NAS Patuxent River is home to nine highly experienced multi-mission operators from the United Kingdom, directly supporting the P-8A Poseidon Operational Test and Evaluation program at VX-1; and one of the members of that team is Royal Air Force pilot, Flight Lt. John “Digi” Ryder.
Ryder arrived at Pax River in May 2012 from Yorkshire, England, where he provided basic fast jet training instruction on the Tucano T1 at RAF Linton-on-Ouse. He spent six years as a pilot on the Nimrod MR2, the U.K.’s maritime aircraft, including two years as mission commander. He has flown operations in Iraq, over Afghanistan and conducted many other peacetime maritime operations; and he has more than 17 years of military service—four with the Royal Marines Commando Reserves during college and 13 more with the RAF.
When asked what he misses most about home, in addition to his mum, oat soda and Cadbury chocolate, this seasoned aviator answered, “higher speed limits.”
Although he’d prefer to travel faster, he said he wishes the roads weren’t quite so crowded.
“Three Notch Road is like a NASCAR race at times, given the distance people like to drive from each other,” Ryder said. “And everyone seems to continuously drink coffee whilst at the wheel.”
Traffic aside, Ryder has come to embrace American and local culture.
“I really like that folks use the outside of their vehicle to advertise who they are in terms of military connection, college attendance and how their kids are doing in school,” he commented. “You will not see anything like that in the U.K. “
Other differences Ryder has noticed, besides the sheer number of television screens in bars—not pubs—are the generous discounts afforded to members of the military and the fact that people here regularly stop to thank him for his military service which, he says, does not happen back home.
While he laments the fact that it’s necessary to have a car to go anywhere—unlike in the U.K. where trains, taxis and buses connect the remotest places—Ryder appreciates America's bigger cars, better restaurant service and warmer weather. And the food isn’t bad either.
“I really enjoy crab,” he said. “My neighbor is a fisherman and has been instructing me in the ways of crab catching, preparing and eating. And I eat lots of barbecue! Americans know how to barbecue!”
Although the difference in accents can sometimes be a challenge, Ryder finds the work ethos of naval aviators very similar to that of RAF aviators, and most even share the same sense of humor.
So what is a major distinction between the RAF and USN? Size.
“The working population at NAS Pax is almost half the size of the entire RAF,” Ryder said. “Additionally, we don’t have ships in the RAF so most of us avoid the ‘boat.' And I rarely see a mustache here, which is almost standard issue in the RAF.”
Ryder will be living in the area for at least another three years with his wife, Siobbhan; 4-year-old son James Alexander; and Milly, their 8-year-old Scottish Border Collie who thinks cars are sheep.
As for the origin of his nickname, “Digi”?
“It was given to me in my last posting by a good RAF colleague, Pete “Pie-man” Surtees,” he explained. “It is short for Digital and is connected with singing Scottish songs—but the rest is classified!”