|Leuchars, Fife in Scotland|
Aerial view looking east over Leuchars.
Attack and Protect
|Type||Royal Air Force station|
|Owner||Ministry of Defence|
|Operator||Royal Air Force|
|Identifiers||IATA: ADX, ICAO: EGQL, WMO: 03171|
|Elevation||12 metres (39 ft) AMSL|
Royal Air Force Leuchars or RAF Leuchars (IATA: ADX, ICAO: EGQL) was a Royal Air Force station located in Leuchars, Fife, on the east coast of Scotland. Throughout the Cold War and beyond, the station was home to fighter aircraft which policed northern UK airspace.The station ceased to be an RAF station at 1200 hrs on 31 March 2015 when it became Leuchars Station and control of the site was transferred to the British Army.
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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 under way when the Armistice was signed in 1918. Much 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' on 16 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 uses 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 No. 1 Flying Training School (1 FTS) and ranges for practice bombing were established in Tentsmuir Forest. As the war clouds gathered, its maritime position ensured that Leuchars would come to play a more warlike role. 1 FTS moved to RAF Netheravon and the station came under the control of Coastal Command. With the arrival of 224 and 233 Squadrons in August 1938 the station had 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 which played a crucial part in Britain's ultimate victory. In February 1940, 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 who 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 English Electric Lightning and, from 1969, McDonnell Douglas Phantom II 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. During the 1980s, RAF Leuchars was home to 27 Sqn RAF Regiment which was a Short Range Air Defence (SHORAD) based Squadron, using Field Standard A Rapier Missile system. Throughout the cold war, search and rescue was an enduring presence, and Whirlwind and Wessex aircraft were stationed at RAF Leuchars throughout the 1960s to early 1990s.
The Phantoms of 43 Squadron and 111 Squadron were replaced by Panavia Tornado F.3s during 1986-1990s. April 2003 saw the Tornado F.3 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 F.3s were retired. The second Typhoon squadron, 1(F)Squadron, was reformed at the 2012 RAF Leuchars Airshow on 15 September 2012. Leuchars had a long history of defending sovereign UK airspace over many decades stretching back to Meteor aircraft and finally with the Typhoon. Iconic aircraft such as the English Electric Lightning and McDonald Douglas Phantom were prevalent over many years. Leuchars was home to the last squadron of Panavia Tornado F3s, No. 111 Squadron. 111 Sqn operated the Quick Reaction Alert ( QRA ) which was set up primarily to combat threats from Soviet attacks during the Cold War. The unit was disbanded in March 2011.
The station was formerly home to No. 125 Expeditionary Air Wing, but it is still the home of the East of Scotland Universities Air Squadron (ESUAS) and XII Air Experience Flight (12 AEF), who both use a fleet of seven Tutor T.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 was 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), and was formerly a host to an RAF Mountain Rescue Unit. Leuchars frequently hosts local Air Training Corps units. Until 1 January 2015 it was also the parent station to several remote units in the central Scotland area, including Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde Air Squadron, 602 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, 603 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force and many Air Training Corps squadrons. RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, and RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, are now the sole operating bases and custodians for QRA(I) North & South flying the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4. 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. Following the departure of the two Typhoon Squadrons, 6 Sqn in June 2014, and 1(F) Sqn in Sep 14, RAF Leuchars merged the traditional Tri-Wing structure of Base, Engineering and Logistics and Operations Wings into a single Wing structure.
On 18 July 2011, Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced that RAF Leuchars would close as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010, with the station being transferred to British Army control in 2015 and Leuchar's Typhoons moving to RAF Lossiemouth in Morayshire.
In preparation for the closure, RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team disbanded in Nov 2013 whilst No. 58 Squadron of the RAF Regiment and No. 6 Force Protection Wing disbanded on 10 May 2014. No. 6 Squadron was the first Typhoon unit to depart Leuchars, heading for its new home at RAF Lossiemouth in June 2014. No. 1 Squadron followed on 8 September 2014, at which point responsibility for Quick Reaction Alert (North) was transferred from Leuchars to Lossiemouth.
Transfer to British Army
Control of Leuchars was transferred to the British Army on 1 April 2015, when it was renamed Leuchars Station. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards gradually relocated from Germany in the spring and summer of 2015 along with 2 Close Support Battalion of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and 110 Provost Company.
The airfield is maintained as a relief landing ground for aircraft based at RAF Lossiemouth and other aircraft. The station continues to be home to several RAF units, including No. 612 (County of Aberdeen) Squadron RAuxAF, the East of Scotland Universities Air Squadron incorporating No. 12 Air Experience Flight, and the headquarters of Scotland and Northern Ireland Region and South East Scotland Wing of the Air Training Corps.
RAF Leuchars was home to the annual Leuchars Airshow which originated many decades before. This usually took 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 provided additional static and flight displays. The final airshow was held on 8 September 2013 and circa 45,000 people were on site.
- "Defence Estates Development Plan (DEDP) 2009 - Annex A" (PDF). GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. 3 July 2009. p. 2. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
- "Quick Reaction Alert". RAF 2004 (PDF) (Report). Royal Air Force. 2004. pp. 38–43. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
- "No 43 (Fighter) Squadron Disbanded". raf.mod.uk. 13 July 2009. Archived from the original on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
- "Typhoon Force Grows as Historic Squadron Reforms at Leuchars". raf.mod.uk. 15 September 2012. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
- "RAF to pull out of Leuchars as RAF Lossiemouth stays". BBC News. 18 July 2011. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
- "Disbandment Parade of 6 RAF Force Protection Wing and 58 Sqn RAF Regiment". rafregt.org.uk. 10 May 2014. Archived from the original on 10 September 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
- "First Typhoons land at Lossiemouth". Press and Journal. 12 June 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2014. (Subscription required (. ))
- Air Forces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. April 2013. p. 8.
- "Typhoon aircraft relocate to RAF Lossiemouth". GOV.UK. Ministry of Defence. 20 June 2014. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
- Maureen Ferrier Email (2015-03-31). "Army now in charge at Leuchars". Fife Today. Retrieved 2017-06-25.
- "Leuchars residents welcome rebasing news". British Forces News (British Forces Broadcasting Service). Archived from the original on 17 March 2013. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
- "Leuchars Station - HL4058". Hansard. 13 December 2016. Retrieved 22 December 2016.
- Dickie, Andrew (13 September 2008). "RAF Leuchars Airshow 2008 Review". UK Airshow Review. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
- "Airshow 2006". The Courier (Dundee). DC Thomson. 11 September 2006. Archived from the original on 27 May 2007.
- "Last RAF Leuchars Airshow takes to skies". BBC News. 7 September 2013. Retrieved 9 September 2014.