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Thread: Squadrons and Flights

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    Default Squadrons and Flights

    I'd be grateful for advice on the distinction between Squadrons and Flights. I appreciate that a Squadron is composed of Flights (A flight, B Flight etc) but there were a multitude of Flights that existed in their own right, for example 1352 Air Sea Rescue Flight, or 1354 (DDT Spraying) Flight. I'd assume the difference depended on the number of aircraft allocated to units, with Flights having small numbers relative to Squadrons - or is this over-simplifying things.

    I also appreciate Flights were sometimes upgraded to Squadron, which appears to be associated with an increase in size.

    Is/was there an official definition?

    Brian

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    Default Oh Dear!

    There are probably as many answers to this question as there are posters on this forum!

    The 'progression' is officially: Sections, Flights, Squadrons, Wings, Groups, Commands and their 'theoretical' leaders being flight lieutenant, squadron leader, wing commander, group captain. However, although eg fighter squadrons were led by squadron leaders but heavy bomber squadrons by wing commanders, but then a friend of mine commanded 22 Sqn, the SAR sqn with the largest number of aircraft in the air force at the time and he was a squadron leader. In this I have avoided Sectors, Regions and other groupings as that just confuses it more.

    Whilst in many cases 'size matters' - I could be banned for saying that!! there will be many reasons why a flight is uprated to a squadron.

    My advice is don't try to agonise too much about it. I certainly have never seen a hard and fast rule which says that more than 'X' aircraft makes a squadron.

    If you want a real dogs breakfast, just add in 'specialist aircrew' who get promoted to squadron leader but don't necessarily have executive roles on the squadron - all too difficult!

    Colin Cummings

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    Thank you Colin, I had a horrible feeling that would be the answer.

    I'm having a very long discussion with a colleague as to whether or not the High Altitude Flight at Boscombe was officially sanctioned as such (so far as I can see it was but can't put my finger on the authority - its probably in AIR 10/3925). This led to the question as to why some Flights had numbers when others had names and, finally, what was a Flight anyway?

    It's all very intellectual on his part and I'm completely out of my depth (I'm rarely in it).

    Brian

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    Default

    I think a simple answer to just a small part of your problem is that numbered flights, such as 1519 for instance, can be thought of as "independent" flights (and are sometimes referred to as such), as they usually owe nothing to any squadron, but are too small be be referred to as a squadron. And of course a Flight cannot be sub-divided into smaller Flights (for reasons of obvious endless confusion!), but they could be divided into Sections. But this would not normally happen in an aircraft-equipped Flight, although even the latter might have some Sections inherent in its structure, such as HQ Section (Orderly Room), etc. Flights operating aircraft can also have their own establishment of groundstaff, but in other cases they may have none and rely on the Station Workshops as backup and share a Servicing Flight with other lodger units on the station.
    And just to show that it is not just the RAF: in the RNZAF in 1950s we had a large transport squadron (No. 41) based at Whenuapai (Auckland) equipped with four Hastings long range a/c and about eight Bristol medium range transports; now that sounds like a REAL squadron. In December 1954 the Hastings Flight was split off as a separate unit (No. 40 Squadron) but both squadrons were still connected in that both now constituted the strength of the newly created tRNZAF Transport Wing. In May 1955 the surviving rump of 41 Squadron was slashed in half again when a portion (four Bristols) was deployed on a permanent basis (22 years!) to Singapore and retained the original name, but the remaining half at Whenuapai was renamed as the Transport Support Unit (TSU, also with four Bristols). Now anybody who reckons that four aircraft cannot possibly constitute a full squadron would usually be right, but not in this instance. And even with just four aircraft, 41 Squadron in Singapore managed to deploy detached Flights from time to time!
    All too hard, but it is important to know that in peacetime you can get some very small squadrons, and conversely in wartime you can get an awfully large number of independent Flights. However wartime squadrons (and I am thinking here of the special circumstances of WW2) operating under functional commands usually had standardised establishments for their squadrons (including Bomber Command with its plans for 3-Flight squadrons), but there is always capacity to enlarge some units in distant parts (or even for special purposes in the Metropolitan RAF) for good but particular reasons. No. 269 Squadron of Coastal Command in Iceland during WW2 was such a case, as were some of the squadrons of overrun European countries who had trouble fully manning their national squadrons under RAF administration, a few of which were often barely of Flight strength for varying periods.
    David D

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    Default

    Thank you David, I've copied your reply to my colleague.

    Brian

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    Brian,

    As to why some flights have numbers and others have names, again there are probably no hard and fast rules.

    Generally - what a useful word that is - named flights describe the specific purpose of the unit. That does not mean that numbered flights don't have a specific purpose or that the purpose is any less clearly defined in operational terms.

    I know of one recent case where a squadron commander was tasked with deploying a component of his squadron to an overseas location. It was likely that the deployed component would remain overseas for some time and that the home squadron would support it with aircraft and personnel roulements and that another squadron operating the same type of aircraft would share the burden in due course. The squadron commander decided that it made life much simpler if the detachment had an identifier of some sort and so he clutched the number of a flight, about which he had recently read a book, and stated something like; 'The X Sqn detachment at ><*&^% base, will in future be identified for administrative and operational purposes as No: Y Flight'. Nobody queried it and five years later it's still Y Flight.

    If your colleague is an intellectual and enjoys that sort of debate, ask him to define the meaning of life in no more than twelve words without repeating any of them. That should divert him for a while!

    Colin Cummings

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    Thank you Colin. You've made me start thinking about the UK-based Met Flights. These started with names - Duxford, then Aldergrove - but this concept fell apart when they (or at least Duxford) started moving around (first to Mildenhall then Bircham Newton), or second Met flights were established at the same airfield. It was logical, therefore, to give them numbers.

    Brian

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