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3(F) Sqn Is Awesome

Once again, the past few months have been extremely exciting on 3(Fighter) Squadron. Since our return from Malaysia at the end of October 14 our main focus has been the delivery of UK Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) as well as the preparation for, and then deployment to, Oman for Exercise MAGIC CARPET.

Within days of returning to the UK in October we were all reminded of the highest priority task at RAF Coningsby, when two 3(F) Squadron pilots were launched to intercept an airliner which had lost communications with Air Traffic Control; the transcripts of the mission made the evening news bulletins as well as making headlines the following day. 3(F) Squadron remained the Duty QRA Squadron over the Christmas period, handing over to our younger, but definitely not better looking sister squadron, XI, on New Years Eve; happy centenary XI – get some time in!

QRA every minute of every day

Whilst almost every member of the Fighting Third was on duty at some point over the holiday period, either here at Coningsby (QRA every minute of every day) or down south in the Falklands, the Christmas break enabled everyone on the Squadron to get some well deserved rest before we came back in January to prepare for the eagerly awaited Exercise MAGIC CARPET.

The main effort in January was getting 8 Typhoons, plus spares, ready to deploy to, and then operate in, the desert for up to one month as well as ensuring all of the extra ‘bits’ of equipment were fitted to enable us to release live weapons against ground targets; utilising 1000lb laser/GPS guided High Explosive bombs as well as the 27mm Mauser cannon. For a Squadron whose routine focus is the delivery of QRA and associated Air-to-Air weapons, the change in focus to Air-to-Ground weaponeering is one which can be delivered seamlessly through thorough planning and preparation. As well as ensuring the aircraft are ready to deploy we also had to ensure our most important assets, our people, were ready; Medical and Dental checks, Fitness tests, Driving Licences, Core Military skills (in particular weapons handling and combat first aid) must be achieved by all deploying personnel. This is where the teamwork really comes in. For all pilots, engineers and support staff to get themselves and the aircraft ready to deploy in time, as well as continuing to perform training flying up until the day of departure, requires a great deal of teamwork, support and understanding from all elements on Station. This is where we are blessed at RAF Coningsby, in receiving great support from all areas on base. In particular, I am confident that we have the best Station Regiment Flight in the RAF who really get what the Station is here for, and often go well out of their way to help us ensure that both frontline squadrons are able to focus on the safe delivery of Air Power – the reason we are ALL here. But before we could get started on the Ex, we had to get there…

On 3 Feb, the day of the first Trail to Oman, the weather decided to add to the challenge of getting 4 Typhoons and a Voyager tanker to Malta, en route to the Middle East, with several inches of snow covering the airfield overnight. Eventually, after a very interesting day (and night) which included anywhere between 1 and 5 serviceable Typhoons sat alongside the Voyager, as well as some of the most turbulent weather I’ve ever flown through (even the passengers reported spilt tea on board the tanker!), we managed to get 4 serviceable jets successfully into Malta. The 20 knot crosswind, night landing onto a bumpy runway provided a fitting end to an eventful, but safe and successful first day! All bar the aircraft guards managed to make it to our accommodation just in time for a well deserved beer! Trails rarely pass as planned and this one was no different, but it is testament to the efforts of the whole team that we arrived in Oman on schedule, ready for the forthcoming Exercise.

Throughout the Exercise, the Squadron performed a great deal of training which is difficult to generate in the UK, making the most of the good weather whilst wintry storms continued to cause problems back home. Every single one of the Enhanced Paveway II bombs which was available to us was successfully dropped during the Exercise, every single one a Direct Hit. Every single one of the almost 1000 bullets we fired from the 27mm Mauser gun went either straight through or right next to the ‘strafe panel’ which we were firing against. We also performed a great deal of Day and Night Close Air Support (CAS) training missions, working with Forward Air Controllers (FACs) from the RAF Regiment as well as UK Army units. This provided a great deal of mutually beneficial training with pilots and controllers getting exponentially better as the Exercise progressed. We also worked very closely with the recce specialists of Tactical Imagery Wing, together proving the high quality recce pictures which Typhoon can deliver. Once again, the engineers of 3(Fighter) Squadron delivered aircraft for the flying programme despite a myriad of changes, often at short notice; bombs on, bombs off, Targeting Pods on, pods off, bullets loaded, bullets out; an exceptional performance.

If all of the aforementioned wasn’t enough, we also planned, briefed, executed and then debriefed training missions alongside our Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) colleagues, who once again proved their ability to work seamlessly alongside RAF assets. The hospitality which RAFO extended to us throughout the deployment was outstanding including some superb hosting in the Officers’ Mess. However, most of the socialising took place in the ironically named RAF Camp Green (there is no sign of grass or trees for miles!!).

Facilities in the Camp were basic, but sufficient. Hot showers, beds and rooms with a roof (portacabins) were considered more than adequate, especially for those recently arrived from the Support Helicopter Force! There was plenty of entertainment on offer during time away from work, the Bar and TV Room proving to be almost as popular as the Gym / 5-aside pitch (where the pilots were regularly thrashed by the engineers!). One of the  highlights of the deployment was the food provided by 3 Mobile Catering Support Unit (MCSU); how they manage to provide such good quality food in such vast amounts is a mystery to me and certainly kept morale high throughout the deployment. Also helping make the Exercise run smoothly for the Fighting Third was the support provided by 121 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW), with personnel from across Coningsby deploying in a support role to enable the Squadron to focus on delivering tactical excellence.

Delivering Combat Air Power can be a complex business; it is thorough planning, preparation and most importantly teamwork which deliver success. The bombs, bullets, recce pictures and missions with RAFO were all successful because every member of 3(Fighter) Squadron, both home and deployed, and everyone at Coningsby deployed with the EAW or back in the UK, all played their part, however small.

Tertius primus erit .