View Full Version : Hunting the Weather: RAF Met Operations Described in 1935

29th April 2013, 15:00
Found this newspaper article thought it would interest some here!|


By John Fugh late of the R.A.F.

29th April 2013, 15:17
My Leader will be on to this as soon as he has returned from being taken for a walk by his dogs!
But it just gives a taste of what experimental met recces were like at one period in time! The Met Men on the ground at this time were just beginning to realise that some very strange things happened 30,000 ft up. It was the observations made by intrepid aviators, such as John Fugh, that enabled them to work out what and why - but it was a long time in the gestation.
Nice one. Tks Paul
Peter Davies

29th April 2013, 23:19
Thanks for the interesting link, Paul - a good find. Pugh's version of events ties in very closely with Jeffrey Quill's account in "Spitfire: A Test-Pilot's Story".

I think this must be John Bernard Walter Pugh; it's a bit difficult to follow his career from "Flight", and the only reference I can find to a unit is a transfer to 43 Sqn in March 1929. He was awarded the AFC in the June 1932 Birthday Honours List (http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1932/1932%20-%200555.html), and shortly after transferred to the Reserve (18 June 1932).

As the AFC was awarded to a number of Met Flight pilots on completing a two-year tour with the unit during this era, I suspect he was with the Met Flight between 1930 and 1932.


30th April 2013, 08:41
I fixed the text on the Trove website here is the corrected article

Sunday Mail (Brisbane) - Sunday 25 August 1935

Five Miles Up
Hunting the Weather
R.A.F. Thrills
By John Fugh, late of the R.A.F.
Two members of the Royal Air , Force in England — a flying-officer and a sergeant-pilot — have the coldest and possibly one of the most thrilling: jobs in the world. For they have to chase Icelandic “depressions” five miles up in the clouds in order to provide data for the daily wireless weather reports.
THE airmen form the "Meteorological Flight"— or what is more generally known as "The Met. Flight"— and they start from Duxford aerodrome, Cambridge, at dawn every day of the year, just to tell people what sort of weather they may expect. I was a member of the "Met. Flight" for two years. So I can speak from experience of the risks and thrills of this daily jaunt into the clouds. The flight was started, more than ten years ago by Lord Trenchard, then Air Vice-Marshal, and the information obtained from day to day has been of the greatest value to the Meteorological Office. Although the weather on the earth's surface is not the same as in the upper air, the upper-air conditions are generally an indication of what may be expected below. The wind and temperature vary every thousand feet or so, and careful records have to be made of each variation. Height, of course, is the main consideration; the airmen often finish their flight miles away from the base, hopelessly lost.
It is so cold on these flights that it was necessary to wear electrically heated clothing. Often I had to turn on extra heat to thaw the rime on my goggles, otherwise my vision would have been impeded, thus adding to the general discomfort. Ice forms, too, in the oxygen mask and on the propeller. The flight is carried out in an ordinary single-seater "fighter" minus its warlike equipment, such as machine guns, bombs, etc., meteorological instruments being substituted. The instruments comprise an aneroid, which indicates the pressure of the air at different altitudes; a psychrometer, which records temperature and the humidity of the atmosphere; a gauge showing the pressure of the oxygen supplied to the airman, and a control for regulating his electrically-heated clothing. So you see there is quite a lot to look after in addition to piloting the 'plane; in fact, mere flying becomes almost automatic. You have to wear an oxygen mask in addition to your goggles and helmet, because after 20,000ft. the air is very rarefied. Flights have often been carried out to 20,000ft. without oxygen, but when you are doing the job every day of the year you aim at being on the safe side.
Let me give a mental picture of what it feels like to make this flight. Imagine that it is dawn on a winter's morn, with a light hoar frost covering the ground, and the little 'plane ticking over in fine tune, ready for its five- mile trip into the sky. The chocks are pulled away, and over the aerodrome the 'plane races. Soon I find myself plough through a soft, woolly mars, of cloud, although I am only 500ft. up. Through this drifting, featureless world I ascend until the 'plane reaches 1000 feet. Then I take the first readings of weather conditions, and note them in a little book strapped to my knees. Then up we soar to 2000 —3000—4000 feet, noting the readings periodically until I have reached 20,000 feet. Up goes the nose of the 'plane again, and the altimeter registers 23,000, then 24,000, and on up to 26,000 feet. I feel myself growing sleepy, not with fatigue, but because of the rarefied atmosphere. At these altitudes one experiences a feeling of lassitude, and concentration is so difficult that you can even forget the readings on your instrument between the time of reading them and noting them in your re =cord book.

When the last observation is taken you turn the aeroplane's nose down and spin home. You don't take a straight nose-dive, for the rush of cold air renders one liable to frost-bite, while an ordinary glide would take too long, with the risk of- the engine ' freezing up. Then comes the inevitable speculation as to where you will land. For the last hour and a half you have been drifting through a befogged world, concentrating on air pressures, temperatures, and heights. You never have the least idea of where you are, but you hope for the best. At 9000 feet you come out of your, spin to check up and have a look round. Then, if the woolly mass of cloud persists, you go more carefully down the next few thousand feet. After one has dropped to 1000 feet the next thrill is finding a hole in the mass of cloud through which to take your bearings. You begin to think you will have to fly "blind" for ever, when suddenly you see a faint smudge of green below. Quickly you dive for it, before the drifting clouds cut off your view
On one occasion when the wheels of my 'plane touched the ground, I found myself in a valley between two jagged-looking hills, 700 feet high. Had I landed a little more to the left ' or right my machine would have been wrecked. On one occasion I came out of the clouds on a cold October morning, and found myself only 200 feet above what I afterwards found was the North Sea, but I took a chance and flew west, eventually, to my joy, reaching the English coast. As ths machine did not carry wireless it was impossible, of course, to check up one's position while in the air. I had the biggest fright of my life once when I noticed smoke coming out of the cockpit of my machine at a height of 25.000 feet. Immediately I thought that the machine was on fire, and was preparing to make a parachute jump, when I discovered that the smoke was coming from my clothes, and not from the machine. One of the wires that carried electrical heat through my flying suit had fused, and the clothes were smouldering. I dived for the ground just in time, and tore my clothes off as soon as I landed.

30th April 2013, 13:52
Thank you for taking all this trouble, Paul.

What I find interesting about these personal accounts - about anything, not just meteorology - are the bits you KNOW are wrong, but written in good faith.

In this case it's the reference to Trenchard and his initiative in starting the Met Flights. I've copies of an exchange of correspondence between Trenchard and the Air Ministry during 1918, in which the AM requested Trenchard, then GOC of the Independent Force in France, to establish a Met Flight in his French baliwick. He was much against the idea.

Moving forward to 1924, the proposal for the establishment of the Met Flight came from the Met Office - and while accepting the idea, the RAF left the decision as to where it should be located to the Director General of the Met Office.

Many thanks again.


30th April 2013, 15:04
I agree with Lyffe entirely. The deeper one delves into primary sources the ‘muddier’ the, later, ‘perceived truth’ becomes! What I was taught, meteorologically, at my early training school days has turned out to be not quite what actually happened. The background, education, intellectual abilities, etc, of any number of Senior Officers has to be viewed against the ‘mores’ of the time. Cavalry Officers, Destroyer Captains, and Fighter Pilots were all considered, at one time, to be ‘la crème de la crème’. Many were subsequently found wanting either in times of crisis, or in strategic planning. It depends upon which end of the telescope you are looking through, and with reference to what time scale. The, now, ground-based Pilots the RAF has is just a small instance of what I am talking about. This, as far as I am concerned, is what makes the hours fossicking about on the internet so fascinating!!
Peter Davies

11th May 2013, 23:13
As a matter of interest does/would the AFL give the locations/units of officers? If so, where was F/O John Bernard Walter Pugh in March and June 1930?


12th May 2013, 08:42
Hi Brian

He joined No 43 Sqn in March 1929 straight from No 5 FTS and is still shown there in July 1930 for Signals duties.


12th May 2013, 23:54
Thank you Malcolm. I'm surprised he hadn't moved on by July as that would mean he spent less that 2 years with the Met Flight - always assuming I've identified the right man.

C'est la vie.