Hunting submarines unites father and son
Some families go fishing together, but one father-and-son duo hunt submarines.
CAPTION: Flying Officer Michael Clifton, a maritime patrol and response officer from No. 11 Squadron, on board a P-8A Poseidon aircraft at RAAF Base Townsville during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2021. Story by Flight Lieutenant Chloe Stevenson. Photo by Leading Aircraftwoman Emma Schwenke.
Flight engineer Warrant Officer Ralph Clifton and his son, Flying Officer Michael Clifton, have both had careers as maritime aircrew.
Flying Officer Michael Clifton is a maritime patrol and response officer on a No. 11 Squadron P-8A Poseidon.
Previously known as a navigator, his role providing communication support on the aircraft is an important one.
“As a maritime patrol and response officer, I work with the navigation and communications systems on board the aircraft,” Flying Officer Clifton said.
“It involves communicating with people on the radio aircraft-to-aircraft, aircraft-to-ship, or aircraft-to-ground.
“It’s about making sure we’re all on the same page and working together as best we can.
“I only qualified at the start of the year, so Talisman Sabre’s been awesome.
“It’s my first ever exercise and I’m really enjoying it, especially working really closely with the Americans.”
Flying Officer Clifton said it was because of his father he found himself in a flight suit and on board an aircraft designed to hunt submarines.
“My dad was a flight engineer on the Orions, so he was pretty stoked when he heard I was going maritime as well,” Flying Officer Clifton said.
“Don’t tell him I said it, but he’s the reason I wanted to join Air Force.
“I saw him flying since I was very little and loved the idea of being in the aircraft and doing the same sort of thing, as it seemed really cool.
“Just kidding, though: you can add it in [to the story].”
Warrant Officer Ralph Clifton joined the Air Force as an apprentice airframe fitter about 35 years ago, plus or minus a few years, he will tell you.
He then re-mustered to become a flight engineer on the C-130 Hercules before transferring to the AP-3C Orions.
“Michael working in the maritime space is actually quite nice, as he’s working with people that I used to work with when I was flying on the Orions,” Warrant Officer Clifton said.
“It’s also pretty funny because some of the people that he works with now met him when he was a little kid hanging out in the crew room. He’s not so little now.”
Warrant Officer Clifton, now with No. 96 Wing, said while his son might have chosen a career as an air combat officer, he joked he could never hold it against him.
“On a maritime crew, there was generally a little bit of friendly banter between flight engineers and navigators,” Warrant Officer Clifton said.
“I might get some grief coming my way saying I’m proud of a ‘nav’, but I am deeply proud of this one.
“I’ve participated in a couple of Talisman Sabre exercises previously, so it’s great to see Michael up in North Queensland doing his first.
“I am sure he will get as much out of the experience as I did.”
There are two P-8A Poseidon aircraft deployed to Townsville for Exercise Talisman Sabre 21 that are also working with US P-8A Poseidons.