I am proud to have served for so long in the world’s oldest independent Air Force; the experience has become part of whom I am.
I caught the aviation bug from an early age, probably as a result of flying frequently between India (where my parents lived) and my boarding school in UK. The RAF got its teeth into me early on. I was in the RAF CCF at school, winning a flying scholarship – that allowed me to get a PPL (Private Pilots Licence), aged 17 – and also learning to glide. Then I won a University Cadetship, which meant that the RAF kindly sponsored me through university (where I studied Physics). I spent almost all of my spare time at the University Air Squadron. What a fabulous period that was.
After University, I passed successfully through Initial Officer Training at RAF College Cranwell (98 IOTC) and entered the training pipeline. Several years later I emerged on to the Tornado F3 Force, which I enjoyed very much. It certainly got me to a few interesting places: the Falklands; Alaska; Canada; the Middle East; the Balkans and Cyprus. I was involved in various Operations such as enforcing the No Fly Zone over Southern Iraq.
My first Tour was at RAF Leuchars on 111 (F) Sqn which was a fabulous place to be a young man flying around in fast jets. I intercepted my fair share of several Russian aircraft on Quick Reaction Alert and was involved in many exercises and training courses: DISTANT FRONTIER, TLP, RED FLAG, etc. Memories of hurtling across Alaska at low level at close to 800 kts, and of searing across the barren landscape of the Falkland Islands at similar speeds, are still strong. We did a lot of flying in those days. I got almost 1000 hours in my first 3-year tour.
At the end of my time at RAF Leuchars I was selected to become a Qualified Weapons Instructor and then posted to the Operational Conversion Unit (56 Sqn), converting crews onto the Tornado. I became part of STANEVAL (Standards and Evaluation) which was charged with checking the proficiency of front line crews. I also became an Electronic Warfare Instructor. All the time I was learning new things and trying to improve.
The obligatory time out of the cockpit followed. I was selected to become an Air Tactics Analyst within Defence Intelligence, which was an extremely interesting role and took me all over the world. For obvious reasons, I am not going to go into details here. Suffice to say, it was just as interesting as flying, although in a very different way and exposed me to a world that most people simply never experience.
Then it was back into the air as the Weapons Leader on 5(AC) Squadron at RAF Coningsby, where we seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time flying over Iraq! We had a fabulous team we had on that Squadron and it was truly great fun. When 5 Sqn disbanded I was sent temporarily back to 56 Sqn, now relocated to RAF Leuchars, where my frontline career had started. That too was a very good time.
By then, I was approaching 40 years old and the time had then come to do something different with my life. I resigned from the RAF and spent my last 2 years at the Defence Science and Technical Laboratory (DSTL) working with some outstanding “boffins” on some very interesting, and quite revolutionary, projects. I retired from the RAF on 30 July 2006 as a Wing Commander.
For almost 13 years now I have been a civilian; an entrepreneur. I have co-founded and nurtured a business that started with 3 people and £300 and now employs 130 people, turning over around £14 million a year. I am very proud of all the things that the great team at Inzpire has achieved, and how we work closely with the RAF as part of the Whole Force.
Image Copyright Steve Smailes Photography.
Looking back to my time in uniform, I remember the amazing people, the camaraderie, the sense of duty, the excitement, and the legacy of 100 years of glorious history.
Per Ardua ad Astra.