The Squadron’s existence dates from 14 February 1915 when it formed at Netheravon, Wiltshire, with Vickers FB.5 two-seat scout planes. When 74 Squadron departed to Singapore in the June of 1967, 11 Squadron re-formed at Leuchars on 1st April of that year with some brand-new Lightning F.6's in order to fill the gap in the UK air defences. Leuchars was a key station tasked with patrolling the most northerly UK air defence zone, extending well out past the Danish Faroe Islands towards Iceland and including the Faroes Gap, a most inhospitable environment in which to miss a join-up with the tanker or suffer any serious failure of the aircraft. It is this area which received most intrusions from long-range Soviet reconnaissance aircraft, and the Leuchars QRA had plenty of trade in the form of Bears, Bisons and Badgers.
|XS903 ‘BA’, its black fin and spine just discernible and with water vapour streaming off its wingtips, blasts off a wet Binbrook runway in full reheat into a murky evening sky, on course to intercept an incoming contact.|
Long-range deployments were a feature of the time for several squadrons in order to practise for the time when a Far East emergency might require reinforcement from the UK, and 11 was no exception when on 6 January 1969, 10 F.6s staged out to Singapore via Muharraq in the Persian Gulf and Gan island in the Indian Ocean, a total of over 9,000 miles and 18½ flying hours. However, both patrolling far out towards the Arctic Circle on QRA and making these long-range deployments relied very heavily on the Victor tanker force, and the Lightning was not really suited to the long-range role. In consequence, 43 Squadron reformed at Leuchars with longer-ranged Phantom FG.1s, and as this force expanded, the Lightning squadron moved south to patrol areas which did not involve such long loiter times or as many tanker joins.
On 22 March 1972, 11 Squadron moved to RAF Binbrook, joining 5 Squadron in a partnership that was to last for 16 years. With the dwindling numbers of Lightning aircraft as new types came into service, it was decided that it was not viable to operate a fully-staffed Operational Conversion Unit for the Lightning. In consequence, following the closure of 226 OCU, the then Lightning Conversion Unit, at Coltishall in September 1974, 11 Squadron was temporarily enlarged from 2 to 3 flights, with ‘C’ Flight taking over the task of training new Lightning pilots and providing refresher flying for others in place of the OCU. Operating several T.5s, ‘C’ Flight eventually became the Lightning Training Flight in October 1975.
|T.5 XS452 ‘BT’ approaches to land, showing the low visibility markings and the smaller eagles on the fin, flanked by the Squadron bars.|
August 1979 saw the 25th anniversary of the Lightning, and a spectacular display was planned at Binbrook to involve a 25-ship formation provided by the Binbrook squadrons and a fly-past of 9 Lightnings, each painted in the different markings of the nine front-line squadrons which had operated the type. However, British weather fairly predictably put paid to that, and only the singleton and four-ship display team were able to fly in what were absolutely appalling conditions. Nevertheless, the party on the ground was in full swing, with more than 200 former Lightning pilots present including Roland Beaumont.
|On 29 May 1988 in the final official Lightning air display, F.6 XR754 ‘BC’ hammers down the Mildenhall runway at a height of less than 50 feet!|
The weather for the Last Last Lightning Show in August 1987 was much the same, although 11 Lightnings got airborne. Many people will have seen the video taken at this display when a Lightning suddenly appears out of the murk travelling very fast at low level and with only the nose, wingtips and the top of the fin visible outside a huge ball of water vapour - a stunning image to take home as a memory.
Towards the end of the Squadron’s life as an operator of the Lightning, several of its aircraft were fitted with long-range over wing tanks to take part in the British Aerospace Tornado F.3 trials in which the Foxhunter radar was being assessed. Some said it was to increase range, others that with the over wing tanks fitted, the Lightning gave almost exactly the same radar signature as the supersonic Soviet Tu-22 Backfire bomber, although with a length and wingspan well over twice that of the Lightning, that’s a bit difficult to understand.
|A Tornado and a Lightning F.6, its over wing tanks clearly visible, recover in poor weather to the British Aerospace airfield at Warton after another flight in the Tornado radar trials.|
As the last unit operating the Lightning, it fell to the Squadron pilots to deliver aircraft to various stations for Battle Damage Repair practice, gate guardians, fire dump training or preservation in museums. On 30 June 1988, Sqn Ldr John Aldington had the distinction of making what was then thought to be the final RAF Lightning flight when he delivered one of three F.6s to Cranfield in Bedfordshire, where they had been purchased along with three T.5s by Mr Arnold Glass, an Australian millionaire, who intended to fly them personally in the UK. In the event, however, Mr Glass could not persuade the CAA to give him the necessary Permit to Fly, and the aircraft were eventually sold on or broken up. However, four F.6s went on to British Aerospace to continue flying for several more years in the Tornado trials. As a footnote, although John Aldington’s flight was the last made in a Lightning in RAF service, in December 1992 Air Marshal John Allison managed to wangle a flight in one of the last two Lightnings on the same day that they were due to fly to Exeter and into private ownership, so that was the last Lightning flight by a serving military pilot. It took one-upmanship to a level rarely seen!
11 Squadron began as a bomber squadron and has as its badge design two eagles flying together. The eagles symbolise speed and strength, and the two eagles symbolise the two-man crews who flew the first bomber aircraft operated by the Squadron in the First World War, the Great War. The wording of the original badge was ‘Bomber Squadron’ and the number was the Roman numeral ‘IX’.
The Squadron motto is ‘Ociores Acrioresque Aquilis’, which translates as ‘Swifter and keener than eagles’.
The nose markings were black rectangles with a superimposed yellow diamond on each side of the nose roundel. The fin markings initially comprised a pair of eagles in natural (brown) plumage within a small white disc. A black outline to the disc was added around March 1968. The single tail code letter was black.
In 1972 after the move from Leuchars to Binbrook, the eagles were changed to a large pair of black eagles with white outlines and white, brown and yellow detail.
|F.6 XR757 ‘D’ on the flight line at Binbrook Open Day in 1975, showing the aircraft with Red Top missiles and in natural aluminium in the old high visibility red, white and blue RAF markings.|
The next change came when T.5 XS452 was painted in a dark green camouflage, although the undersides remained in natural metal finish. The red and blue roundels and the black and yellow nose markings were decreased in size. The large black eagles on the fin were outlined in yellow, and the code letter was painted yellow.
F.6 XS898 ‘BM’ in camouflage flies slowly down the Binbrook runway with airbrakes out before overshooting, clearly showing the larger eagles with yellow outlines on the wing and tail feathers and the wing leading edges.
When the aircraft were eventually painted in the various ‘air superiority’ shades of grey, the tail code letter became white. At the end of 1980, the Binbrook squadrons adopted a double tail code, the first letter indicating the squadron; ‘A’ to 5 Squadron, ‘B’ to 11 Squadron and ‘D’ to the Lightning Training Flight. The second letter remained the same, so ‘A’ of 11 Squadron now became ‘BA’.
At this time, the large black eagles were reduced to a small pair which were contained within a yellow disc. The Squadron bars on the nose were reduced in size and transferred to the fin, where they were painted to either side of the disc containing the new, smaller eagles.
However, in 1986, the final word on markings went to XR725 ‘BA’, the personal aircraft of the Commanding Officer, Wg Cdr Jake Jarron. Jarron painted the fin and spine black, so that the 11 Squadron flagship was not outdone by the red fin and spine on Andy Williams’ XR770 ‘AA’ of 5 Squadron. XR725 had the smaller eagles, but towards the end of 1987 it became fatigue life expired and was replaced by XS903, which had the same black fin and spine but had the large black eagles repainted on the fin. In May 1988, Jake Jarron flew XS903 to RAF Elvington for preservation by the Yorkshire Air Museum.
Its black spine and the black base of its fin still visible,
the former Squadron flagship XR725 escapes the scrap man to
return to Binbrook for restoration, where it remains to this
day. In the photograph, the police escort changes on a
motorway bridge as the Lightning passes over a county
boundary on its way home.
The squadron operated the twin seat Panavia Tornado F3 from RAF Leeming between August 1988 and October 2005.
In February 2003 it was announced that some of No. 11 Squadron's Tornado F3s had been modified to carry the ALARM missile (as EF3s) to widen their capabilities to include suppression of enemy air defence.
Following the publication of the Future Capabilities study on 21 July 2004, XI(F) squadron disbanded in October 2005. The RAF announced that 11 Squadron would be the second front line squadron to re-equip with the Typhoon but would now be based at RAF Coningsby. The Squadron stood up at Coningsby on 29 March 2007, dropping the (F) designation in recognition of its new tasking as the Royal Air Force's lead Typhoon multi-role squadron.
In March 2011, 11 qn (assisted by some 29(R) squadron personnel and additional aircraft supplied by 29(R) and 3(F) Sqns) deployed to Gioia Del Colle, Bari, Italy, to help police the no-fly zone imposed by Resolution 1973 over Libya.