The beginning of the flying club

by Gordon Devine - Metman, 1971-72

In the 1971 intake to Halley Bay the Met team had the luxury of a RAF radar mechanic to maintain and drive the radar as we called tracking the balloon during the sonde flights. This was a 7-day a week job which provided a lot of time off but getting up every morning for the 9 o'clock launch. Jay (Rushby) did get a rest on Sundays when the BL drove and later the builder one, Paul Brangham. However Jay was always on the look out for volunteers to do the Sunday spot and I thought it might be fun to learn, I was a Metman too.

Anyway one afternoon in winter after filling the balloon from the Canadian Army hydrogen generator known as the Gill (lots of stories about this device as well, ran on caustic soda and aluminium, Ron Loan still has the scars to prove it.) I launched the balloon.

The balloon shed was buried by this time with a 4 foot plywood extension and so I ran up the ladder over the 3-400 yards of bondu to the WF2. Jay had caught it on the screen and was tracking it successfully, he then quickly got out and I sat in his seat while he ran around the other side. Tracking the balloon with the old WF2 was a doddle most of the time when you knew what you were doing but when you didn't, and I didn't, it quickly got lost and in the dark could not be found.

So having lost it we closed up the WF2 and walked back to the shed to close the roof. Before being buried the shed had a lovely pair of doors on rails and it easily closed by pulling on ropes but once the shed was buried these had been removed. Adding the extension was easy as the hatch was exactly 8x8 feet and the plywood sheets were 4x8 feet, so four sheets one for each side reinforced by the ubiquitous 4"x4" wood strips. To cover the top we had a piece of canvas with another piece of 4"4" added at the end to help strap it down. Opening the shed required rolling the 4"4" over the hatchway as in furling a large square rigged sail back to the end of the shed.

The shed had a large flat piece of the roof with the man entry hatch and the vent pipe on one side and a narrow ledge about 4" wide at the other. As with all the outside buildings there was a deep windscoop at the upper corner of the narrow side. To close the roof I took the wide side and Jay the narrow and we began unfurling the canvas over the hatchway. All of this in the dark except for the illumination of a naked 500W cloud searchlight bulb mounted on Ally-dexie.

Thus at my nice wide side plenty of light, at Jay's narrow side no light. After some short time, in retrospect it cannot have been more than 30 seconds after starting to unfurl I heard a cry of distress and rushed around the shed to the other side where Jay was lying at the bottom of the scoop say 8 feet down. "Are you alright I said", "No" he said "I've broken my leg." My immediate reaction was to laugh and say "are you serious?' Jay responded very seriously "Yes I've broken my leg". We were always pratting about and Jay realized, as he told me afterwards, he needed to convince me to believe him and not just go back to base leaving him to his own devices.

At that point I ran inside the shed and clicked the intercom many times, an irritated Hwfa Jones responded from the Met O with "you only have to click it once", "Jay's broken his leg " I said. Shortly after that people poured out of the base about a quarter of a mile away. In the meantime I'd moved the bulb around the back, got the filthy old blanket we used to put the balloons on to protect them from splinters and thrown it down to Jay. He'd told me not to come down, he didn't want me trampling over his leg.

It had just started to drift and at -20o C was probably quite dangerous but of course at the time I didn't think anything of it. Once the two GAs arrived with the Doc and the collapsible stretcher there was more action. Ron Loan and I ran up to base to get the seal sledge, an old Nansen sledge used to transport the lumps of seal meat from the dump to the dog spans. It was covered in a thick layer of grease and blood. The team at the shed had by now pulled Jay out and after putting him on the Nansen we now pulled him the quarter mile up to the garage ramp.

A second team in the meantime had been looking how to get Jay into the base. As it was about 30 feet down at that time and all the man entry shafts giving access to the base had platforms at intervals he couldn't be lowered down any of those. That left the gash shaft and the garage ramp. Jay told me afterwards that he was terrified of being lowered don the gash shaft. This had a gantry with a rope over a pulley to pull stuff out and bring stuff in. It had a propensity for falling over did the gantry. Irritating to the operator if it was in the middle of Saturday gash but not that important as opposed to deadly if you were about 20 foot up strapped to a collapsible stretcher. Anyway the inside team decided to dig a channel between the canvas at the end of the Armco tunnel making up most of the ramp and out through the snow filling the remainder of the ramp.

Jay was duly transferred through the channel and then carried down the Armco tunnel, through the garage into the tunnel connecting the huts and on to the Dorm where the surgery was. This had double doors to allow for just such an event but with the distortion of the huts caused by the snow movement they wouldn't open but using the usual method, a large sledge hammer the doors swung back and we crowded round. The Doc then told us to go away and leave him alone with his patient.

That afternoon the cooks, Ian Bury and Keith, had made a large butter iced currant cake for someone's birthday. We stood around in our windproofs telling rugged tales of the rescue while scoffing the cake. This event came at the right time, as it was deep in winter, we were fed up with the darkness and Jay had done us a favour by creating a genuine team building venture. Jay if you ever read this, "Cheers mate for your self sacrificing nature".

Thus began the Flying Club soon to be joined by the Doc, but that's another story.
[03 April 2013]

More on the flying club.

24 June 2013

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