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27 Squadron

Keeping their Chinooks up at home and abroad

WHILE the Chinook can carry members of her majesty’s government on relatively short trips around the south coast, it is also capable of carrying much larger loads, its importance to the RAF and its NATO allies based on it being one of the heaviest-lifting helicopters in the world

The capabilities of the RAF squadrons flying Chinooks are not often witnessed by the general public, but when a tandem rotor helicopter flies over your home you sit up and take notice, the tireless work of No. 27 Squadron in August 2019 one such occasion. 

The crews of the Chinooks from RAF Odiham were called into action just over three years ago, helping secure Toddbrook Dam in Derbyshire after heavy rain and rising waters caused damage to the structure. The problems became so severe there were genuine fears that the dam could be breached, and nearby Whaley Bridge was in danger of flooding. 

27 Sqn Chinook At Toddbrook Reservoir August 2019

(27 Sqn Chinook At Toddbrook Reservoir August 2019)

Locals got to see at first hand the sort of work normally carried out following a hurricane or similar natural catastrophe in a far-flung corner of the globe, only this was the Peak District at the height of summer.

No. 27 Squadron were ably assisted by No. 18 Squadron in Derbyshire, Chinooks flying constantly over the dam dropping aggregate into the damaged area to help prevent the local town from being swept away. While they have been known to operate under intense enemy fire, it was a more of a first world problem they encountered in north west England, according to Sergeant Gav Anderson of 27 Squadron. 

He said: “The biggest issue we found was when we got to the dam itself. There was actually a handrail that went along the top edge of the dam and we had to maintain a 10ft clearance. So, to get low enough to accurately position the loads, we were finding it really quite tough.”

While it makes a change from avoiding mortar fire while dropping equipment into a battle zone, it shows how squadrons adapt to whatever task is placed in front of them – the work of 27 Squadron beginning 107 years ago. 

A Martinsyde Elephant in 1917

(A Martinsyde Elephant in 1917)

It was Hounslow Heath in 1915 that No. 27 was formed as a fighter squadron, soon heading over to France before discovering their Martinsyde Elephants were unsuitable for the role, switching to long-range bombing and reconnaissance duties – the elephant emblem of the squadron based on its first aircraft and its long service in India.

Disbanded in 1920, No. 99 Squadron was renumbered No. 27 Squadron, operating from Risalpur, then in India, against the tribes of the Northwest Frontier; the unit stayed in the region until WW2, heading to Malaya in February 1941. When the Japanese overran the peninsular, most of the squadron’s aircraft were lost, reforming in India in September 1942, initially minus aircraft before Bristol Beaufighters were delivered – No. 27 undertaking anti-shipping, ground attack and air-sea rescue missions. 

There was a partial re-equipping with de Haviland Mosquitoes the following year, but technical problems and design limitations in the tropical conditions found in Burma saw the Mosquitoes relinquished.

After disbandment in 1950, the squadron reformed at RAF Scampton in 1953, flying Canberras, the unit involved in sorties against Egyptian targets during the Suez crisis in 1956. Reformed again in 1961 at Scampton, No. 27 became part of the V-bomber force, flying Avro Vulcans equipped with Blue Steel nuclear missiles.

Avro Vulcan SR.2 of No. Squadron  in 1977

(Avro Vulcan SR.2 of No. Squadron  in 1977)

In the 1970s, No. 27 reformed at Waddington, its role changing from attack to reconnaissance, with a decade spent monitoring fall-out from air and ground-based nuclear tests performed by nations in the Indian sub-continent and south east Asia. The Vulcans were modified to carry collection equipment to retrieve samples of airborne contamination for analysis at the UK’s atomic research site at Aldermaston.

In the early 1980s the squadron went back in its attack role, reforming at RAF Marham with 12 Tornados, again armed with nuclear weapons, this time the WE.177 bombs. The Tornados were tasked with operating ahead of a potential battlefield in the event of war against the Soviet Bloc, striking targets in Eastern Europe.

A 27 Sqn Tornado GR1 in 1988

(A 27 Sqn Tornado GR1 in 1988)

The squadron was involved in the Gulf War in 1990, – minus their nuclear payloads – six of the Tornado GR1s flying 18 missions apiece and soon after returning from the Middle East the whole of No. 27 Squadron headed north of the border to RAF Lossiemouth, their number plate allocated to RAF Odiham’s helicopter training unit. On September 30, 1993, No. 240 Operational Conversion Unit became No. 27 (Reserve) Squadron, equipped with Chinook and Puma helicopters. 

In January 1998 it regained full squadron status flying only Chinooks, four years later transporting Royal Marines in Afghanistan. In 2003, No. 27 Squadron was stationed at Basra operating in a transport role as part of No. 1310 Flight RAF, the squadron returning to Afghanistan in 2011 as part of Operation Herrick.

No. 27 were back on humanitarian duties in 2017, operating in the Caribbean after several islands suffered severe damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, buildings reduced to rubble and large areas flattened. Operating in appalling weather conditions, flights were undertaken to rescue people, flying at low levels to keep out of worst of the storms.

Two years later and they were helping out a bit closer to their Hampshire base, hour after hour, flying their Chinooks up and down the Goyt Valley in Derbyshire, depositing 150 tonnes of aggregate to stem the flow of water into the reservoir.

The community around Whaley Bridge showed their appreciation in many ways, arguably the most fitting the brewing of an ale stocked at the local pub – Keep Your Chinook Up!

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