Former Belgian military pilot as saver of our planet.
A question to start with.
A brief past history.
Tempting civilian career.
Atmospheric Research Aircraft, yes.
Very diverse campaigns, everywhere.
Some additional reflexions.
Question-marks become notes of exclamation.
A question to start with.
It is unusual to start a story with a question. It is therefore our intention that as the script unfolds, the curious reader hasn't to wait too long before he obtains a clear answer.
Let us firstly start with the question. What have the notions or acronyms Muscat, MEVEX, CAVIAR and Latty in common? Right now we are already prepared to reveal a part of our mystery. The last acronym is linked to a former Belgian military pilot who after his retirement continued to use his callsign Latty with a certain regularity till to-day during indeed very exceptional flying activities, in a particular demanding and very professional and scientific context, about verywhere on our globe.
Consequently, it is clear that Latty becomes the key player in this narrative but with the necessary attention and admiration for the specific missions and for the contribution of his present-day employers. A breath of past history can probably suffice to typify the person in question.
A brief past history.
The real name, hidden by Latty, is Luc Lathouwers. My first acquaintance with Latty dates back to 4 March 1983 when I executed an instruction flight, together with student pilot Luc in the Alpha Jet AT-13. Being in charge of the management of all squadron-pilots of the Tactical Air Force, it belongs to my task to verify also, in practice, the quality of the training syllabi of the student pilots. The flight of 1.15 Hr executed at high but also at low altitude illustrates clearly what is expected of a student pilot during the advanced flying training. Although there exists at that moment only one training-standard, namely to prepare all student pilots for the transfer to Mirage or F-16, in principle only the best ones of the class will man the cockpits of a fighter. During the debriefing of the flight only a limited number of remarks are formulated. The student pilots who fly as number 2 and 4 in the formation performed very proficiently. For the number 1, the leader of the formation, and for the number 3, by coincidence are not the base commander, the debriefing goes on with an animated conversation in an adjacent room. Based on the produced decibels, even little attentive listeners can easily conclude that some of the capers of the number 1 at high altitude were not fully appreciated by his number 3, what I could in fact fully but discretely confirm afterwards.
Indeed, the flying training of Latty goes swimmingly. He receives the so
much desired pilot wings, together with crown-prince Filip of Belgium, who
also rounds of successfully his flying training. However the young pilots
can not transit immediately to combat or transport aircraft. The respective
conversion units are overworked. After a supplementary stay of almost nine
months in Brustem, where they continue to fly on Alpha Jet, the dream for
Latty and for three of his colleagues finally comes true. They start their
flying training on F-16 in Beauvechain. In the OCU (Operational Conversion
Unit) they discover a new world. The answer on the question what is the most
striking memory of this period is very spontaneous: "We are absorbed very
well by Toutou and his mates. This is the first time that we really are
treated op an equal basis."
After the conversion on F-16 Latty rejoins the 349 Squadron, well-known in air force midst amongst other things as the squadron that was created with Belgian pilots during the Second World War in the United Kingdom. More recently the 349 Squadron was also the home of the Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne, who in 1999 during the NATO operation Allied Force above the Balkans was the first and only Belgian pilot who was in command of the Belgian-Dutch Deployable Air Task Force. In May 2009 Frank becomes indeed also the first European commander of the International Space Station ISS.
Latty will stay in his 349 Squadron at Beauvechain till 1993 where he becomes the operations officer and where he obtains the highest and most demanding qualifications of a modern fighter pilot on F-16. Then the moment has come to take up a new challenge. He prefers to rejoin the 15th Transport Wing at Melsbroek in order to fly on a transport aircraft. During a period of five years the cockpit of his new working-horse, the C-130, will be his working-environment. During the first two years as a co-pilot and three years after that as a captain, he will traverse the airspace of all the continents. But the charm of the civilian aviation is becoming rather fascinating. The new boss of SABENA, Reutlinger, wants that his megalomania after the order of 34 Airbus aircraft, becomes by all means a success story. Consequently there is an urgent need for pilots, many pilots to handle all these control columns in the cockpits. In co-operation with the then minister for Civil Service André Flahaut, his colleague of Defence Poncelet concludes a very attractive contract. At the age of forty years every military pilot with the necessary qualifications, - with full pension that at the earliest would start five years later -, can subscribe to the wage-sheet of SABENA or one of her subsidiary companies. The blood-letting of experienced pilots inside the 15th Transport Wing is considerable. The tempting voice of financial and other advantages is irresistible for Latty and for a lot of his colleagues. The era of the military aviation is hereby closed.
In order to be complete, we have to mention that the military career of Latty started in 1976. Indeed, in the same year he started his training as aircraft mechanic at the Technical School of Saffraanberg. After the obtention of his diploma we find him consecutively as specialist in the Section Engines where he maintains the engines of the Fouga Magister and of the Alpha Jet and as crew chief on the Fouga Magister in Brustem. The daily contact with the pilots is for him the stimulus to take the chance to become a pilot as well. No sooner said than done, and with flying colours.
Tempting civilian career.
In 1998 a new episode starts in the flying career at DAT (Delta Air Transport), that as subsidiary company of SABENA, - after the dramatic bankruptcy of the latter in 2001 -, is absorbed by SN Brussels Airlines. Meanwhile Latty accumulates a lot of flying experience on the BAe 146 four-engined whispering jet and becomes holder of the most important flying qualifications.
In the course of 2007 his attention is triggered by an advertisement in Flight International, a magazine that belongs to the preferred reading of many aviation enthusiasts. Directflight Limited, a specialist operator with the airport of Cranfield in the United Kingdom (UK) as home base, is in search of a pilot who fulfils special qualifications. He has to accumulate a lot of experience on the BAe 146 in order to fly a unique specimen of this machine. The flights will take place between 50 feet (15 metres) above sea level, 250 feet (76 metres) above land up to a maximum flying altitude of every BAe 146 that amounts to 35.000 feet (10.668 metres). A special requirement is also to fly in formation with aircraft of the same calibre. Flying operations are scheduled from airfields spread out all over the world and this during a few deployments per year, lasting every time nearly a month. Throughout the whole year the majority of the other flying activities takes place from Cranfield.
An experience as a military pilot is a bonus, without any doubt. Add to that the acquired expertness on the BAe 146 and it doesn't take too long before the ideal candidate is found. Consequently Latty becomes without hesitation as only "non-UK-er" a team member of Directflight Limited.
The special qualifications of the pilots working for Directflight Limited ask for some clarification. It will guide us slowly but surely towards the complete answer on our earlier formulated question.
Atmospheric Research Aircraft, yes.
The remarkable requirements to be authorized to fly a specific aircraft are without any doubt linked to the special mission of the aircraft itself. This is indeed the case. The aircraft that is the pivot on which everything hinges in the whole story, is the only BAe 146 brought into action as Atmospheric Research Aircraft or ARA. BAe Systems provided the aircraft. After an extensive modification to the special task of atmospheric research, it was put into use in 2004 in succession of the C-130 Snoopy who was not suitable any more for his task.
Directflight Limited operates the machine under contract to BAe Systems and on behalf of the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements or FAAM who in turn is run by the Natural Environment Research Council or NERC and the Met Office.
The mission of the NERC illustrates clearly the comprehensive possible tasks for the ARA. "Our vision is to advance knowledge and understanding of the earth and its environments to help secure a sustainable future for the planet and its people." Research of our atmosphere somewhere on our planet, weather patterns, climate change, the global warming, this all together elicits a clew of questions that preferably can be answered better sooner than later in a reassuring way.
It is not our intention to describe the BAe 146-301 Large Atmospheric
Research Aircraft G-LUXE in detail.
This very complete,
clear and convenient description of the aircraft doesn't require really
any further comment. Summarized we feel first of all obliged to applaud the
generous gesture of BAe to make available an ARA, who in our story had to be
modified extensively in order to be capable to execute with success the very
varied scientific research. Internally as well as externally the upgrading
is significant. Adapted flying instruments are indispensable for the really
special flying environment. The available space in the fuselage is filled
up with complex equipment, necessary to support the scientific work. It has
to be noted that very often specific apparatus are installed in function of
the kind of scientific task. Also the exterior undergoes a lot of
modifications. Air intakes, protruding air sampling and sensing devices and
even small ejection hatches for probes are installed all over the aircraft
and give it to some extent a military look.
This detailed description
speaks for itself. On board of the aircraft there is room for 20 persons in
total, a crew of 3 individuals and a team of maximum 17 scientists.
Very diverse campaigns, everywhere.
In order to create a clearer picture of the real work of our ARA-captain Latty and of the whole organisation, we could maybe illustrate briefly the recent campaigns in which our ARA was in action about everywhere on our globe.
Firstly we have to point out that very detailed information, about every ARA-campaign, is available for the public. The FAAM website is really a delight. Every deployment of the BAe 164-301 is elucidated by a determined schema. Thus we find here the report of the pre-visit specifying all findings necessary for the activities of the ARA above Alaska early 2008. The Cold Land Processes Experiment (CLPX-II) took place from 13 February till 5 March 2008 together with American scientists out of Fairbanks International Airport. The CLPX-II manual explains abundantly clear the course of the flying operations with amongst other things the detailed description of the missions. The manual provides also all necessary information to live and to survive in the severe circumstances of the polar winter. Furthermore, the same website offers the opportunity to follow on a daily basis the execution of the missions, inclusively the flown routes. CLPX-II aimed to improve the weather-forecasts in the north-pole region. During specific periods of the day simultaneous observations were compared of the ARA, a team on the ground in tracked vehicles and the overflying meteorological satellite. The processing of the observations in specialized centres in the United States (US) and in the UK should contribute to the development of better weather models thanks to the fine-tuning of the commonly used algorithms.
The experiences inside and outside the cockpit can indeed be considered as
exceptional. A temperature on the ground of about 40° Celcius below zero in
Fairbanks, where the labour-intensive snow removal is a daily task, where
take off and landing is executed on tamped snow, where the clear and pure air is
the synonym of an unlimited visibility in flight, where not a single trace
of life is observed (even not a polar bear according to Latty) during the
flights of about 5 hours sometimes at a height of about 300 metres above the
terrain up to roughly 600 miles from the north pole, where indeed the
aircraft is the means of transport par excellence and where the refueling of
the BAe 146-301 is possible in a remote place like Barrow. It are all
exceptional experiences whereby the capability and the skill of the pilot in
the cockpit contribute in a significant way to bring the challenge of
exacting scientific work in a sometime really threatening flying and living
environment to a happy conclusion.
Another campaign, this time a little bit closer to home, took place from 5 till 23 May 2008. The European Integrated Project on Aerosol Cloud Climate and Air Quality Interactions or EUCAARI was programmed this time. The airfield of Obpfaffenhofen in South-East Germany became now the home base. Once more this information bulletin provides a wealth of data about the scientific project and about the employment of our ARA and of other aircraft. Flights are executed at low and high altitude while crossing the borders.
Flying in the dense European airspace following scientific selected routes ask in the cockpit a high dose of attention. The missions at low altitude in between the mosaic of civilian and military airfields, of zones of military training areas, of other restricted zones, together with air traffic of slow movers like gliders and light motorized aircraft, it asks all for special attention in particular outside the cockpit.
A particularity of the European airspace is also the fact that the flying
activities of the ARA are not identically catalogued by all countries. Some
require a timely publication of a Notice To Airmen or Notam. For others a
simple flightplan is accepted. This European divergence of view causes of
course a lot of supplementary administrative bother and certainly when
during the same mission different countries are overflown.
During the summer South-East Asia becomes the working-environment. From 1 till 25 July 2008 the focal point of the event is the airfield of Kota Kinabalu, situated in East-Malaysia on Borneo. The campaign is named OP3 and has the intention to research the Ozone and Particle Photochemical Production situated above a rainforest along the equator in South-East Asia.
In simple words the co-operation between British and Malaysian scientists will investigate the interaction between the rainforest and our atmosphere and search for a possible change in the future. The OP3 information bulletin is this time rather meagre. Local eastern sensitivities justify maybe this screening of data concerning the preparation and the execution of the project.
In any case overflying a rainforest at low
or high altitude is not a common flying activity. The meteorological conditions
and the terrain are very specific. An earlier confrontation with similar flying
circumstances in a military cockpit can yield an important added value.
The year is finished with a campaign that easily can be compared with a large-scale military exercise if we take into consideration the deployed means and the degree of difficulty of the project. A diversity of specialized equipment, as well on land at sea as in the air, is offered by many countries. A real operations centre, provided with all modern communications and storage hardware, is installed in a local hotel. Afterwards, the scientists in their respective research centres will indeed still for some time have to analyze all the observations before a report of their findings will be available.
The location of the event is North Chile, close to the border with Peru. The working ground is situated above the adjacent Pacific Ocean. The campaign is a part of the extensive VAMOS (Variability of the American Monsoon Systems)-project with involvement of especially research centres of the whole American continent. They want to obtain a better insight in the complex climate of the south eastern part of the Pacific Ocean. The actual undertaking is baptized VOCALS (VAMOS Ocean Cloud Atmosphere Land Study). VOCALS takes place during an important part of October and November 2008. The university of Washington, as one of the key players, informs the public extensively about VOCALS.
The team of Directflight Limited with our ARA-captain Latty will be present on the scene between 26 October and 14 November 2008. The home-port this time is Chacalluta International airport situated at 18 kilometres north-east of Arica. For those who like to analyze the participation of the BAe 146-301 at VOCALS find here a lot of enlightening information. On this page of the FAAM-diary for example the execution of a certain VOCALS mission can be re-read. As during every campaign a working day of almost 12 hours is not unusual. At about 4 hours before the take off of the ARA, a generator on the parking-platform provides the necessary energy permitting the specialists to fine-tune all scientific equipment on board. With the flight itself of approximately 5 hours and the debriefing we can really speak of a long working day.
During the different flights out of Chacalluta, and this day and night, it is
always all hands on deck. Accurately follow the selected routes or on request of
the scientists follow the complete life cycle of a cloud-family, where the
permanent presence of a flying observation-mean is compulsory, the calibration
of the scientific instrumentation during a formation flight with a
fellow-aircraft, it is once more a very diverse task. An exceptional flying
capability is also during this campaign a major contributor to the overall
success of the scientific work.
It is probably high time to complete the answer on our earlier formulated question. So we arrive in the first instance at Muscat and at MEVEX. Muscat is in our case not the grape of the muscadel well known from the famous similar sweet wines but it is the capital of Oman with his international airport. A trained spotter could observe there between 18 April and 12 May 2009 the presence of our BAe 146-301, supported by the complete team of Directflight Limited, in the scope of a series of experiments above the deserts and seas of Oman and of the United Arab Emirates.
The campaign was put on record as MEVEX (Middle East Validation Experiment) and
aimed to measure the infrared radiation and the influence of the desert-dust on
our climate. The results of a dust storm can often be observed at a distance of
thousands of kilometres. The dust-spots occasionally left on our cars after a
rainy period are the tiny evidence of this phenomenon. The influence on our
climate of this enormous transport of desert-dust is a subject that leaves our
scientists still with a lot of unanswered questions. An impression of the course
of MEVEX in the cockpit, in the space on board of the ARA that belongs to the
sanctuary of the scientists and in the vicinity of the ship that participates
also at MEVEX, can be read once more with all its details. From
description of the first "dustflight " of 21 April 2009 we can verify without
any problem the composition of the crew, the flown route and its flying
profiles, varying from 100 feet up to FL 240 (about 24.000 feet). We notice also
that on this particular day the chase of a meteorological balloon during a
spiral climb was a part of the mission. More extended information about
can be consulted here.
Some additional reflexions.
Again we have to admit that the nature and the degree of difficulty of the flights don't belong to the daily professional activity of a classical airline pilot on BAe 146. Accepting the challenge to reconcile flying skills with the scientific work at the service of the quality of life of the actual and future inhabitants of the earth, is for that matter unique and deserves all respect and appreciation.
Before to take care of the final details, we still have one part of the question that stays open. CAVIAR fits, as could be expected, in the scenario of the ARA-flights and in the presence of our Latty in his cockpit. Indeed, we don't comment here the culinary delicacy but we want to mention the Continuum Absorption in the Visible and Infrared and its Atmospheric Relevance, in other words very specific scientific work in order to penetrate more into the mystery of our atmosphere. The BAe 146-301 could be observed from 15 Juli till 7 August 2009, operating out of Basle, in the vicinity of the Jungfraujoch in the Swiss Alps. As usual, the FAAM-website is giving again all details about the mission.
Further we notice that the UK continues to be a pioneer in the research of the evolution of our climate. The contribution of the British tax-payer to this scientific work, that in this context is performed in various research centres, is undoubtedly significant.
Furthermore it has to be noted that also Europe shows a lot of interest for this matter. EUFAR (European Fleet for Airborne Research), that is financed by the European Commission, integrates different activities for example by the co-ordination of the use of instrumented aircraft. Europe disposes of a whole fleet of specialized aircraft whereby the BAe 146-301 catches the eye as most complete machine for his equipment and his flying capabilities. Remarkable is also the fact that Belgium is almost completely absent in the EUFAR-story, nor with means as aircraft and instruments nor with researchers. With some surprise we even notice that the Royal Meteorological Institute is missing completely. As a compensation Belgium can express some satisfaction with the presence of Latty in the cockpit of the most complete European research-aircraft.
A really recommendable article about the ARA was published on 28 July 2008 under the title Flying Science by Flight International.
Question-marks become notes of exclamation.
The question-marks surrounding Muscat, MEVEX, CAVIAR and Latty can hopefully now be substituted by notes of exclamation. Flying the ARA BAe 146-301 still means for our key player a succession of challenges with especially his earlier experience as a military pilot as an absolute surplus value.
Choosing consciously for a short career as military pilot with in particular the cockpit of a military aircraft as biotope and dispose of the daring, the proficiency and the experience in order to shift your limits ever and again during a supplementary career as a civilian pilot, is not a cycle for everybody. Diverse possibilities are still available in the ever growing world of aviation. Nevertheless is the presence of a former Belgian military pilot in the cockpit of an Atmospheric Research Aircraft a rather unique event.
Latty your contribution as saver of our planet is praised rightly in this narrative. Hopefully your work will also be appreciated by many readers. You are also the living example that the career of a military pilot can be continued in the civilian sector with unmatched and enriching experiences.
Voormalig Belgisch militair piloot als redder van onze planeet.
Some additional reflexions.
By courtesy of Directflight Limited, British Aerospace Systems, the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements, the National Environment Research Council and the Met Office.