A group of 29(R) Sqn personnel spent the night at RAF Spadeadam in support of the Typhoon Qualified Weapons Instructor Course (QWIC).

Flt Lt Tidmarsh our QWI Aerospace Battle Manager (ABM) came up with an idea for a surprise Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) mission with real ‘casualties’ on the ground. The mission was to be the QWI students’ last mission on the swing role phase of their course.

On the day prior to the exercise all those in the know secretly prepared their overnight bags packing clothing and survival aids provided by Cpl Tilby who also deployed to RAF Spadeadam with the team.

Plans for the exercise were kept secret until the QWI students completed their penultimate mission. Immediately after landing Flt Lt Kev Broder was snatched, bundled into an MT vehicle and was swiftly told he wouldn’t be going to the de-brief…or home for the night for that matter!!

The remaining QWI students were briefed on the scenario and started planning a CSAR mission with United States Air Force Pilots from 56 Rescue Sqn who had travelled from Lakenheath to take part in the exercise.

In the meantime the team was driven to Spadeadam, picking up Flt Lt Farrall, one of the QWIC ABM students on the way. The team were dropped in the middle of the range and quickly got into scenario. After ‘dressing for the occasion’ bivi tents and crinkly tin foil blankets were put to good use in an effort to counter the cooling temperatures. The infamous Spadeadam range Midgies were out in force and luckily Sqn Ldr Poole was well prepared (after a top tip from the local MPGS) with 2 full bottles of Avon’s ‘Skin So Soft’ moisturising spray.

After a miraculously dry night the crew moved to a more secure shelter, found a few rickety chairs and tucked into some Ration Pack breakfast and a sachet of water packed in the 1990s…which tasted pretty good (surprisingly). After breakfast Sqn Ldr Poole taught some basic survival techniques running through the 4 basic principles of survival; Protection, Location, Water and Food. This included training on how to source water if a clean source was not available. One technique was to use an ‘Iodine Straw’, the device looked much like a Camelback, with an added iodine device in the straw to purify water as you drank. In the end the water from the peaty brown looking stream running through the range tasted quite nice!

The locals were assessed as friendly and we decided it was safe to gather materials from our surroundings to make some groundsign to indicate our location. We created a large ‘E’ sign (see picture) that stood out from the landscape and clearly gave away our location to our inbound airbourne rescuers.

We communicated with our rescuers using PRC112B radios in accordance with Exercise SPINs (Special Instructions) written to mimic the actions required of downed Pilots. We established contact packed kit and dismantled the groundsign moving to higher ground accessible by a helicopter.

We waited, hiding in long grass, for the friendly sound of Typhoons overhead. All of a sudden our PRC112B radio came to life with the sound of Flt Lt Roe confirming that the cavalry had arrived to rescue us. Flt Lt Broder gave some intelligence on ‘perceived enemy SAM sites’ and requested a ‘Show of Force’ to clear the Helipad. The Typhoons cleared a path for the 2 Pavehawk helicopters from 56 Rescue Sqn and we soon heard the familiar sound of rotary blades coming from behind us. We knelt down, 2 metres apart, in a line next to the HLZ, with our hands up above our heads.

The first helo swooped in and landed, crewmen jumped out and grabbed Sqn Ldr Poole, Flt Lt Lindley and Cpl Tilby who were led to the side door. While they were being secured the 2nd Pavehawk circled the HLZ protecting the aircraft on the ground. Flt Lt Broder and Flt Lt Farrell were picked up and we started a very low level egress from the range.

90 minutes later we arrived back to RAF Coningsby following an exhilarating 140 knot transit 500 feet above the English countryside most of which was spent with the sliding doors open and the wind rushing past our legs. The USAF groundcrew were ready and waiting, the pilots shut down engines and everyone met in the Sqn to de-brief the mission.

Overall it was a fantastic training experience for the guys on the ground and in the air. The 56 Rescue Sqn personnel were thrilled to be involved with UK assets in a ‘real’ rescue mission scenario and of the course the QWIC students planned and executed a successful CSAR mission.

Flt Lt Lindley