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The Recommissioning of 809 Naval Air Squadron

No 809 NAS Lightning II inside the Maintenance and Finishing Facility during the recommissioning at RAF Marham ~ alongside is the traditional commissioning cake [© Jeremy Flack]

The ‘Immortals’ ~ perhaps better known as No 809 Naval Air Squadron ~ was recommissioned at RAF Marham on Friday 8th December, reports Jeremy Flack.

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With a Phoenix emblazoned on the tail, 809 Naval Air Squadron has risen from the ashes after 41 years dormancy, having previously flown Sea Harriers during the Falklands campaign. This incarnation sees 809 NAS now equipped with the highly capable fifth generation stealth fighter – the F-35 known as the Lightning II in British Service.

Vice Admiral Martin Connell – 2nd Sea Lord (right) and Air Marshall Harvey Smyth – Air & Space Commander (centre) inspecting the RAF and RN members of 809 NAS [© Jeremy Flack]

Initially established as a flight within 617 Sqn, the embryo unit has evolved until now when the manpower has become sufficient to establish the new Squadron. Led by Commander Nick Smith, 809 NAS joins 617 to become the second front line squadron within the UK Lightning Force.

Besides 617 Sqn, at RAF Marham 809 operates alongside No 207 Sqn, which is the Lightning II Operational Conversion Unit. A further squadron which has been based at Edwards AFB in California since 2014 is XVII Test and Evaluation Squadron (No 17 Sqn). Previously tasked with operational evaluation of the Typhoon, 17 Sqn currently has three Lightning II aircraft operating in the Air Force Test Centre flying alongside USAF, USN and USMC F-35s as well as the Royal Netherlands Air Force. They trial and provide data for the operational jets to be flown safely and to their best advantage.

The appropriately specially marked tail of Lighting II of No 809 NAS with the Squadron badge showing a Phoenix rising, taken at the Squadron’s recommissioning after 41 years dormant [© Jeremy Flack]

The Lightning II is the RAF’s most capable combat aircraft with capabilities well in advance of any others, including the Typhoon. Besides its stealth capability, the way information is provided to the pilot tasks become simpler enabling more complicated missions to be achieved.

The Lightning Force is a totally integrated RAF / Royal Navy organisation with personnel from each service working together; 617 Sqn operates happily from the HMS Queen Elizabeth or HMS Prince of Wales as was seen during Carrier Strike Group 21 (CSG21) which saw first Lightning II operations being flown against ISIS. 809 Sqn will also be equally at home at Marham or aboard either of the carriers.

No 617 Sqn Lightning II displayed at No 809 NAS Commissioning ceremony at RAF Marham [© Jeremy Flack]

The recommissioning ceremony was held in the new Maintenance and Finishing Facility hangar at RAF Marham which provided excellent shelter from the predominately British weather for the dignitaries, servicemen and women and guests, although 809 was fortunate with blue sky on the day.

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809 NAS from the Archives

Library image of a No 809 NAS Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer S.2 with wings folded at RAF Honington ~ in 1972 they were tasked with overflying British Honduras (now Belize) when Guatemalan forces were threatening an invasion [© Jeremy Flack]
Library image of a Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer S.2 of No 809 NAS taking off from RAF Honington where it was based for some time when not aboard HMS Ark Royal [© Jeremy Flack]
Library image of a Hawker Siddeley Sea Harrier FRS.1 of 809 NAS at RNAS Yeovilton [© Jeremy Flack]

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