|Station Crest of RAF Leuchars. The motto is Attack and Protect, defining its role. The badge depicts a Scottish claymore over the saltire, with a wavy sea background showing the Scottish location and maritime connection.|
|IATA: ADX – ICAO: EGQL
– WMO: 03171
|Airport type||Military/Royal Air Force station|
|Owner||Ministry of Defence|
|Operator||Royal Air Force|
|Location||Leuchars, Fife, Scotland|
|Commander||Air Commodore Mayhew|
|Elevation AMSL||39 ft / 12 m|
Royal Air Force station Leuchars or more simply RAF Leuchars (IATA: ADX, ICAO: EGQL) is the second most northerly air defence station in the United Kingdom (The most northerly being RAF Lossiemouth). It is located in Leuchars, Fife, on the east coast of Scotland, near to the university town of St Andrews.
RAF Leuchars is commanded by an Air Commodore instead of a Group Captain who would usually be given command of a station. This is because the base commander here also undertakes the role of Air Officer Scotland. The present base commander is Air Commodore G. M. Mayhew who succeeded Air Commodore Parler.
Leuchars was home to the last squadron of Panavia Tornado F3s, No. 111 Squadron. 111 Sqn operated the Quick Reaction Alert which was set up primarily to combat threats from Soviet attacks during the Cold War. The unit was disbanded in March 2011.
The station is also home to No. 125 Expeditionary Air Wing, as well as the East of Scotland Universities Air Squadron (ESUAS) and XII Air Experience Flight (12 AEF), who both use a fleet of seven Tutor T Mark 1's. No 125 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) was formed at Leuchars on 1 April 2006. The wing encompasses most of the non-formed unit personnel and does not include the flying units based at the station. The station commander is dual-hatted as the commander of the wing.
Leuchars is also the base for No. 612 (County of Aberdeen) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force (an air-transportable surgical squadron), an RAF Mountain Rescue Unit, and is the airfield of use for the local Air Training Corps units. It is also the parent station to several remote units in the central Scotland area, mainly the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde Air Squadron, but also 661 and 662 Volunteer Gliding Squadrons.
A third Panavia Tornado F3 Squadron, No. 56 (Reserve) Squadron, was disbanded in April 2008 in preparation for the arrival of the Eurofighter Typhoon, in 2010. Members of No 56 Squadron had temporarily joined No. 43 Squadron until it too was disbanded in July 2009. 6 Squadron was reformed at Leuchars in September 2010, equipped with the Typhoon. The RAF Leuchars structure as of February 2011 is as follows:
- No 125 Expeditionary Air Wing
- No 6 Force Protection Wing
- Air Combat 1 Group
- Lodger Units
- Detached Units
First World War
Aviation at Leuchars dates back to 1911 with a balloon squadron of the Royal Engineers setting up a training camp in Tentsmuir Forest. They were soon joined in the skies by the 'string and sealing wax' aircraft of the embryonic Royal Flying Corps; such aircraft favoured the sands of St Andrews, where not the least of the attractions was the availability of fuel from local garages.
Like so many RAF stations, the airfield itself owes its existence to the stimulus of war, and work began on levelling the existing site on Reres Farm in 1916. From the beginning, Leuchars was intended as a training unit, being termed a 'Temporary Mobilisation Station' taking aircrew from initial flying training through to fleet co-operation work. Building was still underway when the Armistice was signed in 1918. Most was made of Leuchars' maritime location when it was designated a Naval Fleet Training School, eventually to undertake the training of 'naval spotting' crews who acted as eyes for the Royal Navy's capital ships.
The unit was formally named 'Royal Air Force Leuchars' in March 1920, but nevertheless retained its strong naval links.
As the Navy embraced the value of aviation, the aircraft carrier was added to its inventory. Many of the flights 'dedicated' to Leuchars were detached to such vessels for months at a time, with light and dark blue uniforms apparently mixing happily together. At St Andrews, the citizens were not unaware of the potential use of aviation and attempts were made to use aircraft as a means of transport for golfing enthusiasts. More successful were the barn-storming displays of the flying circuses which were extremely popular in the town.
In 1935 Leuchars became home to Number 1 Flying Training School (No 1 FTS) and ranges for practice bombing were established in Tentsmuir Forest. As the war clouds gathered over Europe its maritime position ensured that Leuchars would come to enjoy a more warlike role. No 1 FTS moved to Netheravon and the Station came under the control of Coastal Command. With the arrival of 224 and 233 Squadrons in August 1938 the Station enjoyed an operational rather than training role for the first time.
Second World War
On 4 September 1939, a Lockheed Hudson of No. 224 Squadron RAF attacked a Dornier Do 18 over the North Sea with inconclusive results but became the first British aircraft to engage the enemy in the Second World War. Leuchars was not to secure the romantic image of a Battle of Britain station but rather settled to the routine of hour upon hour of maritime patrol. The contribution such unglamorous work made to the war effort should not be underestimated, and such patrolling played a crucial part in Britain's ultimate victory. In February 1940, application and endurance secured their just reward when another 224 Squadron Lockheed Hudson located the German prison ship the Altmark which allowed for its interception by HMS Cossack and the liberation of over 200 British prisoners. On 2 December 1943, a pigeon called Winkie became one of the first birds or animals to be awarded the Dickin Medal for helping rescue the crew of a ditched bomber from the station.
During Second World War, British Overseas Airways Corporation formed in November 1939 from Imperial Airways and British Airways Ltd operated a wartime route from RAF Leuchars to Stockholm. From 1943 BOAC used civilian registered Mosquito aircraft. Noted for the carrying of ball-bearings from Sweden to the UK, the route also returned RAF aircrew that had diverted to or made crash landings in Swedish airfields during operations over Europe. Other aircraft types were used.
Leuchars remained an active Station to the end of the War, concentrating on anti-submarine and anti-shipping strikes. With the contraction of the Air Force in peacetime, life at Leuchars returned to a more gentle pace, hosting a school for general reconnaissance and the St Andrews University Air Squadron complete with de Havilland Tiger Moth. In May 1950 Leuchars entered the jet age as it passed from Coastal to RAF Fighter Command and Gloster Meteor of 222 Squadron made the Station their new home.
In 1954 the fixed wing aircraft had been joined by a flight of Bristol Sycamore helicopters for Search and Rescue duties. From the beginning, the Flight proved a valuable adjunct to the civilian mountain and maritime rescue services, a role which continues to this day. There were also two rescue launches based in Tayport.
The next generation of jets to be stationed at Leuchars were the Hawker Hunter and the Gloster Javelin, with air-sea rescue services provided by Westland Whirlwind helicopters. The University Air Squadron was equipped with the de Havilland Chipmunk.
As the Cold War reached its frostiest depths in the 1960s the development of long range aircraft allowed the Soviets regular incursion into British air space. Initially this was countered by the use of Lightning and, from 1969, Phantom aircraft. Again Leuchars' position made it ideally suited as a base to ensure the integrity of British air space. Leuchars was also the home in the 1970s for a Fleet Air Arm squadron (892 Naval Air Squadron) when disembarked from their carrier HMS Ark Royal, also operating Phantoms. For over two decades Leuchars' aircraft have policed the UK air defence region, demonstrating the ability to intercept unidentified aircraft and thereby providing an effective deterrent.
Post Cold War
The Phantoms of 43 Squadron and 111 Squadron were replaced by Tornado F3s during 1989-1990s. April 2003 saw the Tornado F3 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), 56 (Reserve) Squadron, move to RAF Leuchars. In April 2008, 56(R) Squadron amalgamated with 43 Squadron, retaining the identity of the latter until it was disbanded in July 2009.
In September 2010, No. 6 Squadron RAF was the first squadron at RAF Leuchars to be reformed operating the Eurofighter Typhoon; Typhoons from the squadron performed a QRA scramble on Sunday 2 January 2011. 6 Squadron took over QRA duties when the last of the Tornado F3s were retired. The second Typhoon squadron, 1(F)Squadron, was reformed at the 2012 RAF Leuchars Airshow on 15 September 2012.
RAF Leuchars is home to the annual Leuchars Airshow. This usually takes place on a Saturday in September. The 2007 Leuchars Airshow was cancelled due to resurfacing of the runway.
Approximately 45,000 people attended the 2010 show to see displays including the Red Arrows, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Battle of Britain memorial flight. Air forces from many NATO countries provide additional static and flight displays.
On 18 July 2011 Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced that RAF Leuchars would close, whilst RAF Lossiemouth in Moray would be spared as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review. The recently formed Typhoon force, which was stood up in March 2011, will now be moved to RAF Lossiemouth in 2013 with the Army expected to take up residence in 2015 onwards.
Very little information of a closure timeline is known. Several lodger units on the station will be required to find new homes if the Army are unable to accommodate them. These include 58 Squadron of the RAF Regiment, 6 Force Protection Wing, No 612 (County of Aberdeen) Squadron RAuxAF, the East of Scotland Universities Air Squadron incorporating 12 Air Experience Flight (who have 5 aircraft based at RAF Leuchars), and the headquarters of Scotland and Northern Ireland Region and South East Scotland Wing of the Air Training Corps.
In 2015 the army will take over and The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards will move in along with a REME Battalion and a Provost Company.
- Air Forces Monthly, April 2008 issue, pp. 44
- "Airshow 2006.". DC Thomson. 11 September 2006.
- "RAF to pull out of Leuchars as RAF Lossiemouth stays". BBC News. 18 July 2011. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
- Air Forces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. April 2013. p. 8.
- "Leuchars residents welcome rebasing news". British Forces News (British Forces Broadcasting Service). Retrieved 6 March 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to RAF Leuchars.|
- Official website
- RAF Leuchars Airshow
- Airport information for EGQL at World Aero Data. Data current as of October 2006.
- Review of Leuchars Airshow 2006
- Review of Leuchars Airshow 2005