31 SQN UPDATE – The winter season
The winter season is always a busy time for the Goldstars, with plenty of work and various social events.
The squadrons’ primary role has been to prepare for operations in support of Op SHADER. Both IX and 31 Sqn have been collaborating to ensure that all aircrew receive enough training in the UK for their upcoming deployments. To do this, the aircrew will prepare various scenarios that enable them to utilise the full extent of Tornado capabilities. The simulator is also utilised frequently, particularly ahead of the Christmas break. With the station undergoing an extended Christmas break, it was vital for the aircrew to keep various flying currencies up to date, in order for them to fly in the new year without additional check-rides. Pleasingly it was the time of year again when the last 5 minutes of the simulator event can involve a “wacky race”, where a crew has to achieve several goals in the fastest possible time whilst defending themselves from simulated threats. All the times were logged, with everyone desperate to get the fastest time and avoid any embarrassing mistakes in their rush to complete the task. The crews all donated £5 per attempt to charity, meaning the competitiveness is beneficial for a good cause!
The last ever Tornado pilot to arrive on the front line, Flt Lt Nathan Shawyer, has recently completed his “Pairs Lead” work-up. To achieve this qualification several sorties were assessed by senior operators on the squadron. Two of those sorties were dedicated to Close Air Support, with one of these performed at night. In addition to this, a further sortie was dedicated to evading a fighter threat in order to reach a pre-determined objective. Often for this form of training, the other fighter will be a Hawk T1 of 100 Sqn, based at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire. When the opportunity arises, the subject will also lead a pair of Tornados to an RAF Voyager to conduct air-to-air refuelling. Also assessed was the ability to supervise a formation by setting a scenario for a sortie, setting objectives, and debriefing another aircrew member on their performance. Finally, a senior operator will set a final check-ride which can assess any aspect of leadership that the pilot is qualified for. Flt Lt Shawyer completed the work up with a strong performance despite his slight stature and he’ll be able to consolidate his qualification in the final months of Tornado flying.
Despite the Tornado GR4 era imminently coming to an end, the engineers and aircrew of 31 Sqn have been kept busy over the New Year period. The Pilots and Weapons System Officers have been utilising the Sim to maintain their currencies and skills, whilst the engineers have been beavering away to keep the jets in good health for the last few remaining months.
Several of the Officer cadre have also left the Sqn in the past 12 months on promotion. Flt Lt Steve Smith departed the Squadron in the Autumn to begin his training as a Hawk T2 QFI at RAF Valley on the Advanced Jet Training course. Since then he has promoted to Sqn Ldr to take up the role of Fixed Wing Requirements Manager (T2 Hawk and Texan).
Sqn Ldr Guy Gibbons was also promoted during the Autumn after completing his tour on the Sqn. He is now gainfully employed at RAF High Wycombe in his role as a staff officer in the Joint Forward Air Component Command Centre. Finally, our American exchange Officer Major Paul Doran finished his 3-year spell in the UK piloting the mighty GR4. He returns to fly the A10 in the state of Baltimore and has been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Everyone at 31 Sqn wish him and his family the best of luck for the future.
Despite the constant training for Operations, the Squadron is also busy preparing for disbandment events. 31 Sqn itself will disband in March, but will be stood back up again (date TBC), when it will reform at RAF Waddington equipped with the Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) MQ-9B, also known as the Protector RG1. In the meantime, the end of the Tornado GR4 means that the final flypasts, parades and social events will keep everyone on their toes until the end of March.