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Tactical Landings at Pembrey

 

   

Whenever there is a need for an off airfield landing to be made by the RAF be it as a humanitarian mission, or an operational requirement within a combat region a landing area has to be marked out. Known as a Tactical LandingZone, the responsibility for setting one up normally falls on a small unit within the RAF called the Tactical Air Traffic Control. This small unit of specialist ATCís come under the control of Hercules Force Headquarters (HFHQ). The conception of the Tac ATC unit began during the Falklands conflict when they were tasked to set up landing areas onthe damaged airfields. Since then the unit has been sent around the globe preparing strips. One such significant setup in recent times was what is now the operational airfield at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan; this was initially set up and run by the Tac ATC. They now have a commitment to train other Air Forces personnel on how to set up a TLZ. Over the years the members of HFHQ have trained up numerous personnel in the role of Tactical Landing Zone Officer (TLZO) many of these from various Army units. Now with the ongoing commitments of the NATO forces within Afghanistan, the units teaching skills are again very much in demand. This time by NATO Air Forces because of the growing requirement to spread the load missions among the other nations involved, this inevitably meant that these nations take control of all aspects of operations too. A programme for training NATO forces is now in the process of being implemented. Normally working in pairs the Controllers can setup a landing zone within a couple of hours, carrying all they need in a couple of backpacks. The set up begins with an assessment of the ground and the best direction for the landing strip, after which a methodical inspection is made by painstakingly walking the site and testing the ground with a Ground Soil Assessment Cone Penetrometer. This piece of equipment measures how compact the soil is and whether or not it can withstand the weight of an aircraft on it. Next begins the installation of the visual markers of which six are used. In day light, fluorescent / day glo Panels are used. In the dark Tactical Aircraft Lighting (TALS) would be used, these can be set into various modes utilising white light or infrared. To install the markers first a marker is placed in at one end of the field and used as a reference then with aid of a hand held theodolite a straight line can be struck and another marker placed at the opposite end of the field. The width of the landing strip is paced out and marked at both ends of the strip, once these are checked with the theodolite to see if both edges of the strip are parallel. A box shape is created using the remaining two markers at the threshold end of the strip. Itís within this box that the landing aircraft must touch down.

 

 

On this occasion the setup on the sands at the Pembery Range started very early in the morning, with the Tactical Landing Zone Officer (TLZO) following the tide out, making a visual inspection of the sands. The state of the sands can be affected by the weather in that if after a windy period the sands can become rutted, with quite deep ripple marks that give the affect of travelling over rumble strips and although the aircraft can coupe easily with this, the tasking was for a number of crews to alternate during the time slot and make numerous landings. Understandably the constant shacking would become very tedious. With this in mind and plus the fact that the rippled sand was a little on the soft side the decision was made to layout and mark the beach away from the sea and nearer the land.

 After setting up the landing panels another visual is carried out for FOD removing all the flotsam and jetsam away so as to avoid it becoming ingested by the aircraft whilst on the beach. Upon completion a call too HFHQ is made informing them that the TLZ was ready. With every setup the TLZOís gain valuable experience however these exercises are not just for the TLZ setups, itís a valuable part of aircrew training too. There is a requirement for all C130 crews to remain current with flying duties whilst operating the C130 off airfield and prove their ability to carry out landings and take offs from unprepared surfaces in daylight and in the dark. On this occasion the crews being credited with off airfield operating were from 47Sqn Lyneham. The aircraft in use was XV196 C130K Hercules Mk1

The RAF have a number of places at their disposal on which they can practice off airfield operations the most frequently used are on Salisbury Plain and at the RAF Pembrey range. When these tasks are undertaken in a training scenario or exercise the TLZOís would be accompanied by a Medical team and a full Fire Crew who remain on standby for the duration. The team now face a packed program for the future which will inevitably mean a lot of travel in the execution of their unique branch of Air Traffic Control