Perhaps if asked about early aviation in Morayshire and the North East, RAF Kinloss would spring to mind with its long association in the area, ending as an RAF base in 2012 when the BAe Nimrods were withdrawn from service. Otherwise RAF Lossiemouth is the other candidate and now the RAF’s only flying station in Scotland with its Typhoons and P-8A Poseidon aircraft, the former being part of the UK’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) force. Important as those two units were and are, the Banff Strike Wing deserves mention as it wrought havoc among German shipping near the Norwegian and Danish Coastlines. However, ahead of both these airfields was RNAS Longside near Peterhead. It was the most northerly of the RNAS’s twelve airship stations. Constructed in 1915 and operational from 1916 to 1920. It became RAF Peterhead in 1941 when rebuilt for fighter aircraft operations, closing once again in 1945 as World War 2 came to an end.
First World War
For an area rich in aviation history, it did not really start during the First World War. The RNAS’s Airship Station at Longside would seem to be a lone example. While other airfields were established north and south or Moray during that period. A lone example it may have been but airships (NS Class non-rigid) operating from RNAS Longside operated long-range patrols over the North Sea. Very long-endurance patrols, over 130 hours airborne on one occasion, were achieved as they supported the Fleet on anti-U-Boat searches.
Second World War
The first RAF airfields to be established in Moray were RAF Kinloss RAF Lossiemouth in April 1939 and, yes Lossie was an RAF station at its inception. It was later transferred to the FAA as HMS Fulmar, later returning to the RAF in 1972. Both Kinloss and Lossiemouth were flying training schools initially but the outbreak of the Second World War saw bomber aircraft types, Vickers Wellington and Fairey Battles, moved in quickly to support operations against German warships. RAF Kinloss remained in a training role but now to provide bomber crews for forthcoming offensives with 19 Operational Training Unit (OTU). RAF Dyce, near Aberdeen had started life as a civil airfield in 1934 with the intention of establishing air links between the northern islands and London. The first military unit was 612 Squadron, which formed initially as an army co-operation unit, later becoming a general reconnaissance unit with Avro Ansons. When World War 2 started the airfield became RAF Dyce and the Sector Operations Room within 13 Group. Fighters were based at Dyce for the protection of Aberdeen and Coastal Command aircraft to attack enemy shipping and protect our own convoys. RAF Banff was established in 1943 as a training unit but the Banff Strike Wing was established there by 1944 when Coastal Command took over the airfield. Beaufighter and Mosquito aircraft carried out enemy shipping near the Norwegian Coast and North Sea, making a significant contribution to Allied efforts in the area. This link http://www.scotshistoryonline.co.uk/sorties.html is an excellent guide to the Wing’s sustained efforts. Other airfields in the area include RAF Dalcross (Inverness), HMS Merganser FAA (Fraserburgh) and RAF Milltown (near Lossiemouth).
Post War/Cold War
At the end of the Second World War, RAF Kinloss became a Coastal Command Station, a role which has been synonymous with the unit. Initially an Operational Training Unit, a range of aircraft types operated from Kinloss. However, by the early 1950s, the Shackleton became the RAF’s maritime patrol aircraft and equipped 120, 201 and 206 Squadrons at Kinloss until the early 1970s when the familiar Hawker Siddeley Nimrod replaced what was by then an aging airframe in the Shackleton. Kinloss was the main RAF Station for Cold War operations monitoring Soviet submarine and other warships. Along with its sister station at RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall, the Nimrod maintained the UK’s long-range Search and Rescue platform until its withdrawal in 2011. RAF Lossiemouth was transferred back to the FAA in 1946 as HMS Fulmar. The FAA operated a variety of early jet fighters, along with other types. They also had the task of training German Naval pilots on the Hawker Sea Hawk in 1958. The very capable Buccaneer aircraft was introduced to the FAA at Lossiemouth on 700Z Naval Air Squadron in 1961. The first operational Squadron being 801. By 1969 the fixed-wing side of the FAA as being run down and the RAF were provided with initial training on the Buccaneer at Lossiemouth prior to its introduction into service. In 1972 Lossiemouth reverted to an RAF station once again and became the home of the SEPECAT Jaguar and the Operational Conversion Unit. Shackleton AEW 2 aircraft with 8 Squadron formed the RAF’s airborne early warning squadron in 1973. Buccaneers returned to Lossiemouth with 12 Squadron in 1980. Tornados replaced Buccaneers between 1991 and 1993, with remaining Jaguars departing to RAF Coltishall. Tornados were subsequently replaced by the arrival of the Typhoon from RAF Leuchars, post Defence Review and the Northern QRA is now held by RAF Lossiemouth. Many other units are based at Lossiemouth, which is now the only RAF flying station in Scotland and due to receive the Boeing P-8A Poseidon after the decision was taken to reintroduce the missing maritime capability for the Royal Air Force which had been the case since the withdrawal of the Nimrod in 2011.
RAF Dyce reverted to civilian use after the Second World War and is now a very busy airhead for Aberdeen and the North Sea oil and gas exploration. Its importance to that industry cannot be overstated. Aberdeen is to base for several regional airlines with route to many different locations, both within the UK and to international destinations. Helicopter movements are substantial at over 37,000 annually. Helicopter routes to the off-shore rigs radiate out from Aberdeen where they fly in some of the most inhospitable weathers throughout the year. By comparison Dalcross, Inverness Airport, has a much lower profile. While still offering a wide range of destinations, and traffic levels encouraging to some UK airports, Inverness Airport has suffered from some airlines withdrawing routes, or complete operations, over the years. EasyJet is the largest operator followed by Loganair, the latter introducing new routes in 2017. Further good news included the increase number of flights on British Airways Inverness to London Heathrow from 7 to 10 weekly.
The FAA’s most decorated pilot, Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown”, was station commander at HMS Fulmar (Lossiemouth) from 1967 to 1970, his last tour of duty.
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