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Mixed emotions as Hercules leave RAF Lyneham
Hundreds lined the streets of Wiltshire as the iconic Hercules bode a final farewell to the county it has called home since it first flew in 1967.
The final four aircraft left RAF Lyneham at 10.30am today, taking in a lap of the county, before heading for its new base at RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire.
The planes, carrying Station Commander John Gladstone and the last remaining members of 24, 30, 47 and 47 Air Despatch Squadrons, flew as low as 500ft as it passed over the county's main towns.
The airfield will remain open until September but less than 1,000 administrative and civilian staff will remain at Lyneham until December next year when it will close for good.
Group Captain Gladstone said it had been an emotional day. He said: "It has been a day of mixed emotions. It is a very sad day because it marks the departure of an iconic aeroplane from RAF Lyneham and from Wiltshire.
"But it also marks a new chapter for the Air Force and it is an exciting time for everyone."
Grp Cpt Gladstone also said it is not only on a professional level he will miss the Fat Alberts and Lyneham, but a personal one.
He said: "This is the fourth time I have served at Lyneham so I know the station and the local area very well. It has very much been a large part of my life, as it has for many of the personnel here.
"I have to say goodbye to the Hercs today then I will be assisting with the run up to the closure in 2012. They haven't announced what my next role will be yet so I'm waiting with baited breath.
"But today has been a fitting send-off for the Hercules and for the people of Wiltshire."
The squadron leaders were also present on what was a historic day. Wing Commander Tim Jones, of 24 Squadron, said he will miss a base he has become particularly attached to.
Wg Cdr Jones, 38, who has served at Lyneham since 1998, said: "Today has been a chance for us to say thank you to Wiltshire. The people here have given us so much support for so many years and we wanted to give them the send off they deserved.
"I will miss Lyneham a great deal because not only did I start my operational life here but me and my wife also started married life here.
"So I have got a huge attachment to the place and it has felt like home for a very long time.
"We have said goodbye to a base we have loved for many years but we are looking forward to starting a new chapter at Brize."
People lined the streets in many Wiltshire towns to wave goodbye, perhaps most poignantly in Wootton Bassett, a town which holds a special place in the hearts of many in the RAF for the part it has paid in the repatriations since 2007.
When the aircraft touched down at Brize Norton at around 11.20am, Grp Cpt Gladstone handed over the Hercules logbook and shook hands with his counterpart in Oxfordshire, Grp Cpt Dom Stamp, in front of the main terminal.
Grp Cpt Stamp said he was honoured to be receiving the Lyneham squadrons, bringing the number under his command up to eight.
He said: "Obviously today is tinged with a little sadness because there is one station closing. Any station closure is sad, especially a station like Lyneham, which has such a fantastic history.
"But for me it is an incredibly proud day to receive the Hercules force. For the first time we have a truly central hub for air transport and air-to-air support."
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