I had the honour to take command of the Squadron on 5 March 2001, in what was a period of great change in its new role in Flying Training. It is a shame, therefore, that Monty Christy was unable to address last year’s Reunion about the early years of the Squadron as a training unit, which would have nicely set the context for what I am about to say.
To set that context, therefore, the RAF’s pilot training system had undergone a series of severe cutbacks to match the reduction of the Defence Budget and the RAF front line: the 3 Basic Flying Training stations of Cranwell, Linton-on-Ouse and Church Fenton had been reduced to just one - RAF Linton-on-Ouse. The Advanced Flying Training combination of RAF Valley and the 2 Tactical Weapons Units at Brawdy and Chivenor had first been collapsed into the ‘Mirror Image’ arrangement at Valley and Chivenor, and then just to RAF Valley on its own, where 19 Squadron took on the role of the Tactical Weapons Unit, and 208 Squadron the Advanced Flying Training School in a re-invented, but very much smaller wheel. That is perhaps all well and good in an Air Force of the projected size that it is now but, in 2001, the somewhat larger RAF was very short of fast jet pilots and, having severely reduced the training machine, had insufficient capacity to train them.
What met me on my arrival at 208 was, therefore, (2) a complete reorganisation of Flying Wing at RAF Valley (indeed, I was originally due to be posted in to be the Chief Instructor of No 4 Flying training School). There was to be a massive increase in the flying task, and an expansion of the Squadron to match the new 40-strong staff pilot establishment, with sqn ldr flight commanders and a new wg cdr boss (me). To illustrate the magnitude of the new requirement: when I arrived, the maximum daily flying programme comprised some 50 programmed sorties. To achieve the massive new training requirement, the Squadron would have to AVERAGE 50 per day which, due to the prevailing Anglesey weather factor, meant programming an astonishing 84 sorties per day, every day.