After 91 years the RAF ceased flying from Northern Ireland yesterday when the Puma helicopters from 230 'Tiger' Squadron left the area for their new home at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire.
Nine helicopters from 230 'Tiger' Squadron left their old base at Joint Helicopter Command Flying Station Aldergrove (formerly known as RAF Aldergrove), located near Belfast, in a diamond formation.
230 Squadron, who have been based in Northern Ireland for over 20 years, are joining 33 Squadron at RAF Benson, meaning the Puma Force is now united in the one location for the first time in over 20 years.
The diamond formation was greeted by Commander Joint Helicopter Command Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, Benson's Station Commander and Puma Force Commander Group Captain Jonathan Burr, the 230 Squadron advance party, 33 Squadron personnel, and station support personnel.
Infrastructure work has been undertaken at RAF Benson during 2009 to enable the station to house both squadrons of the Puma Force.
These works included a purpose-built modular headquarters building for 230 Squadron, a re-role of the Operational Conversion Flight to form joint operations, survival equipment and flight planning sections, and a refit of several sections of the 33 Squadron hangar to accommodate the Operational Conversion Flight and Combined Tool Stores.
The colocation of 33 and 230 Squadrons, which saw nine Puma helicopters and around 250 Service personnel, with their families, move to Oxfordshire from Northern Ireland, will establish a coherent Puma Force on a single site and will improve the delivery of Puma Force capability.
Group Captain Jonathan Burr, Station Commander and Puma Force Commander at RAF Benson, commented:
"This is a new chapter for the Puma Force. With the colocation we will be more coherent in the planning, tasking, training and operating of the Puma Force across the squadrons. Oxfordshire has been a very good host to us over the years and we know they will welcome 230 Squadron."
Wing Commander Rich Maddison, Officer Commanding 230 Squadron, added:
"The people of Northern Ireland have been very good to the RAF and sadly this marks the end of an important chapter in the RAF's history.
"This squadron could not have achieved all it has on operations over the past six years without the essential training we have been able to conduct in the province and we shall certainly miss being here."
Squadron Leader Marty Lock, Officer Commanding A flight on 230 Squadron, was met by his wife and three children on arrival at RAF Benson. He said:
"Aldergrove holds a special place to all those who have been there. The squadron have been there for 17 years and the support helicopters have been there significantly longer. That chapter has closed and it's been a special moment for those who have been involved, including the engineers, planners, and aircrew. It's great to be a part of the Puma Force."
Flight Lieutenant Jonnie Bradshaw, a 29-year-old pilot with 230 Squadron and one of the aircrew that brought the nine aircraft to RAF Benson, said:
"Northern Ireland is an interesting place but it's excellent to be here at Benson. It's the nearest I've been to my friends and family for six years.
"The advantages in terms of logistics is that we share a common base with 33 Squadron and the simulator is here so it's now only a walk down the road instead of plane tickets. Again, we're very happy to be here and we arrived in style as 'Tiger 9'."