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Royal Air Force no 43 Squadron; RAF Leuchars July 9, 2008

Home of the RAF Fighting Cocks; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

After we visited AAC Dishforth, we had on Wednesday July 9, 2008 the ability to visit the Scottish airbase RAF Leuchars. RAF Leuchars is the last airbase of the RAF in the UK which accommodates the Tornado F3. The base is located in the east of Scotland near the city of Edinburgh.

It is more than 400 kilometers from Dishforth to Leuchars. I was glad I made this journey yesterday because of the lack of motorway in the north of the UK; it saved me a lot of time today. It really was a beautiful route but keep in mind that it will take one and a half hour extra to reach this location by car. Once we arrived at RAF Leuchars the next day, we drove towards the landing area and took position to photograph the incoming Tornado’s. From this spot we also had a very nice overview over the Tornado platform on which twenty Tornado F3s were parked. We were expected at 1 pm at the main gate of RAF Leuchars; we had therefore time enough to stay at this location for the next few hours. The weather was very bad that morning and unfortunately there was no flying activity during the morning hours. We heard that both based squadrons flew evening sorties the day before and this was the reason why no missions for this morning were scheduled. This was of course quite disappointing for us. Also there was a rumour going around that up to nine Tornado’s would fly today to practice the fly-by for Friday 11th at RAF Fairford. The Royal International Air Tattoo is celebrating the 90th anniversary of the RAF; during the ceremony a fly-by will take place over the base. This mass flight never took place and therefore we went to the main gate of RAF Leuchars without any movements. We were picked up by the squadron leader of the no 43 squadron at 1 pm. The person who would guide us over the base wasn’t present today and therefore the squadron leader himself gave us the tour. This man had a long history within the Royal Air Force and was based on RAF Brüggen for a long time during the sixties and seventies.

The visit began with a presentation about RAF Leuchars and its based squadrons. During this presentation it was told that all the remaining Tornado F3 aircraft within the RAF were concentrated at Leuchars at this moment. Recently no 56 squadron nicknamed the Fire Birds came over from RAF Leeming and is temporarily a part of no

43 squadron. Also maintenance of the Tornado F3 is fully concentrated at RAF Leuchars. The lifetime of the Tornado F3 has come to an end; it will be replaced by the Typhoon shortly. Replacement has been delayed because of political reasons. The export priority of Austrian and Saudi Typhoons is causing some delays for RAF deliveries. The first Typhoon at RAF Leuchars is expected in 2010; until then they will remain operational with the Tornado F3. After this presentation which took half an hour, we went to the maintenance hangar of no 43 squadron. For maintenance of the Tornado F3 two big hangars are located in the no 43 squadron area; both were visited by us. One of the ground crew members gave us a short tour through the maintenance hangar and he told us a few things about how they do the job over there. He told us things about the frequency of the maintenance and in which phases they work. After a short tour and asking some questions we left to the next hangar in which the operational Tornado's were located. In this hangar we found a large number of Tornados and we were allowed to take pictures of them. Our guide told us that there are two variants of the Tornado F3; the normal Tornado F3 and the Tornado F3 (T). The T variant is a Tornado with double controls on it for training purposes. After this interesting tour through the hangar, we went to the platform where a big group of Tornado's was lined up.

The weather was very cloudy the whole day. But just when we entered the ramp to photograph the Tornado's, the sun broke through the clouds and we had really full light on the parked aircraft for about ten minutes. It really was hard working at this moment because the first Tornado’s were preparing to leave for their first mission today. Also five Tucano’s were present on the ramp; they were on a temporarily deployment at RAF Leuchars. We were allowed to take pictures of all parked aircraft except for two Tornado’s which were armed with live weapons. There were about twenty Tornado’s F3s on the platform and they were parked in two rows. All the Tornado’s from RAF Leeming and RAF Coningsby were transferred to RAF Leuchars. There is no successor for the Tornado F3 at RAF Leeming. The Tornado F3 has been replaced by the Typhoon at RAF Coningsby. This was the reason why there were that many Tornado’s on the flightlines at RAF Leuchars. At the same moment also some Tornado’s of no 111 squadron nicknamed “The Trembles” were taking off. We were very busy with taking pictures of all these aircraft. Two Tornado’s appeared at the head of the runway which was right in front of me. The light on the aircraft was reasonable. A little bit of sunshine fell on the Tornado’s. Both planes taxied to the runway. They waited for five minutes before they went airborne with full afterburner. These were the only two active Tornado’s which I captured on photo this afternoon. Unfortunately there was no activity on the platform. The only thing I could do was photographing the Tornado’s on their parking spot. The Tucano’s flew well. Unfortunately they came not towards me.

After we visited no 43 squadron, we asked if it was possible to visit no 111 squadron also. But unfortunately this was not possible today. We saw 39 of more than 60 Tornado’s which were present on this base; this was a good score. At 4 pm the base visit came to an end and we moved back to the main gate of the base. Once outside the base we took some pictures of the Tornado and Tucano recovery at the threshold of the runway. At five o’clock we left Leuchars inbound St. Mary’s Loch located in the south of Scotland. St. Mary’s Loch is the location in Scotland where the RAF is doing some low flying activities. Today’s conclusion is that we saw an enormous amount of Tornado’s but unfortunately not the actions shots where I came for.

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