Courage of a young pilot in skies over the Middle East

Flight Lieutenant Thomas Hansford was on his first mission as lead pilot
Flight Lieutenant Thomas Hansford was on his first mission as lead pilot

It’s a far cry from rural Aberdeenshire to the skies over the Middle East but RAF pilot Thomas Hansford had no time to think of home when he led a daring mission in Syria.

Flt Lt Hansford was awarded a gallantry medal after flying his Typhoon jet for nine hours in 2017 and destroying four ISIS truck bombs in one strike.

An RAF Typhoon dropping a Paveway 2 bomb at Nellis Air Force base in southern Nevada

An RAF Typhoon dropping a Paveway 2 bomb at Nellis Air Force base in southern Nevada

The Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) is awarded for an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty while flying in active operations against the enemy.

In September last year, Flt Lt Hansford, whose family lives in Deeside, was on his first mission as lead pilot.The operation was carried out while navigating through huge thunderstorms.

And his targets were more than one mile away from each other.

Flt Lt Hansford (30) and another pilot had been patrolling the skies over Hawijah in Syria for five hours as back-up to the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Flt Lt Hansford was awarded the coveted Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)

Flt Lt Hansford was awarded the coveted Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)

It was at this point they realised the ISIS trucks were acting as booby trapped obstacles on the road into Hawijah, in eastern Syria, not far from the Iraq border.

Four Paveway IV guided bombs were navigated with precision to obliterate the targets.

Following a record nine-hour operation at the time for Operation Shader, he returned safely to base in RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.

Flt Lt Hansford, of 1 Fighter Squadron, the oldest in the RAF, said: “I feel incredibly proud to have been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

“I also feel lucky to be in this position as 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.

“None of the Typhoon operations against Daesh (ISIS) would be possible without the teamwork and tireless support of our ground crew and air-air refuelling units.”

Despite Thomas’ modesty, his citation was a glowing report of the skill and bravery he displayed.

It read: “Flight Lieutenant Hansford demonstrated exceptional leadership, judgement and bravery during his first mission as a lead pilot.

“The complexity of this simultaneous strike required him to precisely enter varying cockpit switch selections, controlling sensors and weapons.

“A single error could have resulted in a failure of the mission and a direct threat to friendly forces on the ground.”

Before taking to the skies to protect his country, Thomas was a pupil at Torphins Primary School from 1995 to 1997 and Robert Gordon’s College from 1997 to 2005.

As a teenager he was a keen member of the Deeside Gliding Club and flew there on a recent visit home to the Tarland area.

He later studied at Christchurch, Oxford, where he attained a BA in Physics with First Class Honours in 2008, before joining the RAF.

He secured his commission, with merit, 
the following year.