Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Tornado Pilot Flight Lieutenant Juliette Fleming and her navigator, Squadron Leader Nikki Thomas, are currently the only all female Tornado crew working in Afghanistan. Their role is to provide close air support to troops on the ground.
Flt Lt Fleming, known as Jules, is actually the only female Tornado pilot in Afghanistan at the moment, but she insists, she is just 'one of the boys' amongst her colleagues from 31 Squadron, based at Royal Air Force Marham in Norfolk.
She joined the RAF ten years ago, and after a tour in Iraq last year, Christmas 2009 will see her flying as part of the Tornado Force on Operation HERRICK. She said:
"Our role out here is Close Air Support. It's all about supporting the troops on the ground, whether that is searching for Improvised Explosive Devices [IEDs], providing armed over watch of patrols taking place or being on ground alert, on call, for when troops are in contact with the enemy.
"Since October I've flown over 20 missions, which has been almost 100 hours in the air. We've been supporting all the Allied troops, including the Americans and our British Army colleagues."
Flying in the back seat of the Tornado jet is navigator Sqn Ldr Nikki Thomas, making them the only female crew on their Detachment.
Sqn Ldr Thomas, who is Flt Lt Fleming's Flight Commander on the ground, said:
"We usually fly together as it makes it easier to share a bedroom, just the one alarm clock going off at the same time in the morning!"
She already has several tours of Iraq under her belt and is the 'Warlord' for the Squadron in HERRICK, responsible for running the day-to-day operations:
"Really for me the best bit of my role is the operational flying. To spend years training to do a job and to do it well it is very satisfying, and you really get to see the results on Operations.
"It may also sound really cheesy but life on a Squadron is brilliant, everyone pulls together to get the job done and everyone has a vital role to play."