Tornado F3 jets have taken to the skies above Leuchars for one of the last times before they are retired next week along with their squadron.
Marking the end of an era for the Fife base, 111 (Fighter) Squadron is being disbanded after 94 years serving the RAF.
Having guarded UK airspace by maintaining Leuchars’ Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) mission, the jets have been phased out to make way for the Typhoon force.
At the end of the month the Tornados will be flown to RAF Leeming, where they will be dismantled for spare parts. The move was planned prior to the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, and is unrelated to any discussions on the future of RAF Leuchars.
Although the Ministry of Defence has not made any announcements about Leuchars, rumours have been circulating that it may be axed to save RAF Lossiemouth, or turned into an army base for returning troops.
Leuchars’ QRA capabilities and its strategic importance have been highlighted in the campaign to save the base. Squadron leader Rob Laidlar, executive officer, said Leuchars had proved to be a good location for QRA.
“Certainly, historically it’s an effective location for covering northern England and Scotland,” he said.
Mr Laidlar said although there was sadness at the disbandment of 111 Squadron it was inevitable because of the introduction of aircraft with greater capabilities.
“It’s a natural event because this aircraft has reached the end of its life. I would feel sadder if there were no Typhoons taking over our role. It’s a better aircraft no doubt about it.”
Most of 111 Squadron’s 140 engineers, eight pilots and eight navigators will be redeployed within the RAF.
Tornado pilot Flight Lieutenant Mark Coram is about to undergo Typhoon flying training at RAF Coningsby.
“The Typhoon is an amazing aircraft and I can’t wait to get into it. I’ve had a great time with 111 and I’ll always look back on it fondly,” he said.
RAF Leuchars station commander Air Commodore Harry Atkinson said, “On March 22 we shall disband 111 (F) squadron. This disbandment is part of our successful transition to the future as the Tornado F3 is retired from service and the Typhoons of number 6 Squadron take post.
“111 (F) Squadron has had a long and distinguished history. I am certain that all former squadron members, since 1917, would be as proud as I am of the way that current members of 111 (F) Squadron have diligently performed their duty, right to the very end.”
Wing Commander Mark Gorringe said, “The squadron will leave Leuchars with our heads held high…On behalf of the squadron, I would like to thank the many sections across RAF Leuchars whose work makes effective QRA possible. It is a true team effort. We also recognise the important support we have had from the local community and across Scotland.”Background: ‘Treble one’ can lay claim to an illustrious historySquadron 111 was formed in Palestine on August 1, 1917, with the aim of restricting enemy reconnaissance and countering the German threat over the Suez. After the end of the war, it was reformed as No 14 Squadron.
“Treble one” was reformed in 1923 and went on to become a vital force during the second world war. In 1938 it became the first squadron to fly Hurricanes and these were used with deadly effect in the Battle of Britain, the squadron claiming 47 Luftwaffe bombers shot down with the loss of 18 Hurricanes.
Before it disbanded again in 1947, it is thought to have shot down 269 aircraft during the second world war.
It was 1953 before 111 was up and running again, when it received Gloster Meteor F8s, soon to be replaced with Hawker Hunters. At this point it was moved to RAF Wattisham in Suffolk.
The late 1950s saw the 111 nominated as the official RAF aerobatic team the “Black Arrows.”
After a brief move to RAF Coningsby, 111 arrived at Leuchars in November 1975. At first it was equipped with ex-Royal Navy Phantoms, but in 1990 the squadron took on its current role when the F3 Tornados landed at Leuchars.
In the early 1990s, aircrew from 111 were involved in the Gulf war and the squadron was involved in Operation Deny Flight over Bosnia. It has also provided air defence for the Falklands.
Most recently, 111 has provided Quick Reaction Alert operations for Scotland and the north of England, protecting UK airspace from unidentified aircraft.
Wing Commander Mark Gorringe, Officer Commanding 111 (Fighter) Squadron, said it was not the end.
“111 has disbanded before and has come back each time, so I remain hopeful,” he said.