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Lucky Escape – “Over Dortmund”

The weather had been poor and as we approached the end of the month we were short of our target hours flown. All aircraft were consequently detailed for a long night cross-country with one important proviso – as we were still conscious of the proximity of the East German Border, any aircraft that had R/T problems was to abort the cross-country and just stooge around the area for a couple of hours.

Among the gaggle taking off were Ron (the pilot) and Len (the navigator) – both names fictitious! – and they, of course, had R/T problems. Following the directive, a two hour stooge was in prospect but, to liven the evening up a bit, they decided to swop seats. This was not as hare-brained as it may seem to the reader, as a high proportion of our navigators were pretty proficient pilots apart from landings. So, trimming the aircraft stable straight and level, Ron oozed along the windscreen and Len slipped into the left-hand seat behind him. He happily flew along with the occasional turn, drifting across the darkened countryside admiring the lights.

After an hour or two of ‘sightseeing’ Len said “Right, where are we, Ron?”. A snuffled grunt was his only reply. Ron was fast asleep! The question was repeated urgently whereupon Ron awoke and replied that he didn’t have any idea as he had been snoozing. They rapidly exchanged seats and Len set to, to try and remember what turns and straight legs he had flown. Eventually he said with hidden confidence, “Steer 198?”. “Do you know where we are then?” asked Ron. “Of course – near Dortmund”. To be honest, he didn’t have much of an idea!

After some time on the new heading, very faintly over the R/T came a pleading voice, “Compass 26, can you hear me? What is your position?”. Ron replied, and a faint course to steer was given which was almost the same as the one Len had calculated. They eventually landed having been classified as ‘Overdue’ with barely enough fuel to fill a cigarette lighter.