RAF Linton-on-Ouse base visit
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK. As aviation enthusiasts prepare for the busiest four week period of the British Airshow season, which will see both the fabulous Flying Legends Warbird extravaganza and the annual aviation behemoth that is the Royal International Air Tattoo taking place, we thought we would take a break from Airshow action in this latest edition of our blog and take something of a slightly more sedate and reflective tone. A recent week away from work not only allowed me to catch up on all the little jobs around the house which are put on hold during the Airshow season, but also to enjoy a few enjoyable hours around the perimeter fence of one of the UK’s last remaining northern military airfields. In this 122nd edition of Aerodrome, please join me as I head for RAF Linton-on-Ouse, just a few miles from York city centre, for what may yet prove to be my final visit to this famous old airfield and to mark the impending retirement of yet another RAF aircraft type, the Tucano T1 basic fast jet trainer.
The future of the Royal Air Force
A visit to RAF Linton-on-Ouse leaves you in absolutely no doubt of the important role being performed at this picturesque Yorkshire base
As a young aviation enthusiast, passing my driving test and getting hold of my first decent camera marked a notable point in my life and absolute confirmation that the world was now officially my oyster. At every available opportunity, I could now head off (usually on my own, as nobody else in the family was afflicted with my aviation infatuation) to either an Airshow, RAF families day event or simply spend the day clinging to the fence of one of the many military airbases dotted up and down the country and there was most definitely no shortage of available options in those days. If I did not want to travel too far, then my options included Finningley, Church Fenton, Leeming and Warton, however, if I was feeling a little more adventurous, then Leuchars, Bentwaters and St Mawgan might just have me reaching for the AA road map and planning my route. Sadly, those days are now long gone and a significant contraction in aircraft types operated by the Royal Air Force has also seen a great many of my former airbase haunts closing due to strategic reviews and cost saving measures and whilst this has been one of the most distressing aspects of being a long time enthusiasts, it does have to be said that the RAF operates for the benefit of the nation, not for those holding cameras congregating near some crash gate or other. Over the years, the RAF has maintained its position as one of the world’s most capable air forces by introducing new aircraft and ensuring existing types are upgraded to feature the latest technology and enhancing their already awesome capabilities. Only last year, the arrival of the RAF’s first Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jets in their centenary year marked their continued determination to remain as one of the world’s most powerful forces and this year’s completion of a Typhoon upgrade programme will see this aircraft enabled with a world leading strike capability, as well as continuing to protect the country from air incursion. Unfortunately, as new aircraft enter service and others take on new roles, older types must finally hang up their wings and whilst 2019 will undoubtedly be remembered as the year the Tornado GR4 finally entered retirement, sadly for the enthusiast, the Tornado will not be the only RAF aircraft type to be withdrawn from service this year.
Although not viewed with the same widespread enthusiast affection as the Tornado, the RAF’s Short Tucano has been providing basic fast jet training support for RAF and Royal Navy student pilots for almost 30 years and news that the aircraft is due to be withdrawn from service later this year may have been overlooked by many people. Determined that I would enjoy one last day in the presence of RAF Tucanos as they went about their daily training duties, I decided to spend one day of my recent holiday in the picturesque surroundings of RAF Linton-on-Ouse, a place which I had not been to for many a year, but one I was very much looking forward to reacquainting myself with. Now one of the closest active military airfields to my home, RAF Linton-on-Ouse is situated just a few miles from York city centre in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside and rather conveniently just a few minutes drive away from the main A1 motorway. From the photographer’s perspective, it also happens to be one of the most accessible RAF bases to visit, with the appropriately named Main Street passing really close to the ‘03’ end of the runway and benefitting from a conveniently placed layby situated quite close to the runway, offering a really good view of the entire site. With off-road parking available for at least six cars, from here, you have a good view of the Tucano ramp and if aircraft are landing on the '03' end of the runway, they come in right over your left shoulder (if you are facing towards the airfield). For most of my previous visits, I have often been joined by other enthusiasts at various points throughout the day, however, there is rarely ever more than three vehicles in this space at any one time and it is really quite relaxed. With just a low, wooden fence between you and all the day’s flying activities, a visit to Linton may not offer all the fast jet noise of a station like Coningsby, but it does allow a great view of this busy pilot training and air experience airfield and is a really pleasant way to while away a few hours of aviation indulgence.
Even though RAF Linton-on-Ouse is now very much associated with the training of future fast jet pilots, as ZF347 was the aircraft performing a polished display routing over the airfield during my visit, I am assuming that the single pilot was Flt. Lt. Liam Matthews
The airfield at Linton-on-Ouse was originally constructed during the mid 1930s, as the threat of impending war led to a period of rapid expansion for the Royal Air Force. Opening in the spring of 1937, the airfield was built as a bomber station, with some of its early residents being the Whitleys of Nos.51 and 58 Squadrons - these aircraft would see action on the first day of the Second World War, as ten aircraft took off from Linton to drop propaganda leaflets over Germany, thus becoming the first RAF aircraft to operate over German territory at night during WWII. Throughout the rest of the war, RAF Linton-on-Ouse would continue to serve as a bomber base, with the Whitleys giving way to Halifax and then Lancaster four engined ‘heavies’, with the station coming under the control of the Royal Canadian Air Force from June 1943 until the end of the war in Europe. Following the end of WWII, the station was used as a staging point for flights transporting men and equipment back to the UK, as the robust nature of the infrastructure at the airfield dictated that its future military use was more assured than many of the more temporary airfields constructed during the conflict. Post war, Linton would see service as a fighter station and operated such classic jet types as the Gloster Meteor, Canadair Sabre and Hawker Hunter, before in 1957, the airfield was closed for maintenance in preparation for a future role in which it is still employed to this day, pilot training. This crucial role supplied both the RAF and Royal Navy with a steady stream of qualified pilots and allowed both forces to remain at the forefront of world aviation capability.
On 1st September 1957, RAF Linton on Ouse transferred to Flying Training Command in preparation for the arrival of No.1 Flying Training School the following October. The first aircraft to arrive were piston engined Provost T.1 trainers, however, these were quickly joined by growing numbers of De Havilland Vampire T.11s, initially transferring from RAF Valley on Anglesey. August 1960 saw the start of the first all-through jet training course at Linton, with the arrival of the Jet Provost T3 and the beginning of an association between aircraft type and base which would continue for the next thirty years. Initially, Royal Navy pilots intended for future service on helicopters would continue to be trained on the Piston Provost T.1, but all RAF pilot training would be conducted on jet powered aircraft. A ‘spotters’ visit to Linton during 1960/61 would have yielded the attractive sight of silver and dayglo presented Provost T.1, De Havilland Vampire T.11s and Jet Provost T.3s all sharing the same ramp, with flying activities filling the sky for most of the day – what we wouldn’t give for a sight like that now. Indeed, my first visits to Linton-on-Ouse was to see flying training activities on the venerable old Jet Provost, which at that time was probably the most numerous aircraft type operated by the Royal Air Force.
Unfortunately and reflecting the current financial climate around the continued operation of military bases in the UK, it was announced during the summer of 2018 that the famous old airfield at Linton-on-Ouse was scheduled for closure and rumours began to circulate that it may even be sold to private investors as a potential site for housing development. The official line is that the site is still in a period of consultation and that other possible defence uses are being considered, so officially at least, the immediate future of the airfield remains uncertain. Locally, however, the feeling is that following the withdrawal of the RAF Tucano and closure of the base in 2020, flying operations at the base will be a thing of the past and they fully expect the developers to move in shortly afterwards.
RAF Linton-on-Ouse – the Tucano years
This steep approach marked the end of another practice Tucano display, as the route is perfected for the summer’s Airshow events to come
One of the things about getting older is that time seems to slip by much quicker with each passing year and as I stood watching the aircraft operations at Linton during my recent visit, it really didn’t seem to be that long ago that I was in the same spot watching the Jet Provosts in their distinctive red and white training liveries. In actual fact, the last of the RAF’s Jet Provosts were retired in 1992 and the sad truth of the matter is that its replacement, the turboprop powered Short Tucano T.1, has itself been in RAF service for almost 30 years and is due to be retired later this year. In a move which certainly raised a few eyebrows at the time, the Jet Provost, with its side by side student/instructor seating arrangement which had served the Royal Air Force so well for many years, was to be replaced with a propeller powered training alternative, which reverted to a tandem seating arrangement and was surely a backward, cost saving step in the pilot training programme. In actual fact, whilst cost efficiency was undoubtedly a consideration, the Tucano T.1 was an excellent pilot training platform, which whilst not introduced in anything like the same numbers as the Jet Provost, have proved to be an exceptionally capable successor to its jet powered predecessor and allowed military pilot training to keep pace with the changing pilot training requirements of the RAF and Royal Navy.
The RAF’s Tucano T.1 is a two seat, tandem turboprop powered basic flight training aircraft, which was licence built by Short Brothers in Northern Ireland, from an aircraft designed by Brazilian manufacturer Embraer. The design proved successful in a competition between several aircraft types competing to be the RAF’s replacement for the Jet Provost and would be required to provide future fast jet basic training for student pilots destined to progress on to the Hawk T.1. Possessing jet like handling, excellent endurance and cost effective operation, the profile of the Tucano is dominated by its canopy, which very much resembles that of the Hawk trainer the student pilots would be hoping to progress on to flying next, as they endeavour to become the future fast jet pilots of the Royal Air Force. Accepted for trials with the Central Flying School in June 1988, the Tucano officially entered RAF service the following year and 130 aircraft would eventually be supplied.
A hive of activity. An RAF Tucano is towed away from a busy operations ramp, clearly illustrating the current smart black and yellow training scheme
The Tucano’s association with RAF Linton-on-Ouse began in 1992 and the start of the very first ground instructional phase of a Tucano T.1 training course – the flying element of the course would not begin until early the following year, but from that time, the aircraft has been inextricably linked with this delightful Yorkshire airfield. Major changes to the way the RAF intended to train its future pilots and again with cost efficiencies very much at the forefront of their thinking, brought about an important new role for Linton in 1995 and a concentration of all Tucano flight operations at the airfield. With bases at Finningly and Scampton now scheduled for closure, all Tucano flying would be taking place at Linton-on-Ouse in future and over the years, the airfield can rightly claim to be the home of the RAF’s turboprop trainer. Currently, the student pilot will arrive in the cockpit of the Tucano having first undertaken elementary flying training in the Grob Tutor T.1 and hoping to progress on the impressive Hawk T.2, which prepares the fast jet student pilot for life flying the Typhoon and F-35 Lightning II. In future, although the Typhoon and F-35 will remain the ultimate goal for fast jet student pilots and the Hawk T.2 will still be an important aircraft in their flying development, Linton-on-Ouse will not be a significant location in their training programme and the Tucano T.1 will have unfortunately passed into the aviation history books. With the final Tucano training courses coming to an end later this year, 2019 will be the last year of service for the aircraft and its home base is also scheduled to be closed, after a proud pilot training association which has lasted for over 27 years. The future of Britain’s fast jet pilot training programme will be centred around the recently upgraded RAF Valley on the isle of Anglesey and the introduction of two new aircraft types, the 120TP Prefect and the Texan T.Mk.I, both of which have been introduced to prepare pilots for life operating the latest generation of RAF aircraft.
In the same year that we have witnessed huge crowds descending on RAF Marham and at various flypast sites across the country, with everyone in attendance desperate to catch one final glimpse of the Tornado GR4 before its service withdrawal, it would probably be true to say that the Tucano has never really enjoyed similar enthusiast affection during its service career. Indeed, as we stand on the brink of its withdrawal, we are in danger of letting the service record of the RAF Tucano T.1 slip away into the annuls of aviation history without so much as a thank you. Clearly, a training aircraft such as the Tucano is never going to attract the same attention as an aircraft which can boast the service record of the Tornado, but most of the pilots who were flying the Tornado during its high profile farewell flypasts would have been trained on the Tucano and it doesn’t seem right that in the same year both are withdrawn from service, one receives national recognition, whilst the other is quietly towed away.
Such a significant aeroplane. Tucano T.1 ZF135, serial number S001 was the first production RAF Tucano delivered in June 1987 and is still doing what it was built to do, train future RAF fast jet pilots
As if to illustrate the impending demise of the aircraft, the final Tucano servicing has already been completed by the engineering teams at Linton-on-Ouse and there are more time expired and spares airframes in the historic hangars at the base, than there are aircraft available for flight operations. A small number of the very first RAF Tucanos are still providing flying training support, which is testament to the capabilities of this handsome little aeroplane, which really is deserving of much more recognition than it usually receives. Thankfully, in advance of its service withdrawal, the Royal Air Force Tucano has returned to the UK Airshow circuit for one final time, five years after the type was last thrilling Airshow crowds up and down the country. Display pilot Flt. Lt. Liam Matthews has the honour of presenting the Tucano to Airshow crowds during the summer months, commemorating the 30 year service career of the aircraft and giving us all one final opportunity to photograph this handsome looking aircraft, which has been responsible for training many hundreds of military pilots over the years. Allowing us all not only to say goodbye to the RAF Tucano, but also to mark the end of flying operations at Linton-on-Ouse, Liam’s display really must be considered one of the highlight acts at any show he is attending, in what is proving to be a rather poignant year in the history of our Royal Air Force.
RAF Tucano T1 time
Tucano T.1 ZF343 wears the colours of RAF No.72(R) Squadron, currently responsible for providing pilot training for RAF and Navy pilots. With a rich history as a fighter squadron, No.72 sqn. is the only RAF squadron to have moved from fixed wing to helicopter operations, then back to fixed wing with the Tucano
Although I was certainly hoping this would prove not to be the case, I headed for my latest visit to RAF Linton-on-Ouse fearing that this would be the last time I would have the opportunity of seeing RAF Tucanos engaged in flying training operations and maybe even the last time I would see the airfield itself. When thinking back to the spotting opportunities I had as a young man, you really do have to stop yourself from feeling a little melancholy, however, you can’t cry over withdrawn RAF aircraft and you simply have to go with what you are given. That also happens to be true when heading off to a UK airfield for an impromptu visit, because unless you are lucky enough to have a contact who is ‘in the know’, you turn up fully prepared to receive what the day may bring. There are a great many variables which can effect a day spent at an operational airfield, including flight operations themselves (they may be on night flying operations, or deployed elsewhere), the weather and certainly the direction of the wind, but there is something quite exciting about that. Not knowing what you are going to get on the day is part of the thrill and I think if we are honest with ourselves, we are all still quite optimistic when it comes down to it and will be hoping for a really special day.
As I pulled into the layby spot at the end of the runway (03 end) that I had come to know and love over the years, there was only one other car parked up and I had my pick of available spots. Unfortunately, the weather was not too good when I first arrived and even though the forecast was for better conditions to come, the first couple of hours were spent under grey skies with the constant threat of rain. Another slightly disappointing discovery was that the wind was blowing from the south west, which meant that the aircraft would be taking off towards me and I would not have the opportunity to take the close in landing shots which were so appealing from this particular position. Nevertheless, this is still a great spot and there appeared to be plenty of aircraft out on the ramp, including the Tucanos of RAF No72(R) Squadron and the Grob Tutors of the Yorkshire Universities Air Squadron – I was looking forward to a good day. I got my first photographer’s break following the landing of the first Tucano – even though the aircraft were landing far off in the distance, they appeared to all be running long, so came right down to my end of the airfield, holding for a minute or two, before heading off to take their position on the ramp. There must have been quite a number of aircraft already in the air when I arrived, as there appeared to be a steady stream of aircraft returning to Linton, including one Tucano which had clearly reported a problem, as it had fire engines racing across the airfield to meet it. Thankfully, there did not seem to be too significant an issue, although the aircraft was quickly shut down and ignominiously towed away to one of the hangars, for the engineering team to have a look at.
Obviously reporting a problem, this Tucano had the station fore engines racing across the airfield, just in case their services were needed.
Shutting down on the taxiway, help was available if needed, although thankfully this just proved to be a little high profile reassurance
Done for the day – this Tucano was dragged to one of the hangars at Linton, so that the problem which was causing the pilot concern could be identified and repaired
After an hour or so and with the skies now much darker and threatening rain, a Tucano burst into the circuit at quite a high speed and immediately began performing what appeared to be a display routine – the penny soon dropped. This must have been Flt. Lt. Liam Matthews practicing his routine for the rest of the 2019 Airshow season and it was really enjoyable watching the display from this slightly different angle to what would normally be available at an Airshow event. In fact, I was treated to two full private displays by Flt. Lt. Matthews, who had clearly got wind of the fact that I had come to pay my own personal respects to the Tucano and to see it performing over its home airfield just one final time. As the display Tucano finally landed, there was another unfortunate weather related development which had the potential to ruin the day from a photographic perspective - a change in the wind direction. A slight swing in direction saw the aircraft now taking off from the ‘28’ end of the cross runway, which from my position, was obstructed by the main hangars and certainly not ideal for recording the day’s events. This called for drastic action and doing something that I had never previously done on a visit to RAF Linton-on-Ouse, moving away from this popular viewing position. A quick check on my phone maps and I headed off down a country lane, in the hope of finding a better spot to catch some landing shots and hopefully a position much closer to the aircraft. When doing this type of thing, you always have to make sure you don’t block vehicle access to the lane itself or to any farmer’s fields and even though there were several great positions for taking pictures of the landing aircraft, I was conscious of the fact that I didn’t want to bring the good name of the aviation enthusiast into disrepute. After travelling up and down the lane several times, I took up position in a couple of different locations, all producing interesting results, but none of which proved to be ideal – there was a field which looked absolutely perfect for landing shots on the approach to runway '28', but the rather unfriendly looking young bovines in there immediately deterred any thoughts of an incursion, even if it was with the blessing of the farmer.
This final selection of images from my recent RAF Linton-on-Ouse visit begins with this view of a crowded ramp, which includes Tucano and Grob Tutor trainers, all gathered under grey, angry skies
An extremely active station, the skies above Linton are often busy with aircraft, including the Grob Tutor T.1s of the Yorkshire Universities Air Squadron
A change in landing direction forced a little adventure down a Yorkshire country lane, dodging the farm vehicles to grab a few unusual pictures
From this angle, the Tucano bears more than a passing resemblance to the De Havilland Chipmunk, but UK enthusiasts had better grab their pictures of the RAF’s current basic fast jet trainer, as it is due to retire later this year
A classic Linton-on-Ouse view. RAF Tucano T.1 ZF140 returns from its latest sortie, with the Kilburn White Horse visible in the background
In the swan-song of its RAF career, the Short Tucano retires later this year after almost 30 years of service, training fast jet pilots destined for RAF and Royal Navy squadrons
Tucano farewell. Although not thought of in the same way as the Tornado which was withdrawn from service earlier this year, it is to be hoped that the RAF will ensure this hard working aircraft receives the send-off it deserves
After an extremely enjoyable few hours Tucano spotting at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, it was time to head back home and to do battle with the delights of the M62. I was really glad that I decided to go and I managed to come away with some pictures which will sit alongside my Marham Tornado images in this sad retirement year for two RAF aircraft types. What made the trip even more memorable was the fact that this may well have been my last visit to this northern airfield as an operating Royal Air Force station and that this famous site may look very different in the years to come. I know that you can’t stand in the way of progress, but as aircraft come to the end of their service lives and historic airfield sites finally disappear, the only thing we have left are often just memories and photographs and we are then the custodians of this history, which we have a responsibility to pass on to future generations.
With some huge Airshow events still to come this year, let’s hope that Flt. Lt. Liam Matthews and his display Tucano receive plenty of attention over the coming months and we don’t let this important little training aircraft disappear from RAF service without paying our due aviation respects. Hopefully, both the RAF Tucano and its home airfield will also have something a little more robust planned to mark the sterling service that both have given the Royal Air Force over the years and if such an event should take place, the Aerodrome blog may be invited to attend.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more aviation related content for your enjoyment. As always, if you have any ideas for a future edition of Aerodrome, or if you would like to supply a feature of your own which will be of interest to our worldwide aviation readership, please send your suggestions to our regular contact e-mail address at firstname.lastname@example.org, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
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The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 12th July, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
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