Lt Cdr Ian Sloan spoke to the Association on May 10th about his wide ranging career in naval aviation. In fact the talk was something of a finale as Ian was retiring from the Royal Navy the next day and departing for New Zealand.

Having studied civil engineering Ian joined the Royal Navy in 1998, was posted to 801 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) in 2002 where he served in Ark Royal and Invincible, flew Sea Harrier FRS2 AMRAAM trials at Point Mugu, went to RAF Valley as a Hawk instructor, flew RN Harrier GR9s at Cottesmore and operationally in Kandahar, flew RN Hawks on the RN Flying Standards staff at Yeovilton and was commander there of the RN Historic Flight, was an exchange officer with the French Navy flying Super Etendards off the Charles de Gaulle then returned to the UK as the RN Desk Officer for the F-35B programme.

A Golden Thread - Shar To F-35

Toptop toptoptoptoptop

Having flown the Sea Harrier FRS2 for a considerable time Ian missed the radar when he converted to the Harrier GR7 and joined Joint Force 2000 as the Sea Harrier was retired. The task of the Harrier force in Afghanistan was ground attack with mixed stores configurations of bombs, rockets, reconnaissance pods and tanks. Up to two hours could be flown without air to air refuelling. The Harriers operated for six years alternating with the Tornado force back and forth between the UK and Kandahar .

As the fixed wing standards officer Ian was essentially the Central Flying School agent checking up on the skills of the “old and bold” FRADU (Fleet Requirements and Aircraft Direction Unit) Hawk pilots at Culdrose, and giving instruction, a daunting task for a relatively young officer.

Ian flew the Sea Hawk, Swordfish and Sea Fury of the RN Historic Flight and deemed the former his “favourite little jet” with enough speed to get to Scotland from Yeovilton in a reasonable time for an air show. The Swordfish was “a handfull; a big, big aeroplane” with such a low cruising speed that sorties away from base required a lot of planning. The Sea Fury was “a great Hawker aircraft”.

    Then came the…..Super Etendard or ‘Super E’. This aircraft came about when the French Navy wanted to buy F-18s. Marcel Dassault said that would make 5,000 of his workers redundant and offered a 75%-new version of the 1950s vintage Etendard instead. Ian said they were still looking for the 75%.

After completing a French language course Ian arrived in France as an exchange officer expecting to fly. However, the French Navy was not expecting this as no funding had arrived, but after some RN-Aeronavale haggling it was agreed that he would become a non-operational but carrier qualified ‘Super E’ pilot. To achieve this 60 flying hours were needed. An administrative problem was that as the Etendard was nearing the end of its service career there was no longer any training organisation, no operational conversion unit, not even an instructional flight, because no new pilots would be converting to the type! Ground school had manuals in English and the squadron pilots were very helpful.

Ian learned ‘on the job’ covering air combat (a bit - it’s not a ‘Super E’ forte), air to surface attack and flying the Exocet launch profiles. There were no two-seat ‘Super Es’ so all early sorties were chased. After aggregating 50 hours Ian started on Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) and spent most of the next ten hours in the circuit with the landing safety officers (LSO) until they were satisfied that Ian was safe to land on Charles de Gaulle which had only three arrester wires.

Ian became fully carrier qualified and flew 85 hours on the ‘Super E’ including duties as Air Wing Operations Officer with the squadron deployed on Charles de Gaulle east of Suez, in the Gulf and to Djibouti in the horn of Africa. Whilst with 17 Squadron back at Landivisiau Naval Air Base Ian had the chance to fly ‘Super E’ No.17 on its last flight before retirement, so to give it a good send-off, Ian took it to all the limits: +8g, -2g, supersonic and so on. He had enjoyed his time with the squadron, a great team, now converted to Rafale.

Ian also told us about his current (until ‘tomorrow’) work as F-35 Capability Manager in the Queen Elizabeth Class Capability Delivery Team looking at how the ship will support the aircraft and how the aircraft will operate around the ship. He reports directly to an admiral, not to the Lightning Team which includes the RAF whose ideas are centred on operating from land bases. Success depends on relationships which are much improved over the acrimonious Joint Force Harrier days. The STOVL F-35B has a small range deficit when compared with the CTOL F-35A so the RAF would prefer that model. The UK wants 138 aircraft and has committed to 48, enough for four squadrons at two squadrons per ship. The outstanding 90 aircraft may possibly include F-35As to replace Tornadoes. Of the 48, BK9 (the 9th B model for the UK)has just been delivered.

No. 17 Squadron is flying three UK aircraft with five pilots on Opeval (operational evaluation) at Edwards Air Force Base, California. UK pilots are also flying with the USMC at MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Beaufort. No 617 Squadron will form in early 2018 in the US, move to RAF Marham in mid 2018 and achieve IOC (initial operating capability) at the end of the year. Over the next two years the maritime capability will be built up, starting with two aircraft operating on the Queen Elizabeth off the US east coast in late 2018.

Ian has also been flying the Ship Integration (cockpit) Simulator (SIM), flying VLs and SRVLs (short rolling vertical landings) which allow an increase of 2000 lb in landing weight over the VL weight. Adjacent to and integrated with the SIM is the Flyco Simulator where flying controllers can practice their skills. At the RN School of Flight Deck Operations at Culdrose Sea Harrier F/A 2s are being used to train deck crew marshallers etc. Two plastic F-35s, which can be filled with water to reach representative weights, are being used to teach ground handling procedures. RN pilots are also being posted to USN squadrons flying F-18s for carrier experience and to USMC squadrons flying AV-8B Harriers for STOVL work.

Ian had entertained the Members with many anecdotes which can’t be adequately reported so the above represents just the more significant parts of his talk. The vote of thanks was given by naval aviation enthusiast Frank Rainsborough.