What Makes an Officer

Dad treasured his ground crew.  He understood fully that his life, and the lives of his airmen, depended on the ground crew having high morale and doing a good job.

While commanding 233 Squadron in Aden in the Middle East, in the early '60s, a very difficult and dangerous posting, Dad had persistent discipline problems with one of his ground crew mechanics, a Welshman we'll have to call Jones, as I can't recall his name.  Jones was late on duty, AWOL, his uniform was often untidy, he was drunk on duty a couple of times, he was rapidly heading for a court-martial and cashiering.

But Dad saw through him.

He had to fly somewhere early one morning, and selected Jones to prepare and fuel the aircraft (a Valetta).

"Jones", he said, "I want my aircraft ready for a 7am departure tomorrow."

Now anyone who knows anything about flying will know about the interminable - and vital - preflight checks. The pilot has to inspect the exterior of the aircraft, check the tyres, the fuel lines, the rivets, the control surfaces. He then has to check the cockpit, the instruments, the oil pressures, the props (in those days), the magnetos, run the engines and check all the instrumentation etc. And finally, once cleared for takeoff, he has to run all engines up to full power at the beginning of the runway before beginning his takeoff, and any hiccup anywhere in the process means the takeoff is aborted.

So Jones, complete with clipboard and checklist, was expecting an interrogation of note when Dad arrived on the apron.

Jones saluted. Dad ignored the external checks (probably the only time in his life he ever did this) and climbed straight into the cockpit. He leaned out and said "Remove the chocks" (the blocks in front of the wheels to prevent the aircraft moving when on the ground). And without a single further check, he started the engines, throttled up to full power, and took off.

End of problem. After that, Jones' discipline was immaculate, and he would spend his spare time polishing Dad's personal aircraft. And all because his commanding officer had had enough insight to see through the surface resentment and bad attitude, and recognise work which was of such quality that he was willing to risk his life on it.

Now that's an officer.

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