Immortal? Maybe - Unknown? Definitely

On the eve of what is likely to be a much more aviation-minded Defence & Security Equipment International in London, the U.K. defense ministry has revealed the number plate of the U.K.’s second Joint Strike Fighter squadron.

The July announcement that 617 Squadron, the famous Dambusters outfit would become the first F-35 Lightning II squadron, was a rather shrewd move on the behalf of the Royal Air Force, as the squadron marked the 70th anniversary of the extraordinary raid on the Ruhr dams, coming at a time when the country’s Panavia Tornado force is rapidly shrinking in time for its retirement at the end of the decade. 

So when it was the Royal Navy’s turn to announce its first JSF unit on September 9, one would have imagined that senior commanders would have chosen a suitably famous unit to take the type on charge. After all, the Fleet Air Arm is full of squadrons with a rich history, and yet officials seem to have selected a relative unknown. 809 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), a unit which last existed back in 1982 when it quickly formed to become the third Sea Harrier squadron to deploy to the Falklands Islands during the conflict there. The squadron was also the last Royal Navy unit to fly the Blackburn Buccaneer.

The squadron, whose motto is simply ‘Immortal’ saw action in North Africa, Italy and southern France during World War 2 as well as the Suez crisis post-war, but it does not have anything like the heritage of more recently disbanded units such as 800 and 801 NAS’ which played a significant role in the Falklands conflict as well as taking part in operations in the Balkans.

It is possible that those two more famous units could become the first frontline naval squadron as 809 will act as an operational conversion unit for 617 which will be the first front-line JSF squadron.

Squadron number plates are important in the U.K. and the disbandment of famous units can be a politically sensitive issue. One can only imagine the public outcry if the government had permanently disbanded 617 Sqn from the Royal Air Force.

No. 809 NAS will become part of the Joint Lightning Force, and will have both RAF and Naval personnel when it forms in 2018 at RAF Marham in Norfolk.

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