Tag Archives: Royal Air Force

Blind RAF Hawk pilot lands safely thanks to the help of his wingman

An incredible rescue mission recently took place at RAF Leeming during a training sortie in a Hawk jet.

On Jan. 28, 2016 an unnamed Royal Air Force Hawk pilot that lost his sight due to an eye infection while in a routine training sortie, was able to make a safe landing thanks to the help received from another pilot who flew alongside his plane to talk him down.

As reported by Telegraph.co.uk, at one point the pilot’s vision was so bad that his commander considered having him to eject into the North Sea since there was little chance he could land safely.

But because of the ejection injuries he could have suffered, the commander decided to dispatch another pilot, Flt. Lt. Paul Durban, an experienced  Tornado driver now assigned to RAF Leeming, who talked him down.

According to a RAF spokesman, the pilot that suffered the partial loss of vision was flanked by Durban and then they flew in formation back to RAF Leeming “where the pilot landed the aircraft uneventfully. Flying in formation, and conducting an approach to land as a formation, is a skill practised daily by RAF fast jet pilots.”

The BAe Hawks belonged to the RAF’s 100 Sqn which uses this aircraft to train forward air controllers and to act as enemy jets in training missions.

Image credit: Crown Copyright


Cool photos show new special-colored Hawk that celebrates Royal Air Force’s 208(R) Squadron’s 100th anniversary

A RAF Hawk gets a new special tail.

A RAF 208(R) Squadron Hawk TMk1 has been adorned with a special centenary painted tail fin to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the unit.

Hawk Special Tail

The tail of the aircraft features the Squadron’s distinctive blue and yellow colors which represent the sky and the sands of the desert respectively.

This color scheme was used during the inter-war years and reflects the unit’s long association with the Middle East where the Squadron operated until the British armed forces withdrew from Persian Gulf in 1971. The unit crest depicting the sphinx at Gizeh in Egypt and the Squadron motto “Vigilant” are also painted on the fin.

Hawk Vigilant

The unit was established on Oct. 25, 1916 as No. 8 (Naval) Squadron, Royal Naval Air Service. Today 208(R) Squadron is based at RAF Valley and flies BAE Hawk TMK1 aircraft in the advanced flying training and tactical weapons role, training pilots from RAF, Royal Navy and foreign air forces to front line operational conversion unit input standard.

Hawk 100th Anniversary

Image credit: Crown Copyright

Gulf War 25th anniversary special: a quick look at the RAF Tornado’s reconnaissance missions over Iraq

Scud Hunt has been one of the main tasks for RAF Tornado aircrews during the First Gulf War.

Born in response to Great Britain, Germany and Italy’s requirement for an advanced attack aircraft capable to fly at ultra-low altitude, the MRCA (Multi Role Combat Aircraft) program led to the birth of one of Europe’s most important combat planes: the Panavia Tornado.

The “Tonka” (as the plane was later dubbed) was developed in three main variants: the IDS (Interdiction and Strike) fighter bomber, the ECR (Electronic Combat and Reconnaissance) specialized in SEAD role, and the ADV (Air Defense Variant) fighter.

The first flight of the Tornado took place on Aug. 14, 1974 and its variants (excluding the Tornado ADV) are still in front line service with the Royal Air Force, the German Air Force, the Italian Air Force and the Royal Saudi Air Force.

The first large deployment of Tonkas was in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm (named Operation Granby by the Royal Air Force) in Iraq, where RAF brought also some examples of Tornado GR.Mk 1A, the reconnaissance version of the European multirole aircraft. The latter represented a new generation in data acquisition platforms, since it recorded its pictorial information on videotape instead of traditional film.

Since this “recce” variant had only recently entered service and was experiencing several problems with the quality of its imagery, six GR.Mk 1As from Nos II and 13 Squadrons were only able to arrive at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, between Jan. 14 and 16, 1991, hours before the beginning of the war.

But this late deployment didn’t prevent a worthwhile use of the Tornado GR.Mk 1A: in fact, the first three missions performed by the reconnaissance verision of the Tonka were all “Scud hunts”, conducted against the mobile missile launchers which were attacking Saudi Arabia and threatening Israel. In this kind of mission, the GR.Mk 1A proved to be an invaluable asset, thanks to the so-called “Tornado Reconnaissance System” which consisted of a near real-time observable infra-red line scan mounted beneath the fuselage.

Tornado Scud Hunt

Since the line scan could operate at night without need of photo flashes, all Desert Storm missions were flown after the sunset. The first sortie was flown by the commander of No. II Squadron, Wing Commander Al Threadgould with Flight Lieutenant Tim Robinson as navigator who, due to the lack of tankers, took off with a pair of 2,250 liter drop tanks under the wings and two 1,500 liter tanks beneath the fuselage which dramatically boosted their range.

However, a fuel feed problem forced the two to abort the mission and another pair of Tonkas, flown by Squadron Leaders Dick Garwood and Jon Hill and by Flight Lieutenants Brian Robinson and Gordon Walker, took over the sortie for them.

The two aircrews were able to bring several images of a Scud launcher in firing position back home but the bad weather prevented attack aircraft from destroying the launcher before it was driven away.

Garwood revealed some details of that sortie in the book Gulf Air War Debrief: “It was a very, very black night: probably one of the darkest I have flown on. Once you get out over the desert, especially over Iraq, there are no lights on the ground. You are flying very low. We saw the odd Bedouin encampment flash by on the left-hand side of the wing.” After they landed back to Dhahran, a single flack hole was found in the top of the rudder of their Tornado.

Noteworthy, most of the Scud hunt missions lasted from 2 ½ to 3 hours with 20 to 60 minutes over Iraq, except for one sortie flown by the Flight Lieutenants Rick Halley and Hangus Hogg, of No. II Squadron, which protracted for 4 hours and 25 minutes.

A typical reconnaissance mission involved three to four line searches of a strip of road or a section of river and the aircrews always operated in pre-planned routes to avoid Iraqi air defenses. For this type of sortie the normal operating altitude was 200 ft, with hard ride selected on the TFR (Terrain Following Radar) and speeds between 540 and 580 kts.

Other types of missions flown by RAF reconnaissance crews included target overflights before and after the attack to supply detailed imagery material for pre- or post- strike examination and several sorties to provide cover for Special Forces infiltration routes.

Tornado GR.Mk 1A

Image credit: Crown Copyright via Wg Cdr David Bolsover

Interesting picture shows a fully armed RAF Typhoon participating in ISIS air war during AAR

RAF Eurofighter Typhoons have joined the service Tornados in air strikes against the Islamic State.

Taken on Dec.22, 2015 from the boom position aboard a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker belonging to 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron (EARS), this interesting photo shows a fully armed Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 as it receives fuel over Iraq.

It is one of the first ever taken to a RAF Eurofighter performing a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the air campaign conducted against ISIS: interestingly the aircraft carries 4x Paveway IV bombs, along with 4 AIM-120 and 2 ASRAAM air-to-air missiles.

Deployed to reinforce the RAF contingent at Akrotiri, Cyprus, from Dec. 3, 2015, the Typhoon is actually a multirole aircraft, even if (unlike the Tornado GR4 attack jets) it can only carry Paveway LGBs. In fact Brimstones and Storm Shadows are pending integration in the following years, before the retirement of the RAF Tonkas from active service.

Image credit: Staff Sgt. Corey Hook / U.S. Air Force

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TriLateralEx 2015 Final Report: F-22s, Typhoons and Rafales prepare for Future Air Warfare

The exercise featured the cutting edge air dominance aircraft in service today.

The inaugural Trilateral Exercise held Dec. 2-18 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE) in Virginia not only represented a visible component of the collaboration between Allies, it also provided the back drop for the leadership of the respective Air Forces to lay out future challenges and direction.

The United States Air Force (USAF) F-22 Raptor, the Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon, the French Air Force (FAF) Dassault Rafale (Blue Air), were complemented by the USAF E-3G Block 40/45 AWACS, and supplemented (Red Air) by the USAF T-38 Talon and F-15E Strike Eagle.

French Armee De L'Air Rafale C taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

French Armee De L’Air Rafale C taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

Colonel Broadwell, the Commander of the 1st Operations Group based at JBLE commented that the exercise was “an unprecedented opportunity. The three premier fighter aircraft of these nations had not previously trained together, and it was great to train with them, rather than just meet them in the theater (AOR).”

RAF 3 Sqn EU Typhoon FGR4 readies for launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

RAF 3 Sqn EU Typhoon FGR4 readies for launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

Contrary to popular thought, the exercise had little to do with air warfare taking place today over Syria and Iraq.

Colonel Michel Friedling, Chief of the Air Force planning bureau within the French Ministry of Defense noted Our role is to think beyond what is going on right now so we can maintain air superiority in future air operations. Our job is to imagine the way we can operate together in a contested environment, for the next decade.”

RAF EU Typhoon taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

RAF EU Typhoon taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

Progress made since the TriLateral Initiative was announced in 2010 has the United Kingdom, France and the United States featuring regular officers not just at the exchange level as pilots, but as regular appointees in the strategic steering groups. Allied steering of strategy demonstrates a tremendous degree of trust and speaks of the closeness and importance of these relationships.

French Armee De L'Air Rafale C taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

French Armee De L’Air Rafale C taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

Leadership consistently made the point that the TriLateral Exercise was in many ways a counterpoint to that type of air warfare experienced in the past 15 to 25 years that has shown no substantial threat to allied air dominance in a theater of war.

General Mark Welsh III, Chief of Staff USAF noted, “I think the big benefit of the exercise is that these three air forces have capability that many air forces don’t. This exercise places our air crews, maintenance crews, intelligence support teams in a scenario that is more demanding than the ones we have recently seen around the world. As such it prepares us for a future operating environment that may be more difficult than what we have been fighting in, and is really an important step to refocusing on that full spectrum fight that we have not been involved with in recent years but is always a potential in the future.”

French Armee De L'Air Rafale C taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

French Armee De L’Air Rafale C taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

In a similar vein of thought, Chief of the Air Staff (RAF), Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford noted that in many ways, due to the operational pace and the type of uncontested air warfare the RAF has been involved in “the higher end skills to deal with air warfare in the contested space have been reduced, and they are now working a defined program to bring baseline skills up.”

FrAF Dassualt Rafale launches from JBLE during the TriLateral Exercise.

FrAF Dassualt Rafale launches from JBLE during the TriLateral Exercise.

More specifically General Frank Gorenc, Commander USAFE noted, “the exercise is focused on utilizing the capabilities of the aircraft to penetrate Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) environments, places where potential adversaries have taken what are very complex, very capable surface to air missile systems putting them together in a way that they are layered. This provides a redundancy in the same air space with the express purpose of making sure that whatever area we are talking about cannot be attacked from the air.”

Some of the most effective and sophisticated systems that support A2AD are the Russian S-300 and S-400 air defense systems. These systems (and like) are proliferating around the globe at an alarming rate. While not being specific in naming the systems or potential theaters, General Mark Welsh noted that while there may be “10 integrated Air Defense systems in the world today, they anticipate that there will be 25 such systems deployed globally in 10 years.” The Air Force must be able to “dismantle them, create lanes – until then, the military cannot can’t perform effective land and sea operations.”

One can certainly see the three featured aircraft and the incoming F-35 (and additional weapons systems like the EA-18 Growler) playing a critical part in “creating lanes” through an area featuring advanced A2AD.

To those ends the 5th generation Raptor, and 4.5 generation Typhoon and Rafale took to the skies multiple times a day to refine Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs). Primary objectives included simply learning to communicate effectively, and then utilizing each platforms strengths to defeat A2AD environments.

USAF F-22 Raptor taxis past line up RAF Typhoons at the inaugural TriLateral exercise JBLE.

USAF F-22 Raptor taxis past line up RAF Typhoons at the inaugural TriLateral exercise JBLE.

General H. Carlisle, Commander Air Combat Command USAF noted that they are “three great aircraft – together they can do so much more than they can individually because they bring strengths that complement each other and make the whole force that much better.”

To assist in the realism, F-15E Strike Eagles (Seymour Johnson AFB, NC) and T-38 Talon adversary aircraft (JLBE) flew as adversaries to the missions. The missions also featured the completely upgraded and recently deployed E-3G Block 40/45 Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) and various tanker aircraft.

One of the clear messages of the exercise was the commitment to leverage and maintain a technological edge in the future Air Force. Technology will be critical to address the full spectrum threats in a given theater; Surface to Air missile systems, Air to Air platforms, Electronic Warfare, Cyberattack and more.

General Mark Welsh noted, “For the last 15 years we’ve been focused on an environment that is very permissive and as a result the legacy systems we’ve had in our air force that made us great for the last 50 years have been very successful. We must modernize our air force so that we’re great for the next 50 years, and unfortunately there’s nothing operationally today that is driving that modernization except threats that could emerge. What’s very clear in lessons learned from this exercise is that the technical capability that we bring to the fight will continue to drive success or failure. Air forces that fall behind the technology curve will fail, and we can’t let that happen.”

The cost of deploying sophisticated and technologically advanced systems is high (F-22, F-35, LRS-B) and requires a careful balance to ensure adequate force size is maintained. General Mark Welsh commented to that, “we have to maintain a balance of capability, capacity and readiness. The price of systems has prohibited us from buying all top end equipment over time. Quantity does have a quality all its own in this business, especially if you are expected to respond to multiple places and we are a global Air Force. And so we are going to have to look at a high low mix of capability. But we must modernize the high-end capability and then reduce cost in providing capability for the low threat spectrum. We’re going to have to do that. And we have to be allowed to divest some of the capability that made us great in order to invest in the things that will make us great. We have to be able to do that. There are some tough decisions that have to be made, or our policy makers need to decide how they want to use their instrument of national power in a different way then we have been using it.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford referenced the United Kingdom’s recent political response to the same dynamic, “my own Air Force is now smaller arguably than it’s been in its service history, but it’s also I would argue in so many ways the most potent that it’s ever been. And that balance between investment and financial challenges of investment in technology and pure numbers is one that you’ve only got to look at this recent Defense & Security Review in the UK to see what the British Government were able to do. They recognized that there was an aspect when it came to numbers and we are adding two additional Typhoon Squadrons to the mix and additional F-35 Lightning’s brought into the mix, that weren’t in the plan. They have looked at the balance between money available and threat and they have decided to invest arguably for the first time in some time in the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and the British Army.”

The value of the face to face interaction among flight crew, engineers, intelligence officers and support teams during the TriLateral Exercise was recognized. Communication methods, operational practices and tactical approaches were refined between aircraft and the respective air forces. It is anticipated that there will be regular TriLateral exercises in the future, some of which will likely be held in the UK and France.

Inaugural TriLateral Exercise at JBLE with Rafale, Raptor & Typhoon

Inaugural TriLateral Exercise at JBLE with Rafale, Raptor & Typhoon

General Antoine Crux, the French Air Force Inspector General commented on the importance of the exercise, “this exercise is very important for us for we are preparing not only for war we have been fighting and have fought for years but also for the war where for example air superiority will not be granted. So we need to be sure that we will be ready to operate together very quickly on day one, as soon as our political leaders will ask.” It appears that the exercise has been very successful, and one can anticipate that when participating crews arrive in a future theater they will be much better prepared to work as one to defeat whatever threat awaits.

Special Thanks to the PAO of the 633 ABW, and entire associated team. Present, General H. Carlisle, Commander Air Combat Command USAF; General Antoine Crux, the French Air Force Inspector General; General Mark Welsh III, Chief of Staff USAF; Chief of the Air Staff (RAF), Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford; General Frank Gorenc, Commander USAFE.

Todd Miller is an avid photographer and contributor to a number of Aviation media groups. Utilizing www.flyfastandlow.com as a personal “runway” it is Todd’s goal to reflect the intensity and realism of the military aviation mission, as well as the character and commitment of the military aviation professional.


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