Friday, June 26, 2009
Harrier heroes return home
RAF and Royal Navy top guns are on their way home after five years of supporting heroic soldiers in the battle against Taleban extremists.
1 (F) Squadron’s Harrier jump jets, from RAF Cottesmore in Rutland, have been fighting for the people of Afghanistan, and supporting brave British and NATO troops by attacking insurgents in the blistering deserts and barren mountains of Afghanistan. They depart Afghanistan on 26 June.
Since 2000, the RAF and the Navy’s Fleet Air Arm have flown Harriers together under the Joint Force Harrier formation. Navy and Royal Marines pilots have been fighting alongside their RAF comrades since the Harrier first arrived in Afghanistan five years ago.
Every Harrier pilot from every Harrier squadron has taken part in the fight. Over the past five years, more that 22,000 hours have been flown on more than 8,500 sorties, mainly over Helmand province.
1 (F) Sqn – the RAF’s oldest squadron, formed in 1912 – has been in Afghanistan four times before, alternating with the RAF’s 4 Squadron and the Fleet Air Arm’s Naval Strike Wing. The last Harriers in Afghanistan have been replaced by Tornado GR4 strike jets from 12 Sqn, based at RAF Lossiemouth in Morayshire.
Wing Commander Dave Haines, 1 Sqn’s commanding officer, says that Taliban fighters would “flee in terror” when they heard the deafening roar of Harrier jets giving “shows of force” when troops were under fire. “We deliver an awesome effect,” said the 39-year-old.
“Our guys on the ground can guide us to the enemy using TV data links. After making sure that we’re not going to harm any civilians, we can fire our missiles from such a distance that the insurgents don’t even know we’re there; sometimes the last thing they hear is the crack of a missile’s sonic boom before it hits.
“We’re here at the invitation of the Afghan government,” he added. “We do absolutely everything we can to make sure that civilians are safe; they’re the people we’re fighting for.”
Royal Marines hero Captain Michael Carty, 27, has been fighting Taliban terrorists since 2002 – first as a troop commander with 45 Commando, leading Marines into battle, and now as an elite Harrier pilot supporting Our Boys from above. “I used to lead 35 lads on the ground,” he said, after a 3-hour mission to hit the Taliban’s fighters. “That gives me a great appreciation of what it’s like for those in the field.”
Capt Carty now helps to keep insurgents at bay while RAF and Royal Navy helicopters fly medics into battle to extract wounded soldiers from the front line. “It makes me really proud,” he said. “Even helping our guys in a small way is fantastic.
“Whether we’re keeping an eye out for insurgents while the troops are clearing a compound, or warning patrols about suspicious activity, I get huge satisfaction from knowing I’ve done my bit.”
HARRIER GR9 FACT FILE
• Engines: RR Pegasus 105 or 107 turbofan
• Thrust: 21,750lbs
• Max speed: 574kts
• Length: 14.36m
• Max altitude: 43,000ft
• Span: 9.25m
• Aircrew: 1