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Tornado F.3 ZE292/AZ waiting to leave RAF Fairford after attending the International Air Tattoo. ZE292 was rebuilt using Tornado F.2 ZD939. The aircraft was previously with 5 Sqn, 229 OCU and 111 Sqn.
© Peter Greengrass
EOS-1N 70-200mm K64 320/f5.6
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The Lightning arrived in 1960, replacing the squadrons Hunters...which was definitely a step up in the performance stakes. Here Lightning F.3 XR749/Q taxi's at RAF Binbrook. (Borrowed from 11 Sqn and painted for 56 Sqn's anniversary)
Keith Watson
Phantom FGR.2 XV482/C shot at Cambrai in 1989. 56 Sqn operated the Phantom for 17 years.
Peter Rolt
Phantom FGR.2 XV470/D on display at RAF Wattisham, 7/92. In the background is the Phantom's replacement, the Tornado F.3. By the end of July they had moved to RAF Conninsby.
Peter Greengrass
Tornado F.3 ZE340/AE with the early markings of 'checkerboards' on the nose. 56 Sqn a/c now carry their markings on the tail.
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The squadron was to disband and reform a number of times in the inter war years, flying numerous aircraft types, including Snipes, Grebes, Siskins and Gauntlets. By the start of World War 2 the squadron was operating Mk1 Hurricanes from Martlesham Heath, moving shortly afterwards to North Weald. During the early stages of the war the squadron operated from France, and were involved in the protection of the Allied evacuation of Dunkirk. The squadron went on to fight in the Battle of Britain destroying 59 enemy aircraft, whilst flying from North Weald, Gravesend, Digby, Wittering and Boscombe Down.

In April 1946 the squadron converted to Meteor F3s at Bentwaters, and arrived at Wattisham via short stays at Boxted and Acklington, before returning to Duxford in 1947. The squadron then went on to fly the Meteor F8s from Wymeswold and Waterbeach, and following a short association with Swift F1s had arrived back at Wattisham on the Hunter F5/F6 by July 1959.

Following on from Hurricane IIBs, the unit was one of the first to convert to the Typhoon I and took part in the raid on Dieppe. During the mid war years the squadron changed home station yet more times, with temporary stays at Snailwell, Matlask, Manston, Bradwell Bay, Martlesham Heath, Scorton, Acklington and Ayr. By the time of the Allied invasion of Normandy 56(F) squadron was operating Tempest Vs and had advanced with the Allied armies through France, the Netherlands and Germany, with 130 enemy and 63 flying bombs destroyed by VE day.
One of the RAF's most famous and distinguished fighter squadrons, with the unmistakable unit emblem of a Phoenix rising from the flames, 56(F) Squadron formed in June 1916 at Gosport as part of the Royal Flying Corp, and went on to account for 427 enemy aircraft during the First World War.

The 'Firebirds' received their first Lightning F1As in December 1960. The squadron became famous during this period for its nine-ship aerobatic display routines when representing Fighter Command at Airshows throughout Britain and overseas. After converting to the Lightning F3, the squadron saw extensive top cover operations from Akrotiri in Cyprus during the coup of 1974. In January 1975 the Lightning F6 became the final variant of the classic fighter to be operated by 'Fifty-Six' with Wattisham again the home.
Conversion to the Phantom FGR2 began in March 1975 with a move to Coningsby, with a return to Wattisham in the summer of the following year. After seventeen years of air defence Phantom operations, the longest on any aircraft type, the squadron stood down on 31st July 1992 and reformed the following day at Coningsby on the Tornado F3, as 56(Reserve) Squadron, taking over the fighter variant Tornado training role from 65(R) Squadron / 229 Operational Conversion Unit.
Currently the largest fast jet squadron in the RAF, with 24 Tornado F3s, the 'Firebirds' primary role is to train crews for Tornado F3 air defence operations. There is a secondary front line role in times of conflict, with unit's instructors tasked to fly the aircraft in the air defence mission for NATO. The squadron also supplies staff crews for the Falkland Islands Tornado detachment.
The future for 'Fifty-Six' looks assured, with likely conversion to Eurofighter Typhoons early in the next generation fighter's RAF career, and the red and white checkerboard set to live on.

In 1993 56 (R) Squadron was selected to provide the aircraft for the RAF's Tornado display. The squadron painted ZE839 with a red tail and spine which harked back to the days of the Phantom, when several of these had red tails as normal.
© Peter Greengrass
EOS-1N 70-200mm K64 250/f8

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