Area51 Summer 2021

Hello and greetings once again from all of us here at 51 Sqn. After a busy winter, 2021 so far has only seen the tempo increase with short notice change to our operational focus, the homecoming of one of our aircraft, and a significant deployment to prepare for. And all of this while continuing to deal with the impact of Covid-19 on the way we do business.

Arrival of ZZ665
13th May 2021 saw the return of ZZ665 from Greenville, Texas. This aircraft has spent around 18 months at the facility receiving a periodical deep maintenance program, while also being fitted with the very latest avionics and mission system. It now joins ZZ664 as the second UK Rivet Joint to be fitted with an all glass cockpit. It is also the first UK Rivet Joint to be upgraded to a Base Line 13 mission system, providing the operators with cutting edge technology. This maintenance and upgrade cycle is part of the Big Safari Program, where the UK holds a 3/20th share of the USAF Rivet Joint Program, and means that we are on an equal footing with our USAF counterparts.

Visit of SoS for Defence, Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP
ZZ665 hadn’t been back on the Squadron long before she began attracting high-profile visitors. In early June, the Squadron was honoured to host the Secretary of State for Defence, Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP. Personnel from each specialisation greeted SoS on board the aircraft and were able to give him a precis of the roles we can carry out. We were also able to show him around the Sqn’s Mission Crew Simulator, which provided a unique insight into the inner workings of a Rivet Joint mission.

Arrival of XW666 Pilot Seat
There was another arrival on 51 Squadron during May, although this one was long overdue. 26 years ago, on 16th May 1995, 51 Sqn’s Nimrod R1 XW666 was conducting a post maintenance test flight from RAF Kinloss when an engine fire forced the crew to ditch in the Moray Firth, most of which was subsequently recovered. The pilot’s seat from XW666 since then has been displayed in the Inverness Aviation Musuem, but unfortunately the museum is closing down with all exhibits being sold off. After contacting the Sqn Heritage team, the owner of the museum, Mr James Campbell, kindly offered to donate the seat to the 51 Sqn as it would be ‘the best possible place for it to go’. With the help of 8 Sqn who were on a visit to RAF Lossiemouth, the seat finally made its return flight to RAF Waddington. It will now be displayed proudly as a representation of a seminal moment in the Squadron’s history.

RAFA Rides
RAFA Rides returns after the success of last year’s event and once again 51 squadron will be heavily involved. Leading from the front by not only taking part in the event but also by being one of the organisers of the whole thing, OC 51 Sqn Wing Commander Nevin had this to say in the week before the event:

“Over the past 6 months I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with AVM (Retd) Gary Waterfall, a RAFA Ambassador and the Founder of RAFA Rides, and the outstanding RAFA Engagements Team to help to put together this year’s event. There are so many incredible people in the team, helping to drive the charity forward and raise much needed funds to allow them to deliver the amazing support they do to the RAF Family and it was the passion I have seen from them previously that encouraged me to want to get involved this time. Front and centre, and the ones who have had to put up with me during our weekly zoom meetings and occasional face to face meetings, are Kate Stride and Amy Petterson, two tremendously passionate and driven people who have been a real pleasure to work with. The success of this event is largely down to these key folk.”

“The event gets bigger each year since its inception in 2018 and this year we decided it was time to take it to the next level, hence our aspiration to turn it into a global event. I don’t think we realised just how successful our global plan was going to be when we started reaching out back in November of last year, but we have 800 riders globally, from places such as Hawaii, USA, Falkland Islands, Mali, Saudi, multiple European and Middle Eastern locations and all the way round to Australia and New Zealand. Cyprus set us on our way with an early event to beat the summer heat and since we highlighted their efforts, we had to close the live event at Waltham on the Wolds early due to selling out and the virtual cycle sign-ups have sold out nearly three times over. We will have to go some way to make it even bigger next year….but we have some ideas already!”

“As for me, I cant wait for the day itself. I can’t say that I have done anywhere near enough training and the second half of the 100 mile event is likely going to be somewhat of a challenge to say the least, but the amount of money that is being raised and the number of people who are up for taking on the challenge is really quite humbling and something I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. Make sure to sign up early for RAFA Rides 22, to avoid the disappointment some have felt at missing out this year.”

Also taking part from 51 Sqn is Sgt Steve Gannan, who said:

“I am taking part in the 70 Mile element of RAFA RIDES 21, I used cycling as a large part of my recovery both from ACL reconstruction and more recently open heart surgery, especially during the last 15 months and pandemic. It has given me a focus to aim at and remain both physically and mentally fit. So far I have done 11 rides which total a distance of 630km, the furthest of which is 80km in one ride so aware I’d then have a further 32km to go to complete my entry distance, I think some cheeky Haribo may help along the way. To raise as much as I could I decided to source prizes and run a raffle, so far my just giving has raised £1179 and I hope to break the £1200 mark on the day.”

Souda Bay Deployment
As if the squadron hasn’t been busy enough, there has also been a deployment to prepare for. Notwithstanding the usual requirements, everybody heading out of the door has also been required to isolate for two weeks at one of the MoD Quarantine Facilities. As with last year, the squadron will be heading to Souda Bay in Crete. Among other tasks, the squadron will be providing support to the newly formed Carrier Strike Group. Speaking during his quarantine period at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, Deputy Detachment Commander Sqn Ldr Cheverton said:

“Deploying alongside the Carrier Strike Group offers 51 Sqn a unique opportunity to interoperate with RAF, RN and Coalition 5th Gen assets as part of the largest UK naval deployment in 25 years. Our experience and capabilities, bolstered by 54SU analysts and Waddington support staff, will play a critical role in providing intelligence and situational awareness to the carrier group in addition to other Defence tasks.”

Looking ahead
During the summer 51 Sqn will be hoping for a highly successful deployment, but back at RAF Waddington there will be no let up. Operators will be continuing to learn and hone their skills on the new BL13 aircraft and preparing to receive the latest batch of graduating students from the OCU. There will also be several UK based Exercises the Sqn will be taking part in both live flying and in a synthetic environment. We will also be saying goodbye to ZZ666 as it heads to Greenville to begin its own upgrade package. Until next time, we hope you stay safe and enjoy the summer as things start to get back to normality.

Swift and Sure.

The 51 Sqn Insight team
FS Stu Branagan
CT Steve Green
Sgt Phil Howle