On October 12th Group Captain Peter Bedford spoke to the Association. Chris Roberts introduced him saying that his early life was at Primemeads Farm, Dunsfold Aerodrome,when his father, Bill Bedford, was Hawker’s Chief Test Pilot. At 18 he joined the Royal Air Force via the RAF College Cranwell and after his first tour on the C-130 Hercules he trained as a qualified flying instructor. He flew the aircraft in all roles, specialising in low level and air-drop, including operations with Special Forces, and in 1982 pioneered the introduction of air-to-air refuelling for use in the Falklands War. In 1991, during the First Gulf War, he commanded the Air Transport Detachment (ATD) at Riyadh throughout the air and ground wars, the subject of his talk.
    Peter started by saying that many are generally familiar with what happened when the UK was involved in operation Granby/Desert Storm to oppose Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2nd 1990, but perhaps not with the role played by the RAF’s Air Transport Force (ATF). This comprised 19 VC-10s and Tristars from Brize Norton and Lynham’s 56 strong Hercules force which conducted the bulk of the tasking, with in-theatre operations starting in November.
    At the time Peter was serving at Lyneham as OC 242 Operational Conversion Unit. From August 1990 he flew intensely on the Granby routes through Cyprus and further east. In January 1991, he moved to command the ATD at Riyadh/King Khaled International Airport (KKIA), Saudi Arabia, remaining in post until March. The ATD was formally established in November based in empty rooms in the unfinished Terminal 4.

RAF Hercules In-Theatre Operations During Gulf War I

    KKIA was a ‘hub‘, fed by daily Tristar flights, with the three deployed Hercules providing the in-theatre ‘spokes’ around the Gulf, re-supplying British forces at a wide variety of locations. The Royal New Zealand Air Force provided a welcome addition with two aircraft and three crews plus support elements, from 40 Sqn, Whenuapi, Auckland. As further UK deployments continued, in mid-January 1991 the detachment at KKIA was increased to seven RAF Hercules and 14 crews, with an additional engineering, movements, supply and support staffs. With the RNZAF the overall combined detachment was around 260.
    One of the problems at KKIA was ramp space. The ATD was sharing facilities with civil and military operators from many nations - including France. On arrival Peter found that there had not been much success in sorting out use of ramp space between the RAF Hercules and French C-160 Transalls. Happily it transpired that Peter knew the detachment commander from an exchange posting in France so the language barrier evaporated and quickly the problem was solved!
    Events moved swiftly and on 17 January, operation Desert Storm commenced and all out-of-theatre ATF and civil charter flights were suspended. On February 28th the air campaign began and within 12 hours requests for airlift began flowing in to HQ British Forces Middle East (BFME), also in Riyadh. The first sorties were flown on 18 January, just one day after the start of the air campaign.
    Much preparatory work had been done, especially crew training on desert low-level flying and natural strip landing, including at high all-up weights. However, many crews were either out of currency or were untrained in such skills so training was co-ordinated via a Mission Planning Cell, made up from an in-theatre crew, dedicated to this task. Their work included setting up an intelligence cell, the updating of crew in-flight operating guides and the establishment of Air Transit Routes (ATRs) in the overall Airspace Control Order. This latter aspect was vital, since not only did it enable the Hercules to operate to all Gulf locations, but it also de-conflicted these flights from the many thousand flown daily by coalition fast jet forces.
    In the cell was an experienced captain who had completed an exchange tour with the USAF and had spent many years with the RAF Hercules Special Forces. This gave him a wide understanding of USAF tasking procedures - a skill which proved to be fundamental to ATF operations during Desert Storm. In another coincidence an American friend of Peter’s, from his time on exchange, was Deputy Chief of the USAF Airspace Co-ordination and Planning team, and he was thus able to have unofficial, but vital, advanced access to the air campaign maps and procedures.
    Regarding aircrew procedures the use of ATRs was the major change affecting the aircrew after the transition to wartime procedures. The ATRs were operated under visual flight rules only, with strict limitations on navigational accuracy to remain within the necessary lateral bounds - plus or minus 2 nautical miles. A further complication was that they were available at one level only, with two-way traffic separated laterally, including at night. Poor en route weather would require a 180 degree turn and a lost mission. However, throughout Desert Storm only one sortie was lost due to weather out of more than 1300 flown. Helpful, in the event of bad weather, was the availability of low-level aeromedical evacuation routes. On many occasions the weather was not good; it was one of the wettest periods in the region ever.
    A difficulty was the limitations of the Hercules avionics fit, with all navigation aids turned off above 27 degrees north. The aircraft had no suitable internal aids and was not fitted with Mode 4 IFF (Identification Friend or Foe). Hence the basic technique of map, compass and stopwatch was used. Lack of Mode 4 IFF was a concern on safety grounds, since it was the primary means of identifying friendly assets and the Hercules was one of the few aircraft without it. There was concern about the possibility of ‘blue on blue’ engagements, considering the intensity of air operations, with more than 100,000 sorties being flown during the entire 6-week air campaign; an average of over 2,000 per day.
    In the broader picture, the ATD operated to a wide variety of bases in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, and to many lesser-used airfields. Also use was made of an old oil company semi-prepared strip, 4,000 feet long and 60 ft wide, with a tyre-consuming flinty surface. However, it provided a convenient lifting-off point for over 7,000 troops of the British Armoured Division, moving them towards their forward location whence they were transported by Chinook helicopter nearer the Iraqi positions. ‘Combat loading‘ was used, where the freight bay was left empty of seats and the troops sat on the floor . Restraint was by strops across the fuselage which the troops pulled over themselves as they sat down. This RNZAF technique enabled the customers to enter and exit quickly and gave the flexibility to load vehicles and other freight.
    Low level flying became routine, operating on the ‘pipeline route’ and, given the strip operations and the demands of bad weather and sandstorms, the crews became expert in a wide variety of skills. After hostilities broke out it became evident that all Hercules crews should be low-level and strip qualified, and the aircraft had to be strip-prepared with, for example, under-body protection and reinforced tyres.
    In parallel was a major effort to build up the expertise on aero-medical evacuation. This plan catered for 1,000 allied casualties per day but, thankfully, it was never used and all tasks were dealt with on a reactive basis and numbered less than a dozen flights in all. Two more dirt strips were trialled, one adjacent to two field hospitals and the second close to the rear elements of the British Armoured Division. This second strip became the scene of hectic movements as last-minute supplies were flown in. Also conducted was a trial air drop just a few hundred metres to the west of this strip, using the expertise of our air despatch personnel. All went well, but again, this capability was never used in anger.
    On the last day of the ground campaign, the ATD Hercules flew two of the first fixed-wing missions into Kuwait city, the first bearing the keys to the British Embassy and the second carrying the Ambassador himself.
    Peter then turned to the special forces (SF) Hercules of 47 Sqn, which deployed into theatre early in the operation, and were independent of the ATD. These were fitted with Mk 4 IFF, and limited self-protection equipment - but did not have a sophisticated avionics fit – they, also had very good navigators! They trained with their SF ground-based customers and practiced other skills such as strip landings, by day and night, fighter evasion and the rapid loading and unloading of troops and vehicles. Ultra low-level flying was another necessary skill, and was conducted also at night, but this proved difficult over desert terrain since starlight gave insufficient illumination whereas the reflections from a full moon were too bright. Thus, the useful period for safe night vision goggle operations was limited. However, numerous re-supply runs were conducted and the first Iraqi prisoners of war were flown back to Riyadh. Also, during the retaking of Kuwait, troops and communications equipment were transported to Kuwait airport. Routing at low level, through the burning oil fields, the first crew arrived to find the runway completely undamaged.
    However, fuel supplies at the airport were contaminated so the crew were quickly involved in Forward Air Refuelling Procedures, or “farping”. Over the course of a few hours, the crew dispensed fuel to over 20 coalition helicopters enabling them to continue with ongoing operations. Without going into further detail, suffice to say that the SF crews were able to perform a wide variety of demanding tasks and were a key element of Hercules involvement in Granby.
    Anyone who flew into Kuwait immediately after the ceasefire was met by the nightmarish scenes of burning oil wells and the wanton destruction on the ground. Descending below 5,000 ft one went suddenly from clear blue sky into pitch black and all the cockpit lights had to be turned on. Break-through happened at around 3,000 ft, and there lay the oil fires. The ferocity with which they were burning, the amount of smoke that was being pushed out, and the sheer number of fires, right across the horizon, was almost incomprehensible. Indeed, over the coming weeks, the pollution became much worse and at times the runway was not seen until very late on finals.
    On the ground everything in and around the terminal that could not be looted was either broken or vandalised and there was a great danger of unexploded ordnance. Also amongst our own forces there were issues regarding ‘trophies‘. There were even tales of live hand grenades being sent back by the troops to Germany via the BFPO (British Forces Post Office). Not surprisingly, General Sir Peter de la Billière, Commander-in-Chief British Forces Middle East, issued a strict edict that trophies were not to be brought back from Kuwait or Iraq. Just after the ceasefire, an ATD Hercules flew him into Kuwait City airport, along with the UK Defence Secretary, Tom King. After conducting his business, Sir Peter came back in one of the New Zealand Hercules,and as he stepped onto the aircraft he looked back into the freight bay and saw a huge Iraqi ant-aircraft gun; somehow the Kiwis managed to talk themselves out of this ‘offence’. Peter found out later during a trip to New Zealand that they had managed to hide the gun at Riyadh, aided and abetted by UK military forces!
    In conclusion, Peter said, the overall achievements of the combined RAF/RNZAF detachment at Riyadh were impressive. He showed slides of statistics which reflected great credit on the ATD engineering, movements and support staff who did a marvellous job in sustaining the work rate, both in maintaining the airframes and coping with the vast flow of troops and freight. The operations staff and aircrew showed great flexibility in dealing with a wide variety of tasks, often under very trying circumstances. Indeed, this was a team effort and co-operation between all elements was outstanding. Morale was high and the team responded tremendously well to the many demands placed upon it. And finally, the Royal New Zealand Air Force element performed superbly, and integrated effectively, wholeheartedly and with boundless enthusiasm.
    On March 23rd 1991 Peter returned from KKIA to Lyneham. On arrival he flew a circuit at 500 feet, banking gently over Arrivals Terminal, landed and taxied slowly in with Union Jack flying to be met by Station Commander, families and champagne! It was good to be home after a memorable ten weeks away!
    The vote of thanks for this excellent and enlightening first hand account was given by Frank Rainsborough. To see a much fuller exposition of the above summary visit the Association on-line video library. A link to the Video Libray can be obtained by emailing
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