It is with great sadness that I write this, my third and last Annual Report for the Association Newsletter. It hardly seems a moment since I assumed command of the Squadron in March 2001, but the arrival of my successor (Wing Commander Nigel Clifford) this week for his conversion training to the Hawk is a stark reminder that our handover on 8th August is only a few weeks away. After 2½ years of outstanding professional reward, it is time (as my new Commanding Officer has succinctly put it) ‘for The Queen to get her own back.’
Before I look at some of the highlights of this tour, it would be worth summarising the events of the last year. At time of writing my previous report, the Squadron was just about to implement major organisational and operational changes to increase the daily sortie rate from 68 to 84 to allow us, finally, to achieve the student throughput required to meet the target of 60 RAF fast-jet pilots into productive service each year. With everything in place and ready to go, it has been extremely frustrating that contractual issues have delayed implementation for nearly 15 months. We are now eagerly awaiting an increase in resources in July to enable us to mount this extraordinarily large number of sorties per day, and to finally prove all the hard theoretical work done in the last 3 years. This remains my one outstanding operational goal before I leave in August.
But the Squadron has not stood still in the intervening period. The leap of faith we took last year to employ Operations Support NCOs (instead of aircrew) to write the daily flying programme has reaped enormous rewards and has increased the efficiency of our operations, in my view, by at least 5% as well as improving the continuity of training. I was pleased to report at last year’s Reunion that we had achieved more than 300 sorties (actually 301) in a single working week. At the time, this had been a huge effort, which we had only just managed. Just a few weeks ago, however, we flew a colossal 330 sorties in a similar period, almost as a matter of routine. This itself was in a month in which we flew some 1292 sorties in all. Such has been the impact of the new support staff, which gives me great confidence for the future of the Squadron (and perhaps the achievement of 400 sorties in one week?). This and other improvements have allowed the Squadron to maintain its task line despite the shortage of resources and, for the first time in recent memory, we have been ‘on the line’ coming out of winter. This exceptional achievement is testament to the enormous dedication of all of the 208 Squadron staff.
Other notable events this year have included an outstanding display season by Flight Lieutenant Rich Hillard, who was a worthy winner of both the Bromet Trophy and a Commander-in-Chief’s Commendation for his excellence in the air. I am also pleased to announce that this year’s RAF Hawk Display Pilot will be another member of 208 Squadron: Flight Lieutenant Steve Kenworthy (another ‘creamie’) who begins his season at Duxford on 4th May.