3 (F) SQN Update

3(F) Sqn’s Operational Deployment to Gioia Del Colle in support of Operation Unified Protector ‘Op ELLAMY’ 24th June to 24th September 2011


At 1pm precisely, on the afternoon of Sunday 20th March 2011, the skies of Lincolnshire resounded to the roar of ten fully armed Typhoon aircraft launched by 3 Fighter Squadron bound for Southern Italy in support of Operation ELLAMY. They were going to provide support to the people of Libya and enforce UNSCR Mandate 1973. Personnel across the entire spectrum of RAF Coningsby had worked seamlessly together over an intensive three day period to produce this defining moment: A moment not only significant in 3(F) Sqn’s long and proud history but also a monumental event in the history of RAF Coningsby – one that thrust the Typhoon aircraft into a new chapter of its, to date, intensive development programme.

Whilst the aircraft were being prepared for deployment, XI Sqn personnel prepared themselves, with only a few days notice, to deploy to Gioia Del Colle. They held the unenviable task of setting up the Deployed Operating Base to receive the aircraft and immediately commence operations at a tempo that would be sustained continuously for the next three months. With XI Sqn successful in their efforts, 3(F) Sqn were left behind at RAF Coningsby with a depleted cadre of qualified pilots and aircraft. A Sqn not to rest on its laurels, our personnel found themselves distributed across the Station in support of the wider engineering effort and continuance of the flying training task on 29 (R) Sqn. Additionally, 3(F) Sqn personnel  continued to man the 24/7 Southern Quick Reaction Alert (QRA), in the real time defence of the UK mainland. A number of us also found ourselves deployed to or having recently returned from 3 months of QRA duties on 1435 Flt at Mount Pleasant Airfield, in protection of the Falkland Island Sovereignty.

Then on the 24th June 2011 Wing Commander Patounas, Officer Commanding 3(F) Sqn, stood proudly in front of his assembled Engineers and declared 3(F) Sqn as having officially taken over Operations from XI Sqn with 3(F) Sqn personnel having deployed fully to Gioia Del Colle. With XI Sqn having set an impressive benchmark of success, we were now faced with the challenge of maintaining the pace and quality of operations and driving forward a period of sustainment in preparation for extended Ops.

Operating from Gioia Del Colle presented the Sqn with many unusual and often unforeseen challenges. With temperatures regularly exceeding 40 Deg C on the Flight Line, one such unanticipated problem was a requirement to call in the local fire brigade to spray cold water onto an aircraft canopy, just to cool it down sufficiently to open it. It was early experiences like this that added many small but important additional complexities and challenges which had to be managed, adding to an already heavy workload for the engineers who now had to constantly fit and remove canopy covers every time they worked on the aircraft.

24/7 operations also brought with it many unique challenges and rewards. With operational sortie times often encroaching the 7 hour mark, our pilots were challenged to the max and often returned to sign in their aircraft physically drained. It was a rare privilege to see the newer pilots returning safely following their first operational sortie, a significant point in any pilot’s career. From a professional perspective it was with immense pride and satisfaction that we, the 3(F) Sqn engineers and our aircrew, watched the number of bomb silhouettes placed on the side of the aircraft by our Armourers, grow on a daily basis.

The Typhoon’s ability to sustain 24/7 operations and capability to carry Enhanced Paveway 2 precision guided munitions along with an impressive additional load of AMRAAM & ASRAAM missiles surpassed all expectations. This, combined with the aircraft’s availability and serviceability, provided the Royal Air Force and the Air Component Commander with a capability to project an ever more capable weapon system, extremely quickly and effectively in support of the UN Mandate.  This was clearly demonstrated on many occasions, including when two Typhoon aircraft were scrambled at short notice to get on station, in response to a call that Libyan civilians had come under attack. This ability would not have been possible had it not been for the professionalism and dedication of our cadre of ever more operationally experienced 3(F) Sqn engineering team who also managed to re-role both aircraft with four Enhanced Paveway 2 bombs in a very short timescale.

At the time of drafting this article for submission into the ‘One-to-One’ magazine, 3(F) Sqn is preparing to return to the UK. Looking back over our tenure in Gioia Del Colle we have a considerable sense of pride in our achievement.  With exceptional serviceability rate, all of the operational sorties were met and the requirement placed on 3(F) Sqn by the UN Mandate was achieved.

What now for 3(F) Sqn? Well, after some much needed leave and time with our families, the Sqn will regroup and with the support of the wider Station, will recommence its QRA duties and flying task.  We will also start preparations to celebrate our 100th Anniversary on the 13th May 2012.  As the oldest aircraft Sqn, with an immense history over the past 100 years and ties back to the Royal Flying Corps, current sqn members have been privileged to demonstrate our capability in an operational role within our 99th year: adding yet another well earned entry to our impressive and ever growing history. Tertius primus erit “The third shall be the first”.

Chf Tech Phil Furness


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