Contingency planning took place for possible ops in Afghanistan.
All training flying during the month was focused on CVS operations. Prior to deploying to HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, the Sqn pilots were required to complete at least one General Handling (GH) sortie and a boat simulator. The GH consisted of several ramp take-offs, which were completed at RNAS Yeovilton on the land-based ski-jump, followed by several vertical landings upon return to Cottesmore.
Alongside the pre-deployment training sorties, a large engineering effort was needed with a number of airtests and performance hovers completed. This was to ensure that all the aircraft deployed to the CVS were fully serviceable and had sufficient engine performance to ensure successful CVS operations in the high temperatures of the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas.
Seven GR7 ac deployed to HMS Illustrious, which was operating off the coast of Malta, in order to undertake Ex ARGONAUT 01, followed by Ex SAIF SAREEA II. The deployment involved an air-to-air refuelling trail over France and Italy with 2 VC-10 ac from RAF Brize Norton. All jets completed the trail successfully, with several of the pilots achieving their first deck landing at the end of the sortie. All additional Sqn personnel were flown directly to Malta on a Tristar ac, in order to set up the Sqn operations and engineering equipment on board prior to the GR7s arriving.
Once embarked, the Sqn undertook a concentrated flying program in order to qualify all Sqn pilots as day CVS combat ready. In addition, three pilots undertook several dusk and night sorties in order to qualify as night CVS combat ready. Several of the pilots also qualified as Landing Safety Officer during the work-up period. It was a massive effort by the whole Sqn to qualify so many pilots in such a short period of time. The embarked Sea Harrier FA2 Sqn (801) were envious of the sortie rates IV(AC) Sqn achieved. Towards the end of the CVS syllabus, the sorties involved either Air Combat training, both in-house and with the FA2s, as well as limited Air Defence Exercises against various ships within the large Royal Navy Task Group.
Unfortunately, owing to the major terrorist attacks that occurred in the USA 11 Sep, the security threat level was particularly high and once the workup flying was completed, the carrier had to make best speed through the Suez Canal and Red Sea. This resulted in only a limited opportunity for CVS consolidation sorties followed by no flying operations for 7 days.
Aircraft serviceability during the month was good, however many standard engineering tasks took longer than normal to complete due to the space and time restraints which are synonymous with CVS operations.
A large team of media representatives including the BBC, ITN and Sky News visited the CVS whilst in harbour at Salalah, Oman. Several Sqn personnel were interviewed and photographed for news reports back in the UK.
Unfortunately, owing to the large number of planning and command staff personnel on board, space was rather limited for social functions whilst on board. However, several lively evenings were held in the mess, including a very successful appearance of the Sqn Pimms Pot. The pot was however misplaced (stolen) during the evening but was subsequently recovered just prior to our disembarkation. The culprit was successfully tried (with able prosecution provided by Flt Lt Kane) and punished by Kangaroo Court for his heinous crime.
During one of the no-fly days of the Red Sea transit, the flight deck was opened for recreation during the day and a barbeque and band provided the evening entertainment in what proved to be quite a surreal event.
No formal sporting activities were undertaken during the month, however many made use of the fitness equipment spread in small spaces around the carrier. Sqn personnel often attended the regular circuit training sessions, held in the hangar or on the quarter-deck. In addition, whilst we were temporarily moored off the coast of Cyprus, several individuals had the opportunity to go ashore to participate in water-sports activities on the Akrotiri Beach, whilst those remaining on-board were allowed to swim in the vicinity of the carrier during a ?hands-to-bathe? session.
During September the Sqn was successfully transformed from an inexperienced Sqn in CVS ops into one with a substantial number of pilots and ground crew proficient in this new role for the GR7. It was a major effort to ensure the embarkation and subsequent training period went smoothly. With everything from briefing to flying to fixing aircraft being that more difficult to achieve in the cramped environment of the CVS, the positive attitude shown by the Sqn was a key element of the achievements. The Sqn was geared up and ready for ops had it been required. The Ship?s company was very welcoming to the Sqn and seemed to be impressed with our professionalism and hard work.
During December the Sqn focused on core training with Day and Night Combat Ready work ups taking place. Flt Lts Ashley and Rutland continued with their Combat Ready Syllabi carrying out SAP (Simulated Attack Profile), CAS (Close Air Support), Evasion, EW (Electronic Warfare) and AAR (Air to Air Refuelling) sorties.
Flt Lt Shand completed his Air Combat Leader work up. The Squadron conducted CAS (Close Air Support) training with 9 Regiment AAC. Night flying consisted of Night Combat Ready sorties as well as some night General Handling currency training. Flt Lt Shand completed his Night Medium level syllabus.
The preparation of ac for night flying was the main priority during this period. There were 3 Air Incidents raised: a 6th stage air bleed pipe detached; a control restriction occurred on start-up and one aircraft suffered a birdstrike on the FLIR Sensor Head.
The Sqn prepared thoroughly for a Formal Staff Visit (FSV) from members of HQ 3 Gp. The inspection was a success in all areas.
Stamford CCF visited and were given a tour of the Sqn. They received a presentation by two of the pilots and were shown around one of the aircraft. Following the excellent relations built up during Ex SAIF SAREEA the Aircrew hosted members of No 5 Sqn (Tornado F3s) for an informal Christmas lunch. The lunch took place in the aircrew crewroom and was followed by a few drinks in the Officers Mess.
Christmas exchange drinks were held between the Officers and the SNCOs and there were the normal Christmas functions in the Officers? and Sergeants? Messes. The Sqn?s all-ranks Christmas function was delayed to January, whilst we were on HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and doubt existed as to our return date. A medal ceremony for members of the Sqn was held in the Officers? Mess with medals presented by the Station Commander.
The Squadron was 3rd in the CO?s cup quiz night and, given the length of time the Sqn had been away this year, we came a respectable 6th overall.
Flt Lt Berry enjoyed a week with the School of Combat Survival and Rescue carrying out the Advanced Combat Survival Course. (If it?s anything like the Combat Survival Rescue Officer Course that I attended at Mountbatten in 1981, there wasn?t much ?enjoyment?! – Ed.)
Sqn Cdr?s Comments
The month was a fairly quiet one for the Sqn with day and night combat ready training being the prime emphasis. It has been the first winter at RAF Cottesmore for many personnel on the Sqn. We have all come to realise that the Station?s exposed position on the top of the hill means that low cloud bases and strong cross winds can have an enormous effect on flying training. The Station met forecasters had a difficult time predicting whether fog would or would not be a factor. Many sorties were lost throughout the month and clamours for a north-south strip resounded far and wide.
A fair proportion of the Sqn?s personnel took the opportunity to take some of their annual leave so manning on the Sqn was fairly light. In all, 2001 turned out to be an extremely busy year for the Sqn and we can be justifiably proud of our achievements. The highlights were the last Harrier Sqn detachment flying ops from Gioia, a joint detachment with 3(F) Sqn to Canada, an MPC, trappers, a Sqn role demonstration season and the large detachment on Ex ARGONAUT 01/SAIF SAREEA II.