RAF ends 18 years in Iraqi skies

The last Tornado GR4s and VC10 tanker aircraft returned to the UK from the Middle East yesterday, marking the end of 18 years of combat operations for the RAF in the Gulf.

The Tornados from XIII Squadron arrived home yesterday at RAF Marham in Norfolk while the VC10s from 101 Squadron, who provided air-to-air refuelling for the Tornados all the way back from the Middle East, came home to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

Earlier this week crews from the squadrons and other members of 901 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) and 83 Expeditionary Air Group (EAG) deployed on Operation TELIC marked the end of UK Combat Air Operations in the Gulf theatre during a sunset ceremony at an airbase in the Middle East. As the sun went down on Sunday 31 May 2009, UK Service personnel stood shoulder-to-shoulder with invited senior coalition members to celebrate this milestone in the history of UK Combat Air Operations.

As a mark of respect, Squadron Leader Martin Balshaw, Commanding Officer of the Hercules C-130 detachment at 901 EAW, read out the names of the 35 Royal Air Force and Royal Auxiliary Air Force personnel who have given their lives whilst serving their country on Iraq-related operations since 1990.

RAF squadrons, in various forms, have been based in the region since August 1990, when a week after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait the UK sent 50 Tornados and 12 Jaguar aircraft to the area. After the first Gulf War, they patrolled no-fly zones over Iraq and monitored activity on the ground. During the second Iraq conflict, the squadrons supported troops on the ground and bombed enemy installations.

Missions flown by Tornado GR4 crews flying in the Middle East include close air support, reconnaissance, airborne forward air control and strike co-ordination armed response. A typical mission over Iraq lasted eight hours, and involved loitering on station for up to six hours, interspersed with air-to-air refuelling provided by 101 Squadron VC10s.

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