RAF Brize Norton History 1965 to 1990

History 1965 to 1990

CHAPTER FOUR 1965-1980

For some years prior to 1965, the RAF's principal strategic transport base had been located at Lyneham, Wilts, operating the Hastings early on and later the Comet and Britannia. With the ordering of several new types to replace these, it became evident that Lyneham could no longer handle all the main transport requirements on its own. Firstly, the airfield was not large enough to handle VC l Os and Belfasts especially with regard to runway length, which would not accommodate a fully-laden VC 10 with a sufficient safety margin. Secondly, with the C-130K Hercules on order as the new tactical transport, it was decided that Lyneham would be the ideal base for it.

The search was therefore started for a new strategic base and the choice soon fell on Brize Norton. Plans for its re- development were already well in hand at the time of the American withdrawal and work was started almost immediately. Although already a large and well equipped airfield, Brize obviously lacked the facilities necessary to handle large transport aircraft and their cargoes, both human and material, so amongst the priorities in the building programme were a passenger terminal, a cargo handling shed (converted from an existing `B' type hangar), and enlarged aprons with full floodlighting. On the domestic side, the Americans had built comparatively few married quarters, so a large scale housing programme was put in hand together with an hotel for transit personnel and new living-in accommodation.

However, perhaps the most impressive item in the building programme was what came to be known as Base Hangar. Designed to accommodate up to six aircraft of VC 10/Belfast size, at the time of its completion in August 1967 it was the largest cantilever structure in Western Europe and cost just under two million pounds.

Despite all this intense activity, it was realised early on that Brize would not be ready for the start of operations by the new types. The first RAF VC 10 (XR806) had made its maiden flight on the 26th November 1965 and deliveries to the designated operator, 10 Squadron, began on the 7th July 1966. The Belfast, meanwhile, had commenced its flight test programme with XR362 on the 5th January 1964 with the first hand-over of XR367 to 53 Squadron taking place on the 20th January 1966.

Consequently, early operations were mounted from both Lyneham and Fairford. The first operational flight was mounted by Belfast XR367 in October 1966 when it transported 3 Whirlwind HC 10 helicopters of 1310 Flight from Atkinson Field, Guyana, arriving at Fairford on the 7th of the month, having flown its load 5,200 miles via Barbados and the Azores. The first VC 10 scheduled service left Lyneham on the 4th April 1967. The two

squadrons finally moved into Brize Norton during May 1967 and continued to build-up to their full strengths of 14 VC I Os and 10 Belfasts, although early on in its career, VC 10 XR809 was loaned by the Ministry of Defence to Rolls Royce as a flying test-bed for the RB. 211 engine and was destined never to return to 10 Squadron since it was broken-up at Kemble during 1977/78 after having out-lived its usefulness.

On the Ist August 1967, Transport Command became Air Support Command and it fell to a 10 Squadron VC 10 to fly the inaugural service of the new command on that day. By this time, the unit was well settled into its routine of operating two primary regular routes, one to Hong Kong via Bahrain, Gan and Singapore outbound, and Singapore, Gan and Cyprus on the return leg, and the other to John F. Kennedy (New York). There were also commitments for trooping to Germany, and the squadron was heavily utilized in the deployment of troops to Anguilla and Northern Ireland and in support of the withdrawal from Aden. In fact, during 1968, the VC 10s carried nearly a third of all passengers flown by Air Support Command.

On the 1 st October, 1968, the new passenger terminal finally came into use and VC 10 flights were at last able to be fully self-contained at their home base. Meanwhile, 53 Squadron continued on its less glamourous but no less important job moving large amounts of cargo and equipment around the world and on the 4th July 1969, the unit received its standard from Air Chief Marshal Sir John Grandy, appropriately, during its 53rd year.

Among the many unusual loads carried by the Belfast were several historic aircraft collected from various parts of the world for the RAF Museum, including a Supermarine Stranraer flying-boat from Canada and a Seagull V amphibian from Australia, both of which now reside at Hendon. The Belfast also had a regular task of taking Hercules wings to America for attention by Lockheed, the only RAF aircraft capable of doing this, something in fact, which was said about it many times during its career.

By early 1970, the build-up of the RAF's Hercules fleet was complete and consequently, there was little room left at Lyneham for the two Britannia C. 1/C.2 Squadrons, Nos 99 and 511, which accordingly moved into Brize Norton during June to take up residence on the old B-47 Reflex pans on the south side of the airfield.

Despite their comparative age, the Britannias still performed a vital task, operating into places such as Gibraltar, which, because of runway restrictions, were denied to the VC 10s. The two squadrons'total complement was 22 aircraft, comprising 19 C 1 s and 3 C2s. There had originally been a total of 23 RAF Britannias, but C1 XL638 had been written off in an accident at Khormaksar, Aden on the 13th October 1967, although its forward fuselage later arrived at Brize for use as a ground training aid with the Air Movements School.

Other time expired aircraft which were consumed on that same dump by Brize's fire section have included an Anson C19, Comet C2 (XK669), Shackleton MR2 (WR955), Varsity T1 (WJ886) and more recently, Devon C2/2 (VP978). In addition to these, the already mentioned Air Movements School has also made use of an ex 103 Squadron Whirlwind 10 (XK987), an Army Air Corps Sioux AH 1(XT141) and the fuselage of Andover C I XS598 which had been written off after overshooting at Abingdon.

In 1974, the Cyprus conflict occurred necessitating the evacuation at very short notice to the UK of thousands of Service and civilian families. Over 7,500 people were air-lifted out of Cyprus in the biggest operation of its kind for many years. A total of 95 sorties were flown by the Squadrons of Brize Norton in the 12 days of the operation. On one day, (25 July) 42 aircraft movements were successfully handled, their loads varying from full loads of 100-130 evacuees inbound to aircraft full of military stores and medical and welfare supplies bound for Cyprus.

In the same year, the cut backs announced in the Defence Review were to have a profound effect on the number and type of aircraft flying out of Brize Norton. It was decided to dispose of the Britannias straight away, to be followed shortly afterwards by the Belfasts. Consequently, the run-down of 99 and 511 began on the 25th April 1975 with the departure of XM517 and XN398 to St. Athan for storage, and ended with their disbandment on the last day of the year, at which time, only XL637, XL658, XL660 and XM498 remained on strength. The aircraft were offered for sale on the civil market and eventually, most of them were taken into use in Britain and abroad as cargo aircraft, although some were broken for spares.

The Belfast servicing, which up to this time had been carried out at Abingdon, was now moved to Brize with the extra hangar space made available by the departure of the Britannias. However, the first aircraft XR364, departed for 5 MU Kemble on the 3rd June 1976. It was originally intended that all ten aircraft would be gone shortly after the squadron disbanded on the 14th September, but in the event, XR366 was retained at Brize until the 3rd October 1977. During this time it was used as a demonstrator for potential customers and also carried a Hawk simulator to RAF Valley, Anglesey.

All this change left Brize as a large airfield with few aeroplanes, but the balance had been redressed somewhat by the arrival during 1975/6 of No 115 Squadron from Cottesmore, Rutland. Equipped with Argosy Els, the squadron's task was to calibrate service ground radio and radar aids. Once again, change was already planned here, and during June 1976, the first Andovers appeared, heralding the run-down of the Argosy fleet, although the last aircraft (XR140) did not leave until the 10th February 1978, by which time the Andover fleet had built up to 6, with modifications under way to bring the aircraft up from C1 to E3 standard.

With the arrival of the Andovers and the setting up of an Andover Servicing Flight, Brize Norton assumed responsibility for the overhaul of all examples of the type within the RAF, with the exception of the Queen's Flight machines, which remained in the charge of their own unit. Later, a seventh Andover was added to Brize's strength, although this aircraft (XS643) was allocated for crew conversion to No 241 OCU which had been at Brize for many years, "borrowing" VC 10s and Belfasts foraraining purposes.

Other units to move into Brize Norton during 1976 included No 1 Parachute Training School from Abingdon, which makes use of Lyneham Transport Wing Hercules for parachute training at nearby Weston-on-theGreen and South Cerney aerodromes, in addition to which, it provides the Falcons parachute display team. No 38 Group Tactical Communications Wing also arrived, together with the Joint Air Transport Establishment (JATE).

JATE is the descendent of the old TCDU, so well known at Brize in the

past, and although it does not possess any aircraft of its own, it too makes considerable use of Lyneham C-130s for trials. Load carrying by helicopter is also an integral part of JATE's work, and various types such as Wessex, Puma and Sea King, can frequently be seen.

During most of 1976 and part of 1977 Brize handled the Master Diversion and Foreign Visiting Aircraft commitment for the area whilst the runways at Lyneham were receiving attention. This naturally resulted in a large increase in the amount of visiting aircraft and during this time, more than 30 different air forces were represented, with a large proportion of these using the ubiquitous C-130. Another visitor which has also become part of Brize's way of life in recent years, is Concorde, with British Airways using the base every three or four months for two-week crew training periods, although lack of new routes for the aircraft brought a halt to this programme late in 1978.

One of the most interesting and continuing aspects of the station's work is the provision of VC l Os for VIP flights, with various members of the Royal Family, prime ministers and cabinet ministers, being carried to all parts of the globe on many occasions. Thus, despite Britain's shrinking military presence overseas 10 Squadron still manages to find itself in exotic places.

While under the USAF during the fifties and early sixties, Brize Norton was known as "SAC's Gateway to the UK". This theme is re-inforced by the Station's heraldic shield, approved by Her Majesty The Queen in 1968, which symbolizes the Station's location by use of the Cotswold Gateway surrounding an armorial helmet in order to depict its present role as the military gateway to the world.

As if to illustrate this role, in December 1979, "out of the blue" came the need to establish a monitoring force in Rhodesia, codenamed Operation Agila. RAF Brize Norton was heavily involved in the round-the-clock airlift to ferry troops and equipment to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia for the cease-fire force to monitor the independence elections.

Once again, RAF Brize Norton showed its ability to react to the call for logistics back up for an operational environment. It proved conclusively that when the need arises the means will be found. Over the 4 1/2 days of the deployment phase a total of 42 aircraft were loaded and despatched, and a grand total of 1.1 million pounds of equipment, together with 860 passengers, were moved.

RAF Brize Norton can be justly proud of its past and can look forward with optimism to a future which promises to be just as busy.


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