Last weekend I went to a good party at RAF Lyneham and came back even more convinced - if that's possible - that RAF transport aircraft should have fuel tank inerting systems. More of that later.
The party was the 90th Anniversary of No 70 Squadron RAF - traditionally designated LXX Squadron, as members and cognoscenti will tell you whether you want to know or not. This inevitably gets translated as "love and kisses" - not so funny the millionth time you've heard the joke from someone who thinks he's just invented it - but a useful chat-up line for young LXX crewmembers to use.
LXX is one of the four Lyneham squadrons that operates Lockheed Martin C-130s.
Meanwhile, back to the celebrations. That mild Saturday evening as the sun sank and we watched the RAF Ensign lowered to the clear notes of the Last Post, a Douglas DC-3 rumbled low across our piece of sky between the party marquee and the hangars, and was gone. Then when - a few minutes later - the Squadron Standard was trooped and presented, on cue a Herc flown by a LXX crew who would be joining the party later, flashed over in a low pass and disappeared.
This was unsensational stuff, but it meant a lot to those who were there. Including me. LXX was my first operational squadron, but when I was on the team the RAF's earliest C-130s were almost new, the LXX callsign was Rafair (unique at the time to Cyprus-based operations), and the "milk run" out of our Akrotiri base was to Masirah and Salalah in Oman. All of which indicates how long ago it was.
But not everything has changed. Today LXX crews are serving in parts of the
LXX has always flown "heavies" since it was given Vickers Vimys in 1920, and it has operated most of its 90y life in the transport role. Transport's a good job. You feel useful - essential even - and there's plenty of mission variety with an aircraft as versatile as the Herc.
After the ceremony and the flypasts, the LXX team - minus those down the route or on detachment - got down to partying. Quite a few other LXX veterans were there too.
We - the former LXX aviators - pondered the risks today's crews face in
These remote decisionmakers should have been at LXX last weekend to see the team off duty and to learn their names. They have names, lives, families. And without the job they do the troops on the ground would be immobilised, not to mention demoralised.
The C-130Ks are old now and you could lose an airframe without too much grief, but the lives of any of these young professionals and the people they carry is too high a price to pay to save a few bucks that should be spent on giving the aircraft a better chance of staying controllable - even recoverable - after a hit. The chance of getting a hit in Afghanistan and Iraq is high.
The fact that the US Federal Aviation Administration is considering mandating fuel tank inerting on civil airliners puts into sharp relief the attitude of those who would hesitate to put it in front-line military aircraft.
Today's LXX aircrew will all spend time in the war zones of