The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, today took to the skies as part of his visit to a North Yorkshire airbase to learn about its role in the community and how the RAF trains fighter pilots.
RAF Linton-on-Ouse, near York, trains all the fast jet pilots and navigators for the RAF. During the day, Dr Sentamu observed the complexities involved in the first stage of training by taking to the skies in a Grob Tutor aircraft belonging to the Yorkshire Universities Air Squadron (YUAS).
The Archbishop said his airborne encounter was exhilarating, adding:
"I am on record as saying that the Royal Air Force is the best in the world. They have a difficult job to carry out which they manage to do with skill, flair and dedication. The men and women of the RAF, like all in the armed forces, deserve our support for their unswerving commitment in the face of danger and their willingness to do so on behalf of each of us."
In the afternoon he conducted a service in the base's church to offer prayers for Linton personnel currently serving on operational duties. Among the congregation was Corporal Pete Leahair, whose wife Karen, a Sergeant, is on deployment in the Gulf, leaving him to look after their 5 and 9 year old daughters.
Cpl Leahair said it was an honour to meet the Archbishop adding:
"At times it has been difficult especially at the beginning of Karen's deployment. Mum has suddenly gone and dad has to try to follow her skills. So Dr Sentamu's words today were very comforting. Its little things really like having the patience to do help my 5 year old do her homework. Mum has it to a tee and I apparently don't! It also takes while to develop a routine for things like lunches and bath time whilst holding down the day job. I've even had to learn how to tie piggy tails, but despite my best effort the girls say 'you're not as good as mum. But I've had a lot of support without which life would have been very difficult. Karen has an email facility out in the Gulf which is fantastic. She also phones home once a week to speak to us all and its great to hear her voice - especially for my daughters. But they keep asking how many sleeps it is before mum gets home."
Karen is due home in two weeks and Cpl Leahair says he can't wait to be a family together again.
"I don't know when this will happen again but we both signed the dotted line when we joined the RAF. Fingers crossed it's going to be a while before one of us is deployed again. At least I now have the piggy tails down to a tee!"
Linton Station Commander Group Captain Mark Hopkins explained why he invited Dr Sentamu to his station:
"The Archbishop is a highly influential person in the community and today was about letting him know what we do here at Linton-on-Ouse. Firstly, we were able to show him what our main output is - to train tomorrow's Fast Jet aircrew. But we were also able to brief him on the contribution Station personnel make to current operations overseas as well as some of the work we do in the local community."
To end the day Dr Sentamu opened a new youth club; the facility will not just be for RAF families but locals as well. The opening was attended by youngsters from Linton Primary School and their friends from Hillcrest Primary School in Cowper Street, Leeds.