No 645 VGS has its origins with No 26 Elementary Gliding School which was formed at RAF Greatham near Hartlepool in 1943, relocating to RAF Middleton St George near Darlington in 1946. No 26 Gliding School, as it was now known (the elementary part being dropped by 1950), continued to operate at Middleton St George for the next nine years, but in 1955 as part of the rationalisation and complete reorganisation of all Gliding Schools 26 GS was disbanded and a new unit was formed from surviving 26 GS staff. As part of the new policy it was renumbered after the Group it came under, this being 64 Group and as it was the fifth GS to be reformed, so it became 645 GS.
Disbandment came again for a short while because, the Reserve Flying Schools who administered all the Gliding Schools were themselves disbanded. However Home Command at RAF Detling assumed responsibility for the Gliding School network until finally handing over to Flying Training Command in March 1959, with 64 Group finally disbanding at the end of the same month.
It is interesting to note that WB979 stayed with 645 until conversion to the Vanguard in1983. The last known whereabouts of “979” was in Sweden in 1999 being owned by a member of the Swedish Vintage Gliding club. Accommodation being pre-war buildings with the aircraft being hangared in the No 5 hangar. Ancillary equipment included two single drum ex-barrage balloon winches powered by Ford V8 engines, which were considerably under-powered for glider launching and notoriously difficult to start. Ground handling was undertaken by two Austin one ton pickup trucks that were excellent servants as they were considerably overworked.
In May 1960 RAF Middleton St George became a master diversion unit and 645 was moved to the RAF Regiment Depot RAF Catterick. The school was initially accommodated in the pre-war control tower, [which is now a listed building] before purpose built accommodation was provided in 1966. The aircraft were hangared in one of the original world war one aircraft sheds. In about 1962 the former barrage balloon winches were replaced by the more powerful twin drum Eagle winches. At the same time glider retrieve trolleys and Land Rovers were issued which greatly improved the general efficiency of the school.
RAF Catterick is a single runway airfield and its origins lie with the RFC, it opened in 1914 as an Aerodrome and was used as a base for aircraft employed in the defense of Northern England. Situated at the north end of the Vale of York in delightful Swaledale countryside, the school was on occasions been able to contact wave and on one day two cadet Mk 3’s made climbs to over 9,000ft!
In the mid sixties many cadets achieved instructor categories and four went on to be awarded “B” categories: -
Cdt Flt Sgt David Ward who now works for British Aerospace.
CWO Ian McCulloch Who became the units CFI then Technical Officer.
Cdt Flt Sgt Kevin Mason who went on to fly Lightning’s with the RAF and went on to end his career in the RAF as OC 11 AEF at RAF Leeming.
CWO Ken Wiper who went on to become the CO of the unit.
This was as a direct result of the policies and encouragement of the then CO Flt Lt Ken hall an inspirational leader. IN 1974 the catchment area for which 645 GS serves was doubled over night with the sad news of the disbanding of 641 GS based at RAF Ouston in Northumberland. This meant that cadets were attending 645 GS from as far away as the Scottish Borders to Harrogate in North Yorkshire for Proficiency and familiarisation training. In addition, the school provided training for CCF cadets and until girls were allowed into the ATC, famil gliding was given to GVC and Air Ranger Units.
Three members of staff received honours for their services to 645 VGS.
Mr. Harry Sanderson B.E.M.
Mr.Tom Anderson B.E.M.
Sqn Ldr Alan Austin M.B.E.
Harry and Tom served with 26 GS and were founder members of 645 GS, whilst Alan completed over 40 years service, 27 of which as OC. In1979 the Gliding School name was changed to Volunteer Gliding School thus recognising the volunteer status of all School staff.
In1982 the school won the Sir Arthur Marshall Trophy for the most efficient conventional gliding school, and as a result the school was chosen jointly with 618 VGS to be the first equipped with ASK 21 Vanguards, which were operated alongside the wooden fleet. The 3 Vanguards being ZD643, ZD644 and a natural flagship ZD645. To supplement these an ASW19b Valiant ZD660 was issued to the school for instructor continuation training, being on strength for the next 4 years.
The Vanguard was a fine training glider but it was short lived in Air Cadet service, and in November 1984 the school converted to the Grob G103 twin 2 Acro, entering service as the Viking. For a short period in time, and uniquely the school operated both Vanguards and Vikings together until the Vanguards were transferred to 618 VGS West Malling. The first two Vikings to arrive at the school were ZE501 and ZE504, the latter of which were with the school for more than 10 years and is depicted on our squadron print. During the mid eighties the school was used by ACCGS for advanced soaring courses before opting for the now regular detachments to Portmoak. For various reasons the school has not always been able to operate midweek at Catterick and successful detachments have taken place at the following sites as well as school courses at Halesland and Portmoak.
The school has taken part in the Bi-Annual Air league Challenge Trophy and in 1996 CGI’s Alan Crowley and Tony Mason Gave the school it’s first, and to date only win in this competition.
IN 1997 Tony Mason gained first place in the Inter-Services regionals flying Valiant ZD659 representing the Air Training Corps.
In 1994 the RAF vacated Catterick, the camp and airfield were transferred to the Army on condition that Air Cadet gliding would be allowed to continue. Initially gliding operations continued as normal but the already small airfield was slowly reducing in size as the Army’s proposed airfield development plans began to take shape. The building of a large vehicle park in front of the two hangars was the start of the redevelopment closely followed by the building of a huge vehicle workshop alongside the vehicle park thus leaving us with only a narrow strip to gain access to and from our hangar. This had now reduced our North/South run to the absolute minimum required for operation. 645 operations continued with as much enthusiasm as ever, but this was further disrupted by the Foot and Mouth outbreak during the summer of 2002. Part of the runway was to be used for storing and cutting of the wood, which was to be used for the burning of the carcasses at another site. Even with this obstruction on our airfield we still managed to operate safely and with reasonable success. Our efforts had not gone unnoticed and were rewarded by the award of the Sir Arthur Marshall Trophy for best winch launched school. A fitting tribute to all involved in our final year as a conventional gliding school. The writing was now on the wall at Catterick airfield and a date for relocation of 645 VGS to RAF Topcliffe had been finalised. The final operational flying day at Catterick airfield was on Saturday the 25th of January 2003 to be followed in the evening by the annual dinner dance. A good turnout of staff made it a special day with the weather being particularly kind to us, with a 15kt wind blowing straight down runway 28 and a fine wintry sky. The final flight being undertaken by the CO Sqn Ldr Maurice Young, It was an emotional time for many but after 40 years on site it was time to move on.
On now to the challenge of the vigilant at RAF Topcliffe...
During the next few months the school staff attended conversion courses for the vigilant, this combined with a lot of self help being needed to complete the move meant a time of furious activity. During this time staff who had converted to the Vigilant were keeping current at 642 VGS at RAF Linton on Ouse. The help with all aspects and the hospitality displayed is a credit to the then CO of 642 Sqn Ldr Paul watts and his staff as they were very instrumental in our smooth transition. With most senior instructors issued with a Certificate to Instruct operations were ready to commence. On April 5th 2003 the first of our aircraft were flown in to RAF Topcliffe from 642 VGS RAF Linton on Ouse, ZH267 Crewed by Flt Lt Ken Wiper and CGI Steve Hughes and this was closely followed by the second aircraft ZH208 crewed by Plt Off Alan Crowley and CGI Tony Mason, at the time of writing both aircraft are still on Squadron strength. The next two months was a hive of activity with all members of staff involved in the work up to operational status. We had a head start with the work up as CGI Steve Hughes, one of our senior instructors had been flying with 642 and had been awarded his A2 category in advance of our conversion.
Work up had gone well and the first operational Cadet training sortie was a GIC 1 carried out on the 24th of May with Cdt Carnice as trainee and Plt Off Alan Crowley as instructor. The school was cleared for GS training on the 9th of August 2003 with CGI Steve Hughes taking cadet Ryan Farrant for his first GS sortie. Ryan completed his training and was the first cadet to solo on the Vigilant sent by CGI Steve Hughes on 16th August 2003, Ryan continued as our first Staff cadet as a Vigilant school and at the time of writing is now a Flying Officer with the Squadron holding a B Category. The first CFS visit was in October with all A2’s and B cats requalifying for category and it was at this time that the school was considered fully operational. The facilities at our new home are second to none with plenty of good office, cadet, and adult accommodation, with plenty of hangar space also being available. For all our efforts in our first year of operation the school was awarded the Racal trophy for best-improved performance and every year since has been awarded a certificate of Commendation to mark our continued good performance. In 2004 after guiding the Squadron through a difficult but exciting period in its history the CO Sqn Ldr Maurice Young retired due to ill health, but took on the role of HQAC gliding liaison officer, a job he is well suited to as he is well respected by all he meets.
The CFI Flt Lt ken Wiper was the natural successor to Maurice and Ken was to lead the squadron from strength to strength for the next four years.
Early in 2005 we were to act as host to 642 VGS as the runway at RAF Linton on Ouse was being resurfaced, there stay was to last 9 months, the flying operation was intense as there could be as many as 8 Vigilants operating out of Topcliffe at any one time. It is a credit to both squadrons for operating so many aircraft in a safe and controlled environment. The next 4 years saw the Squadron carrying on its success with our efforts being rewarded with good performance certificates from HQAC. In recent years the Squadron has completed in the Bi-Annual Air league Trophy and met with moderate success. It was at the annual Gliding Conference in April 2009 that the Squadron was awarded a further accolade when it was awarded the George young Memorial Trophy for engineering excellence in the hangar. A fitting and timely award to reward the Squadron Engineering Officer Flt Lt Alan Crowley and his team in the Eng Dept for their part in the squadrons continued success. Early in 2009 635 VGS Samlesbury found themselves homeless and moved in to RAF Topcliffe as a temporary measure and once again Topcliffe skies were busy with up to seven Vigilants. It was in May 2009 that the Squadron saw another major change in executive staff positions. After one tour Sqn Ldr Ken Wiper stood down as CO after a very successful tenure in office hopefully to return after six months as Senior Gliding Instructor. Flt Lt Stephen Hughes was to take up the mantle as CO with Ken being a hard act to follow. The CFI position being taken up by Flg Off John Lynas and Flt Lt Stan Hardwick filling his shoes as Adjutant with the rest of the executive staff remaining the same. At the time of writing 635 Samlesbury are still with us and likely to be for so the foreseeable future.
645 VGS is in very good health and is in a good position to carry on giving a quality service to the Air Training Corps Squadrons of North East England. “FOR MANY A FIRST”
Flt Lt Alan P Crowley
9th August 2009