RAF Akrotiri’s 84 Squadron celebrated 100 years of service on February 16 with a parade at its hanger on the station in British Forces Cyprus.
The crew, which comprises six pilots and seven rear crew flying three Griffin helicopters, has enjoyed a long and varied history since its inception in January 1917 and it is now the RAF’s only operational Search and Rescue (SAR) Unit after the Ministry of Defence disbanded this capability in March 2016.
84 Sqn remains the only current RAF squadron to have been based overseas for its entire service history and since its arrival in British Forces Cyprus in 1972, the crew has been supporting the Republic of Cyprus in not only SAR operations but it has also been providing valuable fire-fighting assistance too.
In the past couple of years alone, the crew have been involved in a number of high-profile fire-fighting operations, working alongside the Cyprus Forestry Commission, the RoC Fire Service, the Cyprus Police and numerous other countries, including Greece and Israel.
During last June’s fire in the Solea region of the Troodos mountain, which resulted in the tragic death of two fire-fighters and 18 square kilometres of forest being destroyed, 84 Sqn flew for five days straight alongside 12 other aircraft to get the devastating blaze under control.
Its involvement in dropping 170 buckets of water, which equated to hundreds of thousands of litres, led Republic of Cyprus’ President, Nicos Anastasiades, to write to the then British Prime Minister David Cameron, to explicitly thank 84 Sqn for its support.
Officer Commanding for 84 Sqn, is Squadron Leader Richard Simpson and he said the crew have risen to every challenge they have faced and he revealed his great pride in being able to celebrate the centenary with the crew in Cyprus.
He said: “It is an immense honour to be the Squadron Commander at such a historic event. There are not many RAF chiefs who can say they have had the opportunity to celebrate their unit’s 100th Anniversary.
“For my squadron to be celebrating this milestone and actually being older than the Riyal Air Force is very special indeed. I have a superb squadron, with great moral and a great ethos. I am enormously proud of the team.”
And in addressing 84 Squadron’s role on the island, he said there are times when his crew are flying at the absolute limit of their capabilities.
He continued: “Fire-fighting operations are often the most challenging because the situations lend themselves to high-risk flying which demands the utmost skill and flawless airmanship.
“During fire-fighting operations, the aircraft engines are working to their limits due to the weight of the water being carried. At the same time there can be 12-15 other multi-national aircraft in the same small piece of airspace, all at a time when visibility is poor due to smoke.
“Moreover, fires are often in the mountainous region of Cyprus, which in itself brings challenges. Fire-fighting is very rewarding but demands some of the highest skill and concentration from the crews.”
In order for 84 Squadron to successfully take part in SAR and firefighting operations within the RoC, the relationship with their Cypriot colleagues is of paramount importance and according to Sqn Ldr Simpson, it has never been better.
“We have built and maintained a very strong relationship with the RoC,” he said. “We are regularly invited to join training exercises for firefighting and SAR.
“Exercise Lelapa and Argonaut are examples of annual exercises and we also maintain regular communications with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Larnaca, No. 460 Sqn in Paphos and the Police Aviation Unit in Larnaca.”
84 Squadron was formed in the United Kingdom in Hampshire’s East Boldre region and it immediately moved to France in September 1917 and has been based overseas in more than 60 different locations ever since