No.5 Squadron was formed on 26 July 1913 at Farnborough. It was not until 1941 that No.5 became a fighter squadron. The squadron re-formed at RAF Binbrook in October 1965 and became the first RAF squadron to operate the F.6 mark of the Lightning, although its sole aircraft for the first 10 days was WV318, a Hunter T.7A, which was a side by side two-seat trainer. This was one of eight such aircraft specially modified with Lightning instrumentation for use at Binbrook, Leuchars and Wattisham pending delivery of the Lightning T.5 two seater. Although many aircraft today have tandem-seat trainer versions, the side-by-side configuration was also used in the T.5 Lightning, so the Hunter fitted with Lightning instrumentation made a good substitute until the real T.5 arrived. In the case of No.5 Squadron, this was XS451 which carried the tail code ‘T’.
The Squadron had to wait for another month for its first single seaters, XR755 ‘A’ and XR756 ‘B’, and so began the Squadron’s long history with the Lightning. In the event, No.5 Squadron operated the Lightning for longer than any other squadron. It was the first squadron to exploit the unique over wing fuel tank fitted to the Lightning - if you ever see a fuel gauge at an aero jumble which reads O/WING, you know it’s from a Lightning, because no other aircraft before or since has ever carried over wing fuel tanks.
Topped up by Victor tankers adapted from one of Britain’s three V-bombers, the Squadron pioneered many long-distance routes; to Bahrain, travelling 4,000 miles in 8 hours, then in 1969 they flew to RAF Tengah in Singapore for exercises with the Royal Australian Air Force and other British units stationed in the Far East.
XS935 'B' of 5 Squadron with Red Top missiles fitted and airbrakes out for landing.
Photo: D Tuplin
In 1968, 1970, 1971 and 1978, the Squadron won the Dacre Trophy, presented to the top UK fighter squadron in weapons proficiency, and in 1970 and 1971 added the Huddleston Trophy, awarded to the best NATO interceptor squadron. This was followed by the Seed Trophy for air-to-air gunnery in 1983 and 1986. Although its main aircraft was the F.6, in 1970 the Squadron was allocated two F.1As, an earlier but lighter and more nimble version than the F.6, which it used as fast, agile targets for the F.6s and also for solo aerobatic displays. These were later replaced with F.3s, which served the same purpose although mainly intended for Air Combat Training. At the end of the 1987 air show season, the F.3s were promptly scrapped because their high-G aerobatics had used up so much fatigue life on the airframes that they were worn out.
In November 1987, the Squadron put up a final 9-ship and began its run-down as a Lightning operator. The pilots were posted to other units, although some stayed at Binbrook with 11 Squadron, which was to continue to operate the Lightning from the Lincolnshire fighter base for another six months. So ended a 22-year association with the same type of aircraft operated by the same squadron from the same airfield.
No.5 Squadron began as a ground-attack and army co-operation squadron and has as its badge design a green maple leaf on a white background. The maple leaf commemorates the Squadron’s close association with the Canadian Corps during the great battles on the Western Front in 1917 and 1918. The wording of the original badge was ‘Army Co-operation Squadron’ and the number was the Roman numeral ‘V’.
The Squadron motto is ‘Frangas non flectas’, which translates as ‘Thou mayest break but shall not bend me’.
The nose markings were generally solid red rectangles on each side of the nose roundel. The fin markings initially comprised a small white disc with a green and black maple leaf superimposed. The single tail code letter was black.
In 1970, the white disc was contained inside a large red number ‘5’. In 1975, the nose bars were reduced in size and in 1977 the tail code letter was painted in 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 ‘K’ of 5 Squadron now became ‘AK’.
During its gunnery practice camp at Akrotiri in 1984, three of the Squadron’s aircraft were painted in shark’s teeth markings. They were XR770 ‘AA’, XR754 ‘AE’ and XS903 ‘AM’.
XS903 'AM' of 5 Squadron in sharks mouth markings with the low visibility fin markings and carrying Firestreak missiles.
However, in 1987, the final word on markings went to XR770 ‘AA’, the personal aircraft of the Commanding Officer, Wg Cdr Andy Williams. Initially, the fin was painted scarlet, but as the end of Lightning operations approached, the entire length of the spine and the wing leading edges were also painted scarlet, bringing a colourful conclusion to the longest serving Lightning squadron.
F.6 XS935 'J' from 5 Squadron at Binbrook formates on Victor tanker XL160 of 55 Squadron, RAF Marham after refuelling over the North Sea.
Photo: Chris Allan
1987 saw the Lightnings being replaced by the Tornado F3, and the squadron moved to RAF Coningsby. A combined 5/29 Squadron was the first RAF component to arrive in Saudi Arabia in August 1990 after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In 2003 V Squadron disbanded at RAF Coningsby.
Number 5 (Army Cooperation) Squadron was reformed on 1st April 2004 at RAF Waddington, marking the beginning of a new era in the world of military Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) for the Squadron. The new role for '5' is to operate the Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) System, which consists of five modified Bombardier Global Express long-range business jets and eight Ground Stations. In RAF service, the aircraft type will be known as the Sentinel R Mk 1, with the R acknowledging its Reconnaissance pedigree.
It is a truly jointly manned RAF Squadron and the Officer Commanding, Wg Cdr Allan Marshall, has a current complement of approximately 250 personnel, split between RAF and Army. When at full strength, the Squadron will have over 300 RAF, Army and civilian personnel, making No 5 (AC) Sqn the largest flying Sqn in the RAF by some margin. The composition of the Squadron is like no other, as it requires RAF from all walks of life and eight different Army cap badges to deliver this hugely diverse military capability.
Training and Logistic support is also very different, in that it is provided mostly, by a Contractor; Raytheon Systems Limited.
However, perhaps the most particular aspect of the Squadron is its mission, as this new type of surveillance system is at the cutting edge of technology and military capability. The UK has never possessed such a formidable capability in the past and, even globally, it is difficult to draw parallels in terms of Squadron construct, system flexibility and overall performance.