UK Military Aviation

JUN 17 2011
Military Aviation >> Royal Air Force: Flying The Sepecat Jaguar - 'In Memory of a Jag Mate'

The Anglo-French Jaguar first flew more than 40 years ago and, despite the passage of time, clearly remains a force to be reckoned with, operated by both the Indian and Omani military. Sadly however it is of course a force no longer available to any European air forces following the type's retirement from both UK and French service.

I think it's fair to say that the UK enthusiast community is to some extent still in mourning for the Jag, largely because 6 Squadron's then OC Wg Cdr John Sullivan and his colleagues managed to retire the aircraft with a real flourish; despite the type's retirement date being brought forward and giving them only five weeks notice of closure. The special schemes, the 'big 6' formation, the enthusiasts' photocall, the disbandment parade and the delivery flights to RAF Cosford ensured that the jet didn't go quietly; proud of the excellence the Jaguar Force had come to represent, not just in its latter years but ever since the aircraft entered service in 1973.

Flt Lt Matt D'Aubyn was the Royal Air Force's last ab initio student trained to fly the Jaguar and therefore truly the last of the many. Now a Eurofighter Typhoon pilot at RAF Coningsby, 'Daubs' is only too happy to take the opportunity to look back at his time on the Jaguar Force; a whirlwind two years but packed full of great experiences and lifelong memories.

Joining Daubs for this feature is Flt Lt Rob Leather, also one of the final Jag pilots and a man who, having completed a three-year tour with the US Navy on the F/A-18 Hornet, will soon be rejoining 6 Sqn at RAF Leuchars as a Typhoon pilot.

Looking back, Daubs actually knew before he was streamed that there would only be a single and final slot available on the Jaguar OCU so he quite literally had one opportunity to grab it.

"There were loads of people telling me that I should go for it but equally there were one or two people who did offer words of caution, saying I could find myself on the aircraft for just two years and then in a position where I would essentially be starting from scratch again. Others agreed with that but pointed out that I would then have a good chance to go to Typhoon afterwards.

"I did my tactical weapons course in Canada and it was only when I was there that it became apparent that there would only be one more slot for the Jaguar. Up until that point I had been going down the Tornado route but I was told that with that single slot remaining open that I would have a good chance if I went for it. The biggest influence however was really just the fact that I desperately wanted to fly the Jaguar.

"There were a few reasons why. Firstly I wanted to fly single seat and secondly, I really enjoyed the low level portion of my tactical weapons training. Also, my first ever fast jet trip had been in the Jag with Johnny Stringer, this was when I was at RAF Coltishall on detachment one summer. My intro to the aircraft there, the flight that I had and, perhaps most importantly, the people and the atmosphere convinced me I had to try and get on to the jet.

"They were a great bunch of people who enjoyed themselves but did a really good job and, while it was a small team, particularly towards the end and knowing that the end was coming, there was a superb sense of camaraderie."

A huge part of this was the satisfaction gained by the Jaguar Force from knowing that they were doing a great job and more than holding their own in what was a comparatively old airframe.

"It certainly wasn't as powerful as comparable aircraft are these days and we can all laugh about how it took 12,000 feet of runway to get off the ground, but we were proud of what we did when we went on exercises and flew against aircraft from other countries. We could always be counted upon to do what we needed to do and that really helped build team spirit. Having two great bosses in Wing Commander John Sullivan and, before him, Willie Cruickshank, really helped too."

After arriving on the OCU, it wasn't long before Daubs found himself facing his first solo and it was the start of a short but hugely rewarding flying experience for him.

"My first solo was on trip four or five of the course and I remember it very well! As I approached the aircraft it suddenly dawned on me that this was the first time I had walked out to a single seat jet aircraft and was about to go off and fly it!

"At low level, where we spent most of our time, she was sweet. She only had small wings and that made for a very smooth ride. The underlying factor, and the one thing I was told by all of those instructors on the OCU, was that this was an aircraft that you had to treat with respect.

"The control surfaces were connected to the stick with a system of levers and gears; there were no automated systems like that on the Typhoon so you had to treat it with caution."

If you didn't, there was no question that the Jag could, and would, bite.

"No computers and no autopilot - it was pure flying! You really were flying it all the time and, while that was a challenge, it was also extremely rewarding."

Rob agrees wholeheartedly:

"It was certainly an aircraft in which you didn't try to go anywhere near the limits, as the gyroscopic forces could make it depart from controlled flight very quickly.

"As Daubs says, you had to treat it with respect and looking back I think we handled her gently but with an aggressive mindset to get the job done. You were always aware of the Jag's G limits and at low level you would pick your line carefully, a little bit like a Formula One driver looking for the perfect racing line in actual fact."

Despite the aircraft's age and the 'busy' nature of the cockpit, especially compared with more modern fast jets such as Typhoon and JSF, the Jaguar was certainly extremely functional in its later life.

"I was lucky really as when I came on to the aircraft she had already been through a number of upgrades," Daubs explains, "and this included the AMLCD (Active Matrix Liquid Crystal Display) which was roughly A4 size and right in front of you.

"While we only had one screen it was very well designed and increased our situational awareness significantly. The navigation kit was intuitive and, as you flew around, your route was very well defined and it was easy to see whether you were on time when approaching targets and such like."

It was also very easy to see where you were in relation to other members of your formation, as Daubs goes on to explain.

"It wasn't like the Link 16 datalink that we have now on the Typhoon - that has other functionality built in - but the Jaguar had what was effectively an intra-flight datalink and we could easily see where we all were, where we needed to be and whether we were late or early."

"I don't think there's any doubt that the avionics were very well integrated to the aircraft, especially for the cost which would have been relatively low. It was a cheap platform with some truly advanced systems," adds Rob.

"Those additions weren't always in the best place however and the cockpit could be, well, let's say that the interface between pilot and aircraft wasn't always what it could be!

"The Hornet is an incredible aircraft and its ability to switch quickly from 'air to air' to 'air to ground' is superb, but I would say that the AMLCD in the Jag was two or three times better than the Hornet's displays.

"Where the Jaguar certainly lacked was in the switchology though. You had to complete something like ten checks before you would be ready to release a weapon and in the F-18 it is pretty much done at the push of a single button!

"Having said that, once you were ready, I would say that it was actually easier to bomb in the Jaguar than it is in the F-18."

"It was a very stable weapon delivery platform," agrees Daubs, "once you had got yourself ready to actually do so!"

Operating the Jag in its final days did mean that both Daubs and Rob were able to drop nearly all the weapons in the aircraft's inventory and fly some demanding and complex training sorties.

"Once I was trained and combat ready the Squadron was relieved of the burden of pilot training as there was no one to come after me. This meant that every sortie was continuation training or based around advanced mission profiles," says Matt.

"I always remember one Friday afternoon flying a double-bounced eight-ship sortie where we were taking dynamic targeting! We got airborne without a target and then chose something on the ground which acted as a simulated enemy installation.

"We were all using the helmet mounted sight and any of the pilots in the package could use that to designate the target and then, with just a couple of button pushes, designate it for everyone in the formation."

"That is really quite advanced stuff, even by today's standards," says Rob.

All of which combined to make the Jaguar a hugely effective weapons delivery platform, albeit a very different one from that which Daubs and Rob are flying now, especially from an air warfare perspective.

"A large amount of the pilot's capacity was taken up with actually flying the Jaguar," says Daubs, "then there was a small splash of systems management and then a decent dose of situational awareness (SA).

"In Typhoon there is, the majority of the time, a small splash of flying the aircraft because of its advanced control systems and a huge surplus of thrust, and then there is a decent dose of systems management. The biggest difference comes with SA and, in Jaguar, we were always fighting the crocodile closest to the canoe! In Typhoon however your SA sometimes has to extend to something like 100 miles away from the aircraft."

"You don't necessarily have to be the greatest pilot to fly the Typhoon," adds Rob, "but what you do have to be able to do is get your head round all the systems and ensure that your SA is spot-on. In the Jag your pure flying skills really had to be on the money."

That flying ability was something Rob and Daubs both had to demonstrate quite clearly when they were chosen to deliver Jaguars to their final resting home at RAF Cosford, where they remain to this day. With just 3700' of usable runway to play with (6000' would usually have been considered short!) it was something that had to be undertaken with great care and much pre-planning.

Rob's delivery flight took place on 12th June 2007 when the second batch, of eight aircraft, arrived. It's still something he remembers as being "great fun", while adding that he does recall "the runway being quite short". Possibly no runway seems particularly short to Rob anymore having flown the Hornet to and from the deck of a carrier!

Daubs meanwhile delivered two aircraft and was part of the final three-ship. Most appropriately, bearing in mind his status as the last Jag pilot trained, he was also the last to leave RAF Coningsby on 2nd July. Flying in the specially painted desert pink XX725 (T) his was the penultimate delivery at Cosford, shortly after Sqn Ldr Ian Smith (now OC BBMF) and leaving John Sullivan to make the final RAF Jaguar landing.

That these final flights were carried out so successfully and efficiently, as well as the Big 6 formation which required fifteen jets for example and the Jag's final operational flying and deployments was also largely down to the skill and dedication of the Jaguar's engineers. Putting so many jets (of that age!) out on the line day after was recently described to me as "defying science" and this piece is as much a nod them as it to those who flew it.

"I still really miss the Jaguar, even now," admits Daubs. "I miss the satisfaction of operating an aircraft that was difficult to fly well and doing it well. That isn't to say that I can't fly the Typhoon well of course though!

"I suppose I also miss the amount of low level flying as I always enjoyed that immensely."

For Rob, looking back at those times leaves him with mixed feelings.

"It's bittersweet I guess. It was such a great time to be flying the aircraft and with such a brilliant bunch of people, but then we had to retire it early. It's hard to imagine anything bettering that period of my career however."

Group Captain Tomas Barrett
Two of the last pilots to fly the Jaguar have reflected upon their time with the aircraft in this article and I have been asked to pay tribute to the late Group Captain Tomas Barrett, who was tragically killed in a traffic accident in March of this year. I claim no special authority for writing a dedication to Tom, and there are many who knew him better, but we served together for many years on the Jaguar and I regard it as a sad but fitting privilege to honour his contribution to the force here. The Jaguar was, by the end of its service, a dated but nevertheless formidable platform, principally as a result of the advanced avionics that it boasted, and it engendered great loyalty among all those that flew it. The fraternity of the Jaguar Force was more than an allegiance to an aircraft though, it was a common bond of mutual respect among those that shared values of professional commitment and an uncompromising pursuit of the highest standards. Neither the capabilities of the aircraft, nor the characteristics of a force, could ever be attributed to any one person, but it is certainly true to recognize that they were both forged through the endeavours of many very talented and dedicated individuals. Among them, Tom's own contribution was truly indispensable. Tom was initially a junior pilot on 41 Sqn where his talents were quickly recognised and he was selected to attend the prestigious but gruelling Qualified Weapons Instructor course. After graduating as a QWI, Tom returned to RAF Coltishall to serve on 54 Sqn where his commitment to maintaining and promoting the highest professional standards among the attack pilots had inspirational influence, not least upon me. Tom was my 'mentor', the officer assigned to show each new pilot how the Jaguar force did things, and I could not have had a better introduction. Over the following years we served together on many operational and training deployments, as well as sharing a few beers along the way. Following his outstanding efforts on 54 Sqn, Tom received early promotion to Squadron Leader and was assigned to the Strike Attack Operational Evaluation Unit, the first Jaguar pilot to serve there, and many of the avionic advancements that ensured that the Jaguar remained operationally viable to the very end of its service can be directly attributed to Tom's enormous contribution during his time there. After Staff College, Tom returned to the Jaguar fold as a flight commander, with 54 Sqn once again, and as a flight commander on 6 Sqn I saw at first hand how dedicated he was to his commanders, peers and subordinates alike, and how enormously respected he was. Overall, Tom was undoubtedly the most talented military aviator, accomplished but patient weapons instructor, and outright gentleman that I have had the pleasure to meet, know and call a friend. His focused intellect, commitment to all that he valued, both within and without the Service, and his unmatched calm were truly inspirational. The Jaguar Force was indelibly shaped by Tom, and all who knew him will lament the untimely passing of a man who forged himself the strongest possible reputation. With the deepest respect, John Sullivan

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