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8 Squadron Article

Wedgetail link-up will see VIII Squadron return north of the border

THE new E-7 Wedgetail aircraft moved a step closer to its RAF delivery this week, the first MESA sensor (multi-role electronically scanner array) installed in the plane’s unique fin, the work being carried out at the Birmingham factory of STS Aviation Services.

The first Wedgetail is expected to be delivered to No. VIII Squadron late next year before it is expected to achieve initial operational capacity (IOC) status in 2024.

The new aircraft will see the squadron relocate from Waddington to Lossiemouth to operate the surveillance fleet, the unit’s work growing ever more crucial following events in Ukraine.

Work is well advanced at the Scottish station to welcome both their new aircraft and the squadron, the E-7 able to track multiple airborne and maritime targets, directing military assets to counter any threats from air or sea.

No. 8 Squadron will be making a return to Lossiemouth just over 30 years after leaving, the squadron heading south of the border back in 1991 when they took delivery of the E-3D Sentrys.

The history of VIII Squadron dates back to 1915, formed at Brooklands in Surrey under the Royal Flying Corps banner, soon transferring to France where they operated a range of aircraft out of Saint Omer, their temporary home located equidistant between Calais and Lille. They were initially used for bombing and reconnaissance duties, No. VIII carried out flights of up to 100 miles behind the front line, and in 1918 they started to specialise in locating anti-tank guns.

Airco D.H.9A

(Airco D.H.9A)

The end of hostilities marked the disbandment of the squadron, reforming at Helwan in Egypt as a bomber unit in October 1920, flying Airco DH.9As. Deployments followed in Iraq and Yemen in air policing roles, with more aggressive operations following against the villages of the Subaihi tribe.

When Italy declared war in June 1940, No. 8 Squadron flew its first combat missions of WW2 on June 12 – nine Blenheims bombing an airfield at Assab in occupied Eritrea, flying out of Aden across the Red Sea. Further operations took place against Italian forces which subsequently invaded Somalia (then British Somaliland), with Vickers Vincents also being operated. They spent almost the entire war flying operations out of Yemen, and when the conquest of the Italian Empire in East Africa removed the direct threat to British forces in Aden, No. 8 then concentrated on anti-submarine duties over the Indian Ocean, continuing in that role until disbanding on May 1, 1945.

On May 15, 1945, No. 200 Squadron at RAF Jessore in India was renumbered No. 8 Squadron, flying the American Consolidated Liberator VI, before returning to Yemen the following year, taking on the role of a fighter bomber unit with Mosquito FB.6s. Its overseas’ roles continued with time spent in Egypt before moving to Muharraq on the Persian Gulf in 1967, disbanding again just before Christmas 1971.

Avro Shackleton AEW.2s WR960 of No. 8 Squadron in 1982

(Avro Shackleton AEW.2s WR960 of No. 8 Squadron in 1982)

The unit returned to Britain for the first time in half a century on January 1, 1972, reformed at RAF Kinloss in the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) role, flying Shackleton AEW.2s, before making the short move to Lossiemouth two years later. More than a decade later they were still flying Shackletons with delays on the introduction of the replacement Nimrod AEW 3s, a delay that was extended into the 1990s with the Nimrod project cancelled.

No 8 Squadron were eventually handed Boeing E-3D Sentrys in 1991, moving back south of the border to Waddington, the modified Boeing 707 requiring a crew of around 18 to operate, the plane distinguished by its distinctive rotating radar dome (rotodome) above the fuselage. Work on the British E3-D variant included the addition of a refuelling probe next to the existing air-to-air, AAR, receptacle, and the insertion of wingtip electronic support measures, ESM, pods.

The last RAF E-3D Sentry Aircraft landing back at is home base at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire after its final Operational Tour on 4 August 2021

(The last RAF E-3D Sentry Aircraft landing back at is home base at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire after its final Operational Tour on 4 August 2021- 📸 MOD)

The crucial work of No.8 Squadron and their E3-Ds was required in the Balkans, in what was formerly known as Yugoslavia, flying out of bases in Hungary and Italy, with the unit also called into action over Iraq in the 2000s and Afghanistan in 2010. In 2011, Operation Ellamy also required VIII’s services – the Libyan civil war that brought to an end Colonel Gaddafi’s tyrannical rule over the country.

In 2015, No. 8 were deployed to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to participate in Operation Shader against ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq, and more recently they flew in support of Operation Fortis, the deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth and the Carrier Strike Group.

In August 2021, the E-3D flew its final operational sortie over Iraq, with an announcement earlier this year that three E-3Ds had been sold to Chile, two to fly and one to be used for spares, the aircraft replacing their EB-707 Condors.

The replacement Wedgetails will bear some resemblance to their predecessor, the rotodome replaced by a fin in the new aircraft, and the Boeing 707 airframe switching to a 737 airliner.

E-7 Wedgetail

(E-7 Wedgetail in RAF Colours - 📸 MOD)

The initial plan was to equip the RAF with five of the aircraft, that number trimmed to a three-strong force following a defence review. The Defence Command Paper, entitled Defence in a Competitive Age, was released in March 2021, a year before Vladimir Putin decided to invade Ukraine.

The document stated: “We will retire the E 3D Sentry in 2021, as part of the transition to the more modern and more capable fleet of three E 7A Wedgetail in 2023. The E 7A will transform our UK Airborne Early Warning and Control capability and the UK’s contribution to NATO. The nine P 8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft will help to secure our seas.”

For the period between the retirement of the E-3Ds and the launch of the RAF’s first Wedgetail, ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) requirements will be covered by other RAF aircraft and forces from Britain’s NATO allies. No. 8’s operations with the Wedgetail are planned to run until at least 2042.

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1 comment

  • Will the E-7s have character names of The Magic Roundabout like earlier Shackleton AEW2s ???

    James Stewart

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