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The articles below are written by FLAG member and local journalist Philip Sedgwick

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Philip looks at who’s visiting the Dales by air during the coronavirus travel ban.

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An F-15E Strike Eagle of the 494th Fighter Squadron from RAF Lakenheath - photo by Airman !st Class Madeline Herzog

With the nationwide lockdown affecting air travel, the skies over North Yorkshire have become, at times, completely devoid of aircraft. Those distinctive vapour trails that betray the sun-seekers jetting off to warmer climes or those travelling luxury business class on their way to exotic destinations are no longer seen.

But one group of fliers who still need to hone their skills are the military aircrews as they may be called on in any emergency. This is demonstrated by the Ministry of Defence’s Aviation Task Force, some of whose members are based at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire, which has been assisting the NHS.


In between this vital work they continue to train practising emergency scenarios in Wensleydale.

The picturesque scenery of the Dales is not just a working backdrop for the RAF and Army Air Corps; the most prevalent visitors of late have been the US Air Force.


The fast, silver arrow-like jets, often in pairs, are from US Air Force’s 48th Fighter Wing based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. These gleaming F15C Eagles often work with the British forces and are directed onto targets by hidden soldiers or airmen.

A spokesperson for the 48th Fighter Wing explained: “The mission of the Liberty Wing is to provide worldwide responsive combat airpower and support, and routine training for our aircrew and support personnel is how we ensure we’re always ready to achieve that objective.

“During flying operations, which include flying over Yorkshire, our aircrew are conducting various types of training that build and further develop the skills needed for the collective defence of the US, UK and Nato alliance.


“We are appreciative of the community’s support, and the unique opportunity to live and work alongside long standing partners and allies.”

The beautiful nature of the area is not lost on the visiting US “Top Guns”.



Lt Dylan McKeever, a weapon systems officer with 494th Fighter Squadron, said: “We can accomplish low and medium altitude air to ground training along with air-to-air simulated combat training over Yorkshire and the 494th squadron routinely flies in the skies above that area.

“For low air to ground training, there is great terrain to navigate through for practising undetected ingress and attacks. In some cases, aircrew have trained with Joint Terminal Attack Controllers in the area, which provides additional simulated training.

“With prior planning and approval, I’ve had the opportunity to practise low altitude flying over the dales and it was a surreal experience.

“It closely resembled a trip I made to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Northern Georgia and East Tennessee. I was also able to hike Blood Mountain (4,458 feet) and the terrain, greenery, and elevation of the Dales reminded me of that hike. However, I can’t specifically compare the flying over these two areas.

“I have not made a trip on the ground to the Yorkshire area, but it is at the top of my list of places to visit once the Covid-19 travel restrictions are relaxed. My parents visited England for their honeymoon in the early 1990s and they always tell me about how much they enjoyed York.”

His colleague, Lt Jonathan Leveille, also a weapon systems officer at the 494th, said: “We use the airspace over Yorkshire for training in several of the missions carried out by the F-15E Strike Eagle, which includes basic surface attack close air support dynamic targeting and surface attack tactics.


“We also have the ability to practice air-to-air missions such as basic fighter manoeuvres.

“The airspace in the region also allows us to practise low altitude flying, and it is a great area for low level flying because of the rolling hills and varying terrain.

“I hope to visit the area as it reminds me of the Black Hills in South Dakota, and some of the rolling hills of the plains states in the US.”

No strangers to Yorkshire Dales, the RAF’s sinister looking black-painted Hawks from Leeming or gleaming Typhoon Eurofighters often overfly and train with troops from nearby Catterick Garrison.

Other large aircraft such as RAF’s Hercules, Atlas or Globemasters regularly overfly the dales. These aircraft are highly flexible, with the ability to move a variety of stores, paratroopers or even a Chinook helicopter. To conduct these missions it is vital that crews are highly-skilled in low-level flying, day or night. High-tech equipment enables them to remain in formation during poor weather or on search and rescue missions.

Along with Hawks, the Eurofighters regularly visit Teesside and Newcastle airports performing simulated landings, no doubt causing mild surprise among passengers – in the days when ordinary people could fly.

Two transports from the US Marine Corps made a rare appearance at the start of the lockdown flying down the River Ure valley, causing a Wensleydale police officer to comment on social media that he’d seen more aircraft than cars that day.


The sight of these aircraft can cause mild confusion among the uninitiated because the American V22 Osprey, which is a regular visitor, is a hybrid of aeroplane and helicopter. In the early stages of the lockdown one concerned resident asked her friend if it was a giant police drone checking the public remained inside.

Other irregular visitors are the giant red helicopters of HM Coastguard and the yellow or green and white air ambulances are also a familiar sight in our skies.

In normal times, the high level overflights are not always civilian aircraft as air forces from across the world use our air space several miles up. The Red Arrows have been known to cross Wensleydale en route to a show and the iconic Second World War aircraft of the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will visit when the occasion demands it, but it is unlikely that we will see any of them until the lockdown eases and the skies begin to fill up again.


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Squadron Leader Peter Odling - A Leeming officer's memories in flying

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Peter - Present, at home in North Yorkshire and past, in the cockpit of a Gloster Meteor 

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The mighty Vulcan in which Peter spent much of his long Service career

IN an era when many teenagers have never experienced the joys of employment, at just 18 years of age Peter Odling flew solo in a jet fighter plane. Then spent much of his career as captain of a nuclear-armed Vulcan bomber at the height of the Cold War. 

His first taste of military aviation was not a happy experience. Growing up near the famous wartime fighter base RAF Hornchurch, he was machine gunned by low-flying German aircraft on his way to school.  

Joining the Air Training Corps at 14, his headmaster permitted him to miss Wednesday afternoon games and spend the time at RAF Hornchurch cadging lifts from benevolent Reservist pilots. By the time he left school Peter had over 200 hours as a passenger and a good idea how pilot an aircraft.
Awarded a flying scholarship by the Air Ministry at 17, he joined the RAF in 1952 and was classified as A1: G1: Z1- fit to be a pilot. He proved the point by going solo after just three hours tuition.
Receiving his “wings” he was posted to the Advanced Flying School at RAF Middleton St George, now Teesside Airport. The aircraft he now progressed to was the Gloster Meteor, the RAF‘s first jet engined fighter. When he took his first flight in this powerful jet he had yet to reach his 19th birthday.
Ironically, although he could shoot up to 35,000 feet and fly at 600mph, he couldn’t vote and didn’t even have a driving licence.  Camaraderie amongst the young pilots was something he well remembers. He said: “It was a different air force then; we lived in huts and ate in the mess.”

Peter did eventually buy an Austin 7 from a local scrapyard for £7; although he is rather coy about how they spent the rest of their spare time.
Selected for bombers he flew the Lincoln a descendent of the wartime Lancaster shuttling the four-engine aeroplane across, Europe and the Middle East, still at a relatively young age. He recalls it was very cold, very noisy and little different to its wartime predecessor.
Posted to a Canberra Squadron in West Germany and then back to the UK, he became an instructor at Cambridge University Air Squadron. One of his pupils who he persuaded to join the Air Force subsequently rose to be operational head of the RAF: Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Stear. “I was very proud of that”, he recalls.
Out of the blue he was posted to the V Bomber Force as a Captain of the RAF’s cutting-edge aircraft: the mighty Vulcan.
With the Cold War in deep freeze, after ground school and flight simulation he was soon up to scratch. One of his early trips was halfway across the Atlantic; returning they were forced to divert to Prestwick where the aircraft was put under armed guard whilst the aircrew were put up for the night in a local hotel -a rare treat.  

Their home squadron was 617 (Dambusters) and they were very proud of that. They had the same offices and hangers as the wartime Lancaster crews. 

Armed with the Blue Steel, a forerunner of a modern-day Cruise Missile their given task was to destroy a designated target in the Soviet Union in retaliation for a nuclear strike on the west.  

The shooting-down of the American U2 spy plane in May 1960 was a game-changer, forcing a switch from high-level to low-level strikes. The Vulcans went from white paint to camouflage. Now they flew below treetop height and their missile launch reduced from 200 miles to 20 from target. 

Crews were regularly on a state of readiness: Quick Reaction Alert, waiting to respond to the nuclear threat. QRA still operates at both RAF Coningsby and Lossiemouth today.  

Often their skyward practice sorties involved the whole V Force of over 80 aircraft, terrifying the civilian air traffic controllers and playing havoc with television broadcasts over Scotland.
In truth aircrews had an idea that the simulated attacks were exercises as there hadn’t been the increased political tension.  Although Peter did recall an occasion he was on QRA cockpit readiness and it was quite some time before they were stood down and believed it was the real thing.

For the five-man crew of: pilot, co-pilot, air electronics officer, navigator plotter and navigator radar flying the Vulcan did have its dangers. Only the pilot and co-pilot had ejection seats, the remaining ‘back seat’ crewmembers had to bail out through the entrance door: a process not always successful when an aircraft had to be abandoned.

Luckily during his long career Peter only had one mishap when an engine failed on take-off but he successfully returned to base.
A further move to RAF Finningley as a Chief Flying Instructor then a ‘hush hush’ job in Malta and finally to RAF Leeming as Chief Ground Instructor. He left the RAF after 22 years with the rank of Squadron Leader.  

After working for Portakabin, he ran his own TV/Electrical business in Thirsk. On retiring he resumed flying at Bagby Airfield using a friend’s aircraft. He became a sought-after speaker and Chairman of the Flying Club and is also highly-skilled at repairing model locomotive engines.

 “I gave up flying completely at the age of 75.  I thought that was just the age to start becoming dangerous, after all it is not like a car that you can park at the side of the road if anything goes wrong.” 

During his distinguished career Peter amassed over 4500 flying hours, the equivalent to spending six months constantly in the air. He has flown 14 different types of aircraft, 56 out of the 82 Vulcans built including those on display at the Sunderland and Newark air museums and even broke the sound barrier in a Hawker Hunter. 

Looking back, Squadron Leader Odling believes they were justified being resolute in their daunting task.
“We didn’t agonise even though we knew that if we had to go for real, we wouldn’t be coming back as there would be nothing there.  

“That was our mind-set over the years and we took it all in our stride.

“You were in the Royal Air Force and it was the Cold War.”


Leeming Memories  by Tony Eaton,  FLAG Member

Tony served at RAF Leeming from September 1956 until 1959 as an Airfield Crash Fireman.  He returned in 1961 when the Air Ministry civilianised the RAF Fire Service and stayed until retirement in 1997.

Tony writes - during my service at Leeming I collected numerous stories from personnel who were serving at Leeming during that time. The first, is by my late friend Flight Lieutenant Tom McCarthy DFC  who served as an Air Traffic Control Officer at RAF Leeming.

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Bomb Aimer Sgt Tom McCarthy arrived at Snaith near Goole, the home of 51 Halifax Squadron 4 Group in May 1943. After a period of `running in’ Tom was on Battle Order for July 12/13 and the target was Aachen in the Rhur.  Approaching the target area they encountered heavy flak and the starboard engine was shot off its mounting. The aircraft remained airborne and they went into the bombing run dropped the bombs but it was then hit by an incendiary bomb dropped from an aircraft above which set fire to parts of the aircraft interior. Tom and the rear gunner both heavily dressed for the cold managed to put out the flames. They flew back on three engines and did pancake landing at Gatwick. A short while after landing, the Halifax burst into flames and was destroyed.​

They were back on ops on the 24 July and the target was Hamburg, the first use of radar blocking  Window. Midway way to the target the navigator reported to the Skipper that he was feeling ill and and that he could not continue and so they returned to base after two hours 57 minutes flying. A couple of nights later it was the turn of Essen, they bombed the target and were attacked by night fighters but returned safely. The following night it was Hamburg again but when they arrived at the dispersal, the navigator refused to enter the aeroplane telling all that they were for the chop. He ignored their pleas and so the wing commander was summoned and the navigator was driven away never again to be seen by the crew.  The navigator was deemed to be LMF-Lacking Moral Fibre. He was stripped of his rank and given menial work for the duration of the war. Tom had noticed that he was very nervous with his continuous shaking of his  hands long before the trip began.​

The next night was Hamburg again with a fresh navigator, returning after a five hour trip. Tom and his green crew had truly been thrown into battle at a most brutal period which was known as the Battle of Ruhr. Losing their navigator meant they might have to fly with a spare navigator who had lost his crew. On August 17th they were on ops to attack the Rocket Research establishment at Peennemunde with a spare navigator. There were Halifaxes and Lancasters on the raid, the Halifaxes attacked in the first wave to bomb the laboratories and living quarters of the scientists and technicians with the express intent of killing them. The Halifax attack was fairly successful but the Lancasters in the second wave suffered appalling losses some forty aircraft being shot down due to the arrival of night fighters that earlier had been duped into thinking the target was Berlin. Tom dropped the bombs at a much lower altitude than any other target hitherto and they turned for home but were constantly attacked by a JU 88. The Skipper, skilfully using the corkscrew manoeuvre thwarted the German fighter pilot who after several unsuccessful attacks finally turned away.​It was at this juncture that Tom and the other five members of his crew were returned to the Heavy Conversion Unit to train with a new navigator. The training lasted from August 1943 to February 1944. With being at the HCU they missed all the attacks on Berlin which were carried out over that winter period-save for one.​

On the 15th February they were back on ops as a crew with their new navigator and the target was Berlin, the Big City. It was the largest force ever sent to Berlin in the entire campaign, 561 Lancasters and 314 Halifaxes. An uneventful approach to the target was being made and the Skipper asked the flight engineer for a fuel check. The F/E told the Skipper  it was time for a change of fuel tanks. He proceeded to the rear of the aircraft plugged his oxygen mask into an auxiliary port intending then to open the fuel change over valves under the rest bed past the mid upper turret, but he collapsed almost immediately. His oxygen mask had become worn due to poor storage and he had passed out. In the mean time all four engines spluttered to a halt and the bomber began diving like a stone. The Skipper yelled to Tom to go and sort things out. Every member of the crew had some detailed knowledge of other crew member’s tasks. Tom knew the fuel change over technique and crawled up the diving Halifax and opened the fuel valves, the engines roared into life and the Skipper brought it on to an even keel. The F/E was soon sorted out and they proceeded to Berlin. Their aircraft had dropped from 20,000 feet to approx 10,000 feet and was now approaching the target. The Skipper, realising they would not be able to claim the lost altitude kept the Halifax at that 10,000ft.​They joined the bomber stream and dropped their bombs not realising that there were hundreds of bombers approaching and above them doing exactly the same thing. Some 2,642 tons of bombs were dropped that night on Berlin. Thankfully not a single one hit that lone Halifax.​

In the March Tom developed a severe ear infection and was hospitalised with delirium and was off sick for three weeks. On returning he noticed there seemed to be fewer aircraft on the station. He had missed the costliest bombing operation that Bomber Command ever undertook, Nuremberg, when 95 aircraft were shot down. Multiply that number by seven and you have the number of men who died.  Tom’s Squadron No 51, had lost six aircraft with several others damaged out of a total 15 aircraft despatched.​

Tom with his crew undertook another 27 ops attacking rail and oil locations, Villers Bocage and transport facilities to help with invasion that began on D Day.  Some of the ops being carried out were in the daylight which didn’t please the crews one bit. On one daylight op they past formations of German bombers flying towards England. Also amongst his last ops were two trips to the dreaded Ruhr but by then the German night fighter force was a shadow of its former power.​

In the July of 1944 Tom and his crew were screened from operations, they had come out of it unharmed after a very long and dangerous tour of operation, 31 bombing ops that had  lasted a whole year. They were duly grateful. Tom had previously carried out five maritime operations in early 1943 with a squadron of Whitley bombers making a grand total of 37 ops.​

Tom was commissioned and sent to train other bomb aimers and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His citation was fulsome, stating that his dedication, skill and bravery was of the highest standard.​He recalled in early 1945 when after a long and tiring night flying programme he was waiting for a bus to go to his rented rooms,  when it arrived the conductor said ‘War workers only’ and prevented Tom from boarding the bus.​

The European war ended and Tom much to his consternation was informed that he was on the list for the Tiger Force, aerial operations for the invasion of Japan. His wing commander spoke to him later and said `Tom you have done enough’ and took him off the Tiger Force list.​

Tom stayed in the RAF after war and converted to navigator and flew firstly with Transport Command then Lincolns of 617 Squadron when on one night exercise he gave a Lincoln rear gunner the night off  and took his place in the turret.​

With the arrival of the mid 1950s Tom joined the first Canberra squadron which was a challenge being cooped up in that very cramped cockpit. He eventually joined a nuclear armed Canberra squadron in the 2nd TAF in Germany in the early part of the 1950s. He did tell me personally that if it all was to happen his target was in Poland.​

Tom’s flying career came to an end with the 1957 defence cuts which predicted that manned aircraft would be phased out in favour of the missiles. Still waiting?​

He Trained to be an Air Traffic Controller and served at RAF Leeming, RAF Topcliffe and RAF Dishforth and a short spell as a fighter controller where he once described watching his ‘target’ aircraft that seemed to ‘stand still’ on the scope, it was a Lightning doing a vertical climb.​

Tom left the RAF in 1977 and was the last wartime aircrew Officer to be honoured with  a farewell  Dining  in Night at the Officers Mess at RAF Leeming. He worked as an air traffic controller for the helicopter units operating in the North Sea oil industry until retiring ten years later.​​


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Brig. Gen. Urschler in 

 his P-51 Mustang

"The Gunfighter"

and as a young Lt. flying with SAC

Below is a RB-47H

Stratojet airplane of the type in which he flew elint missions during the cold war years

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