Life as an RAAF ground crew electrician 3



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The sometimes interesting, most often crazy story of a boy and aircraft.

As a kid I loved all thing aeronautical, my Dad would take me out to air shows at our local RAAF base and we built model aeroplanes, which more than often ended in heartbreak and bits of balsa everywhere.

At about the age of eight or nine, Dad and I stood outside the fence at RAAF Richmond one weekend, watching the gliders coming and going. I recall telling Dad that one day I will do that. So began my love affair with all things aircraft.

During the early 60s I was in high school trying to gain enough education to get me into the RAAF. My first attempt was at 15 to join as an apprentice; that failed dismally. In those days we had to attend “career guidance counselling” sessions. The lady asked me what I wanted to do and I proudly told her “to get into the RAAF” I was told that, based on my school results, I had no hope at all.

In 1965 I left school after completing the intermediate certificate and joined the PMG as a technician in training. After spending first year in school we were sent to telephone exchanges throughout NSW. I ended up at Blacktown just as the new exchange was being built. Being the youngest new chum I was given all the tasks deemed unfit for qualified persons.

On returning to tech school I decided I would give the RAAF another try. To my infinite joy I was accepted as a cat 2B technical trainee.


A very old photo of me in uniform. I think I was in 11 Sqn at this time (early 1970s)

1968 was a great year, recruit training was a bitter/sweet experience. With tough conditions to get use to, weapons training (mainly rifle drill), marching and getting used to being yelled at. All in all I had a ball on rookies.

I thought rookies was tough, RSTT was a base where the only friends you had were the others on your course. In those days you started in a trainee mechanics course which was mainly maths, English, and physics. That was the platform the airforce decided if you were suitable for your chosen career, I wanted radio technician or instrument fitter. I was given electrical fitter due to some ordinary results in maths. After the four months of TMs we started electrical serviceman’s training (9 months) I won’t go into the content, but it wasn’t easy.

I was posted to Richmond as a servicemen, (half way to becoming a fitter). Relatively easier life working on A and E model Hercules aircraft. Oh, I joined the gliding club.

One Sunday I was just about to land my glider, I spotted a Dad and young person standing at the wire, talk about deja vu and maximum emotion. I got into trouble for a heavy landing as I lost concentration at the critical moment. Needless to say I was asked why I had tears in my eyes.

The next course was the critical transition to fitters. A big pay rise and status for promotion and better postings. Due to many reasons I failed. Ended up up working on P3B Orions in 11 Squadron at Edinburgh SA.

Of all the aircraft I have worked on the Orion rates top with me. It’s never easy working in confined spaces, with the ever present checks and re checks if you goof up. It was a joyful time. I met my bride and we were married during this posting. I had many trips short and long, saw some fascinating things only RAAF aircrew would see and learn.

Something changes in your head when you get married. I passed my fitters this time and graduated to be posted to RAAF Pearce Western Australia working on Macchi training aircraft.

2FTS or number 2 flying training school was the unit that completed the training for RAAF pilots. The Macchi or affectionately known as Fanta cans due to the bright orange paint finish was a pig of an aircraft to work on. Very confined spaces were difficult for a small person, I was six foot three, some of the spaces I squeezed my body into may win me a contortionist badge. I had some fantastic glider flights at Pearce, the area was a great spot for most season thermal activity.

After four years, the birth of both my girls and a few run ins with RAAF authority we were posted to Maintenance Squadron East Sale Victoria (back with Macchis)

Fanta cans again, the highlight of this posting was that I flew a few Roulette (RAAF aerobatic team) rotations as ground crew. Every show we were treated like kings, even though I was back seat and only ever refuelled and minor servicing of the aircraft. It was a real ego trip and of course I loved it.

After I left the RAAF we flew a light aircraft over to Pt Lincoln for tunarama when we landed we saw the Roulettes all lined up and I parked the aircraft beside one of the Roulettes, one of the ground crew came racing out to tell me I couldn’t do that, saw it was me (recognised from Sale) and we sat our aircraft next to a macchi. I had only been out of the RAAF a few months when this happened and it was great to catch up with both ground and air crew again. Again we were treated like we were part of the team.

I’m now retired and we trek about Australia in our caravan. We are called grey nomads and could not think of a better way to finish our days. I have taught my trade (including maths) to many electrical apprentices. My final job was teaching senior secondary (year 11 and 12) students maths, physics and technical trade skills.

Ironic isn’t it?


Tell us below, what was your life career? What did you do before you retired?

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Phil Crockart

I am a 63 year old retired electronics/electrical technician recently a school technical trainer. We are waiting for my knee to fully recover to start our "grey nomad" adventures. My wife of 42 years and I live in our caravan, very comfortably. The future will be a left knee surgery soon and good health from there on. I spent 12 years in the RAAF squeezing myself into small places in aircraft and generally abusing my knees, hips and back.

  1. I was in the WRAF , stationed at St. Mawgan, Cornwall, as an Air Traffic Control Assistant , which was the nearest I could get to flying. My father was a Flying Instructor transferred to the German Airforce to teach the Germans to fly, over in Bavaria. He used to fly to St. Mawgan in his Fouga Magister , which had black crosses over it. The tower used to be bombarded with calls from people thinking we were being invaded!

  2. I had that dream to, managed to get into the Air Force at 18,having left school at 14 thought I would never have a chance.As it turned out all that machining I once did in factories set me up and was trained as a Tailor, it was a very interesting job fitting all the airmen and doing alterations to their uniforms, mounting their medals and sewing their different ranks on their sleeves, it changed my life.

  3. My dad was in the RAF. He started out as an aircraft fitter then they discovered he was colour blind !!!!!! He ended up as a Physical Training Instructor and did well.

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