2009 Aviation News

OCT 17 2009
Aviation News >> 1435 Flt Says Goodbye Tornado, Hello Typhoon

No one ever really envisaged the RAF deploying a permanent air defence unit to the Falkland Islands, but then, despite warnings from within the MOD, no one really believed that the Argentine government would ever try to take the islands from Britain either. It was of course the latter that then led to the former becoming reality and on the 1st April 1982, newly returned from their annual Armament Practice Camp at Akrotiri in Cyprus, 29 Squadron was informed that the responsibility for providing this detachment, initially to protect the supply hub on Ascension Island, would be theirs.

Equipped with the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom, 29 Squadron was the perfect choice. Based at RAF Coningsby the unit already held a maritime commitment and the removal of airframes providing cover for the southern QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) area would have less impact than taking away those from units based at Leuchars which patrolled the much busier northern region. Despite this, it was judged that taking an entire squadron out of the RAF's NATO roster was unfeasible and the decision was taken to form a detachment with 29 as the parent squadron, allowing the unit to continue operating from Coningsby, albeit on a reduced basis.

On 24th May 1982 the first two aircraft (XV484 and XV468) completed the nine and half hour non-stop flight to Ascension supported by Victor K.2 tankers from RAF Marham in Norfolk, with a third aircraft (XV466) completing the journey a couple of days later.

With the Falkland Islands retaken this detachment returned home on the 14th July to prepare for deployment to Port Stanley and the ongoing defence of the Island itself. The Phantoms were unable to deploy until October however, with the Port Stanley runway in need of extension by some 2000ft and the installation of several RHAG (rotary hydraulic arrestor gear) units which would provide shorter landing runs and minimise wear to the Phantom's brakes. The task of patrolling the Falklands Islands Protection Zone (FIPZ), an area extending some two hundred miles around the Island, had begun.

It had initially been decreed that the task of policing the FIPZ would be shared throughout No.11 Group on a rota basis with aircrew spending four months in the South Atlantic. Later this was reduced to five weeks as, with crews unable to train effectively in the Falklands, it became apparent that any greater length of time away from the training facilities back in the UK could lead to a reduction in crew effectiveness and performance.

23 Sqn replaced 29 in March 1983 having been handed the role on a permanent basis (29 Sqn needing to renew its full-time commitment to NATO and SACLANT) and it was this unit that first changed the markings on the Phantom aircraft, to reflect their new role - adding the Falkland Island's coat of arms which was bordered by 23's own red and blue bars.

In 1988, when 23 Sqn converted to the new Tornado F.3 the Falklands based aircraft took the designation 1435 Flt, this unit having been stood-down since 1945 when it had been retired as a Spitfire squadron and the only RAF squadron to number four digits incidentally. The four remaining Falklands Phantoms, now based at Mount Pleasant which opened in 1985, retained the Flight's WWII heritage and sported a Maltese cross as well as being named Faith, Hope and Charity. The fourth aircraft was subsequently, and good-naturedly, named Desperation and the tradition of naming aircraft on the Island apparently continues to this day.

The Phantoms served at Mount Pleasant until their replacement by the Tornado F.3 in 1992 and it has remained a detachment with more than a dash of legend, folklore, and even myth, attached. The 'exciting' flying that operating over a barely populated island offers has been well documented and the aircrews have certainly always made great use of the environment available to the F-4 and then Tornado.

So we move to the present day and the end of Tornado F.3 operations on the Falkland Islands. The F.3 has served at Mount Pleasant for no less than seventeen years and, with the type now represented by just one RAF squadron in the UK, 1435 Flt at Mount Pleasant has re-equipped with the Typhoon. The four Tornado F.3 airframes will be dismantled and returned to RAF Leeming where spares will be reclaimed for 111 Sqn at RAF Leuchars and the Tornado GR.4 fleet.

The Typhoon detachment is a first of its kind for the RAF and with the four aircraft already operating in the South Atlantic many interested eyes will be watching closely to see how the aircraft bears-up to the frequently harsh Falklands weather - after twenty seven years of stirling Phantom and Tornado ops they certainly have much to live up to.

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