The Mail on Sunday

The LuftRAFfe

British pilot and German navigator share Tornado in first-ever joint combat flights

- By Christophe­r Leake DEFENCE EDITOR

AN RAF pilot and an aviator from the Luftwaffe have flown together on a combat mission for the first time since Britain and Germany were bitter Second World War enemies.

The two airmen joined forces in the skies above Afghanista­n in the war against the Taliban.

Last night, the Ministry of Defence confirmed that an RAF flight lieutenant had piloted a Tornado GR4 supersonic jet with a German navigator behind him in the cockpit.

The Luftwaffe major – the equivalent of a squadron leader in the RAF – speaks perfect English and is said to have fitted in well with his British counterpar­ts at Kandahar air base.

The pair provided ‘top cover’ – alerting British and US ground troops on Taliban positions. It is understood that although their Tornado was loaded with bombs, they were not deployed.

Until now, RAF and Luftwaffe pilots and navigators have flown together only on slow-moving C-130 Hercules transport aircraft in Afghanista­n as part of a reciprocal scheme under which air crew are seconded to other Nato countries.

The new era of co-operation, however, has not prevented wags in the RAF’s 31 Squadron, based at Marham, Norfolk, from cracking the odd joke about the German navigator. An RAF source said: ‘There was a bit of banter when it was discovered that an RAF pilot was to fly with a Luftwaffe navigator. But he proved to be an outstandin­g profession­al and made a valuable contributi­on to protecting troops on the ground.

‘When you are in the air, there is only one issue: are you able to do your job to the required standard? In this navigator’s case, he proved himself more than up to the job.’

The German navigator is not only of a more senior rank than his British counterpar­t, he is also paid more.

The source added: ‘Squadron personnel understand that German air crew received about £100 a day more than their British counterpar­ts while in Afghanista­n.

‘This caused a fair amount of grumbling among the British air crew, but there was nothing they could do about it. Let’s face it, the Government isn’t likely to raise their pay.’

Another squadron source said: ‘The Second World War was a long time ago and we are more than happy to work closely with our German allies against a common enemy.’

The Tornado flown by the AngloGerma­n crew on 18 missions between December and January was armed with 500lb laser-guided Paveway IV bombs and Brimstone air-to-ground missiles. The Luftwaffe navigator – who, like the RAF pilot, cannot be identified for security reasons – was posted to Afghanista­n at the request of the German government, which wanted him to work with 31 Squadron, considered one of the RAF’s best.

The Luftwaffe operates a fleet of 115 Tornado fighter-bombers.

A Tornado GR4 and the RAF and Luftwaffe insignia
AFGHAN ALLIES: A Tornado GR4 and the RAF and Luftwaffe insignia

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