18/11/2009

RAF Flies Away From Aldergrove

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The last RAF squadron based in Northern Ireland has left Aldergrove, the Ministry of Defence has said.

Yesterday, 230 'Tiger' Squadron took off in a helicopter diamond formation from Aldergrove for their new base at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.

The flight of the Pumas marked the end of the RAF's 91-year history of flying from Northern Ireland.

Last April, Armed Forces Minister, Bob Ainsworth said that 230 troops based at RAF Aldergrove will be moved to RAF Benson.

"This will establish a coherent Puma force on a single site, enabling the improvement of Puma force capability."

However, he also said that about a third of the existing civilian staff would lose their jobs.

He said that the Ministry of Defence also intended to close Massereene Barracks in Antrim after transferring 38 Engineer Regiment to a new home at RAF Aldergrove in their place.

It is expected that the move will be completed by the end of 2010.

Mr Ainsworth added that the changes will "not impact" on the force's Northern Ireland commitments in support of the civilian authorities and that Aldergrove will "remain a military flying station for the Army Air Corps for the foreseeable future".

He also said that the RAF would continue to use Northern Ireland airspace for training.

Yesterday, the RAF's Wing Commander Rich Maddison said an "important chapter in the RAF's history" had closed.

"This squadron could not have achieved all it has on operations over the past six years without the essential training we have been able to conduct in the province and we shall certainly miss being here," he said.

With the continuous operational deployments it has been required to participate in, Tuesday was the first time all of the squadron personnel had been together for six years.

The formation of Puma aircraft was seen by many people as the squadron flew from Aldergrove across parts of Counties Antrim and Down before heading over the Irish Sea.

In September, the RAF flag was lowered at Aldergrove and replaced by that of the Joint Helicopter Force.

The squadron's departure marks the end of basing at Aldergrove for the RAF and command has passed to the three-service Joint Helicopter Force.

The Royal Air Force has had a base at Aldergrove for the organisation's entire existence - 'to defend the UK and its interests and strengthen international peace and stability' - since the organisation was established on 1 April, 1918.

RAF Aldergrove was also set up in 1918 but was not designated as an operational RAF station until 1925.

Aldergrove's location made it an important station during the Second World War of RAF Coastal Command in the Battle of the Atlantic.

From the base, long-range reconnaissance aircraft were able to patrol the Eastern Atlantic for U-Boats.

From this month however, aircraft from all three services will continue to use facilities and a number of RAF personnel will remain based at Aldergrove.

See: Relocation! Relocation! For RAF Aldergrove

(BMcC/KMcA)

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