Christopher Victor John Heames grew up in Swindon and joined the Air Training Corps, a UK youth development organisation in 1966.
This organisation is established to develop air mindedness in the next generation. Because Swindon had, in those days a host of Royal Air Force stations around, it it was possible to fly on a huge variety of service aircraft, thus I was able to experience Beverly, Andover, Argosy, Hastings, Hercules, Belfast, VC10, Britannia, Comet, Pembroke, Devon and 5 different types of helicopter. My first hands on experience was in the wonderful Chipmunk where we were introduced to simple aerobatics over the Bristol Channel from RAF Filton, where the UK Concord’s were being built.
In 1968 I was awarded a gliding scholarship and went solo from RAF South Cerney after 24 three minute flights in a Slingsby T31 which the Cadets called a Kirby Cadet Mk3. Thus at the tender age of 16 I was able to wear my first set of wings after three successful solo flights.
I joined the RAF straight from school on an Engineering Cadetship and was enrolled at Newcastle University to study Mining Engineering. You may ask as I did the relevance of this degree for a career in the RAF but I doubt you will get a coherent answer. My stay at university was short, as we had unlimited flying available on our University Air Squadron, flying the Chipmunk. This coupled with many parties in the mess and at the local teacher training college and nurses homes led to me being invited to leave and thus joined the RAF as a direct entrant.
In 1971 I was commissioned into the Air Traffic Control (ATC) branch and served three tours at Wattisham, Akrotiri and Brawdy. Brawby was wonderful, as to satisfy the flying programme, ATC worked two half day shifts. Thus it was possible to work all morning and then fly a couple of trips in our time off in the afternoon. We flew in the Hunter, Hawk, Meteor and Jet Provost on a huge variety of sorties from air combat to simulated attacks on remote targets and bombing and strafe on the ranges. Throughout my time in ATC, I tried many times to get accepted into the flying branch but always was rejected because my records showed that as a child I got mild hay-fever. Every Friday morning our Station Commander used to do the weather check flight to keep his hand in. With the introduction of the Hawk it meant that there was always an empty seat if you got up early so every other Friday we flew together. He seemed to like the way I flew and he tried to push through a branch change for me. To my surprise it was actually looked at and I was invited to attend a medical board to be upgraded. This all happened and twelve weeks later I was at RAF Linton-on-Ouse to start.
Whilst in ATC I had done a lot more gliding and become an instructor. On starting pilot training I had over 1000 hours and had represented the RAF in both regional and national competitions. This was a big bonus and I really enjoyed the course but it was very hard at times as my second son was born during the night flying phase.
I did reasonably well and was sent to RAF Valley for fast jet training and then on to Chivenor for tactics and weapons training. My first fast jet posting was to the Lightning at Binbrook but that only lasted for a year and then on to the mighty F4 Phantom at Conningby and off to RAF Germany and No 19(F) Squadron. It was like being a child released into a sweet shop. Every day was a brilliant adventure. The squadrons task was low level air defence and we spent our days chasing Buccaneers, Harriers, Jaguars and Tornados around the North German plain. We spent a month each year in Cyprus for gunnery and another in Sardinia for combat. A great way to earn a living.
After 4 months in defence of the Falkland Islands, I returned to Germany to finish my tour. 6 weeks before tourex I was tasked to do a flight test on an F4 straight out of maintenance. All went well until we had a hydraulic failure about 15 minutes into the sortie. During the recovery to Wildenrath, the fire that had started as a result of a pipe bursting, burnt through the control to the elevator and the aircraft pitched up violently and entered a flat spin. I told the navigator to eject as we climbed and I left as the descent started. It is a bizarre sensation to watch the aircraft disappear between your feet. Luckily we were both only very slightly injured and the aircraft exploded in a corn field with little damage.
I did fly the aircraft again a few times before I left and will always love the aircraft, as it was such a capable and imposing machine in its day.
Off to fly Tornados and spend a magical 8 years at Bruggen. No 17(F) and 14 Squadrons doing all sorts of amazing stuff. Formation TF at night AAR combat instructor 4 ship lead. Every day was a new challenge and a new adventure. I ended my time on 17 leading a 4-ship in the transition to war for GW1. Then over to 14 for more of the same.
Finally after 11 brilliant years, I left Germany to become and instructor on the Tornado at Cottesmore training a mixture of German, Italian and British pilots.
Then a proper instructional tour on the Tucano to teach new RAF fast jet pilots.
Two tours on the F3 Tornado on 5 and 11 Sqns at Coningsby and Leeming and then back to instruction at RAF Cranwell.
Because I had a long pedigree in gliding I finished my time in the RAF as chief instructor at the RAF Central Gliding School at Syerston. There the main challenge was to get a fair days work out of a bunch of civil servants.
I gained a PPL very early on as a result of RAF training and was asked to instruct at the formation school at North Weald. Here I met all of the guys who would form the Aerostars. Due to an accident in 1996 I joined them and had a fabulous three years around Europe and the UK doing 7-ship formation aeros.
Around this time, I started flying historic jets and led Team Viper flying initially the Strikemaster, then Hunters. Also joined the red Gnat team flying Gnats out of North Weald. I am now very lucky to be able to fly and display no less than 9 different types of historic ex military jets.
So to my latest challenge. Mark Jefferies asked me to join the Global Stars and I jumped at the chance. There is a great atmosphere in the team focused on producing a smooth, but very tight display routine. My first practice was in Marks Extra 330SC which I fell in love with. A truly phenomenal machine. We had a tremendously productive practise and display session in Vijayawada in India and are now very much looking forward to the competition in Zhengzhou.