RAF Lossiemouth personnel return from Estonia after mission which saw 50 Russian jets intercepted
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PERSONNEL from RAF Lossiemouth have returned home after the completion of a successful air policing mission near the Russian boarder.
RAF Lossie's 1 Squadron returned from Estonia's Ämari Air Base – around 30 miles from the country's capital Tallinn – on Thursday evening.
1 Squadron – who took over from 9 Squadron – had been leading NATO's Baltic air policing mission, named Operation Azotize, in Estonia for nearly five months, with RAF Typhoon fighter jets intercepting 50 Russian aircraft.
The mission, which sees NATO nations deploy to either Lithuania or Estonia, was established in 2014 after Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea.
Edward Owen, 1 Sqn Senior Engineering Officer, said it was vital to send – very different – signals to both Russia and NATO allies.
He said: "This was a really important mission to send a message to Russia that we are secure in our NATO airspace and that we are not going to tolerate any non-cooperation from them.
"There are countries within NATO that don't have their own independent air force, so it's important to send the message to them that the rest of NATO is there to support their skies.
"Between 9 Squadron and 1 Squadron we intercepted 50 aircraft. These were a mixture of fighter, transport and intelligence-gathering aircraft.
"This were a little more than we expected but we are well-versed in intercepting aircraft through our Quick Reaction Alerts which we carry out from RAF Lossiemouth."
RAF Lossiemouth's commanding officer, group captain Jim Lee, added: "We have been doing this kind of air policing since the invasion of Crimea.
"However, it has become more important in the last 18 months since the illegal invasion of Ukraine.
"We scrambled 50 jets. I did this operation in 2015 in Estonia and there was nowhere near that amount of activity so it was definitely a success.
"That number tells you there is a lot of Russian activity – but it also tells you we have managed to put our planes in the right bit of the sky at the right time."
For personnel returning from Estonia, it's the end of fulfilling journey – and time to rest up before the next mission.
Alex Ayling (27), a junior engineering officer who stays in Lossiemouth, had a mixture of emotions after touching down on home soil.
"I'm extremely delighted to be back, but it's a bitter-sweet moment," he said.
"I'm incredibly proud of what the men and women I work with have accomplished over the last few months.
"Many of us will be moving onto new squadrons, missions and operations so I'm saddened to say goodbye to relationships we have built.
"I loved being in Estonia. Every day was different. We managed to shape a lot of firsts – including conducting the largest multi-national NATO exercise in history."
Inverness-based Sergeant Sebastian Ford, 1 Sqn avionics technician, has returned from a two-and-a-half-month stay in Estonia, during which he had just four days of leave.
"It's really nice to be back – I'm looking forward to seeing my wife and dogs," he said.
"Estonia was very busy and full-on. When you do these sorts of things it reminds you when we do this job and the importance of it.
"The Estonians loved having us there. For them we are like their security and protection to stop Russia."