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Home of the Harrier returns to flying again

Wittering grob tutors. SAC Gary Kearney EMN-150602-140845001
Wittering grob tutors. SAC Gary Kearney EMN-150602-140845001

RAF Wittering has returned to full-time flying operations with the first planes to be based at the iconic station since the Harrier.

A very chilly afternoon just over a week ago saw the landing of six Grob Tutor aircraft, the first aeroplanes to be permanently based at RAF Wittering since the retirement of the Harrier in December 2010.

The aircraft belong to Cambridge University Air Squadron, the University of London Air Squadron and No. 5 Air Experience Flight, and are used for Elementary Flying Training.

Flying training is the hallmark of RAF Wittering’s near 100-year history. The Station hosted training units in 1917, again in 1927 when it was home to the Central Flying School, and once more in 1935 with No. 11 Flying Training School.

Of course, it was at RAF Wittering where fledgling Harrier pilots were taught to fly the world famous jump-jet when they joined 233 Operational Conversion Unit, which later became 20 (R) Squadron.

Now it is the turn of units from No. 3 Flying Training School, an RAF organisation headquartered at RAF Cranwell near Sleaford, responsible for the Elementary Flying Training of novice pilots from the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force.

After landing, the Tutors were towed into the historic Gaydon hangar, which housed the mighty V-Bombers during the ‘50s and ‘60s. The hangar has been extensively refitted for the new aircraft, which will eventually number around 25.

Squadron Leader Ben Plank is the commanding officer of the University of London Air Squadron, and one of the first pilots to land at his squadron’s new home.

He said: “It’s great to be here. RAF Wittering is going to be a brilliant home for us.”

He added: “So much of Wittering’s history has been about flying training, it feels right to be here. The new facilities are first class, and you can see just how hard the station has prepared for our arrival, for ex Harrier guys like myself it’s great.”

The station’s preparations have been extensive and thorough, starting with the reactivation of the airfield and air traffic control, through to the installation of radar and the construction of two new buildings for the incoming squadrons.

Wing Commander James Lapsley is the officer responsible for readying RAF Wittering for its return to flying.

He said: ”This has been a massive task and it’s involved almost every section on the station, but we’ve done it.”

He added: “The measure of our success will be seen in a year’s time, when the new squadrons have fully integrated with the station and flying is as much a part of life at RAF Wittering as it was in the Harrier and V-Bomber days.”

RAF Wittering’s primary role is the headquarters of the A4 Expeditionary Logistics and Engineering Force, which is the station’s dominant unit and supports deployed air operations across the globe.

The Station Commander is Group Captain Damian Alexander.

He said: “I think we need to recognise just how remarkable this event is; not just in terms of its historical significance, but also in terms of the work that’s been done to bring us to this stage.

“The reactivation of a military airfield is a very rare thing, but air power is why we’re here.

“The A4 Force enables and supports deployed air power; and the cadets and students who learn to fly here could well become the pilots we support on deployed ops in years to come.”


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