JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
Heat reflected off the tarmac in shimmering waves as Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Alexander Thorne, 94th Fighter Squadron Foreign Exchange Officer stepped towards his jet for a final time in the Virginia sunshine.
Over three and a half years, Thorney participated in two deployments and flew countless missions in the F-22 Raptor side-by-side with his American counterparts. Although his departure is bitter sweet, he reveled in the excitement of RAF Squadron Leader David Wild, an old friend, preparing to take the stick and in the significance of the flight they were about to perform – the first formation of F-22 Raptors ever flown by Royal Air Force pilots.
“It was surreal. The first time I ever flew an F-22 I couldn’t believe the power and significance of what that moment meant,” he said. “But to fly in a Raptor, instructing an old buddy from home, that I hadn’t flown with since I was his instructor on the Typhoon weapons instructor course was awesome.”
Reserved for special occasions, the formation received the call-sign “Fiske” in honor of American native William Meade Lindley “Billy” Fiske III who became a legend in the United Kingdom for his military actions.
“Fiske was really the original foreign exchange officer,” said Thorney. “He didn’t have to fight for us, he didn’t have to fly with our pilots, but he did; because he believed in what we were fighting for.”
According to the Billy Fiske Foundation, Fiske was born in Chicago but grew up all over Europe due to his father’s position as an international banker. He attended Cambridge University, became a member of the exclusive White’s Club in London and would later win two gold medals in bobsleighing for the American Olympic team.
Fiske quickly formed intimate friendships with members of the No. 601 Squadron, Auxiliary Air Force, who convinced him to get his pilot’s license – a decision that would lead him to eagerly volunteer for the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain.
When asked by friends and family about his reason for joining the war he wrote, “The English have been damn good to me in good times. So, naturally, I feel I ought to try and help out in bad times if I can.”
In the span of 27 days Fiske flew 42 sorties, shot down two aircraft, damaged an additional two, and forced a German bomber into a balloon barrage. He died from injuries sustained when his aircraft was shot down on August 17th, 1940. His sacrifice would be honored long after his passing and his legacy enhanced trans-Atlantic relations for years to come - a sentiment shared by Thorney and his participation in the FEO program.
The FEO program strengthens ties between America and the United Kingdom by integrating a member of the RAF into the 94th Fighter Squadron as a pilot, mentor, and instructor. The first-hand experience allows for improved tactical and technical understandings between the countries while also enhancing interoperability.
“I’m here, flying your apex fighter, in a program that’s highly classified, in a jet that’s highly classified, ready to deploy with you and serve your great nation at any moment,” Thorney said. “I don’t think many other people do that. I don’t think many countries have that level of trust…More important than me, more important than this unit, I think it’s a symbol of how closely we work together.”
History, work and life — Thorney’s experiences with the 94th Fighter Squadron have shaped not only his perspective on the significance of the partnership between our two nations, but that of his family as well.
“We’ve loved living here,” he chuckles. “Our oldest daughter’s first memories are here, so we’ll want to bring her back…My youngest daughter was born here, so we’ve got an American in the family who can celebrate Independence Day each year.”
Thorney went on to say that the biggest thing he’s learned, as he turns over the reins to his counterpart Wild, is that America is absolutely ready to go when called on; a concept he respects and appreciates in a mission capacity, but also in regards to family, friends, and partnerships.
“What do I think of my time with the 94th?” Thorney remarks with a smirk, “Best adventure of my life.”