Lincolnshire

The Boeing E-3D Sentry has returned to its home base at RAF Waddington after its final mission on Operation Shader, bringing to a close 30 years of operational service. 

The Sentry aircraft flew its final operational sortie on July 30 over Iraq as part of the counter-Daesh Op Shader and returned to RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire on Wednesday, August 4.

The aircraft from No.8 Squadron had been deployed to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and was the latest and last deployment since 2015. 

The E-3D Sentry will be retired later this year and will be replaced in 2023 by a fleet of three Boeing E-7 Wedgetails that will operate from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.

During the period between retirement and the Wedgetail becoming operational, the ISTAR requirements will be covered by a combination of other aircraft and E-3s from NATO partners.

Air Officer Commanding Number 1 Group, Air Vice -Marshall Al Marshall, speaking to the crew of ZH101 after they returned safely from Op SHADER. | Photo: SAC Shauna Martin RAF / MOD

Air Officer Commanding Number 1 Group, Air Vice -Marshall Al Marshall, holding a toast to the crew of ZH101 after their return flight from Op SHADER. | Photo: SAC Shauna Martin RAF / MOD

Describing the aircraft’s lengthy service, the Commander of the Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Force, Air Commodore Nicholas Hay said: “Whilst this moment is undoubtedly the time for all those who enabled Numbers 8, 23 54 and 56 Squadrons’ endeavours in the air to look back with immense pride and satisfaction.

“We have continued to learn much that will ensure other ISTAR platforms, including the new Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning aircraft, are able to maintain a significant operational edge going forwards.”

NATO Commander, Officer Commanding 8 Squadron, Station Commander, Air Officer Commanding 1 Group, Deputy ISTAR Force Commander, Deputy NATO AEW&C Force Commander and ZH101’s crew. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull RAF

The E-3D Sentry, entered RAF service in 1991 as part of the RAF’s ISTAR fleet and was immediately deployed to support Air Operations during the first Gulf War. 

Since then the Sentry aircraft have been involved in UK operations ever since including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, the broader Middle East and the Caribbean, together with a NATO role. 

The Sentry is also known as the Airborne Warning and Control System or AWACS.

This recent deployment has seen operational sorties being flown on Op Shader, and also sorties to support Operation Fortis, the deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth and the Carrier Strike Group.

A member of the Royal Air Force greeting his children under the wing of the aircraft for the first time since deployment. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

Describing its most recent missions, the Officer Commanding 8 Sqn, Wing Commander Victoria Williams said: “The deployment of the Sentry fleet to RAF Akrotiri in support of the maiden operational deployment of the Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier and operations in the Middle-East has been a resounding success.

“This was the first operational detachment of the fleet since 2016 and involved a Whole Force of RAF, Reservists and contractors to deliver 30 missions in 9 weeks. 

“The Sentry was able to provide the recognised air and surface picture to the Carrier Strike Group to facilitate its safe transit from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Suez. 

“The skills and experience of Sentry crews, particularly those developed through working closely with naval assets during this deployment, will now be re-invested. The E-7 Wedgetail programme will enter service in 2023, replacing Sentry as the RAF’s Airborne Early Warning and Airborne Command & Control platform.”

The RAF families waving as their family comes off the aircraft and a banner held by two little girls. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

An officer holding his children for the first time since deployment.| Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

Deployed personnel reuniying with their children for the first time. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

A family holding a banner made to greet their family as they land back from deployment. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

An officer greeting his child for the first time since deployment and two children in the background running towards their family member out of frame. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

A deployed member of the Royal Air Force greeting his family. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

Reflecting on the return of the E-3D Sentry to RAF Waddington Group Captain Robert O’Dell, the Deputy Head Capability at the ISTAR Force HQ said: “I am exceptionally proud to have been associated with Sentry in a variety of operational aircrew, training, test and support roles since it entered service in 1991. Sentry has defined my career and it is inevitably with mixed feelings I now find myself involved with its retirement.  

“However, all E-3D aircrew, groundcrew and supporting civilians should feel justifiably proud of the enormous contribution it has made to NATO and UK Air Policing, combat and humanitarian operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, as well as countering drug-smuggling in the Caribbean.”

The crew passing down luggage down the stairs from the aircarft. | Photo: SAC Amelia Turnbull / MOD

E-3D, ZH101, on the 8 Squadron pan after landing at RAF Waddington. | Photo: SAC James Skerrett RAF / MOD

The last Royal Air Force E3-D Sentry Aircraft landing back at is home base at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire after its final Operational Tour. | Photo: Sgt Nik Howe / MOD

The No. XIII Squadron at RAF Waddington has been presented with a new Squadron Standard, which is only the third in its 106 year history.

The Squadron Standard is a flag with the Squadron badge and battle honours listed upon it. Squadron Standards were introduced in 1943 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Royal Air Force.

The XIII Squadron (the Stabbed Cats) has a motto of “We assist by watching” and has a history dating back to 1915. The Squadron in its current guise stood up as the first UK based Reaper Squadron in 2012, with its first operational mission in April 2013.

The Squadron provides real-time surveillance and reconnaissance in support of frontline troops.

The No. XIII Squadron at RAF Waddington with the new Squadron Standard. | Photo: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2021

The Standard was presented by Deputy Commander of Operations, Air Marshal Gerry Mayhew, at a formal parade at RAF Waddington on Thursday, which included a Typhoon flypast provided by RAF Coningsy. The Standard was consecrated by The Venerable (Air Vice Marshal) John R Ellis QHC.

The formal presentation and parade of the new 13 Squadron Standard took place on July 29, 2021 at RAF Waddington. | Photo: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2021

XIII Squadron paraded at RAF Waddington to receive their new Standard. | Photo: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2021

A Squadron has “to have been of 25 years standing or to have earned to Monarch’s appreciation through exceptionally outstanding operations” to qualify.

Air Marshal Mayhew, a former Commanding Officer of XIII Squadron, was the parade Reviewing Officer with Officer Commanding XIII Squadron, Wg Cdr Ferris, the Parade Commander.

Marching during the formal parade at RAF Waddington. | Photo: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2021

Wing Commander Ferris said: “XIII Squadron’s Standard parade is a proud moment for us all where we can reflect on our history as well as looking forward to our future.

“This event gives the Squadron personnel and their families a chance to acknowledge the vital operational contribution the Squadron continues to provide, thank those that support us and celebrate appropriately after months of operating under Covid-19 restrictions.”

The No. XIII Squadron at RAF Waddington was presented with only the third Squadron Standard in its 106 year history. | Photo: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2021

Air Marshall Mayhew, Deputy Commander Operations, performed the Reviewing Officer role and presented the new Standard to XIII Sqn. | Photo: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2021

Aircraft flying from RAF Coningsby and RAF Waddington will be part a regular quarterly training operation over the North Sea known as Exercise Point Blank, which will be ongoing until the end of next week.

Exercise Point Blank is conducted by the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force based in the UK. However, for this exercise, US aircraft from other European air bases and the Royal Netherlands Air Force are also taking part.

The RAF Typhoons taking part are drawn from 3(Fighter), XI(Fighter), 29 and 41 squadrons and are being supported by Voyager tankers.


Royal Air Force Typhoons from 29 Squadron based at RAF Coningsby are taking part in Exercise Point Blank. | Photo: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2021

An E-3D Sentry during take-off from RAF Waddington on April 6, 2021. | Photo: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2021

The RAF Voyagers will operate in formation to allow up to four fighters to simultaneously refuel.

The exercise also sees all three of the United States Air Force European based fighter wings taking part for the first time.

It is designed to promote interoperability between 4.5 and 5th Generation aircraft as they exercise together during complex Air Missions.

Exercise Point Blank is a regular RAF and United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) exercise that this year also includes the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF). | Photo: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2021

The UK-based 48th Fighter Wing from RAF Lakenheath will be joined by F-16s from Aviano Air Base inItaly and Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.

The F-16s will be flying long range sorties supported by Air to Air Refueling from USAF KC-135 tankers based at RAF Mildenhall and so will not be landing in the UK.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force are also participating in the exercise flying F-16s and F35As from their bases in the Netherlands. In total over 50 aircraft will be committed to the exercise flying missions for four days.

Planning, briefing and debriefing for this exercise is being conducted entirely remotely. | Photo: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2021

Exercise Point Blank is being controlled by the Tactical Command and Control teams in Number 1 Air Control Centre at RAF Scampton, a part of the UK’s Air Surveillance and Control System, and on board a RAF E-3D Sentry from 8 Squadron RAF.

Planning, briefing and debriefing for this exercise is being conducted entirely remotely.

The exercise is designed to promote interoperability between 4.5 and 5th Generation aircraft. | Photo: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2021

Squadron Leader Jim Fordham, the RAF’s exercise coordinator based at RAF Coningsby, said: “Exercise Point Blank is a hugely valuable training opportunity for the RAF.

“It allows us to practice integrating with fighters from the UK’s closest ally and other NATO partners, going up against a range of simulated modern air and surface-air threats.

“The different aircraft types each have their own strengths and weaknesses, but when combined together our lethality and survivability however is greatly increased.

“The only way to generate this formidable allied capability is to regularly train together, developing and improving our tactics.”

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