RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

It’s Not ALWAYS Excitment, Adventure And Really Wild Things…

I bought myself a MacBook at the weekend and I am currently spending exciting evenings ripping my CD collection into iTunes. It’s pretty tedious but is necessary as my previous iTunes libraries were in a shocking state with loads of different bit-rates, different import volumes and even different file name structures. But it is a task that needs to be done- as dull as it seems, indeed someone commented on Twitter that ripping in the 700 or so CD’s was going to be “a dull job”.

And that got me thinking. I’ve had some great jobs in the RAF. Some really exciting, go getting, cut and thrusting, cutting edge jobs, which I know have been important and interesting and could even have made a difference to, well, the RAF if not the world in general.

And one of those was working in a Trials and Development Team on an electronic warfare bit of equipment that I can’t really talk about, but a side task of that job was working on the defensive aids equipment that was fitted to the Tornados.

The more military minded of you will be very familiar with Chaff and Flare systems – these are basically boxes of gizmos that are fitted to try and protect the aircraft from either ground or air-launched missiles. The Chaff system will launch a load of metallic strips that confuse enemy radars, whilst the Flare system will launch a very hot flare out of the back of the aircraft which will try to act as a decoy for heat seeking missiles to lock onto. So, as they would effectively be the last line of defence and COULD save a pilot and navigators life – it was important that they were in good working order.

Part of my job was to “accept” these boxes into service. They were a relatively new bit of kit and had just been delivered to the RAF from the manufacturers. As such, before they were fitted to the aircraft, they needed to be checked to make sure they worked correctly, which meant that each item had to be opened from its transit packaging, fitted to the test rig, had a full functional check carried out, paperwork raised and completed, then re-packaged for transfer to storage.

And we would receive these boxes in batches from “the company” (as we called it). Often we would receive over 40 aircraft fits at a time – and with 5 boxes needed to make up an aircraft fit that was sometimes over 200 boxes that needed to be checked.

The test rig was semi-automatic, a PC based system which was plugged into the box and a diagnostic test software routine was run. But it was only SEMI-automatic. It needed the operator to press the return key to move from one section in the test onto the next, and each sections test results had to be written down. Each test would take about 20 minutes to run…It was so dull that people would do anything to get out of that task. When we knew that there was a delivery due in, one of the team once actually volunteered to go on guard!

As the job was not exciting, it would often be left to the night-shift to plod through, so the day-shift could concentrate on the important and urgent matter that came up with our primary bit of kit, but the nightshift would be stiffed with the massive pile of boxes that would take up most of the bay that we worked in.

And it could become quite chaotic, unless the person doing the testing was organised then there would be boxes all over the place. Flo-pack packaging “wotsits” would be all over the floor – paperwork would be forgotten and left out, or else the wrong paperwork would be put in with the wrong box…it had the potential to be a real pain in the backside – unless as I say you were very organised…

It was quite honestly the worst job I have ever done, made worse by the fact that if a box DID fail a test then the standard operating procedure was to re-run the test…and of course the failure would have been to a software glitch, and it would pass the next one. I can’t remember there being a real failure with ANY of the boxes that came through. But we had to test them anyway…

And that’s the thing about the military isn’t it. It’s like a lot of jobs I suppose (although I have only ever had one other employer other than the RAF and that was when I was 16!), in that there are good parts of the job and there are bad parts. But unlike a lot of jobs out there this job – as dull as it was – could result in someone’s life being on the line – Just imagine, a crew are flying over BAD people’s lands and they get locked on my an enemy radar – a missile is launched against them and they press the button to launch the chaff and flare defensive aids – and nothing happens…the consequences are horrible to think about, but they would be there each time we plugged the boxes into the test rig. It was dull, but it was also important that it was done right…

This one was definitely one of the worse tasks I have done…and in relation to me having to rip my CD’s into iTunes it was far, far duller! But it is interesting because as I did this last night – I noticed that I had organised myself into a little system that I could see was similar to the one I used to do in the bay back then. I guess it’s just another example of how being in the RAF has changed and trained me to do things in as organised and an efficient manner as possible. Maybe the worst job I ever did was good for something after all…

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