During the last 23 years the RAF has supplied 2 Flight Engineers (FE’s) to supplement NATO’s TCA squadron. During this time only 12 airmen have covered this demanding but enjoyable overseas tasking. Based at the NATO airbase at Geilenkirchen in northwest Germany, they flew the unique Boeing 707 combi’s, which were typically configured to carry 6 or 7 pallets and a variable number of passengers dependent on pallet numbers. These aircraft were first in, last out whenever the NATO E3A’s and the RAF E3D’s deployed either on operations or exercises. In the early days the aircraft were used extensively to train aircrews converting to the E3A, circuits and AAR being a large commitment for the TCA Flight Engineers.
The RAF commitment started when a shortage within NATO of Flight Engineers was highlighted to the RAF. With a surplus within the RAF, 2 FE’s were offered as an additional voluntary contribution to the NATO AEW force. They quickly proved their worth and the rest is history. Operating mostly outside of the RAF, with minimal support from the UK, they proved an invaluable asset, using their undoubted skills both in the flying role and within the training and evaluation divisions at Geilenkirchen.
The role was to be a Flight Engineer in a multi national environment, flying often at short notice to anywhere on the planet. The diplomatic skills were often just as important as pure flying skills. With pilots from any of the NATO countries flying together, often not having met before, the professionalism of the FE was essential.
The RAF can be proud of the job done by this small band of dedicated personnel, over the 23 year period they are: Listed as they flew the jet.
Dave Mort & Clive Bailey
Phil McConville & Tom Fortune
Andy Tomlinson & Paul Boyd
Andy Mackay & Tony Dale
Al Graham & Steve Hammond
Moose Moxon & Tony Dale (again)
A list of notable events includes being the 1st NATO marked jet into Sarajevo and the Former Soviet Union, with the furthest east being Ulan Ude in Outer Mongolia. Islamabad in Pakistan, for earthquake relief (twice). Hurricane Katrina relief in the USA and also Haitian relief flights. Whatever NATO has done, the TCA and her crews were there first.
The end of this era began in August 2010 when the first TCA was flown direct to the Bone Yard in Arizona, its longest ever non-stop flight of 11.4 hours. The second aircraft was retired to Ingolstadt, Germany, on 26 September 2011 with the third retired to the school of aviation at Maastrict airport on 22 December 2011.
On the last TCA flight the 2 RAF FE’s at Geilenkirchen represented the RAF by both being onboard this end of an era event. MEng Tony Dale and MEng Moose Moxon had the honor of operating the last flight of the TCA.
Major General Steven Schmidt, Commander of the NATO AEW Force, said “he had never known such a small unit of men and aircraft do so much or deliver for so many with a near 100% mission success rate.”
Both the FE’s will return to the UK shortly with both having been made redundant as a result of the SDSR.