When an American F_16 Fighting Falcon pilot was given the opportunity of applying for an exchange posting, he had no hesitation in selecting a tour to fly the F-2 Typhoon with the Royal Air Force.
“I was attracted by the opportunity to fly a new airplane, to go somewhere different and be part of developing the tactics and procedures on a new aircraft,” Maj. Paul Carlton said.
After 20 hours flying Hawks at RAF Valley to familiarize himself with England’s airspace and procedures, the major joined 29 (R) Squadron to fly Typhoons at RAF Coningsby, which is about 130 miles north of London.
“My first impression was it had lots of things which make pilots happy — thrust, speed, altitude and turn capability. It’s a lot of fun to fly and Typhoon is certainly going to transform the RAF,” he said. “As it moves forward in its development, Typhoon will become a larger and larger player in coalition operations.”
Major Carlton said size is the main difference between a U.S. Air Force flying squadron and one from the RAF: A U.S. squadron has two to three times the aircraft, pilots and members.
“There’s also a very different attitude and culture,” he said. “However, it’s the people who make or break what you do and the very reason I am here is to engage with people and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity of integrating into the local culture.”
The major, who is now one of four American pilots at RAF Coningsby, has also enjoyed the opportunity of contributing to development of the F-2 in service.
“We bring a balance to the training program. With our experience of multirole aircraft, we can provide input on where best to place emphasis to meet the mission,” he said.
British Group Capt. Stuart Atha, the station commander at RAF Coningsby and head of the Typhoon force, said he is a strong advocate of the exchange program.
“The relationship between the RAF and U.S. military is very close, and since World War II it has gone from strength to strength,” Group Captain Atha said. “I am delighted we have a number of U.S. pilots here at Coningsby so we can learn from each other and share our knowledge. This is an outstanding opportunity to exploit our respective knowledge. The fact that we’ve done it so early in the genesis of the program is a reflection of the closeness of the two air forces.”
The exchange program in its current guise commenced in 1971 when the flying services agreed to allow each other’s personnel to fill reciprocal positions. Designed to maximize the special relationship the United Kingdom shared with the United States, the benefits to many areas of air force activity were immediately apparent, Group Captain Atha said. The exchange program grew steadily to encompass agreements with the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Coast Guard.
The range of specializations also broadened and now embraces everything from air transport, fast jet and airborne early warning to project engineers, research and development, and force protection specialists to name but a few. The program today stands at an exchange of some 60 RAF members who have swapped places with 60 Americans now stationed in England.