5 AC Sqn Update
On the morning of 25 January 2013 V (Army Co-operation) Squadron answered the call to deploy a Sentinel to Africa in support of the French Operation to Mali.
The crews had been on standby for 2 weeks waiting for the order, the jets had been at 6 hour readiness and days of extensive planning late into the winter’s dark evenings had passed. Now it was time. The Sentinel engines wound up on dispersal and fired into life. The Pilots ran through the checks as the Mission Crew readied their kit in the back. The door came up, the Ground Engineer disconnected and with the Station Commander watching, the engines pushed the jet forwards off chocks.
A long taxi to the threshold of Runway 02 Right followed before everything was ready. The order came from the tower; “Line up Runway Zero Two Right”. The modified Global Express slowly and deliberately took its place on the piano keys and waited with anticipation.
“Clear for take-off, surface wind…..” The flying pilot held the brakes firmly, advanced the thrust levers to fully forward forcing 29,000lbs of thrust out of the back of the engines, he paused and then gently released the brakes allowing the Sentinel to accelerate forwards like a greyhound out of the traps. Halfway along the runway the jet slowly rotated into the crisp cold air. The first transit to a new Operation had begun, and this time it was to Africa.
The aircraft climbed to 28,000ft and cruised down over the South of England and out over the Channel. It flew into airspace over the Eastern Atlantic Ocean and down towards the Equator. The crew were relaxed, reading up on what they might expect when they reach their destination. Of note was that there were “high levels of dog activity on the airfield”, something few had ever expected to see. With 100 nautical miles to go the pilots commenced their descent to the destination and landed in West Africa late in the evening.
The jet taxied off of the runway and into an airfield that was very much unfamiliar territory. All crew members were looking out any available window to try to help the flight deck in any way they could. After being directed to the civilian dispersal and a few discussions with the native air traffic controllers the Sentinel finally found its way onto the Military apron to be met by a familiar sight of engineers and executives from RAF Waddington who had arrived by a C-17 from RAF Brize Norton earlier that day. The door was opened into a very different climate, a much warmer and more humid climate. The aircraft was put to bed by the ground crew and, once complete, the Waddington personnel were taken to immigration and then onwards to their accommodation.
The next morning came and with it a long day of setting up the office space given to the British contingent by the French. The offices were sparse and although relatively recently decorated, they weren’t without a few local visitors – namely large lizards and spiders.
The Sentinel requires more than just a runway, fuel, engineers and aircrew to do its job. It requires a large team of support from Signals Units, Motorized Transport, Logistics, Flight Operations and much more. The speed and professionalism on display was evident by the fact that in less than a day and a half the infrastructure was in place to support the Sentinel for its first Operational Mission over Mali. Since its arrival the aircraft has been flown nearly 300 hours totalling nearly 120,000 nautical miles (6 times around the circumference of the Equator!!)
Finally, the Squadron would like to send an enormous thank you to all the families who are supporting the personnel of V (AC) Squadron in a particularly demanding time of the Squadron’s history. Sustaining deployments to 2 theatres of Operations for extended periods of time is punishing and would not be possible without the love and support you all give.