28.06.22 Liveryman Roger Woodbridge

Liverymen jump at the chance

On Thursday 28th April, 22 liverymen and guests visited our affiliated unit, RAF Brize Norton, writes Liveryman Roger Woodbridge. Brize is the largest RAF station, being 1,190 acres in area and has 5,800 military staff. It is the base for air transport, air-to-air refuelling and military parachuting.

In the morning, we were blessed by an amazing three hours in two state-of-the-art simulators, one of which, the Airbus simulator, is valued at £300m. The first “sim” was for the Hercules C130. Hugh Mayes, ex-RAF front line pilot and Formula Junior racer stepped up and flew us out of Gibraltar, banking steeply and confidently round “The Rock.“ His wife, soon followed showing us Morocco and the Spanish colony of Ceuta. However, the most confident of all the pilots was “Top Gun” Sally Ann (pictured left) who demonstrated almost aerobatic manoeuvres in the four-engined aircraft pushing the simulator to its limit.

This was followed by the most advanced simulator imaginable, the Airbus 400M. The fly-by-wire control system is operated by a simple joystick while the pilot looks through a HUP or “Heads Up Display” projecting all vital information onto the windscreen. The RAF instructor sits in a ‘Captain Kirk’ style seat able to control all inputs into the simulator. Our team flew over Las Vegas through the spring mountains with perfect realism.

Lunch was in the Officers’ Mess. The walls displayed a history of the base, including from 1937, when No.110 Squadron originally flew Bristol Blenheims. Pictures of Airspeed Oxfords and Hawker Hurricanes featured along with photographs of Horsa Gliders and their tugs. These were used in the invasion of France and then Operation Market Garden in September 1944. Many flying from Brize Norton.

The afternoon session saw us first at the parachute school, where the instructors are sourced from the physical training section. Sergeant Ian showed us the eight main types used, these ranged from the basic training ‘static line chute’ to those used for HALO – High altitude low opening. With these parachutes the soldier will exit the aircraft at 25,000 feet and ‘fly’ many miles undetected before landing on the drop zone or target.

We were then shown other sections of the hanger where trainees are taught how to fly and land their chutes. Sergeant Ian then called for volunteers to try a 30 foot jump out of pretend aircraft in the rafters of the hanger.

Three foolhardy men stepped forward, Liverymen Simon Gurney, Nick Lynford and me. After a tense wait as we were fitted with a parachute and reserve parachute packs we climbed to the roof and were given a safety briefing. After being attached to the static line and a count of three, we all fell out of the plane and landed unceremoniously on our backs to roars of applause and laughter from the assembled liverymen – watch the video here.

The final visit was a more sobering one, and a reminder of why the base is in existence – a tour of the C17 Globemaster. Its purpose is a rapid strategic delivery of troops (102 paratroopers) or cargo (77,518 kg) to forward operating bases. With a crew of just three, a pilot, co pilot and loadmaster, the plane was destined to take equipment to be used in Ukraine the following day.

Our host the pilot told us they use interesting manoeuvres when entering potentially hostile territory. Originally developed in Vietnam War the “Keh Sanh” approach is a rapid drive from height flaring out only when near the runway. The RAF descends from 25,000 feet to 500 feet in one minute 30 seconds, almost vertically. This is quite remarkable for such a large aircraft. He said that the military assistance was flown in, then sent to the front line by road, ready to be used within seven hours.

We were all grateful to our hosts who gave a considerable amount of time to ensure our visit was a superb success. We all witnessed first hand the overwhelming impact of the enthusiasm, professionalism and indeed bravery of these young men and women serving on our behalf. We are proud our Company is associated with such a fine institution.