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2010 UK Airshows : REVIEW

RAF Lyneham Families Day 2010

Programme CoverIf there is one RAF type that has been sorely missed from airshows in the past couple of years, it must be the Hercules from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire. The Hercules force has been unbelievably busy supporting on-going operations in Afghanistan and other theatres around the world. In early August, RAF Lyneham held possibly it's last "Families Day" before it's closure and the move of the Hercules fleet to RAF Brize Norton.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK was lucky enough to be able to attend. All photography copyright of the Author.

RAF Lyneham was initially built as an storage facility, but ever since 1943 the station has been home to the RAF Transport aircraft. The early part of the Second World War saw many front line types pass through RAF Lyneham including Spitfires, Blenheims and Wellingtons. The station also hosted training units with No 14 Service Flying Training School moving in 1941 provide advanced multi-engine training on Airspeed Oxfords.

In March 1942, the station changed commands again coming under No 44 Group, Ferry Command. The station retained a training role however with 301 Ferry Training Unit moving in from Pershore. This unit trained crews to ferry aircraft to units in North Africa and Middle East. The aircraft included Wellingtons, Hudsons, Beauforts and Marylands. April 9142 saw 1425 Communications Flight (later 511 Squadron) had arrive from Honeybourne, flying in with its Consolidated Liberators. They provided passenger and freight services to the Mediterranean area. They even flew Winston Churchill on occasion.

By 1943, the Ferry Role had become superseded by a pure transport role. Around this time, the maintenance and storage unit, 33MU, had become responsible for the final construction phases of the Hamilcar Gliders that played such an important role during the invasion and subsequent offensive operations in Europe. The Ferry units slowly started to move out to be replaced by dedicated transport squadrons and by the wars end, there was just 33MU, 242 Squadron and 511 Squadrons (both transport units) left at RAF Lyneham.

Post war, Lyneham was home to number of RAF transport types including the Comet, Hastings, Britannia and Dakota. The station also home to 1359 Flight, which operated 'PAMPA' weather reconnaissance flights using the Mosquito PR XVI. Lyneham and it's units also played a pivotal role in the Berlin Airlift when the soviets blockaded the city.

The Cold War also saw RAF Lyneham selected as one of the dispersal airfield for the RAF's nuclear deterrent 'V' Force. A dispersal area and hutted camp were built so that 4 Vulcan or Victor aircraft could operate from a self-contained base at Lyneham. This facility was exercised periodically, causing some disruption to the Station's normal operations.

However, it was in 1967 that perhaps Lyneham's most iconic aircraft arrived with the first C-130K Hercules arriving at 36 Squadron. At the same time, RAF Transport Command gave way to Air Support Command reflected the Hercules' ability to provide both Strategic and Tactical transport for the RAF. The new squadron and aircraft were in action very quickly evacuating British citizens from Aden. Later in that same year, 33MU moved out of RAF Lyneham. Lyneham soon became the hib for all tactical Hercules operations with five tactical squadrons alongside the VIP Comets.

As the Royal Air Force rationalised it's roles and capabilities, Lyneham eventually became home to all Hercules operations with squadrons assuming pure Strategic or pure tactical roles alongside an operation conversion unit. Through the 1970s, 1980's and 1990's, Lyneham was often in the news with its aircraft taking part in humanitarian missions as well as military operations in the Gulf and the former Yugoslavia.

Today, Lyneham is home to four Hercules squadrons as well as a host of other lodger units. The station is gearing up to move the four squadrons, their aircraft and associated facilities to RAF Brize Norton by September 2011. Nos XXIV amd 30 Squadron fly the mixed fleet of C-130J Hercules C4/C5 while 47 and LXX Squadrons fly the original C-130K Hercules C1/C3. All of the aircraft are currently heavily committed with their remaining airframes. Many of the older Hercules are slowly being decommissioned as they run out of flying hours and these airframes can also been seen at Lyneham. Lyneham continues to hit the headlines today with it's role in the repatriation ceremonies of UK forces which have been killed in action in Afghanistan.

Lyneham's Families Day was an impressive affair. Away from the arena displays, the trade stalls and military vehicles there was an impressive static park. No less than three RAF Hercules were lined to visit. In addition, many of the families had the chance to fly aboard an aircraft during the morning. In addition to the RAF aircraft, the USAF sent a special forces MC-130H Combat Talon II from RAF Mildenhall. The French Air Force were also represented by a C-160R Transall. Other visitors included a 617 Squadron Tornado GR4, QinetiQ Alpha Jet A, 32 Squadron BAe 125, 45(R) Squadron King Air B200, 207(R) Squadron Tucano T1, DHFS Griffin HT1, 33 Squadron Puma HC1, 78 Squadron Merlin HC3 and a RAF Odiham based Chinook HC2. The Hercules force's future neighbours also participated with examples of the RAF Brize Norton based C-17A Globemaster III and VC-10 on display.

The early August weather was a little changeable to say the least however. This first manifested itself in significantly reducing a vintage fly-in to just an handful of types including Hornet Moths and a Percival Pembroke.

The flying display was a short affair, but very varied. The display started with Mark Rijkse of Aerostars fame displaying a Bucker Jungmeister in Swiss colours. He was followed by another former military trainer, a De Havilland Chipmunk. Martin Willing's T-28S Fennec continued the training theme later in the day.

There was a great selection of civilian acts on display. The Swift Aerobatic Display Team and Twister Duo performed their "combined" display while the Breitling Wingwalkers made the short "hop" over from their base at Rendcomb. Appearing towards the end of the flying displays were both the Aerostars (with just three Yak-50s) and The Blades. Though there were no current military displays in the flying display, the Red Arrows did manage a flypast on their way from Bournemouth during the afternoon. There were however, representatives of the RAF and Royal Navy's Historic aircraft operators. The RN Historic Flight it's stunning Sea Hawk FGA6 up from Yeovilton to display and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Lancaster closed the main flying display against the most dramatic cloudscape.

However, the star of the show was temporary Lyneham resident, Avro Vulcan XH558. The aircraft has used Lyneham as a base for its winter servicing and on-and-off throughout the Summer so it was great to see her display over the airfield. For once she was based just off the crowd line allowing everyone a fine view of the work before and after the flight. It was genuinely interesting to see large portions of the crowd move back and forth in the static park watching every move she made!

The show was brought to a close by the Black Knights Parachute Display Team and a sunset ceremony. It's sad to think that Lyneham will soon pass over into RAF history and the airfield will fall silent.

What did you think of the show? Which displays did you enjoy? What didn't you enjoy? Let us know on our Facebook page!

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