Sparkling weather put a shine on the RAF Leuchars Diamond Jubilee Airshow on Saturday as more than 40,000 people descended on the Fife air base for a fantastic day of flying and a celebration of the armed forces during the Queen’s 60-year reign.
History was made early in the day when Number 1 (Fighter) Squadron, one of the oldest squadrons in the RAF, was returned to active service.
The occasion was marked by an impressive parade and flypast.
The squadron was disbanded in January 2011 with the retirement from service of the venerable Harrier. Now, however, the new 1 (F) Squadron has joined its sister unit 6 Squadron as the second Typhoon unit at Leuchars.
There are now four Typhoon frontline squadrons in the RAF. Numbers 3 (F) and XI Squadrons are based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. Ultimately, the Typhoon force will grow to five frontline squadrons.
Air Officer Scotland and RAF Leuchars Station Commander Air Commodore Gavin Parker said: ”This is a very proud day for the RAF in Scotland. The fact that we are in a position to stand-up another Typhoon squadron, which will be able to share the quick reaction alert workload with 6 Squadron and develop the multi-role capabilities of Typhoon, speaks volumes for the efforts of everyone here at RAF Leuchars.”
During the parade, watched by VIPs including Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, North-East Fife MP Sir Menzies Campbell and Fife Provost Jim Leishman, the RAF chaplain-in-chief consecrated a new squadron standard.
There followed three dramatic flypasts recognising the squadron’s proud history and new role.
First came a Hurricane and Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Both aircraft types were flown by 1 (F) Squadron pilots during the second world war.
Then came a four-ship formation of Typhoons, flown by pilots from both 1 (F) and 6 Squadrons.
Finally, the Red Arrows paid the squadron their own tribute, flying past the parade in ‘big battle’ formation while trailing the squadron colours of red and white as they arrived at the show.
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton was the reviewing officer for the stand-up parade.
Describing the RAF as the ”best of the best”, he said: ”It is great to see such a distinguished squadron back in active service equipped with the combat-proven Typhoon.
”Our Typhoon force will continue to grow, ultimately to five squadrons, and when combined with the Tornado force, and in due course with our Lightning II force, the RAF will be well-placed to face the challenges of the future.
”As always when I visit the RAF Leuchars Airshow I am heartened by the very real depth of support that the people of Scotland have for the RAF, for which I am most grateful.”
The glorious sunshine and the possibility this could be the last RAF Leuchars Airshow seemed to swell the crowds early in the day.
The stiff westerly breeze, which picked up as the day went on, led to the cancellation of the RAF Falcons parachute display team and led to some ”tweaking” of the display by the Red Arrows.
Squadron Leader Mike Laing, the Red Arrows ground supervisor and Red 10 pilot and display commentator, said: ”It’s a 40 knot wind up there. With the planes hurtling towards each other, the wind can add seconds to the closing speed and means we need to modify and make things less bumpy.”
The display team flew with just seven planes instead of their usual nine. Following a ”disjointed” winter training programme after the death of two pilots in accidents last year, Squadron Leader Laing said the team would revert to nine fliers next year, with new pilots starting training last week.
Other highlights of the show were the final Typhoon solo display of the season by Leuchars Squadron Leader Scott Loughran, the GR4 Tornado pyrotechnics demonstration, which simulated an attack in Helmand province, the howling roar of the Avro Vulcan and the amazing manoeuvrability of a Chinook from 27 Squadron, RAF Odiham.
On the ground there was a performance by the West of Scotland Military Wives Choir and a field gun demonstration by a team from the navy and RAF Cosford.
The airshow concluded with a sunset ceremony during which Typhoons from 6 Squadron performed a nine-ship flypast to mark the diamond jubilee.
Airshow organisers said they were ”absolutely delighted” with the way the event had gone, with crowds ”busier than the 35,000 expected”.
Airshow executive Wing Commander Neville Clayton said: ”This year’s show has provided a fitting tribute to the joint contribution of the armed forces during Her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne.
”We are delighted that so many thousands of people were able to join us to see what we do in support of defence operations as well as enjoy stunning displays by a host of iconic aircraft.”
Fife Constabulary was pleased with the way the show was handled.
While the park and ride at St Andrews, Guardbridge and Cupar again worked very well, there were some issues with departing crowds when around 4,000 people found themselves queueing at Leuchars railway station after 6pm.
The police spokesman said: ”The weather has been so good it’s delayed people’s departure.
”Last year we had rain around 3pm and a lot left early. This year more have stayed and we had between 3,000 and 4,000 people at the station at the same time.
”The situation was managed. I tweeted on the Fife Constabulary site urging people to be patient and to say that ScotRail are dealing with it. British Transport Police put out crash barriers in the car park.
”The park and ride, though, has gone very well. There were no issues. And overall we have had no arrests. It’s been a crime-free, happy and excellent family day out.”
One trader complained to The Courier that they felt delays getting into the base after 6am on Saturday had been ”excessive”, with every traders’ vehicle initially subject to a full stop and search.
The trader said there were long queues and domestic traffic passing through Leuchars and Guardbridge had been caught up in the delays.
An RAF Leuchars spokesman described the situation as a ”minor issue” and said overall everything had run smoothly.For more photos, click here