16 & 54 Squadron Disbandment Feature Report
Friday 11th March - Saturday 12th March
Us aviation photographers are a fairly easy bunch to please. All we wish for is plenty of aircraft to point our cameras at, and some blue skies and sunshine to accompany them. Unfortunately, the two rarely come together on these shores, and for the large number of spectators lining the perimeter at RAF Coltishall over the weekend of 11-12th March, the promise of activity wasn't paired with good weather.
and braved the elements to report from North Norfolk. Additional photography from .
Regardless, these were days to remember. In a few years time, the Jaguars will be museum pieces, so there's very much an attitude of "catch them while you can". The same applies to the base; renowned for being one of the best in the UK for viewing and photography, it's long been a favourite with enthusiasts, but will cease operations in around 18 months.
With this in mind, we, and several hundred others lined the fence at the 22 (eastern) end of the runway to witness the events first hand. The itinerary for the weekend was for the disbandment of 16(R) and 54(F) Squadrons on the Friday morning, with the afternoon set aside for arrivals for the Families' Day to be held on the Saturday.
The provisional participation list for the Families' Day was fairly comprehensive, with aircraft ranging from a P-51D Mustang right through to a pair of RAF Typhoons. The reality wasn't so enticing, with numerous cancellations due to strong winds and heavy rain. Those that arrived on the Friday afternoon did so, for the most part, in driving rain. It was a great shame that the worst weather experienced that weekend came during the spell when the Typhoons, and Sea Harriers from 899 NAS arrived; especially considering this was to be the last public outing for 899 'SHars' before their disbandment the following week. Several other aircraft arrived on the morning of the Families' Day, but nobody was really there to see the visitors anyway - the Jaguars were the main attraction.
Specifically, there were four Jaguars that many of us were chasing. Following their return from their final operational deployment to "Exercise Snow Goose" at Bardufoss Air Base in Norway two months previous, there were still a pair of 54 Squadron Jaguars sporting their Arctic camouflage. In addition to these, both of the disbanding squadrons had specially marked an aircraft for the occasion, adding a splash of colour to the flightlines.
Inside the fence, the static display boasted a line-up that would rival many a public airshow, with a good selection of RAF types on show, including one of the newest Typhoon T.1s on strength with 29[R] Squadron, and unusually for any airshow static display, a BAe125 CC.3 from the hard-pressed 32[TR] Squadron. Overseas participation was represented by a single F-16BM from the Danish Air Force. Again though, the Jaguars were the star attraction, and a line-up of an example from each of the last four surviving squadrons made for an excellent photo opportunity for those lucky enough to be on base.
The assembled families and guests made the most of the warmth and shelter afforded by 16[R] Squadron's hangar in between flying displays throughout the day, with several aircraft and exhibits to examine at close quarters. Alongside a handful of Jaguar airframes, another Typhoon T.1 was present, but it was a collection of immaculate cockpit and nose sections that drew the attention of many. Pride of place went to the Buccaneer S.1 forward fuselage section, recently lovingly restored by Coltishall CRO Mick Jennings and his team.
So with the visiting aircraft having made their way to the base, and the large number of spectators standing patiently out in the cold muddy fields, the stage was set for the Saturday's flying activities to commence, amongst which would be a nine-ship launch for a simulated airfield attack, and later another nine-ship for a formation flypast over the base. These large set-pieces kept noise levels suitably high, and the airfield attack also provided the thrills with Jaguars roaring over the base at low level from all directions!
A pair of Jags also formed up for a flypast over the base with one of the BBMF's Spitfires - a fitting tribute to the station's history, once home to Spitfires, and also to the two disbanding Squadrons who both operated the type during the war.
As the weekend's events drew to a close, so did another chapter in the RAF's illustrious history. It was cold, it was sometimes wet, and it was very windy, but it was worth it to catch the Jaguars before their final demise - sights and sounds that will sadly be distant memories in two years time.