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Coming up in AFM: Typhoon over Oman

Photo: Once qualified, RAFO pilots are permitted to fly as low as 50ft away from built-up areas. Despite the shift to medium-level operations for many of today’s combat missions, 8 Squadron continues to train at low level over the desert and through the mountains. RAFO

 

In an AFM exclusive for the forthcoming May issue, Derek Bower travelled to the Gulf to witness the introduction of the Eurofighter Typhoon with the Royal Air Force of Oman.

Established as recently as 1959 as the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force, the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) gained its current title on August 1, 1990. The RAFO operated with donated ex-British RAF aircraft in its infancy but has progressed to operate some of the most advanced aircraft available. The arrival of the first RAFO Typhoons in Oman in June 2017 not only boosted the force’s capabilities but further enhanced the continuing relationship between the Gulf nation and the UK.

The Typhoon conversion course is progressing so well that the only limiting factor in graduating more pilots is having only 12 Typhoons. Aircraft serviceability rates allow two or three waves each day – depending on sortie profiles, there can be up to six aircraft per sortie. Derek Bower

Initial RAFO interest in the Typhoon dates back to at least 2004 and formal negotiations began in 2008. They were followed in December 2012 by a contact for 12 Typhoons and eight new Hawk Mk166 Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs).

Three BAE Systems pilots, all familiar with delivering aircraft to the Middle East, flew the first two twin-seat aircraft to Oman from the BAE Systems Warton facility in Lancashire. The fourth pilot, Wing Commander Bader Al Jabri was the new commanding officer of 8 Squadron RAFO, formed to operate the Typhoon.

From a total order for 12 Typhoons, nine were to single-seat Tranche 3 P1EB jets standard capable of delivering a range of air-to-ground weapons. Derek Bower

Down low in the desert

When asked about the daily flying routine, the 8 Squadron boss replied: “Having vast expanses of open airspace in the central region of Oman, available training airspace does not pose many problems.” He added: “Fortunately very few flying days are lost to poor weather”. Al Jabri confirmed such conditions quickly allowed the syllabus to settle into a pattern, which incorporates the 6 Squadron Hawks based at Masirah AB just 150 miles (240km) away from the Typhoon base at Adam AB. The Typhoons and Hawks generally meet mid-distance to conduct sortie profiles planned for the day, and the Hawks provide a valuable combat instruction capability.

To further enhance their skills, RAFO pilots are allowed to fly as low as 50ft (15m) away from built-up areas, once qualified. The squadron still trains in this challenging regime, although as Al Jabri explained: “Today’s modern weapons systems often negate the need for extreme low-level flying, although it still remains an option for operational flying, so we continue to train over the desert and through the mountains.”

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As expected, the three two-seat Typhoons have now logged the most flying hours as they train new pilots for the force. As of last December, RAFO serial 200 was the ‘fleet-leader’ with over 160 flying hours logged. Derek Bower

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