Thursday, April 1, 1999 Published at 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
On board Nato's 'eyes in the sky'
The Awacs aircraft is the nerve centre of Nato operations
By Chief News Correspondent Kate Adie
As the airborne warning and control centre it is the flying nerve centre, and several of these surveillance planes, with their distinctive radar disks perched on top of them, are at present giving continuous cover over the Balkans.
A world of squeaks
Activity for up to 250 miles can be monitored. The technical crew sit watching intently, while listening to several radio channels. Tiny dots flit and jump - different colours designating aircraft, geographical points and airborne activity.
A couple of minutes listening to the headphones leaves the impression of a world of electronic squeaks, hisses and growls, punctuated by human voices rattling out verb-less sentences full of puzzling references to foils, knife, magic and outlaws.
The nerve centre
The TD - the tactical director - in charge of the operation hops up and down, perching on the arm of her chair, taking decisions, giving orders.
The electronic world has an unreal feel to it - detached from the warfare, even though it lies at its heart.
But every so often the tension rises, as a dot on the screen is designated ' hostile' rather than 'friendly' the crew co-ordinate a mass of data which is fed instantaneously to control centres, planes and mission headquarters.
Fighters and food
In-flight catering for business people and holiday makers would be tricky with this kind of flying.
Unfazed, the RAF dishes up enormous breakfasts complete with a heap of baked beans, producers trays of cinnamon buns, and mutters about their being lots of cheese burgers later.
Even electronic war marches on its stomach.