Gayle L. Smith
Group Operations Officer
This is a photo of aircraft on the taxi way prior to take-off (note the condition of the areas around the taxiway and runway). This procedure was normal for every mission, every aircraft and crew were lined up in a specific position that they would occupy in the overall formation.
This is the standard take-off, assembly, and flight formation procedure that I had the honor of developing. In England, other air bases were in close proximity, so a procedure had to be developed in order to avoid a conflict with other patterns. This procedure was retained throughout our missions.
Take-off roll, by the lead aircraft began at the precise time [predetermined at the Mission briefing]. A time hack was the last element of any briefing to be sure that start engines, start taxi, and start takeoff roll conserved fuel to ensure a return. All of this was to assure an exact time over the target. Each aircraft followed the preceding aircraft by 20 seconds. If any aircraft experienced trouble on takeoff and had to abort, he fired a flare to signal his trouble to the aircraft immediately behind so that aircraft could either delay his takeoff roll or also abort to avoid a collision.
Forming the six-ship flight and the 18-ship box was accomplished by adhering to each aircraft following the timing into the turns. The second box of 18 aircraft would be exactly six minutes behind the first box; hence, the six-minute turn that allowed the boxes to get into formation.
This is the relative position of a box of 18 aircraft. This elevation difference would prevent accidents between flights during turns. Each box of 18 aircraft would fly high and/or low on the other box for the same safety reasons.
This is the standard procedure for landing on return from a mission. Aircraft returning with wounded on board had priority and would drop out of formation to land first. The aircraft, low on fuel, was also given priority. (We had one close call with one aircraft losing one engine and landing with a later determined 35 gallons of fuel). At Chipping Ongar we had to depend on the main runway, so any aircraft with major battle damage that might crash on landing and tie up the runway would be delayed, if non-life threatening.