Ascension and Falkland Islands - Encounters of the Third Kind, by Bruce Fry (1985-1987)

Image: RAF Tristar

Image: view of airfield, Stanley, Falkland Is.

RAF Lockheed Tristar about to depart from Stanley - and view of airfield after take-off

When the RAF acquired three ex-Pan American Lockheed Tristars, British Airways was approached by the Ministry of Defence to supply engineering and technical assistance for the running of their operations to the Falkland Islands. A small band of overseas engineers was seconded to RAF Brize Norton to set up and supervise the operation.

We took it in turns to accompany the aircraft during its round trip to the Falklands – there were usually two of us shuttling back and forth between Ascension and the Falklands, and the trips usually lasted between a week and ten days. Ascension is approximately halfway between Brize and the Falklands and was used as a staging post and refuelling stop.

In Ascension we were accommodated at the BBC mess complex; there was a very relaxed atmosphere, with excellent cuisine and an ‘honour’ bar. Ascension is a volcanic island; Green Mountain, the highest point, is surrounded by lush vegetation and supports the growth of most of the fruit and vegetables required to feed the population, which comprised personnel from the RAF, USAF, BBC, GCHQ and a small St. Helenian labour force. The island boasts two golf clubs, admittedly mainly sand and rubble; the island champion, playing off a two handicap, carried just three clubs.

In the Falklands, the summers were excellent, but the winters about as bleak as one could imagine. We stayed in Stanley at the Upland Goose Hotel, overlooking the bay, but had to travel by Land Rover to Mount Pleasant airfield, some 35 miles away.

On one of my trips from the Falklands to Ascension, the wind for take-off was gusting at 30-40 knots across the airfield. During the take off run I heard a bang followed by another, after which the aircraft made a full emergency stop. When I went to the flight deck, the crew thought we might have blown a couple of tyres.

The control tower reported seeing flames coming out of one of the engines, and on examination it was clear that one of the engines had surged due to the high cross wind. When we attempted to taxi back to the ramp, we realised that as a result of the emergency stop, the brakes had seized.

The passengers were disembarked, and after the brakes had cooled down we managed to release the seizure. The aircraft was towed into the hangar where we examined the engine that had surged, found it to be OK, and decided to give it a ground run to full power to ensure all systems were go.

We were towed back out to the apron for the ground run. I was not happy with the point chosen for the run as I thought it was too near too the buildings, and called upon the tow trucks to move us further away. This they did, but only for a short distance; the sergeant in charge advised that this was as far as they could go due to runway restrictions and in his opinion it would be OK.

I again indicated that due to the winds gusting 30-40 knots the wash from the engines could be quite extensive and I was still not happy, but they still decided to go ahead. By now darkness had fallen as we started up the engines. I advised the ground that I was going to take off power on the engine with the surge.

As I reached full power the whole of the airfield plunged into darkness and a voice from below said, “It’s a blackout down here”. I acknowledged this and said we were satisfied with the run-up and were shutting down engines. No sooner was this done than the lights came back on again. We headed for Stanley for a good night’s rest before returning to the airfield the next morning.

On our arrival we learned that considerable damage had resulted from our ground run the previous night. A NATO pallet had been blown over the into a sub station and had shorted the electricity supply on landing.

The signal sent from Officer Commanding Mount Pleasant to Brize Norton read: ‘you would not believe it! Engine run completed last night, docking scattered around airfield, NATO pallet blown over eight foot fence into sub electrical station, the main supply hangar has a new ventilation system – duty supplier must have thought the Argentinians were coming back!’

Golf on Ascension Island

(photos courtesy of Bruce Fry)

Image: golf on Ascension Island

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