The following article appeared in
the January 2000 edition of Air Forces
Monthly, a highly recommended read
for all those interested in military aviation.
Many thanks to the editor
of AFM (Alan Warnes)
for permission to use
this piece. Click here
to visit the AFM
The main article was written by
David Hunter, and the Jindivik
section by Derek Bower
Clear To Fire
Three Tornado GR.ls of 617 (Dambusters) Squadron
recently deployed to RAF Valley
to carry out a Missile Practice Camp (MPC) at the
Air Guided Weapons Operational Evaluation Unit (AGWOEU)
located on the Anglesey base. While en-route, from
RAF Lossiemouth, on the morning of September 13
(1999), the crews took the opportunity to practise
the firing profiles they were going to use against
a Hawk based at DERA Llanbedr
Into The Box
The morning of the 13th was taken up with essential
'domestic' and safety briefings, followed by the
sortie briefing for the afternoon firing. Two aircraft
launched in the afternoon, callsigned simply 'Alpha'
and 'Bravo'. While 'B' held at 'the gate' (Bardsey
Island, off the Llyn Peninsula), 'A' flew south
into the danger area over the Irish Sea, controlled
by safety officers based at Aberporth in South Wales.
Meanwhile, at Llanbedr a Jindivik (Aborigine for
hunted one) a target-towing drone and the
Hawk photo chase aircraft took off to join the fray.
The range controllers fly the firing aircraft through
the firing box first to check that the weather is
suitable, and once this has been confirmed, 'A'
sets up a hold in the south of the area, while the
photo chase joins him and the Jindivik positions
north of the kill box. The Aberporth controllers
have a 'God's eye' view of the whole affair courtesy
of their powerful tracking radars linked to a system
of pulleys and felt pens which draw the aircraft
tracks on a large sheet of paper!
At the appropriate time, the firing aircraft is
told to turn on a heading north and fly at a specified
ground speed. This is to ensure that the intercept
works perfectly. As the two aircraft get closer
and closer, the Tornado navigator detects the target
on his radar and calls "contact". Various
pre-firing safety checks are carried out, then the
Jindivik trails smoke to aid visual acquisition.
Following that, one of the two flares towed behind
the Jindivik is ignited, and the firing aircraft
is given the call "clear to manoeuvre"
followed by "clear to fire". It is then
a race against time to get a valid release solution
inside the 30 second burn time of the flare. Most
achieve this easily, and the next call is "A
Fox 2". After pulling the trigger, it seems
to take an eternity (actually a fraction of a second)
before the rocket motor ignites, sending the Sidewinder
streaking towards the flare pack, with its characteristic
trail of white smoke behind it.
On arrival at the flare pack, the proximity sensors
fitted in the front of the missile detect the flares
and the warhead detonates, destroying the flare
pack, which falls to earth, along with the rest
of the debris from the explosion. A successful firing!
The primary firer makes his switches safe then returns
to Valley and the secondary firer makes his way
south. The Jindivik pilot, on the ground at Llanbedr;
heaves a sigh of relief and steers his charge northbound
to do it all again...
The first four of 617 Squadron's missiles were standard
day firings. The fifth and sixth ones were launched
in the dark, with the crews wearing Night Vision
Goggles. The effects of a missile launch on the
goggles themselves, which work by amplifying light
by a factor of many thousands, were expected to
be severe. (Many missiles have been fired by NVG
equipped pilots, but no NVG film exists.) To record
this launch, a Tornado GR.4 from the Strike Attack
Operational Evaluation Unit, based at Boscombe Down
in Wiltshire, was used as a photo chase. The chase
navigator was equipped with a digital video camera,
fitted with an NVG tube in a specially-modified
The aircraft took oft at 9.15pm on September 14
(1999), following the familiar route to the firing
box. Formating on the firing aircraft was relatively
easy, thanks to high ambient light levels afforded
by the cloudless sky and half moon. We flew in a
loose 'arrow' position off the left wing to gather
the best video for the debrief.
The flare pack was visible immediately it was lit,
both on FLIR (part of the upgrade from GR.1 to GR.4)
and on the goggles, which helped our situational
awareness of the 'big picture'. Once the "clear
to fire" call had been made, we braced ourselves
for the blinding flash. As the missile propellant
ignited, the night sky was lit up, and the NVGs
'gained down' to cope with the extra light. The
missile streaked to the flare pack, destroying it
in a shower of sparks. The effect was similar to
a very good fireworks display! In all, 617 Squadron
fired six missiles in two days four during the day
and two by night. The experience gained by the aircrew
will be invaluable if they are ever called upon
to fire in anger, while the data gathered by the
scientists will be used to ensure that our Sidewinders
remain reliable and accurate in the future.
The Jindivik made
its first flight, from the Australian test facility
of Woomera, on October 31, 1950, and is the forerunner
of the current unmanned target vehicle used by AGWOEU.
The UK acquired a total of 267 examples and is now
the only country using Jindiviks. They have been
flown from the DERA operated airfield at Llanbedr
in Wales since 1960, and the current examples are
from the 700, 800 and 900 series. This latest version
is capable of speeds in excess of 500mph (800km/h)
and altitudes over 80,000ft (24,383m).
Although other countries often convert
full-size redundant aircraft to act as flying targets,
the Jindivik is currently the only aircraft in everyday
use by the RAF capable of regularly being exposed
to, and surviving, live missile firings during simulated
combat. This has not always been the case, as there
are now only 31 airframes remaining from the original
purchase of 267. Most of the 174 that were shot
down fell during the 1960s and 1970s - since 1990
this 'kill' rate has been drastically curtailed,
and currently averages 1.1 airframes per year, all
by accident rather than by design. If required,
perhaps for evaluation purposes of the incoming
missile or other 'operational reasons', the Jindivik
can be configured to carry a camera. The captured
information can then be perused at the crew debrief
or by development engineers.
Flown by a five-man team on the ground
operating via radio-command links, initial launch
is made from a steerable trolley positioned on the
runway at Llanbedr. This launch is carried out by
an Azimuth Controller (located behind the runway
threshold) and the Master Controller stationed in
the Control Tower. The mission is flown by a 'Skipper'
and 'Navigator' seated in a darkened control room
where the full range of mission data is displayed
via telemetry data transmitted from the Jindivik.
Final approach and landing (on a skid lowered under
the Jindivik on rejoining the circuit) is controlled
by a Pitch Controller and the Azimuth Controller.
For safety reasons, all Jindivik launches are accompanied
by a DERA-operated manned aircraft (usually Hawk
XX154), and in the unlikely event of a major drone
malfunction, the 'chase' aircraft pilot can order
the ground-initiated self-destruction of the Jindivik.
The Jindivik is powered by a Rolls-Royce
Viper jet engine (also used by the BAC Jet Provost)
and by design, most air-to air missiles lock onto
a heat source to home onto their targets. A means
of deflecting the incoming missile had to be devised
to prevent the Jindivik from being destroyed every
time it was flown. An onboard winch system was devised
that could send out one of two infra-red flares
on the end of a 200ft (61m) wire rope. The flare
then becomes the hot target for the incoming heat-
seeking missile. After the 'hostile' aircraft has
expended its missile, the spent flare is wound in
and the second flare is trailed out for a repeat
performance. The Jindivik has now completed well
over 7,000 operational sorties in the UK. Who said
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are a new creation?