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RFA Fort Rosalie liaison visit to Cobham

RFA Fort Rosalie liaison visit to Cobham
4 May 2017
We’ve all been there, on the Bridge on a Tuesday or Thursday at FOST, when someone shouts “Aircraft inbound Green 20!” and you spot the silhouette of a Hawk or a Falcon screaming its way towards you.

Having a fast jet buzz past your bridge wing, sometimes looking down at the pilot as he flies beneath you, is all very exciting, but how do they organise themselves to arrive at the same times and de-conflict lots of fast moving aircraft at the same time?

I had the opportunity to find out when the ship arranged a liaison visit to Cobham, the company who fly the Falcon aircraft, based at Bournemouth Airport.

It’s fair to say that I arrived at Cobham a little over excited. I’d watched Top Gun the night before, I had my “aviators” with me, I was all set to go fly jets.

After the initial meet and greet where I presented the flight crew with a ship’s plaque, I had a chance to talk to the aircrews about their backgrounds.

As with a lot of defence contractors many of them had been military pilots before joining, however there were also civilian pilots, which the crews told me gave a healthy mix to the pool of pilots.

Once the pilots had gathered we went for the sortie briefing. The briefing was reminiscent of the departure briefs we hold on the Bridge before an arrival or departure, briefing the weather, tasking, aviation warnings etc.

They briefed the timings for the mission, including the timings that each target would take a hit, which was quite intricate, coordinating for this mission three Hawk aircraft and two Falcons. The targets were briefed, and a picture of each was shown for recognition. Today we would be simulating a real world threat in a realistic scenario.

I had the opportunity to find out when the ship arranged a liaison visit to Cobham, the company who fly the Falcon aircraft, based at Bournemouth Airport

Second Officer James Wright, RFA Fort Rosalie

After the briefing, the crew did their own pre-departure checks and then we walked out to our aircraft, Amber 1. One of the aircrew showed me the pods mounted under the wings which are used to transmit the frequencies required to simulate various aircraft types and weapons.

Once in the aircraft, he then showed me the console where he controlled the Electronic Warfare (EW) side of the serial, setting the frequencies on the pods and simulating weapon activation and targeting radars. All fascinating! Amber 2, the other Falcon taking part today would be doing something different, using her EW suite to jam the radars on the ships.

Once all the aircrew were embarked and pre-flight checks correct we took off and headed towards the areas. Shortly after take off and once over the sea, we were joined by Blue 11, a Hawk aircraft.

The first attack was to be the Falcon I was flying in to pretend to be an enemy aircraft launching the missile, and the Hawk would simulate the missile. To achieve this illusion, the Hawk tucked in very close to the Falcon so that when he was ‘released’ it would appear on radar as if a small contact had detached from the Falcon.

We arrived at the position where the targeting radar was turned on then off, simulating the aircraft finding it’s target. Then a countdown to the missile release point, and when we arrived, a message to the Hawk to release.

The Hawk pilot, clearly enjoying himself (well you would wouldn’t you!!) threw his plane into a screaming turn and dive and sped off like a…..well like a missile! We then did our own steep turn away from the targets, before turning back in so we were behind the Hawk on the same bearing.

When the Hawk was a set distance out, the EW operator turned on the radar for the simulated missile’s seeker head turning on. As the Falcon was directly in line with the Hawk, to the warship looking for these emissions it would appear that the missile was transmitting the radar. The Hawk arrived at the target dead on time.

I had up to this point been sat I at the rear of the aircraft with the EW operator while the pilots did some in house training, however this was over so I was invited to join them up front. Aviators on!

From the front, I got to see how intricate the speed adjustments were to get the timings correct. Some of the attacks had a bit of leeway with timings whereas others had to be dead on which meant arriving at the various points of release etc at precise times.

The other aircraft, Amber 2, had a technical difficulty which meant they had taken off late so the flight crew on Amber 1 had to adjust the plan on the fly (pun intended), which was done quickly and professionally. This meant that for the second attack we would launch two Hawks as missiles instead of the planned one.

After the second missile attack, we set up for a run acting as a land launched missile. We flew away from the targets and headed for land where set up for the attack. There were now two Falcons and three Hawks all flying around in quite a small airspace which required de-confliction.

This was achieved partially through arranging them to depart the areas in different directions, and partially through height separation. Watching the crew calculate the speeds required to reach the targets on time based on the target distance was all very familiar as a Navigator, albeit at faster speeds.

Indeed, some of the speed x distance cribs being produced from the pilot’s clipboard looked eerily familiar. Once we were at the ‘gate’ which was the launch position, we descended, eventually hitting 300ft as we headed towards the targets. Our targets were in sight and we headed straight for them.

The microphones on the headsets we wore were voice activated, and the mike on mine was just too far way from my mouth to pick up the machine gun noises I was making as we made out attack run, which was probably for the best.

We flew over our targets and returned to Bournemouth having sunk our targets (sorry Wave Ruler!) and landed safely. The whole day was absolutely fascinating and the staff at Cobham were extremely welcoming and informative.

We sometimes in the RFA don’t take full advantage of the opportunities afforded us by our unique job, but with a little bit of effort and organisation, you can have some great experiences!

Just remember to make sure your mike is away from your mouth if you make gun noises……

Written by 2/O (X) James Wright

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