I KNEW LITTLE enough about RAF and, in particular, Special Forces helicopter operations to find this book contained many surprises and a number of quite shocking revelations.
I KNEW LITTLE enough about RAF and, in particular, Special Forces helicopter operations to find this book contained many surprises and a number of quite shocking revelations. However, what little I knew was sufficient for me to appreciate the honesty and candour of David McMullon’s account. From a stultifying bank job, through RAF aircrew training to serving in the Falklands, clearing up after Lockerbie and involvement in the Gulf War and Northern Ireland, his tale is an engrossing one.
Some might blanche at the language and style, which are about as far removed from the literary school of biography as you can get. McMullon was a sergeant, and he writes rather as I imagine he would speak to his fellow NCOs in the privacy of an RAF Mess. What he has to say is baldly put; it makes you cringe, it makes you feel sick at times and it makes you laugh. It is stark and it makes no concession to the reader’s sensibilities. Above all, though, it is real.
The nature of RAF training and the way people get through it are two of the things that make you cringe. You’d have thought that quality in personal character would be vital for airmen to succeed yet, by McMullon’s account, the RAF seems curiously reluctant to ‘wash out’ those characters thought to be weak links, or even a positive menace, by their contemporaries. Although he held a PPL, McMullon was taken on for aircrew training himself not pilot training and he became a loadmaster. It took fifteen months before he got to fly in an RAF helicopter. That might have been less than motivational, but at least team building and crew loyalty were positively nurtured. On this point, there should be no surprise that McMullon is outraged at the AOC blaming the two pilots for the Mull of Kintyre accident. He was an advisor on the Channel 4 programme on the subject, and includes a chapter on it in the book.
Sick making is McMullon’s account of the things recovery crews encountered during the Lockerbie clear up. He came across awful, heart rending evidence that passengers were conscious as they fell. (He also says, in a matter of fact way, that not even scenes I will omit description of here gave him nightmares an apparent lack of personal reaction that still mystifies him.)
Amid the grim incidents there is much humour. One of the stories I will remember is of the escalating crewroom buzzing ‘war’ between Chinook and Phantom squadrons in the Falklands. It got to the point that the helicopter men’s ‘boss’ called in the OC Phantoms and the OC Ops for a bollocking. Just as he was in full desk thumping cry, McMullon’s pilot brought their Chinook low overhead, turning hard and fast for full vibrational effect… and all the pictures were shaken off the walls. Thirty seconds later, a formal request over the radio for McMullon’s pilot to report to the flight commander’s office was interrupted by the OC himself, who cut in and yelled ‘And tell him to put his fucking hat on!’
You might say all of contemporary RAF life is here. Philip Whiteman.