Gary Parsons reports from RAF Coltishall on what could be the last deployment of Polish Air Force Su-22 Fitters to the Norfolk base
'Lone Cat' 05 began at Coltishall on 9 June as four Su-22 Fitters from
6/7 elt (Eskadry Lotnictwa Taktycznego - Tactical Aviation Squadron) of
the Polska Wojska Lotnicze i Obrony Powietrznej (Polish Air Force &
Air Defence Force) arrived at Coltishall for an eight-day stay. On exchange
with the RAF's 6 Squadron, it was the latest in a series of exchanges
by the Jaguar and Fitter units, and possibly the last to be seen in Norfolk.
Led by Lt Col Jacek 'Limahl' Lazarczyk, 6 elt is based at Powidz and is effectively the OCU for Su-22 pilot training - pilots eventually transfer to 7 elt once qualified. 6 elt and 7 elt are part of 2 Brygada Lotnictwa Taktycznego (BLT or Tactical Aviation Brigade), a combined wing with 3 elt and 10 elt, which will both be converting to the F-16C in 2006, training already being underway in the USA. Forty-eight F-16C/D Block 52 aircraft will be delivered between July 2006 and 2009. 2 BLT's Headquarters is situated at Poznan, with 3 elt located there and 10 elt at Lask. Currently 7 elt is assigned to NATO's Rapid Reaction Force (RRF), requiring a minimum number of flying hours, something the Polish Air Force is trying to increase since its Eastern Bloc days.
Lazarczyk spoke enthusiastically about his mount: "The Fitter is powerful, fast, ideal for Close Air Support (CAS), Air Interception (AI) and low-level missions." More of an all-rounder than the Jaguar, the Su-22 is a younger aircraft, despite its aging looks and lack of modern fly-by-wire systems. "We will be flying the Fitter until 2015", Lazarczyk added, "as it will be uprated to F-16 standard by 2010 with a glass cockpit and new avionics. It currently has much NATO standard equipment, including IFF, TACAN & ILS." The future modernisation will be carried out by the Polish Military Aircraft Works No 2 (WZL-2) in cooperation with Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) - it will incorporate new upgraded avionics consisting of modern airborne computer, navigation system, multifunction monitor, and control and weapon systems. The upgraded equipment is compatible with landing systems used by NATO and additionally enables the operation of the aircraft in all-weather conditions and enhances combat power.
Forty Fitters will go through the upgrade, and as such the glass-cockpit Su-22 will be new territory for Lazarczyk, whose previous experience includes the TS-11 Iskra and MiG-17 - somewhat basic aircraft by today's standards. Lazarczyk stated the Su-22 is easy to maintain, but a ground crew is always needed to pack the parachute when operating away from home base, which limits its flexibility. Having a variable geometry wing, most of Fitter training missions are flown with 45-degree wing sweep - only when supersonic is the wing swept fully back to 63 degrees. As flaps cannot be used in fully swept position, the wing is always returned to 45 degrees at the earliest opportunity.
Exercise 'Lone Cat' 05 comprised mainly of air-ground sorties, flying alongside 6 Squadron, but also included a COMAO with 41 Squadron on Thursday 16 June. Four single-seat Fitters were brought to Coltishall, as training requirements in Poland prevented a two-seater being used, which meant RAF pilots were unable to get any Su-22 time on this occasion. However, a second phase of the exercise will see 6 Squadron deploy to Powidz in July and plenty of opportunities to experience the former Eastern Bloc jet. Low-fly areas in Poland enable the Fitters to operate down to 50m in certain areas so the exercise missions will take a similar form to that enjoyed in the UK.
Lazarczyk hopes to continue the close association with 6 Squadron after Coltishall is closed, so it is possible we will see 'Lone Cat 06' and a visit of the Fitters to Coningsby once 6 Squadron is relocated. Once 6 Squadron is converted to Typhoon there will be a significant difference in capability between the two types, providing an interesting mix for the pilots involved in the exchange.
With thanks to the CCO's staff and Lt Col Jacek 'Limahl' Lazarczyk