Tornados from the 9 Bomber Squadron formed during the First World War paid a visit to the island. The squadron is one of the oldest and most famous in the RAF. The Bermuda Sun’s Simon Jones caught up with Flight Lieutenant Patrick ‘Paddy’ Kershaw to talk about life with the Squadron last week.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 2: The island’s usually quiet Private Jet Terminal is suddenly transformed into a frenetic hive of efficient activity with the arrival of 9 Bomber Squadron.
A crew of uniformed officers, mechanics and pilots quickly sweep through customs and file out towards the runway where nine Tornado GR4 fighter jets and two RAF support aircraft sit motionless.
It’s coming up to 10am and along Kindley Field Road spectators are already beginning to gather to catch a glimpse of the rare and noisy spectacle.
The Squadron has spent the last two months in the US conducting live weapons testing in the desert outside Las Vegas and Tucson.
Flight Lieutenant Patrick ‘Paddy’ Kershaw says: “Being able to do missile drops and live weapon testing in the desert gives us so much more freedom, which we obviously don’t get in the UK.
“It provides invaluable experience for the pilots.
“The geographic and weather conditions where we train in the US are very similar to Afghanistan so it’s a good place for us to practise our skills.”
9 Bomber Squadron was recently at the forefront of the coalition forces’ night raids that peppered Libya following the uprising against Colonel Gaddafi.
And its pilots have also seen action in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last 10 years.
Lt Kershaw, who studied a business degree before joining his university air squadron, adds: “We were based in Italy for the Libya operation and most of the pilots coming through Bermuda this time took part in those night raids.
“We have also been involved with the war in Afghanistan.
“It has made us a pretty close group.
“We go everywhere as a squadron whether it is on a training exercise or to somewhere like Libya.
“There are 18 pilots in the squadron and between 25 and 30 engineers that take care of the Tornados.
“It’s very much a team effort and every day in this job is a bit different.”
By 10:30am seven of the Tornados are in full voice and pilots are running through final safety checks with their ground engineers.
The roar from each jet’s two Rolls-Royce RB199 Mk103 Turbofan engines is deafening and a heat-haze shimmers across the runway.
Meanwhile the Airport Fire Brigade has moved into position, just in case it is needed.
At just after 11am the first five Tornados head up the runway towards St David’s and take off directly over the lighthouse disappearing into the blue cloudless sky.
They are quickly followed by the VC10 support aircraft that transports many of the engineers and will also be used by the five jets for mid-air refuelling twice on the journey to the Azores.
Two more Tornados set off from LF Wade International across the Atlantic at just before midday and are followed by the Tri-star aircraft that will refuel the jets in mid-air.
The runway is suddenly a lot quieter and two solitary Tornados are left on the tarmac.
Lt Kershaw says: “The two groups that have left will fly in formation to the Azores.
“The plan is for them to have one night there and then fly back to our base in RAF Marham in Norfolk.
“We will leave later this weekend or maybe the beginning of next week.
“Once we get back to the UK it’s back to work again.”
The final two RAF Tornados left Bermuda on Monday.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 2: The Tornados that visited Bermuda last week are from one of the oldest and most famous squadrons in the RAF.
9 Bomber Squadron was originally formed back in the First World War at St Omer in northern France.
Its pilots saw action on the Western Front between 1915 and 1918 as well as the Somme, Ypres and Amiens. They flew BE2Cs, which were single engine, two-seater, propeller planes, on reconnaissance and bombing missions.
The squadron went on to be disbanded in 1919 after a brief period in occupied Germany.
It reformed in 1924, this time with Vickers Vimy night bombers at Upavon on Salisbury Plain in England.
In 1939 the squadron received Wellington Bombers and took part in anti-shipping sorties in the early stages of World War II.
In 1944, 9 Bomber Squadron took part in the successful mission to sink the German battleship Tirpitz.
Just under four decades later the Squadron was reformed as the first RAF Tornado Squadron.
Most recently they have seen action in the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Libya.
9 Bomber Squadron’s badge depicts a bat with its wings spread to highlight its night-bombing duties. And its motto is Per noctum volamus, which means ‘throughout the night we fly’.