How Lymington RAF pilot Wing Commander Mike Sutton took on Isis in his Typhoon fighter
JUST minutes earlier he had taken out three Isis terrorists with a 500lb bomb.
Now a new message came over the comms of the Typhoon fighter jet: “Dragon, confirm you have the 27mm [gun] today?”
Wing Commander Mike Sutton OBE replied in the affirmative. That day over the badlands of Iraq the action had been relentless. His squadron had taken out an anti-aircraft gun, an ammunition storage depot, and a sniper.
In fact, the battle had been so intense they were running out of weapons.
Now Mike was being told there was a new mission for him: a strafe attack – the first time such a risky air assault, firing canon directly on the enemy, had been carried out in a war zone by the Typhoon FGR4, one of the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft.
No wonder, as Mike reveals in a new book telling the story of his RAF career, his response was an expletive.
Mike, who lives in Lymington, told the A&T: “Strafing is very risky. You have to fly really low right above the enemy who have ground-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns.
“Several aircraft had already been shot down and one pilot had been subsequently burned to death in a cage, with the video of his death posted on the internet.
“Ejecting in those circumstances was a horrific prospect. I had one chance to get it right.”
In his display the target, a group of Isis fighters who had allied troops pinned down, appeared as a tiny dot.
Taking the Typhoon into a right turn at 500mph he lined up for the attack. By now the tiny dot had turned into a “tiny speck vanishing into almost nothing”.
Throwing the jet into a 30-degree dive, Mike rolled its wings level then fired the 27mm armour piecing shells. To his horror the caption “gun fail” flicked up on his display.
Turning round to re-attack he released the last laser-guided bomb he had left on-board, seeing it slam straight into the target.
That moment was one of the most dangerous Mike encountered as commander of 1 (Fighter) Squadron, leading a team of 15 fast jet pilots.
Given just 48 hours’ notice of their first strike on Isis targets in December 2015, it was the first time the Typhoon FGR4 would be tested in combat.
Carrying eight weapons, the £110m supersonic jet is the RAF’s first aircraft capable of conducting both bombing and gunfight missions.
Mike said: “Climbing into the cockpit was like getting into a space craft. It is so technically advanced. It has 40,000lbs of thrust and can reach a top speed of Mach 1.8. Flying it for the first time was an incredible experience.”
His journey to becoming one of the top commanders in the RAF was unconventional. Not from a military background, he first applied to the RAF as an 18-year-old but failed selection.
Undeterred, he went to Southampton University to study philosophy – a course which left him time to learn to fly with the uni’s air squadron. The second time he applied to the RAF he succeeded.
It is one of the reasons why in his book Mike name-checks the John Egging Trust – the charity founded by the widow of the Red Arrows pilot who was killed at the Bournemouth Air Show in 2011.
He said: “It supports young people who may have lost their way. It’s very important to me that youngsters follow their dreams and go for it, like I did.
“If you have a setback, see it as just that and don’t give up.”
Other charities important to Mike are ones that care for troops who are suffering from mental health problems such as PTSD. Two military friends committed suicide and he makes it clear in his book the toll that killing the enemy takes.
He said: “There is a mental health impact, you cannot help but reflect on what you have done, even though you are saving lives in the process.
“I am glad that there is so much more awareness of it and more support. But I also think there is a lot more work to be done in that regard.”
Awarded an OBE in 2017, Mike left the RAF after 18 years and is now flying commercially providing operational readiness training for the UK armed forces.
Typhoon by Wing Commander Mike Sutton (Penguin Michael Joseph, £20) is out now.