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2016/05

RAF Valley’s premier fixed wing flying squadron enter the summer flying season with a plethora of new take off performance figures and a renewed fear of rain, thanks to the ongoing runway resurfacing works. As always most of the squadron’s instructional work continues to be carried out by mighty A-Flt with a total of 4 courses and 21 students, to Synthetic B-Flt’s solitary course and its 6 students.

We congratulate Course 15 on graduating, with one selected for the Typhoon and 2 given a surprise posting to 100 Sqn… good luck learning to fly again without a HUD and moving map chaps! The other (huge) congratulation goes out to Toby Keeley for his selection to the Red Arrows next year, now all we’ve got to do is try and stop him from constantly talking about it! Seriously, well done Tobes.

On the leaving side, we bid farewell to Ben and Sophie Polwin who cross the pond for Ben’s swanky new job on the F/A-18 with the USN, and Sophie’s arguably better job on the Boeing 777 with British Airways. Good luck to both.

Socially, IV(R) Sqn also held its inaugural TACEVAL with the Squadron Execs placed on high alert for an impending ‘surprise’ visit from the JUNTA. It was only fair that the Boss should lead from the front and be selected for the first one and as always, Mrs Mou did a simply outstanding job in preparation and hosting. The Boss played his part too of course, keeping everyone entertained with a seemingly endless supply of Harrier dits (apparently he used to fly them). Speaking of endless Harrier dits, we are reliably informed by JUNTA Command that Nik-Nak should probably consider keeping the beer fridge well stocked in the near future… you know, just in case.

Finally, some of us have been under the illusion for some time that the students here do nothing other than play semi-professional table tennis in the mornings and Xbox in the afternoons. Apparently this is not the case. So to correct our misunderstanding, we asked the senior course on IV(R) to describe one of their average days, which should give you a taster for what life is like for these intrepid apprentice Fighter Pilots of UK MFTS.

Flt Lt Stian Walker

Low flying

Low flying

A Day In The Life Of A IV(R) Sqn Student

Check the weather on BBC News at 0800 with a cup of tea, get your kit on, kick the tyres, light the tyres and off we go? Down by 1000 and back to the mess for a long lunch and more tea. Simple! Not quite…

Let’s run through a typical day in the life of a student on B Flt at IV(R) Sqn learning to carry out surface attack. B Flt is regarded as the tactical flying and weapons employment phase of the course at IV(R) Sqn:

0800 – Met. The day begins, as always with a meteorological brie?ng from our friendly met office and sets the scene for just how difficult the day ahead may be. For one thing is certain in the UK: the weather is not.

0830 – Plan. Following met, it is time to receive the scenario for the day from the staff. Contrary to popular belief, the actual time spent flying makes up only a small portion of the whole cycle that goes into achieving the task. The simulated scenarios set by the staff are usually a conventional war against another state actor and involve surface to air missile threats and air to air threats all with a mission to achieve laid out in a standard NATO Air Tasking Order format. As a student you are required to take all of the knowledge you have learned to date about the capabilities of the threats presented, the capabilities of not only your own jet but also the simulated assets available within the scenario and come up with the best course of action to achieve the mission. It is an iterative process in which a multitude of tasks such as plotting maps weapon to target matching and considering the ‘What if?’ scenarios for the mission. Following this, the student leading the formation briefs the whole plan, covering the contingencies and most importantly fielding a barrage of questions from the instructors. Many a student has lost the battle in the brief, long before climbing in to the jet, all because their planning was either too little or too late. The whole plan and briefing cycle is initiated 3 hours before the takeoff time of the mission, and while this may seem like a long time, given the plethora of tasks to complete it is nothing shy of a frantic 3 hours. It is the shortest time you would expect to receive such a tasking in your career. ‘Train hard, fight easy’ is a term often used at IV(R) Sqn, some students prefer the alternative of ‘Better to be lucky than good…’

1130 – Crew In. Anyway, here we are, plan and brief complete sitting at the end of the runway in our “comfortable” jet ready to takeoff. Misconception No. 2, due to the Baltic sea temperatures enjoyed for 11 months of the year at RAF Valley aircrew fly in immersion suits, similar in design to a diver’s dry suit they are not known for their breathability, matched with a woollen one piece under garment it is far from a thermal dream. Over the immersion suit a pair of G-pants are worn to assist in further restricting any hurried movement and to assist in protecting aircrew from a condition known as G Induced Loss of Consciousness (G-LOC), finally an aircrew survival jacket which includes an inflating life preserver is added for good measure. All of the kit can weigh up to 15 kg and makes sitting in the jet less comfortable than may be apparent from waving aircrew taxiing past, but sometimes it is more important to look good…

1200-1300 – Lunch. Oh no wait, no time for that, just have a big dinner tonight…

1135 – Takeoff. So we have made it airborne despite our best efforts during the planning cycle, the next 1:15 hrs always seem to fly. After controlling an unwieldy battle formation (1.5 miles line abreast) travelling at 450 mph and 250 ft through poor weather around Wales to strike two targets all whilst avoiding simulated enemy surface to air threats and managing to not hit any birds, your wingman or the ground you now ?nd yourself back at Valley. Throughout the trip you have tried to remain alert, manage multiple issues both within the simulated scenario and the real world considerations and practicalities of leading the formation. ‘In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.’ Theodore Roosevelt

Low flying

Low flying

1330 – Crew Out. You have just finished the taxi back, signed the jet over to the engineers to prepare for the next student’s gauntlet run and managed to peel off your sweat-saturated kit. It actually does take 30 mins to do this! Now just a quick debrief and we are complete.

1330 – Drink Glass of Water.

1340 – Start debrief. Now begins the gruelling process as a student of justifying (and hence defending!) all of your decisions, actions and mistakes from the planning stages right through to shutting the jet down. Using the incredible debrie?ng facilities available at IV(R) Sqn you are able to replay every single detail from the flight, including watching video replay of the Head Up Display, listening to all of the communications and interrogating every single button press. Using these tools the instructors can assess whether you have achieved the objective in a safe and efficient manner to course standard and also debrief you on errors, misunderstandings or problems you may have with any elements of your flying. After up to 2 hours of debriefing you are complete and ready for the verdict. Alas you have failed; you missed the targets and didn’t keep a close enough eye on your fuel.

1510 – End Debrief. Time to grab some food, log on and check any emails but most importantly go and re-watch the debrief tape to consolidate your own knowledge on where you went wrong and make some notes on how you are going to fix it for next time. Or just head to mandatory Aircrew Physical training to run through the tears.

1530 – Aircrew conditioning. Mandatory, high intensity interval training interspersed with strapping a large weight to your head and walking backwards and forwards to prevent neck injury under intense G.

1730 – Bar. Time to head to the bar, find out who else is on ‘Air Warning’ for failing a sortie, have a beer and spin your dit on where you went wrong before heading to your room for some more evening revision, preparing to start the whole process again in the morning. Don’t worry though – you have another two shots at this trip before you lose your job. As always the show must go on at the mighty IV(R) Sqn, you don’t train the most potent fighter pilots in the world with slack standards!

The Students of Cse 16 – Mighty IV(R) Sqn, Punchiest Sqn in all of 22Gp.