Eyes of a Hawk

Today I flew with IV Squadron in one of their Hawk T2s. The Squadron is visiting RAF Lossiemouth from their usual base of RAF Valley on Anglesey and the Hawk T2 is the RAFs new fast-jet trainer, preparing pilots for modern, high-performance, networked aircraft, fighting in the battle space of the future.

So what’s all the fuss about and why is the Hawk T2 such a big deal? Well, I conducted my fast-jet training on the Hawk T1 and although the T2 looks similar, its a totally different aircraft with a different ethos and radically different planning, doing and debriefing technology!

The cockpit is very similar to Typhoon

Students are treated to electronic mission planning, very similar to that used by Tornado and Typhoon crews and the aircraft is fully electric. That means it is software-driven and in fact the way of interacting with it is very similar to the Typhoon, right down to the way the Hands On Throttle And Stick works, the Head-Up Display symbols and the integration of a hugely impressive array of modern, networked sensors. The T2 has datalink, modern radar emulator, defensive warning and countermeasures emulator, full Head-Up Display, Ground Proximity Warning System, Collision Warning System – you get the idea! This jet is totally brimming with technology!

What this means is that during training, students are exposed to a level of immersion and mission realism that I could only have dreamed of during my training. In turn, we all benefit as taxpayers because more and more training can be completed on this relatively inexpensive aircraft rather than on the more costly to operate Front Line jets. In turn, pilots arrive at their Front Line squadrons better trained, better experienced and further ahead than ever before!

On recovery to Lossiemouth, with the iconic lighthouse in the background

I really enjoyed my sortie today, especially with last week’s Typhoon trip to compare it with. The sortie was a 2 versus 1 low level evasion sortie and contained the level of challenge that previously would only be experienced on a Front Line aircraft. Congratulations too, for the Navy student pilot who passed this, his final sortie and will now go to USA to train on the Harrier or F18 Hornet ahead of eventual duties on the UK’s newest fighter – the F35 Lightning II and will contribute to delivering Carrier Enabled Power Projection in the future.


Who Gives a FOD?

Another major Exercise at RAF Lossiemouth is over and so once again, the whole Station’s personnel spend an hour or so of their Monday morning combing the airfield, like some giant police forensic team, looking for rubbish and debris. But why? Has the Station Commander gone mad and decided that tidiness must be maintained at all cost?

Well no, Foreign Object Damage or FOD, is a real mission-killer and can bring down aircraft. FOD comes in all shapes and sizes, although this is an extreme example!

Ever since the advent of jet engines, FOD has been a constant presence and military and civil operators have tried their best to reduce its occurrence. The Glouster Meteor used to suffer badly from sucking out and ingesting its own rivets and fasteners into the Welland engines, usually with disastrous results. This concept of ‘self-harm’ by aircraft to themselves and to other aircraft is an important one and is at the cutting edge of current anti-FOD campaigns.

The Concorde tragedy is a prime example of aircraft-caused FOD leading to disaster

Bringing this closer to home and the Tornado Force, why should we pay attention and what are we doing?

Safety. FOD has been responsible for a number of Tornado crashes over the years, from control restrictions to engine titanium fires, so there is a clear need to do all we can.

Mission Effectiveness. Unlike civil operations, military tasks often have little discretion over whether they can be completed or not – we simply must produce results or the consequences are severe. Therefore, mission cancellation due to FOD is something we can’t tolerate.

Cost. Tornado jet engines are expensive to repair and by reducing the number of ‘unnecessary’ repairs, we can dramatically reduce the cost to Defence and to the taxpayer.

So what’s the fuss about? Well, the Tornado engine rejection rate due to FOD had been steadily creeping up and in 2012 stood at just over one engine per 1000 flying hours. This equated to a large number of broken engines and ¬£millions spent on repairs, not to mention numerous hazardous situations and in 2011 a crash report concluded that FOD, probably metallic in nature, caused an engine mechanical failure. We simply had to get a grip on this situation and reduced FOD.

The graph below shows what causes most Tornado FOD and we’re right back to the 1950s and aircraft self-harm:

Just like in the days of the Meteor, aircraft metallic items – locking wire, fasteners, etc, are a major cause of FOD and an area where we can really influence. This became the basis of a joint Rolls Royce and Tornado Force campaign to raise awareness and reduce FOD. We combed the filters and bins of our runway sweepers, tracking down the source of each and every piece of debris and even purchased a new glue to attach vortex generators to the fin of the Tornado when we discovered that too many of them were becoming detached. In addition, we changed the way we marked small parts of the aircraft that might be vulnerable to detaching so we could identify their source much quicker. An example of this increased awareness and ‘Focus on FOD’ campaign was when a Tornado was hotpit refuelling (like a F1 pitstop, the fuel is replaced with an engine still running) and a technician noticed a missing vortex generator. He quickly informed ATC, the runway was closed, the culprit found and matched to the source airframe in minutes. Result = runway closed for very short time, no chance of FOD harming that aircraft or another one and no missing piece to account for.

The results so far are impressive: the FOD rate per 1000 flying hours has fallen by about 50% over the past 12 months. That’s 50% safer, 50% fewer missions lost and 50% financial saving. Our challenge now is to maintain the focus on FOD and keep driving down the rate. Further details on the Fous on FOD campaign can be found in Air Clues, the RAF flight safety magazine.

So, this is why, every time you drive onto an airfield surface at RAF Lossiemouth, you have to go over a cattle grid to shake out stones and then check and clear your tyres. And it’s why today, hundreds of people will walk across the airfield and operating surfaces, picking up litter and debris – I haven’t gone mad but I do hope to track down any FOD so we can continue to operate safey, effectively and efficiently!

A FOD-free diet for our Tornados please!

What is a Station Commander?

A lot of people ask what being a Station Commander actually involves so I thought I would try to answer (briefly). Firstly, each RAF base is different; Lossiemouth has about 2500 people working here, a mix of military, Civil Servants and contractors – what we call the ‘Whole Force Concept’


Picture – Ian Daniels

The base is home to 3 x Tornado GR4 Squadrons, a flight of Sea King Search and Rescue helicopters, a Wing of RAF Regiment Force Protection troops, regional legal and Defence Infrastructure Organisation and a host of combat support and combat service support elements. In addition to RAF Lossiemouth, we operate the Relief Landing Ground at Kinloss Barracks (formerly RAF Kinloss), the Force Development Training Centre at Grantown on Spey and the Adventure Training facility at Feshiebridge Lodge as well as a number of remote refuelling sites that provide top up capability for our Sea Kings and Coastguard/Royal Navy Search and Rescue helicopters.


So to my job. I serve 3 distinct roles: Station Commander, Delivery Duty Holder and Head of Establishment.

Station Commander – This is the least-changed role. I am responsible, through the Tornado Force Commander, for the military output of the Station – essentially achieving the tasks that we have been set, making sure people have the right skills and training, maintaining discipline, developing our people.

Delivery Duty Holder – This is the equivalent of the ‘accountable manager’ in civilian terms and simply put, it means that I am personally and legally accountable for the safe operation of all aviation activities at the base. If a risk emerges that I am unable to resolve, I am able to elevate it to my ‘Operational Duty Holder’ and he can elevate it to the ‘Senior Duty Holder’ (Chief of the Air Staff) and we 3 people are the only ones who can hold risk in the aviation chain. The Air Safety chain operates independently from the Chain of Command and as you can see, issues can flow quickly to a very senior level. This means that risk is held at the lowest possible level and down at the Station, where I smell jet fuel and oversee the day-to-day activity, I am empowered to manage and hold risks, always working under the principle that they must be both Tolerable and the risk must be As Low As Reasonably Practicable. More on this in future posts.

Head of Establishment – Most people don’t naturally think of this role but in ‘functional’ safety terms, I am responsible to the Health and Safety Executive for the safe operation of a large airport in exactly the same way as the head of any same-sized organisation. Because we hold dangerous items here, we are mandated to conduct major disaster planning and exercises; I am responsible for the safe conduct of procedures like working at height and in confined spaces and the safe operation of our road network. In addition, I am responsible for our environmental protection measures and other things such as our legionella prevention and control plan.


Assisting in demolishing the old Senior NCOs Mess following construction of the new facility

So there you have it, I hope I have scratched the surface of the 3 main roles of a Station Commander; I’ll follow this up with more info on what actually happens in each of these roles and hopefully as you read my tweets, you’ll see how I’m performing each of them daily.


Posted with BlogsyPosted with Blogsy

The end of a great week at RAF Lossiemouth

The Combined Qualified Weapons Instructor operational phase has been running for the last 2 weeks. The Exercise allows the weapons instructor students from the combat air, ISTAR and other Forces to come together, plan together then execute and debrief large force missions consisting of about 50-60 aircraft, ground threats and other ‘injects’. I was fortunate enough to fly with 1 (Fighter) Squadron today on the last mission. Reuniting with the Typhoon was brilliant as its been 8 years since I served on the Operational Evaluation Unit and flew her last.

But aside from the huge tactical benefits of this Exercise, for RAF Lossiemouth, it has been a great opportunity for the personnel from 1 Squadron to get more familiar with our Station and its facilities and local area before they move here from RAF Leuchars next autumn. For us, it has been a very useful chance to better understand the Typhoon and to get used to supporting it. For example, one of the hangars that will be used to house the aircraft is already complete and we have used it extensively to store and service up to 15 Typhoons.

So a very successful time, lots and lots of hard work – our Air Traffic Control for example, has dealt flawlessly with 4 times the usual aircraft movements, our messes have fed all the extra people and hopefully the local economy has felt the benefit too.



Photographing Aircraft

Obviously you have to be interested in the subject, but I think aircraft photography is a brilliant way to increase your photography skills because: they move quickly, they make demands on exposure settings, they require different shutter speeds depending on the action (eg a propeller) and they offer fleeting chances of a great picture!

Taken at Kandahar Air Base

Taken at Kandahar Air Base

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