A former pupil of Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
Flight Lieutenant Thomas Philip Hansford, a Typhoon pilot with 1 Fighter Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth, received the honour for his September 2017 actions against ISIS targets in Syria during Operation Shader.
Flt Lt Hansford was tasked to provide combat air power in support of coalition and partnered forces. However, this was amended and he became the first RAF pilot to switch from a Close Air Support task, to provide Air Presence.
The mission was then urgently switched back to Close Air Support, to support friendly forces and civilians under fire in an ISIS stronghold.
Now five hours into a nine-hour night mission, Flt Lt Hansford had to lead his formation through severe thunderstorms that were capable of damaging his aircraft. He positioned overhead ground forces that had identified multiple Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices thwarting a friendly advance and preventing a civilian evacuation. Minutes later, he expertly employed his entire weapon load of Paveway IV laser-guided bombs to strike four vehicles which posed a significant threat.
Such was the complexity of this simultaneous strike it required 235 sequential in-cockpit switch selections, a single error would have resulted in certain mission failure, and a direct threat to life for friendly forces.
The Air Presence task required exacting judgement in a battlespace more congested and complex than any in recent memory; a miscalculation would have had a strategic campaign effect. The leadership Flt Lt Hansford displayed during this maiden combat lead, on the first ever genuinely multi-role mission was truly exceptional and far exceeded what could be expected of a pilot with his experience. He displayed outstanding commitment and composure during this complex, fluid and demanding night mission.
Following the mission Flt Lt Hansford flew back to his base at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.
He said: “I feel incredibly proud to have been awarded the DFC, yet lucky to be in this position when I am confident that any other pilot on the squadron or Typhoon Force would have achieved equal success if tasked with the same mission. It still feels surreal to be receiving such a prestigious award and I am truly honoured. It is very important to remember that while I have been fortunate to be the one receiving this award, none of the Typhoon operations against Daesh (ISIS) would be possible without the teamwork and tireless support of our ground-crew and the air-air refuelling units.”
The DFC recognises an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy and has been awarded since 1918.