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March 1991 – The Squadron is at Gutersloh flying the Harrier GR7

Marcus de Ferranti has taken over from Steve Forward as the OIC F540. Here he brings us news of the Squadron’s conversion to the Harrier GR7.

The last six months have seen their fair share of news despite no involvement in the Gulf. The main event has definitely been the Squadron’s complete conversion to the Harrier GR7, and with that now finished, the task of bringing the aircraft and the pilots up to operational status is underway. This process is being hampered from many familiar angles including the flying ban in Germany, release to service snags on the new aircraft, spare parts, and, as always, a strain on resources caused by the poaching of personnel and equipment for Op Granby. The latter, for example, caused September’s field deployment to be cancelled in toto.

As for the pilots, there have been the expected comings and goings. The five junior pilots each had a month in Belize to replace the resident pilots during the hurricane season. The pilots who went were Jon Herod, John Lawson, Warren Ward, Steve Forward and Marcus de Ferranti. Tim Cheal arrived as a new Flight Commander after his exchange in the States. Dave Court left for 1(F) Sqn. Mike Jenkins left for 3(F), but has now been promoted and is at Rheindahlen. ‘Dez’ Dezonie set off for Staff College. On the arrival side, Jim Mardon, Spike Jepson and Dan Griffith all came over from 1(F) Sqn. Jim and Spike’s GR5 QWI experience will be invaluable on the new jet. Jim has also just been promoted and takes over as a Flight Commander soon.

On the training side, combat ready work-ups for the newly-converted GR7 pilots have dominated the flying programme. As mentioned before, the low flying ban in Germany has caused some scrabbling around for flying of high training value. To this end, two detachments to RAF Kinloss have taken place, both successful. Pilots spend at least one night away a week somewhere in UK to take advantage of the now almost unique UK Low Flying System. Much FAC training now takes place on Salisbury Plain instead of LFAs 1, 2, 3 as in the good old days. The Dutch low flying routes are still available, but are of only limited value being totally flat and only one mile wide.

The aircraft still has no gun and is still only cleared to drop the 3kg practice bomb, so those who were disappointed that we weren’t sent to the Gulf must see that we were far from ready. It is, however, frustrating to consider how accelerated progress could have been if we had been sent.

The end of February saw the whole Squadron united for the first time since September. While people have enjoyed their various conversion activities (including a week in the USA for simulator training), Squadron spirit suffered. Now, with a Field Deployment in three weeks and Desert Flag exercise in May, there is much to look forward to despite the work required.