Disbandment Dinner for 613 Volunteer Gliding Squadron

A formal dinner was recently held at RAF Halton to mark the disbandment of 613 Volunteer Gliding Squadron (613 VGS).

Halton House Officers’ Mess hosted 126 past and present members of the Squadron, and distinguished guests, for what the Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Daniel Johnson, entitled: “a great opportunity to celebrate everything 613 VGS has achieved over 74 years, in both flying and personal development.”

613 VGS has been operating in one form or another for more than three quarters of the RAF’s existence. It all started in 1942 at Northwick Park, near Harrow, with basic gliders such as the Dagling Primary. All training being solo and the personal counselling and advice given by the instructor to his pupil was relayed by megaphone.

Due to the location, VIP visits were frequent and it is recorded that both the Air Minister of that period, Lord Balfour and Marshal of the Royal Air Force, ‘Sholto’ Douglas flew solo circuits there.

In February 1948, after an intermediate home at Leavesden airfield, C122 Elementary Gliding School, as 613 VGS was known in those days, made RAF Halton its home.

By the late 1970s, and after many years of faithful service, the Air Cadet wooden aircraft were due for replacement. The last winch launch took place on 31 May 1980, and the following week the Sedberghs, Cadet Mk IIIs and winches were replaced by the Venture Self-Launching Glider. During the period 1980-1991 613 VGS achieved over 750 Proficiency Awards and carried out many thousands of cadet familiarisation flights, all without major aircraft un-serviceability or incident, a record of which it is undeniably proud.

The Venture proved to be a robust training aircraft and could withstand severe punishment given to it by many fledgling students. Despite the general reliability of the aircraft, the eventual need to refurbish or replace the type became inevitable. The decision was reached in 1988 to replace the Venture with a more modern, GRP Self Launching Motor Glider (which was to be the Grob G109B, known as the Vigilant T Mk 1 in RAF service). Three shiny new Vigilants were delivered to Halton on 14 June 1991.

In 1992, 613 VGS commissioned a new School Badge which cemented the long-term relationship with RAF Halton by having an emblem that included the five arrows of the Rothschild family. In 2013, 613 VGS celebrated 65 Years flying at RAF Halton, becoming the second longest serving unit at Halton, the first being the Halton Aeroplane Club which was established in 1925.

Flying by 613 VGS and all other VGSs stopped in April 2014, when all VGS training was ‘paused’ following the Military Aviation Authority audit of Air Cadet Operations. The delay and difficulty in returning the fleet to the air, coupled with the much regretted eventual closing of all Vigilant Squadrons and the decision for all VGS flying be carried out with Viking conventional gliders on a reduced number of locations, has led to the disbandment of 613 VGS and 15 other Volunteer Gliding Squadrons in late 2016.

Sqn Ldr Johnson said: “The flying 613 VGS has undertaken has been a medium for so much more. The personal benefit to all of the students and instructors is not quantifiable; a price can’t be put on going solo. 613 VGS had a positive effect on all, whether they were at the airfield for a morning, afternoon, a scholarship student for 6 weekends, a week course, or an instructor for 20 years. Everyone will have a special place for this unit.

“The training 613 VGS has delivered has given young people responsibility and life experience beyond their years, often flying a powered aircraft solo before they learn to drive. They have gone on to achieve great things in all walks of life, possessing a pro-military attitude and looking back fondly on their time spent on the airfield at RAF Halton.”


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