Royal Navy 'Top Gun' pilots train to fly US fighters
Published: 12th May 2012 02:40:34
The F18 fighter jets gleam dazzling silver in the California sunshine at Naval Air Station Lemoore, where the control tower handles up to 300 operations a day.
British Royal Navy pilot Lt Dan Latham is walking out to his aircraft with his American colleague for a training mission that will see them fly through the cloudless skies for hundreds of miles over the desert on a practice bombing raid.
Dan, from Ormskirk in Lancashire, is one of the lucky few chosen to fly with his American naval counterparts in the US for four years.
The Royal Navy want to ensure the maritime flying skills of their pilots are maintained, until the new British aircraft carriers and the stealth fighter jets due to fly from them are ready.
The UK government has decided to revert back to plans to order a series of F-35B "jump jets", to operate from the new aircraft carrier currently being constructed.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth could ready for sea trails in 2017, with the F-35's flying from them in 2018.
Although he feels at home after 18 months in the US, 28-year-old Lt Latham admits there have been some cultural adjustments.
You will spend plenty of time away, practicing your carrier landings onto a ship that's moving at 30 knots away from you, on pitching seas and rolling decks”
"The first thing that really hit me was that they do a lot of training down in the southern US, where it is very hot. It is a very different environment to flying from the north of Scotland," he says, with some understatement.
Sending British pilots to train in the US had already begun, even before the government scrapped the Royal Navy's Harrier force and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal in the 2010 strategic defence review.
Nine British pilots are currently in the US - the majority flying F18s - with another four due to join them.
"Flying the jet is very enjoyable, and the first time the sheer power pretty much takes your breath away," he says.
"It's a state-of-the-art jet, optimised around operating at sea, so you will spend plenty of time away, practising your carrier landings onto a ship that's moving at 30 knots away from you, on pitching seas and rolling decks. Night landings are where you really earn your money."
The British pilots also have to acclimatise to the banter of the "ready room", where they and their US colleagues prepare for their missions.
Lt Latham's boss at the US Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-122, Cdr George Wykoff appreciates having the British pilots here.
"We're cut from pretty much the same cloth - we all have really big egos," he jokes.
"The combined camaraderie has really added to the atmosphere in the ready room."
Another British pilot, Lt Steve Collins, is now flying for a frontline US Navy fighter squadron, VFA 14. He is just 26, but has already been operating from an American aircraft carrier at sea, flying strike missions for the US Navy.
"It has certainly been a challenge at times, but also very enjoyable," he tells me.
"While I was on the aircraft carrier, we carried out missions supporting troops in Afghanistan and over Iraq as well. We have to meet the same standards as the US pilots in every regard."
He says the American and British pilots have a healthy respect for one another. "There's banter, and you've got to have a thick skin... and you've got to be able to... give some back. "
His boss, Cdr Kevin McLaughlin, who commands VFA-14, says that the UK pilot has fitted in brilliantly while acting as a US aviator.
It is all rather reminiscent of the film Top Gun, with each naval aviator assigned a unique call-sign.
Lt Collins is a little reluctant to explain his: "Lothar". But Cdr McLaughlin, is happy to do so.
"It is not all "Goose" and "Maverick". A call-sign can be tied to a name, or tied to an act," he explains.
"Lothar is actually an acronym, which stands for Loser of the American Revolution".
Joking aside, the training is intensive, and has a serious purpose.
Cdr Al Cummings, staff aviation officer on the Naval Staff at the British Embassy in Washington, says it is about making sure that the skills needed to operate the UK's new carriers safely are not lost.
"In order to develop a fixed-wing carrier strike capability which will allow us to operate the JSF at sea safely, we need to look to our allies who already have that capability, the French and the Americans.
"The experience our pilots will gain over the next few years will help the UK achieve its SDSR aims".
That will require in-depth knowledge and expertise, not just for the pilots but for all those on board who orchestrate the split-second technical demands of carrier landings and take-offs, where every movement must be precise and structured to avoid disaster.
Not all the young pilots currently training in the US will go on to fly the new stealth aircraft, but many by then will be expected to be in command positions.
Both Lt Latham and Lt Collins hope they will be among those flying the new stealth plane when it finally arrives, ensuring that the skills needed to fly from the British carriers are not lost in the intervening years.
At 19:47:12 in SportMichael Conlan and Steven Ward are among the Northern Ireland boxers entering the fray at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on Friday.
At 19:43:03 in EnglandThe family of a severely autistic teenager says it is hopeful he will return home to Cornwall after a minister criticised his care plan.
At 19:22:39 in SportNorthern Ireland's Lisa Kearney won a bronze medal in the -52kg women's judo category in Glasgow after beating Canadian Audree Francis-Methot.
At 19:22:07 in SportLewis Hamilton wants to stay with Mercedes beyond his current contract, which expires at the end of 2015.
At 19:18:46 in SportWest Ham's Andy Carroll has torn ligaments in his ankle and could be out of action for four months.
At 19:16:27 in SportAshley McKenzie claimed gold for England in the men's judo 60kg class at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
At 18:55:19 in EnglandA boy with a form of dwarfism says he has been barred from buses five times in a fortnight in a row over his bike.
At 18:54:08 in EnglandTwo elevated seats for ambulance staff to watch for problems in the stadium were removed on the day of the tragedy at Hillsborough, the inquests heard.
At 18:51:48 in Wales
At 18:50:35 in EnglandA man accused of murdering a woman at a homeless shelter in Southampton has been cleared, after a pathologist said her death was not suspicious.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Royal Navy 'Top Gun' pilots train to fly US fighters [Online] (Updated 12th May 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1428110/Royal-Navy-Top-Gun-pilots-train-to-fly-US-fighters [Accessed 24th Jul 2014]
News In Other Categories
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
Myanmar has invited the aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres to resume its work in Rakhine state, which has been plagued by sectarian violence.
A drugs mule from Ayr has been jailed for three years after he admitted attempting to smuggle heroin worth almost £13,000 into Shetland.
Taxpayers could be hit with a bill for up to £700m after the government reportedly lost a legal battle with Fujitsu over a failed NHS IT system.
The family of a severely autistic teenager says it is hopeful he will return home to Cornwall after a minister criticised his care plan.