RAF Harrier pilot Mark Zanker spoke to the Association on May 11th
about his experiences flying the Harrier GR7 in many theatres of
operation. The 19 year old Mark joined the RAF in 1981and trained as a
fast jet pilot. His first tour was on Jaguars at Coltishall after which
he transferred to Harrier GR3s at Gutersloh. After accumulating over
4000 hours in fast jets Mark left the RAF in 2000 to become an airline
pilot. He is now a captain for Cathay Pacific flying Boeing 747s.
Muslim Kosovo, part of Serbia about half the size of Wales, wanted independence and the Kosovo Liberation Army fought to get it resulting in a fierce Serbian response. Attempts at a diplomatic solution failed so NATO intervened on humanitarian grounds in 1999, supporting the KLA with air power. At Wittering the GR7s prepared to go to Gioia del Colle in the ‘heel’ of Italy which would be the NATO base for ‘Allied Force’ attacks. Paveway II laser guided bombs (LGBs) were to be used in conjunction with the Ferranti thermal imaging airborne laser designator (TIALD) pod with a TV sensor. Mark did work-up trials at the Wainfleet and Aberporth ranges.
The first attack after arrival at Gioia, after just one hour’s
preparation with a secret briefing on the position of Serbian forces,
was to be by six GR7s plus two airborne spares on Serbian army barracks
near Pristina. Prime Minister Blair had instructed that if there was
any doubt weapons were not to be dropped. Air to air refuelling was
carried out with VC.10s in total darkness without radio contact over
the Adriatic using night vision goggles (NVGs), forward looking
infrared (FLIR) and the ‘traffic lights’ on the tankers. The fighter
escort of Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s reported high speed
aircraft approaching and downed a Serbian MiG 29 with an advanced
medium range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM). Enemy air defence radars were
suppressed by USAF A-6s using high speed anti-radiation missiles
(HARMs). The plan was for three GR7s to locate and attack the target
with TIALD with the other three looking out for threats. The target was
seen on the FLIR display in the HUD and NVGs but certain identification
was not possible - so no attack.
In the first week of the campaign all operations were at night but by the second week the Serbian air force fighters and surface to air missiles (SAMs) had been neutralised so daylight operations commenced although portable SAMs and guns were still active. The Harriers also carried the long range optical (LOROP) reconnaissance pod to search for military activity. After quick processing and interpretation the information was passed to the USAF for A-10 attacks.
The GR7s used their LGB-TIALD combination to attack barracks, bridges, Bosnian snipers killing refugees and to provide air cover for the British Army. For the latter 24 hour cover was required, often flying low under cloud cover operating with forward air controllers (FACs). The air campaign lasted 77 days during which Mark flew forty operational sorties.
After a video and an interesting questions and answers session the vote of thanks for this detailed first hand talk packed with operational details was given by Frank Rainsborough.
Editor’s note - see NL.44 for more of Mark’s experiences in the RAF.