Alan Streeter, joined the Royal Navy initially aged 16, at HMS Pembroke in 1960, as a Junior Writer, and served, four tumultuous years before it became apparent to both himself and their Lordships, that he was not destined to achieve fame as a clerk. Invited to consider transferring to the Royal Marines, he did so in January 1964.
By February the next year, he had completed training, and been promoted to Corporal, before being posted to 40 Commando in the Far East, alternating between Singapore/Malaysia and active service in Sarawak, as a Section Commander. During this time, the Corps started training SNCO pilots, and he volunteered his services. Initially reluctant to accept this offer, the Corps finally sent him on an aptitude test to Biggin Hill, upon his return to the UK, and a short stint in 43 Commando in 1967.
As much to his astonishment as anybody else’s he was accepted, and joined 202 army Pilot’s course in May 1968. Upon qualifying, he was promoted to Sergeant, and sent to 40 Commando Air Troop where for the next few months, he was based at Roborough Airport in Plymouth, along with Lts.Richard Hawkins and John Gregson, as well as Sgts. Steve Watson, Jim Mackie, and Noel Murison, whilst just across the helipad, 41 Cdo Air Troop was led by Lt. Ian Uzell with the support of Pete Lawrence, and Brian (Bob) Eaton.
In these early stages, when overconfidence kills so many young pilots, any such tendency toward this was negated one summer afternoon, at Dartmouth College. Having been sent there, with a Sioux, he took part in a static rotary wing display for the edification of the students. Midshipmen, Cadets, and many officers from all around the world on courses at the college, came past in small packets all through that long hot day. Toward the end, two Chinese Lieutenants from the Singapore Defence Force, examining the helicopter noticed Alan Streeter’s Sergeant chevrons. They asked if he was the pilot, and when he affirmed this they expressed amazement. Querying their reaction, he was told that their surprise was due to the fact, that until then, they thought one had to be intelligent to fly helicopters.
Just qualified to carry passengers, he was sent to Norway in February 1970, with the rest of 45 Commando, where it took up the challenge of protecting the northern flank of NATO from the Russian hordes, should they choose to invade.
In 1970, having started to master the art of arctic mountain flying, the Corps sent him to Singapore and 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron, flying over the Malaysian Jungle, where DPRORM felt that he could best consolidate his newly acquired expertise. Here he served with many colourful and unforgettable characters too numerous to mention, but fondly recalls Neil (I got run over by the Bulwark when I ditched) Macawley, and Bill (I like body painting Go-Go Dancers preparing for the Squadron Xmas Party) Hazell amongst the many other good friends he made there.
Returning to the UK along with the rest of the Air Squadron to Plymouth in1971, he was converted onto the Scout and sent to Arbroath and 45 Cdo, where he served, except for detachments to the normal Commando carrying ships, Norway, Northern Ireland and Sardinia, until being sent on a ground tour in 1973. One of his memories is the engine failure suffered during a low altitude air test three miles from Arbroath airfield. The autorotational qualities of the Scout will be remembered by those who have flown it as ‘startling’, and from the tower at Arbroath his descent could be marked by the almost vertical thin brown vapour trail he left, and his somewhat truncated Mayday call, which consisted of the sentence “-kin’ hell, the engine’s stopped!”.
On his ground tour as a Troop Sgt/Cdr in Charlie Company, 40 Commando, he wiled away the next eighteen months serving in both Northern Ireland and Cyprus. When Turkey invaded Cyprus to stop the programme of genocide adopted by the Greek Cypriots upon their Turkish speaking compatriots, having declared ‘Enosis’ with Greece; he found himself less than 24 hours afterward, inspecting his troop, on the perimeter track at RAF Akrotiri.
His aviation training meant that if any aggressors had made any difficulties for his Troop, he could have brought down more grief upon their heads than the rest of the unit fire controllers put together, being AOP, MFC, FAC and NGFSO trained. This does not reflect upon Alan Streeter’s abilities, being no more than any other ULA pilot’s, but does bring into question the policy of the Corps at that time, whereby highly trained personnel were sent to squander this training doing a job of questionable value either to themselves or the Corps.
Upon his refamil on Scouts at Middle Wallop in late 1974, he returned the Air Sqn, based at Coypool, and once again the rotations to Northern Ireland, and exercises in the Mediterranean continued, until sent back to Wallop for the first RM Gazelle conversion course, where he was trained by the long suffering, and immensely patient Derek Blevins.
He then returned to Coypool, where he was posted to Montefortebeek Flight once more, this time, with an additional task as an Instrument Rating Instructor, preparing hapless students for their ‘White’ and ‘Green’ card rating examinations, under the eagle eye of IRE, Graham Jeffs.
This was accomplished by spending long hours over Dartmoor, doing climbing and descending turns etc., and occasionally, when long thin tubular clouds were observed in the vicinity, doing some ‘actual IF’, by entering at one end, and flying carefully down the length of said cloud, until popping out at the other, usually still upright.
In February of 1977, he ‘resigned’ his non-commission, in favour of civilian life, and a job as a pilot with Bristow Helicopters in Aberdeen. He joined at the time of the legendary strike, and having refused to join the picket line, and due to the shortage of pilots, was trained on the S58T, promoted Captain, and sent out over the North Sea, single pilot, in winter, in the space of three weeks! It was at this stage, after nine years flying, that he suddenly started learning his trade! Given the peripatetic nature of helicopter aviation, there followed postings to Teesside, the Shetlands and the Island of Skye, in a variety of jobs ranging from Line Pilot to Chief Pilot, and (on Skye), as the low-tide cockle and mussel gatherer.
In the early eighties, he was lucky enough to attend the first S76 course in the UK, and having completed the technical training, was sent to Florida for the 1179, flying training, and qualification.
Returning to Aberdeen, with a small band of colleagues comprising the ‘S76 Fleet’ he was instrumental in getting the aircraft accepted by the cautious Oil Companies. In 1982, he was sent to Nigeria where, for the next five years he flew the S76 and the Bell 212 out of Port Harcourt, and Eket on the Atlantic coast whilst planning his escape from Africa. In 1985 he succeeded in this, by dint of resigning, and moving to Abu Dhabi Aviation, flying Bell 212s, in the Persian Gulf.
After three years of unchallenging flying, a hitherto undetected streak of masochism drove him back into the arms of Bristow Helicopters, and the North Sea, this time in the S61N. Living in Aberdeen until 1992, he flew to all of the fields both North and South, (including the Piper, the morning after it exploded, carrying specialist fire fighters). In 1992, after a brief refamil on the S76, he was sent to Malta as Chief Pilot, where for the next six months, he did everything in his power to assist Amoco to find oil, having been promised the permanent job there, if they were successful in their endeavours.
At a depth of just over four kilometres, Amoco declared it the deepest, driest hole in the history of their Company, and Alan Streeter returned disconsolately to Aberdeen, where he continued with the S76 until 1996, when he was sent to China.
After nearly two years in that fascinating country, where his taste for Chinese food was catered for with a vengeance, the contract folded, and he returned to the North Sea, this time operating from Den Helder in Holland. Rumours of impending UK redundancies in 1999 reached him (later confirmed), and to avoid the scythe, most reluctantly, requested and was granted, a posting to Nigeria, flying the 76 and 212 out of Port Harcourt. During this time, he met many ex-bootneck pilots also working in Africa. Dave Nelson, Steve Watson, Don Burton, Barrie Shepherd, Ian Maryan, and Bob Evans to name but a few.
However, given the life style in Nigeria, it did not take long for the job to pall, which, even the plum of a conversion onto the EC155, and a glass cockpit, did nothing to disperse. He recalls that sitting in the Captain’s seat for the first time in February 2002, when the LCD screens came to life, he suddenly knew exactly how a dog feels watching television. Thus it was; after, in the space of one year, having contracted cerebral malaria, labyrinthitis, and had irrefutable proof of the veracity of Darwin’s theories presented to him on a daily basis, that in spite of a healthy tax free salary, and five months off each year, in June 2004, he stopped flying, left Africa forever, and moved to Cyprus, where he presently resides.
Alan spends his retirement languishing beside his pool, attending rugby matches in support of his local team, (surprising numbers of retired chopper pilots may also frequently be seen at these events, standing in the blazing sun, and clutching the inevitable plastic pint glasses full of Keo beer); or travelling with his Chinese wife to other parts of the world. Should any old friends read this, and wish to contact him, they may do so through his e-mail address. firstname.lastname@example.org .