RAF Leuchars

Royal Air Force Leuchars or RAF Leuchars was a Royal Air Force station located in Leuchars, Fife, on the east coast of Scotland. Throughout the Cold War and beyond, the station was home to fighter aircraft which policed northern UK airspace. The station ceased to be an RAF station at 12:00 hrs on 31 March 2015 when it became Leuchars Station and control of the site was transferred to the British Army.


First World War

Aviation at Leuchars dates back to 1911 with a balloon squadron of the Royal Engineers setting up a training camp in Tentsmuir Forest. They were soon joined in the skies by the 'string and sealing wax' aircraft of the embryonic Royal Flying Corps; such aircraft favoured the sands of St Andrews, where not the least of the attractions was the availability of fuel from local garages.
Like so many RAF stations, the airfield itself owes its existence to the stimulus of war, and work began on levelling the existing site on Reres Farm in 1916. From the beginning, Leuchars was intended as a training unit, being termed a 'Temporary Mobilisation Station' taking aircrew from initial flying training through to fleet co-operation work. Building was still under way when the Armistice was signed in 1918. Much was made of Leuchars' maritime location when it was designated a Naval Fleet Training School, eventually to undertake the training of 'naval spotting' crews who acted as eyes for the Royal Navy's capital ships.

Inter-war years

The unit was formally named 'Royal Air Force Leuchars' on 16 March 1920, but nevertheless retained its strong naval links.
As the Navy embraced the value of aviation, the aircraft carrier was added to its inventory. Many of the flights dedicated to Leuchars were detached to such vessels for months at a time, with light and dark blue uniforms apparently mixing happily together. At St Andrews, the citizens were not unaware of the potential uses of aviation and attempts were made to use aircraft as a means of transport for golfing enthusiasts. More successful were the barn-storming displays of the flying circuses which were extremely popular in the town.
In 1935, Leuchars became home to No. 1 Flying Training School and ranges for practice bombing were established in Tentsmuir Forest. As the war clouds gathered, its maritime position ensured that Leuchars would come to play a more warlike role. 1 FTS moved to RAF Netheravon and the station came under the control of Coastal Command. With the arrival of No. 224 and No. 233 Squadrons in August 1938 the station had an operational, rather than training, role for the first time.

Second World War

On 4 September 1939, a Lockheed Hudson of No. 224 Squadron attacked a Dornier Do 18 over the North Sea with inconclusive results but became the first British aircraft to engage the enemy in the Second World War. Leuchars was not to secure the romantic image of a Battle of Britain station, but rather settled to the routine of hour upon hour of maritime patrol which played a crucial part in Britain's ultimate victory. In February 1940, another No. 224 Squadron Hudson located the German prison ship the Altmark which allowed for its interception by HMS Cossack and the liberation of over 200 British prisoners. On 2 December 1943, a pigeon called Winkie became one of the first birds or animals to be awarded the Dickin Medal for helping rescue the crew of a ditched bomber from the station.
During Second World War, British Overseas Airways Corporation formed in November 1939 from Imperial Airways, and British Airways Ltd operated a wartime route from RAF Leuchars to Stockholm. From 1943 BOAC used civilian-registered Mosquito aircraft. Noted for the carrying of ball-bearings from Sweden to the UK, the route also returned RAF aircrew who had diverted to or made crash-landings in Swedish airfields during operations over Europe. Other aircraft types were used.

Cold War

Leuchars remained an active station to the end of the war, concentrating on anti-submarine and anti-shipping strikes. With the contraction of the Air Force in peacetime, life at Leuchars returned to a more gentle pace, hosting a school for general reconnaissance and the St Andrews University Air Squadron complete with de Havilland Tiger Moth. In May 1950 Leuchars entered the jet age as it passed from Coastal to RAF Fighter Command and Gloster Meteor of No. 222 Squadron made the station their new home. 1950 also saw No. 43 Squadron arrive at Leuchars from RAF Tangmere with their Meteors, the start of a long-lasting association between the base and the 'Fighting Cocks'.
In 1954 the fixed-wing aircraft had been joined by a flight of Bristol Sycamore helicopters for search and rescue duties. From the beginning, the flight proved a valuable adjunct to the civilian mountain and maritime rescue services, a role which continues to this day. There were also two rescue launches based in Tayport. In July 1954, No. 43 Squadron converted to the new Hawker Hunter F.1 becoming the first squadron in the entire Royal Air Force to operate the type. No. 43 Squadron upgraded to Hunter FGA.9s in 1960 and were shortly relocated away to Cyprus the following year. No. 23 Squadron arrived in March 1963, equipped with all-weather Javelin FAW.9s. Leuchars' air-sea rescue services upgraded to Westland Whirlwind helicopters in 1964. The University Air Squadron was equipped with the de Havilland Chipmunk.
As the Cold War reached its frostiest depths in the 1960s, the development of long-range aircraft allowed the Soviets regular incursion into British air space. Initially this was countered by the use of the English Electric Lightning, with No. 23 Squadron taking delivery of Lightning F.3s in 1964 to be used in the interceptor role. This was shortly followed by No. 74 Squadron relocating to Leuchars from RAF Coltishall in the same year, also being equipped with Lightning F.3s. No. 11 Squadron became the next Lightning squadron to be based at Leuchars when it reformed in April 1967 and replaced No. 74 Squadron who moved to RAF Tengah in Singapore. Leuchars' position made it ideally suited as a base to ensure the integrity of British air space and thus on 1 September 1969, Leuchars' air defence capability was increased with the delivery of McDonnell Douglas F-4K Phantom FG.1s to the newly reformed No. 43 Squadron – a squadron that would become synonymous with the base over the next 40 years. From 1972 to 1978 Leuchars also served as the home for 892 Naval Air Squadron's Phantom FG.1s when they were disembarked from their carrier HMS Ark Royal. In March 1972, No. 11 Squadron moved south to RAF Binbrook, leaving No. 23 Squadron as the sole Lightning fleet at the base. October 1975 saw the last Lightnings leave Leuchars when No. 23 Squadron converted to Phantom FGR.2s from their Lightning F.6s and moved to RAF Coningsby. A month later No. 111 Squadron relocated north from Coningsby up to Leuchars and were equipped with Phantom FGR.2s. December 1978 saw the withdrawal of HMS Ark Royal which led to her fleet of Phantom FG.1s being distributed to 'The Treble Ones', who in turn saw their Phantom FGR.2 airframes sent elsewhere across the RAF. For over two decades Leuchars' aircraft policed the UK air defence region, demonstrating the ability to intercept unidentified aircraft and provide an effective deterrent. During the 1980s, RAF Leuchars was home to No. 27 Squadron RAF Regiment which was a Short Range Air Defence based squadron, using Field Standard A Rapier Missile system.
Throughout the Cold War, RAF Search and Rescue was an enduring presence, with Whirlwind HAR.10 and Westland Wessex HAR.2 helicopters stationed at Leuchars from the 1960s to early 1990s.

Post-Cold War

The Phantoms of No. 43 Squadron and No. 111 Squadron were replaced by Panavia Tornado F.3s during 1986-1990s. April 2003 saw the Tornado F.3 Operational Conversion Unit, No. 56 Squadron, move to RAF Leuchars. In April 2008, No. 56 Squadron amalgamated with No. 43 Squadron, retaining the identity of the latter until it was disbanded in July 2009.
In September 2010, No. 6 Squadron was the first squadron at RAF Leuchars to be reformed operating the Eurofighter Typhoon; Typhoons from the squadron performed a Quick Reaction Alert scramble on Sunday 2 January 2011. 6 Squadron took over QRA duties when the last of the Tornado F.3s were retired. The second Typhoon squadron, No. 1 Squadron, was reformed at the 2012 RAF Leuchars Airshow on 15 September 2012.
Leuchars had a long history of defending sovereign UK airspace over many decades stretching back to Meteor aircraft and finally with the Typhoon. Iconic aircraft such as the English Electric Lightning and McDonald Douglas Phantom were prevalent over many years. Leuchars was home to the last squadron of Tornado F.3s, No. 111 Squadron. No. 111 Squadron operated the QRA which was set up primarily to combat threats from Soviet attacks during the Cold War. The unit was disbanded in March 2011.
The station was formerly home to No. 125 Expeditionary Air Wing, but it is still the home of the East of Scotland Universities Air Squadron and XII Air Experience Flight, who both use a fleet of seven Tutor T.1's. No. 125 Expeditionary Air Wing was formed at Leuchars on 1 April 2006. The wing encompasses most of the non-formed unit personnel and does not include the flying units based at the station. The station commander was dual-hatted as the commander of the wing.
Leuchars is also the base for No. 612 Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force, and was formerly a host to an RAF Mountain rescue Unit. Leuchars frequently hosts local Air Training Corps units. Until 1 January 2015 it was also the parent station to several remote units in the central Scotland area, including Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde Air Squadron, 602 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, 603 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force and many Air Training Corps squadrons.
RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, and RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, are now the sole operating bases and custodians for QRA North & South flying the Typhoon FGR.4.
A third Tornado F.3 Squadron, No. 56 Squadron, was disbanded in April 2008 in preparation for the arrival of the Eurofighter Typhoon, in 2010. Members of No. 56 Squadron had temporarily joined No. 43 Squadron until it too was disbanded in July 2009. Following the departure of the two Typhoon Squadrons, No. 6 Squadron in June 2014, and No. 1 Squadron in September 2014, RAF Leuchars merged the traditional Tri-Wing structure of Base, Engineering and Logistics and Operations Wings into a single Wing structure. RAF ownership of the site ceased on 31 March 2015 when it was handed over to the British Army, thus ending 95 years of service as a Royal Air Force station.


RAF drawdown

On 18 July 2011, Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced that RAF Leuchars would close as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010, with the station being transferred to British Army control in 2015 and Leuchars's Typhoons moving to RAF Lossiemouth in Morayshire.
In preparation for the closure, RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team disbanded in Nov 2013 whilst No. 58 Squadron of the RAF Regiment and No. 6 Force Protection Wing disbanded on 10 May 2014. No. 6 Squadron was the first Typhoon unit to depart Leuchars, heading for its new home at RAF Lossiemouth in June 2014. No. 1 Squadron followed on 8 September 2014, at which point responsibility for Quick Reaction Alert was transferred from Leuchars to Lossiemouth.

Transfer to British Army

Control of Leuchars was transferred to the British Army on 31 March 2015, when it was renamed Leuchars Station. The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards gradually relocated from Germany in the spring and summer of 2015 along with 2 Close Support Battalion of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and 110 Provost Company, Royal Military Police.
The airfield is maintained as a relief landing ground for aircraft based at RAF Lossiemouth and other aircraft. The station continues to be home to several RAF units, including No. 612 Squadron RAuxAF, the East of Scotland Universities Air Squadron incorporating No. 12 Air Experience Flight, and the headquarters of Scotland and Northern Ireland Region and South East Scotland Wing of the Air Training Corps.

Temporary RAF return

In September 2018 it was announced that due to the refurbishment of RAF Lossiemouth's runway, QRA North responsibilities would be moved to Leuchars for up to six weeks in the summer of 2019.

International Airshow

RAF Leuchars was home to the annual Leuchars Airshow which originated many decades before. This usually took place on a Saturday in September. The 2007 Leuchars Airshow was cancelled due to resurfacing of the runway. Approximately 45,000 people attended the 2010 show to see displays including the Red Arrows, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Air forces from many NATO countries provided additional static and flight displays. The final airshow was held on 8 September 2013 and circa 45,000 people were on site.