RAF pilot describes Libya patrol

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An RAF Typhoon pilot who flew to Libya last night to patrol the no-fly zone spoke today of the mission's success.

Wing Commander Jez Attridge described the excitement of seeing the British force swing into action and said they had been fully prepared for the job.

Speaking at the air base of Gioia del Colle in southern Italy, where the British fighter planes are flying from, he said: "It went very well, it went as we briefed it."

The mission marked the first time the RAF Typhoon has been deployed in enemy combat.

Wing Cdr Attridge, 41, said: "I'm very proud that we've shown the Typhoons can meet modern-day missions easily...

"There's a lot of excitement because everyone likes to do the job they're paid for and the heartening thing for me was the amount of support put in to make sure the aeroplanes could be deployed at very short notice."

RAF staff worked round the clock to prepare the aircraft for the job, he said.

Last night's mission took just over five hours and saw the planes refuel three times during that period.

The pilot, who is based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, said the intensive training given to the force's airmen and women had left them more than ready to take on the Libya mission.

"Our philosophy is if you stay ready, you don't have to get ready," he said. "(The operation) fits the template of what we normally train to do. I can't talk about mission specifics but we have the capability to meet any threat that is out there...

"The training is to meet specific threats we might encounter within the air space. Our training is very varied and covers threats you might find in the Libyan air space."

The pilots were said to be highly alert to the risk of killing Libyan civilians.

RAF Group Captain Martin Sampson said: "Civilian casualties and collateral damage is at the forefront of everyone's minds on operations."

Despite apparent uncertainty among the Italians about whether the British planes can continue to be based at the site, they received praise for the assistance they have offered so far.

Group Capt Sampson said: "We've been welcomed by the Italians here. We have a fantastic working relationship with them at the moment.

"They've given us every level of support that we need and behaved like a coalition partner we know and trust."

The British fleet was making a "significant contribution" to the overall Libya mission, he added, praising the work of the RAF staff.

"The Typhoons at RAF Coningsby have been doing a vital operation on quick reaction alert," he said. "The whole station swung into action. The professionalism to get planes ready and get them deployed was phenomenal."

Morale was high among the pilots as they prepared for the night ahead.

Group Capt Sampson said: "The mood among everyone, not just the pilots, is extremely high and the morale is very good.

"We have deployed at very short notice, are content we're conducting ourselves in an extremely professional manner and people are very proud of what they're doing.

"It's an important task, we understand the responsibility that's been placed on our shoulders and we will discharge that responsibility in a thoroughly professional manner."