22 Squadron

During World War 1 and World War 2 22 Squadron had a very different role to what they do now, during World War 1 the unit was utilised for reconnaissance missions for a year as their aircraft where outdated until their tasks were taken over by Bristol Fighters.

At the beginning of World War 2 22 Squadron flew the Vickers Vildebeest as a anti-submarine aircraft, they would operate over the North Sea until the units fleet of Vickers Vildebeest were replaced in the early 1940’s by Beauforts.

On 6th April 1941, Flying Officer K Campbell flew his Beaufort to press an attack on the German battle cruiser Gneisenau that was in Brest harbour, France. After navigating through the heavy German defences he pushed on with his attack on the battle cruiser, after he had completed his attack he was sadly shot down and killed along side his other three crew members SSgt’s. J P Scott DFM RCAF (navigator), R W Hillman (Wireless Operator) and W C Mulliss (Gunner), after months the full story finally emerged and FO Campbell was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions not just in this mission but during the Second World War.In 1942, Number 22 Squadron moved to the Far East and received the Bristol Beaufighter which where given the task of anti-shipping rocket attacks. 22 Squadron was disbanded a month after the Japanese surrender, but in 1955 the squadron would reform and took on a massively different role to that of the units history, number 22 Squadron would be used as a Search and Rescue (SAR) unit.


Here is an image of FO Campbell VC. Image Copyrighted to Clare College

Operating from the Thorney Island SAR where part of 19 Group and with the combined help of ground SAR they had a range of just over 60nm. 22 Squadron where initially equipped with Whirlwind Mk2’s which where planned to flying in 3 detachments to cover Wales and the south and south east coast. In May 22 Squadron received two Bristol Sycamore’s and an Avro Anson, in June of the same year four Whirlwinds arrived and started the first two detachments at Thorney Island and Martlesham Heath, the third detachment was formed at RAF Valley which would give SAR cover to the west of the country.

In May 1962 the squadron started to re-equip with Whirlwind Mk10’s, which would replace their fleet of Whirlwind MK2’s. The Whirlwind Mk10’s would give a 30% increase in fuel and payload capability and this in turn gave the Whirlwind a greater range. The Westland Whirlwind served the Search and Rescue from 1955 up until 1981, where the Westlands Wessex HC2 slowly- replaced them.

In 1974 two Westland Wessex helicopter where to be modified to carry the SAR capability, this modification would take place at Fleetlands. These two Wessex’s would be operated out of Manston, Kent where they took over the role of the Bristow’s Helicopter’s Ltd’s Whirlwind Series 3’s they would be based at Manston for another 20 year’s before being moved to RAF Wattisham. It would be a further 2 years before SAR received more Wessex Helicopters, 22 Squadron was partially re-equipped with Wessex HC2’s in 1976. C Flight 202 Squadron based at RAF Leuchars was to become B Flight (Flt) of 22 Squadron in April 1976 and D Flt of 72 Squadron based at Manston became E Flt of 22 Squadron, RAF Valley’s C Flt’s fleet of Whirlwind Mk10’s were replaced by Westland Wessex’s HC2s in June 1976. A Flt and D flt of 22 Squadron remained at Chivenor and Brawdy still flying the Whirlwind Mk10’s until November of 1981, when the Whirlwind was disbanded from service.

22 SQN Wessex

A 22 Squadron Wessex sits at rest at RAF Mildenhall during an airshow. © Chris Dorling

The Wessex was a tougher helicopter compared to the helicopter’s that served before it, with it being larger than the Whirlwind and having a very tough heavy-duty tricycle under carriage. The Wessex was also fitted with two very powerful Gnome engines, which made the Wessex a lot faster and gave her a much better lift capability, another thing the Wessex had on its side was that it had a much bigger area of coverage.

In the Mid 70’s there was a call for new Search and Rescue helicopter that could fly in all weather conditions and that has a longer range. Westland’s Helicopter Ltd received the order for six Sea King HAR 3’s the first of which entered service in 1978. 202 Squadron received a full fleet of Sea Kings HAR 3’s while 22 Squadron settled with their older fleet of Wessex’s and Whirlwinds, 22 Squadron continued to fly their Whirlwind’s that were based at Chivenor until they were withdrawn from service and replaced with Wessex’s in November 1981, these where substituted by Sea King HAR3’s in June 1994.

2 Seaking HAR 3A's

Two Seaking HAR3A’s sit at rest awaiting their next scramble. © Ryan Dorling

The Search and Rescue Sea King’s played a massive role in the Falklands war which till this day they still have a detachment of Sea Kings their where crews rotate deployments.

On the 30th September 2014, Reheat Aviation where invited over to spend some time with 22 Squadron’s ‘B’ Flight based at RAF Wattisham, Suffolk. ‘B’ Flight operates an area stretching from the wash right down to the White cliffs of Dover, but like members of 22 Squadron said their area of coverage can grow if other Search and Rescue bases have to go off line for varies reasons. ‘B’ Flight currently operates two Sea King HAR3A’s, although it was explained that the two airframes do get swapped around.

The Sea King HAR3A’s have an upgrade to the older HAR3’s, this upgrade is just internal so if you were to compare a HAR3 and a HAR3A externally there would be no difference, the HAR3A has the capability the track a target in the water, the helicopter has the capability to fly itself down to a 50 ft hover directly over the desired target with out the pilot having to do a thing, this helps the crew in adverse weather conditions.

Night vision

The view through the lens of a set of night vision goggles, the crew of the Sea Kings attach these goggles to their helmets so that they can operate during the hours of darkness. © Ryan Dorling

One of the pilots from ‘B’ Flight described the Sea King by saying, ” The Sea King is like a Land Rover, she’s a very tough helicopter and she’s made to do the job.”


This image shows the winch that is positioned on the right side of the helicopter. © Ryan Dorling

The crew that where on station on the 30th September 2014 where working a shift from 10:00am in the morning until 10:00am the next day. When crews from 22 Squadron are on duty during the day time they are on a 15 minute alert, but during the night that number increases so they are on a 45 minute alert.

Sadly the life of the RAF’s Search and Rescue is coming to an end, 22 Squadron ‘B’ Flight are scheduled to close their hanger doors in July 2015, where all SAR operations will be handed over to the Coast Guard which are due to operate with the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter, Reheat Aviation where told that some of the Sea king’s will be turned into Gate Guards and some maybe even sold on to other countries that are needing the Search and Rescue capability. But until then 22 Squadron’s ‘A’ Flight, ‘B’ Flight and ‘C’ Flight and their fleet of Sea King HAR3’s and HAR3A’s will continue to provide a massively important role to Great Britain.


ZH544 sits basking in the sun on the SAR ramp. © Ryan Dorling

Reheat Aviation would like to that all members of 22 Squadron for there service to our country, and also all the members of ‘B’ Flight for being so kind and taking time out of their very busy schedule to take us around the Sea Kings and for answering all of our questions.


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