Tales from RAF Thorney Island

A draft plan showing the proposed new town at Whiteley

THIS WEEK IN 1983: Sweeping plans unveiled for Hampshire’s newest town

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I recently met a former airman from RAF Thorney Island, Emsworth, who was based there in the late 1950s/early 1960s.

Richard Henderson was an instrument fitter and served all over Europe and in the Middle east.

He told me that late in 1958 a Hastings transporter landed at the base and he went out to meet it. When the crew alighted, they were all shaking like leaves.

It transpired that when the aircraft was two miles up, the pilot put it on auto-pilot. There were several airmen travelling back to base and, as there was a large space in the aircraft, they decided to have a game of football.

All of a sudden the plane went into a dive and everyone was thrown in a heap at the back of the aircraft. All except the radio operator. He managed to get to the joystick and brought the plane back to an even keel. He had saved the day before the Hastings dived into the sea.

Richard also told me of a secret aircraft, a black jet that landed at Thorney every night, was taken into a hangar and took off again in the morning. This went on for several weeks and he never did get to the bottom of what it was all about.