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Missile Practice Camp

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 web site.

The main article was written by David Hunter, and the Jindivik section by Derek Bower

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Clear To Fire

Three Tornado 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.

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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 cradle.
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

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).

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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?