RAF Marham’s new commander Group Capt “Cab” Townsend is thrilled to be back in the air
- Credit: Ian Burt
RAF Marham's new commander says he's thrilled to be back in the cockpit of a fast jet.
Group Capt Ian Townsend, 42, has taken over the West Norfolk air base from group Capt Rich Davies.
Group Capt Townsend - better known throughout the air force as 'Cab' - began his career as a Harrier pilot, before serving tours in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
After a stint in staff jobs in London, he then commanded 1(F) Harrier Squadron and worked in the Middle East before commanding 3 Sqn of Typhoon aircraft.
Between 2014 then and now, he joined the new Lightning Force as chief of staff and commander, before moving to Marham last month.
Since then, he has flown his first sorties on board one of the base's iconic twin-seater Tornados.
'They're trying to teach the old guy new tricks and it's such a joy,' he said. 'I've been away from the cockpit for two and a half years and the opportunity to get back into the cockpit again, my wife teases me, she says you don't work you're just doing your hobby.'
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Group Capt Townsend's nickname Cab is short for cabriolet. The term was bestowed on him when just weeks after joining his first operational squadron, he converted a Harrier into an open-topped aircraft after it lost its canopy in a collision with a mid-air refuelling hose trailing from a VC10 flying tanker over the North Sea.
'In that moment when it should have gone clink and all been good there was a massive explosion,' he said.
'I thought the engine had blown up. I thought this is not the best day ever. No canopy, 25,000 feet above the North Sea.'
Fortunately, he followed another aircraft to land the first Harrier Cabriolet safely.
'But I came back and everything I owned - boots, underwear, pens, equipment - had the word Cab written all over it,' he added.
Back at the office Group Capt Townsend's priorities will be to maintain the Tornado force's operational capacity as it prepares to hand over the skies to the RAF's new F35 Lightning aircraft.
Major refurbishment is being carried out at Marham, with £250m invested in a new command centre, maintenance hangar, runways and other infrastructure. The first of the new stealth fighters are expected to arrive next summer.