spread the Royal word. After that he’d return to Brunei and Singapore.
south from the coast to Bario with the Duke and his aides, meant getting
the trip done before the clouds developed.
293 shone in the early morning sun.
The Duke arrived with his retinue as planned.
All were in a very good mood.
Because there were bound to be interesting sights en route such
as the terrain and birds such as hornbills, the Duke was given a pair of
binoculars in case he wished to look out from the aeroplane at
These very high quality binoculars were on a 209 Squadron
inventory. and were used mainly on coastal reconnaissance for spotting
suspicious movements such as Indonesian infiltrators coming ashore on
beaches from longboats and bent on mischief.
Flying south from the coast to Bario with the Duke and his aides, meant getting the trip done before the clouds developed. 293 shone in the early morning sun. The Duke arrived with his retinue as planned. All were in a very good mood. Because there were bound to be interesting sights en route such as the terrain and birds such as hornbills, the Duke was given a pair of binoculars in case he wished to look out from the aeroplane at something. These very high quality binoculars were on a 209 Squadron inventory. and were used mainly on coastal reconnaissance for spotting suspicious movements such as Indonesian infiltrators coming ashore on beaches from longboats and bent on mischief.
couple of minutes before getting on the aeroplane, the Admiral, the
Duke’s chief ADC, presented the Duke with a message.
It said he was not to fly up front or to influence the flight in
The Duke had been told to sit down the back by someone in
The Duke sounded off with a dreadful oath (RN, I expect), dropped
the binoculars to the ground where they broke to bits.
The Admiral took him by the arm and led him to the aeroplane
where he did as he was told.
Apart from that incident the trip was uneventful.
returning to Seletar I signed the form for the damaged binoculars that
explained that a royal person had dashed them to the ground in a fit of
rage and please replace.
The Wing Commander CO of the Maintenance Unit sent the form back
saying please resubmit.
He’d put the binoculars U/S FWT (Unserviceable - Fair Wear and
We received a replacement soon after.