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RAF Wyton 1980-1995 Pt 5 - 51 Sqn and all other flying units UPDATED 2 July 2020


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In this fifth instalment of RAF Wyton 1980-1995, I have reviewed all other flying squadrons or units stationed there for all or part of that period leading up to the closure of operations in April 1995.


13 Squadron 


To begin, there was a further Canberra recce squadron assigned to Wyton at the start of the eighties -  13 Sqn -  which had relocated from RAF Luqa Malta on 3 October 1978. The RAF withdrawal from Malta had been the result of a British government decision not to renew the lease on the station from the Maltese. The payments demanded were several times higher than under the previous lease. The last squadron to leave was 203 Squadron (Nimrod MR.2) which departed on 1 April 1979. 
While at Wyton, 13 Sqn was primarily tasked with photo recce over the Med, Africa and Southern Europe. Its sister squadron – No 39  – was responsible for the Caribbean, Far East and Northern Europe. As the drawdown of front-line Canberra strength began, in mid 1981 13 Squadron was reduced to half strength prior to complete disbandment at the end of December. A number of their PR.7s were transferred to 100 Sqn.


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Although this photo pre-dates 13 Sqn’s arrival at Wyton, it shows PR.7 WJ825 in pristine condition for the Royal Review of the RAF at RAF Finningley on 27 July 1977.


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13 Sqn PR.7 WH779 at Wyton in Sep 1981, just three months prior to the sqn’s deactivation.


207 Squadron Wyton det


26 Squadron, previously the Northern Communications Sqn, had been Wyton based since Feb 1969 using Bassett and Devon light transports to transport senior personnel and light cargo to RAF Support, Maintenance and Training Command stations across the UK. The Bassetts were withdrawn in 1974 but the Devons continued.  26 sqn officially disbanded om 1 April 1976 but its aircraft and crews became part of 207 Sqn detached flight and continued in this role at Wyton until both 207 Sqn and the Devon aircraft were disbanded and retired in June 1985. At Wyton the Devons of 207 Sqn detachment were recognised by the two letter coding on the fin in the range DA-DE. 

 

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DH Devon C.2 VP958/DC at Wyton on 31 July 1982.

 

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Devon C.2 WB533/DA at the Wyton Open House on 16 July 1983.

 

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Devon C.2 WB534/DB seen at the nearby RAF Alconbury Air Tattoo on 24 Sep 1983.

 

RAF Wyton Station Flight


Upon the disbandment of 231 OCU at Wyton in April 1993, Canberra B.2T WJ731/BK from that unit was assigned to the short lived RAF Wyton Station Flight. It received the Wyton station crest on the fin and remained in service until later that year before being eventually scrapped on site in Feb 1994.

 

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Canberra B.2T WJ731/BK at Wyton in Sep 1993.

 

No 51 Sqn


Closure of RAF Watton resulted in the arrival at Wyton of 51 Sqn in March 1963, a squadron with a specialist role of electronic intelligence (ELINT) gathering, and initially equipped with modified Canberras and Comet R.2s.  In July 1971 51 Sqn received XW664, the first of their three assigned Nimrod R.1s. After being equipped and kitted out by the collocated Electronic Warfare Avionics Unit (EWAU), the type made its first operational flight on 3 May 1974. In 1976 the Comets and Canberras were retired, and 51 Sqn Canberra WT305 became for a while a gate guard at the station.


The squadron was one of the key NATO intelligence gathering assets throughout the years of the Cold War that finally came to an end in 1991. Aerial reconnaissance by both the West and the East played a big part in keeping the peace and for over 20 years and the Nimrod R.1s could regularly be seen departing and returning from the Cambridgeshire base on their secretive but often vital missions.  51 Squadron also participated in all wars and military campaigns with which the UK was involved including the Falklands War of 1982, the Gulf War of 1991 and the Yugoslav and Kosovo Wars of the 1990s. Over the years the Nimrod R.1s were the subjective of continual upgrades to their sensors and intel collection capabilities, which were often undertaken onsite by EWAU. These resulted in the aircraft appearing with varied antenna and wing pod fits as seen in the accompanying photos.


51 Squadron was the last operational unit to vacate Wyton before the base closed to flying operations in 1995, with the final Nimrod departing to the squadron’s new home at RAF Waddington in April 1995, where they remain to this day. 51 Sqn is currently equipped with the RC-135W Rivet Joint, the final Nimrod R.1 being retired in 2011.


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Nimrod R.1 XW666 ‘Damian’ seen at Wyton in March 1982 prior to the Falklands campaign and subsequent role/mission enhancements, and AAR capability adopted by the fleet.


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Nimrod R.1P XW664 shot in June 1989 at a similar vantage point at Wyton to XW666 above. It is interesting to note the variations between the two in number of fuselage windows, antenna fit, addition of tailplane finlets and ESM Loral pods on the wingtips.

 

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XW664 again, seen at Wyton in Sep 1991, and wearing the sqn’s 75th anniversary badge on the fin.

 

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Nimrod R.1P XW665 taxying back in from a sortie at Wyton on 4 July 1991.

 

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XW665 see again returning to Runway 27 at Wyton on 24 July 1992

 

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Andover C.1 (mod)  XS644 was assigned to EWAU for ELINT trials purposes and crewed by 51 Sqn for a period between 1975 and 1984. It was unique in being the only one of its type to receive the dark green/dark sea grey over light aircraft grey camo. It is seen here at Ciampino Italy in November 1978. After use by EWAU/51 it returned to 115 sqn for demodification and reuse as an E3 airfield radar calibration aircraft. 

 

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XW666 seen at the Wyton Open Day on 15 August 1992. On 16 May 1995, shortly after the squadron and their aircraft had relocated from Wyton to RAF Waddington, XW666 was lost on a post maintenance flight check from RAF Kinloss and was forced to ditch in the Moray Firth.  Fortunately there were no casualties among the 7 crew onboard. Following the loss of this vital asset, an urgent replacement was sought and former MR.2 XV249 was identified as a suitable replacement to become the ‘new’ R.1 Five weeks later BAe were contracted to perform the conversion under the banner Project ANNEKA.


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In 2011, the fin of XV249 was given special markings to commemorate the pending retirement of the R.1 from RAF service, The starboard side of the fin recorded the 21 years that the type was in service at RAF Wyton, and the port side the period from 1995 to 2011 that the R.1 was resident at Waddington. 

 

Hope these are of interest. In the 6th and final part, I will examine the wrecks and relics that could be seen at Wyton during this time. 

 

Thanks for looking. C&C always welcome.

 

Mark
 

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Excellent photos once again Canberraman.  

 

That Andover is something new for me.  Like that.

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1 hour ago, Timbo88 said:

Always had an interest in Andover XS664. It looks great in that camouflage scheme. I wonder what was in that pod under the rear fuselage?

 

Same system carried in the wing leading edge tanks of the Nimrod ? Looks like the same radome

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Hi

   Just a small correction. 203 Sqn was the first unit to leave Malta. We disbanded on 31st Dec 1977 with the aircraft leaving for the the UK during Jan 1978. Our last task was to take AOC NEAF back to Cyprus following the disbandment parade. 13 SQN returned to Wyton in 1978 and the last British forces left by the 31st March 1979 when the military agreement ended.

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5 minutes ago, Brizeman said:

Hi

   Just a small correction. 203 Sqn was the first unit to leave Malta. We disbanded on 31st Dec 1977 with the aircraft leaving for the the UK during Jan 1978. Our last task was to take AOC NEAF back to Cyprus following the disbandment parade. 13 SQN returned to Wyton in 1978 and the last British forces left by the 31st March 1979 when the military agreement ended.

Thanks for the correction Brizeman. Just goes to show you can't always rely on what's stated in books.

 

Mark

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3 hours ago, Dave Fleming said:

 

Same system carried in the wing leading edge tanks of the Nimrod ? Looks like the same radome

Or the one on the tail.

 

XS664 was known as Arthur on 51 as it was half a Nimrod. I only saw it once whilst on 51.

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Thanks everyone for the supportive comments and likes. It makes the process of scanning and cleaning up these old slides worthwhile.

 

Mark

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Went to Wyton on ATC camp in 1977 - and saw that Andover.

Had no idea the RAF had any left at that time, it wasn't mentioned in any books or anything.

Now why has NO mainstream model manufacturer built one in 1/72?

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38 minutes ago, theplasticsurgeon said:

Went to Wyton on ATC camp in 1977 - and saw that Andover.

Had no idea the RAF had any left at that time, it wasn't mentioned in any books or anything.

Now why has NO mainstream model manufacturer built one?

I've been wondering that for years"!  Aircraft in Miniature and S&M have both made short-run resin kits in 1/72 but the price was a killer for me.  I would love an Andover in 1/144th! 

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14 hours ago, AMB said:

I've been wondering that for years"!  Aircraft in Miniature and S&M have both made short-run resin kits in 1/72 but the price was a killer for me.  I would love an Andover in 1/144th! 

Adrian and all,

 

Agree - we do need a mainstream Andover in 1/72 and 1/144th scales. However, although it is/was expensive, the S&M Andover I built a few years back does make up into a quite impressive kit.

 

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I have asked Mark if I could add some pictures of Nimrod R1s that I took when the Sqn did a flypast at RAF Wyton I think in July 86. It was on one of the rare occasions that we had all 3 aircraft on the Sqn, 1 would usually be on major prep/major/ major recovery, so the normal complement on the Sqn would be 2 aircraft. For some reason it was decided that all 3 aircraft would perform a flypast and that we would be able to take pictures of the event, but only whilst the aircraft were in the air. As you can see later on I did not quite stick to this rule as I took some pictures of the aircraft on the ground. I did not take many photos of XW665 as I was part of the see in crew. As you can see all 3 aircraft are in different mod states and they have different markings, all 3 aircraft have the stabilising finlets on the tailplanes, but only XW664 has a probe fitted. This was the state when I left the Sqn in Jul 87. XW664 would always be the lead aircraft when it came to modifications to the electronic suites, although XW665 was the last to be painted in hemp whilst XW666 was the first, and still has the darker roundels. I think that this may have been the last time that I worked on XW666 as she went into major prep the next day and then to major at RAF Kinloss. In fact the next week we had no aircraft on line as XW666 was on major prep, Xw665 was on Scheduled servicing and XW664 had a rather big fuel leak.

 

XW665

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XW664

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XW666

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All 3 Nimrods.

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XW664.

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XW665.

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XW664.

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XW666.

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This was an official photo that was taken by the photo section sometime around 1984.

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This was again an official photo of the Falklands parade in late 1982, note that XW665 still has the old Sqn badge panel fitted as the aircraft had just come off major recovery and it had not been painted hemp as yet. We would take the panel off for major servicing, refitting when the aircraft returned to the Sqn and then our artist would repaint the badge.

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People always asked what the inside of the R1s looked like, so one member of the Sqn drew this and it appeared in the Wyton Eye (Station magazine).

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This photo was taken the night before an RAF Wyton open day when a colleague and walked around the exhibits. No XW664 was not going to be on display but was being kept outside for the whole duration of RAF Alconbury's runway repair whilst our hangar kept some TR1s nice and dry. For the show she was towed across to the other side of the airfield incase she was required to fly at anytime during the show. In this photo she is parked on the taxiway and this is a Harrier hide, but with the distance perspective it looks like she is being hidden in the hide.

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Jabba,

 

Many thanks for your additional photos and information from your time on 51 - much appreciated by us all.

 

Cheers

 

Mark

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On 3/1/2020 at 3:30 PM, canberraman said:

Adrian and all,

 

Agree - we do need a mainstream Andover in 1/72 and 1/144th scales. However, although it is/was expensive, the S&M Andover I built a few years back does make up into a quite impressive kit.

 

 

 

 

Wow Mark, what a splendid and accurate job you made of that!  I think I may have seen you purchasing that kit from Mel at Telford last year?   Afraid I just couldn't justify  £80 at the time!

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  • canberraman changed the title to RAF Wyton 1980-1995 Pt 5 - 51 Sqn and all other flying units UPDATED 2 July 2020

WJ821a_edited_2.jpg

 

I have recently obtained this slide of former 13 Sqn Canberra PR.7  WJ821 taken in October 1985 at Bassingbourn (Allenbrooke Barracks) where it was on display. This aircraft returned to RAF Wyton from Luqa on 15 Sep 1978 upon 13 Sqn’s relocation there. Unfortunately, on 25 July 1980, WJ821 took its last flight and was declared Cat 5 immediately afterwards. According to one of the crew, ‘Just after take-off from Wyton, still over the runway with undercarriage travelling up, about 20 knots below safety speed, there was an almighty bang and the starboard engine locked solid. The turbine had totally disintegrated. Debris was found at several places at Wyton including hitting a Devon that was taxying at the time. We were inspected by a nearby USAF Phantom from Alconbury who noted every hole, rupture, fuel leak and more. It was a toss-up whether to head for the Wash and jump or go for a landing. We did not know if we would get undercarriage or flaps or brakes but risked it and went for Bedford with its very big runway and a barrier. We did get hydraulics and landed OK. The jet was very badly mangled - clearly Cat 5’.  

 

This incident contributed to this Canberra being allotted Instructional Airframe No 8668M on 13 January 1981.

 

After being road freighted back to Wyton from RAE Bedford, a decision was taken on its fate. It was decided that the aircraft would be donated to the Army at nearby Bassingbourn to mark the earlier period of the station’s history when as RAF Bassingbourn, it homed the Canberras of 231 OCU. It was also said by a crew member ‘The Army complained that when we handed Bassingbourn over to them we had left no souvenir, and 821 was offered. Alas the right wing and engine bay were shredded. So, good chiefys being what they are, a spare wing was found unofficially, and off 821 went down the road for our Army pals. We never did tell them that the right wing was from some totally different Canberra. At least it was not from a PR.9 - even soldiers might have noticed that something was different!

 

WJ821 remained on display from 1981 until 2013 when sadly it was scrapped on site.

 

Mark

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