Physics and flying in New Mexico
Lt Col Thorsten Weber didn’t blink from an apparent – albeit perhaps slightly miss-thrown – curveball from one hack (the author perhaps?) who asked if hot weather conditions in New Mexico adversely affected performance from the Tornado’s twin RB 199 turbofans.
Pausing for thought, he delivered an exasperated response. ‘It’s physics!’ he cried.
The commander of the German Air Force (GAF) logistics group at Holloman AFB, found himself in the unenviable position of having to brief a bunch of journalists and show them around the various buildings and facilities that make up the GAF’s Flying Training Center.
Who knew that hundreds of German armed forces personnel and more than a dozen of the Luftwaffe’s Tornado single and twin-seat fast jets are permanently based at Holloman in the hot desert of New Mexico?
Just me then. In any event the visit provided fabulous access to the little enclave nestled deep within the confines of the USAF’s premier UAV training site. It’s the biggest and most significant deployment of German personnel in the US, who have been there since 1999 after moving from RAF Cottesmore (because of the weather, or not, more on that below).
In 2014 the detachment saw 24 pilots graduate, 1,200 inert bombs dropped and 14,500 rounds of ammunition fired.
‘We can’t do this in Germany. [Here] we have 6,000 square miles of airspace, which would cover one or two of the federal German states. There are also low transit times from take-off to exercise area,’ said Weber.
The 15 aircraft aren’t relics from pre-industry either as 85 of the total GAF fleet are undergoing a range of upgrades, particularly in the electronics and displays, with the refitted version gradually replacing their counterparts at Holloman. The wing should be fully up to strength and upgraded by next year.
But what advantages are there in training in hot, dry conditions?
Weber was ready with the answer, saying, ‘This [training] area is similar [in environment] to areas that are causing trouble at the moment.’
Make of that what you will.
Meanwhile, the on-base Tornado simulator, sitting like a giant pétanque ball in the middle of an air-conditioned – but humidified – room (it helps the computers), is also due to be upgraded next year by CAE to meet the new Tornado specs.
The training isn’t just in the air, as a small army of technicians and maintenance personnel swarm over parked jets, which sit contentedly waiting in shaded hangars for their next chance to head to the open skies above a New Mexico desert.
The contract for the training programme is due to expire in 2019, which then extends on a year-by-year basis. The upgrades to the GAF’s Tornado fleet will keep it relevant into the next decade.
By which time the author of this piece will have gotten over the embarrassment.