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Monday, December 21, 1998 Published at 00:21 GMT

Calm after the storm

Time out: Pilots relax in the shadow of the bombers

Now that Operation Desert Fox has come to an end, some of the RAF pilots involved in the air strikes against Iraq have been talking about their experiences.

All pilots and navigators of the 12 British tornados used in the attacks on Iraq returned safely to the Ali Al Salem base in Kuwait.

They are now taking some well-earned rest after completing the four-day bombing mission.

The crew, from No 12 Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, completed 28 sorties in their tornados as the British contribution to the Allied attack on Saddam Hussein.

The pilots, who do not wish to be named for security reasons, told of the view from the cockpit while in the line of fire.

One of the pilots said: "You can actually see some of the tracer and some of the anti-aircraft fire coming up at you.

[ image: The pilots will soon have to go back to work]
The pilots will soon have to go back to work
"The first time it happened I was unsure whether it was a missile coming at me or anti-aircraft fire - obviously a missile is much more danger to us.

"Fortunately it was only anti-aircraft fire and a tracer that was coming up ... I think the Iraqis had their radar off so it was all fairly easy to avoid."

A colleague added: "We were nervous before we went flying.

"Once you're strapped into the jet, you're in a familiar environment. It's your own electronic little world - just a few lights outside the window."

However, even though the air strikes are over, the pilots will soon be covering the some of the same territory when they go back to keep watch on the area.

And the crews will stay in a high state of readiness at the base because the threat of bombing is still the main way of keeping Saddam's ambitions in check, says the BBC's Chief News Correspondent Kate Adie.

'Pleased and relieved'

Back at the squadron's base at RAF Lossiemouth, the wives, children, friends and colleagues of the servicemen who took part in the bombing raids gathered at a Christmas carol service.

Prayers were said in St Aiden's Church for the 400 pilots, navigators and ground crew stationed at the airbase in Kuwait.

The station's commander, Group Captain Alan Hudson, told worshippers he was "pleased and relieved" that the operation passed off with no casualties among RAF staff.

It was also understood the atmosphere among the wives gathered earlier on Sunday for an RAF briefing was "happy and relaxed" following the news that the operation was over and that all the crew members were safe.

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In this section

Containment: The Iraqi no-fly zones

HMS Invincible: A city at sea

Calm after the storm

Which targets were hit

'Drones of death' hit by Tornados

Tornado crew: In the front line

The airman's guide to survival

The role of 'smart' weapons

'Sharp increase' in US troops in Gulf

Iraq's weapons of mass destruction