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Royal Air Force

Volume 527: debated on Wednesday 19 May 1954

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Saltfleet Bombing Range (Re-Opening)


asked the Undersecretary of State for Air if he will make a statement on the results of the experiments at Saltfleet bombing by radar; how far bombing in future will be made away from land as a result of this revolutionary practice; and what future use he intends to make of the Saltfleet range.

My hon. Friend will recall that this range was closed on 1st December, 1953, after several irregular releases during high-level bombing practice. I am now satisfied, as a result of recent experiments in radar-plotting, that this type of bombing can in future be carried out efficiently three or four miles from the shore, so that there should be no risk of further incident. We therefore propose to re-open the range for all types of bombing practice as soon as the necessary equipment can be installed.

Will the range be used a great deal, and can my hon. Friend give me an assurance on behalf of my constituents that they will not be subject to the dangers that they suffered some six months ago?

A good deal will depend on the success with which we are able to achieve the introduction of this new method at other coastal ranges. I think it is unlikely that Saltfleet will be used less intensively than in the past, but I think that there is a very good chance indeed that we shall now completely overcome all these difficulties.

If by mischance the new method does not prove successful, will my hon. Friend give an undertaking to close down the range?

United States Bases (Civilian Employees)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air how many British subjects offered civilian employment at United States bases in the United Kingdom have been interviewed by officials of his Department; and how many have been certified as unsuitable on security grounds.

Is it not rather curious that hundreds of British subjects should be subjected to this examination by the hon. Gentleman's Department at the request of the American authorities? Will the hon. Gentleman say whether these applicants for employment are told at the Ministry of Labour exchange, or wherever they put in their applications, that they are going to be subjected to this examination before they are taken on?

About 4,700 civilians employed by the Air Ministry are working at United States Air Force bases in this country, and nearly all of them are engaged locally. There is no central record to show how many applicants for these jobs have been interviewed since the United States Air Force bases were opened in 1948. On the specific point of whether they are told, I am afraid that I shall have to check up, but I have no doubt that they are.

As the situation is unsatisfactory and uncertain, will the hon. Gentleman take steps to see that the applicants are told?

Us Manoeuvres (Raf Observers)


asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air how many of the Royal Air Force officers who attended the United States "Flash Burn" manoeuvres have now returned to this country in order to give a first-hand eyewitness account of the lessons learnt.

Has a programme of lectures been arranged for these officers to give to other Service officers so that the lessons may be promptly learnt?

These two officers will be reporting in the first place to the Commander-in-Chief Transport Command, to the School of Land/Air Warfare and to the Air Ministry. We shall study their reports very carefully and then they will be disseminated throughout the Service in the best possible way. There are various channels for doing so. There is a magazine, "Air Clues," which has a wide circulation, and we may also issue a special pamphlet. Then, on the medical side of the matter, there will be an article in the Quarterly Report of the Director-General of Medical Services.

Will my hon. Friend not overlook the value of a firsthand eye-witness account if the lecturer can give it properly?

Yes, I shall bear that in mind. Of course, the information which these officers will bring back is mainly of interest to Transport Command and to the School of Land Air Warfare, but I will certainly look into the point that my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned.

Haverigg Aerodrome


asked the Under secretary of State for Air the tender price for the repair and renovation of the Haverigg Aerodrome, the amount assessed for labour costs, the amount assessed for materials, the gross amount paid for the work when it was completed, when the aerodrome will be closed down, and how far the aerodrome buildings will be at the service of any other Department, respectively.

It would be contrary to well-established Government practice to disclose tender prices. The gross amount paid for the work was £317,000 and no separate assessment was made for labour and materials. The station will be closed down at the end of this month, and if we still have no further use for it, in about three months' time we shall offer it to other Government Departments for public letting.

May I ask why offers have not already been made to the respective Departments, seeing that it has now been definitely decided to close down this aerodrome, rather than to keep it on a care and maintenance basis for a matter of three months? Why have offers not been made to the Ministry of Education, the Cumberland Education Authority or other authorities dealing with mental cases and so on?

Only because we want to be absolutely certain by a thorough review of all our commitments that we do not have any further use for it. We shall be certain one way or the other in about three months' time, and then we shall take action.

Will offers be made to other Departments even at the expiry of the three months?

Yes. I said in my answer that we were going to offer it to other Government Departments if we did not want it ourselves.

Disused Sites, Orkney


asked the Under-secretary of State for Air the value of equipment and buildings in Orkney still held by the Air Ministry but unused; and what is the estimated loss on such buildings and equipment by deterioration since the end of the war.

I regret that this information is not readily available. I am having inquiries made and will write to the hon. Member as soon as I can.

While I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for offering to make inquiries, I find it rather alarming that there is a necessity for this. Is there no regular system of inspection and accounting of Air Ministry property wherever it is?

There is no point in regular detailed inspections of disused sites, and in order to get the value which the hon. Member wants it would be necessary to make a special inspection.

Northolt Airport (Use)


asked the Undersecretary of State for Air, in view of the fact that a definite date has now been given when civil flying will cease at Northolt Airport, if he can now state the nature and extent of the flying which will be done by the Royal Air Force from Northolt; and whether the United States Air Force also propose to extend their use of this airport.

When civil flying from Northolt comes to an end in October, the airfield will continue to be used by transport and communication aircraft of the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force. The total amount of flying from the airfield will, however, be considerably reduced.

While we hope that the total amount will be reduced, can the Minister give an undertaking that the amount of military flying will not be increased above that done at the moment, and having agreed to give up this airport largely on safety grounds because of its proximity to London Airport, does he not agree that it would be wholly wrong now to develop it for military flying?

I cannot give an undertaking that the amount of military flying which we shall do will be no greater than we do now. Of course, we are naturally very restricted at the moment by the amount of flying we can do by the operation of civil aircraft there, but the total amount of flying will be certainly reduced as compared with what goes on now, both civil and military. As I said, we have been working out details of the flying we are going to do there, but, of course, it will be limited—it is bound to be limited—by the need to avoid interference with aircraft using London Airport.

Will its use by the United States Air Force be confined to transport planes in the same way as Transport Command is using it?

It will be certainly confined to communications and transport aircraft, but as to how many aircraft we shall have there, I should not like to say.

Will the hon. Gentleman resist any development of the airport by the American Air Force, because it would be creating considerable difficulties in the area both in respect of accommodation and air safety?

I can certainly give the assurance that we shall not expand our activities on that airfield beyond the point at which we should be a danger to London Airport, or at which there would have to be new accommodation.



asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air how many helicopters and what type are in service with the Royal Air Force; and what orders have been placed to increase the helicopter strength.

There are some 20 helicopters in service in the Royal Air Force. These are of two types—Dragonflies and Sycamores. Outstanding orders amount to 100, of which about half should be delivered in the next 12 months.

Does the hon. Gentleman feel satisfied with these figures, and would he and his Department try to have some of the enthusiasm of the Navy which has led the way in the exploitation of this aeronautical development?

Yes, Sir. We are as keen as the hon. Member to get helicopters. As I said, we have 100 on order, and I think that there should be substantial improvement in deliveries over the next year.