XI (F) SQN – The Three Nations
November kicked off as an exceedingly busy month where the engineering team were at times responsible for up to 22 aircraft. Whilst 3(F) Sqn were deployed on Ex ATLC in Abu Dhabi, XI(F) took their remaining aircraft and rear party personnel to support the flying programme. This enabled aircraft nominated for the USA detachments of Ex TRILAT and RED FLAG 16 to be correctly prepared, upgraded and cleared of major scheduled maintenance accounts to see them all the way through to Mar 16. Small hard yards were being gained against many challenges. The team had to supply aircraft for QRA, aircraft to leave behind for 3(F) Sqn when they returned, and the 8 jets nominated to fly to the USA. A task met with haste, remarkable engineering skill and as ever, an overflowing dose of character and good humour. Come the end of November, the whistle blew and the Squadron ran back down the tunnel to see families for a final time.
Half-time couldn’t come soon enough however; the trail across the ‘Pond’ is no mean feat and the weather in the Azores nearly knocked the stuffing out of our surge forward, not least due to the possibility of our prized new signings Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 being dragged back East to help with the more pressing matter of Operations. However, with some strong supervisory work the trail set the ruck and cleared our lines to Bermuda. It was here that a couple of jets took a knock and 2 crews remained for an extra day or two to see them over the last stage. While the majority pushed to Langley AFB on time, a few poor souls had to contend with Bermudian Dollar rates and an awfully over the top selection of lobster, steak and the ever elusive Red Snapper fish. However, the magic sponge came out and in true egg-ball style those jets got up on their feet and cracked on to the eastern sea-board.
With the players all back out on the pitch at Langley Air Force Base for the second half, the focus switched to a more tactical mindset. The first three flying days involved 1v1 air combat versus the French Rafales and American Raptors. As with every great set-piece move, the engineering forwards had laid the foundations and now the ball was spun out to the pilots, chomping at the bit to make their mark on a bubbling game. What is said in the debrief remains inside those four walls and this Squadron will always remain magnanimous, but the reputation of XI(F)’s aerial prowess is resting high across the Atlantic and also the Channel. The weapon system of the Typhoon was used to full advantage by the crews allowing an enviable head to head record to be amassed. However, it was not without lessons learned, and valuable relationships were formed with our coalition partners in these one on one debriefs, sharing tactics and the strengths and weaknesses of our respective systems. We also had the benefit of a more favourable pilot/flight hours ratio, allowing a very steep learning curve to improve our knowledge and preparation exponentially throughout the phase. Conversion made, points on the board.
After the all important first period of the second half was through, the fuel tanks were fitted back onto the jets, rather like a fresh bout of subs coming off the bench, and we entered the Counter Air phase of the Exercise. This time we were now working with the Rafales and the Raptors to defend against (and then attack) a simulated enemy force, created from US F-15s and T-38s. With the French alongside, we practiced the tactics one requires when integrating with the 5th Gen Raptor; tactics that are subtly different to the way in which the Typhoon Force normally operates, not least because “stealth” is a two-way attribute! One could say the mind is inherently more focused when you can’t ‘see’ a friendly asset until it flies back past you.
Solid performances and great charges up the field from the RAF and FAF in the final throws of the game led to a very hasty build up of respect across the forces, and this was mirrored on the other side of the fence with many a hearty rendez-vous in various local establishments. Despite initially calling on Marco (the former FAF Typhoon exchange pilot) for interpretation, we realised there aren’t really many words one needs to know when hands and shouting are available.
In the final minute, one last scrum five beckoned. We still had to get the Typhoon aircraft across the States for Ex RED FLAG 16. The forward pack leaned in, set, and once the push came on the backs went flying in to help drive the chosen 8 magnificently over the line for a superb team try in Nellis AFB, Nevada. There you go 3(F) Sqn, you’re very welcome. Wild celebrations erupted as the crowds got to see how a real RAF Fighter Squadron celebrates their hard work. A successful trail, all personnel embarked on board the 2 Voyager aircraft (whose crews are also due a huge amount of credit for their efforts) and back home in time for Christmas; the final whistle blows. What a game!
The Exercise was nothing short of glorious and victorious and although the Q shed beckoned once more, XI(F) Sqn kept high the reputation of the Force in less obvious areas while our Scottish colleagues continue to do such a sterling job East of the Med. I say it beckoned, some people just don’t have their priorities in order and Shippers deserted his post to welcome into the world his first child, Arthur Duncan Slugdog Shipley. Congratulations old boy, a fitting end to a fantastic season.
Whilst in January we face the continued fight of training back up to speed after a hard match and a long break, the Squadron is riding a wave of professional pride and the Engineers are once again proving their weight in Gold Crude Oil Justin Bieber’s record company stocks as we fight to provide the aircraft and standard of training required of a Squadron on the build up to a higher readiness when the season starts again in May.