RAF No 33 Maintenance Unit
THE HISTORY OF RAF LYNEHAM FROM 1936 TO THE PRESENT DAY
Before RAF Lyneham was built the area was an agricultural one, with several farms, some of them owned by the Methuen family from Corsham Court, some 10 miles to the south west. In earlier times the land had belonged to the priory at Bradenstoke-Cum-Clack, on the north edge of the area, and was a centre for the growing of flax. The name of the village of Lyneham comes from this crop; it means Linen Ham, the place where flax is grown.
In the first part of the 20th century most of the village population worked in local pursuits such as agriculture or the sawmills, some went to work for the Great Western Railway in Swindon, and others went down to Calne to work for the bacon factory there. The first World War had an impact on the villages of Lyneham and Bradenstoke only in the fact that many of its menfolk either volunteered, or were later conscripted, for service in the forces, and some never came back. There was no camp nearby to change the pace of life, or make its presence felt on the community as was to happen in the late 1930s.
With the expansion schemes for the RAF getting into gear in 1936, the area was surveyed for a possible airfield in 1937. Initially it was thought that the water table would be too near the surface, but this turned out not to be too great a deterrent, and in 1939 the builders moved in. Hedges were grubbed up, the area was ploughed level with horse-drawn ploughs, and the old moated manor house of Lyneham Court was demolished. The buildings of Cranley Farm suffered the same fate. The villagers of Lyneham lost their tennis courts, and several local families saw their allotments levelled.
The intention was that the new RAF Station should be an Aircraft Storage Unit. The policy was for several clumps of hangars to be built for use in storing and working on aircraft, so that they should not present a concentrated target to any enemy. This is what happened at Lyneham, with a central group of 4 hangars and domestic buildings, and 4 other groups of hangars dispersed around the main site. This gave a total of 14 hangars.
The airfield itself was initially a grass landing area, but it was always intended that hard runways should be laid. When RAF Lyneham opened, however, these had not been started, and the landing ground was on the site of the present aircraft parking area and sports field, and one of the quarters sites.
Living accommodation was in huts, some of them on the main site, others in 5 groups dispersed around the perimeter of the aerodrome site. The WAAF accommodation and Mess Hall were in Lyneham village, to the east of the main camp, where Pound Close and St Michael's Court now stand.
WORLD WAR TWO The Station opened as Number 33 Maintenance Unit on 18 May 1940,with no ceremony, and indeed very few people. The Record Book states that the strength on the first day, was 4 officers, 1 other rank and 15 civilians. There were 9 vehicles - 1 staff car, 2 tenders, 1 van, 2 tractors, a mobile crane and an ambulance, and 1 Crossley fire engine. To refuel aircraft there was a 450 gallon tanker with 2 petrol trailers, and there were also 2 bicycles. There were, however, no aircraft, but by the end of the month the first 2 had arrived, being a Tiger Moth and an Albacore.
Over the next few months the strength of the unit built up rapidly, and by the end of the year there were 422 civilians, 18 officers (including the first 2 WAAFs), and 181 other ranks. Construction was still going on, and had been disrupted on September 19 when an enemy aircraft came in low from the south west, dropped one incendiary and 2 high explosive bombs, and made a strafing run. 5 civilian workmen were killed, and the east end of the hangar that they were building was destroyed.
The Maintenance Unit was now holding more operational aircraft, the list including Blenheims, Lysanders, Wellingtons and Spitfires. They were received for storage, modified and tested as necessary, and issued as required for front-line units.
The Station was a part of Number 41 group, Maintenance Command, but this affiliation was to change in August 1941 with the arrival from Cranfield of Number 14 Service Flying Training School with its Airspeed Oxfords. Their function was the advanced training on twin-engined aircraft of pilots who had been selected to fly multi-engined aeroplanes. Many of the students were Belgians and Poles, and concentrated flying training took place, with 4 ten-and-a-half week courses running simultaneously.
The Station was now in Number 23 Group, Flying Training Command. On 23 October 1941 King George VI spent 50 minutes visiting the SFTS, which now used Relief Landing Grounds at Wanborough and Long Newnton. The school had a high accident rate, with at least 12 aircraft, 6 instructors and 8 pupils being lost.
33 MU now had nearly 300 aircraft in storage, and was running out of space for them. Accordingly it was allocated Number 45 Satellite Landing ground at Townsend, near Calne, for storage purposes.
In February 1942 the SFTS completed a move from Lyneham to Ossington. The first Station Commander took post on 14 February, and the Station was transferred to Number 44 Group Ferry Command. This was in readiness for the arrival in March 1941 of Number 301 Ferry training Unit from Pershore. The purpose of this unit was to train crews for the delivery of aircraft from storage to flying units, many of them in North Africa and the Middle East. The aircraft included Wellingtons, Hudsons, Beauforts and Marylands. 301 FTU also trained test pilots for Number 42 Group, Maintenance Command. Over the next 3 months Numbers 1442, 1444 and 1445 Flights joined the FTU in ferrying aircraft out. So similar was the task of these four units that, in November 1942, they amalgamated to form Number 301 Ferry Training Unit.
Meanwhile Number 1425 Communications Flight had arrived from Honeybourne in April, flying in with its Consolidated Liberators. 1425 operated these conversions of the B-24 bomber on shuttle services to the Mediterranean area, carrying passengers and freight outbound, and returning ferry crews inbound. In August, one of their passengers was the Prime Minister, Mr Churchill, on his way to and from Cairo and Moscow. In October the Flight was redesignated Number 511 Squadron, and this Squadron was to become one of Lyneham's longer-term residents. During 1942 it added Armstrong-Whitworth Albemarles to its equipment.
In March 1943 British Overseas Airways Corporation took over a hangar at Lyneham for its Liberators. Normally based at Bristol Whitchurch airfield, there was insufficient hangarage for them there, and the runway was also rather short for their operations. They remained at Lyneham until 1945, flying scheduled and special routes to non-occupied areas of Europe and to the Mediterranean area.
By now Lyneham had been provided with hard-surfaced runways. Two were built during 1940 and 1941, the longest being 4,375 feet, the other 3,542 feet. During the following years these were both extended, and in 1943 the 6,000 feet long North-South runway was opened as well.
33 MU was now increasingly holding Spitfires and Seafires, with stocks of other types reducing. In a straight exchange with 15MU at Wroughton, Townsend SLG was relinquished in September 1942 and Number 31 Satellite Landing Ground at Everleigh was taken on in its place.
With the increase in pure transport operations in the RAF as opposed to ferrying, Transport Command was formed in March 1943. Lyneham, in Number 46 Group, was its main base in the south, and as well as sending its own aircraft overseas, acted as the clearance airfield for planning, diplomatic clearance, customs and briefing purposes for transport aeroplanes from other Stations flying abroad. It also provided facilities for aircraft being ferried overseas.
In 1943 and 1944, 33 MU was responsible for the completion of General Aviation Hamilcar gliders. These were the only Allied glider capable of carrying a light tank and were used on 'D' Day and for the Rhine crossing. The sections were made separately, largely by furniture companies, and the parts were brought together at Maintenance Units for erection. Most of those built at Lyneham were towed out by Halifax tugs to North Luffenham. 33MU was also one of only two units to build the unsuccessful powered version of the Hamilcar, the Mk X.
301 FTU left Lyneham for Pershore in March 1944, its move being accelerated by Number 525 Squadron's arrival from Weston Zoyland the previous month. A transport squadron, they brought with them their Vickers Warwicks, an aircraft already being used here by BOAC. 525 flew them on routes via Gibraltar to Tunisia and other destinations in North Africa, but after two of them were lost in April they were restricted to freight only, and the unit started receiving the Douglas Dakota to replace them.
At the end of 1944 the 2 resident squadrons were briefly supplemented by Number 242 Squadron, which reformed here from the Liberator Flight of 511 Squadron. They flew long-range trips to India and the Far East, but stayed for only 8 weeks before moving out to Holmsley South. BOAC also departed in April 1945, leaving for their new operating base at Hurn.
Number 511 Squadron was gradually changing its Liberators and Albemarles for Avro Yorks and Douglas Dakotas. They were operating, amongst other destinations, to the Azores and the Far East.
The war ended with Lyneham home to the Maintenance Unit and 2 Transport squadrons. With British forces deployed around the World, the requirement for transport aircraft to move and resupply them seemed to assure the future of the Station for the foreseeable future.
THE 40'S AND 50'S With the war over, and less need for fighters and bombers, there arose the necessity for them to be put into long-term storage. Number 33 Maintenance Unit was one of many Aircraft Storage Units that took on this task, and its stocks of aircraft rose progressively. By late 1946 the MU held nearly 750 aircraft, the great majority of them Spitfires. This caused great pressure on space, so a lot of the aircraft were stored tipped up onto their noses in the hangars, and many were stocked in the open air
Lyneham had not lost its transport role, despite the fact that 525 Squadron, which had become largely Canadian-manned, flew its Dakotas out to Membury just after the war ended. They still, in common with other squadrons, used Lyneham for overseas clearance purposes.
For 7 months from October 1945, the Station was the base for Number 1359 Flight, which operated 'PAMPA' weather reconnaissance flights using the Mosquito PR XVI. They arrived from Holmsley South, and flew daily along the transport routes sending back observations of wind, temperature and general weather conditions for use by the transport crews in planning their flights. This service ceased in May 1946 when the Flight was disbanded.
The Station was now run on the lines of 3 functional 'Wings'. Flying Wing took care of the operational aspects of the Station; Technical Wing looked after all the aircraft and ground equipment servicing; and Administration took over responsibility for many functions that had been taken care of by the individual units, such as postings and welfare.
An extra responsibility laid on the Station was its designation as a Master Diversion Airfield. This meant that it was one of several airfields at which pilots could expect a 24 hour service so that could land or receive radio assistance in case of emergency.
In November 1947 Numbers 99 and 206 Squadrons reformed at Lyneham, also equipped with Yorks, and joined 511 in flying World-wide routes.
The whole Station, however, was soon to be tested to its limits, for when the City of Berlin was blockaded by the Soviet Union the following June, it was decided to keep it supplied by air. The 3 squadrons were detached en-masse to Germany, operating from Wunstorf, south of Hannover. Large numbers of Lyneham's technical, operations and administrative staff were also sent to set up a fully operational base at Wunstorf. All the RAF's 4- engined land-based transports were detached there, although the Hastings later moved to Schleswigland, and the aircraft flew freight into Gatow at the rate of one flight every 3 minutes for the next 15 months.
The Yorks were flown back to England for their major services, to a Lyneham that had become, apart from 33 MU, almost a ghost Station. They also rotated personnel from the detachment at the same time. Nearly 400,000 tons of freight were carried by the RAF during Operation Plainfare, a large part of this by the Lyneham Squadrons.
On their return from Germany all personnel were given some well-earned rest, and Number 206 Squadron was given an even longer rest by being disbanded. The Station's flying strength was little changed, however, as Number 242 Squadron, which had also been at Wunstorf, moved in with its Yorks from its previous base at Bassingbourn. All the squadrons were soon to lose their Yorks, and they moved into the fifties reequipped with the Handley Page Hastings.
On 1 May 1949 the first of the permanent barrack blocks was opened to replace the primitive huts that were in use at the time. These were a great improvement, as there was now no need for the lucky occupants to go outside in all weathers to reach the washrooms and toilets. The first block was named York House, and was allocated to airmen from Technical Wing. At around the same time the first married quarters came into use for families.
Number 33 Maintenance Unit was still keeping stocks of Spitfires, including the last mark, the F24, and many were issued for delivery to foreign air forces. It also had a large number of Vampire fighters, its first jet aircraft, which were being modified and issued to RAF units in Britain and Germany.
The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 saw an increase in tasking to the Far East for the transport squadrons, 242 having been replaced by Number 53 Squadron. Many flights carried troops and equipment to Japan for onward transit to the war zone. Problems in the Middle East also kept the Station busy. The take-over of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company by the Persians initiated a standby in Egypt for British troops and Lyneham aircraft from May 1951, with an eventual evacuation of British employees from Abadan taking place in October. This was swiftly followed the next month by the reinforcement of the Suez Canal Zone and evacuation of British civilians as trouble broke out there.
In 1952 troops were flown to Kenya in support of anti-terrorist operations.
The role of the Station was expanding as crews and technical personnel underwent training in the Transport Support role, being instructed in the art of dropping stores and troops by parachute. This came in useful the next February with catastrophic floods in eastern England; many sandbags were flown in from Europe and from airfields around this country and delivered to the East Coast areas, some of them being dropped by parachute.
In March 1954 the troopship Empire Windrush caught fire in the Mediterranean. The passengers, Service people and their families, were taken off, and then flown back to this country from Gibraltar in 19 flights by Lyneham's squadrons.
Number 216 Squadron moved in from Egypt for their first-ever home-based tour in late 1955. They then became the Station's only jet-equipped squadron when they received the first of their De Havilland Comets in July the next year, the squadron flying and ground crews having been trained at Hatfield. They didn't have long to get used to the aircraft before they became involved in the Suez Crisis of November that year. They flew many flights to Malta and Cyprus carrying troops and RAF personnel detached for the assault on the Canal Zone.
The 3 Hastings squadrons were also heavily involved, and they all took part in the paratroop assault on airfields and installations in the Canal Zone. This was largely a successful operation, but was quickly brought to an end for political reasons.
The next January Number 53 Squadron packed up and moved to Abingdon, and 4 months later Number 511 Squadron followed their lead and departed for Colerne. This left just Number 99 Squadron flying Hastings, and 216 with their Comets.
The Comet soon took on a VIP role as well as being a long-range trooper, and carried many of the Royal Family. They provided the Queen with her first jet flight on 4 June 1957, when they flew her and the Duke of Edinburgh from Marham to Leuchars. In the same month 216 started a high-speed passenger service to the Far East and Australia.
The arrival of the Comet had brought with a need for a longer runway, and in 1956 the main runway was therefore extended from 6,000 feet to its present length of 7,830 feet. This necessitated the demolition of 2 hangars on the north side of the airfield, and also the movement of the main gate from the north side to its present position on the south-west of the Station.
Both squadrons were involved in carrying passengers and freight to Christmas Island for the British nuclear tests in 1957 and 1958, and at the end of that year the Station became a quieter place when Number 99 Squadron gave up its Hastings aircraft, this being the last piston-engined aeroplane to be based at Lyneham. The squadron was to become the first to be equipped with the Bristol Britannia, but for the first two months of 1959 they had no aircraft. Their first Britannia flew in from Belfast on 19 March, and from then on there was a steady build-up of numbers. Crews and technicians were initially trained at Filton.
From 1958 Lyneham became one of the 18 Stations designated as dispersal airfields for the RAF's nuclear deterrent 'V' Force. A dispersal area and hutted camp were built so that 4 Vulcan or Victor aircraft could operate from a self-contained base at Lyneham. This facility was exercised periodically, causing some disruption to the Station's normal operations.
To end the decade, and to give the Station a purely strategic role in the early sixties, Number 511 Squadron, which had disbanded at Colerne , reformed at Lyneham on 15 December. It received the first of its Britannias later that month.
THE 60'S AND 70'S
The new decade saw Lyneham with many brand new buildings. On the operational side there was a new passenger terminal, also containing the Operations Room, and an Instrument Landing System (ILS) installation was brought into use. There were new messes for both officers and senior NCOs, the programme of building airmen's barrack blocks being complete. A new Air Traffic Control tower and fire station had been opened in the late 50s
In July 1960 the Britannia squadrons sent aircraft to Ghana to assist the United Nations peace-keeping force in the Congo, flying many trips into Leopoldville. The next year saw a major effort by the Station in the deployment to the Middle east of men and freight, in response to the claim by Iraq on the state of Kuwait. The Lyneham squadrons carried many of the 7,500 troops and much of the 750 tons of equipment for this operation, and also brought them back afterwards. On the humanitarian side, six Britannias and a ground detachment were based temporarily in Jamaica to assist in hurricane relief in Belize.
Number 216 Squadron's capability was greatly enhanced in the early sixties by the acquisition of Comet C4s to supplement their C2s. The new aircraft carried over twice as many passengers at a higher speed, and for a greater distance. The last C2 was disposed of in 1967, leaving the unit equipped with 5 of the later mark.
The Britannia squadrons were kept busy for many months from 1965, when they became involved in the airlift of oil into Zambia following the shutting off of the oil pipeline through Southern Rhodesia. By the time the operation ended in October 1966, 99 and 511 had airlifted over 3,500,000 gallons of fuel for Zambia.
A change of major significance took place on 1 August 1967, when Number 36 Squadron took delivery of its first Lockheed Hercules. The squadron had arrived from Colerne a month or so earlier, and was the first RAF operational unit to be equipped with this very capable aircraft. Its arrival at Lyneham coincided with the demise of Transport Command, and the transfer of the Station to the newly-formed Air Support Command. This reflected the new dual strategic and tactical role of the Station.
The new squadron was quickly into action with the other 3 when they took part in the successful evacuation under occasional fire of British personnel from Aden.
An era came to an end at Lyneham on 31 December 1967. The Station's first occupant, Number 33 Maintenance Unit, was disbanded on that day. There were now far fewer aeroplanes in the RAF's inventory, and the need for several storage units no longer existed. In the previous few years 33 MU had become a holding unit for, mainly, various marks of Canberra and Lightning aircraft. Its task and staffing level had progressively decreased, and its headquarters had been taken over by Number 216 Squadron. Its last aircraft had now been flown out, and after 27 years the Maintenance Unit closed.
In recognition of the importance of its new dual role, and also of the rank or status of many of the VIP passengers using the Station, the post of Station Commander was elevated to one of Air Commodore rank in January 1968. This change was to last for 3 years before reverting to the more usual Group Captain level.
In February 1968 Number 24 Squadron moved the 15 miles from Colerne to Lyneham to become the second Hercules squadron on the Station.
In a rationalisation of the strategic and tactical transport forces in June 1970, Numbers 99 and 511 Squadrons were posted out. Thus Lyneham lost what at that time was its longest- resident flying squadron, 511 having spent a total of 25 years and 2 months on the Station. The 2 Britannia units departed for the nearby aerodrome of Brize Norton, which was now designated as the strategic base.
Lyneham was to be the tactical transport base, and this was emphasised in February 1971 when Numbers 30 and 47 Squadrons flew their Hercules in from their old base at Fairford. They were followed in September by Number 48 Squadron from Singapore. This gave a total of five tactical Hercules squadrons at Lyneham, as well as the VIP transport Comet squadron.
Whilst the Hercules was ideal for the tactical role it also had a good range and reasonable speed for use in longer range work. They demonstrated this in 1972 when they took part in the initial evacuation of British personnel from Malta, and also deployed troops to Belize to counter the threat of invasion by Guatemala. In September that year the Station was transferred to the control of Number 46 Group, Strike Command.
1973 saw a big effort by detachments from Lyneham to assist in several areas that were hit by famine conditions. These included southern Sudan, and West African countries including Senegal and Mali. In addition a detachment of 4 aircraft and support staff airdropped food to remote mountainous areas of Nepal. These operations resulted in the award to the Station of the Wilkinson Sword of Peace.
These famine operations continued into 1974 with the dropping of supplies to the inhabitants St Helena, and the provision of assistance to the City of Darwin, which was devastated by a cyclone.
The major Station commitment in 1974, however, was its contribution to the conflict between Turkish and Greek factions in Cyprus. All four Hercules squadrons and the Comets took part in the airlift of troops and their kit to the island, and the evacuation on the return flights of over 8,000 people of 46 nationalities. The Station personnel and their families set up a reception organisation to deal with these evacuees on their arrival at Lyneham.
In that year the United Kingdom Mobile Air Movements Squadron came to Lyneham from Abingdon. They became responsible for all aspects of freight and passenger loading onto the Lyneham aircraft, both at home and overseas. The responsibility for the loading and despatch of airdropped stores lay with Number 47 Air Despatch Squadron of the Royal Corps of Transport, permanently based at Lyneham.
In 1976 the Station became the largest operational base in the RAF with the arrival from Cyprus of Number 70 Squadron with its Hercules. There were now 6 Hercules squadrons and one Comet squadron based here. In addition, the Hercules Operational Conversion Unit, Number 242, transferred from Thorney Island, and the Hercules deep servicing organisation moved in from Colerne.
This state of affairs did not last too long, for in the six months from 30 June 1976 Numbers 36, 48 and 216 Squadrons all disbanded, leaving 4 operational Hercules squadrons at Lyneham. Two of them relinquished the tactical role, leaving just numbers 47 and 70 Squadrons carrying out this task, Numbers 24 and 30 squadrons flying only route tasks. All 4 squadrons were kept busy until the end of the seventies with relief flights to Turkey, Nicaragua, Yugoslavia and Kampuchea, and in a third reinforcement of the British garrison in Belize
THE 80'S AND 90'S
The nineteen eighties continued the tradition of providing the Lyneham transport force with much work. They started with the deployment of detachments to Rhodesia to support the Commonwealth Ceasefire monitoring force there, and another famine relief operation in Nepal.
The biggest operation of the decade, however, was the Station's involvement in the Falklands crisis. This was codenamed Operation Corporate, and caused the detachment overseas of large numbers of personnel from all 3 Wings of the Station. A supply route was set up via Gibraltar, Dakar and Ascension Island. In the first 3 weeks of the operation the Hercules carried more than 1,600 tons of freight to Ascension. Much of this was then airdropped to the Task Force as it sailed south.
In order to allow the Task Force to be supplied at longer range, refuelling probes were fitted to the Hercules, to enable them to refuel whilst airborne. In addition, 6 Hercules were converted to the tanker role to allow easier air-to-air refuelling of Lyneham's own aircraft. These tankers were flown by crews from Numbers 24 and 30 Squadrons. Airdrop and paradrop sorties then stretched as far as the Falklands themselves, involving multiple refuellings on flights lasting over 24 hours.
Following the retaking of the Falklands, a detachment of aircraft, crews and support personnel was maintained at Stanley, and subsequently at Mount Pleasant when that airfield opened. 1984 saw famine relief flights to Upper Volta, and also the start of a major famine relief effort in Ethiopia. This lasted until November the next year, and saw the Lyneham force delivering 32 thousand tons of food supplies, 14 thousand tons of them airdropped in remote areas of the country. This effort resulted in the award of a second Wilkinson Sword of Peace.
The Hercules' capability had been increased starting from 1980 with the arrival from America of the first CMk3 conversion. This had an extra 15 feet length in the freight bay compared to the original CMk1, to enable the aircraft to carry more freight within the weight limit before it reached the bulk limit. Marshall of Cambridge then converted another 29 of the fleet of 60, the final one being delivered in 1985.
The start of the nineteen nineties saw a visit by the Queen to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Station in May. Her Majesty saw the work in a variety of the sections on the Station. She then unveiled a memorial window in the Station Church, which is also the Parish Church of Lyneham and Bradenstoke.
A feature of the early nineties was the return to Lyneham of hostages who had been held in The Lebanon. They were flown in by VC10, and spent some time recuperating and debriefing in the Officers' Mess, before returning to normal life. The 3 involved were Terry Waite, the envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury; the journalist John McCarthy; and the former RAF fighter pilot Jackie Mann.
Lyneham's biggest modern-day operation swung into action on 6 August 1990, when the Kuwait crisis began. Once again large numbers of Station staff were detached overseas, to places ranging from Germany to Cyprus, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The squadrons and 242 OCU began round-the-clock operations carrying stores and troops to the Middle East from the United Kingdom and Germany.
A flight of aircraft was detached to Riyadh to provide in-theatre transport. Over 40,000 hours and 12,000,000 miles were flown in all during the first 7 months of Operation Granby, and 50,000 tons of stores and equipment were carried by the Lyneham Hercules. Immediately following the Gulf War, Lyneham Hercules airdropped supplies to the Kurdish people who had been displaced from their homes to the mountainous regions of Northern Iraq and South East Turkey.
In 1992 Number 242 Operational Conversion Unit was renamed Number 57(Reserve) Squadron, and finally moved from the old airmen's hutted accommodation into a new building. There has been a continuous programme of building since the mid-eighties to update and replace the original Station buildings, which were not designed or built with such a long life in view in 1939 and the forties. In addition there are now many more health and safety regulations to be complied with.
The Former republic of Yugoslavia has occupied much of the Station's efforts from 1992. Apart from supplying the British forces in the area, a detachment at the Italian airfield of Ancona flew supplies into Sarajevo, sometimes under fire. In the 3 years that this operation lasted, over 28,000 tons of relief material were flown into the city. Operations in this area continued until 1998, and are still current.
Reinforcement of the British forces in the Gulf area has been necessary periodically since the Gulf War, and relief operations have been mounted in Somalia, Rwanda and Montserrat. Evacuation of British and other nationals has been carried out from The Yemen, the Congo Republic and Eritrea.
In 1996 some of the Station's engineering, supply and administrative aspects were let to contract. There are now about 700 civilians working at Lyneham, many of them employed by Hunting Contract Services. They work with the 2,500 Service people to keep the Station operating efficiently in its task of providing air transport for all British forces, and for other tasks ordered by the Government.
The first of 25 brand new C-130J Hercules were handed over at Lyneham on 23 November 1999. These aircraft equip numbers XXIV and 30 Squadrons. Both squadrons are still operational and carry out wide-ranging tasks throughout the world.
The J model aircraft work side by side with the twenty-nine refurbished original Hercules that are flown by Numbers 47 and LXX Squadrons. These themselves are due for replacement in about 2007. It was announced on 17 May 2000 that 25 of the Airbus Industry A400M would be bought for this purpose. These will have a greater bulk-carrying capacity than the Hercules, and will thus go some way towards fulfilling the RAF's future heavy lift requirement.
Royal Air Force Lyneham is scheduled to close in 2012 with the majority of its personnel and other assets moving to Royal Air Force Brize Norton. The C-130K is due to be 'retired' with exemplary service and replaced by the new A400(M).
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