The UK has completed its operations in East Timor with the withdrawal of its remaining Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules and troops from the Australian-led International Force East Timor (INTERFET).

Royal Air Force detachment commander Sqn Ldr Andy Torrance says it has been "an unusual experience" operating under Australian command. "We've learnt a lot being led by the Australians. It has been a good exercise in force projection and force support a long way from home."

A key to the success of the multi-national Darwin-Dili airbridge has been the co-operation between the participants and the Royal Australian Air Force's approach of working to the operators' limits and restrictions rather than imposing its own, says Torrance.

The RAF's contribution to INTERFET began on 16 September when three Hercules and one BAC VC10 were dispatched to Darwin. The last Hercules withdrew from Darwin on 7 December to Dili, where it operated a shuttle service between East Timor and Brunei, returning Gurkha troops to their base. The aircraft is due to return to the UK on 16 December.

Meanwhile, the RAF has received its first stretched Hercules C5 (C-130J-30). The aircraft was delivered from Lockheed Martin's Marietta factory to RAF Lyneham on 8 December. The air force has 25 on order.

Co-pilot for the trip was Lyneham station commander Grp Capt Jeff Bullen, who says his first favourable impression of the aircraft in the strategic role should dispel doubts about the two-crew cockpit.

In the tactical role, Bullen acknowledges that a third cockpit crewman may be required to allow the two pilots to concentrate on looking out of the cockpit - which is possible because of the head-up display. The supernumerary would be responsible for keeping the flight management system and other avionics updated. However, Bullen says that the the need for a third pilot as still a "big if".

Source: Flight International