Number 32 (The Royal) Squadron Royal Air Force, also written XXXII Squadron Royal Air Force,[1] sometimes abbreviated as No. 32 (TR) Squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF). No.32 is a current flying squadron which operates in the VIP and general air transport roles. It is based at RAF Northolt in Greater London, England.[1]

No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron RAF
XXXII Squadron RAF[1]
Official badge of 32 Squadron Royal Air Force
Active12 January 1916 – 1 April 1918 (RFC)
1 April 1918 – 29 December 1919 (RAF)
1 April 1923 – present
CountryUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
AllegianceHM King Charles III
Branch Royal Air Force
Typeflying squadron
RoleCommand Support Air Transport[1]
SizeThree aircraft
Part ofNo. 2 Group
Home stationRAF Northolt[1]
Motto(s)Adeste Comites (Latin for 'Rally round, comrades')[1][2]
WebsiteXXXII Squadron RAF
Squadron badge heraldryA hunting horn stringed, representing the unit's ability to hunt the enemy. Approved by King George VI in December 1936.[3]
Post 1950 Squadron Roundel
Squadron codesKT (Oct 1938 – Sep 1939)
GZ (Sep 1939 – Nov 1942, Jul 1944 – May 1949)
Aircraft flown
HelicopterLeonardo AW109SP GrandNew
TransportDassault Envoy IV CC1

Originally formed in 1916[1] as part of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), the squadron saw action during the First and Second World Wars with fighter aircraft, but was disbanded in 1969. The Metropolitan Communications Squadron, involved in the VIP transport role, was renamed as No. 32 Squadron at that time.[4] In 1995, the squadron was merged with the Queen's Flight, and incorporated 'The Royal' title into its name.[1] At this time, the squadron moved from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire to RAF Northolt in Greater London, where it remains.

The merger ended the RAF's provision of dedicated VIP transport aircraft; the squadron's aircraft are available to VIP passengers only if they are not needed for military operations. As of 2024, two flights within the squadron operate the Dassault Envoy IV CC1 fixed-wing and AgustaWestland AW109 rotary-wing aircraft.



Formation and First World War

A fleet of S.E.5a aircraft belonging to 32 Squadron (the wartime censor has scratched out registration numbers on the negative, but left the much more revealing squadron markings).

No. 32 Squadron was formed as part of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) on 12 January 1916; 108 years ago (1916-01-12), at Netheravon in Wiltshire,[1] and moved to France as a fighter squadron equipped with the Airco DH.2 in May.[5] On 1 July 1916, its commanding officer, Major (later Group Captain) Lionel Rees, was engaged in a combat with eight German Albatros two-seater aircraft, and although wounded in the leg, managed to scatter the German aircraft, driving down two of the enemy, for which action he was awarded the Victoria Cross.[5][6]

The squadron continued to fly patrols over the Western Front, including over the Somme and Arras battlefields, for a year before beginning to re-equip with the Airco DH.5, specialising in ground attack missions. These in turn began to be replaced by the S.E.5a in December 1917, which were flown for the rest of the war on fighter and ground attack missions. On 1 April 1918, the squadrons became part of the newly formed Royal Air Force (RAF). In March 1919, the squadron returned to the United Kingdom as a cadre, and disbanded on 29 December 1919.[7] During the war, sixteen aces had served in its ranks. They included: future Air Marshal Arthur Coningham; Walter Tyrrell; Arthur Claydon; John Donaldson; Wilfred Green; Frank Hale; Hubert Jones; William Curphey; Maxmillian Mare-Montembault; and George Lawson.[8]

Inter-war years


No. 32 Squadron reformed on 1 April 1923 at RAF Kenley as a single flight of Sopwith Snipe fighters.[9] A second flight was formed on 10 December 1923, and a third brought the squadron up to strength on 1 June 1924. Gloster Grebes were received at the end of 1924, and were replaced by Gloster Gamecocks two years later. Equipped in succession with Armstrong Whitworth Siskins, Bristol Bulldogs, and Gloster Gauntlets, the squadron received the Hawker Hurricane I in October 1938.[1][9]

Second World War


In May 1940, the squadron flew patrols over northern France, and took part in the defence of south-east England, based at RAF Biggin Hill, but operating daily from their forward airfield at RAF Hawkinge, near Folkestone, during the opening weeks of the Battle of Britain.[1] The squadron moved to northern England at the end of August 1940.[10] The squadron's Hurricanes saw little action throughout 1941, but did attempt, unsuccessfully, to escort the Fairey Swordfish biplanes of 825 Naval Air Squadron during their doomed attempt to stop the German warships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen during the Channel Dash on 12 February 1942.[11] They then carried out a number of night intruder operations before being deployed overseas.[9]

Following Operation Torch, the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa, in December 1942, the squadron deployed with its Hurricanes to Algeria, converting to the Supermarine Spitfire by July 1943.[11] Operations included a deployment to Greece, where it took part in the Greek Civil War from September 1944 to February 1945.[9]


Whirlwind HCC.12 of the Royal Flight.

After the end of the Second World War, the squadron continued as a fighter unit, flying Spitfires, the de Havilland Vampire, and de Havilland Venom, from bases in Palestine, Cyprus, Egypt, Persian Gulf, Malta, and Jordan. In January 1957, the squadron converted to the English Electric Canberra B.2[1][12] bombers at RAF Weston Zoyland, flying these from Cyprus, remaining there until disbanding on 3 February 1969.[9]

VIP transport

Hawker Siddeley Andover CC.2 of No. 32 Squadron.

The Metropolitan Communications Squadron was formed on 8 April 1944 for VIP air transport by the renaming of No. 510 Squadron. Simultaneous with No.32 Squadron being disbanded in Cyprus in February 1969, the Metropolitan Communications Squadron was renamed No. 32 Squadron.[4] It operated a variety of aircraft, including Hawker Siddeley Andover CC.2s[1] and Westland Whirlwind HC.10 helicopters.[13]

32 Squadron acquired four Hawker Siddeley HS.125 CC1 (military aircraft registration numbers XW788 to XW791) business jets in 1971,[14] these were Viper powered -400B series.[4] These would be supplemented and then replaced by two HS.125 CC2 (-600B version, XX507 and XX508) delivered in 1973,[15] and six BAe 125 CC3 (Garrett-powered -700B version) delivered in 1982 and 1983 (ZD620, ZD621, ZD703, ZD704, ZE395, ZE396).[4][16][17] Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopters served with the squadron from 1976 onwards. These were replaced by initially two (later three) Eurocopter Twin Squirrels in 1996.[18]

The RAF leased two BAe 146 in 1983 (designated BAe 146 CC1) as a test of their suitability to replace the Andover, which were operated by No. 241 Operational Conversion Unit. Two BAe 146-100 (designated BAe 146 CC2) were purchased in 1984 for the Queen's Flight as a result, with delivery in 1986. A third BAe 146 CC2 was purchased in 1989 and delivered in 1990,[19] although it was subsequently sold in 2002. The BAe 146 provided a 60% increase in range compared with the Andover, and a larger interior capacity for more passengers.[20]

BAe 146 CC2 in 2008.

On 1 April 1995, the Queen's Flight, equipped with these BAe 146 CC2, and Westland Wessex HCC.4 helicopters (the latter operated from 1969 until 1998),[21] was merged into No. 32 Squadron, to become No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron, and moved to RAF Northolt from RAF Benson.[1][22] Since then, No. 32 Squadron's aircraft have served as transports in several recent conflicts, including Operation Granby ('Gulf War'), Operation Veritas ('Afghanistan'), and Operation Telic ('Iraq 2003'). This merger ended the RAF's provision of dedicated VIP transport aircraft: the aircraft of No. 32 Squadron are available to VIP passengers only if not needed for military operations. This was declared officially in 1999, with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) stating: "the principal purpose of 32 Squadron [is] to provide communications and logistical support to military operations; the Squadron's capacity should be based on military needs only; and any royal or other non-military use of ... spare capacity is secondary to its military purpose".[23]

The squadron's aircraft flew with a distinctive red livery until it was replaced in 2004.

Following a review by the MOD, in 2004, the squadron's aircraft lost their distinctive livery inherited from The Queen's Flight, featuring red flying surfaces. This was due to the concern over the aircraft's vulnerability to terrorist attack, to make the aircraft look more 'civilian'.[22]

In May 2005, the Defence Logistics Organisation's (DLO) Helicopter and Islander Combined (HIC) Integrated Project Team (IPT) awarded AgustaWestland a five-year contract from 1 April 2006 to provide three AgustaWestland AW109E to replace the three Twin Squirrels. This contract was extended on 31 March 2011, to allow two of the AW109E to continue in use for a further year.[24] Two preserved examples of the squadron's Westland Wessex HCC.4 helicopters, originally operated by the Queen's Flight, can be seen at The Helicopter Museum located at Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, and the Royal Air Force Museum London (XV732) at Hendon, north London.[21][25]

BAe 146 C3 (cargo configuration) in Afghanistan.
Former AgustaWestland AW109E Power Elite of No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron, at RIAT 2012.

Two additional BAe 146 were purchased in March 2012 from TNT Airways, and were refitted by Hawker Beechcraft on behalf of BAE Systems for tactical freight and personnel transport use.[26][27] The aircraft, designated as the BAe 146 C3, arrived in Afghanistan in April 2013.[28] On 16 March 2015, the squadron's final BAe 125 returned from operations in Afghanistan, and the type's retirement from the RAF was brought forward due to defence budget cuts.[29] Of the final four operational aircraft, three were put up for sale by the Ministry of Defence,[4] and one (ZD621) was placed on permanent display as a gate guardian at RAF Northolt.[16][30] The decision was made that the aircraft were to be retired from service seven years ahead of their original withdrawal date.[31]

On 30 November 2015, a single AgustaWestland AW109SP GrandNew[1] (military aircraft registration number GZ100)[32] was delivered to the squadron to replace the unit's earlier AW109E (ZR322),[33] which was withdrawn the following year.[34]

On 11 October 2017, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced that Her Majesty The Queen had approved the award of Battle Honours 'Iraq 2003–2011' and 'Libya 2011', both without the right to emblazon, to the squadron.[35]

In 2020, the squadron's two BAe 146 C3 were modified for use in the medical support role, to carry patients and medical personnel into and out of smaller airfields than the RAF's Voyager multi-role tanker transport aircraft.[36]

The Integrated Review saw the fleet of four BAe 146 retired in March 2022.[37] Shortly before, in February 2022, Defence Equipment and Support (DES) announced that the four aircraft would be replaced by two Dassault Falcon 900LX.[38]

One of the BAe 146-100s (ZE701) has been retired to the British Airliner Collection at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, the other (ZE700) joined South Wales Aviation Museum (SWAM) at St Athan in March 2022.[6][38][39] The two BAe 146-200s (ZE707 and ZE708) have also been removed from service and sold to civilian airline Pionair Australia.[40]

In August 2023, it was announced that the Rotary Wing Command Support Air Transport contract, which provides the Squadron's AgustaWestland AW109SP GrandNew, would not be renewed and would end on 30 September 2023.[41] The Ministry of Defence later confirmed that the contract had been extended.[42]

Squadron strength

Dassault Envoy IV CC1 (Falcon 900LX) of 32 Sqn RAF at RAF Northolt, in its 'Global Britain' livery, 2022.

Battle honours


No. 32 Squadron has received the following battle honours. Those marked with an asterisk (*) may be emblazoned on the squadron standard.[1]

See also





  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "XXXII Squadron". Royal Air Force. 2024. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  2. ^ Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1 ed.). London, England: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 5. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  3. ^ Halley 1988, pp. 78–79.
  4. ^ a b c d e Wood, Chris (29 March 2015). "Royal Air Force BAe 125 retirement". Global Aviation Resource. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  5. ^ a b Rawlings 1971, p. 424.
  6. ^ a b "Royal jet flies in for retirement at South Wales museum". Royal Air Force, Ministry of Defence. 17 March 2022. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  7. ^ Rawlings 1971, pp. 424–425.
  8. ^ Shores, Franks & Guest 1990, p. 33
  9. ^ a b c d e Barrass, Malcom B. (1 January 2024). "No 31 – 35 Squadron histories". Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation. Archived from the original on 26 April 2009. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  10. ^ Rawlings 1971, pp. 425–426.
  11. ^ a b Rawlings 1971, p.426.
  12. ^ Brookes, Andrew (2014). Holmes, Tony (ed.). RAF Canberra units of the Cold War. Osprey Combat Aircraft 105. Oxford, England: Osprey Publishing. p. 63. ISBN 978-1782004110 – via Google Books.
  13. ^ "RAF 32 Squadron Westland Whirlwind HAR.10 XJ407 at RAF Honington". The Aviation Photo Company. 1979. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  14. ^ "UK Serials – Displaying serials in range XW". UK Serials Resource Centre, Wolverhampton Aviation Group. n.d. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  15. ^ "UK Serials – Displaying serials in range XX". UK Serials Resource Centre, Wolverhampton Aviation Group. n.d. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  16. ^ a b "UK Serials – Displaying serials in range ZD". UK Serials Resource Centre, Wolverhampton Aviation Group. n.d. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  17. ^ "UK Serials – Displaying serials in range ZE". UK Serials Resource Centre, Wolverhampton Aviation Group. n.d. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  18. ^ "Leonardo GrandNew A109SP". Royal Air Force, Ministry of Defence. 2024. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  19. ^ Lambert 1993, p. 384.
  20. ^ "The aircraft of Royal Air Force Northolt". Royal Air Force, Ministry of Defence. 2012. Archived from the original on 13 July 2013. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
  21. ^ a b "Westland Wessex in profile". Haynes Publishing. 27 April 2018. Archived from the original on 23 June 2019. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  22. ^ a b "Royal planes may lose Union Jack – Planes used by the Royal family could lose their red, white and blue livery markings for security reasons because they look too distinctive". BBC News. 15 April 2004. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  23. ^ Royal travel by air and rail (PDF), National Audit Office, 22 June 2001, p. 2, retrieved 21 March 2024
  24. ^ "Two A109Es retained by RAF". Air International. May 2011. p. 7. ISSN 0306-5634.
  25. ^ "UK Serials – Displaying serials in range XV". UK Serials Resource Centre, Wolverhampton Aviation Group. n.d. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  26. ^ "BAE Systems wins £15.5 million MOD contract for the Royal Air Force". Prestwick, Scotland: BAE Systems. 21 June 2012. Archived from the original on 16 October 2015. Retrieved 20 March 2024. BAE Systems has been awarded a £15.5 million contract by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the conversion of two BAe 146-200QC (Quick Change) aircraft from commercial to military configuration for use by the Royal Air Force.
  27. ^ "BAe 146 C.Mk 3 aircraft delivered to the UK Royal Air Force". BAE Systems. 19 April 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2013.[dead link]
  28. ^ Peakman, Flt Lt Tim, ed. (29 April 2013). "BAe146 C Mk 3 – BAe146 C Mk3 touches down in Afghanistan". Royal Air Force, Ministry of Defence. Archived from the original on 30 May 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2013. The RAF BAe146 C Mk 3, from RAF Northolt's 32 (The Royal) Squadron, touched down for the first time in theatre at Camp Bastion, Helmand Province. A second Mk3 is due to arrive in theatre at the end of April. Although the Squadron have been operating the BAe146 CC Mk2 and HS125 in support of Operations Telic and Herrick for over a decade, the BAe146 Mk3 marks a departure from the traditional Command Support Air Transport (CSAT) tasking that the crews are used to.
  29. ^ Sqn Ldr Tenniswood, ed. (18 March 2015). "End of an era - final 32 Sqn BAE125 returns from ops". Royal Air Force, Ministry of Defence. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 25 September 2015. A Royal Air Force BAe125 aircraft has returned from operations for the final time marking the end of an era for 32 (The Royal) Squadron who have operated the aircraft type for more than 40 years.
  30. ^ "New gate guardian at RAF Northolt". Royal Air Force, Ministry of Defence. 27 July 2015. Archived from the original on 26 September 2015. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  31. ^ Ripley, Tim; Boswell, Josh (7 December 2014). "Six jets axed as Osborne's cuts hit the royal flight". London, England: The Sunday Times, Times Newspapers Ltd. Archived from the original on 26 September 2015. Retrieved 25 September 2015.
  32. ^ "UK Serials – Displaying serials in range GZ". UK Serials Resource Centre, Wolverhampton Aviation Group. n.d. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  33. ^ Parkin, Jeremy (23 October 2015). "Royal Air Force to receive AW109SP GrandNew". HeliHub. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  34. ^ "UK Serials – Displaying serials in range ZR". UK Serials Resource Centre, Wolverhampton Aviation Group. n.d. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  35. ^ "Royal Air Force squadrons recognised for gallantry – The MOD has announced that Her Majesty The Queen has approved the award of Battle Honours to squadrons of Her Majesty's Royal Air Force". GOV.UK. Government of the United Kingdom. 11 October 2017. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  36. ^ Chapman, Khalem (August 2020). "BAe 146 CC3s adapted for medical use". Air International. Vol. 99, no. 2. p. 10. ISSN 0306-5634.
  37. ^ Sipinski, Dominik (9 March 2021). "UK's Royal Air Force to retire VIP BAe 146s". ch-aviation GmbH. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  38. ^ a b Pearson, Colin (8 February 2022). "DE&S procure new aircraft to enhance UK's international presence – Under a new £80 million contract with Bristol-based Centreline, four BAe 146 aircraft will be replaced by two more sustainable aircraft to continue the UK's global engagement". Defence Equipment & Support, Ministry of Defence. Archived from the original on 8 February 2022. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  39. ^ "Ex-RAF aircraft to join aviation museum". Royal Air Force, Ministry of Defence. 21 January 2022. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  40. ^ Hoyle, Craig (1 February 2022). "Pionair Australia to acquire two surplus Royal Air Force BAe 146 transports". FlightGlobal, DVV Media International Limited. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  41. ^ "British Government stops VIP helicopter contract". HeliHub. 18 August 2023. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  42. ^ "Sloane Helicopters: contracts – Question for Ministry of Defence – UIN 2114, tabled on 15 November 2023". Westminster, London: UK Parliament. 15 November 2023. Retrieved 20 March 2024.


  • Halley, James J. (1988). The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth 1918–1988. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air Britain (Historians) Ltd. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.
  • Hobson, Chris (1986). A brief history of 32 Squadron Royal Air Force.
  • Jefford, C.G. (2001). RAF Squadrons, a Comprehensive Record of the Movement and Equipment of all RAF Squadrons and their Antecedents since 1912. Shrewsbury, Shropshire, UK: Airlife Publishing. ISBN 1-84037-141-2.
  • Lambert, Mark (1993). Jane's All The World's Aircraft 1993–94. Coulsdon, UK: Jane's Data Division. ISBN 0 7106 1066 1.
  • Lewis, Gwilym Hugh (1976). Wings over the Somme. London, England: William Kimber. ISBN 0-7183-0324-5. (republished by Bridge Books of Wrexham, Wales in 1994. ISBN 1-872424-38-4)
  • Moyes, Philip J.R. (1964). Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London, England: Macdonald and Jane's. ISBN 0-354-01027-1. (2nd edition 1976)
  • Rawlings, John D.R. (November 1971). "History of No. 32 Squadron". Air Pictorial. Vol. 33, no. 11. pp. 424–427.
  • Rawlings, John D.R. (1969). Fighter Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London, England: Macdonald and Jane's Publishers Ltd. ISBN 0-354-01028-X. (second edition 1976)
  • Shores, Christopher; Franks, Norman; Guest, Russell (1990). Above The Trenches: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915–1920. London, England: Grub Street. ISBN 0-948817-19-4.
  • Unknown (1966). A Short History of No. 32 Squadron Royal Air Force, 1916–1966. Nicosia, Cyprus: Paratiritis Publications.