2011 Articles

JAN 25 2011
Dominie departs after 45 years service

The Dominie story began 50 years ago in 1961 when Hawker Siddeley, which had taken over de Havilland a year earlier, started out on the road to replace the Dove - a piston engined business and light transport aircraft. The DH.125 Jet Dragon, as it was known - despite the Hawker Siddeley takeover - encompassed the latest technology and, with its two Bristol Siddeley Viper turbojet engines and pressurised fuselage, was operated by a two man crew and could carry up to six passengers.

The use of a gentle sweep on the low-winged design combined with slotted flaps (literally a gap or slot between the flap and the wing that helps the airflow to stay attached to the flap, delaying the stall) and airbrakes also gave the DH.125 a very tidy short field performance.

For wannabe Royal Air Force jet navigators of the time there were just two available platforms on which they could learn their trade, each with its own limitations; the piston-engined Vickers Varsity, capable of cruising at a paltry 180 knots or the jet engined Gloster Meteor NF(T)14, which had no room to carry the required equipment, let alone an airborne navigation instructor. It was quite clear that a new aircraft was needed, one that could carry a wide range of navigation aids, student navigators and instructors, and all at fast jet speeds.

It had been concluded that the ideal layout would mimic that of the Varsity with two trainee navigators sitting side-by-side, facing the rear of the aircraft while being overseen by an instructor.

As such an Air Staff Requirement was issued and de Havilland responded with details of their planned DH.125 aircraft, which the RAF thought sounded perfect for their needs and, after the proposal was investigated, it was concluded that, custom-built interior and tailored avionics suite aside, the basic design would require no significant modification to meet the requirement.

So close to meeting the RAF's needs did the DH.125 come that the then Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Thomas Pike stated, "If we had designed it to our requirements, I don't think one rivet would have been changed".

It is said that de Havilland's decision to press ahead with the project was made significantly easier with the knowledge that the RAF was looking at a requirement for 20 aircraft, and contract negotiations began shortly after the first of the two prototypes flew for the first time on 13th August 1962.

After initial testing, some changes were made and a longer production aircraft with a greater wingspan flew for the first time on 12th February 1963, and it was only after full production had been achieved that the aircraft became known as the Hawker Siddeley HS.125.

The contract was awarded in April 1964 and, on 30th March 1965, the first HS.125 Series 2 aircraft, XS709, powered by two (now) Rolls Royce Viper 301 engines - each capable of producing 3310lbs of thrust - was delivered to the Royal Air Force as a dedicated navigation trainer to be known as the Dominie T Mk.1. The 20 aircraft making up the order were built and delivered between then and the middle of 1966.

The fleet was initially split between three operators. Six went to RAF Manby, near Louth in Lincolnshire, 13 to RAF Stradishall, near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, while the remaining example went to the RAE for trials. The aircraft initially sported a silver and dayglo colour scheme which was very much in keeping with the other training fleets of the day.

RAF Manby was home to the College of Air Warfare (CAW) and, although six Dominies were 'based' at Manby, three of its aircraft operated primarily from RAF Strubby for use on the Aero-systems Course, until Strubby itself closed in 1972 and the 'borrowed' aircraft returned home. CAW aircraft were distinguishable from their Stradishall brethren by the black "College of Air Warfare" titles that ran along the sides of the fuselage above the windows.

Stradishall's Dominies operated with No 1 Air Navigation School from August 1965, having taken over the roles of both Varsity and Meteor in the training of fast jet navigators.

The side-by-side seating in the back and rear facing workstations were highly representative of the cockpit layout of each of the three famous V-bombers from the era - Victor, Valiant and Vulcan - and some 70-80 hours of the course took place in the high speed, high altitude environment where such types plied their trade.

The Dominie was kitted out with a whole host of navigational equipment including VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR), Automatic Direction Finder (ADF), Ekco E190 weather radar and the Tactical Air Navigation System (TANS) to assist students with the tasks they were presented with. The roof mounted sextant even allowed the training programme to include astro navigation. The wing/body fairing was extended forward under the wing so that a Decca Type 62 Doppler radar and other communications equipment could be housed. The Doppler would feed radar drift, groundspeed and 'distance gone' displays to the students' consoles.

No 1 ANS was disbanded in August 1970 with its flying assets being passed on to the Air Navigation School of No 6 Flying Training School at RAF Finningley, near Doncaster. It was at this time that the silver and dayglo colours were superseded by the red, white and grey scheme.

When RAF Manby was closed in 1974, its aircraft also relocated to Finningley, consolidating Dominie operations at the Yorkshire base.

Following the withdrawal of the Varsity in 1976, it was decided that the Dominie was also to be used to provide initial airman aircrew training for Air Electronics Operators, Air Engineers and Air Loadmasters.

Finningley's Dominie Squadron had some 30 pilots and the whole fleet of 20 aircraft at its disposal and, due to the large numbers of students and courses, the flying programme would be split into three waves, including a night-time one in winter. The complement was reduced to 19 aircraft in 1992 when XS732/B was withdrawn from service.

I asked Flt Lt Martin Wintermeyer, a Gulf War 1 veteran Tornado GR.1 navigator and current navigator instructor with 76(R) Sqn at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, what he remembered of his time on the Dominie:

"All in all I clocked 112 hours in the Dominie - plus a couple now and then in my current job, swapping good practice with 55(R) Sqn etc.

"My first trip was on January 27th 1986 with a Flt Lt Evans. Not sure who Nav Instructor or Nav 1 was but I was Nav 2 and therefore in the right hand seat. My course commander was Chris Gash and deputy was Mike Rafferty for the first phase. Both cracking guys and my nav course, 345 ANC, had a brilliant time under their guidance.

"The Dom itself was odd to fly on. We sat facing backwards looking at a weather radar with a TANS and a Doppler which the nav instructors used to fail by sticking a sad face on top of!! It also had ADF and we used to complete a 'radar homing to Goole' followed by an ADF approach to Finningley - callsign FYY!!

"Tuning the ADF was odd - twiddling a handle with dwoohooyhooheyhaooh type noise followed by dit dit dah dit dah dit dah dah, if we had tuned it correctly!!

"The most famous pilot I had was John Peters and the last image I had of him was in a nappy, sucking a large dummy at a 'come as you were in the 60s party' at the brilliant Officers' Mess. Next time I saw a picture of him was the famous one of just after his capture...

"My third trip was at night...which didn't really make a lot of difference until you looked out the window - although it was a lot quieter on the radios. I then didn't fly again at night until two and a half years later... Well why would you?!?

"The Low Level Training Squadron (LLTS) followed in '87 when we used to use 'radar predictions' to navigate the aircraft. This was 'white man's magic', trying to find terrain that looked like 'Snoopy's nose' and other such nonsense. This was a hard part of training and we were very capable at the end. The course commander was Mal Stainforth, otherwise known as 'Bikesheds' who was another great guy- for an Air Defender!

"The Dom did the job very well, and has done ever since. Even with the ever changing world of aviation it was a great aircraft on which to teach Systems Operation whilst keeping up the Airmanship training that is so important.

"Things I remember are mainly the people...the Lion Bars and tea at high level...and the orange squash at low level... No time for a Lion Bar!! I'm still trying to forget the 'Thunderbox' that used to be in a curtained off bit just behind the co-pilot's seat! Used it often!!

"Great times, hard times and great people...even the instructors!"

Eleven aircraft from the original order of 20 were put through a Mid-Life-Update programme starting in 1992 to replace the now obsolete V-Force equipment installed in the rear of the aircraft. Marshalls of Cambridge won the tender to upgrade and modernise the jets and to make them more appropriate for training rear crews in the day's more modern fast jet fleets. The update was also intended to extend the Dominie's service life to at least 2015, and the first aircraft, XS728, was delivered to Cambridge in July of that year.

Gone were the original rear facing consoles, replaced instead by a forward facing layout capable of accommodating a six-man crew. A 12-inch longer nose was fitted to enable the installation of a Thorn Super Searcher radar, capable of providing good ground mapping at all flight levels, with its three-axis scanner ensuring that the picture remained good at high angles of bank.

The Decca Type 62 Doppler radar was replaced with a Racal 72RB example and a Penny and Giles Digitas air data computer was incorporated into the new fit. In the cockpit, a Rockwell Collins Pro Line II digital avionics suite was installed, boasting dual VOR 32, dual DME 42, ADF 462 and TACAN TCN 500.

Five of the eight airframes that were not selected for the MLU updates joined No 1 SOTT (School of Technical Training) at RAF Cosford (they were joined later by XS729/G which did undergo the MLU), one went to RAF Manston to join the Fire School, one to RAF Sealand, and the other to the Defence Nuclear Biological and Chemical Centre at Winterbourne Gunner.

Following the 1994 announcement from Malcolm Rifkind - the then Defence Secretary - that RAF Finningley was to close under the Front Line First round of defence cuts, it was announced that the Dominie Squadron of 6 FTS would be relocated to RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire. The planned move became a reality in September 1995, paving the way for the Dominie's former home to be transformed into the civilian airport that now goes by the name of Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield.

In November 1996, the Finningley units were reformed within Cranwell's own resident Flying Training School, No 3 FTS, as the Navigator and Airman Aircrew School, with NAAS' flying arm stood up as No 55(Reserve) Squadron at the same time - the 55(R) number plate having been freed up by the March disbandment that year of the VC.10 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Brize Norton.

It was around this time that the red, white and grey colours were dropped in favour of high-conspicuity black with white upper surfaces, although it took several years for the whole fleet to be painted into the new look; they were done as and when major servicing work was due.

November 1st 2001 saw the consolidation of NAAS and 55(R) Squadron under the latter title, with the resultant organisation responsible for providing all flying training for the RAF's rear crews; WSOs (Navigators, in old money!), WSOps, Air Loadmasters and Air Engineers.

WSOs (Weapons Systems Officers) hold commissioned aircrew ranks and anybody hoping to go down this path would be required to complete the Basic Dominie Module (BDM) - which featured an extensive ground school followed by a package of simulator sorties and then six medium level flights during which all aspects of aircraft systems, radar navigation and mental dead-reckoning (MDR) would be introduced.

After BDM students would be streamed Fast Jet, Maritime or Rotary Wing, with the latter heading off to RAF Shawbury to join the Defence Helicopter Flying School where they would continue their training. Those streamed Fast Jet would remain at RAF Cranwell for a further 11 weeks, during which time they would learn low-level radar techniques on the Dominie. Maritime candidates would also continue their progression at Cranwell with their course lasting 12 weeks and introducing low and medium level maritime techniques.

Those considered suitable to commence fast jet training progressed to the Fast Jet Training Flight where, over the length of the 11 week course, they would fly 13 sorties, culminating in a final navigation test and an overseas flying exercise. This course was designed to introduce students to radar interpretation and the management of the aircraft's onboard navigation systems. Typically the student would be expected to navigate a 'high-low-high profile', where the student had to get the aircraft to a low-level starting point, navigate a low-level route to a predetermined target and then recover the aircraft to a designated airfield, be that a landaway or home base. The expectation was that students would achieve accuracy at all timing points of +/- 15 seconds.

The successful ones would go to the Navigator Training Unit, part of 100 Sqn at RAF Leeming, before hopefully achieving their goal and being posted to either XV(R) Sqn - the Tornado GR.4 OCU - or 56(R) Sqn - the then Tornado F.3 OCU.

A move to the Basic Systems Navigation and Advanced Multi-Engine Training Flight beckoned for anybody commencing maritime training. The course had the specific aim of delivering a navigator student to No 42(R) Sqn, the Nimrod Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Kinloss. The initial phase set out to prepare the students for airways flying and instrument recovery procedures on the Dominie, culminating in an end of course test. 16 sorties were flown with the aim of introducing the students to the maritime environment, starting with an introduction to basic area radar searches and ship homings and progressing on to search and rescue techniques, multiple aircraft operations, emergencies and practice diversions, reactive tasking and multiple re-tasking sorties.

As and when the need arose, 55(R) was also responsible for training ab-initio air transport navigators as well as offering refresher and re-roling courses. These courses had a real focus on overseas planning, airways flying and instrument recoveries.

WSOps (Weapons Systems Operators) hold non-commissioned aircrew ranks and the WSOp course was split into two phases, with the common phase lasting 28 weeks and ensuring prospective students had a solid grounding in mathematics, electronics and communication procedures. It wasn't all classroom led though and practical elements included survival training and simulator exercises as well as some flying.

Streaming would take place at the end of the common phase with successful students streamed WSOp (EW) - where EW stands for Electronic Warfare - or WSOp (ACO) - where ACO stands for Acoustic Operator. The specialist course for the latter lasted 18 weeks and concentrated on underwater detection systems. For WSOp (EW) students, their main tasks would include communications and the operation of electronic warfare, radar and magnetic anomaly detection sensors. Their specialist course lasted 27 weeks and featured a four week advanced flying phase.

After successful completion of their respective WSOp courses, graduates would be posted to Nimrod or the E-3D to begin type specific operational conversions.

For Crewmen or Air Loadmasters the course was also divided into two phases. Streaming would take place following the completion of the eight-week basic phase, with emphasis on elementary aircraft systems, the principles of loading and restraint, weight and balance, passenger and cargo handling, survival techniques and international air transport regulations. After a further three week expansion course with consideration given to specialisation, fixed wing students would undergo a five week flying phase with 55(R) Sqn, before heading off to RAF Lyneham or BrizeNorton for those going down the fixed wing path, or to RAF Shawbury for those with a rotary winged future.

Up until 2005, 55(R) also held the responsibility for training Air Engineers, at which point it was decided that, with the increasing number of glass cockpit layouts in the RAF, that the need to train ab-initio Air Engineers no longer existed.

Flt Lt Dave Chadderton RAF (Ret'd) enjoyed a colourful RAF career and was a regular fixture on the airshow circuit in the first decade of the new millennium, initially as a Tornado F.3 Display Navigator, and later as a BBMF Lancaster Navigator. Aside from those roles, and numerous other anecdotal tales, Dave has one particularly interesting Dominie-related claim to fame:

“From 2004-2006 I was a navigator instructor on 55(R) Sqn at Cranwell, and, as I’m sure you’re aware, rather than fly with two pilots, we operated the Dominie with a pilot and a ‘pilot’s assistant’ (PA). The PA was a navigator or a rear crew instructor who had undergone a two week training course that equipped them with enough knowledge to be able to recover and land the aircraft in the event that the pilot became incapacitated: the pilot and PA would operate in exactly the same manner as a conventional civilian captain/co-pilot flight deck.

“The PA would occupy the right hand seat for take offs and landings, but depending on the nature of the sortie a student navigator/WSO trainee would climb into the right hand seat to practice visual safety navigation, look-out and systems management (such as fuel balancing).

“Anyway, essentially the crux of the PA’s course was to tell you how to recover the aircraft to straight and level flight, engage the autopilot, and then following ATC instructions to land at the nearest airfield.

“Rather than setting you up for a ten mile approach they’d use 15 miles (from the “Landing Planes for Dummies” handbook!), you’d start your descent around eight miles out, blip the autopilot out at about 400 feet, then, once on the runway, the pilot would take over.

“OK, so it’s June 2006 (give or take), and I’m an instructor on 55 Sqn's “F Flight” – the Low Level Training Squadron. This is where life got really difficult for the student navigators. Not only would the scenery be blatting by at 210kts, but the instructors would hit them with re-routes and unplanned sorties, all of which they’d be expected to sort out there and then.

“My next trip was going to be an instructional sortie for just one student navigator, so I was to be the PA both out and back.

“We transited from Cranwell north at medium level and entered low level (250ft) around the Scottish Borders and meandered southwards back towards home. As we reached Northumberland, I noticed the pilot nodding out of the corner of my eye – you know, like he was dozing. I asked if he was alright and he said he was feeling a bit funny and gave control over to me. I started to ease away from the ground and continued to watch him.

“He took a swig of water and his head started to go again. I knew all wasn’t well and told the guys in the back that we’d need to pull out of low-level and head back to Cranwell ASAP.

“While the nav instructor was talking to Newcastle, the pilot passed out properly – completely collapsed in his seat, slumping forward towards the controls – I’m thinking that he’s had a heart-attack. ****!

“I got straight on to Newcastle, told them where we were, that we were pulling out of low-level and that the pilot was incapacitated requiring immediate medical attention and that we were diverting to their airfield.

"We climbed to 2000ft but as far as I was concerned I needed to land immediately.

"While all this was going on the nav instructor and the student helped to remove the pilot from his seat - much easier said than done! They took him down the back and after a while he started to regain consciousness and gradually became more lucid, telling me over the comms that he was available to give advice if needed.

“OK, so, in the heat of the moment, thinking that the pilot may have suffered a heart attack, I’d decided I was going to make a visual recovery (from much closer in than the regulation 15 miles and the subject of some debate thereafter!) with the nav instructor taking up the left seat in the cockpit. All was going well and just shortly before touchdown my new 'assistant' looked over to me and asked at what speed the nosewheel steering kicks in! Neither of us had a clue because the pilots always dealt with that – even on the PA’s course!!

“We managed to get down ok, taxied off the main runway and by that time the pilot was up and walking and was rushed off to Newcastle hospital in an ambulance. Amusingly, I'm not sure that Newcastle ATC realised that the aircraft the had just landed hadn't had a pilot at the controls!!

“Once on the ground I picked up the phone and called Cranwell. An ex-GR.1 nav colleague who’d been on Dominies for about seven years answered and had already heard the news and called me absolutely every name under the sun! It seems it was the only time – certainly in living memory before or since – that a nav had landed a Dominie without a pilot … the one thing we trained for (and let's be honest, the one thing most of us secretly wished for!!) had finally happened, and it had been me, not him!!”

Flt Lt Chadderton was awarded a Green Endorsement for his actions - a flight safety award issued by the MOD's Directorate of Aviation Regulation & Safety to personnel ‘who display exceptional flying skill or judgement in handling an aircraft emergency or rescue situation’.

"Oh, the pilot? He was absolutely fine!"

In 2007 the decision was taken to stream prospective WSOs on the Tucano at RAF Linton-on-Ouse - that is before they reached 55(R) Sqn - rather than on the Dominie, meaning that the BDM phase of the 55(R) course became redundant.

And so we come to October 19th 2010, the day that the government laid out its plans following the Strategic Defence and Security Review, during which it was announced that the Nimrod MRA.4 would not enter service and that the Tornado GR.4 force was to be cut in size. With the F.3 variant of the Tornado also due to leave service at the end of March of this year and with a move towards a single-seat fast jet community in the shape of Typhoon and JSF, it's not hard to see why the subsequent decision was taken to stop training WSOs after the graduation of the current course.

At the same time the decision was taken to withdraw the requirement to train WSOps in the Sensor Operator role for the next 'few years'.

An official retirement date was set for January 20th, and the squadron planned to send the Dominie out in style with a series of flypasts around the country in the days leading up to the withdrawal and culminating with a media event at 55(R) Sqn's home at RAF Cranwell.

Typically the morning of the 20th dawned grim; grey, dank and overcast - although considerably better than the conditions that had seen the Harrier's service come to an end some five weeks earlier.

Out on the ramp laid eight examples of the Dominie, including the RAF's first, XS709, although it was sadly not one of the six that already had their Viper engines running when our transport arrived outside the 55(R) Sqn building.

RAF Cranwell's Station Commander and OC No 3 Flying Training School is Gp Capt Dave Waddington, and I spoke with him about the aircraft:

"It's a very poignant day with the Dominie going out of service. The Dominie has been in service for over 45 years so it's a very old and venerable aircraft. We were expecting it to go out of service - it had to go out of service - in the next couple of years, so that's come slightly forward because of the change to the training requirement following the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

"We're no longer required to train any new Weapons Systems Officers, but all of the training that we are required to do is to keep the modern frontline flying with first class aviators; that's what we're still doing."

Asked whether the Dominie's departure would lead to any other changes at RAF Cranwell, Gp Capt Waddington responded:

"For the foreseeable future, Cranwell will stay here as a very large flying training base, as well as the Royal Air Force College, across the road there, to train our officers and aircrew cadets, and that will remain unchanged. The only thing that is changing is that the Dominie is going out of service."

Just a few minutes before 1100 the six aircraft got airborne in a stream, one after the other, and we were told that they'd return from the direction of the College at 1200 precisely - something which they did indeed do. Incredibly, by the time of their return the clouds were even beginning to part!

One flythrough from north to south over the College was followed by one from east to west along the runway, before the formation came left through 270 degrees and performed a break directly in front of the assembled guests. Unfortunately nobody mentioned it to us and it coincided with almost all of the press corps repositioning for a head-on taxi shot, and I think everyone managed to miss it! The aircraft flew out again over the College, joined a right-hand circuit and flew through the overhead with gear up and some sporty breaks to land.

Then, at 1214, XS731/J became the final Dominie to touchdown on RAF Cranwell's runway, bringing to a close more than 45 years of outstanding service.

OC 55(R) Sqn, Wg Cdr Suraya Marshall, was on board XS739/F and, while the other five aircraft returned to their parking spaces facing the crowd, '739 took up pride of place in front of them. I asked Wg Cdr Marshall what the Dominie's retirement meant for the future of 55(R) Squadron:

"The Squadron is still very much about delivering flying training, just not with the Dominie. Weapons Systems Officer training is ceasing in its entirety. What we'll be using to train the Weapons Systems Operators - something that we currently do already - is a lot of ground training, a lot of synthetic training, and we will do some flying; in fact that will probably take place on the King Air."

So the Squadron's future is solid for now, but as a navigator, what does the Dominie mean to Wg Cdr Marshall?

"I did my training on the Dominie and this is my third time back flying the type, so I'm naturally very fond of it, right back from the days I travelled as a student in it through to being an instructor in it and right through to being in charge of 55(R) Squadron. I think of it as being like a bit of a vintage car, I suppose in a way. Clearly I am sad that it's being retired but today's all about celebrating the fantastic service it's provided to the Royal Air Force. It's literally trained generations and generations of aircrew - everybody in the Air Force who's aircrew and isn't a pilot will have trained on the Dominie at some point - so I think it strikes a chord with most people. Hopefully we've celebrated it and commemorated it appropriately."

Sqn Ldr Stuart Reid is a name that might be familiar to the airshow goers amongst you. Even if it's not, chances are you will have seen his work! Aside from his regular RAF flying duties that have, amongst others, included Jaguar, Tornado GR.1 and E-3D Sentry, Stu has been a member of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, flying the Lancaster, for the past 11 years, most recently as Bomber Leader. Following the reduction in the size of the E-3D fleet in 2009, Stu has spent the last 18 months as a Dominie pilot with 55(R) Squadron, amassing some 350 hours on the type in the process.

"The Dominie was a very, very good aircraft for the job it did. Like most British aircraft of that era it was more or less purpose built in the 1960s. The RAF wanted an aircraft in those days to introduce rear crew to V-Force operations, and this was considered the best aircraft in which to do it. It's done sterling service ever since.

"It's got a radar in it, which is very good for Tornado crews, and we used that for training our WSOs and WSOps - all the rear crew for the RAF used to train on it - and it was a very good platform at what it did."

This was not just Sqn Ldr Reid's final Dominie flight, it was also his final flight in the Royal Air Force after accumulating more than 8000 hours. His final honour was flying the Commander-In-Chief Air Command, Air Chief Marshal Simon Bryant CBE MA BA RAF.

"I'm genuinely sad to see it go and it's been quite an emotional day, actually."

We live in a time where we hear so many stories about MoD procurement disasters, with Nimrod MRA.4 still being particularly topical now. From everything I've seen and heard while researching this piece, it really does seem as if the Dominie was one real example of where the decision makers got it spot on.

At the time of its passing, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight aside, the Dominie was the oldest type on the RAF inventory. The story is not quite over yet for two of the aircraft, which are reportedly destined to join the museum collections at RAF Cosford and Duxford respectively.

The Dominie might not have captured the public's imagination in the same way that the Harrier or Spitfire did, but it's simply impossible to ignore the contribution she's made to the Royal Air Force in the last five decades.

Of course, while the Dominie leaves RAF service, this is not the end of the organisation's association with the '125. 32(The Royal) Squadron at RAF Northolt will continue to operate the BAe125 CC.3 - a Series 700B model - for the foreseeable future, at least.

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