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British pilot soars among Yankees

September 9, 2014 (by A1C Michael Cossaboom) - As they gather for a routine flight briefing they appear the same: same flight suit, same gear, same mission. Upon further inspection it becomes clear that one of these pilots is not exactly like the others.

RAF Flight Lieutenant Benjamin Cable, 79th FS assistant director of operations, displays the United Kingdom flag in front of an F-16CM at Shaw AFB on August 21st, 2014. Cable, a Brighton native, has been on active duty status for 13 years, in which time he has been on four deployments. [USAF photo by A1C. Michael Cossaboom]

A small multicolored camouflage pack, with a British flag patch sewn on, swings from the left arm of Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant Benjamin Cable, a British fighter pilot currently assigned to the 79th Fighter Squadron here. That small flag and the two patches on his uniform are the only designators that separate him from the rest.

As the briefing ends, the pilots gather their gear and break for the door toward their parked aircraft. For the 6-foot tall, light-haired British man, his pride can be seen as he preps for another day of flying with the 79th fighter squadron here.

Cable spent several years of his childhood growing up near Royal Air Force Biggin Hill, England, one of the major bases in the Battle of Britain, during World War II. He began to admire the military lifestyle and later decided to serve his country, he explained.

"Growing up I lived in a rich military area," he continued. "During World War II, you would have been able to see planes fighting overhead and even aircraft that had been shot down in the field just down the road from where I lived."

The influence of World War II left deep military roots in the community where Cable grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. His close proximity to the base allowed the Brit to witness the evolution of U.K. military aviation, he explained.

"I loved watching the planes fly by and going to the air shows," Cable said. "I was one of the few children who wouldn't cry when planes would fly by."

His decision to serve his country landed Cable in the seat of a Tornado GR4, a low-level, high-speed aircraft, which is primarily flown by British military pilots.

On the last of four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, the fighter pilot learned of an opportunity that could add diversity to his aviation ability and possibly land him in the seat of an F-16CM Fighting Falcon, an airframe which British pilots don't normally fly.

The opportunity was the Royal Air Force Exchange Officer program, which is equivalent to the U.S. Air Force Military Personnel Exchange program.

"I was deployed when I found out I was going to be a part of the exchange program," Cable said. "My commander walked in and casually said 'How would you like to be flying F-16s next summer?'"

Both programs are designed to provide service members the opportunity to become full-time members assigned to a foreign unit.

They also provide an avenue for American and foreign aviators to share suggestions on how to further advance combat aviation tactics and techniques, while fostering relationships with allies, Cable said.

As part of the program, Cable is officially assigned to the 79th FS. If the squadron is tasked with a temporary duty assignment or deploys in support of a combat campaign the young lieutenant will serve in the same role as his U.S. brothers and sisters.

Though he was no stranger to the U.S., he knew that the transition to the states from the U.K., with his wife and young daughter, would be a bit of an adjustment.

"When we first got here we landed at Luke AFB, Arizona; I don't think I have ever been in such warm weather," said the flight lieutenant, as he wiped his brow while reflecting on that day. "It was a huge shock."

Adjusting to things like weather proved a small challenge in comparison to what would take place at 30,000 feet while traveling at speeds upwards of 1,500 miles per hour, he continued.

The F-16CM is a single-seat, multi-mission fighter with the ability to switch from an air-to-ground to air-to-air role at the touch of a button. With its lightweight airframe and powerful engine generating 31,000 pounds of thrust, the jet can fly at speeds in excess of Mach 2(1522.5 mph).

The war plane has been used by the Air Force in multiple combat roles to include both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

"At first it was tough learning the inner workings of the F-16," said the Brighton, England, native. "But I had a lot of help, and I tried my hardest day-in and day-out."

Like most fast-paced jobs, the daily grind in the fighter world can often be grueling. Pilots fly anywhere from three to seven times a week, and a typical day of flying consists of several hours of planning and flight briefings before the pilot even slides into an aircraft. Add that to the crucial class room training and additional officer duties, and it is easy to see how being a foreigner to a squadron like the 79th FS is challenging.

Luckily the wingman mentality, a term carved from the aviation world, runs deep at the squadron, and Cable was able to link up with his wingman, Capt. Craig Baker, a 79th FS pilot.

"Learning how to fly a new jet is a daunting task," Baker said. "Combine that with learning how to apply tactics, techniques and procedures to employ new mission sets and there is no doubt a steep learning curve."

Though adjusting to the new facets of his aircraft and job in the 79th was challenging, Cable was still able to present new ideas about aviation to the pilots assigned to the squadron.

"Even though Cable and I are both fighter pilots, the knowledge we have is different,” Baker said. “The more we can work together in training, the better our interoperability will be during wartime. Therefore, increasing the effectiveness of meeting national objectives."

Cable is also a trained weapons officer and is able to teach other pilots the intricacies of different weaponry. Currently, he is the assistant director of operations for the 79th FS.

Indeed, one of these pilots is not like the others. He is a Royal Air Force warfighter who seized the opportunity to elevate his skill set and serve not only his nation, but also the entire free world.

As the canopy closes on his F-16, Cable salutes his crew chief and taxis to the end of the runway. For this young aviator it's just another day in fighter country.

(Staff Sgt. Kenny Holston, 20th FW Public Affairs photojournalist, contributed to this article.)

Courtesy 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Additional images:

RAF Flt Lieutenant Benjamin Cable sits in the cockpit of an F-16CM on August 27th, 2014, at Shaw AFB. Cable will be stationed at Shaw for three years, where he will learn from and teach members of the 79th FS. Cable is a 79th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations. [USAF photo by A1C. Michael Cossaboom]

RAF Flt Lieutenant Benjamin Cable gets settled in the cockpit of his F-16CM before taking off on August 27th, 2014 at Shaw AFB. Prior to flying the F-16, Cable flew the Tornado GR4s. Cable is part of the RAF Exchange Officer program which has given him the opportunity to train and fly with the men and women of the 79th FS as the squadron’s assistant director of operations. [USAF photo by SSgt. Kenny Holston]
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