In the 90th Anniversary year of the Royal Air Force, the continual review of the UK's armed forces means we'll be saying goodbye, temporarily we hope, to a couple of the RAF's most famous squadrons. One of those squadrons is XXV squadron, based at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire. A week of events were planned to celebrate this squadron's contribution over the years and the only "public" event at Leeming was the "Friends of XXV(F) Squadron Day" held on the 29th March allowing visitors to see how the squadron operated in the QRA role as well some of the units the squadron has trained with over the years. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports from a chilly RAF Leeming. All photography copyright of the author.
XXV Squadron was formed in 1915 as part of the Royal Flying Corps at Montrose. The squadron actually formed from out of No 6 Reserve squadron and eventually moved south to Thetford equipped mainly with the BE2C. 1916 saw the squadron re-equip with the FE2B and Bristol Scout and eventually crossed the channel becoming part of the 1st brigade at Auchel. During the first world war XXV saw plenty of action. Perhaps one of the most famous episodes during XXV's service was the shooting down of German ace Max Immelman by Lt McCubbin and Cpl Waller. XXV remained in France until September 1919 and were eventually disbanded at Scopwick at the end of January 1920.
The disbandment didn't last long as they were reformed in March 1920 as a permanent Royal Air Force squadron at Hawkinge near Folkestone on the Sopwith Snipe and for two years were the only fighter squadron based in the UK! XXV remained at Hawkinge except for fifteen months over 1922/23 in support of British forces repelling Turkish forces at the Constantinople Garrison. XXV became famous for it's displays of formation aerobatics at the Hendon Air Pagaent formally with Gloster Glebes and later with the Hawker Fury. At the end of 1938 the squadron moved on from Biplane fighters to the new Bristol Blenheim IF night fighter and long range reconnaissance aircraft. It used these aircraft right through the Battle of Britain remaining at Hawkinge which was very much at the front line during the battle. September 1940 saw the Beaufighter start to arrive but it wasn't until October that squadron became operational at Debdan, The war years saw XXV moved round the country with it's Beaufighters and Mosquitos as well as taking in "fighter-bomber" duties during night intruder operations.
The end of the second world war saw XXV based at West Malling in Kent still as a night fighter squadron. The jet age saw the squadron operate the Vampire NF10, Meteor NF12 and NF14. It temporarily moved to RAF Tangmere before than was closes in 1957. The squadron number plate ended up back as West Malling as 153 sqn was re-numbered XXV! 1959 saw the unit change mounts to the Gloster Javelin and used both the FAW7 and FAW9 variants of the delta winged fighter before disbandment in 1962.
1963 saw the squadron reappear but not with flying aircraft. The unit was equipped with the Bloodhound Air Defence Missile. The years operating the missile saw the squadron deploy all round the world in support of RAF stations. It wasn't until 27 years later that XXV would operate manned aircraft again.
1990 saw a new Tornado F3 squadron form at RAF Leeming in support of the Quick Reaction Alert force defending airspace over the North Sea. This squadron took the XXV numberplate. Almost immediately the Squadron found itself being deployed to the Middle East as a result of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The squadron remained in the Middle East and took part in Operation Desert Storm. Since then the unit has found itself part of operations over the former Yugoslavia aswell as Iraq.
2007 saw a bust year for the Squadron. During the summer the squadron hosted the first ever deployment by Indian Air Force aircraft to the UK for Exercise Indra Dhanush when six Sukhoi Su-30 aircraft deployed to RAF Waddington. Also during 2007, XXV took on responsibility for QRA duties over the North Sea when RAF Leuchars was undergoing runway maintenance. It was at this time the Russian Air Force started to test UK air defences again and XXV regularly intercepted long range Russian bombers such as the Tu-95 Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack.
The Aircraft Enthusiasts Day held at RAF Leeming on the 29th March provided an excellent opportunity for many to see how XXV squadron has operated during it's time at RAF Leeming. The event itself was held is support of Squadron disbandment events and the Help for Heros Charity. Invites were sent to many units from the Royal Air Force and beyond and a healthy number responded positively.
As ever though it was the weather that really controlled things. The day before when the majority of arrivals would have taken place saw the UK subjected to heavy rain and strong winds. This meant that Air Atlantique's Vampire was unable to leave Coventry. Also failing to reach Leeming despite good intentions was the Chinook of 18 sqn which ended up at Carlisle have gone "tech." Weather for the day was not forecast to be much better but it was a pleasant surprise for many to see bright blue skies over Leeming to open the event. By lunch time however, the poorer weather finally reached Leeming being laden grey skies and strong winds.
Despite the odd cancellation, there were a fine selection of aircraft on display. XXV Squadron was very much in the process of drawing down and this meant there were not too many Tornado F3 aircraft of it's own to join the line up. However, those aircraft that did remain were to be found with the Hardened Aircraft Shelter complex around XXV's own squadron buildings. The first hanger contained an F3 in full QRA weapons fit with much of necessary equipment displayed in front as well as the steps for that sought after raised position to take photographs. Moving round to the next hanger, visitors saw a Eurofighter Typhoon F2 also in the hanger as a sign of things to come. In fact, such things came much quicker as on the 1st April, No XI squadron took on the southern QRA duties at RAF Coningsby from a deployment of XXV's Tornados! The next hanger saw another of XXV's remaining F3s, this time parked in front of the HAS with a Issacs Fury. The Issacs Fury is a two-thirds scale replica of the Hawker Fury - a type that served with XXV up to 1938. Also open for viewing were the squadron quarters at the centre of the HAS complex. Here, visitors got a chance to see just how a fighter squadron lived and also saw some of the photographs of the recent intercepts by XXV squadron.
Outside on the line were a number of aircraft from the Royal Air Force, civilian contractors and European Air Forces. The only other Tornado F3 was from No 56(R) Squadron based at RAF Leuchars. This is another squadron that will have disappeared soon. However, the 56 number plate is likely to be passed on the Sentinel R1 fleet at RAF Waddington where it will be the OEU for the type. The squadron's F3s will be passed on 43(F) Squadron which will form the Tornado F3 Training flight out of 56 squadron.
The other RAF member of the Tornado community represented at the event was No 12(B) Squadron with it's 90th Anniversary marked Tornado GR4. Other RAF units at the event included No 55(R) Squadron from RAF Cranwell with one of it's Dominie T1 aircraft and No 76(R) squadron from RAF Linton On Ouse and the Tucano T1. Other training aircraft on display were a pair of Hawk T1 aircraft from No 208(R) and No 100 Squadrons which formed the "entrance" to the event!
Front line heavy metal was well represented a Harrier GR9 from No 1 Squadron, a Nimrod MR2 from No 120 Squadron and another three Eurofighter Typhoon F2s and T1As from XI(F) and 29(R) Squadrons from RAF Coningsby. UK Civilian defence contractors were solely represented by one of FR Aviations Falcon 20ECM aircraft.
The highlight for many of the enthusiasts was the impressive gathering of military aircraft from overseas. Stars were the rather reclusive Mirage F1 aircraft from the French Air Force. Frustrating many was the fact that the canopy covers were not removed until late morning after the best of the weather had passed. Other rare visitors included a pair of Italian Tornado IDSs which weren't even advertised publicly for the event making a good surprise. They were joined by one of their German collegues, though this time flying a Tornado ECR. The Luftwaffe also brought a F-4F Phantom II which is always a welcome sight in the UK.
Amongst the line up were a couple of interesting historic types. There was a fine replica of a Spitfire that was built using original blueprints and will be used to raise funds for the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal and local charities. Sitting away looking very forlorn was a former Falkland Islands based F-4 Phantom still wearing it's 23 sqn markings.
A hearty well done must go to all of the members of XXV(F) Squadron and RAF Leeming that help put together this excellent event. It was unique as much as it gave people a real insight into a RAF fighter squadron and was very well organisers from the participation point of view right down to all the usual event facilities. Let's hope XXV return sometime soon!