Korea to Closure (1952-1960)

The early Cold War period of the 1950’s were unsettled times and the Korean War meant the Air Ministry decided to reopen nine closed bases to train pilots as it was cheaper than spending between £750,000 and £1,500,000 on new stations (Costal Command meeting on 18/03/1952).  Worksop was one of those chosen as a fast jet training school for 211 Advanced Flying School, also known as the 'Meteor Advanced Trainings School'  to train pilots for the RCAFs 421 ‘ Red Indian’ squadron.. The reopened airfield only used two of the runways 22/04 and 28/10. 

The AFS became operational on 11th August despite it having no aircraft on station.  Eventually the first Gloster Meteor T.7’s and F.8’s arrived on 3rd September and the first course started in November 1953.  Most training schools were using F.4s as single seat trainers at this point but due to a shortage of available aircraft Worksop was lucky enough to receive the brand new F.8s. Initially the base was to train pilots on day role flying but expanded to all weather training from January 1953. 

211 AFS was split into three flight squadrons:
1 - flying Meteor T.7s and F.8s
2 - flying Meteor T.7s
3 - flying Meteor T.7s

In total 25 T.7's and 31 F.8's were delivered to the airfield between 1952 and 1953.  There was also an Airspeed Oxford and Pervival Provost used for station 'runabouts' and communication duties.

The airfield was noted as being one of two bases in 'industrial haze areas' (the other being Middleton-St-George).  This was due to the steel works around Sheffield and coal mines in the region producing airbourne solid particles (smog), this could reduce horizontal visibility to over 1800 metres. Pilots knew the haze as 'clag' and the poor instruments on the Meteor meant on days with particularly poor visibility the pilot had to cope with a false horizon as well as having no physical back-up. Weather was so bad during the second course at the base, which started in December 1952, that it wasn't completed until March of the following year mainly due to heavy industry during the week and heavy snow from mid-December to mid-January. The Clean Air Act of 1956 removed a lot of this pollution with the introduction of smokeless fuels and the move from coal to electricity and gas in both domestic and industrial settings.

Others to reopen for training pilots include:
RAF Cluntoe, with 2 FTS from 1st March 1953 until 1955,
RAF Dalcross with 8 FTS from 1st May 1951 until...,
RAF Edgehill as a satellite for RAF Moreton in the Marsh until 1954,
RAF Gamston as a satellite for RAF Worksop from May 1953,
RAF Halfpenny Green from 1952 to September 1953,
RAF South Cerney

RAF Wigsley, near the river Trent was also used as a landing site for RAF Worksop. 

The School was designed to take pilots who had trained on piston engined trainers through the basic principals of jet aircraft before they moved on to an Operational Conversion Unit (OCU).  Initial ground training was carried out by Wing Commander James Coward who had lost a leg over Duxford during the Battle of Britain. 

The flying part of the course would start the pilots in a Meteor T.7 before finishing in the single seat F.8 and the course would give the pilot about 50 hours flying experience.  One of the lessons was providing pilots with asymmetrical flight training on the T.7 Meteor, where one of the Rolls-Royce Derwent turbines would be turned off on purpose and the pilot learnt how to fly and land the aircraft on one engine. Part of the course included leg strengthening exercises as strong rudder control was necessary.  Each flight also consisted of learning at least aerobatic manoeuvre. The courses were intense as many pilots were being pushed through for the RAF, RCAF, RAAF and several other commonwealth countries.

The average turnaround for a meteor between flights during the course was 11 minutes via rapid refuelling and servicing and each meteor could fly for 6 or 7 hours a day. Instructional flights lasted around 40 minutes whilst solo flying was regulated to half an hour. The Korean war also meant National Service pilots had to serve 2 years rather than 18 months from 1st October 1950. The Korean war ended in 1953 after an armistice was signed. The number of students varied with each course, for example N0. 63 course had 11 trainees: Pilot Officer Tritton, Pilot Officer Atkins, Pilot OfficerHale, Pilot Officer Muir, Pilot Officer Tarnan, Pilot Officer Bassett,Pilot Officer Varney, Pilot Officer Simmons, Pilot Officer Finch, Pilot Officer Lumb and Pilot Officer Kingsmill.

Airwork Services provided maintenance and safety equipment at RAF Worksop during the 1950’s and had their own hangar to the south east of the airfield with an office next to the Radar room operated by George Hawkes. 3 Ground Radio Servicing Squadron, based at RAF Norton, were responsible for the third-line maintenance repair of all ground radar and radio communication and navigational equipment on the base.  In 1964 3GRSS moved to RAF North Luffenham.

On 6th August 1953 215 AFS Meteor T.7 WA591 was a routine flight to RAF North Luffenham and was forced to land at Worksop during bad weather.  Lack of fuel meant the pilot, RCAF Flight Lieutenant A E Paxton, had to shut down the starboard engine which powered the hydraulic pump, this caused a lack of pressure in the system meaning the wheels would not lock, on realising this the pilot tried to overshoot the runway, the aircraft the yawed through 30 degrees and the pilot decided to ditch the poor Meteor on the runway shearing off the landing gear on contact  and damaging the underframe.  Paxton was uninjured but the aircraft had to be taken apart on the airfield and taken to Gloster's maintenance facility to be fixed. This aircraft is now preserved.

The airfield had two teams entered in the Worksop and District Table Tennis League during 1954-55 finishing 7th in Division 1 (RAF 'A') and fourth in Division 2 (RAF 'B'). RAF 'A' isn't mentioned the next year but RAF 'B' finished 5th in Division 2. During June 1954 211 AFS was renamed slightly to 211 Flight Training School.

211 Advanced Flying School was renamed 211 Ftlying Training School on 1st June 1954. On 26th of the same month Percival Provost VS331 failed to take off from the disused runway properly and crashed into Scofton Wood. It was promptly written off and later replaced by a Percival Proctor VS641 from 8FTS.

Occasionally other types of aircraft would land on the airfield - for example on 31st July 1954 a two seater glider landed at the airbase piloted by Swiss pilot H. Nietlispach and B Muller landed their Spyr Va in the early evening during a World Championship Flying competition. They eventually finished fourth. During 1962 the 'aerodrome' was used as a turning point for the Camphill leg of the Regional Championships, the longest distance achieved on this day was 44 miles made by Angus Thompson in a Gull 4.

In May 1955 the RAF’s first jet squadron, 616 Squadron, arrived at Worksop with their Meteor F.8’s leaving Finningley during the base’s transformation into a V bomber base. By this time they were only in existence as an auxiliary unit, under squadron Leader W G Abel with most of its staff being part-timers.  Their motto was "Nulla rosa sine spina " (No rose without thorns).  Their Meteors were very distinctive from the trainers despite all aircraft being painted in 'high speed silver' they also carried the squadron markings around the RAF roundel, small squadron badge on the port cockpit and identification letter on the tail under the tailplane where as 211 AFS machines only had large numbers in front of the roundel.  During their time at Worksop The Duke of Portland, was the squadrons Honourary Air Commodore. Operational flying ceased in January 1957 and the squadron was formally disbanded on March 10th. RAF Gamston also closed in 1957.

As Finningley reopened and Vulcans started operational flying there was a permanent look-out posting to keep an eye on the sky for them taking off if using the southern take off runway.  This was to avoid any possible collision with aircraft training around Worksop.

In April 1956 the Meteor Schools disbanded at Worksop leaving only 10 T7's and 6 F.8's of the refresher flying course at the airbase. During June 1956 this flight was recoded as 1 Squadron of 4FTS.  On 9th June 1956 4 Flying Training School officialy moved from RAF Middleton-St.-George brining with it 108/109/110/111/112 Pilot Courses and their De Havilland Vampire FB.5s and T.11s. These aircraft arrived on the 8th (2 Squadron) and 30th (3 Squadron) of the month.  The FTS eventually became an entirely Vampire squadron in early 1958. 4 FTS' motto was "E Sabulo ad Sidera".

The Vampire  FB.5's on station were used to train pilots on solo flying.  In 1957 the course at Worksop lasted 36 weeks with 110 hours flying - a vast improvement on the initial training in 1952.  The Meteors which remained in service were retained for refresher training with 1 Squadron under Squadron Leader J P Britton whilst 2 and 3 squadrons became Vampire Units under Squadron Leader G F Clark and Squadron Leader P J Murch. 1 squadron used the hangar in the north east area of the airbase whilst 2 squadron were based in the north west area and 3 squadron were based away from all the other buildings in the south west area of the airfield. The Meteors eventually gained red noses around the camera area.

Various Vampires ended their service life at the airfield XE828 was used for ground training with maintenance serial number 7461 . XE922 became overstressed during a spinning exercise whilst being flown by Flt Lt W A Law and Fg Off M Holmes. and became SOC on 6th May 1957. On 6th September the same year XE880/71 had its starboard undercarriage collapse on landing and slewed off the runway. Flight Lieutenant D J House and Pilot Officer J D MacDonald were the crew.

The outstation at RAF Wigsley closed on 1st July 1958 as the airfield was slowly being wound down..

4 FTS eventually disbanded on 9th June 1958 and the airfield again passed into Care & Maintenance.  The Meteor refresher flying course moved to RAF Strubby with the rest of the aircraft and equipment passing to 7FTS at RAF Valley. It was formally closed on 8th December 1960 and was passed back to the Osberton Estate.  

There was also an investigation in the 1950’s by the Air Ministry over ‘gay rings’ which had formed at RAF Worksop and RAF Cranwell – Not been able to find anything else on this but the people involved would more than likely have been dismissed as homosexually was still illegal in the armed forces at this point.

Display Teams
The first display team from 211 FTS formed around 1954 with five Meteor F.8s led by Squadron Leader Ormiston. During September 1954 they participated at the airshow at Thorney Island but were restricted to air drill by the cloud base.

During 1955 the team used Gloster Meteor T.7s and F8s with pilots Flight Lieutenant G Bennett, Flight Lieutenant D Simpson, Flight Lieutenant T H Bollans, Flight Lieutenant L Harrison, Flight Lieutenant 'Cactus' Brown and Flight Lieutenant A Colman.  Their display team took Meteors to airshows including Wymeswold. In 1956 the same team existed minus Simpson and was transferred to 4FTS midway through the year. In 1957 the team comprised of Bennett and members drawn from  Bollans, Harrison, Colman and Flight Lieutenant C M Christie. 

The display team in 1955: Flt Lts 'Jock' Simpson, Les Harrison, 'Cactus' Brown and 'Benny' Bennett. Photo courtesy of David Watkins

The aircraft used during 1957 comprised of two F.8’s (WF662/WK741) and two T.7’s (WF829/WL478) with a further backup T.7 (WN316).  These aircraft met with several fates – the two F.8’s were used for fire training at Waddington and Topcliffe, WL478 crashed on 19th February 1959 during Asymmetric training and the other two were classed Cat 5C on 14th April 1961 and 11th July 1958. 

The Worksop Guardian commented on the base's open day on 11th April 1958:
‘The people of both Worksop and Retford had now become accustomed to the noise of jet planes, said Wing Commander W. L. Farquharson, station commander of RAF Worksop where No 4 Flying Training School is based. He was answering questions when the airfield was open for press inspection as Worksop’s part in celebrating the 40th anniversary of the RAF. The station commander said the aircraft noise was a great inconvenience to the towns, but Wg Comdr Farquharson said the people had been most considerate and relations with both towns were good. On show for the event were the RAF’s Vampire and Meteor jet trainer aircraft.’

The last display team was overshadowed by the death of Flight Lieutenant Kenneth Levitt who died when the horn balance came off the elevator on Meteor T.7 WL359 whilst pulling a loop sending the aircraft vertically into the ground after the aircraft became overstressed during low level display flight on 21st April 1958.

4FTS also had a Vampire display team which formed at Middleton St. George and moved to Worksop with the rest of the squadron.  They used Four FB.5/FB.9s and were piloted by Flight Officer J Hall, Flight Officer R Passfield, Flight Officer P Bannerman and Sergeant Pilot L Adlington. After April 1956, the team was led by Adlington with Flight Lieutenant C Jolliffe, Flight Lieutenant R B Rimington and Flight Lieutenant J Smith.

4FTS has had two other display teams since Worksop with the ‘Yellow Jacks’ with five Folland Gnats during the 1960’s and presently the ‘Black Marrows’ using Hawks based at RAF Valley.

Thanks to David Watkins for the information on the aerobatic teams his book "The History of RAF Aerobatic Teams from 1920: Smoke on ... Go!" can be found on Amazon. Thanks also go to Keith Wilson-Clark for clearing details on the stations Provost and movement of aircraft.