December 27, 2022 5.50 pm This story is over 16 months old

Rewind 2022: A turbulent year for Red Arrows after move from RAF Scampton

An emotional farewell and fears of a scorched legacy

By Local Democracy Reporter

2022 is a year that nobody attached to the Red Arrows will forget in a hurry. It has seen the largest scandal in the display team’s history, and a change of scenery following the closure of RAF Scampton.

The Red Arrows are widely seen as the pride and joy of Lincolnshire, a national beacon of patriotism that we can boast about given their residency in our county.

The Royal Air Force’s Aerobatic Display Team has been a vital aspect of British popular culture since the team’s founding in 1964, flying the flag for our county and country alike across the globe for generations.

However, this year the team has faced turbulence in the form of scandals, allegations and an unavoidable move to a new home.

RAF Scampton – an obituary for one of the truly great RAF bases

RAF Scampton. | Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

The Ministry of Defence confirmed in 2021 that RAF Scampton, home to the Red Arrows from 1983 to 1995 and then again from 2000 to 2022, would close as an RAF base permanently for cast saving purposes.

Thankfully, a deal was agreed to keep the Red Arrows in Lincolnshire, as their search for a new home ended with RAF Waddington being selected. It was a huge deal for the county’s tourism sector, the RAF’s star attraction would be staying in Lincolnshire.

A closure parade was held at RAF Scampton in September to commemorate the more than 100-year-old history of the RAF base, from the formation of Squadron X, better known as the 617 Squadron, right up to the present day impact of having the Red Arrows call the site home for so long.

RAF Scampton bid an emotional farewell to the Red Arrows in October, as the final jet left the runway for the permanent move to RAF Waddington and called time on an historic era for the Royal Air Force.

It is a base littered with history, widely acknowledged as the only RAF base in the country to earn three Victoria Cross awards, and also being home to the Vulcan Bomber Force during the Cold War.

Early beginnings

A typical Zeppelin craft.

The site opened in 1916 as a direct response to the enemy threat of Zeppelins, standing on the site of a former landing field for the First World War Flying Corps, though this would only appear to be a temporary measure.

RAF Scampton closed and returned to its roots of agriculture following the conclusion of World War One, but little did we know that the rise of a certain Adolf Hitler in Germany in the 1930s would see the base called into action once more.

It would earn its name of Royal Air Force Station Scampton in 1936 after the site was earmarked in the RAF’s expansion plans, welcoming Numbers 9 and 214 Squadron as its first residents.

World War Two – Guy Gibson and the heroic Dambusters

Guy Gibson in front of a Lancaster.

While Hitler’s rise to power in Germany was well documented and tracked in the United Kingdom, not many could have been prepared for the 1939 outbreak of the Second World War – which was a coming-of-age moment for RAF Scampton and its personnel.

Scampton was transferred to Bomber Command once World War Two started, launching the RAF’s first offensive just six hours after the war broke out, led by the now iconic name of Guy Gibson – conducting a sweep of German coastal town Wilhelmshaven.

Soon after came the conversion of the Avro Manchester fleet to Avro Lancasters at RAF Scampton, as Squadrons 49 and 83 were fully equipped with Lancaster Bombers by 1942.

A year later in 1943, as the war continued to intensify, the development of the bouncing bomb saw RAF Scampton and a certain 617 Squadron called up to carry out operations with this new offensive technology.

Codenamed Operation Chastise, we all most commonly know it as the historic Dambusters Raid, which to this day is considered the most famous operation in the history of the Royal Air Force.

Wing Commander Guy Gibson was again tasked with leading the operation, as 12 Lancaster Bombers departed RAF Scampton on the night of May 16, 1943 and launched attacks on dams across German regions.

While the operation was a resounding success in terms of breaching enemy lines, it wasn’t without its casualties. Of the 12 Lancasters that left the runway, eight did not return, and 53 aircrew members were lost.

During the entirety of the Second World War, RAF Scampton lost 266 aircraft and 551 aircrew. However, their lives were not lost in vain.

Without the Dambusters Raid we may never have won the Second World War. It earned Guy Gibson a Victoria Cross and shifted the upper hand to the Allied Forces for the final two years of combat – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cold War, nuclear weapons and Vulcan Bombers

Vulcan over Scampton. | Photo: Phil Evans

Post-World War Two, Squadrons moved from RAF Scampton to allow for improvement works at the site, as the runway was extended to 10,000 feet in 1956 in order to accommodate the Vulcan Bombers.

With RAF Scampton earmarked as the location for the Vulcans, a high security storage area was installed for the maintenance of nuclear weaponry, as the first atomic bombs arrived at the site in 1958.

During the Cold War, the site as we know it in the modern day began to take shape. New storage buildings and a new control tower, twinned with the expanded runway, meant RAF Scampton could continue to be a force in future combats, as well as a home for vital Squadrons and aircraft.

The iconic 617 Squadron re-formed and finally returned to RAF Scampton in 1958, after the grand expansion was completed, and a couple of years later they were joined by Number 83 Squadron, who came equipped with an impressive new aircraft.

The Vulcan B.2 was the backbone of the UK’s aircraft deterrent operations for most of the Cold War conflicts, and it also took part in some very long-distance missions, such as a 20-hour flight from Scampton to Sydney, Australia in 1961.

The Vulcans stayed with the 617 Squadron from 1958 to 1981 when it was eventually disbanded, as well as the likes of 27, 35 and 83 Squadron along the way.

The Red Arrows

| Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

1983 was the year it all changed for RAF Scampton. The base welcomed its latest team, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Display Team in the 1980s and would keep the team until 1995 – when Scampton temporarily closed as an economy measure.

The base reopened in 2000, welcoming back the Red Arrows and it remained a proud home for the team until 2022, when a permanent relocation to RAF Waddington was completed ahead of the site’s closure.

While the team flew the flag for the United Kingdom across the globe at major events in the political, royal, armed forces or sporting fields, their home was always here in Lincolnshire and still is to this day – despite Scampton’s farewell.

Red Arrows pilots on the naughty list

The seven pilots initially penned in for completing displays this year for the Red Arrows after Reds 8 and 9 were left vacant. | Photo: Becca Overton

For so long, the Red Arrows have been looked at as true inspirations and a genuine source of national pride, but that reputation took a severe hit in 2022 following allegations of a toxic culture and misconduct across the board.

An inquiry was called into the alleged ‘unacceptable behaviours’ of members within the Red Arrows team, and so far two pilots have been sacked, and another suspended.

Flight Lietuenants Damon Green and Will Cambridge were sacked and did not appear in the 2022 pilot line-up, amid claims of sexual assault and sexual harassment respectively.

Wing Commander David Montenegro was suspended over claims he got a junior colleague pregnant – while he was married with children. Montenegro published a book about the Red Arrows’ history this year.

It has prompted numerous whistleblowers to come forward and accuse team members of bullying, misogyny, sexual assault and harassment, in the biggest scandal of the team’s history.

There have even been calls for the display team to be disbanded, though full details of the inquiry are yet to be published.

An RAF spokesperson said at the time: “The RAF has a zero-tolerance approach to unacceptable behaviour and takes action wherever wrongdoing is proven.

“Following allegations of unacceptable behaviour within the Red Arrows, the RAF commissioned a thorough and far-reaching investigation.”

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