West Briton reporter Mark Binnersley had the time of his life when he had the chance to go on a training flight with the Hawk unit of RNAS Culdrose.
The Hawks, which are the same aircraft as the aerobatic Red Arrows, are preparing to show off aerobatic skills later this month at their annual Air Day.
And after passing the strict RAF medical – and with his heart racing at 106bpm – Mark, who has been fascinated with jets and military aircraft since his childhood, prepared to board the Hawk, which was to launch an attack on a target ship out at sea.
On a typical sortie the jets take off from Culdrose and rendezvous with flight falcon aircraft fitted out with state of the art radar jamming equipment.
A wave from one of the falcon’s pilots and the Hawk – or missile – dives from 10,000ft to 100ft above the sea, heading straight at the target. Meanwhile on board the ship coming under ‘attack’ battle stations are simulated with every action being taken to destroy the missile before it hits the target ship.
He said: “Kitted out in a flying suit, G-pants, immersion suit, inflatable life jacket and a specially fitted helmet with oxygen mask and intercom equipment, I clambered into the confines of the cockpit to be strapped into the ejector seat.
“You literally become part of the aircraft as your oxygen line, radio and G-pants are plugged into their supply sockets. After carrying out the pre-flight checks, the canopy was lowered and our ground crew removed the ladders and chocs and waved us off.”
The plane was the last of three to take off, the first carrying out low-level attacks against the ships, the second was there to defend the ships and the West Briton reporter’s aircraft was the “missile”.
According to pilot Rick Clowes, around 70 per cent of the people he takes up with him are ill either during or after the flight.
After touching down he said: “Moments after taking off, everything went white as the cockpit was surrounded by clouds. We bolted for the blue and in seconds we were looking down on a sea of cotton wool, searching for the falcon.
“We carried out three low-level attacks the final one being against the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, and there wasn’t a sick bag in sight!”
The pilots at the Flight Requirement Air Direction Unit, which provides target practice at sea, are almost all ex-RAF and spend their days playing target practice with Royal Navy warships and spend most of the time acting like a bouncy balls darting all over the sky.
Chief pilot Brian Hoskins said: “We’re either simulated fighters against the ships, or we join up with bigger aircraft and simulate missile attacks. We also provide an aircraft for air defence against our aircraft.”
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