A visit to RAF Coningsby

Rushden Lakes Centre Manager Donna French, and Marketing Manager Sophie Mulholland were invited to RAF Coningsby last month by Craig Stevens and what a fantastic day it was!

Craig is a former Northamptonshire County Rep for the RBL Riders Branch and former member of the Royal Air Force. Craig joins us at Rushden Lakes every year selling poppies with the Royal British Legion and with your help has raised substantial amounts. As a thank you from Craig to Rushden Lakes members of the team were able to visit the RAF base in Lincolnshire, view the aircraft and learn about the role of the RAF in the past, present and future. We are very grateful to have these connections in the community and the opportunity to support great causes.

Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal at Rushden Lakes 2023

The visit recently featured in their monthly newsletter and you can read all about it in Craigs own words here:

“During my service I worked as an Aircraft Propulsions Technician and on promotion to Corporal whilst serving on a Harrier Squadron at RAF Gutersloh, West Germany, I became a Harrier Aircraft Crew Chief, which involved organising and controlling 30 men and 16 aircraft with another Corporal in running the day-to-day Operations of the Harrier Flight line. However, before posting to RAF Gutersloh, I was stationed at RAF Binbrook in North Lincolnshire on the last English Electric Lightning Fighter Squadron, No 11 Sqn. Whilst there I worked with a young Airman Chris Lyons; in 2018 the 11 Sqn Lightning guys via Facebook organised a reunion and during this event we met up with old comrades from that era of our lives and I met up again with now Squadron Leader Chris Lyons of RAF Coningsby. After the sad passing of one of our number from that era Chris Lyons and I decided to organise a trip for The Rushden and Riders Branch RBL to visit RAF Coningsby in 2022 and see the RAF Typhoon Force and the Battle of Britain Flight which went down very well with all who attended.

Poppy Appeal 2023 at Rushden Lakes, a venue that we use for the whole of the two plus weeks in November to collect for Poppy Appeal was kindly given to us to use by the Centre Manager Donna French. They have always looked after us in all the times we have used the site. During the 2023 Poppy Appeal, Jake Baker and I discussed inviting the Management Team on one of our organised visits. After asking Sqn Ldr Chris Lyons and his team if that could be possible, we were told it could be and so a second trip was arranged; this time it was to be a joint effort of the RBL and RAFA Rushden Branches. and so, 18 members and 2 Guests from Rushden Lakes made the journey to RAF Coningsby on Wednesday 24th April 2024 in a Minibus organised by RAFA plus a car. We arrived at RAF Coningsby to be met by Sqn Ldr Chris Lyons and taken to the Station Heritage Centre where we were briefed on what RAF Coningsby does. The station is the main place for the RAF Typhoon Force aircraft; it is where all Flying and Engineering training takes place plus, in conjunction with BAE Systems, it is where the major maintenance of the RAF fleet of aircraft takes place. The primary role of RAF Coningsby is the protection of the Southern UK airspace known as Southern QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) which is manned 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. RAF Coningsby is also home to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF), the RAF’s Flying Heritage Flight Flying the aircraft that fought in the Second World War and are seen at various events and Airshows around the UK and Europe, every summer.

After our briefing about what goes on at RAF Coningsby, we were taken to 29 Sqn and were shown the Typhoon up close with some of our numbers allowed to sit in and see it from the pilot’s point of view; we were shown around the aircraft by a US Naval pilot on Exchange – he was a Super Hornet F18 pilot flying from the USS Ronald Regan before coming to UK for a 3-year exchange with the RAF. A real “Top Gun” moment for all who met him. Then a visit to the Joint BAE Systems and RAF Maintenance hangar to see the aircraft in various stages and phases of maintenance.

US Naval Pilot, Donna French and Sophie Mulholland

After lunch we drove over to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, where we met a group of would-be Padres and the RAF Coningsby Padre.

We then were shown the Aircraft in the hangar and able to see inside them and chat with the engineers maintaining them and then the final item was the watching of the Spitfire PR XIX which is the BBMF’s first and oldest aircraft in the fleet; but it is also the Spitfire that holds an Altitude Record – The Rolls Royce Griffon 60 engine and pressurised cockpit allowed this aircraft to climb to 50,000ft over Singapore. The PR stands for Photo Reconnaissance, so it had no weapons, only extra fuel tanks giving it a range of 1,500 miles.

Well, after watching the Ground Run, it was time to say our farewells our hosts. After the formalities of handing in Passes and saying our Goodbyes, we made our way home again. I think everyone was in awe of what these men & women do every day to keep us safe and protect our Nation’s Airspace every day. For those of us who were a part of that years ago know that the threats are there and come to test our air defence system regularly, but now the RAF with our NATO Allies have other areas they have to guard and patrol. Aircraft from RAF Coningsby have been protecting British shipping in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and involved in Operations to suppress terrorists in Iraq, Syria and Aden. So think of these RAF Personnel and their Families and our Armed Forces that allow us the Freedoms we all enjoy, because of them.”

Sqn Ldr Lyons, Donna French, Sophie Mulholland & 29 Sqn Warrant Officer
Craig Stevens, Donna French & Sophie Mulholland
The main group of RBL Rushden Branch and Rushden & District RAF Association with the City of Lincoln Lancaster

Find out more about the work of the Rushden branch here. Membership is open to everyone. If you have an interest in the objectives of the Legion and want to help and support those who have served and their families, come and join us. We welcome men and women of all ages, whether they have served in the Armed Forces or not.

Legion membership ensures that:

  • Remembrance is kept alive and the sacrifices our brave Service men and women have made are never forgotten.
  • The ex-Service community have a voice and their concerns are brought to the public eye.

Becoming a member also provides the opportunity to get involved in a wide range of activities and events held locally, regionally and nationally throughout the year. We look forward to welcoming Craig and the team back on site later in the year.