During the Second World War, Flt Lt Lawton’s grandfather served as a glider pilot. As a young child, he would sit rapt as he listened to stories from the time.
It is little wonder that the seeds of interest in becoming a pilot were quickly sown. Flt Lt Lawton, this year’s Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon Display Pilot, never looked back.
The married father-of-two, from Lincolnshire, joined the RAF just a week after his 18th birthday. It is, he says, a “real privilege” to serve as this year’s display pilot, taking over from 2016’s pilot Flt Lt Mark Long.
“There are usually four or five pilots who throw our names into the hat (to become that year’s display pilot),” he explains.
“In recent years we have undergone an interview process, a ‘fly-off’ in the simulator and occasionally a ‘fly-off’ in the actual aircraft too. It is a real privilege being part of 29(R) Squadron, from where the display pilot is drawn each year.”
Flt Lt Lawton was awarded a RAF Flying Scholarship whilst studying for his A-levels and then joined the RAF as a direct entrant in 2001. Following Initial Officer Training at RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire, he completed his Elementary Flying Training on the Firefly and was streamed to fly fast jets.
He was awarded his ‘wings’ in 2003 after completing Basic Fast Jet Training. Following this, he completed his Advanced Flying Training on the Hawk aircraft at RAF Valley, Wales, before being selected to complete his Tactical Weapons training in Canada. After training, he flew the Tornado GR4 in 2006 and completed the Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland, before being posted to II(AC) Sqn at RAF Marham in 2007. He has deployed on front line operations to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Flt Lt Lawton left the Tornado GR4 in 2010 to take up a position in the Typhoon simulator at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, where he remains based today. In 2011, he was selected to take part in a trial to complete the Typhoon conversion course, purely in the simulator. The trial was a success and he was posted to XI(F) Sqn in 2012. During this tour, he took part in the first RAF Typhoon deployment to Exercise Red Flag in Las Vegas and conducted Quick Reaction Alert air policing duties in the UK and on the Falkland Islands.
In 2014, he joined 29(R)Sqn – and that led to his current role as the 2017 Display Pilot. This year, he is displaying at air shows across the UK and in Europe, including at the Helsinki 100 Anniversary Air Show and Seinajoki Air Show, Finland, and the Sanicole Air Show in Belgium in September.
“I have tried to change the layout of the display a little to suit my own personal preferences,” he says. “I have tried to keep the display as tight as possible and do as much as I can in front of the crowd. One of the main things I enjoy when Typhoon displays is the noise, so, wherever possible, we have tried to drop as much noise down as we can, which gives you that feeling in your chest and gets your heart going!
“Typhoon is a real pilot’s aeroplane. There is nothing I can do to overstress it. So during the display, I can go full back-stick or slam the throttles forward and the jet will just cope with it and give me the maximum it can.”
Flying Eurofighter Typhoon – leading-edge capability
Flt Lt Lawton has described the ‘high-level performance and agility’ of the aircraft and how upgrades being integrated to the jet will provide it with ‘incredible capability’ in coming years.
As part of his work-up for the display, he visited BAE Systems’ Typhoon simulator at Warton, Lancashire, where he conducted a run-through of his planned display.
“What Typhoon is great at is producing incredible power from the engines, high level performance and that agility,” he says.
“When you bolt on the extra capability the jet has got coming online and the extra flexibility it has as well, it has got great scope for development in the future.”
Eurofighter Typhoon is subject to an extensive and significant continuous capability upgrade programme. The Phase 1 Enhancement (P1E) package came into operation with the RAF in 2015, further enhancing the effectiveness of the aircraft and its simultaneous swing-role capabilities.
Weapons integration activity as part of the Phase 2 Enhancement (P2E) package and Phase 3 Enhancement (P3E) package has continued this year, ready for entry into service in 2018. For the UK, P2E and P3E are central to Project CENTURION, which will ensure that Typhoon is able to provide the continuous delivery of key combat air capabilities as Tornado moves towards its out of service date.
The Phase 2 Enhancement (P2E) package will introduce a range of new and improved long range attack capabilities to Eurofighter Typhoon in the form of the deep strike stand-off MBDA Storm Shadow air-to-surface weapon and the MBDA Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile. The Phase 3 Enhancement (P3E) package, including the low collateral, high precision MBDA Brimstone air-to-surface missile, will equip the aircraft to engage a wider range of threats than ever before.
Flt Lt Lawton adds: “If you look at the near-term, the capability enhancements of Meteor and Brimstone, combined with the swing-role of Typhoon – which allows you to fight your way to a target and employ precision munitions in the way Typhoon can, and then fight your way back out of the target - it is an incredible capability to have in the next few years.”
For more information on the RAF Eurofighter Typhoon Display 2017, go to https://www.raf.mod.uk/typhoondisplay/