August 9th, 2006 04:50 EST
Royal Air Force pilot makes history in B-2 Spirit by Tech. Sgt. Mikal Canfield
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFPN) -- At first glance, he looks like any other Air Force pilot: olive-green flight suit, polished boots and a bluish-gray flight cap with rank insignia prominently displayed. On closer inspection, you realize the little differences.
His shoulder boards don`t feature bars or leaves, but instead a combination of blue and gray stripes. When you hear him speak, his distinct accent tells you this is no ordinary Air Force pilot.
Royal Air Force Squadron Leader David Arthurton is a pilot with the 13th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, flying the B-2 Spirit bomber with the "Grim Reapers" as part of the RAF Personnel Exchange Program. He is the first and only foreign exchange pilot to fly the B-2 as part of this program, and is the only foreign officer to fly the B-2.
A native of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England, Squadron Leader Arthurton flew the RAF Tornado GR4 at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Marham in England, with a six-month assignment at the United Kingdom`s fighter weapons school between assignments, when the opportunity to fly the B-2 came up.
"I was obviously excited by the prospect, although there were a lot of unknowns at the time as I was to be the first RAF exchange officer in the program," said Squadron Leader Arthurton.
According to the British Defence Staff Web page, the exchange program`s purpose is to "enhance closer engagement and interoperability" between the United States and United Kingdom. The RAF currently has 53 officers serving in the U.S. as part of the three-year program. The United States has a comparable number of people serving in the U.K.
Squadron Leader Arthurton had experience flying in the U.S. before his application to fly the B-2. He completed undergraduate pilot training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, in 1996.
"This was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed, and ever since then I have wanted to return for an exchange tour," he said. "When the posting officer back home offered me this exchange, the answer was an emphatic `yes.`"
The squadron leader joined the 13th Bomb Squadron at Whiteman AFB, Mo., in September and is now deployed with other members of the unit as the 13th EBS at Andersen AFB, Guam. They provide the U.S. Pacific Command commander a continuous bomber presence in the Asia-Pacific region.
His initial experiences flying the B-2 provided some unique moments, for both him and the air traffic controllers at Whiteman AFB.
"We are two nations separated by a common language. During my early days at Whiteman, air traffic controllers seemed to have a lot of difficulty understanding me on the radio," he said. "When it came to my first flight, apparently one of the controllers in the tower turned to another and asked, `Is he hijacking that jet?`"
The differences go far beyond language, as the two nations` air forces have a considerable difference in the amount of people and weapons at their disposal.
"The RAF has roughly 49,000 personnel, which is about one-seventh of the U.S. Air Force`s active-duty strength," he said. "This makes the RAF a more flexible and adaptable outfit, as we have to try and do the same job with less resources. However, we cannot start to match the firepower of the U.S. Air Force."
Flying one of the world`s top weapons systems has left an impression on Squadron Leader Arthurton.
"The B-2 is a unique aircraft; there is nothing quite like it," he said. "For an aircraft that looks so strange, it is relatively easy to fly but difficult to employ. Having said that, you can`t throw it around the sky like the Tornado."
Above and beyond the flying aspect of his experiences, Squadron Leader Arthurton appreciates the opportunity to experience life in the U.S. Air Force.
"It`s fantastic to see another way of doing business; the whole experience has really opened my eyes," he said. "Finally, there is the experience of living in another country, which I have thoroughly enjoyed."
As a major-equivalent, Squadron Leader Arthurton also serves as the assistant director of operations and works scheduling issues.
"Squadron Leader Arthurton has been a key contributor to the 13th Bomb Squadron," said Lt. Col. Bill Eldridge, commander. "One of his jobs is to oversee our long range scheduling, one of the toughest jobs in the squadron. In this role, he also oversaw several exercises, including deployments to the United Kingdom, Red Flag and the 13th EBS` recent trip to Australia. His contributions have been fundamental to the squadron`s success."
During the trip to Australia, Squadron Leader Arthurton was part of B-2 history, being one of two pilots to fly the B-2 back to Andersen AFB following an engine running crew change at Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin July 27. This was the first time a B-2 had landed on Australian soil.
"All three of our nations -- the United States, United Kingdom and Australia -- share a common heritage, and it`s more important than ever we work together to confront the threats of today`s world," said Col. Robert Wheeler, 36th Expeditionary Operations Group commander.
"U.S. pilots having the opportunity to work and fly with one of our RAF counterparts and include him in historic missions like the trip to Australia, enhances interoperability, provides important training opportunities, and helps us achieve our joint goal to dissuade and deter aggression in the Asia-Pacific region."
The exchange program benefits more than just the individuals involved.
"Nearly every conflict or humanitarian operation in the last 20 years required a coalition," Colonel Eldridge said. "Pilot exchanges allow U.S. pilots to develop personal contacts and a closer understanding of our allies. Additionally, our allied pilots bring a wealth of experience in overseas operations. They have a lot of good tactical ideas and great suggestions on running a squadron."
Squadron Leader Arthurton says working alongside his U.S. allies has always impressed him.
"The U.S. Airmen that I have met both then and now have impressed me with their professionalism and focus on continuing operations," he said. "The fact we can operate so well alongside each other is a reflection on the training we do together in peacetime."