Coachlines - December 2020

03.12.20 Group Captain Emily Flynn OBE

Update from Group Captain Emily Flynn OBE

For those who missed Group Captain Emily Flynn OBE’s speech at the recent Aero event in November, here is a transcript of her words.

It is a great honour to be invited to address you this evening. RAF Brize Norton is incredibly proud of its association with the Coachmakers and I thank you for inviting me.

I have been in post as Station Commander for three months now and the output of the Station has not yet ceased to amaze me. Home to seven flying squadrons, four air mobility aircraft types, five RAF Reserve Squadrons, numerous lodger units and supporting circa 5,000 service personnel, RAF Brize Norton really is big, busy and truly 24/7 in its output – the take off point of our Voyager aircraft being opposite my bedroom window regularly being a reminder of this latter point in the wee small hours.

Like every aspect of industry and society, the Station has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, protecting not only our personnel but also our operational output and supporting the Covid response throughout recent months. However, it’s not just been about Covid, last month I was notified that RAF Brize Norton had been awarded the Firmin Sword of Peace for 2019. This award is made annually to the unit or establishment judged to have made “the most valuable contribution to humanitarian activities by establishing good and friendly relations with the inhabitant of any community at home or overseas.” A phenomenal achievement which captures the full spectrum of happenings at the Unit and more of which later.

Returning to Covid and the impact on RAF Brize Norton, by way of comparison, in February 2020, there were just over 200 air movements, in June, there were over 400; last year we generated just under 2,500 person-days against various operational and exercise taskings, as of 5th Nov this year the 2020 total is already over 5,000. All delivered under lockdown conditions.

The scale and flexibility of response from the Reserves was unprecedented in recent times with over 500 being mobilised across the UK in response to the pandemic. Personnel from all five of the RAF Reserves Squadrons based at RAF Brize Norton were mobilised. The immediacy of the response saw many Reserves selflessly and willingly use their annual Reserve Service Days prior to mobilisation. Many, supported by their employers, also waived their normal 28-day mobilisation notice periods.

Of the RAF Brize Norton-based Squadrons, 4624 (Movements) Squadron found itself conducting the first mass-mobilisation in 20 years, 32 personnel were generated in 10 days. 501 (logistics) Squadron mobilised 21 personnel within a week, 2624 (RAF Regt) Squadron added a further 11 for CV-19. Our Reserve Cabin crew personnel from 622 (Air Transport and Air to Air Refuelling) Squadron mobilised not only in support of the national Covid effort but also in support of our on-station Covid support cell, ensuring personnel self-isolating on the Station were provided for. And personnel of 4626 Squadron, as a Medical Reserves Squadron, already had personnel serving on the CV-19 frontline with the NHS, yet still managed to mobilise a further 11 personnel in support of both the Covid response and enduring operational commitments during the same period.

And this was just from Reserve units based at RAF Brize Norton. This scale and pace of response by Reserve forces was replicated across the UK. And many Reserve units and personnel were recognised for their contribution to the response in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours list. It speaks volumes for the commitment, flexibility, courage and readiness to serve that is synonymous with the Reserves and is in keeping with the highest traditions of our Reserves Forces.

And the pace of other military operations and exercises has not abated either, the Station continued to enable, support and project air mobility effects globally in support of defence, including sustained support to numerous enduring deployed operations across the globe and the maintenance of high readiness air-to-air refuelling assets as part of UK Quick Reaction Alert.

• Our C17s enabled the move of a temporary field hospital to Accra in support of the World Food Programme.

• And our 47 Squadron C130Js recently joined forces with 16 Air Assault Brigade to deploy 250 paratroopers in Ukraine on exercise.

• A new world record for the fastest flight between the UK and the Falkland Islands was set when one of our Voyager aircraft, captained by a Reservist, completed the 6834 nautical mile journey in 15 hours and nine minutes.

• A C130 delivered 300 barrels of fuel and 1,200kg of rations were delivered to the British Antarctic Survey in a remote location and in challenging conditions. A total of 63 tonnes of stores were delivered.

• Back in December, our A400M detachment in the Falkland Islands was a critical part of the search and rescue mission for a Chilean Air Force aircraft that went missing in December en route to Antarctica.

These are just a few examples of our recent output.

Now, I mentioned the Station had recently been announced as the Firmin Sword of peace winner for 2019. The citation is a humbling read, highlighting spectacular delivery across every aspect of our business and operations and across all units based at RAF Brize Norton. As the strategic air bridge, the Station is instrumental to the UK’s global humanitarian efforts. In 2019 these included:

• In response to Cyclone Idai, Movements, Force Protection and A400M teams delivered 20 tonnes of lifesaving aid to Mozambique.

• In response to flooding threatening the Toddbrook Reservoir in the Derbyshire Town of Whaley Bridge, the Brize-based Joint Air Delivery Test and Evaluation Unit, when nothing else was available in the inventory, rapidly designed an underslung load strop to withstand the forces associated with transporting the required gravel and sand loads. The design enabled the successful delivery in excess of 400 tonnes of gravel, providing at extremely short notice, a vital contribution to the protection of Whaley Bridge.

• Personnel from our Force Protection and Tactical Medical teams alongside our C17 Squadron deployed four air transportable isolators to Sierra Leone to repatriate eight patients at high risk of Lassa Fever, a highly contagious haemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola. The 22-hour mission resulted in the successful recovery of all patients to the UK and was the UK’s largest ever Air Transportable Isolator mission.

• Our A400M detachment in the Falklands was instrumental in the location and rescue of a capsized French sailing yacht some 500 nautical miles north of the Falkland Islands, locating the vessel’s life-rafts and co-ordinating local shipping to enact a rescue. The detachment also conducted the first aeromedical evacuation of a premature baby from the Falklands to Uruguay.

On top of such global taskings and enduring commitments, the Station continued to support, develop and contribute towards the local community in a multitude of ways:

• Our Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) ambassadors enabled 14 events in local schools, hosted 35 careers visits, implemented a STEM partnership with the local community college; the RAF Falcons, our RAF parachute display team, utilised their unique role to teach children about the physics required to be mastered when calculating air release points for their displays and the Station hosted more than 2,000 young people throughout the year for “look at life in the RAF” days.

• 30 personnel based at RAF Brize-Norton are military co-responders who, working alongside paramedics from the South-Central Ambulance service, dedicate their free time to respond to 999 emergency calls.

• The Station does a phenomenal amount for charity, last year raising more than £166,000. Some of the extraordinary feats undertaken to raise money broke records and showcased the finest attributes of the Station’s personnel. No 4624 Squadron RAuxAF collected £67,000 in support of SSAFA at the summer “Battle of the Proms” series; a C17 pilot broke the English Three-Peaks record on his way to raising £16,500 for the RAF Benevolent Fund and Tommy’s, and was recognised recently with an annual award by the RAF Benevolent Fund for his extraordinary efforts; the Air-Despatch wing-based Horus Rugby 10 Team raised £13,500 by completing a world record 24-hour rugby match, the annual Lechlade “Duck Race” raised £16,000 for three local charities and the RAF Association; and, one of our Reservists utilised his impressive bagpiping abilities as “the Spicey Piper” to raised £30,000 for service charities.

I hope you’ll agree that this station-wide contribution to humanitarian operations, local community relations and charity makes RAF Brize Norton a worthy winner of the 2019 Firmin Sword of Peace.

So, this is what RAF Brize Norton has been up to recently. But what about the future?

Our operational commitments continue unabated as we develop and mature the operational capabilities of the A400M, C17, C130J and Voyager aircraft.

In addition, and I hope you will forgive me, as a communications-electronics engineer by background, for getting a bit geeky as I conclude, the RAF recently launched project Astra, the RAF’s journey to a next generation air force. This has seen numerous exciting initiatives develop and deliver across the RAF, and RAF Brize Norton is at the forefront of many of these with 40 projects under way and another 45 in development.

These initiatives are being driven from the shop-floor, ideas from our personnel harnessing the latest technology and being funded and delivered with pace.

The successes so far speak for themselves:

• The automation of our clothing stores delivery. A click and collect service was introduced driven by the first Covid lockdown. This has now developed into a project to deliver lockers enabling 24/7 collection and, most exciting of all, plans progressing to fully automate delivery.

• A coding club has been funded which provides the opportunity for our personnel to upskill, developing skills needed by a next-generation Air Force and offering the potential to run hackathons to get at technical challenges and opportunities.

• Funding for a project to deliver virtual reality-based survival training.

Each of these projects were conceived by our personnel, capitalising on their expertise and ideas and empowering them to deliver.

Given the phenomenal delivery from RAF Brize Norton during the past few months and the exciting plans looking ahead, we will, no doubt, continue to “Tansire Confidenter”.