A new era has dawned at RAF Lossiemouth, with the formation of a spy plane squadron destined to become the backbone of the base.
Wing Commander James Hanson was yesterday announced as head of the freshly resurrected 120 Squadron, which will operate the nine P8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft soon to arrive in Moray.
The UK Government is investing £3billion in the fleet, which will create 470 new posts at RAF Lossiemouth by 2024.
After being declared Squadron Leader, Wg Cdr Hanson urged Moray’s young people to capitalise on the upcoming jobs bonanza at the base.
He suggested that local teenagers should see the expansion of the station as an opportunity to secure work in the area.
Wg Cdr Hanson said: “This is a new era for the RAF, and a new era for the military in Moray.
“That means I need new blood here, and I hope that local teenagers are considering a career with the RAF flying these Poseidons.
“The planes are going to be with us for a long time, with RAF Lossiemouth as the only base operating them, so specialists will be spending most of their careers in Moray.
“It’s important we get people here who are young, keen and willing to be part of the local community.”
Air Commodore Dean Andrew began proceedings yesterday by confirming the squadron numbers which will operate the Boeing aircraft.
He said the crews will provide “essential capability, contributing to the protection of the UK”.
The 120 Squadron has a proud history with the RAF, as its most successful outfit during World War II.
The crew will begin work at Lossiemouth next April, with the first plane touching down in 2020.
As the fleet nears its full complement, the 201 Squadron will reform to help operate the craft.
Wg Cdr Hanson beamed with pride as Air Cdre Andrew pinned the 120 Squadron crest to his chest in front of a US Navy Poseidon flown in for the occasion.
The newly-annointed squadron leader said the experience felt “a little unreal” as he contemplated the “huge task” ahead.
Wg Cdr Hanson said: “Bringing these aircraft into service is a great responsibility on my shoulders as ultimately there will be about 18 crews split between the two squadrons, but this is a huge honour.”
The purchase of the Poseidon fleet has been hailed as a way of plugging the defence gap created when the Nimrod programme was abandoned.
Pilots Ian Tuff and Mark Utting honed their skills working with Nimrod aircraft at RAF Kinloss, and will return to Moray to lead the new unit.
Squadron Leader Tuff said: “I moved to Kinloss 25 years ago with the Nimrod force, and five years ago I moved to Florida to become an instructor on the P8 for the US Navy.
“The idea was always to ensure that British personnel remained at the cutting edge of maritime patrol aircraft for when that capability was brought back here.”
Master Aircrewman Utting added: “I arrived at Kinloss in 1991, and have also been teaching in America in recent years.
“I have fond memories of the Nimrods but the Poseidons have limitless capability, they can be upgraded constantly throughout their lifespan.”
Both men own homes in Hopeman from their previous stints at Kinloss, and both are eager to move back there “as soon as possible”.
Flt Lt Tuff said: “For most of us this is a real positive, we are moving back home.”
It is expected that Moray’s population could boom by as much as 2,000 with the 470 new personnel bringing family to stay with them.
Local MSP Richard Lochhead was one of several dignitaries who attended yesterday’s event.
Mr Lochhead said: “It was a very sore episode when the Nimrod fleet was scrapped, leaving a severe impact on Moray’s economy.
“Having these new aircraft based in Lossiemouth fills a defence gap and brings more stability to the region.”
Planning is also under way for a £100million training centre at RAF Lossiemouth, which will be used as the main training base for Boeing’s defence aircraft across Europe.
It is expected to launch in 2019.