Inside the world of an RAF Typhoon fighter pilot policing Nato's eastern skies

Watch: Being on the QRA in Estonia, with imagery by Air Specialist Ben Drake and Air Specialist Natalie Adams.

A Royal Air Force fighter pilot deployed to Estonia has exclusively told Forces News what it is like coming face-to-face with Russian aircraft in the skies.

The interview is the first time an RAF Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) pilot on Op Azotize has spoken to the media about being scrambled and the rapid search to find aircraft, plus how he has to be "ready at all times".

The Typhoon pilot from IX (B) Squadron is part of the Nato Baltic Air Policing mission in Estonia, which borders Russia, and described how so far, across "two Alpha scrambles", he has encountered seven Russian aeroplanes, which he classifies as "a good haul".

As a pilot responding to a QRA, he has flown alongside Russian fighter jets, but said he did not fear any aggression, adding: "Despite what's going on in the world today, I don't believe at that point in time, that he's going to try and shoot me."

Around 300 RAF personnel are in the country for four months from April 2023, to protect Nato skies in the region. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has reignited concerns in border states – including Estonia – about Vladimir Putin's ambitions and his next steps.

What is a Quick Reaction Alert and how does it work?

On Russian jets, the pilot said: "I have a good appreciation of what those platforms and those pilots are capable of. It's certainly something that is in the back of my mind throughout the whole process.

"I don't believe that his intent is to kill me – unless I do something that drives him to do that.

"I am not expecting any kind of aggressive reaction or any kind of aggression towards me."

When looking for an aircraft, the radar gives a rough idea of location, but it may not be initially visible.

He goes on: "We're just looking into the deep dark blue, searching desperately for this aeroplane".

Finally, he says, "from nothing, this little black spot appears... then very quickly you start to be able to make out the details, like what is it, is it a fighter, an airliner?"

Speed is of the essence for the pilots, as "the quicker I can get there, the quicker I can ensure safety of flight for that airspace and provide that deterrent posture that we need for Nato airspace".

The pilots need to be prepared at all times, which includes making sure they are "fed and watered, and maybe a little toilet break", with their kit sorted for whenever the buzzer goes.

"I don't get a break, that's not how it works. You have to be ready at all times."

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