Wittering squadrons take to the skies

Alex Ogden, 21, of Cambridge University Air Squadron lands a Grob Tutor at RAF Wittering. Photo: Chris Lowndes EMN-140415-125421001
Alex Ogden, 21, of Cambridge University Air Squadron lands a Grob Tutor at RAF Wittering. Photo: Chris Lowndes EMN-140415-125421001
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Excitement has been building for weeks at RAF Wittering as the base has been prepared to receive aircraft once again.

The runway has been largely dormant since the Government axed the famous Harrier jump jet in 2010. But on Monday the skies were full of the sounds of plane engines as RAF training squadrons touched down for the first time.

The base will become home to five University Air Squadrons in the coming months, meaning up to 25 Grob Tutor planes will be permanently stationed there.

Wing Commander James Lapsley, Officer Commanding Operations Wing, said Monday’s landings were hugely important for Wittering.

“The sound of aircraft is really the beating heart of an RAF base, so to have aeroplanes back is fantastic,” he added. “It’s the beginning of a new and very positive chapter for RAF Wittering.”

Cambridge University Air Squadron, University of London Air Squadron and No 5 Air Experience Flight will move to Wittering when RAF Wyton’s airfield closes. East Midlands University Air Squadron and No. 115 (Reserve) Squadron will relocate from RAF College Cranwell.

Wing Commander Lapsley hopes nearby Stamford and the surrounding area will welcome the new squadrons. He said: “We hope people outside the base will be excited to see planes return. It will give people a visual sense that there is something going on inside the base.”

Much has been going on behind the scenes to prepare the base for aircraft. Air traffic control services are back up and running and a military air traffic zone will soon be reactivated.

As part of the preparation, almost every airman and woman living at the base gathered on the runway on Friday last week for a “FOD plod”. FOD stands for Foreign Object Damage and applies to anything that could be sucked into a plane’s engines.

About 300 personnel lined up armed with binbags and gloves to sweep the runway for litter. Wing Commander Lapsley said it was important for everyone on the base to feel part of the preparations.

He added: “It’s good to get them out on the airfield to focus their minds that this part of the base is going to become active.

“A lot of the people here now won’t have been here in 2010.”

The base remains keen to involve its neighbours. On Thursday last week 10 youngsters were treated to a visit to Wittering by the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society.

They enjoyed an up-close look at the base’s newest fire engine and took a turn on the powerful hoses.

The children even got to sit in the cockpit of the iconic Harrier for which Wittering is best known.