Nanyuki Recollections · March 1981

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By
C L Wightman


Introduction

Towards the end of 1980 the Air Force of Zimbabwe purchased 5 ex-Kenya Air Force Hawker Hunters which were stationed at Nanyuki in the shadow of Mount Kenya. A small team of mostly 1 Squadron or ex-1 Squadron personnel was sent to recover these aircraft to Thornhill in February, 1981. This paper records a few memories of that exercise, as accurate as can be expected from the addled brain of a seventy year old 'has been'.

Background

Following is an edited extract from Keith Thurman's email of November 2008 :-

“In 1980, a treasury official, John Gurney and I proceeded to the UK to finalise the contract for the Hawk Aircraft. We had meetings with the British Government and BAe and after much discussion got a very reasonable deal on the Hawks; however we wanted the Kenyan Hunters (especially the twin seater). Unfortunately I did not have the money in my budget and the Treasury could not help. So I prevailed on the Brits, BAe etc to include them in the total Hawk deal. On returning to Salisbury we found out that the Kenyans had sold the Hunters to a commercial company in the UK, Staravia Limited, and were no longer the owners. So we commenced negotiating with Staravia who had no interest at all in letting us have the aircraft. I found out from my friend in the Kenyan Ministry of Defence that Staravia was applying to fly them out to the UK - but with the collaboration of the Kenyans and their influence with their neighbours, Staravia could not get any permission to overfly any of the relevant countries, especially with military aircraft, and Staravia at last agreed to let us have them. Part of the deal concluded with the owner (a Mr Goldberg) was that the ADEN Gun packs, as he had already sold them, could not be part of the purchase. However we could not fly the aircraft to New Sarum without them - a compromise was reached and we agreed to ship the packs to Britain as soon as we had got the aircraft safely home.”

The aircraft (Photo 2)

These were among the very last Hunters to be refurbished and updated by Hawker Syddeley Aviation, being three F Mark 4s, an F Mark 6 and a T Mark 8 (a T7 modified for the Royal Navy), all but the last being brought up to FGA Mark 9 standard for delivery to Kenya in 1974 and designated FGA Mark 80 and T Mark 81 respectively. They were in service for only a short time before succumbing to inept maintenance. By the time we started our programme they had been grounded for 4 years, not in hangars but out in the blazing sun, the rain, wind and dust.


Personnel

The technical officer chosen was Mike Faint who offered a formidable CV. On top of his professional expertise he came with the added advantage of having served on detachment from the RAF to the Kenyan Air Force and thus claimed acquaintance with some key officers and, equally importantly, he had an intimate knowledge of how business is conducted and how relationships work in Kenya.

In charge of the groundcrew and the day to day running of the programme was Ron Jarman whose current post was Warrant Officer i/c 1 Squadron. His team consisted of Bill Kerfoot, Taff Lewis, Brian Grogan, Hugh MacDulling, Rich van Rooyen, Tino Mogantale, Rich Purdon, Keith Jones, Steve Stevens, Percy Bradfield, and Peter Loots.

Photo 3
Rich Culpan, Ron Jarman, Steve Murray, Derek Utton, Brian Grogan, Hugh MacDulling, darkie, Taff Lewis, me (Vic) perched on steps,
Rich van Rooyen, Tino Mogantale, Rich Purdon, Keith Jones, Bill Kerfoot, darkie, Steve Stevens, Percy Bradfield, Norman Walsh,
Peter Loots, Tommy Quirk, Unknown Brit Rep.

In February 1981 I had just completed a shortened tour as OC Admin at Thornhill, a humiliating but relatively useful post, and what I came to was not only humiliating but a non-job rejoicing in the grandiose title of TAC1 which required occupation of a broom cupboard in the back of Milton Buildings ops room and precious little besides. The only thing tactical about it was the need to find ever more creative ways to avoid disagreeable bridge partners at the lunch time sessions. So it was a relief to be offered the chance to go to Kenya. My specific tasks were to carry a huge sack of 'shillingi' to pay for fuel in cash as we used it and to supply subsistence and beer for the team; and to do the airtests.

Nanyuki

Duncan Fraser, a long serving BAe representative in Nairobi, had made most admin arrangements before our arrival, including our accommodation which was at the Naro Moru River Lodge, a tourist favourite on the Naro Moru river flowing westwards from Mount Kenya where melted snow supplies the chilly water. We were billeted in wooden chalets, slightly primitive with no electricity in the early mornings, forcing the use of candles and torches for ablutions. But the setting was delightful with Mount Kenya clearly visible 30 km to the east. Mount Kenya, the second highest peak in Africa at 17`000 ft, is sacred to many Kenyans, some of whom, including senior air force officers believe that a yeti-style guardian patrols the top peak and disallows certain climbers their ultimate goal.

Naro Moru lies between Nanyuki 18 km to the north and Nyeri, 35 km to the south. Nyeri is surrounded by tea and coffee farms on pretty rolling hills. On a rare day off we visited the grave of Lord Robert Baden-Powell whose gravestone is engraved with a circle and dot, being the boy scout symbol for “I have gone home”. Olave Lady Baden-Powell survived Robert by 35 years. Her remains were cremated in England and laid to rest beside her husband in 1977. Despite this site in Nyeri being a national monument the area is dotted with little crosses made of tomato boxes and sticks.

Nanyuki town and airfield are 2 km north of the equator, at 7`000 ft above sea level, in clear sight of Mount Kenya. Work accommodation consisted of a canvas tent near the hardstanding. It was a long working day, the only respite being a sandwich break at midday. Whoever was least busy at the time would grab some shillingi from me and run into town to a café for pies and buns etc.

Programme

We arrived at the military airfield of Eastleigh, to the east of Nairobi during the last week of February, in one of Jack Malloch's piston-engined groanmeisters piloted by George Alexander. During engine shut-down about 44 gallons of used engine oil poured out onto the hardstanding, occasioning not only some irritation among our hosts but the need to top up with new oil and pay in cash. There was also a problem with the octane rating of the avgas such that on the subsequent take off maximum boost was not available and Mike remembers just scraping off the ground and missing some houses by a narrow margin. While everyone else continued to Nanyuki I stayed on in Nairobi with Duncan Fraser in order to fill my bag with shillingi and pick up three hire cars which Duncan and I ferried up to Nanyuki. An emotional scene awaited Mike at Nanyuki because word of his arrival had gone out ahead and many of his old acquaintances from his days of attachment to the Kenya Air Force had assembled to greet him.

Once we had settled in at Naro Moru the technicians set about assessing, testing and fixing the aeroplanes. By the 4th March two were ready for their first flights. It had been planned to do three flights of 30 minutes each per aircraft, progressively testing the systems and expanding the envelope. Remarkably, only one required a fourth flight, making a total of 16 flights. Considering that these aircraft had been baking in the sun for four years and considering the primitive working conditions it is astonishing that the first three had completed all their flights by 6th March in just 3 days, and the remaining two were finished by the 26th. This is surely a testament to the expertise, resourcefulness and determination of those who made up the technical branch of the Rhodesian Air Force.

There was a most surprising by-product of our first airtest. Kenya was in the grip of a long-lasting drought and the Kikuyu people believed it was because one of their gods, Ngai, who was responsible for the rain and lived up on Mount Kenya, was asleep on the job. Not 30 minutes after completing the flight the heavens opened and a huge downpour flooded the airfield. Our tent near the hardstanding was ankle deep in muddy water. But we were all hailed as very great heroes for awakening Ngai and were accorded an undeserved esteem.

After the T80's first flight the right hand seat was made available to two lucky passengers for the remaining two flights. Those hoping for a flight held a lottery, and amid cries of, “Fix” and “Fiddle”, Ron Jarman and Pete Loots drew the short straws and were able to see at first hand what a simple and pleasant job it is being a Hunter jockey. Or perhaps they were terrified out of their wits.

And then Rich Culpan and his 1 Squadron pilots came and took the aeroplanes home.

Hunter spares

Another character from Rhodesia involved at Nanyuki was John Whiddett, who had been an air force supplier but had recently joined a company in London called Loveau Engineering which was involved in aircraft spares etc. John was in and out of Nanyuki negotiating the purchase of those spares that Staravia did not want. During his rounds of the hangars Mike Faint came upon a huge pile of spares. Having spent enough time in Kenya to notice the appallingly low salaries of air force personnel and the disparity between the rich and the poor, he knew that the environment was conducive to outbreaks of Egyptian cramp. This term has largely disappeared from the English lexicon since the advent of political correctness and refers to a painful condition in which the body assumes the shape of a question mark with rounded shoulders, slightly bent knees and one arm twisted and bent round so that the hand protrudes out from behind the buttock at right angles with the palm up. Luckily, temporary relief from pain can be afforded by placing a coin or old-fashioned folding money in the palm. This causes the hand to close and the body and arm to straighten up as if by magic. Mike's sharing of this information led to a miracle. On the day of our departure we found to our surprise that Jack Malloch's aeroplane which was to be our transport was loaded to the gunwales with Hunter flaps, ailerons, undercarriage legs, canopies and drop tanks which would otherwise have ended up gathering dust in either Staravia's or Loveau's warehouses.

Addendum

Very nearly 2000 Hunters were produced between 1951 and 1963. In addition to the RAF, Hunters were supplied to the air forces of Sweden, Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Chile, Peru, India, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Iraq, Abu Dhabi, Rhodesia and Kenya. One aeroplane served with no less than 7 air forces and one air force had Hunters in operational use for 5 decades. No other front line fighter has ever come close to this.

In his book “Hawker Hunter – Biography of a Thoroughbred” Francis K Mason points out that following the embargo placed upon trade with Rhodesia, “……no follow-up servicing of its Hunters nor delivery of spare parts were permissible. All the more remarkable therefore was the fact that nine of the original twelve Hunters were still flying with the Zimbabwe-Rhodesian Air Force at the end of the 1970s with only local facilities available for maintenance and repair; the aircraft had moreover been continuously engaged throughout their life in rigorous ground attack flying.” Under a photo of RRAF 116 the caption reads, “…..Despite years of constant use under most difficult conditions, almost entirely without external support and spares back-up, the Rhodesian Hunters maintained an extraordinarily high serviceability rate.
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Distributed to ORAFs and Friends
Thanks to Vic Wightman for his memories and to Mike Faint for his photos.
Thanks also to Keith Thurman

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