Welcome to my website, which is aimed at keeping people up to date with the latest news and features, on what I fine interesting.
I’ve been fascinated by military aviation since I was a youngster, initially hanging around outside RAF Mildenhall, as a plane spotter, with my father who was in the RAF. But the interest gained real impetus when I moved to RAF Wildenrath in 1975, where Harrier GR1/T2s operated by 3,4 and 20 Sqn were based. During my time there they transitioned to the GR3/T4s and later in 1976 they left for RAF Gutersloh. No 20 converted to Jaguars at RAF Bruggen and Phantom FGR2s of 19 and 92 Sqn moved in. If all that wasn’t enough there was also the Army Air Corps/669 Sqn Beavers/Scouts, and 60 Sqn Pembrokes and Andovers. That first summer, I spent much of my time at the aircraft terminal, which saw regular Britannia Airways trooping flights but had one great advantage – you could see the visitors board in the Visitors Aircraft Section! It all seems like yesterday.
The downside was I got in trouble for taking photos, it was the height of the Cold War so after the summer ended, I took to cycling from my house at Erkelenz to the end of the runway. I spent most of my three summers sitting there, close to the village of Tuschenbroich photographing aircraft as they came in on my Praktica camera regardless of what the weather was like. There were some fantastic visitors including three Royal Danish Air Force Chipmunks as well as lots of NATO fighters including many Starfighters. I got to meet a few of the older German spotters, who would note down the time of departure for every aircraft and their return time. That’s of course if they did return – in the mid-70s several of the Harriers unfortunately crashed, claiming the lives of many pilots.
Norvenich wasn’t so far away, so four-ships of JbG 31 ‘Boelcke’ T/F-104Gs regularly flew over my house. When RAF Wildenrath was shut for runway repairs in 1977 I would then cycle the extra 12 or so miles to RAF Bruggen, which took on the visiting aircraft responsibilities. It also provided me with a chance to catch up with the 14, 17, 20 and 31 Sqn Jaguars there. But by far the best time was in 1978 when RAF Wildenrath hosted the Tactical Air Meet – we had over 40 aircraft based for two weeks, many unusually wearing white codes on the tails. Those were my formative years, when I noted all the details of these aircraft and memorised all the squadron badges as well as the orders of battles for most NATO countries.
My father was subsequently posted to RAF Honington. We lived in Thetford so I cycled down to my local RAF base to see the Buccaneers during 78/79 as well as RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath. By then, military aviation was in my blood so whenever I could, I would spend most of my time visiting the many air bases in East Anglia at that time. In 1984 I went with friends to the USA for five weeks, and drove 16,000 miles. Flew into Seattle, then drove down the west coast headed along the southern reaches zig zagging up and down to visit the Air Training Command T-37/T-38 bases, before reaching Florida. Then headed up the east coast to New York and finally home for a rest. The trip saw regular drives through the night, but we were all so keen in them days it never mattered.
By 1988, I was living in Peterborough and with a friend we launched ‘Strobe’ magazine for aircraft spotters, handing the first issue out free at the end of the runway at RAF Alconbury at the start of a big deployment. It was a huge hobby then, and with plenty of people around we went home with none of the issue left. We quickly developed a reputation for our accurate timely reporting and were so successful we had to buy a big 20 bin photocopier to reproduce the pages we printed off from our Amstrad 9512s. Those were the days before the internet, so the trick was to get the magazine out as quickly as possible with the latest news, movements and upcoming deployments etc. Within two years we had 600 subscribers from all over the world. We initially ran mini bus tours to the Europe, then in 1991 after a restructure with ‘Strobe’, I started running aviation tours to the USA. I was often the youngest, responsible sometimes for running three minibuses on a trip with around 20 people partaking in some long and arduous days. Stamina was a must! They were really great days, with so many different personalities participating. Throughout the 90s I ran two US trips a year, one to the west coast and then alternate with Texas ‘Bit In The Middle’ and East Coast. At one stage we were even running BAC 1-11 trips to airshows in Europe too!
All this interest in publishing and the media, took a bit of a grip and by 1993 I was giving up my accounting studies – the lure of travel and running ‘Strobe’ was much more exciting. In 1993 I made my first exotic trip overseas, to the Sri Lanka Air Force. Until then I had spent all my time travelling around Europe, the USA and a solitary visit to South Africa.
Even now nearly 25 years on I can still recall my excitement at seeing my first ever Chinese built Shaanxi Y-8 at Katunayake Air Base that year. I wasn’t allowed to take any photos on the active side of the facility, although I couldn’t help watching the HS748s and Harbin Y-12s that resided there. Instead my camera was focussed on the new museum which had opened the previous year. Fortunately, during the many subsequent visits photography was never a problem, as the SLAF became more confident in my work. Sadly, that Y-8 crashed, claiming the lives of those on board three years later. It was to be a common story during my eight visits to the SLAF during the height of the Tamil War and many of the good people I had met, including the OC of 7 Sqn at Minneriya-Hingarukgoda lost their lives during that period. In 1994 I left my job in accountancy to run ‘Strobe’ and take up a part time job as archivist with Key Publishing in Stamford, which was only ten miles down the road from where I lived. By mid-1995 I had joined AirForces Monthly (www.airforcesmonthly.com) as Assistant Editor, when my interests moved from being an aircraft spotter to journalist (I took journo exams a few years later) and photographer. I eventually became Editor of AFM in 1998.
By now I had developed a taste for writing about what I termed ‘exotic’ air forces and in May 2001 visited the Pakistan Air Force for the first time, as a guest of Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir (who was sadly killed in a plane crash in February 2003 while in office). Since then I have been privileged to visit the PAF a further 15 times. I have watched it evolve into one of the most respected and professional air forces in the world, which now runs its own blossoming aerospace industry under the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex. The facility is building the JF-17 Thunder fighter in collaboration with China; while at the same time producing the Super Mushshak primary trainer. My experiences with the PAF has also help me, to understand Pakistani culture and interact with some of the friendliest people on the planet. A far cry from the poor press the country has faced in recent years.
Nine months after my first visit to Pakistan, I returned to Katanuyake Air Base, Sri Lanka, to carry out an air to air photo sortie with the new K-8 Karakoram advanced jet trainers. I was quite surprised to find three Pakistan Air Force instructor pilots there, training SLAF pilots. One of them, Sqn Ldr SM Ali who flew me has become a great friend, and even ran the Directorate of Media Affairs for three years until his retirement as an Air Commodore this July. During my time working with the PAF I have written many features, two JF-17 supplements and two books on the modern era. The most recent, Attaining New Heights was printed in April 2017, ‘and is available in the Shop section.
That’s not to say I haven’t written much about the UK Armed Forces. Over the years I have written a lot about the Harrier – probably because of my teenage years in Germany, as well as many other subjects including the Typhoon. I wrote a one-off for the Eurofighter in 2014 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the jet.
It was an immense privilege being the Editor of AirForces Monthly for 13 years but by late 2010 I needed a new challenge and stepped down as the editor. The digital world excited me and the opportunity to open up my work to a worldwide audience. I worked with Key Publishing to launch AirForces Daily, a digital news feed in August 2012 before leaving as an employee to go freelance. I still remain loyal to the Key Publishing cause, and continue working on the editorial team as World Air Forces Correspondent. However, not getting involved in the daily grind of publishing and the responsibilities that come with being an editor has allowed me to travel more and focus on some of the subjects I enjoy most. In recent years I have become fascinated with the special mission role and the systems – covering aircraft which are used mainly for extracting information from its sensors focussed on the ground, with all kinds of different technologies. They can be both military and civilian registered, and cover such roles as maritime patrol, pollution control, SIGINT (Signals Intelligence), ELINT (Electronics Intelligence), airborne-fire fighting, gunships, search and rescue, AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control), AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning and Control). Airborne electronic warfare is another subject I find myself becoming increasingly fascinated with too
So why not keep up to date on all the subjects and news that I find interesting at Warnesy’s World of Military Aviation.