RAF Wittering Returns to Flying

The arrival of six Grob Tutor aircraft in February marked the historical moment that RAF Wittering returned to full-time flying.

The aircraft, the first to be permanently based at the Station since the retirement of the Harrier in December 2010, 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.

Later the Station saw fledgling Harrier pilots undergo training 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, 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 Gaydon hangar, which housed the V-Bombers during the 1950s and 1960s. The hangar has been extensively refitted for the new aircraft, which will eventually number around 25.

Squadron Leader Ben Plank, officer commanding of the University of London Air Squadron, and one of the first pilots to land at his squadron’s new home, said: “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 Ja mes Lapsley, the officer responsible for readying RAF Wittering for its return to flying, said: ”This has been a massive task and it’s involved almost every section on the Station, but we’ve done it. 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.”

Station Commander Gp Capt Damian Alexander 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.”

He added: “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.”