Salt Encrusted Windscreen
You know, it’s hard to write interesting and current stories when you are closer to 90 than to 80. My wife Beverley and I are, as we like to say, “managing” when asked “how are you?”
My name is Bob Barr and I spent 31 years at RRC, mostly associated with and for a while actually a part of the electrical technology groups.
We old people like to think back on our lives, about our children, grand- and even great-grandchildren. We do indeed live in the past much of the time, for therein lie our stories. Plural, for we all have many. Here is but one, not high adventure, just a small description of life in the air force in the 50’s and 60’s.
Aside from detecting Russian missile submarines in the North Atlantic during the Cold War, our crews spent many long and boring hours counting and classifying ships.
It was often a bumpy and vomity mission of 16 to 20 hours duration at low altitude. So we mostly flew our Argus sub-chasers at 500 ft, sometimes even lower. It’s difficult to find a submarine 300 ft underwater and moving at 20 knots when you are at10,000 ft moving at 300 miles per hour. No, low and slow is better, and the lower the rougher the ride.
We had a crew of 15: three pilots, three navigators,two flight engineers and seven RO’s (radio officers), I was one of those. Our job was to operate and repair all the electronic gear. In addition, we were regularly scheduled for the “Tactical trainers”, a mock Argus aircraft controlled by computer from the outside for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) tactics. It was made by CAE (Canadian Aviation Electronics). Don Shand was one of the installers, I think. I believe John Bell had also been with CAE at one time. Both were with our RRC’s Electrical/Electronic Technology department.
We were based in Greenwood NS in the Annapolis Valley, a lovely forested valley if ever there was one. Not too far from Newfoundland which was often an alternate landing destination for bad weather conditions in Greenwood after a long patrol. Geologically, this entire coastal area was rich in iron which often played havoc with voice transmissions to and from base. Sometimes only morse code could cut through the static.
On rotation, ROs were given the joe-job of being base Operations Officer for 24 hours – someone had to be on watch in case of emergencies. This one night a SUBLANT (Submarine Atlantic) exercise was taking place with two of our Argus participating with British and US submarines pretending to be Russian. On the surface were Canadian and US destroyer escorts, ships specially outfitted as ASW sub-chasers. In the ops room on base, a few of us were prepared to be bored silly all night as we were not involved. The exercise was controlled and monitored by Navy installations in Shearwater, near Halifax.
But being the only RO present (and in charge as it happened), my subconscious heard a tiny bip-bip-bip blah-blah-blah, bip-bip-bip. OMG, a distress call. Now normally when flying and on the morse key, we write it all down one letter at a time. In a bouncing aircraft over rough seas, it is very hard to operate a morse key. Heck, you had to hang on to it just so you are not thrown out of your seat.
With buckets of adrenaline flowing, this time I managed to decipher the entire message in my head without a pencil. One of our Argus had it’s windscreen so encrusted with salt spray, the pilots could no longer see where they were flying. It was also night time over a dark ocean. Well we reported the problem to authorities and the one Argus managed to fly partner with the other back to base. The pilots flew by watching the other aircraft out their open side window. Over land they managed to use their window washer fluid sufficiently to clear most of the salt and land safely.
Not always was the weather so brutal over the North Atlantic. There were beautiful sunny days too. One of the RO duties was to sit in the plexiglass nose section, transparent all around your seat and over your head. Flying through puffy white clouds that fell away under your feet to reveal whales in the water all in a line. Beautiful. Or dreamily play conductor in a silent symphony with two hands drawing out ten pink streamers of St. Elmo’s fire, static electricity streamers up to 18 inches long.
So these are a few of the memories that I would not trade. Yes, there were others that were more dangerous and also some that had nothing to do with patrols. But maybe another time.
This is Bob’s second contribution to our “Celebration of (Retired) Life“ series, with his first, The Tunnel, going back to February of 2021. Nice to have you back, Bob.
We welcome any uplifting, funny, inspiring, or otherwise simply interesting story, profile, or bit of whimsy. To share with our other retirees, simply email your 500- to 1,000-word piece to HG-Editor@RRC.CA (and include lots of photos).