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

Well, since the last submission, the squadron has been through more than its fair share of ups and downs. These have included all the excitement of Exercise Red Flag and a Maxeval, followed by all the boredom of a Grounding order which, at the time of writing, has been in effect for over 6 weeks.

First, let’s hear about the fun part. Red Flag was the best training value exercise that the squadron has ever been on. The pilots were all cleared down to 100 ft and all pilots took full advantage of the fact. The missions themselves consisted of packages of around 30 attack and recce aircraft tasked with a variety of targets in a certain area. The targets were always heavily defended by a variety of SAMs and AAA, whose data is automatically replayed to the control centre back at Nellis. The ingress to and egress from the target were defended by up to 10 Red Air F16s. They would drop, almost vertically at speeds of up to Mach 1, from up to 30,000 ft, into kill positions on the attackers. They were hard to spot, but made for good sport, and it was not uncommon for one to be shot down by a Harrier. The debriefs often lasted up to 3 hours, most of which consisted of Americans talking at great length on trivial matters, but the replay system is fabulous, and all the traditional bullshit element of debriefing is removed by the raw truth being displayed on a screen big enough for all to see.

The new aircraft performed well, despite the usual problems of being too slow and under-powered. The ZEUS was much admired by everyone, especially the SAM operators, and aircraft serviceability was excellent. The pilots left with a feeling of being more operational than they ever had been before, which easily justified the participation. The fact that we all had a great time in Las Vegas helped!

When, eventually, all the squadron had been recovered to Germany, the next event was the field exercise with a Maxeval thrown in. The maxeval staff were full of all the usual gripes of an operational nature like wearing black flying boots and insuffient data on IP-Target maps, but the squadron as a whole came out quite well. A number of people went on leave following the maxeval and then the trouble started. A brand new aircraft, delivered from BAe, had a total electric failure caused by a fire up the back end. This followed two similar incidents in the same month, one of which had resulted in the loss of an aircraft. The fleet has been grounded ever since with the resume dates slipping to the right a week at a time. Hopefully, the next newsletter will have good news on the matter.

On the gossip side, Rod Webb left to Harrier Plans. Paul Gunnel went to the OEU. Rob Adlam went to 1 Sqn. Three new guys arrived, Stu Atha, Mark Welsh and a US Marine, John Bower. Kenny and Angela McCann had another baby girl.

That’s all for now, and let’s hope there will be more good news next time.