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Wing Commander J.F.D ‘Tim’ Elkington RAF

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Tim Elkington with a Hawker Hurricane

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On Sunday 16th September 2018, our Events Manager, Dave Hands, had the pleasure of meeting with Wing Commander Tim Elkington at his home.  Together, they chatted about Tim’s long RAF career (Tim joined in 1939 and retired in 1975) which saw him fly an incredible range of aircraft, including Hurricanes in The Battle of Britain, Russia and India, Spitfires and Typhoons with 197 Squadron.  Tim sadly passed away in 2019, aged 98.

Tim was not actually his real name.  Tim’s full name is John Francis Durham Elkington, but he didn’t really like the name John and from an early age has been called ‘Tim’ by family and friends.  It stuck.  He had no recollection of why the name Tim was used.

Tim started his military flying career in 1939 aged 18 with 9 Flying Training School (FTS) at Cranwell.  He started in de Havilland Tiger Moths and described this time as slow with lots of waiting around due to the sudden influx of men wanting to train to fly.  He progressed from Tiger Moths to Hawker Harts and Hinds and said that the next step to Hurricanes was an easy one as ‘remove the top wing from either of them and you have a Hurricane.’

His first operational duties were on Hurricanes with 1 Squadron in 1940, based at RAF Northolt and, within 2 days of arriving, he was shot down.  Tim described the incident like this, ‘The first I knew I was being shot at was my right-wing tank exploding.  No tracer, just a bang and I bailed out with it all happening very quickly.  I never saw my adversary.’

In 1941, he joined 134 Squadron and ended up near Murmansk training Russian and Czech pilots to fly the Hurricane.  He described them all as extremely polite and kind.

By January 1943 Tim had returned to England and joined 197 Squadron based at Tangmere flying the Hawker Typhoon Mk.Ib.  Their operational duties were as bomber escorts, interceptors and attacking enemy shipping. 197 were never ordered to carry out any low-level attacks in France and Tim couldn’t remember a single time when they carried out a low-level attack, other than to attack enemy shipping near the French coast.  Although Tim had two confirmed kills to his name (including one in Russia), he said that in his whole time of flying from 1939 to 1945 he could only remember seeing four enemy aircraft in the air, which is remarkable considering where he was based.

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A Page From Tim’s Logbook Showing 29 Hrs 45 Mins in Typhoons For That Month

Tim never got to fly a Typhoon with a bubble canopy, which he said was a shame as the visibility was more restricted in the car door version and was undoubtedly more difficult to get into and, more importantly, to get out of.  There was a background smell of carbon monoxide in the early days of flying the Typhoon but he spent every moment in the cockpit with an oxygen mask on. Tim never experienced any problems with headaches or nausea due to any exhaust gases.  His Typhoon had the fish plate stiffeners on and didn’t experience any of the vibration issues that led to tailplane failures. Having said that, late in 1943 he flew the Typhoon to Cowley Airfield (Morris Motors’ repair and ATA refurb airfield) to have the fuselage modifications made to strengthen the whole back end, ‘whilst I spent a lovely evening in Oxford.’  The fish plates were put back as it was ‘good for the soul to have them there.’  Again, he never experienced any of the vibration or bad handling before or after the mod. Tim said ‘in all my time of flying a Typhoon I didn’t have one engine issue or mechanical difficulty and I found it to be a very reliable plane.’ With a wry smile, he added, ‘a popular myth at the time was that the Typhoon’s vibration made one sterile but none of us in 197 ever found that or had problems.’

Life at Tangmere was very much airfield based and it was rare for him to leave the airfield boundary and he couldn’t remember visiting the local pubs or towns.  ‘Having said that, we used to get lots of visits from London to show actors and actresses around, so there was a good social life on the base. On one occasion they were watching a review by the Windmill Girls when two Typhoons were scrambled.  The runway ran East to West past the officer’s mess and the roar of the two Tiffies made a big impression on the girls, they liked that. The Typhoon had a particular sound, it wasn’t necessarily high pitched but was a roar. You knew when one was around, it was lovely.’

In his time at Tangmere, Tim flew Spitfires, Wildcats, Hellcats, Mustangs and an Fw190.  He would have flown the Me109 but the day before he was due to, another pilot crashed it.  Tangmere was where the Test and Research Establishment was based at the time which is why he got to fly other types.  In early 1944 he was posted to 67 Squadron and back onto Hurricanes as part of the defence of Calcutta in India, finally returning to England in 1946.

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The Incredible List of Aircraft Types Tim Flew From His Log Book

I asked him how the Typhoon compared with other types he’d flown.  ‘Every type was different and all flew differently so it’s unfair and difficult to compare them but the Typhoon made you feel secure and was a very good aeroplane with no vices that I can remember.  I took the Fw190 up for a flight merely for fun and not to evaluate. I was very impressed by its lateral stability and very fast rate of roll. You just had to touch the stick lightly and the roll was immediate.  It was lovely, lovely to fly. The Typhoon was heavier but still lovely to fly.  As for what other other pilots thought of the Typhoon, I don’t know as we only had Typhoons when I was at Tangmere and if anything else came in we didn’t tend to hang around with them.‘

As for what Tim considered his highlight in Typhoons, he sat there for a moment before answering. ‘Everyday.  Every day was a highlight.  Every day was a good day.‘  And the worst day or the worst part of operations?  ‘I can’t think of one.  It was odd, we were never right in the thick of it and almost seemed too late sometimes. I didn’t fly over France until after it was liberated and never saw the enemy in the air there.  I do regret not flying the Mosquito we had at Tangmere for a bit as I heard good things about it but I did have a go in the Beaufighter.’

So what advice would he give to a future pilot regarding the Typhoon?  Tim paused and then smiled, ‘don’t rush starting up. If you press the start before priming then you have at least a 30-second wait until you can try again and you lose valuable time.  Do this too often and the chamber can flood with a possible fire. One only got 5 chances as you only had 5 cartridges. Don’t rush the start. As for flying, I can’t remember any vices and with yours having a bubble canopy there will be no visibility issues.’  I said that we don’t have the cartridge start on RB396 and he smiled and said ‘still don’t rush the start.’

When I asked him how he felt about a Typhoon being put back in the air, Tim smiled and just said ‘I want to fly it.’  He elaborated soon after. ‘It’s very good to hear, do you think you will be able to do it?.’  My answer was a simple yes. Tim was very interested to hear about the engine and how the project has come to have it.  He was also pleased with the way the project is going about things, that the engine is one of the last items to be renovated and will take three years on its own. I didn’t need to explain why as he did an arm movement to show that the parts could be seized.  I explained that 2024 was the date for first flight and Tim smiled, ‘My children and grandchildren will like to see that as I may well not be here.’  I let him know that if he couldn’t make it to the first flight then I’m sure we could arrange a flyby over the house at some point.  ‘I’d like that,’ he said. tim3

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