Now the dust has settled on Rutland's tenure of RIAT, Jason Clarke looks at other aircraft to be found in England's smallest county
To many people RAF North Luffenham maybe remembered as being the other RAF base within Rutland but even after its closure in 1998 it still has some interesting relics scattered on the former airfield. The station now belongs to the Army (currently 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers) and is known as St. Georges Barracks, but the RAF still continue to have a detachment, the Airfield Explosive Ordnance Disposal Training Flight (AEOD), out on the airfield near what was once Midland Radar.
So, you may ask, what are these relics on the airfield? Well, since about 1999/2000 there has been Phantom FGR2 XT905 in 74 (Tiger) Squadron markings out on one side of the runway. It carries Wattisham WTMcode letters and it is one of the former decoys that was situated at RAF Coningsby. Unfortunately it has been vandalised, as have all the aircraft over the last few years, but it remains to be in a fairly solid condition. Sitting very close by is Jet Provost XP686, painted to look like a Strikemaster. This has definitely seen better days but is perhaps the next best example of JP on the airfield.
Further around the peri-track takes you to what was the Thor ICBM missile site. Here youll find five JPs XP629, XP686, XN554, XN579 & XS186. The somewhat ghostly appearance of these aircraft is amplified by a couple of Bloodhound missiles, fire control trailers, radar trailer, practice bombs and Skyflash missiles. Although all aircraft/items carry AEOD asset numbers, Im sure they are all used as Reconnaissance aids for planes such as Jaguars, Tornados and Canberras. Purely speculation, but it would make a lot of sense. Further around the taxi-way is a very interesting find indeed, Harrier GR3 XV804 in IV(AC) Squadron markings. Whats so special about a Harrier? Well, it carries a different IV Squadron badge that Ive personally not seen before and it still has the engine and cockpit intact, though there are other pieces missing. It sits on a dispersal where Harrier T4 XZ146 in 20(R) Squadron markings once sat and which is now back at RAF Wittering, being refurbished as a 'gate guardian' for 20(R) Squadron.
Now, the most unusual aircraft is yet to come - from a distance it looks like a MiG-19 (it did carry the mini stabilisers on top of the wings a few years ago, but theyre missing now) but on closer inspection it turns out to be a Hawker Hunter. I couldnt define any markings as all the writing is now in Cyrillic! Now if this isnt recon material, I dont know what is! It could be described as either a MiG-19 or Sukhoi Su7 - take your pick! Also, I found out that it's actually Hawker Hunter FGA9 XG194 and the main reason for its colour scheme was to train RAF/Army personnel on disarming Warsaw Pact aircraft that had defected.
So, North Luffenham still lives on after such a colourful career as an airbase. From 1941 it has seen Tiger Moths, Miles Magisters and Ansons (17 EFTS); Hampdens and Manchesters (61 & 144 Squadrons, 5 Group Bomber Command Note: 61 Squadron went to Woolfox Lodge in Rutland where they received the Lancaster); Wellingtons, Lysanders and a Defiant (29 OTU); Horsa gliders, Whitleys (Tow aircraft) and Albemarles (21 Heavy Glider Conversion Unit); Lancasters, a Spitfire V and a Hurricane II (1653 Heavy Conversion Unit this unit had QR-M Mickey the Moocher in its inventory with different squadron codes); Dakotas, Horsas, Halifaxes and Hamilcar gliders (Heavy Glider Conversion Unit, again); Dakota, Valettas and Devons (240 OCU Transport Command Note: crew and aircraft took part in the Berlin Airlift, Operation Plainfare in 1948/49); Spitfires, Vampires, Meteors and Harvards (102 Flying Refresher School).
1951 saw the Royal Canadian Air Force use North Luffenham as a fighter station with NATO. For three years 410, 439 and 441 Squadrons of 1 Fighter Wing flew F86 Sabres (410 Squadron set a record at the time when they flew the entire squadron from Canada to Renfrew in Scotland; other squadrons were shipped into Glasgow). The RAF took control again in 1955 with Meteors and Vampires (Night and All-Weather fighter OCU); Brigands, Balliols and Valettas (238 OCU (amalgamated with Night and All-Weather fighter OCU)); 1960 saw the USAF and RAF 144 Squadron operate the Thor Strategic Missile (with Bloodhound SAMs for protection) with four satellites at Folkingham, Polebrook, Melton Mowbray and Harrington (with extra Bloodhound protection from Woolfox Lodge and Warboys). 1964 saw the last official aircraft use the runway Globemasters transporting the Thors back to the USA. The most amazing thing was that a Thor was actually launched, the missile landing at its destination, Vandenberg Air Base in California. I still cant believe that but it makes North Luffenham all the more special.
Update - see pictures taken in March 2002 here.