I am amazed to find that it is time, once again, for the annual update of what has been going on here at Valley on 208 Squadron. Time has absolutely flown by and it is some 13 months since my last submission to the newsletter. As I was warned when I took over, a Command Tour is all too brief and by the time you work out what is going on and what you might want to change the end is probably already in sight. Sadly for me this is only too true; I have now been in command for just under two years but my replacement has been nominated and my posting-out date is set for December this year. However, as you will see from what follows we have been very busy and the year has been successful on all fronts.
By way of an overview I will start with some statistics to give a flavour for the sheer scale of our operations. In the thirteen months from May 2004 to May 2005 the squadron flew just under 10,000 sorties and just over 10,000 hours. We trained over 180 pilots on a wide range of courses, from basic Hawk flying, through Indian Air Force (IAF) training to conversion for the Red Arrows. Additionally we have finished the 2004 Hawk Aerobatics Display season and started the 2005 Season, travelled widely across Europe (East, West, North and South), hosted a multitude of visits from Royalty downwards and enjoyed a wide variety of formal and informal social functions. Within the wider Service there have been further reductions in Squadrons and manpower with the bringing forward of the Out of Service Date for the Jaguar, a reduction in Tornado F3 Squadrons and a draw-down of RAF manpower to around 42,000. All these issues have impacted our "market" for new pilots so we have faced some challenging times with reductions in the numbers of students coming into training and some long waiting periods for those already in the pipeline.
The period began with the start of the 2004 Display Season and, in June, a high profile visit from the Chief of the Air Staff, IAF who was keen to understand the training system his junior pilots were about to enter. In July the first IAF students duly appeared and began a couple of months of ground-school. They were delighted to arrive on the Friday before the Station Summer Ball on the Saturday, but somewhat disappointed to discover subsequently that not all the weekends at RAF Valley have quite such big parties. That same month the Squadron performed a flypast in memory of Fg Off Henryk of the Polish Air Force who was killed 50 years earlier in a crash at RAF Mona. As the summer developed we began to see the effects of the reduction in the numbers of pilots required on the Front-Line and waiting periods for graduating trainees began to build up.
In September the first IAF course started flying and the second course arrived to begin ground-school. With good language skills and an outstanding work-ethic, the IAF students did very well in their studies but did find the UK environment and weather very different from what they were used to.