At RAF Valley in Anglesey, Neil Oliver discovers if he's got the 'right stuff' to fly fighter jets as he takes to the sky with an instructor from the RAF's pilot factory.
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I'm with the Royal Air Force search and rescue team based on Anglesey.
These guys patrol
the coastline of the Irish Sea and, this time, we are exploring their patch.
That's RAF Valley down there.
If the runway was any longer, it would be in the sea!
From up here, you can see why this is a great location for the headquarters
of the Royal Air Force search and rescue service.
I'm going to hitch a ride with them later to relive one of their most hair-raising rescues.
The RAF search and rescue helicopters do not have the sky above Anglesey to themselves.
These runways see more than 100 sorties a day.
None of the 60 hot jets based at Valley ever sees combat, but they could not be more vital to the RAF.
This place is known by some as 'the pilot factory'.
It's where the creme de la creme of RAF recruits come to learn how to handle fast jets.
Only one in 40 hopefuls makes it to RAF Valley for pilot training.
Then, it takes four years of hard graft to master their craft.
To find out why the coast is the ideal spot for training pilots, I'm joining the ranks.
Yes! I'm going up.
I've been fitted with my flight suit and I'm feeling...nervous.
-Good to go?
-Right. I'm good to go.
-Right, let's go.
'Armed with some fireproof gloves, a life vest and a huge sense of trepidation,
'I'm about to put my life in the hands of my pilot, Squadron Leader Ed Thomas.'
Ed, why is RAF Valley right out here on the edge of everything, on the coast?
Well, believe it or not, looking at the weather today,
the weather here is actually very good for a lot of the year,
so with the westerly airflow, we get a lot of clear spells.
We're expecting to travel from Anglesey to Blackpool at speeds touching 600 mph.
-Here we go.
-Here we go, indeed!
It'll get noisy now, because we'll wind the engine up.
-There we go, safely airborne.
-Oh, look there's the sea.
Yes, it's a good sea today.
This is where you'll feel the first sensation of G.
I'm definitely feeling G!
The camera in my hands suddenly feels like about 20kg.
'Low-level flying is one of the RAF's most important tactics,
'so where better to learn how low you can go than over the sea?'
How high are we flying at the moment?
I reckon about 600 feet or so.
It feels a lot lower when the sea's coming towards you.
We're just flying over the tip of Puffin Island,
which I'll try and show you now.
That's Puffin Island, and we're going past it so quickly,
I hardly get the chance to show it to you.
'With Llandudno and Rhyl coming up, it's a reminder that this coast
'has some great resorts - classic seaside towns.'
Say hello to Llandudno!
CONTROL: Be advised, a wind farm ahead of you, by about four miles.
-Oh, that's fantastic!
-Yeah, getting them out here is a bit of a job, I think!
I used to watch these planes all the time and think that the guys in them had the best jobs in the world.
-You DO have the best job in the world.
'For me, this is extraordinary...
'..but for the pilots, it's just part of the daily routine that turns raw recruits into frontline flyers.'
-Here's sunny Blackpool. Not so sunny today.
'The weather down below isn't so great,
but there's one place the sun always shines.
There we are, as promised, on top of the clouds.
-Wow. It's funny being reminded that even on the cloudiest day, up here it's always the same blue.
Not even a day trip - Anglesey to Blackpool and back in just under half an hour.
Still, what do you expect from a flying visit(?)
-There we are.
Off the coast at Blackpool a near disaster.
A freak wave left this ferry from Northern Island on the beach.
When the Riverdance ferry got into trouble in the Irish Sea,
a huge rescue operation was launched...
..co-ordinated by the local coastguard,
which is when the search and rescue team from RAF Valley was scrambled.
This footage was recorded in pitch darkness by the team's night vision cameras
and shows the horrendous conditions they faced.
'They've flown back to the scene to talk me through one of their most spectacular rescues.'
Flight Lieutenant Giles Radcliffe was the co-pilot.
So talk me through what happened on the night that the people on the Riverdance had to be rescued.
We were called out about 8.30
and it took us about 20 minutes to get here
and then we found the Riverdance, the ferry.
We've got a significant list to the port.
Oh, yes, that's a bit of a list.
It was in quite a predicament really. It was leaning about 60 degrees to port, both its engines had stopped
-and the captain wanted people taken off.
-What was the weather?
The wind was gusting up to about 70 knots.
The sea state? The waves were the size of houses - about 20 foot.
The worst conditions I've flown in since I've been at Valley.
And so what were you required to do in terms of getting people off?
We ended up coming up with a plan whereby people were lowered out
from the wheelhouse onto the low side of the vessel, and we were able to winch them up from there.
The boat was moving around a lot, we had to be very close to the boat,
close to the masts, so there was the potential to come into contact
with the boat. That wouldn't be nice. It was certainly a pretty bad night.
It could have been worse, but thankfully it wasn't.
After it washed ashore, the ship became a local celebrity.
By the time you watch this programme this scene will be gone forever, but for me it's a fantastic
opportunity to find out just how you go about moving over 3,000 tonnes of ferry off of a beach.
Overseeing the gargantuan task of removing this maritime relic
from Blackpool's beach is salvage expert, Donald McDonald.
When you're confronted with this, how do you even start to work out how you're going to get rid of it?
In the early stages, we didn't anticipate this,
the early stages were a case of getting the vessel re-floated
and to take her back to sea. And despite all our efforts, she remained there.
Latterly, at the end of March, we had a very severe storm, which finished any salvage operation.
So what's happening now is the last resort?
This is a last resort, because in the United Kingdom we don't cut up ships on beaches.
-And, of course, you have the tide to deal with?
-At this time, we've got a spring tide,
so we get a bit of time to work - up to about 5.5 hours per tide.
Next week, we might not get near the ship.
There is something that affects you, seeing a big ship like this
lying on its side. It kind of gets you in your stomach.
A ship should be upright floating, not lying on its side being cut into small pieces.
As a merchant seaman, I could sympathise with this ship.
However, we'll do our best, we'll give her a tidy end.
Today, there's barely a scrap of the Riverdance left at its last port of call on Blackpool's beach.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
At RAF Valley in Anglesey, Neil Oliver discovers if he's got the 'right stuff' to fly fighter jets as he takes to the sky with an instructor from the RAF's world-famous 'pilot factory'.