Within the air force command structure the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) is a very important position. At this point memory may fail, but I think in the 1970s we had an AOC Support Command and an AOC Operational Command. The latter, as the title suggests, was interested in the operation of the flying units and the Officers Commanding of each flying base reported to the AOC.
For some reason my memories of the AOC visits are related to my time with 38 Squadron. Perhaps, because of the distance involved he did not inflict himself on Butterworth as much as he did Richmond, which was just down the road from Springwood in the Blue Mountains where I recall Headquarters Operational Command being located. Or perhaps the culture at Richmond played a part in helping reinforce the memory.
I did three years and four months in 38 and we must have had annual visits. The weeks leading up to the visit were hectic as we prepared for the great day. Each year the distance between the hangar floor and the ceiling got a little shorter with the application of another coat of paint, whether it was needed or not. Everything was meticulously cleaned and the rocks lining the gardens outside the Squadron Headquarters were given a fresh coat of white paint. Not a thing could be out of place on the day.
One of the worse jobs I recall as a sumpy working on the Caribou was that of changing the oil cooler. This was located above the wheel well. The procedure involved standing on a work stand placed in the wheel well and working with both arms stretched above our heads. As we disconnected the oil lines gravity did its stuff and the oil would run down our arms on its way to the large drip tray that we had placed the work stand in for the purpose of retaining the oil.
On the day of the AOCs visit Darky was given the job of changing the oil cooler. The air craft was rolled into the hangar and parked right outside the office of the Warrant Officer Engineer (WOE). Darky went about his task with diligence and it was not long before a pool of black oil began to accumulate in the drip tray. This was, after all, quite normal and unavoidable. But, with the AOC due at any time, obviously unacceptable.
Upon seeing this unsightly mess the WOE ordered Darky to clean it up immediately. Always a man keen to obey orders, Darkly obliged, taking a hand full of rags from the rags bin, cleaning up the spill, and disposing of the rags in an appropriate bin. But now Darky had a problem. He had a job to finish, and the oil was still leaking.
There appeared to be an obvious solution. Darky placed a pile of rags in the drip tray to catch the oil and proceeded with the task. That is, until the WOE noticed all those unsightly rags in the drip tray. What would the AOC think? And so the order was given – get rid of the rags. ‘Yes, sir’. After all, an LAC (Leading Aircraftman) was in no position to argue with a WOE.
Now Darky had a dilemma. Oil in the drip tray was unacceptable, despite the fact that the drip tray was designed to catch it. And nothing could be placed in the drip tray to arrest the leak.
While I can’t be certain how Darky resolved this I seem to recall a drum suspended in the wheel well. And if this memory is correct I can’t remember what is was suspended from. But I clearly remember the day that oil in the drip tray was unacceptable.
Obviously there was a solution because the great man paid his visit. All in the hangar was obviously to his satisfaction and he saw what after all what was an amazing sight – Caribou engine maintenance carried out without an oil spill anywhere.