NARRATIVE & IMAGES BY MARK ROURKE
The 527th Aggressor Squadron – the final six months
It was the 7th September 1989, the summer holidays had just finished, and this young school leaver had found work in a local restaurant. Problem, Thursday and Fridays were the days off and with all my friends at Uni or work I had nothing to do. Well I love planes, why not hitch to Bentwaters and spend a day at Wantisden Church?
Thus began a hobby which would see me join the Royal Navy, become part of the Bentwaters Cold War Museum, and travel the world in pursuit of chasing aircraft!
I was very keen and thus the first few times I went I recorded every movement! I soon calmed that down but looking at those logs from 24 years ago gave me an insight in the final six months of missions for the 527th Aggressor Sqaudron, United Air Force’s in Europe elite dissimilar air combat training unit. By this time they had up to 12 aircraft on strength but due to the incoming cutbacks they would never reach the full unit strength of eighteen.
Looking at the logs from the 7th September the first two I saw were landing, 85-1453 and 86-0249 at 0955. 86-0227,14 and 85-1453,02 launched at 1203 and returned at 1310. Noted on the north side was 86-0231,13. 14 and 02 came out for another mission at 1452 and 1453 respectively before launching at 1500 on the dot, returning at 1557. So ended my first day at the end of Bentwaters and I was hooked.
I could only spend 2 hours at the base on the 8th but noted 86-0209,03 and 86-0231,13. Interestingly on this day I noted ten of the deployed Myrtle Beach A10s and two NF-5Bs from the RNethAF , K-4027 and K-4016. A good couple of hours most would die for nowadays!.
The next week was very interesting as the 527th AS had a resident detachment to work with, 800 NAS of the Fleet Air Arm, a unit I would serve 10 years later! They must have had a good effect on the unit because talking to an Aggressor pilot later in the year he said that the Royal Navy Sea Harriers and the Canadian Hornets gave them the most trouble but were great to fly against. Seen taking off at 0937 on Thursday 14th September after reaching the ‘last chance’ checks at 0930 were F16Cs 86-0231,13 and 86-0209, 03. Sea Harrier’s ZE697, 122 and ZE696, N-123 must have been waiting for them as they returned at 1004, the two Vipers returning at 1020. The next Aggressor mission was at 1157 when 86-0249,05 and 86-0254,11 launched. It became obvious the pilots of the SHARS had returned to Yeovilton on the Wednesday evening ( Probably an officer cocktail party the pilots had to attend!) as at 1257 05 returned in formation with Sea Harrier FRS.1s ZD578, 129 and XZ495, 127. That’s why I saw no Sea Harrier launches! 86-0254,11 returned at 1312. 86-0209,03 must have had a hard time against the navy boys in the morning as it was seen being towed across to the maintenance hangar at 1329. All four Sea Harriers launched at 1510 being followed by F16’s 86-0254,11 and 86-0249,05 at 1512. As 05 returned at 1603 and 11 at 1627 with no Sea Harriers that must have been det over for the 800 NAS. Friday 15th September was a down day for the Aggressors, only two seen being towed – 85-1453,02 at 1502 and 86-0237,16 at 1537. There was some F15 action today though, 80-0021,BT and 80-0022,,BT landed at 1415, and with added drama at 1616 after 79-0048,BT had landed at 1613, when F15C 79-0058,BT of the 525th TFS, 36th TFW landed as the log states –‘ Arrestor hook landing, sparks everywhere!’
Logging aircraft movements this way was obviously very taxing as on the 21st September I just have a log, no movement times. 85-0453,02 and 86-0237,16 flew missions and 86-0227, 14 was on maintenance. All 12 deployed 356th TFS, 354th TFW departed in the sunshine on this date. No F16s were noted on the 22nd September. It looked liked the 527th must have deployed because the only two F16s I saw on the 28th September were 81-0765,MY and 81-0756,MY of the 70th TFS, 347th TFW from Moody AFB. The next day was similarly Aggressor free.
Thursday October 5th was good, as exercise Elder Forest was taking place so as well as Aggressors 86-0209,03, 86-0227,14 and 86-0237,16 there was no less than the 13 visitors in the form of a C130E, 2 F111Fs, 6 Hahn based F16s and 4 Dutch aircraft in the form of two F16s and two NF5As.
The 6th October saw 4 Aggressors flying – 86-0219,06, 86-0237,16, 86-0216,12 and 86-0231, 13. Amongst visitors were two Davis Monthan based EC130Hs and a 9th SRW TR-1B.
The 12th October saw missions from Bentwaters with the prey coming in for a debrief. 86-0209,03 and 86-0227,14 flying missions against the newly formed 25 Squadron with Tornado F3s ZE794,FD and ZE735,FE. Obviously no one wanted to try their luck against the unit on Friday 13th October so they fought each other instead. 86-0209,03 86-0231,13 86-0229,04 86-0254,11 86-0249,05 and 85-0479,01 all launching en mass today a few times.
It was 23 Squadron’s turn to bring their Tornado F3s to Bentwaters as on the 19th October ZE831,EW, ZE830,ET and ZE809,EZ flew missions against 01, 02, 04 and 05. As well as those three Tornadoes, ZE832,EB made an appearance on the Friday doing missions with 02, 04, 01, 11 and 14.
And so the missions carried on. On the 26th October 86-0254,11 85-1453,02 85-1479,01 and 86-0229, 04 flew with one sortie returning with Harrier GR5s ZD348,G and ZD328,I of the 233 Operational Conversion Unit. 86-0224, 15 and 86-0231, 13 returned to Bentwaters on the 27th October, probably from detachment at Deci in Sardinia.
It was training time on 2nd November as 01, 02, 11, 13, 14, 15 and 16 all flew together a couple of times throughout the day with 15, 01, 14, 11 and 13 flying again on the 3rd. Same again a week later as 05, 13, 02, 11, 06 and 14 noted on the 9th November. 86-0219, 06 being new for me.
It was 29 Sqn and their Tonkas this time on the 16th November, 13, 14, 03 and 12 flying against Tornado F3’s ZE258,BE and ZE342,BK. By now the squadron had been told it was being stood down and within 3 months the F16s be returned to the units from whence they came. But the missions continued as on the 17th November 03, 11, 16 and 13 flew.
It was holiday time from me starting the 20th November so what better than spend a week at Bentwaters!. It was a good start because on this day SR-71A 17967 did a fly by, a mere week before Det 4 at Mildenhall was disbanded as part of the huge cuts now taking place since the collapse of the Berlin Wall. With a C141B, a rare for now C130A from the 143rd TAS, a KC135Q, an F111F, no less than four Torrejon based F16s and 2 Luftwaffe RF-4Es made it worth the trip alone. But it was still teaching combat time for the Aggressors with two deployed Dutch vipers in the form of 322 Sqn J-230 and J-226. With 8 Aggressors flying today ( 11, 16, 02, 01, 03, 06, 14 and 13) it was clear the pilots were getting some air time in before they disbanded. The F16s from 322 Sqn were gone for the rest of the week and it seemed the 527th were either operating as a big wing in training or doing missions with themselves as Tuesday 21st saw seven and Wednesday 22nd another seven on the last chance together.
On the 30th November it was nice to note another detachment for the unit at Bentwaters in the form of CF188s from Baden-Sollingen. The Canadians had a good reputation to maintain and flew 188757 and 188750 against 02, 01, 06, 14 and 16. Four Aggressors flew on December 1st which also saw the weekend visit of two Zweibruchen based RF-4Cs, another unit soon to be no more.
December 7th saw alot of aircraft on the ground when I got there, due to fog the previous day causing problems all over Europe. Two E3As of the NAEWF looked unusual, they were usually seen doing ILS approaches, on the deck at Bentwaters. Likewise it was good to see six Upper Heyford F111E’s had came in also. With two German Alpha Jets and two Bitburg Eagles it was quite a busy day. I did not note which Aggressors were flying but they did missions with RNethAF F16A’s J-230 and J-251. The same two aircraft did missions again with the 527th on the 8th December.
But the inevitable was shown to me on the 15th December when unmarked and tanked up 86-0227 and 86-0219 departed Bentwaters for the last time.
By the 21st December, when I visited, another detachment had arrived, this time ‘Crusty Rolls’, F15C’s of the 32nd TFS at Soesterburg. 79-0015,CR 79-0030,CR 81-0027,CR and 79-0033,CR doing missions with the 527th today. That was it for 1989 and the Aggressors, and it was not going to be long into 1990 that as a flying unit it would be defunct.
January 4th 1990 saw the Royal Netherlands Air Force back with 315 Sqn, brand new F16A J-510 and older machine J-139. I obviously got interested in the 527th missions again on Friday 5th January as I noted missions at 0900-1000 and 1130-1230. 12, 01 and 03 were the flyers. Also noted being towed were 85-1453,02 and 86-0254,11.
January 11th saw Dutch F16A’s J-510 and J-511 from 315 sqn flying with the 527th AS at 1410-1510 with 86-0209,03 and 86-0216,12. Flying on their own at 0800-0900 and 1030-1130 were 86-0209,03 and 86-0237,16. Aggressors 03 and 01 took off with J-510 and J-511 on the 12th January at 0900 but returned with J-139 and J-200 at 1000! They were to go out on a mission again at 1250 but it must have been scrubbed as the two 527th machines taxied back to their dispersal whilst the Dutch took off back to the Netherlands.
The Canadian’s were back by January 18th, with CF188’s 188769 and 188763. These were noted flying at 0800-0900 and 1400-1500. Aggressor 02 returned in formation with the two CF188’s at 1455. I was also told today that 86-0224 and 86-0254 had already departed the unit and returned to their USAFE wings. January 9th saw Aggressor’s 12 and 02 flying missions with the Canadians at 0900-1000 and at 1145-1235 did a mission themselves against unknown opposition. CF188 188769 must have had a problem after the morning mission because when 188763 departed at 1135 back to Germany it was alone. At 1335 CT-133 133345 and CF18B 188926 at 1335 landed at Bentwaters. Bringing in a mechanic and taking the pilot back maybe? Whatever, the Silver Star departed at 1635 and the two seat Hornet a little bit earlier at 1635.
Wednesday 24th January saw the departure of 86-0237 and 86-0231, the squadron was now very depleted. Thursday 25th January saw very windy conditions curtailing based flying but this did not stop the detached 315 Sqn F16A’s J-509 and J-510 from departing back to Twenthe, a repeat of the same aircraft seen earlier in the month.
By January 26th it was obvious that only 85-1453,02 and 85-1479,01 were the only remaining 527th AS still flying missions as these were the only WR marked aircraft I would see before the final mission. These two flew at 1110-1200 and 1330-1410. Two CF188’s 188709 and 188738 were noted between 1435-1650 though whether they were at Bentwaters for training was unclear.
February 1st saw 02 and 01 flying at 0830-0930, 1140-1240 and 1430-1530, but who they flew against remains unknown. The end was clearly near and so it was. A trip on the 8th February noted the same two aircraft flying at 0900-0950 and 1400-1440. February 9th confirmed it, at 1015 86-0216 and 86-0209 departed for the last time. 85-1453, 02 and 85-1479, 01 flew missions at 0900-0945 and 1200-1250. That landing at 1250 on the 9th February 1990 was the last time I saw an F16C of the 527th Aggressor Squadron fly. By the time I was back the next Thursday I never saw another mission, it was goodbye Bears and thanks for the memories.