The Minister's unexpected annoucement creates a lot of extra work - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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The Minister's unexpected annoucement creates a lot of extra work

In the following days, as far as I could ascertain, none of the media, local or national, reported anything of Mr Spellar's visit to Waddington other than the Red Arrows and Scampton elements. The phrase "My announcement is very good news for the RAF and very good news for Lincolnshire" was repeated frequently. Many vox pops were recorded in and around Lincoln and used on local radio and television and in the local, regional and some national newspapers. Every single comment that I heard from members of the public was favourable. Amongst the vox pops reported in the Echo was one from a councillor of the West Lindsey District Council who lived near Scampton. He stated: "I am delighted that the Red Arrows are coming back here and the base will be functioning as it should. The whole area felt the blow of closure and this will give it the lift we've long been waiting for. I know that everyone has missed the Red Arrows."

The MoD had a brief and forlorn hope that the RAF might get away with saying that what the Minister had really meant to say was ". . . before the end of this financial year", but that idea was soon dropped as being unsustainable. Even then, in 1999, every media person knew that saying "What the Minister meant to say . . .", was simply a polite way of saying "The Minister screwed it up!" which, of course, you are not allowed to say.

Above: Late morning 11 August 1999 at Exeter Airport as the Total Eclipse of the Sun became total. This image was taken for me on my new digital camera. (I had to stay behind at Cranwell where the eclipse was not quite total.) As soon as the Sun returned, the Reds carried out a planned public display at Exeter.

There was a lot of frantic work in the following months. Once the Minister had announced publicly that the Red Arrows would return to Scampton before the end of the year 2000, everything was geared up to making sure that it happened, however inconvenient it might be. I was asked if I would be willing to stay on past my 65th birthday in September long enough to cover the return. I rather reluctantly agreed to stay on until the end of the year, the calendar year not the financial year and, naturally, I got the job of organising a media facility for the Red Arrows when they ceremonially flew in from Cranwell.

Following the Minister's bomb-shell about the timing of the move back to Scampton at his Waddington Press Conference, we gradually learned what the RAF's plans were for the future of Scampton and the Red Arrows. In the short term, RAF Scampton would be re-activated primarily as a home for the Red Arrows only and to that end the station would remain under the full Command and Control of the Station Commander at Cranwell. The airfield at Scampton could also be used as a relief landing ground for any training aircraft that needed a runway to practice on. For day-to-day matters the Commandant's senior staff officer, Wing Commander David Bolsover, would be the Detachment Commander at Scampton. The Central Flying School HQ was to remain at Cranwell and not move back to Scampton and so the Commandant would have to travel to Scampton when he needed to supervise the Red Arrows in person.

The plan that eventually evolved was for the Team to fly out of Cranwell for the last time at midday on 21 December 2000. Since that was in the middle of the winter training and engineering period when several Hawks would be on deep maintenance, the Team Leader would not be able to fly nine aircraft in formation and that was a pity; it would have been nice to have a ceremonial departure from Cranwell and arrival at Scampton 10 minutes later of all nine aircraft together. As it was, there would be a maximum of seven aircraft taking off from Cranwell; they would reach Scampton at 1210pm and carry out a normal training sortie overhead, before landing at 1245pm. The remainder of the Red Arrows' aircraft would have already been moved out of Cranwell into 4 Hangar at Scampton to undergo normal winter maintenance.

I intended to invite the local and regional media to attend at Scampton from 12 noon and the Station Commander Cranwell agreed that we should invite quite a few local dignitaries and residents to the event. As the date for the homecoming approached, I suggested that it might be a nice idea to ask the Minister for the Armed Forces if he would like to be present at the PR event. All PROs (or Corporate Communications Officers as we were supposed to be called by then) were under remit to keep their ears and eyes open for suitable good news events for the Minister to attend: events that would keep the RAF, and the Minister, in the public eye for all the right reasons. I was delighted and not at all surprised to hear that John Spellar readily agreed to turn out, even so close to the Christmas holiday.

There was then a minor protocol matter that I had to resolve. Her Majesty's Lord Lieutenant for Lincolnshire, Mrs Bridget Cracroft-Eley, lived in Hackthorn village, literally just off the A15 end of the Scampton main runway. Mrs Cracroft-Eley and her family had long been great friends of RAF Scampton and the Red Arrows and she rarely missed an opportunity to attend functions at the base. However, when a Lord Lieutenant attends an event in an official capacity he or she is representing the HM the Queen and has to take precedence over everyone else present, whatever their rank and status. That would have caused a slight embarrassment because the RAF wanted the Government Minister to be the senior guest. No problem! I telephoned Bridget and she readily agreed to attend in her other capacity, that of local Parish Councillor.

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