Category Archives: Royal Air Force

RAF Stewardess’ Jacket

The roles open to women in the RAF in the 1970s were somewhat more limited than they are today, but one area where many women served was a cooks and stewardesses. The 1971 WRAF recruitment pamphlet explained:

Every day about 100,000 men and women in the Royal Air Force must be fed with well-cooked nourishing meals. Women do highly essential jobs as cooks and stewardesses. They cook in airmen’s sergeants’ or officers’ messes: stewardesses wait at table in officers’ or sergeants’ messes. They might be employed as batwomen. There are also limited opportunities to serve in an airborne role as air stewardesses.

Stewardesses wore a distinctive uniform consisting of RAF blue grey skirt, blouse, tie and a white stewardess’ jacket:imageIt is one of these jackets we are looking at tonight:imageThe jacket is a simple white cotton garment, secured at the front by a pair of removable RAF staybrite buttons:imageStitched eyelets are fitted to each shoulder to allow shoulder boards with badges of rank to be worn:imageThe style of this garment very much reflects the jackets that have been worn by waiters and service staff in expensive restaurants since the beginning of the twentieth century. The white colour shows up any stains, which helps show the customer, or in this case the sergeants and officers, that the garment is indeed clean. The removable buttons and shoulder boards were essential as it allowed the garment to be washed, bleached and starched regularly without damaging them. The inside of this garment has the usual label, strangely though someone has blacked out the part of the description relating to the jacket being for women and a stewardess:imageI am not sure whether the sizing here is the army’s usual system of sizes where each increment means a different height, waist of chest size, or a more conventional sizing where it is actually a woman’s size 6 jacket in the traditional civilian sense.image


20mm Vulcan Cannon Ballast Round

Last year we looked at a 30mm Aden Ballast round here. Since then I have been able to pick up a second ballast round, but this time for a 20mm Vulcan cannon:imageIn appearance this is very much like the other ballast round, being made of a solid piece of cast white metal. The shape is identical to a live Vulcan round with an extractor groove at the bottom:imageAnd the top having the shape of the actual projectile:imageThe weight of the round is identical to that of a real Vulcan round, being used to safely test the weapon and its timing, allowing adjustments to be made on the ground in a controlled environment. Here we see a dismounted Vulcan with a belt of this ammunition:PGU-27-AB-20-102mm-ammunition-m-61-vulcanThe Vulcan is a six barrelled 20mm rotary cannon used on fixed wing aircraft. It was developed in the United States but saw service with the British on aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom. The need for the weapon came out of experience in the Second World War and the realisation that with the speeds jets were becoming capable of, there would only be a split second when rounds would actually connect with their target. This therefore required a weapon with a very high rate of firepower and a round that had enough mass that a few strikes would destroy a plane. 20mm had proved effective in the Second World War and by pairing this with an electrically driven Gatling type of gun extremely high rates of fire could be achieved, in the case of the Vulcan 6,000 rounds a minute. The new cannon was designated the M61 by the US.Vulcan1Each of the cannon’s six barrels fires once in turn during each revolution of the barrel cluster. The multiple barrels provide both a very high rate of fire—around 100 rounds per second—and contribute to prolonged weapon life by minimizing barrel erosion and heat generation. Mean time between jams or failures is in excess of 10,000 rounds, making it an extremely reliable weapon. Most aircraft versions of the M61 are hydraulically driven and electrically primed. The gun rotor, barrel assembly and ammunition feed system are rotated by a hydraulic drive motor through a system of flexible drive shafts. The round is fired by an electric priming system where an electric current from a firing lead passes through the firing pin to the primer as each round is rotated into the firing position.

One RAF Phantom pilot explains the advantages of the cannon over radar guided missiles:

Being unguided, bullets are not susceptible to Electronic Counter Measures (ECM – although the radar used to aim the gun, of course, is) and the gun has no technical minimum range, although there are some practical reasons (e.g. arming of high explosive rounds) why you wouldn’t choose to fire from too close to the target. Also some pilots didn’t like the idea of large aircraft blowing up in their face. In my day, the closer you got to a target, the bigger it looked in the windscreen making it easier to hit! I say ‘A kill’s a kill!!

An RAF Phantom carried 640 rounds for its Vulcan canon and it seems to have been a popular weapon amongst aircrews, combining high rates of fire with impressive hitting abilities. My thanks go to Gary Hancock for his help in identifying this round.

RAF Stone Tropical Shorts

The RAF has long maintained overseas bases in hot climates, these are either temporary airstrips such as those used in conflict zones, or more permanent airfields such as RAF Akrotiri. For more formal wear at these tropical bases, traditional khaki shirts and shorts were often worn with simple khaki shorts being used through to the present day. Traditionally these were made from cotton but from the 1970s onwards these fabrics were replaced by polyester or poly-cotton blends and traditional fastenings such as buttons were replaced with Velcro. Both these changes made the garments easier to wash as manmade fibres do not stain as easily and there is no risk of buttons being damaged from frequent laundering if they have been replaced with Velcro. Tonight we are looking at a pair of RAF tropical shorts that I believe date from the 1980s:imageThey are made of a khaki shade of poly-cotton known officially as ‘stone’ and are of a traditional design. The fly and waist belt both secure with Velcro:imageWhilst Velcro adjustment tabs to change the sizing are included on either side of the waist:imageOne plastic button is used, to secure the rear pocket over the seat of the shorts:imageA wider look at the rear of the shorts is interesting in showing the sharply defined creases in the garment:imageManmade fabrics can hold these creases far better than traditional cotton and even many years after these shorts were last used the creases remain. The label inside the shorts helps with dating:imageThe metric sizing indicates that these shorts were made after the 1970s whilst the style of label and the washing instructions are typical of 1980s or 1990s labels. These shorts were made by Compton and Webb, one of the largest manufacturers of military uniforms up until the late 1990s when like so much procurement, manufacture moved to China.

Today the shorts are worn in warm weather as part of the No7b uniform of the RAF as a semi-formal working dress for officers and senior airmen.

Jet Engine Starter Cartridge

Early jet engines needed a way to turn the motor over to start the engine going. Many propeller driven aircraft had relied on a man swinging the propeller to turn the engine to kick it into life. This was obviously not an option with a jet engine so a large blank starter cartridge was used. Made of brass, this cartridge looks very much like an artillery shell:imageIt was in effect a large blank cartridge and the gasses from this cartridge expanded and turned the engine over allowing it to start. The top of the case has bent over lips and originally when it was full these would have held a large disc made of a material that would have been consumed by the explosion, such as cardboard:imageThe base of the cartridge is marked up and we can tell this is an Electric Starter Cartridge No9 Mk I and was manufactured in 1952. The ‘K’ indicates it was produced by Kynoch:imageThese cartridges were used on a number of early RAF jets including the Canberra and the Hunter. One American technician who worked on the Canberra bomber recalls using these cartridges:

Tech question: yes, the starter cartridge in the older marks of Canberra was just a huge shotgun shell, albeit without the shot. There was an explosive release of gases which was channelled to the turbine to wind the thing up. The earliest marks B2, T4, TT18 had only 1 fitted per engine, so, after a failed start, it would take several minutes for the area to cool enough for the cartridge to be replaced, often resulting in a delay of 20 minutes or more. 6

The latter (early) marks, PR7, E15, T17, T22 had 3 per engine, 2 as spares. The last mark, PR9, used a really nasty explosive fuel called AVPIN, which was volatile in the extreme. One of our jeeps carrying the stuff through a small town, fortunately in an unpopulated area, caught fire spontaneously, the driver bailed, and the resultant conflagration melted the concrete of the sidewalk. You can imagine the effect this had on the local populous – we were thereafter banned from transporting it through residential areas.

The explosion from the starter cartridge was impressive: 4-foot flames would leap from 3 vents in the engine casing, the whole area would be wreathed in pungent cordite smoke, and pilot and supervising technician would watch the engine and each other nervously in case of engine fire. In 3 years, I only had to evacuate once because of a suspected fire, which turned out to be a false alarm. However, you can imagine that when the plane was fully fuelled, we were out of there in a flash and up and running! untitled
The gas release should take the engine up to about 2000 RPM, which was enough to energize the igniters and allow the engine to work with the start inertia to get it up to normal idling RPM (I forget the figure). The main thing you were watching at this stage was either for an internal fire, in which case the EGT gages would leap off the scale, or compressor surge, usually accompanied by a lot of popping and banging. In both cases, the actions would be the same: throttle closed, HP cock closed, LP pump off; for a fire of course, additional actions would be fire extinguisher shot through the engine (only 1 available) and evacuate (run for the hills!).

73 Pattern RAF Tropical Shirt

In the early 1970s the RAF went through a major review of its uniforms and a number of new pieces of clothing were introduced taking advantage of new materials such as man-made fabrics and new forms of fastening such as Velcro. The cut of these garments was also radically changed to present a more modern (for the 70s) appearance that brought the uniforms closer to what was considered fashionable for the day. As well as the blue grey uniforms worn in the United Kingdom, the designers were also let loose on tropical clothing and tonight we are looking at the results of this, the 1973 pattern RAF tropical jacket introduced at the same time as the 1972 pattern No 2 uniform back in Britain:imageThis garment is made in the tradition khaki shade used by tropical clothing since the Boer War, however instead of being made form cotton it is made of a polyester blend. In form it is quite reminiscent of the wartime battledress, with a high waist and fixed collar. It does however come with short sleeves to suit it for wear in warmer environments. The front of the jacket and the waist secure with large pieces of Velcro:imageFurther Velcro is used for the adjustment straps on either hip:imageAnd to secure the top flap of the interior pocket:imageA pair of shoulder straps are fitted, again secured with Velcro, and on this jacket they came with rank insignia already attached:imageThis design clearly remained in use for some time as the label on this example has metric sizing:imageMetric sizing did not come into widespread use until the late 1970s and it seems this jacket is dated 1979. Opinions on the 72/73 pattern series of RAF clothing do not seem to be very complementary with most who wore them regarding the garments as looking too ‘un-military’ and a design which by trying to match contemporary fashions dated very quickly. I would also question how comfortable this garment would have been in hot climates, man-made fibres of this period being notoriously uncomfortable in warm weather as they did not ‘breathe’ in the same way cotton, aertex or more modern breathable fabrics can.

Medical Technician’s Trousers

Update: My thanks to Richard Aixill for providing some more information on these trousers which has allowed an update.

Most militaria collectors tend to focus on combat clothing or other distinctly military items of clothing. Alongside these though, are a large number of pieces of work clothing that look very similar to their civilian counterparts, but are purchased for military use. Items such as specialist clothing for medical use are normally identical to their civilian counterparts but have labels and markings that indicate they were part of the military stores systems. Tonight we have an example of just this sort of item with a pair of medical technician’s trousers:imageThese are made of heavy duty white cotton and are simple, loose fitting trousers. The waist and fly are secured with white plastic buttons:imageAnd a metal slider is included for waist adjustment:imageSimple slash pockets are included at each hip:imageAnd a buttoned rear pocket is fitted to the seat of the trousers:imageThe label in the waistband of the trousers shows they are military issue as they have an NSN number and gives details of sizing:imageThe 22G code indicates they were issued to the RAF and they date from around 1979. They were manufactured by Remploy, a government owned factory that offered employment to disabled men and women and a firm that won many contracts from the military in the post-war period.

I have struggled to find much information on medical technicians in the Army during this period, I have got a description of what an ‘Operating Theatre Technician’ was expected to do in 1979:

Operating Theatre Technicians are selected from RAMC trained soldiers. They prepare operating theatres and assist surgeons, anaesthetists, and hospital sisters during operations in hospitals and field units both at home and abroad…

A medical technician though was a more general term for any other rank member of the armed forces in a medical role and these trousers were probably worn by both these and those with a more specific role in military healthcare of the period: the white colour indicating their use in a ward or hospital rather than in front line service.

RAF Foul Weather Jacket

Like all the other services, the RAF issue waterproof coats for its personnel working in wet and windy weather. A foul weather jacket in blue grey was issued from the 1990s until the widespread introduction of Goretex fabrics and it is this jacket we are considering tonight:imageThis coat has a concealed zip up the front, covered with a Velcro fly:imageNote also the small zipped pocket alongside the main zip fastener. Two further patch pockets are provided on the skirts of the garment, with flaps to each:imageA centrally mounted tab for a rank slide is fitted to the front of the jacket:imageThe collar is designed to be worn down, however a Velcro tab is provided that allows the collar to be drawn up and secured around the neck in particularly bad weather:imageTo aid in keeping the wearer warm, hidden elasticated cuffs are provided:imageA label is sewn into the inside of the jacket giving sizing and stores number etc:imageThis example is quite small and almost certainly belonged to a cadet. Cadet units have continued to use these coats long after the main RAF had upgraded to more modern designs. A full list of sizings is:

8415-99-978-7280 160/90

8415-99-978-7588 170/96

8415-99-978-7589 170/104

8415-99-978-7590 170/112

8415-99-978-7591 180/96

8415-99-978-7592 180/104

8415-99-978-7593 180/112

8415-99-978-7594 190/120

It was official policy to continue issuing these jackets to cadets whilst stocks lasted so they had something to wear in bad weather, even if it wasn’t the latest pattern of foul weather jacket. The jacket is commonly called a ‘Jeltex’ and seems to get most use at camps and for remembrance day parades. The following illustrations from the RAF Cadet’s dress regulations show the jacket being worn by both male and female cadets:CaptureCapture1