Exercise Bullseye '98 by Roger Cook, Pynelea Photo Bureau
The Bullseye '98 competition was hosted this year by Great Britain, last years competition winners, at RAF Lyneham during the first week of October. This is the 22nd year of this exercise which is a Commonwealth event and usually comprises teams from Australia, Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand and this year, for the first time, South Africa sent observers to the competition. The exercise is held in rotation in the countries of each of the competing nations.
The exercise is a competition in low level navigation, supply dropping and spot landing. Marks are given for the accuracy of navigation and track keeping and for time keeping at defined turning points. Marks are also awarded for the accuracy and timing of the two parachute drops and for the precision of the spot landing. The point of the latter is to assess how well a crew would do at landing on a short operational strip in wartime.
Each team has one Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules and two flying crews. The Royal Australian Air Force came with C-130H A97-008 with crews from 36 and 37 Squadrons based at Richmond and the Canadians brought CC-130E 130327 with a team made up of crews from 429 and 436 Squadrons both based at Trenton. The Royal New Zealand Air Force had two crews from 40 Squadron based at Whenuapai, Auckland who used C-130H NZ7002. The RAF crews came from 47 and 70 Squadrons both based at Lyneham and used a standard Hercules C1K. In addition each team has a despatch crew to send out the loads and in the case of the British team the despatchers were from 47 Air Despatch Squadron of the Army's Royal Logistic Corps also based at Lyneham.
The competition itself takes the form of two low level sorties for each nation on each of which there will be one light stores drop, one heavy drop and one spot landing.
I was fortunate to join one of the New Zealand crews for a familiarisation flight ahead of the competition. After a lively departure from Lyneham when we seemed to go through about plus 2g on rotation followed immediately by about minus 2g as the pilot, Flt Lt Chris 'Sammy' Clark levelled the Herk at 250 feet, we turned steeply to head out across the English countryside. This does wonders for the early morning breakfast! We then headed north west maintaining 250 feet above ground level although at times with the aircraft in a 90 degree bank the wing tip looked very close to the ground - and to the occasional startled passing motorist. After about 40 minutes we entered the Welsh low fly area round the Machynlleth loop and the white knuckle ride really began! Standing behind Flt Lt Greg Caie, the co-pilot, is was difficult to hold on with one hand, operate my camera with the other, while realising that my feet were off the deck for most of the time. As the C-130 pulled hard left and then rolled into a hard right turn it was like being in the middle of a giant video game. Turning and diving into valleys, pulling up to skim over the next hill while looking for identified turning points, the crew needed total trust and confidence in each others work. The pilot simply flew the aircraft with one hand constantly on the throttles while the co-pilot gave him directions backed up by the navigator, Flt Lt Kathleen Pearce, who kept up with the pace notes for the precision timing at each turn point. The systems were monitored from the jump seat by the engineer, Master Brett 'Shag' Shanks.
On reaching the coast we turned south for a relatively level bit of flying, still at 250 feet, until making a touch and go for the spot landing at Swansea Airport. We then continued our heading east towards the old RAF airfield at Keevil in Wiltshire for the para drops. I left the flight deck and put on my harness, for which I had been carefully fitted before take off. This was a body harness on a 'dog lead' fitted to a wire running along the cargo deck and the idea was to adjust the lead to stop me short of actually stepping off the end of the ramp. The heavy drop load consisted of four oil drums filled with water on a pallet which was simply pushed on the floor rollers over the end of the ramp by the loadmasters, Warren Tindal and Johnny Coram, on a signal given over the intercom from the flight deck with the parachute being deployed by a static line. I was encouraged to stand right at the edge of the open ramp but as the crew missed the first drop approach and needed to haul the Hercules round pretty quick in order not to loose too much time, I and my breakfast, thought it prudent to remain a few feet back. Besides, I am sure it gave me a better view of the Wiltshire countryside going through 90 degrees framed by the open cargo doors. The light drop was a filled ammunition box being thrown off the back of the ramp on a command from the flight crew. RAF Keevil is only about 15 miles from Lyneham so the dropped loads could easily be recovered for the next days use.
After two hours we were back on the tarmac at Lyneham. After another two hours my hearing began to return and my bones started to connect with each other again and I definitely was not in the mood for lunch! I can only imagine what it must be like to fly in a Hercules all the way from New Zealand.
The experience emphasised to me the teamwork required from the C-130 crews to gain maximum points in the competition, from the meticulous flight planning, the on route navigation and the drop loads. Everyone worked extremely hard to produce a win for the team and I am sure provided valuable experience to the crews for C-130 operations in demanding and unfamiliar surroundings.
The competition was won this year by the New Zealand Crew 2 from 40 Squadron who scored 1,911 points out of a maximum of 2,390. The final results were:-
My thanks to Flt Lt Glenn Gowthorpe, the Public Relations Officer for the RNZAF, and to Sqn Ldr Chris Bartle, the Community Relations Officer, RAF Lyneham.