One of the RAF’s most distinguished reserve squadrons is set to return to their ancestral home at Aldergrove after a 60-year absence.
502 (Ulster) Squadron RAF Auxiliary was last seen in the skies in the late 1950s but is making a return to the Antrim area with the aim of being fully operational by 2015.
The Squadron is part of the RAF Reserves and will be recruiting part time volunteer reserves locally to support RAF operations throughout the world.
The Squadron will be based at Aldergrove Flying Station - formerly RAF Aldergrove - and will mark a significant return to Northern Ireland by the RAF as part of a UK wide initiative to develop reservist squadrons.
Wing Commander James Armstrong, Commanding Officer of the squadron, is delighted at the prospect and relishes the challenge of reforming this historic squadron.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who may in the past have considered a career with the RAF but didn’t pursue it and now finds themselves looking for new challenges,” Wing Commander Armstrong said.
He added: “In return for giving us their time we can promise that as a reservist of they will learn new skills, develop talents and be play a vital role in the future of our countries defence.”
502 Squadron RAuxAF had an illustrious record in World War Two when it was involved as part of Coastal Command’s campaign against U-Boats with many of the personnel drawn from Northern Ireland volunteers.
Originally formed in May 1925 as 502 (Bomber) Squadron, a Special Reserve squadron composed of a mixture of regular and reserve personnel, the squadron became part of RAF Coastal Command in November 1938.
When war broke out it was used to fly patrols in the Atlantic off the Irish Coast, and in November 1941 it became the first Coastal Command unit to make a successful attack on a U-boat with air-to-surface radar by sinking U-Boat U-206 in the Bay of Biscay.
In January 1942 the squadron officially moved to England where the units’ main role was to carry anti-submarine patrols and by September of that year, the squadron moved to Scotland at RAF Stornoway to carry out attacks on German shipping off the Norwegian coast, remaining there until the end of the war when it was disbanded in May 1945.
The Sqaudron Roll of Honour is a poignant record of bravery and sacrifice with 174 men officially listed as killed or missing as a direct consequence of war operations - as a result three DSOs and 50 DFCs were awarded.
With the reactivation of the Auxiliary Air Force, 502 was reformed in 1946, again at RAF Aldergrove, where it flew iconic aircraft such as the Spitfire, Mosquito and with the arrival of jets, the distinctive and exotically named Vampire.
Once again the unit was disbanded in 1957 until it was decided as part of the recent strategic defence review to re- launch this historic squadron.
Now 60-years after the squadron’s biplanes took to the sky the RAF are looking to recruit over 130 reservists to provide support for their regular counterparts on deployments in diverse roles such as medical and technically-orientated positions.