The Importance of Saying Thank You

Tonight at RAF Lossiemouth, we held an awards night. It was a special one for me as it was dominated by my personal Commanding Officer's commendations but there were flight safety awards too and one for heroism in Afghanistan.

The military have long understood the power of celebrating success – we have a system of commendations, awards and medals as well as understanding the route into state awards.

The people of Lossiemouth have been through a period of deep uncertainty and now a challenging time of change as we transform into a Typhoon base. All of this is in the context of frozen pay, reduced allowances and a high Operational tempo with people deploying away from home for long periods.

This means that more than ever, our people need to know they are trusted, valued and the work they are doing is crucial. I believe that the very best way to do this is for senior people to take time out to understand the organisation and its people, to realise the importance of people's actions and to take the time to say thank you.

Tonight's award winners, with apologies for the quality of my iPhone picture

So, the simple thank you is very powerful but tonight was something more formal. It was a chance to reward 2 very special kinds of people in particular – first, the often unsung people who toil behind the scenes, day after day, often in repetitive and unglamorous jobs who represent the cogs that keep the base operating. Often, these people are civilians not military and they frequently quietly innovate around them to make things better and more efficient. Tonight we sung their praises. Secondly, teams of people. Teams and teamwork is what makes us tick and so rewarding teams not just individuals reinforces that.

So that was tonight – we celebrated procurement clerks, drivers, photographers, aircraft engineers – and an RAF Regiment corporal who fought the Taliban whilst his friends were wounded around him, stormed the enemy position and killed the enemy. All in a day's work at RAF Lossiemouth!

 

How a Cartoon is Improving Air Safety

I blogged a while ago about my role as Delivery Duty Holder at RAF Lossiemouth. This makes me personally responsible and accountable for safety and airworthiness in all of our aviation operations.

Our Air Safety Management Plan describes our approach to this task an sets some objectives and targets and our hazard and risk registers describe the major things that could threaten safety and what we do to reduce that risk so as it is both Tolerable (ie acceptable to continue) and As Low As Reasonably Possible (ie the cost or effort to further reduce the risk would be grossly disproportionate to the benefit). But you might have seen risk registers – they are very detailed, very thorough and very, well, dull

My challenge is to raise the awareness of the hazards and risks that RAF Lossiemouth and our Tornado aircraft particularly, could be exposed to. If the awareness of everyone could be raised, its a really positive step to addressing the risks. It's similar to the mantra used elsewhere 'The first step to solving the problem is realising there is a problem' with apologies to Alcoholics Anonymous!

So, this is where Sean Savage of Savage Caricatures came in. He is an established caricaturist with a passion for aviation. He visited the base in July, gaining a good understanding of what goes on and also reading through and discussing our hazard and risk registers. The result was the cartoon. It shows in a graphical and hopefully light-hearted way some of the things we want our people to focus on. We are rolling this out around the base now and are using snapshots of smaller sections of the cartoon to amplify specific issues and how we deal with them. I really hope it helps in our quest to make people more aware of what's out there and in turn that this provides a positive contribution to Air Safety. What do you think?

 

RAF Lossiemouth – Typhoon Main Operating Base 2

Since it was decided that RAF Lossiemouth would remain open and would become a Typhoon Base, much work has been completed to prepare us for that but the context is a challenging one: maintain an absolute focus on our current task in Afghanistan, be ready for contingent tasks, maintain an Expeditionary Air Wing capability, prepare for the disbandment of 2 Tornado Squadrons, assist in the transfer of the Search and Rescue capability into civilian hands and, oh yes, build a Typhoon base!

These are challenges that affect each and every person at RAF Lossiemouth and this post aims to give you some more information about what and when, things are happening here.

Afghanistan. First and foremost, 12 (Bomber) Squadron are deployed in Afghanistan right now. They will remain there on their last tour of duty until the late autumn, when they will be replaced by 617 Squadron, the Dambusters. Our RAF Regiment Force Protection Wing, made up of both regular and reservist personnel, will deploy on a 6 month tour of duty at Camp Bastion, also in the late autumn so Christmas here will be quieter than normal.

  • Disbandments. In March 2014, both 12 and 617 Squadrons will disband as the Tornado Force is gradually replaced by the more modern and capable Typhoon. 617 Squadron though, will reform in 2016 as an F35, Lightning II Squadron, thereby opening a new chapter in their proud history.
  • New Beginnings. In June 2014, Number 6 Squadron will bring their Typhoon aircraft up from RAF Leuchars and begin the new chapter for RAF Lossiemouth. Over the summer of 2014, Lossiemouth will assume responsibility for Quick Reaction Alert. In the autumn, Number 1 (Fighter) Squadron will move to Lossiemouth, completing the major moves of people and equipment from RAF Leuchars, enabling the Station to focus fully on handover to the Army.
  • And Beyond. In March 2015, current plans will see XV Squadron (the Tornado Operational Conversion Unit) transfer to RAF Marham, as will the Tornado Engineering Flight. At around the same time, a third Typhoon Squadron will form at RAF Lossiemouth, effectively 'grown' out of expansions to 6 Squadron. Finally, by May 2015, the Search and Rescue Sea King helicopters of 'D Flight', 202 Squadron will leave the base as the Search and Rescue service transfers to civilian hands. The capability will be provided by Bristow helicopters, currently planned to operate from Inverness airport.

So that's a summary of the considerable changes that will be happening here at RAF Lossiemouth in the coming months. These changes have already resulted in considerable infrastructure works here to support the new tasks but although our role is changing, a significant number of our people will retrain on the Typhoon and remain in the local area. RAF Lossiemouth will be at the forefront of the delivery of military capability for many years to come and our people look forward to remaining at the heart of the Moray community.

3 Hangar at RAF Lossiemouth in July. Ready now!

 

Lossiemouth Raft Race

 

Every year in August, Lossiemouth holds its Raft Race. The event is organised and administered by RAF Lossiemouth and raises funds for selected charities – this year MFR Cash for Kids and Outfit Moray

As the Station Commander, I have the very great privilege of judging the 'Best Dressed Raft', as well as awarding prizes at the end, whilst Sally had the best job, starting the whole thing off.

This year there were 15 entries to the competition – most of the rafts had never been in the water before and everyone had The Steamboat pub in their sights as they had dominated the race for the last 3 years running, winning the coveted toilet seat that marks first place!

Thankfully, we had the rescue helicopter in the local area before the off, as unfortunately one team didn't make it as far as the shore to the starting point and had to be towed back by one of the safety canoes that make sure that whatever else, the race is safe!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The scene at the start line was chaotic as rafts and teams jostled for where they thought the best start point might be. Most seemed to think that it was towards the 'racing line' around the final bend of the river Lossie. The race starts from under the iconic Lossiemouth bridge and once a few eggs and flour bombs had been traded amongst the teams, they were under starters orders and off!

 

The Steamboat took an early lead and as the rafts rounded the bend on the way to the buoy that marks halfway, it looked like it was going to be a straightforward victory for the reigning champions. Meanwhile, there was real chaos for the back markers and many teams regretted not testing their steeds ahead of the day. Most of them resorted to close-quarters combat, quickly using up their eggs and flour. Several rafts actually fell apart on the first straight and didn't make it beyond the first bend. So, the Steamboat team took the lead and looked about to romp home with that fourth victory….

The finish line! MT beats the Steamboat, ending their 3-year string of victories

But no! As the rafts rounded the corner again, this time against the strengthening flow, the team from Mechanical Transport flight had nudged ahead. For the whole final 200 yards, their lead was reduced by a strong and Swift Steamboat team. As it came to the finish line, the exhausted team from MT prevailed and took a well-deserved victory!

 

Winners of the Best-Dressed Raft. Lossie Wives and Girlfriends

 

Winners of the most sought-after toilet seat in Lossiemouth! Congratulations to MT

 

First-time entrants Accunostics from Forres

 

The Accunostics team - strong finishers!

 

Sadly, not glory for everyone! The Hair Force team limping across (literally!) the finish line!

 

Highlights of the Week

After a busy few weeks at RAF Lossiemouth, hosting the major Exercise that was the Combined Qualified Weapons Instructor operational phase, then a detachment from IV Squadron based at RAF Valley, this week has settled into a more routine flow.

I welcomed new arrivals to the base early in the week. I've blogged before about the importance of speaking face-to-face with people and I like welcoming all new arrivals, explain what we do at the base and who is here as well as highlighting their role both in making sure we are a safe organisation and how I will support them in their continuous improvement activities. Their 'fresh eyes' on our operation are very valuable!

Later on I spent time at the first, then on Friday, the last session of a Lean Fundamentals course that we run here. Mainly for Lossiemouth personnel, but with places for people from other bases, the course is one of 3 we run to teach and train Lean principles, techniques and leadership. This course was like many, a little apprehensive at the start, not sure if it was all just management speak and Japanese words but on the last day, they were full of energy and ideas and keen to get back into their workplaces to put them into action. My take on Lean is that there isn't really anything new in there but it just gives people a different way to view problems and processes and a framework to go about solving them. My role is to make sure they are supported as they do this, because most people are at least a bit suspicious of new ideas and change and of course one of the main ideas is that we want our people to 'challenge everything' and not be restricted by rank-based thoughts of who has the best ideas. I really enjoy the outbrief because I usually get asked difficult questions, frequently have to justify decisions and there are usually at least 2 or 3 'please help – I'm trying to do….' And this course was no exception.

Suzi Mitchell receiving congratulations in the ATC tower at RAF Lossiemouth

Finally on the highlights list was the chance to go to Air Traffic Control and congratulate Flt Lt Suzi Mitchell as she has just been awarded the Babcock prize, essentially the Air Traffic Management prize for being the best Air Traffic Controller in the RAF! Suzi is no stranger to success, having recently been awarded a place on the Chief of the Air Staff's Fellowship scheme. She will spend most of the rest of the year in Afghanistan and will be studying and writing whilst deployed so the very best of luck to her!

Of course the week included one or 2 meetings and the usual paperwork, but these were some of the most enjoyable bits

 

Technology and Photography

Technology continues to evolve quickly but its probably the software more than the hardware that is currently moving quickest. I have recently started using an augmented reality app called Sunseeker to help me plan the best time to take images.

This is a screen shot of the app, taken from the reception venue at my brother-in-law's wedding. It's telling me that to get a decent shot of the front of the hotel, I need to wait until at least 1400, when the sun will have moved around enough to light the front.

Sure enough, it did! But the app does much more – you can point it at the sky and it will physically show you where the sun will be during the day and you can predict the sun's movement at any location at any time of day in the future too, so the changing seasons (particularly relevant up here in the north of Scotland) can be accounted for. Match this up with a location that really needs the light from a particular direction (Stonehenge anyone?) and you can reliably plan for a perfect shot.

I hope this was helpful – the app has really been good for me as I don't have a lot of time to sit and wait for things to happen so it has helped me plan my photography more effectively!

 

Do I Have an Honest Face?

 

Well, I guess it doesn't really matter what I look like, but the question for all those leading at whatever level is 'Do you trust me'? Trust is of course a complex thing but I'm a firm believer that the only way to cultivate it is to speak to people face to face, look them in the eyes and let them make up their minds as you make up yours.

The myriad of communications means available today means it becomes ever harder to find that time to get out, expend shoe leather and explain, debate and engage. At RAF Lossiemouth, we have a complex organisation where people are constantly coming and going, often to places like Afghanistan. The RAF is still downsizing, there has been deep uncertainty regarding job security, pay and conditions and even over the future of the base itself so trust is even more vital than ever, which is why we're working even harder to make that time and enshrine the principle in everyone's working day and week.

Another way to break down barriers and engender trust is to make sure there are no closed doors. We are running a scheme that allows our officers at all levels to participate in the command group meetings and to shadow my command team and me as we go about our business. In this way, they get to see what we're doing at 'senior' level whilst they get to raise issues direct. So far, both parties have found the experience very useful – it has certainly kept me on my toes and its great to have the juniors especially critique your work, it keeps you extremely focussed!

 

Authentic Leadership

Leadership. Much is talked, much is written. My thought for today on the topic is about authentic leadership. For me, this is as simple as meaning what you say and ensuring that you live and are seen to live your principles. In my case, I have a strong belief in supporting people, developing them professionally and personally. This sounds good of course and makes for some great 'one liners'. The thing is, actions speak louder than words and if you're not prepared to 'do' as well as 'say', it's only fair to expect a backlash.

Here's the rub; RAF Lossiemouth is home to about 2500 people – military, civil servants and contractors, what we call the 'Whole Force Concept'. Walking the talk of this aspect of authentic leadership means I have to be ready to drop things and change my plans, it means getting out and about more than my inbox wants me to and it means I can't afford to have any closed meetings, with the attendant suspicion of cigar smoke deals.

That's why I work with my office door open, why I pay a lot for shoe leather, why we focus so much on celebrating the successes of our team and why I never, ever go anywhere without my mobile phone. But here's the rub; meaning what you say makes life very simple, it means you never have to remember what you said to whom to maintain a story and it is incredibly rewarding. But it takes time, lots of it. Because if you set your stall out in a certain way, you have to answer the calls, prove you mean the words and this means all day, every day.

Is it worth it? Oh yes!

 

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!

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