Vox Clamantis in Deserto
Vox Clamantis in Deserto

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Moving On

Courtney's Journal - Man's Flight Through Life is Sustained by the Power of his Learning

On this page:    JOUST,    The Letter 'H',     Humorous Package Labelling,
                         9/11,      Concorde,                                 Diving,               Bentley Priory.

It looked like I was about to escape from Waddington; tunnel Harry had come up outside the wire and the Goons hadn't spotted it yet. So, as this bit of the story opens, you find me about to move into a new and intriguing job in another part of the country. By the way, we're up to late 1997 and I was off to Farnborough in Hampshire.


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My new job was to be the Air Defence Advisor to JOUST simulation (part of DERA's Systems Integration Department). Many people have asked me just what this job was all about and, more particularly, exactly what JOUST was. Always I would have to stop and think and would invariably come up with a totally unsatisfactory description. I suppose the time has come to face up to the issue and to give a decisive definition of JOUST and my job within the department. I should warn you, however, that this may not be easy.

JOUST is a man-in-the-loop, beyond visual range (BVR) combat simulator. It was developed in response to the need to undertake research into operational effectiveness, air combat tactics and investment appraisal, particularly for next generation, high performance fighters such as Eurofighter, Rafale, the Sukhoi 35 Flanker and the F-22 Raptor. It is an eight-station fighter simulator that enables up to four versus four simulated combat to be 'flown'. It is 'man-in-the-loop' because the simulation is actually flown by pilots rather than machine and it is BVR because it was designed primarily to simulate combat at medium to long range (employing radar, data link, infra-red search and track and other sensors) rather than purely visual combat (what you might call 'dog fighting'). Man-in-the-Loop is particularly effective because this approach ensures the evolution of realistic tactics and adds a further layer of validation to the system. The whole arrangement operates on a network of powerful computers that run very detailed, 'high-fidelity' models of modern and future aircraft, radars, missiles and electro-optics in order to evaluate the effectiveness of new systems. This may sound somewhat complicated but, if you bear with me, all will become clear (or, at least, clearer).

If you think of it as a very advanced and complex computer game that allows up to four players to fly on each team (red and blue) and that has highly accurate simulations of the performance of the aircraft, their systems and weapons, you'd be well over half way to understanding JOUST - or, at least, what it is. Additionally, there is facility for up to seven computer-controlled, semi-intelligent bombers and an Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft, which can pass its air-picture to the fighters. There is even the ability to run a number of autonomous computer controlled pilots who would react to voice commands. Bloody clever! The system can also include surface-to-air missiles, ships and terrain, although computing power is not unlimited so you wouldn't want to try to do everything at once!

Early F-22 Raptor
Early F-22 Raptor

Eurofighter Typhoon


What it does best (in my humble opinion) is to assess and quantify the effects of improvements (or sometimes capability reductions) to aircraft systems, the embodiment of new modifications (sometimes the removal of systems on the basis of cost or difficulties of development or production) and to study the effectiveness of one aircraft, system or weapon compared to another. In other words, it is very useful for making comparisons rather than an absolute representation of a specific aircraft or system. Much of the work has historically been the assessment of one aircraft (such as Eurofighter) against its contenders (such as Rafale or F-22) - I should add that these aircraft types were not pitted directly against each other, but rather each type was fought separately against common adversaries. Trials were conducted to assess which future air-to-air missile would be most effective on, say, Eurofighter. Indeed, the evaluation of Eurofighter itself, the Eurofighter COEIA (Combined Operational Effectiveness and Investment Appraisal) was supported by numerous JOUST trials.

Many people also ask what JOUST stands for. The answer, I'm afraid, is that it doesn't; JOUST was simply the name of the first trial ever conducted on the system in February 1992 and the handle was inherited from that.

As much of the work on JOUST was associated with Eurofighter, it formed a natural progression from my previous job. My previous exposure to the project and knowledge of the aircraft came in very useful and I was able to pass on some of my understanding of Eurofighter. My main purpose there was to put the military spin onto the various studies and trials undertaken by the Air Systems team and to keep things realistic. Although there were a small number of military personnel at Farnborough, DERA was essentially a civilian operation and I was working directly for a civil service scientist. I have to say it was rather pleasant to be out of the military environment for a while - definitely more relaxed and less formal.


The Letter 'H'

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It was good to have a bit of spare time, so I was able to catch up a bit with writing this, amongst other things. I spent some time thinking about all sorts of things, among others, the way we use words. Consequently I have another small issue to clear up. I want to look at the letter H for a moment. First, the letter itself is pronounced aitch, with a silent H. It is the only letter in the alphabet that correctly drops itself. Always aitch, never haitch. Apparently, since 1982 some 24% of British people are saying haitch. Second, who was it that decided that the whole English-speaking world should suddenly go mad and start treating the letter H as a vowel? IT IS A CONSONANT! That means that the correct indefinite article to precede it is 'a', unless the word in question has a silent H such as honour, honest or hour. So, we have 'a hotel', 'a historic moment' and 'a hamper from Harrods', but 'an honour', 'an honest man', 'an heir, heiress or heirloom' and 'an H-bomb'. So why do I keep hearing 'an hotel'? Even the most verbally challenged news reader wouldn't say 'An highly dangerous radiation leak', would he? Doesn't 'You've got an hope', sound totally ridiculous? Quite. So apart from the very few exceptions (basically those I have mentioned plus their derivatives), use the indefinite article 'a' before words starting with H. Please remember this and do not bother me with it ever again. Rant over...   ...for now. Something entertaining next.


Humourous Package Labelling

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Regular readers will know that I love amusing little gems, especially when the humour is unintended. During my travels I have picked up a considerable collection of these and I think it's time to share a few with you now. This time it’s labelling – vital information you might find printed on packaging these days, without which life would be so much duller. All of these were actually printed on products:

On a bar of Dial Soap - Use like ordinary soap.

On Boots children’s cough medicine - Do not drive car or operate machinery after use.

On Nytol (sleeping tablets) - Warning: May cause drowsiness.

Serving suggestion on a frozen dinner - Defrost. Product will be hot after heating.

On a toilet plunger - Caution: Do not use near power lines.

On the packaging for a Rowenta steam iron - Do not iron clothes on body.

On a laser pointer - Do not look into laser with remaining eye.

On a bottle of dog shampoo - Do not feed to fish.

From a packet of Frito crisps (chips if you prefer) - You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.

On a Dremel Craft Drill - Not intended for use as a dental drill.

Instructions for use of a hair dryer - Do not use when sleeping.

On another hair dryer - Do not use in shower.

Printed on the bottom of a Tesco's Tiramisu dessert - Do not turn upside down.

And for the use of a shower cap provided in a hotel - Fits one head.

On a pushchair - Caution: Remove infant before folding for storage.

Foreign products provide a plethora of material in the instructions for use department, especially when they have been translated from some exotic tongue into English. Here's a handful:

Found on a chain saw manufactured in Sweden - Do not attempt to stop chain with hands.

Christmas lights that were made in China - For indoor or outdoor use only.

On a Japanese food processor - Not to be used for other use.

And my favourite, on the box containing a kitchen knife made in Korea - Warning: keep out of children.

One would think that someone in Marketing would say, "Hey, I got cousin in London, he speak English. What you say I run labelling past him before we have millions of packets printed?"

Two essential facts about peanuts:

A warning on a packet of Sainsbury’s Peanuts - Warning, contains nuts.

And from a packet of American Airlines nuts - Instructions, open packet, eat nuts.

Thank you for making my life so much easier to understand! Finally, here's an extract from the owner's manual for a jet ski. It may make your eyes water:

Warning: Riders of personal watercraft may suffer injury due to the forceful injection of water into body cavities either by falling into the water or while mounting the craft.


Unexpected Promotion

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And so, back to my story. One thing I had discovered was whilst these ground tours (non-flying appointments) could be jolly entertaining and actually quite interesting, they were most definitely not flying. And I knew that flying was what I really wanted to do. So I decided to opt for a career route called specialist aircrew (later known as the Professional Aircrew Spine or PAS). Becoming 'spec aircrew' meant closing the door on future promotion and carrying on flying instead. I really wasn't expecting to be promoted, after all I hadn't really done much to try to get promoted, I hadn't been selected or asked to go to Advanced Staff College and (over the years) I'd often been rather blunt in the expression of my feelings about certain senior people. So I made my decision, banged in the paperwork and sat back happy in the knowledge that I would soon return to flying and stay there until I was 55.

However, just as I thought I had it sorted I was offered promotion to Wing Commander and a posting to HQ 11/18 Group. A bolt from the blue, no less! Time for a rethink; spec aircrew and fly until retirement or take the promotion with its rather good pay rise and bigger pension? I agonized over this for days and eventually decided that I had to go with the money and take the promotion. Was that a good idea? Hmm, not sure in the short term, but it did offer some benefits later.

HQ 11 Group Crest

HQ 1 Group crest. RAF High Wycombe


Bentley Priory

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So, having opted for promotion, I was to go RAF Bentley Priory (now long closed, but sort of near Stanmore Park and Watford) in July 1999. The headquarters was due to relocate from Bentley Priory to RAF High Wycombe about six months or so later (actually nearer nine, as it turned out), so I elected to keep my house at Farnborough and commute from there to Bentley Priory each day and then move to High Wycombe when the headquarters relocated there. This sounded much better than moving twice within a few months (I really hate continual moves). My daily commute from Farnborough to Bentley Priory unavoidably would involve a long and frustrating loiter in the outer London Car Park or 'M25' as the Government chose to cal it. This was not an affable outlook. Then, just as I thought myself condemned to hours of daily unpleasantness, a thought occurred to me. 'Why not get yourself a motorbike, Courtney?' What a concept! Two weeks later and I was up and running with a very smart new Kawasaki 500. It was excellent to be on a bike again and commuting the M3, M25, A41 each day became a whole lot easier and quicker.

RAF Bentley Priory, HQ 11 Group
The Officers' Mess at RAF Bentley Priory, HQ 11 Group

In the Spring of 2000, the Headquarters finally moved to RAF High Wycombe where I took over the post of SO1 Weapons and Eurofighter with responsibility for all air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. Also I could end the daily grind of commuting and moved house from Farnborough to Medmenham. It took me several minutes to find Medmenham on the road map, but I eventually located it just to the west of Marlow – presumably precisely where it had been left. Medmenham is a small village on the A4155 almost halfway between Marlow and Henley-on-Thames, on the north bank of the river. And very nice it is too. As I was no longer commuting, it was obviously time for a change of bikes - something a little more sporty. This called for a CBR 600.

Paul Courtnage
Courtney (Paul Courtnage) and Honda CBR600

In August, my desk officer phoned me to ask me to be the boss of 100 Squadron, flying Hawks at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire - my absolute dream job. But, again, this brilliant opportunity wasn't supported at home and so I foolishly let myself be talked into turning it down. This was also kissing goodbye to any further career prospects. The personnel staff basically agreed to leave me where I was for the foreseeable future. I had given up a my dream and finally closed the door on promotion. Why did I do this? I really don't want to go into it, but it was a huge mistake.


911 Wikipedia article here

911 - The World Trade Center towers are destroyed
The twin towers of the World Trade Center, New York, and the second airliner.


911 - Attack on the World Trade Centre

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At 8:48 on Tuesday 11th September 2001 an American Airways airliner smashed into the 105th floor of the World Trade Center [sic] North Tower in New York. There was a huge fireball and an intense fire. Fifteen minutes later a United Airlines flight hit the South Tower with similar results. Both towers collapsed killing thousands of people. A little over half an hour later, a third aircraft crashed into one wing of the Pentagon in Washington DC. A fourth airliner crashed in open country. That morning, the United States of America joined the group of nations whose home ground is never safe from the threat of terrorism and the World changed forever. Nearly 3,000 people died. Here is the sequence of events that day:

0840 NORAD alerted by the Federal Aviation Authority that American Airlines Flight 11, with 65 passengers and crew, had been hijacked.
0843NORAD informed that United Airlines Flight 175 had also been hijacked. Two F-15s scrambled from Otis AFB, Massachusetts.
0848American Airlines Flight 11, with 92 on board, crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
0903United Airlines Flight 175 Crashed into the South Tower.
0940American Airlines Flight 77, carrying 64 people, crashed into the Pentagon.
0945The Capitol and the White House were evacuated in case of further attacks.
0950Lock-down. All US airports shut down and all commercial flights grounded.
0958Pennsylvania emergency services receive a call from a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93 informing them they too were being hijacked.
1003Flight 93 crashed 80 miles south east of Pittsburgh. The intended target was unknown at the time.
1005The South Tower collapsed. Many employees and numerous members of the emergency services were inside.
1029The North Tower collapsed.
1720A 47-storey building adjacent to the Trade Center, damaged by the earlier devastation, collapsed.

It soon became apparent that a group of Islamic terrorists were responsible for these events and that they were conducted as suicide missions. Armed with craft knives, they attacked the crew and took control of the airliners, all on domestic flights. Elementary flight training enabled the terrorists to fly the aircraft into their selected targets. Almost as quickly, the man behind this audacious strike was identified as Usama bin Laden, exiled Saudi millionaire and head of the Al Qa'ida terrorist movement, living in Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban Government.

The sheer scale of this act stunned the World. America had suffered previous terrorist incidents, but for the most part, Americans had always felt secure at home. Before that day, most Americans knew terrorism mainly as something that happened in other countries. President Bush declared war on terrorism and Great Britain immediately stood with him, 'shoulder to shoulder' as our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, stated.

Usama bin Laden (also known as Osama bin Laden) and his supporters used deep caves in the remote mountains of Afghanistan as their strongholds and hideouts. American officials believed that a retaliatory campaign should extend anywhere a Bin Laden link was discovered. Afghanistan was to become the first battlefield of President Bush's war against terrorism targeting the Taliban, a Sunni Islamist political movement that had governed Afghanistan from 1996. The first air strikes were delivered during the night of 7th October 2001 against Taliban training camps and facilities. This was Operation Enduring Freedom. The Northern Alliance - armed Afghan factions opposed to the Taliban Government - were rallied and started their march through the country, liberating it from the Taliban. The Afghan freedom fighters and US troops, supported by an intense air bombardment, quickly took the country. The Taliban and Al Qa'ida fled, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries (mainly Pakistan) or hiding amongst the local population. By Christmas, only pockets of Al Qa'ida resistance were left. President Bush, conscious of the need to gain world support for his campaign, put together a coalition, which rapidly grew to 66 countries within 6 months of the attack.

And I am pleased to say that I was then deployed to OEF - Operation Enduring Freedom - at the Headquarters of Central Command (CENTCOM), which was at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida. So I packed my gear and set of for America where I joined their Long-Range Planning Element (LRPE), planning what we were going to do next in Afghanistan or wherever else the campaign was to go.

Wyndham Westshore Hotel, Tampa, Florida
Wyndham Westshore, home in Tampa

Click here for a map of the region

CENTCOM itself wasn't really big enough to accommodate the hundreds of people that the Coalition had brought together. For this reason, a huge trailer park was erected in their parking lot and it was from here that we all worked. MacDill AFB was similarly short of accommodation and so we lived down town in a very comfortable hotel – the Wyndham Westshore. Many months in a hotel makes one something of a long-term resident and I soon recognized the importance of getting to know the staff. This was no real hardship as they were a thoroughly splendid group of people, mostly pleasant young ladies, who spoilt me rotten and made life there more bearable. It also meant I was able to spend most evenings relaxing in my favourite leather armchair, reading my book and enjoying a few glasses of excellent Californian wine.

Anyway, the main issue here was running the campaign in Afghanistan, eliminating the Al Qa'ida terrorist group and its associates and planning the reconstruction of Afghanistan. This was interesting stuff and terribly grown-up. Although never trained to do this, I soon picked up the knowledge I needed on the job. In fact, I don't think I would be overstating it to say that I really got into it.

Obviously, I can't go into too much detail here because campaign plans tend to be closely guarded secrets. Even I could work out that telling the world what you're planning to do in a military campaign kind of loses you the element of surprise when your boys are on the ground for the fight. However, I can share with you some of the issues we dealt with. The most rewarding (and constructive) area was the planning I did to set up Afghanistan as a proper nation with a functioning government, a stable economy and a secure environment. My effort was directed at establishing a working police force, army and border guards, capable of supporting their government and maintaining the rule of law. As it turned out, this was a massively tall order and we weren't the first people to try this. A quick peek at recent Afghan history will illustrate my point.

The flag of Afghanistan

Click here for a map of the region

Abdur Rahman Abdur Rahman

Click here for a map of the region

Mujahadeen Mujahideen Fighters

A Brief History of Afghanistan

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Back in 1839 Britain and Afghanistan went to war. After some resistance, Amir Dost Mohammad Khan surrendered to the British and was deported to India. The British installed Shah Shuja as a puppet king, but, as is often the case, huge pockets of resistance remained. In April 1842, the Shah was killed by the Afghans and Akbar Khan routed the British.

The following year, Afghanistan became independent once again and Dost Mohammad Khan returned to the throne. In 1859, the British took Baluchistan, Afghanistan's southern portion, making the country completely landlocked. Six years later, Russia took Bukhara, Tashkent, and Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan) and in 1873 established a fixed boundary between Afghanistan and it's new territories, but they did promise to respect Afghanistan's territorial integrity, such as they had left it. In 1878, the second Anglo-Afghan War began; the British invaded, forcing Afghanistan to give up the territories of Kurram, Khyber, Michni, Pishin and Sibi. The world powers were slowly nicking bits of a formerly grand country. Just helping ourselves!

In 1880, Abdur Rahman took the throne of Afghanistan as Amir. Shortly after his accession, the British withdrew from Afghanistan, although retaining the right to handle Afghanistan's foreign relations. In 1885; Russian forces seized the Panjdeh Oasis, a piece of Afghan territory north of the Oxus River. The Afghans tried to retake it, but failed and the Russians promised (once again) to honour Afghan territorial integrity in the future. I think I'm starting to see a pattern here. The Durand Line fixed the borders of Afghanistan with British India in 1893. However, this randomly split Afghan tribal areas and left half of the Afghans in that region in what is now Pakistan. Remember that the peoples in these two regions are related.

In 1907 Russia and Great Britain signed the Convention of St. Petersburg, in which Afghanistan was declared outside Russia's sphere of influence.

The third Anglo-Afghan war began in 1921 but, once again, the British were eventually defeated, and Afghanistan regained full control of her foreign affairs. In 1934, the United States of America formally recognized Afghanistan. I always love diplomatic speak; this would be like seeing an old friend in the street and saying, "Hi, I know you, don't I?"). In 1947 Britain withdrew from India and Pakistan was carved out of former Indian and Afghan lands. Two years later, Afghanistan's Parliament denounced the Durand Treaty and refused to recognize the Durand Line as a legal boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Afghans attempted to modernize their army during 1954, but their request to buy military equipment from the U.S. was rejected. So, the following year, the Afghans turned to the Soviet Union for military aid. Kruschev eagerly agreed to help, thus forming close ties between Afghanistan and USSR and bringing it back into the Russian sphere of influence.

By the late 1950s, Afghanistan was making real progress towards becoming a modern state. The Purdah became optional and women began to enrol in their co-educational University and to enter the workforce and Government. During the '70s, Daoud Khan abolished the monarchy and declared himself President, establishing the Republic of Afghanistan, and in 1975, he presented a new constitution confirming women's rights. However, Daoud was killed three years later, during a bloody Communist coup, and Nur Muhammad Taraki was named President.

There followed a tense period of mass arrests and torture during which Taraki signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union. That June, the Afghan guerrilla movement, the Mujahideen, was born. The following year saw further, mass killings, including the US ambassador and Taraki himself. Hafizullah Amin took over the Presidency, but he too was executed and replaced by Babrak Karmal. That December, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The Mujahideen fought keenly against the Soviets, killing some 40-50,000 of them until, in 1989, a peace accord was signed in Geneva. The Soviet Union was defeated by Afghanistan after 10 years of fighting and the Soviets withdrew on 15th February 1989. The Soviet retreat did not bring peace. The Mujahideen continued to fight against the Government and took Kabul on 15 April 1992 'liberating' Afghanistan and forming an Islamic State.

Then, in 1994, the Taliban militia was born and rose up against the government. Tribal warlords (Dostum and Hekmatyar) rose against the government and the capital, Kabul, was effectively reduced to rubble in the fighting. The Taliban made massive gains and on 27th September they forced the government out of Kabul and the harsh Taliban era began. Women had to be fully veiled, were no longer allowed to work, go out alone or even wear white socks, assuming they wanted to. Men were forced to grow beards and Buzkashi, the Afghan national sport, was outlawed. The trappings of a modern state were taken away – television, radio and basic human rights. Crucially, Al Qa'ida were given support by the Taliban and total freedom of action within Afghanistan.

On the 20th August 1999, the United States launched cruise missiles hitting Afghanistan's Khowst region, with the intention of destroying terrorist bases and training facilities used by Usama bin Laden and his followers. In September the ex-king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah, called for a grand assembly, or Loya Jirga, to discuss ways of bringing peace to the country. The United Front welcomed the idea, but the Taliban simply ridiculed his attempts. That October, UN Security Council Resolution 1267 was adopted, establishing sanctions against the Taliban on grounds that they offered sanctuary to Usama bin Laden.

One of the Bamiyan Buddhas, Afghanistan, 1997
One of the Bamiyan Buddhas, Afghanistan, 1997


In December 2000, UN Security Council Resolution 1333 imposed further sanctions against the Taliban for their continuing support of terrorism and cultivation of narcotics. Then, in March 2001, despite pleas and requests from various international diplomats and Islamic scholars, the Taliban destroyed the famous, ancient statues in the Kabul Museum, historical sites in Ghazni, and blew up the giant Bamiyan Buddhas that dated back to the 5th century. The World expressed outrage and disgust. By this stage, virtually every aspect of Afghanistan's social and economic structure had been dismantled. The Taliban had effectively destroyed the police force, the mainstay of the economy revolved around the opium harvest and the country existed only as a loose group of factions, headed by warlords and their private militias.

After our Coalition forces had liberated the people from the Taliban regime in late 2001, there was little left in the way of a government, economy, social structure, infrastructure or rule of law. The country was riddled with land mines, which were injuring and killing people on a daily basis. Under the Bonn Agreement, Afghanistan was run by an interim administration headed by Hamid Karzai. The administration took power on 22nd December 2001 and was to rule for 6 months, after which an emergency Loya Jirga would be convened to appoint a transitional authority. This was to govern Afghanistan under the leadership of Hamid Karzai, until the people could elect a permanent government, to be in place within 2 years of the emergency Loya Jirga. Rebuilding the country was to be a long and difficult process and had to be achieved through the consent of the Afghan leadership – including the numerous, powerful Warlords. To quote an ancient Afghan proverb, 'Community is not created by force.'

There were so many obstacles to navigate in Afghanistan, so much to understand about the Afghans, so much reconstruction to do and so many hearts and minds to win. It was also clear that there were a lot of insurgents left in the country, particularly in the South and this was difficult land in which to undertake security operations. It looked like we would be there a very long time.

Trailer City Centcom, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida - Op Enduring Freedom
Trailer City at CENTCOM, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida. Look closely at some of the flags flying from the trailers.


Courtney scuba diving in Sharm el Sheikh, 2001


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Returning to work at High Wycombe, after working in CENTCOM at MacDill AFB and dealing with lofty issues and fascinating intelligence, all seemed a bit dull. Having turned down my command tour (a chance that would only come once), I had committed myself to staying at High Wycombe for the foreseeable future and I knew I wouldn't get another flying tour. So it occurred to me that I really needed to find something that I could put my mind to - a creative and constructive outlet. So I flew to Sharm el Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula for a spot of diving and to do some photography.

The coral and wildlife were so abundant and the sea so clear and clean that I was truly inspired. I wondered if I could actually start to do something useful with my diving and my photography. I had also been doing videography for many years and was something I very much wanted to take further. This particular trip to Egypt started me thinking about getting involved in some way with the ecology of the oceans. I was both captivated and enthused about diving and so spent the next few years rushing of to warmer waters to take every diving course I could find, immersing myself in books and immersing myself in warm brine.

All this planted the the seed of the idea for Project Ocean Vision in my mind, although it would take a while to germinate. I wanted to combine my diving with underwater videography and marine conservation. The first step was to find out more, so I enrolled in an Open University degree course studying Natural Sciences whilst I carried on looking for opportunities to take my diving further and gain more qualifications and experience. So I found myself in Sharm two or three times every year doing courses, gaining qualifications, even doing some guiding for the dive centres in Sharm. Anything to be in the water and improving my skills. I had discovered something really good here.

Sharm el Sheikh - Wreck of the Loullia

Sharm el Sheikh - Lionfish

Sharm el Sheikh - My first Shark

Sharm el Sheikh - My First Dive on The SS Thistlegorm

Tony Blair and George W Bush


Gulf War II - 2003

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The war on terrorism spearheaded by Blair and Bush was never going to stop with Afghanistan. Even though the reconstruction work there was far from over, they were starting to look, ever more menacingly, at Iraq. Western forces had been operating in the region ever since the '91 Gulf War and by late 2002, USA and UK were posturing to threaten Saddam Hussein into giving up his weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which the West insisted he owned. That January, President George W Bush had declared Iraq a member of the 'Axis of Evil' and by September, the British Government had released a dossier outlining Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programme, claiming (quite incorrectly) that such weapons could be deployed within 45 minutes and were a direct threat to the West. We now know these claims to be grossly exaggerated.

Blair and Bush held a summit that some believed laid down the whole road to war. On 8th November the United Nations Security Council backed Resolution 1441, which threatened serious consequences if Iraq failed to scrap all its weapons of mass destruction. In order to confirm this process Hans Blix and his team of UN weapons inspectors were returned to Iraq. Previously they had operated there for 4 years without finding anything, then they were booted out and were absent for 8 years. Actually, their mandate was to challenge the 12,000 page Iraqi weapons declaration that was handed to the UN on 7th December, not purely to find and clear their WMD. However, the Bush-Blair alliance denounced the weapons declaration as a sham, but didn't really give the inspectors time to find anything - they were only back in the country for 6 weeks. If they couldn't find anything in 4 years, they were hardly likely to do so in a month and a half. It became increasingly obvious that war was close to inevitable and in early January 2003 Geoff Hoon (the UK Defence Minister) announced the deployment of Royal Navy and Marine personnel, insisting that no decision had yet been taken to commit these forces to action. Less than two weeks later he announced the deployment of 26,000 ground troops, but restated that this didn't mean we were going to war. So we must presume he just sent them there for a change of scenery.

There was a huge amount of world opinion opposing the looming war, especially without a UN resolution specifically to authorize it. Such a resolution was looking hard to secure and the US & UK evaded questions about whether they would go ahead without it if they couldn't persuade other UN members to support them. While Spain stood with us, Russia and China opposed the move, Germany openly refused to entertain any thought of war, whilst France stated their intention to veto any such resolution, no matter what.

Of course, all this time, the alliance (that's the good guys) was massing its troops, warships and aircraft close to the Iraqi border. Well, as close as they could get, given that Iran wasn't going to help (although nobody ever actually got around to asking them), Jordan and Syria had divided loyalties and Turkey (the splitters) refused permission for alliance troops to set foot on Turkish soil. We'll see how that helps their next application to join the EU!

UN authorization of military action was not forthcoming and so Britain and the United States abandoned their efforts in this direction. Things started to move ahead more quickly. With deft slight of hand, President Bush and Tony Blair announced that they didn't need another resolution as UNSCR1441 gave them the authority they needed. Hans Blix reported back to the UN that he had found no evidence of illegal weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but Bush and Blair made it clear that they would not wait beyond mid-March before going to war.

Finally, Bush offered Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Baghdad and go into exile or prepare to be invaded – this was a significant lane-change as the two great western leaders were suddenly talking about regime change rather than the removal of WMD (or had that been their objective all along?) Mr Hussein politely (although not very) declined. On 19th March 2003, our troops were ordered to start moving forward from their camps in Kuwait to their 'start positions' right on the border. The scene was set for the most dramatic and intense military action ever seen. In the early hours of the following morning, the US launched a strike of some 30 or 40 cruise missiles and bombs followed by a deafening silence. Not quite what everyone was expecting. Actually, in my view, this was not the start of the campaign to liberate Iraq, it was a brief 'decapitation' operation in response to some new intelligence - a phone call made by the Iraqi leader and intercepted by a spy satellite. It was an attempt to destroy a number of locations where they thought Saddam might be taking refuge and some of his key command and control nodes. We can safely assume it didn't work, as he appeared on television soon thereafter, denouncing the American attack and pledging to fight them to the last drop if everyone else's blood.

The Second Iraq War as seen on our televisions
The Second Iraq War as seen on our televisions

Click here for the Wikipedia
article on the 2003 invasion
of Iraq


The war kicked off under the cover of darkness during the night of 20th March. Although everyone was expecting an air campaign ahead of a ground invasion, all arms launched together. Air power and artillery were used in support of ground troops who advanced rapidly to the southern city of Basra and the adjacent port facilities. The ground advance was supposed to be preceded by two days of air strikes, but was brought forward because of fears of Iraqi missile attacks and the torching of the southern oil wells.

It had been hoped that demoralized Iraqi troops would surrender quickly, but many put up surprising resistance. In a sense, there were echoes of Kosovo in that the allies expected the enemy to crumble at the first signs of war; like the Serbs, the Iraqis did not. Western forces had also hoped that the coalition advance would spark major uprisings against Saddam's army. This didn't really happen either. The world's television audiences were amazed to watch the surgical destruction of Sadam Hussein's seats of power. Right in the centre of Baghdad, his palaces and headquarters were annihilated by cruise missiles and precision guided bombs. Although the Iraqi propaganda machine insisted that the allies were bombing orphanages and tourist attractions, the television pictures clearly showed military and political targets being precisely destroyed.

I don't intend to tell the whole history of the war here; there are plenty of excellent accounts around without my intereference. Enough for our purposes here to see that it had begun and how we ended up there.

After just three weeks, the fighting was yielding the desired result. It was a moment of great hope. However, once the fighting was officially over, it became apparent that in our rush to beat the brutally hot weather we had not really thought through what was going to happen next. Moreover, the political recriminations started. Senior Labour politicians resigned their posts, Mr Blair was accused of lying to the British people about Saddam's WMD and 'doctoring' the intelligence reports that were used to rally the support he needed in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister's credibility was severely challenged by politicians on all sides – a row that was to go on for years after the conflict.

I note with great interest that not long after this the politicians simply started talking about it all as if the objective of the Second Gulf War was to remove an evil dictator and never mentioned the WMD thing again. Remember, the reason they gave was to annihilate the WMD threat. Back at the beginning, regime change was never the stated aim.

Tornado GR4A ZG710ZG710


Tornado F3 ZG710

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What I shall comment on briefly is a tragic incident that occured during Gulf War II highlighting a couple of ongoing issues.

Royal Air Force Tornado GR4A ZG710 (D) of 13 Squadron was returning to Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait at 02:48 local time on 23 March 2003 when it was engaged and destroyed by a US Army Patriot Surface-to-Air-Missile after being wrongly identified as an Iraqi Anti-Radiation Missile. The crew, Flt Lt Kevin Main and Flt Lt David Williams, were killed instantly.

It was a requirement for all coalition aircraft to have a serviceable Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Mode 4 transponder to fly on operations in the Iraqi theatre – The USA insisted on this as they used Mode 4 as the central part of their Rules of Engagement (ROE). IFF is a system that automatically identifies whether a particular aircraft is a friendly. A signal is sent from a ground unit or aircraft to the aircraft being identified, which then replies. At the time there were five different IFF modes, including Mode 1 (an unencrypted code, which was also used in Iraq by all the Coalition aircraft) and Mode 4 (an encrypted, secure form of IFF). Mode 4 was added to Tornado aircraft as an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) back in 1991 for Gulf War I.

Prior to engine start, ZG710's IFF system was checked by the groundcrew and confirmed to be working correctly. Returning to Kuwait airspace after their mission over Iraq, the crew of ZG710 completed their recovery checks, including setting up their IFF Mode 4. Meanwhile, the crew of Patriot Battery C, 5-52-Air Defense Artillery (working 'autonomously' because their comms kit was still 'en route' from the USA) were monitoring for Iraqi Tactical Ballistic Missiles when ZG710 was tracked by their system; the track was interrogated for IFF Mode 4, but no response was recived. The symbol that appeared on their radar identified the aircraft as an Anti-Radiation Missile coming directly towards them. As ZG710 passed 18,000 feet in the descent the Patriot Battery engaged them with a single missile in accordance with their ROE. The lack of a valid Mode 4 response was sufficient criteria to declare the target hostile.

When Mode 4 had been integrated into the Tornado, full integration checks were not carried out. As this was the primary means of identifying friendly assets from enemy ones, it was obviously a vital piece of kit and it was, therefore, equally vital that the aircrew should be alerted if it wasn't working properly. As it happened, the incomplete integration meant that there were certain failures that would not be alerted to the crew. The MoD Procurement Executive (DGAS2) had decided that this was an acceptable risk, taking the view that it works on the bench, it'll work on the aircraft and seeing no need to spend time and money confirming that.

So, as the crew of ZG710 were returning to base after their mission, their IFF Mode 4 suffered one of those failures that did not trigger a warning; the Mode 4 was not working, but the crew did not know. Lacking a Mode 4 response, the Patriot system automatically identified them as a hostile track and was unable to verify the aircraft's identity using Mode 1 because their lack of comms with their HQ meant they had not been able to load the Mode 1 codes into the kit. Interestingly, ZG710 was number 4 in a formation of aircraft, the rest of which were 'squawking' Mode 4, they were in the safe recovery lane at the correct speed and were talking to friendly assets; all of these factors should alert an integrated air defence system to look more closely at a track identified as hostile by a single criteria. The Patriot Battery engaged ZG710 purely on the lack of a Mode 4 response, despite having the time to attempt to confirm its identity by other means.

Here are some of the Board of Inquiry's findings and comments:

Having met all classification criteria, the Patriot crew launched the missile

The Patriot crew had complied with extant self defence Rules of Engagement for dealing with Anti-Radiation Missiles.

The Board concluded that the Patriot Anti-Radiation Missile Rules Of Engagement were not robust enough to prevent a friendly aircraft being classified as an Anti-Radiation Missile and then engaged in self-defence.

More than a year later, U.S. Central Command found no negligence by the Patriot Missile battery soldiers, but pointed the finger at a series of other factors, including a failure in the aircraft's Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder. A number of things could have prevented this tragic loss of life: completion of the full integration checks on the Tornado Mode 4 system, the provision of proper comms between the Patriot Battery and their HQ and taking time to confirm the hostile tag assigned to ZG710 before engaging it.

The BoI summary is available here.


Air France Concorde - Image by
Air France

Click here for a view of
Concorde's cockpit


Length: 61.66m (202' 4")
Wingspan: 25.6m (84' 0")
Height: 12.2m (40' 0")
Max speed: Mach 2.04, 1,350 mph
Service ceiling: 60,000' (18,300m)

Click here to read the accident report


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And now for a (mostly) happier aircraft story. In all my years of flying fighters in the Royal Air Force, I never had much interest in airliners or the like. But there was always one aircraft that I adored, Concorde. Concorde was an amazing piece of engineering and a beautiful aircraft; clean, simple lines, elegance and power. She was loved by those that flew her and those that were passengers in her. Concorde, at a stroke, took passenger flying from 600 miles per hour to over 1,350 mph (Mach 2) at 60,000 feet - over 11 miles high, the edge of space. She could carry 100 passengers from London to New York in under 3 hours in true luxury. Travelling westward from London to New York, she would be flying faster than the Earth was rotating beneath her; passengers could watch the sun rise in the West.

Concorde was a joint Anglo-French design, built by Aérospatiale and British Aircraft Corporation that first flew in 1969. She had a difficult history and faced numerous challenges, financial and environmental. Only 20 Concordes were ever built (between 1966 and 1979), including 2 prototypes and 2 pre-production models.

Concorde measured 61.6 m in length on the ground, but expanded by ten inches in-flight due to heating of the airframe at high speed. It was this heating that limited her top speed to Mach 2.04. Her wingspan was 25.6 m - small compared to conventional, subsonic airliners.

The characteristic droop nose is lowered to improve pilots' visibility for take-off and landing. Concorde's four engines - specially designed Rolls-Royce/ Snecma Olympus 593s - produce over 38,000 lbs of thrust each with reheat. These were developed from the Bristol Olympus engine first used to power the Avro Vulcan bomber and developed into an afterburning supersonic variant for the BAC TSR-2 strike bomber, which never went into production.


Tragically, during take-off on 25th July 2000, Air France Concorde Flight 4590 ran over a titanium strip, dropped onto the runway at Gonesse in France by a Continental Airlines DC-10. This tore into one of the mainwheel tyres, which broke up and parts of it hit the underside of the port (left) wing, causing a massive fuel leak. The fuel ignited, leading to a huge fire and surges in engines 1 and 2. Damage caused by the fire prevented the crew from retracting the landing gear. The loss of thrust on two engines and the drag from the landing gear caused the aircraft to crash shortly after getting airborne, killing everyone on board (100 passengers and 9 crew) plus 4 guests at a local hotel. Concorde operations were suspended pending modifications, but were resumed on 7th November 2001. Four days later, the World Trade Center attack devastated demand for trans-Atlantic flights and, so, Concorde's main trade dried up. On 10th April 2003, British Airways and Air France announced Concorde's retirement. The World would never see the like of this amazing aircraft again.

To celebrate her 27 years of service, I compiled a number of video clips, many of which you may recognize, and made a short tribute to Concorde, the World's finest Airliner. Music by Alan Parsons. Click on the PLAY button on the player below and enjoy.



There is a really good site about Concorde, including technical details, history, procedures and photographs of cockpit stations, parts, etc, at http://heritageconcorde.com. I wish I'd found it before I wrote this short segment about Concorde.

Expedition Benthic Monitor
Expedition Benthic Orchid 1

Click here for a .pdf
version of the EXPEDITION
Officer's report.

Expedition Benthic Monitor &
Expedition Benthic Orchid 1

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Continuing to pursue my diving, I qualified as a Rescue Diver and decided that it was time to turn my attention to the marine research and conservation side of things.

As it happened, RAF High Wycombe had a very active sub-aqua club and I was lucky enough to be invited to join them on one of their expeditions. Actually I was invited to loads, but we'll start at the start. Expedition Benthic Monitor took ten divers from a number of RAF stations to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. Our aims were to pick up a number of conservation projects for the Ascension Island Government Conservation Officer. We wanted to gather data on numbers, distribution and the sizes of endemic fish species and to humanely capture Hawksbill Turtles for measuring, tagging, micro-chipping and DNA sampling before releasing them back to the wild. We also planned to give a presentation to the pupils of Two Boats School, the only school on Ascension Island, to give the children a greater awareness of the their unique marine environment and to help foster a sense of responsibility for their wonderful marine ecosystem.

As my first major diving expedition, Expedition Benthic Monitor was a great place to start - and to see Ascension Island again.

The Expedition Benthic Monitor Team outside Buckingham Palace
The Expedition Benthic Monitor Team, led by Sqn Ldr Kev O'Neill, at Buckingham Palace after receiving their commendation from Prince Philip

Expedition Benthic Orchid 1

Click here for a .pdf
version of the EXPEDITION

So Benthic Monitor was an excellent expedition that got me started with marine conservation and marine research work. It was tremendous experience for the diving and got me involved with the team and their leader, Sqn Ldr Kev O'Neill, for future expeds. We were later invited to Buckingham Palace to receive a commendation from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh for our work on Expedition Benthic Monitor. You can read a bit more about the exped in the RAF Active Magazine and in the Ascension Island Conservation Quarterly.

On Boxing Day 2004, there was a very large underwater earthquake off the coast of Indonesia. This spawned a massive tsunami, which caused extensive damage throughout the region. Kev O'Neill put together a team of ten Royal Air Force scuba divers and we were joined by Dr Nick Evans, a senior member of the Zoological Department of the British Natural History Museum in London to undertake research into the impact of the 2004 Asian Tsunami on the marine ecosystems in the Similan Islands off the west coast of Thailand - particularly on the coral.

We raised some £3,000 in funds for support to a humanitarian project and dedicated part of the expedition to helping the reconstruction of a school that had been devastated in the disaster. I went off to Egypt once again to train as a Divemaster and returned to help with the planning of our expedition to Thailand - Expedition Benthic Orchid (Benthic Orchid I, to be precise). I have a copy of the report here if you wish to know more. Briefly, we flew to Thailand and did some diving from day boats in the Southern Andaman Sea, around Phuket, in order to do some training and develop our survey protocols for the research work to follow. We spent some time carrying out the project at the community school and then boarded the MV Harmony for the bulk of our diving and research work out in the Similan Islands.

Again, an excellent exped from every perspective and once more, we were invited to Buckingham Palace where Prince Philip recognized our work with a commendation. Below are a few pictures of Benthic Monitor and Benthic Orchid 1...


Expedition Benthic Monitor - Divers

The Benthic Monitor Team, Ascension Island 2004

Expedition Benthic Monitor, Ascension Island, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Ascension Island

The centre of Georgetown, Ascension Island 2004

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Ascension Island

Ascension Island is composed of volcanic ash

Expedition Benthic Monitor, Ascension Island, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Ascension Island

The top of Ascension Island, Green Mountain

Ascension Island thumbnail

Ascension Island

Ascension Island - Wideawake Airfield

Ascension Island thumbnail

Ascension Island

Ascension Island from Green Mountain

Ascension Island thumbnail

Ascension Island

Ascension Island - The Old Church in Georgetown

Ascension Island thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Monitor - Dive Ops

One of Our Two RHIBs

Expedition Benthic Monitor, Ascension Island, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Monitor - Dive Ops

Courtney on a RHIB

Expedition Benthic Monitor, Ascension Island, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Monitor - Dive Ops

Courtney Diving

Expedition Benthic Monitor, Ascension Island, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Monitor - Dive Ops

Toria Rackham - Benthic Monitor Diving

Toria Rackham - Expedition Benthic Monitor, Ascension Island, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Monitor - Dive Ops

Manta Ray

Expedition Benthic Monitor, Ascension Island, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Monitor - Hawksbill Turtles

Our Hawksbill Turtle Marine Research Project: 'Michelle'

Expedition Benthic Monitor, Ascension Island, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Monitor - Hawksbill Turtles

Hawksbill Turtle Marine Research Project: Nick Robson & 'Talan'Nick Robson - Expedition Benthic Monitor, Ascension Island, Marine Conservation - Hawksbill Turtle.


Expedition Benthic Monitor - Green Turtles

Green Turtles mating

Expedition Benthic Monitor, Ascension Island, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Monitor - Green Turtles

Courtney watching the Green Turtles lay their eggs

Paul Courtnage - Expedition Benthic Monitor, Ascension Island, Marine Conservation - Green Turtles. thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid 1 - Thailand

Wat Chalong near Phuket.

Wat Chalong, Phuket, taken during Expedition Benthic Orchid to Thailand 2006 thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid 1 - The Team

The Benthic Orchid 1 Team: humanitarian aid project, Phuket.

Benthic Orchid 1 thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid 1 - At The School

Helping to rebuild a school devastated by the 2004 Tsunami.

Expedition Benthic Orchid, Thailand, the Andaman Sea and the Similan Islands, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid 1 - MV Harmony

Our home for Expedition Benthic Orchid 1.

Expedition Benthic Orchid, Thailand, the Andaman Sea and the Similan Islands, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid 1 - Kev O'Neill

Benthic Orchid Team Leader, Kev O'Neill

Kev O'Neill, Expedition Benthic Orchid thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid 1 - Line Laying

Wg Cdr Paul Courtnage laying the lines for a marine research survey

Paul Courtnage thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid 1 - Surveying

Carrying out a marine research survey

Kirsty Livingston - Expedition Benthic Orchid, Thailand, the Andaman Sea and the Similan Islands, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid 1 - Similan Sunset

Similan Islands

Expedition Benthic Orchid, Thailand, the Andaman Sea and the Similan Islands, Marine Conservation. thumbnail

Slideshow of Expeditions Benthic Monitor (Ascension Island) & Benthic Orchid I (Thailand)

Benthic Orchid
The Benthic Orchid 1 Team, led by Sqn Ldr Kev O'Neill, at Buckingham Palace with HRH The Duke of Edinburgh - 2006

                Cpl Andy Murray,         Dr Nick Evans,             Sgt Daz Arnold,           Sqn Ldr Nick Robson,     Flt Lt Sarah Heald,      Sqn Ldr Colin Benford

Flt Lt Cook,    WO Phil Goodwin,    Sqn Ldr Pete Maskell,       HRH Duke of Edinburgh,   Wg Cdr Paul Courtnage,       Sqn Ldr Kev O'Neill        

Paul Courtnage

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