RAF St AthanPosting to 4 School of Technical Training, RAF St Athan (November 1943)

After a short break, Cecil was posted to 4 School of Technical Training (4 SoTT) at RAF St Athan in readiness for his 24 week “trade” course (possibly course number 96) which started on 26th November 1943.

The school had been set up by the Air Ministry in 1942 to provide specialist training for the flight engineers needed for  four-engined heavy bombers and flying boats.

It is understood that the intake was split into groups of eight to ten men, based on surnames.

RAF St Athan

No. 4 School of Technical Training was based in the East Camp at RAF St. Athan, in Glamorgan.

The camp included:

  • 20 Bellman hangars and 4 brick-built workshops (used as training facilities)
  • a large equipment store
  • a large amenities building with swimming pool, gym, cinema and chapels
  • living quarters (for up to 4,000 instructors and trainees)

It is understood that the camp also included a parachute training facility, a tethered airframe (where engines could be run at full throttle) and a decompression chamber (to enable trainees to experience the loss of oxygen at altitude); it has not been possible at this stage to establish where these were housed.

annotated-licensed-pictureEast Camp at RAF St Athan

Annotated version of an original Crown Copyright photograph: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales

The standard “bed space” was in one of the hundreds of wooden accommodation huts which were laid out in lines. Each hut accommodated up to 16 trainees and included latrines and showers, along with a small room for the billet’s NCO.

Training and Assessment

The aim of the 24 week technical course was to ensure that flight engineers could carry out their specified duties on the ground and in the air.

The preliminary phase of the course was:

  • Preliminary Airframes (1 week)
  • Preliminary Engines (2 weeks)
  • Carburettors and Magnetos (2 weeks)
  • Electrics and Instruments (1 week)
  • Radial Engines / In-Line Engines (2 weeks)
  • Hydraulics (1 week)
  • Propellers (1 week)

After a weeks leave, trainees continued with the intermediate phase of the course which incorporated:

  • Merlin Engines (2 weeks)
  • Typical Airframes (1 week)
  • Typical Hydraulics (1 week)
  • Propellers / Instruments / Electrics (1 week)
  • Aerodrome Procedures (2 weeks)

The following are some original notes and diagrams from a former trainee:

Training Notes [Courtesy of the late Clifford Leach]

After a further weeks leave, the trainees progressed to the final phase of the course which provided specific training on the aircraft and engines that they would be assigned to as they progressed into operational squadrons.

This phase consisted of:

  • Airframes (2 weeks)
  • Electrics / Instruments (1 week)
  • Fuel Logs / Fuel Systems (1 week)
  • Engines (1 week)
  • Engine Handling (1 week)

Salvaged cockpits were used to provide a simulated flight environment to enable trainees to practice pre-flight checks, take-off procedures, “flying for economy” and landing procedures. In addition, a tethered airframe enabled the trainees to run engines up to full throttle, although the constant noise caused severe problems and St Athan became one of the early pioneers of “flight simulators”.

Trainees were also required to continue with their fitness programme, practice emergency drills and maintain their skills in subjects such as morse, navigation and armaments.

4 SoTT

Flight Engineer Training [Photographs © IWM CH12466 / CH12467]

As part of this section of the course, Cecil was required to spend a week at an aircraft manufacturers (“Manufacturers’ Course”) to gain an in-depth understanding of an aircraft and its component parts.

On 1st April 1944 he was sent to “Rootes Securities Ltd”, probably at their “Shadow  Factory” at Speke Airport, where they manufactured the Handley Page Halifax.

[Photograph courtesy of the Handley Page Association Collection]

Rank and Trade

Cecil continued as an AC2 (Grade A), Aircrafthand / U/T Flight Engineer until 10th March 1944 when he was reclassified to AC2 (Grade B),  Aircrafthand / U/T Flight Engineer. It is believed that this reclassification was upon completion of the first part of the training course and that his pay was increased to 5/- a day (plus 6d a day war pay).

Completion of Course

Cecil completed his course and undertook a series of written and oral examinations, which he passed with a mark of 60%.

At his passing out parade on 17th May 1944, he received his coveted flight engineer brevet and was promoted to Sergeant, the minimum rank for aircrew, with a salary of 10/- a day (plus 6d per day war pay).

After intensive training, Cecil was qualified in his trade; the next stage was to apply his knowledge and skills in flight.

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